#1004: “The Escalator.”

Hello! Los Angeles trip was great. The Chris Killip exhibit at the Getty floored me. I am home now, under a cat. Let’s awkward.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a friend who instantly escalates every interaction we have. Not in a confrontational way, but just that she always wants MORE MORE MORE.

Imagine a scale of interactions, where 1 is equivalent to a nod in the street and 100 is equivalent to a multi-night stay in someone’s home. I might suggest a 30: “Hey! Let’s go and see that new film together!” (Some chit-chat before and after, but most of it is spent sitting silently in the dark next to each other.) She will immediately try to escalate towards 100: “And we could get coffee beforehand! And have dinner afterwards! And then you could come back to my place for drinks! And then we could play this new game I bought!” While initially I was looking forward to 30, I now see that the choice is: stick to 30 and spend the entire time making reasons that I can’t escalate further, submit and escalate to 100 and see WAY more of her than I wanted, or just cancel and return to 0.

She’s part of my wider friend group and in my mind we’re not exactly besties (and she does this to everyone, so it’s not that she thinks we are), but when I haven’t seen her for a while I do genuinely think, “Hey, I wonder how The Escalator is doing? It would so be nice to catch up!” So I enter play with a 25 and then she starts escalating towards 100 and I immediately regret ever having made the effort and frantically try to bail.

The other problem is that she also escalates casual conversation as well as actual plans. You mention a film that’s coming out? She’s planning a trip to the cinema (“with dinner afterwards! And I heard they filmed part of it nearby so we could go there too!”). You mention a new restaurant? She’s whipping out the diary to see when you’re free (“ooh, and it’s near the bowling alley so we could go there first! And it’s next to the rose garden so we could have an evening walk afterwards!).So you find yourself trying to censor conversation in case you ever show the slightest interest in anything or make even a cursory remark about maybe one day in the future just perhaps entertaining the possibility of going to XYZ or doing thing ABC.

I’ve tried to keep things light and enforce boundaries. I really have. I’ve tried not to give actual excuses but just say, “Sorry, I have plans!” But then she just keeps going and going and going to find a date and time when you can make it…and then tries to escalate whatever you’ve committed to. And the constant stress of HAVING to enforce boundaries even when I do it successfully makes it feel like a war zone, not a fun time. And the true answer is not “I have plans”. It’s “I don’t like you enough to want to spend any more time with you.” (Including currently: “I don’t think I can afford to go on a two week holiday with you”, which really means “I don’t like you enough to go on holiday with you, and continuing to push this conversation makes it sound ever more like a living hell…but I do want to go on holiday with my other friends which you will then find out about and be upset about because I booked it after I told you I couldn’t afford to go on holiday with you.”)

I would be delighted to see her every few weeks for a low-level interaction (coffee OR a film OR brunch – not everything!), or every few months for a more intense one (a morning at the museum followed by lunch, or an afternoon the ice rink with hot chocolate afterwards). If we could just do that, I would genuinely enjoy seeing her. But I don’t want to spend every moment parrying yet another attempt at escalation.

By not accepting any intervening levels, SHE is making the choice into 0 vs 100, and I am getting ever-closer to choosing 0 (literally never ever seeing her and blocking her from everything, even not going to wider-friend-group things she is attending, which would suck). Can I make mid-range plans with her in a way that makes it impossible for her to escalate (either on that day or by pushing to make plans for too-soon future days) such that I don’t even need to worry about her trying? Or if I have to choose 0, how can I do so in a way that minimises the effect on my future interactions with our wider friendship group?

Yours,

More of a ‘Let’s stay on this step of the staircase’ person

Dear Staircase:

You’re already doing the right stuff! There’s probably no comfortable solution with someone who is this incompatible with you but I think you might be able to weather her relentless enthusiasm and still hang out occasionally if you tweak your invitations and responses a little bit and level with her about how her behaviors make you feel.

First, give yourself permission to go a long time without initiating plans with her. If she’s kind of bugging you right now, give yourself a break where you run into her only at wider social events.

Second, here’s an all-purpose script:

  • “When I say ‘I have plans’ or ‘that won’t work’ it means ‘no.’ It’s not something that needs solved, so, please put the diary away and let’s enjoy hanging out now.”

Third, here are some scripts specific to arranging vacations/holidays:

  • My vacation budget & time are already allocated for seeing family and plans with other friends, especially people I don’t get to see all the time.”
  • “That sounds like a great trip, but you should ask someone else. It’s not for me.”
  • “Please stop. You keep bringing this up, and I keep telling you ‘no’ – it’s making me very uncomfortable to have to keep repeating myself.”

Don’t lie about time or money. She will not like hearing any of this, but she is pushing you to the point where you have to say it. That’s not your fault.

Fourth, when you make social invitations, make them very specific and propose the maximum amount of stuff you want to do from the very start. For example:

You: “Hey friend, you want to see [specific movie] at [specific place] at [specific showtime] on Saturday? Let me know and I’ll grab tickets. We can grab a coffee at [specific place] by the theater before the show if you like.”

This is now the ONLY PLAN. You will either do YOUR PLAN, or there will be NO PLAN. With other friends, a “That show doesn’t work for me, but could we do x instead?” or “No to coffee, but dinner afterwards?” could be a pleasant prospect, but you already have enough information that it won’t work with this person. You need to remind yourself and teach her that invitations to hang out with you are yes/no questions.

If the Escalator says that time or place doesn’t work for whatever reason, abort the mission and try another time. You:Hey, sorry to hear you can’t make it Saturday, but we’ll do something else another time. Have a good week!” Then hang up the phone/walk away/put your texts on silent. Do not try to plan something else right now. End the conversation and all planning. You invited. She can’t go. “Sorry, that’s the only time window I have this week, but I’ll let you know when I’m free again and if it matches up with your schedule, great! I gotta go now.

If the Escalator says yes? And then escalates? Keep referring back to the initial invitation and also level with her.

Escalator: “Sure and we can….[+ a list of suggestions for the rest of the day].”

You: “Well, my plan is to go see the movie. Do you want to join me for that or not?”

Escalator: [continued negotiations & escalations]

You: “Okay, but the invitation was to see the movie and catch up with you for a little bit on Saturday. I don’t want to do those other things that day, and it bugs me that a simple invitation now feels like a negotiation.”

Escalator: “Why, do you have plans, why don’t we go another day when you can do x, y, and z? I’m just so excited to see you! Let’s get out our calendars and figure something out!”

You: “I am excited to see you, too, which is why I invited you to the movies in the first place. But, are you hearing me right now? I don’t like it when I ask you to do one thing, and instead of saying yes or no you try to add a bunch more things onto it.

Be honest about how she is making you feel!

If we get past this point in the conversation, like, there is still more talking from her that is not “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that. I’ll see/not see you Saturday,” my prediction is that this is now going to become a conversation about What Kind of Person She Is and How You’re Rejecting Her vs. a conversation about a specific set of actions and how they are bugging you. She will be like “I am just enthusiastic! I just want to see people! I love making plans! I just try so hard! Why are you rejecting me?” and you will have to be like “I’m not rejecting you, did you miss the part where I invited you to do stuff? Not wanting to hang out 17 hours in a row is not a rejection. That is unfair.”

The resulting conversation will either clear the air, where she will understand that you have a different budget of social units than she does and you’re doing your best to connect, or it will lead to her avoiding you for a while. Keep this script in your back pocket: “Listen, I like you a lot, but this seems to be an area where we are really incompatible. I know you want to do ALL THE THINGS, but you are stressing me out! I want to keep being able to see you, but I do not enjoy the way we’ve been making plans and I need you to understand that “no thanks” is the end of a conversation, not an opening to negotiate. Respect that and we’ll be fine!” If she doesn’t get it, if she does avoid you for a bit, you tried your best.

Your subsequent script for her and the wider friend group can be the same (true) script: “I invited you to do something, you added a bunch of other events onto it, I told you I didn’t like that, here we are.” (Shrug).

She does this to other people in your group, too, so, this part is very important: Do not invoke the group. It’s tempting to spread responsibility around – “you do this to everyone, you always do this, we all talked and decided that someone should tell you” – but it will backfire 100% of the time. Own it for yourself – “I like hanging out with you, but this behavior bugs me, please stop when you make plans with me.”

I hope things get better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

196 comments
  1. That sounds really frustrating, LW. I think the Cap has the right of it; Set a boundary and hold fast to it.

    • Escalatoress said:

      I guess I am this person, the annoying one being decried in this post. And all the advice is right, of course – Escalator’s needs are not OP’s problem, yes it’s annoying, boundaries are good… no quarrel with any of that. I guess I would just say this: what I recognize in this behavior, in myself, is intense loneliness and a desire to connect. Again, point is well-taken: no means no, and it’s no one’s job to manage another’s feelings. But I’d just say this: be gentle. Not because it’s owed to someone like Escalator, but because that desire for friendship and contact is so deep and human and primal, and the “no” will hurt. I’ve been that person who’s not quite “in” enough, liked enough, to be sought out for more than a gap in someone’s schedule. And on one level I know to accept it for what it is. On another, I wish it were different, and it hurts.

      Maybe I’m contradicting myself here – but all I mean to say is, the gentler scripts seem better to me.

      • I think maybe you have an idea that friends are doing long, escalated hangs with people who aren’t you. But I think that’s probably not correct. Even seeing my own fiance is often just trying to fit him in a gap in the schedule. I don’t know how it happened exactly, but somehow everyone got busy. We used to be able to do lazy all day hangs, and that is literally never possible for anyone I know anymore. I don’t think you’re being left out as much as you feel like you are.

      • Marna Nightingale said:

        This is more for you than for LW: you sound like a delightful, kind person with considerable insight into your own situation- in that you’re owning it, not saying “oh, I’m not like that, I’m just [more flattering words].”

        So, I say this with gentleness and a genuine desire to see you have more fun times with your friends.

        I used to be this person, back in high school, when I had relatively few friends. And fortunately somebody DID basically say this to me. And I listened, and I learned to chill a bit and my right hand to Dog, when I did that hanging out wih me became more fun and less work and I got to do MORE things with MORE people MORE often.

        Because I became just that little bit more likeable and thus found myself drawn nearer the centre of the group.

        If that doesn’t happen, it’s incompatibility, not your “likeability”, because likeability is not fixed. It fluctuates and you can alter it, and even then it will always be subjective but *you can genuinely improve your odds by addressing your actions*. It is genuinely unlikely that you are actually incompatible with the majority if your friends. One or three may never get closer, but some will. Most will, probably, and one or two may get much closer when they see it’s safe to do so.

        And, meanwhile, dear Escalatoress, you need more people in your life. And here’s the big secret: I don’t mean more friends. That will come, but you can’t just decide to do it, put it in your calendar and make it happen by next week.

        But the cool thing is, a social hobby, that gives you a set time and place to hang around other humans doing stuff together, will actually help your sense of isolation. I know it’s a cliche, but it’s a cliche *because it works so damned well.*

        Doesn’t matter what you pick. A carpentry class. The local stitch and bitch. Park cleanup. Food bank. A recreational volleyball league with weekly games. All that is required is that you are interested in doing it and it is a group activity. My sister found her people on a hockey team. At 48. It’s fucking amazing seeing how they care for each other. (It’s kind of amazing watching my big sister between the poles, too, but that’s another matter.)

        You will likely make a friend or two over time but that’s not the main point. The main point is to have lower-level, reliable social time, every week, that doesn’t get cancelled but also cannot be escalated easily. A play date for grownups, if you will.

        I promise you, it is shocking how much social hunger can be addressed that way.

        Dearest Escalatoress, I wish you all good things and joy.

        • Escalatoress said:

          THank you so much for your sweet and compassionate response, which brought tears to my eyes.
          Just one question – not sure what this means, as it reads like a typo?… “and my right hand to Dog,” — sorry, not trying to be nitpicky, but only to understand what you were describing, which sounds like an important process that I’d like to know about!… 🙂

          • Marna Nightingale said:

            Oh, man, sorry. Sometimes I try to be too smartass for the room.

            The original phrase is “my right hand to God” which is just a silly way of saying “I swear”.

  2. Jane said:

    Yowch. LW, that’s a tough situation, but I think you’ve got the right end of the stick. A couple times in my life I have planned an intensive activity or holiday with someone I kinda sorta knew up front I didn’t enjoy that much, and generally speaking, I regretted it.

    Another thought on a script:

    “Elevator, I enjoy your company a lot! But I am never going to be up for a whole series of activities that stretches over many hours [with you.] I don’t have the energy for it and it diminishes the enjoyment I get from seeing you. When I propose a plan, that’s the plan I have the energy and time to carry out, and I just feel bad when you propose a lot of extra things that I am not able to do. Your continuing to ask me won’t change the answer. Please trust me on this.”

    I left the [with you] in brackets because — for me — this statement is pretty much universally true. There is not a human being in the world that I don’t want a break from after an hour or two. But maybe, for you, that’s *not* the case, so you might need to add the “with you” so there isn’t future weirdness about it.

    I use “can’t” and “am not able” preferentially over “want,” because that’s the best way I can make it clear for myself that my needs have weight, and because it feels less negotiable to me (your mileage may vary.) I borrow my “can’t” from a theoretical future self who didn’t say it until it became a physical and psychological impossibility to continue dealing with the situation.

    • BradC said:

      Even if [with you] IS accurate with respect to activities with Escalator, it could still be left unsaid, and echoed only in LW’s mind. Similar to how the Captain recommends scripts like “I’ll think about that” [and immediately reject it].

      • Elenna said:

        I’d be worries that leaving off the “with you” if it’s not universally true will lead to future arguments when Escalator hears about LW doing multi-hour stuff with less escalate-y friends later, though.

        • The thing is, for an introvert, sometimes, specific people actually are less draining, or even manage to fill the energy meter, whereas most people just suck all the energy away.

          If an introvert finds that special person with whom she can spend more time, she’s going to spend more time with them, and then… the truth will out! “You CAN spend twelve hours with the same person! You lied to me!”

          Perhaps changing “with you” to “right now,” can feel less directly accusatory (there’s something wrong with YOU that I can’t spend that much time with you), and still be quite true.

    • canadakate said:

      That is a great script!

    • Kay said:

      I do prefer this script, to be honest! I feel like the Captain’s advice is spot on (giving really specific invites especially) but the script is something I could never imagine saying to someone I actually liked and wanted to remain friends with. Maybe to a significant other? But not a casual friend. So I like Jane’s script because it focuses on the positives of hanging out with that person but does still say “please stop, this makes me feel bleh!”

      I think more casual turn downs could work too, like “that sounds exhausting! let’s just do the first thing?” when she adds on eight activities or “that’s way too much for me! Let’s just pick one, my vote is X.” It’s still honest about how you’re feeling, and gives her the chance to listen once. And then you can pull out the big guns of a This Is A Talk script.

      • I love your “that sounds exhausting! Let’s just do the first thing” script. It’s honest, and it ought to be effective, with anyone who cares about not exhausting you. Also “too much for me.”

        • slythwolf said:

          I would use “That’s too many things in a day” for people I’m close enough to have told that I can only do 3 Things per day generally speaking, and “I’ve already got other plans for the rest of the day” for other people. I shouldn’t have to explain that my other plans are to sit in front of the computer in my pajamas.

    • Sarabeth said:

      I like this. I might even push it a bit further: “I really enjoy hanging out with you – so when I invite you to do something, I’ve already set aside as much time/energy as possible to see you! If it seems like I’m always turning down invitations to extend our time together, that’s why. I like you enough that I went ahead and budgeted all the time that I have available, and I really can’t go beyond that.”

    • ‘I borrow my “can’t” from a theoretical future self who didn’t say it until it became a physical and psychological impossibility to continue dealing with the situation.’

      This is the most seriously awesome concept.

  3. policychick said:

    UGH I worry I might be this person (although I am not). I’m new to where I live and I only know about three and a half people here. So when I try to cultivate a new friendship, I get very self conscious when people say no (which is fine! people are busy! they have things to do!), to the point that I don’t try again with that person for a loooong time.

    Which has nothing to do with anything! LW, I think you are doing well with this. Something else you might try is to put definitive time frames around your invites. For example, “I’ll be downtown Tuesday and I have two hours to kill – do you want to meet for a quick spin through the Natural History museum?” That way, you are preempting a marathon day. If she escalates, you have a concrete example/reason to stop the escalation: “Well no, Friend, like I say I only have the two hour window.” That might help? Good luck LW!

    • Inspector Spacetime said:

      As long as you’re not inviting people to marathon hangouts you’re probably safe.

    • I like that “two hour window” concept.

      The Escalator may whip out the calendar to search for a full day, but that’s when you become “booked” with laundry, washing hair, and staring into space for months on end.

    • Flowercouch said:

      I have to second this. Great idea!! You can even zap out the excuse and just say “I’ve got 2hrs on Saturday from about 2-4 and I was wondering if you might like to see a movie or go to the rose garden?” Maybe giving her a choice (as in ONE activity) will help? If she tacks stuff on you can say, “Whoa, so many great ideas!!! But I’ve got two hours. Which ONE should we pick?” and maybe broken record it if you need to.

      If she ever asks why ( as in “WHYYYY do you only have two hours for *me* when you hang out with Stacy for a week!!??”), maybe being honest in a kind way would work?, ex: “You have so much social energy, and when I see you I want to be attentive to what you are saying, but it takes a lot of energy for me to do that because I just tend to be a low energy person.” I personally would definitely, totally understand that if it came from a friend, but this might totally not work for her, I don’t know. (Also, I’ve used a lot of “Oh, I’m just kind of a low energy person” a LOT to get out of crazy long social stuff that I can’t/don’t want to do.)

  4. Zooey Glass said:

    One thing to hold onto here, LW, is that you’re already at a point where you’re on the verge of setting interactions to 0. So if you set the explicit boundaries in the way the Captain suggests and it causes the Escalator to get upset in a way that ends the friendship, you are not ending up with a substantially different situation, except that the Escalator will have had the opportunity to know how her behaviour affects you and decide whether she is willing to address that issue.

  5. AnnieBN said:

    I KNOW AN ESCALATOR. We’re basically casual acquaintances, but she invited me on a holiday with her because I liked a post she made on Facebook about a holiday theme!

    Solidarity, OP.

    • Guava said:

      I know a couple of them. One is a good friend, and I occasionally have to remind her that I am an introvert, and run out of people energy after a given amount of time, and then she laughs it off and apologizes and we are still friends.

      The other one…the other one is blocked on all of my social media and no longer permitted to contact me.

  6. Michelle said:

    Just want to say that I agree that you are not the only person she is doing this too. I think people like Escalator don’t get that some of us don’t want to be “on” all the time. I enjoy spending time with my friends and family but sometimes I just want to hang out at home on my couch and read, play games or watch TV. I need alone time in order to feel spiritually healthy.

    • Julie B said:

      This. I am introvert. I have many extrovert friends who are great at “extending the day” whenever we get together. I have learned how to politely nope-out at the 2 to 3 hour mark.

      Side note: I am such an introvert that I would probably just drop Escalator from my friend circle. I barely have enough desire to be with my normal, non-escalating, those-who-understand-introverts-and-limited-spoons, that I could never find energy for the Escalator.

      • Debbie said:

        I’m not sure where I saw the phrase “small doses” friend – may have been here – but I think that applies to this LW’s friend. I have one of those too. I’m fine seeing her for only a certain period that I know will not last more than 1 – 2 hours.

      • Slow Gin Lizz said:

        I also would drop Escalator or at least give myself a long break from her. I haven’t the mental capacity for dealing with people who stress me out so much.

      • Nanani said:

        Thiiis.

        My least favourite word is “afterparty”.

        • Slow Gin Lizz said:

          Oh God, me too. I’m not fond of the word “party” either but at least parties usually have ending times. Afterparties are pretty open-ended, no?

          • Nanani said:

            In my experience, afterparties have all the noise and the people (and probably more drinking etc) but none of the structure or purpose, so yeah X_X

          • Slow Gin Lizz said:

            Ugh, noise. I hate noise. 🙂

        • goddessoftransitory said:

          Back in MY day, afterparties were properly known as “throwing up and passing out.” Afterparties, BAH.

        • You mean “afterparty” does not mean warm bath and hot chocolate in your jammies?

        • Ixolite said:

          YES.

          If I make it to the end of a regular party without falling asleep or saying something embarassing, I count my blessings and thank the Awkward Goddesses.

          No way I can pull that off for another round right after when I’m a combo of drunk, tired and fresh out of social energy.

      • Tyche said:

        Yes, this happened to me with my own Escalator. I dropped the friendship because I realized that, even if some time passed, every time I contacted her it was an ordeal to keep our plans limited to something or another.

        So I decided to ghost her, decreasing our social meetings, then I noticed that she didn’t even call or text me! At the end I was the one between us to keep our friendship going.

      • I would never think of extending the day whenever someone asked me to do something with them. I am grateful to spend time with that person in the first place, and it would be very, very, very out of line for me to ask for more.

    • JLW said:

      I am an extroverted introvert, but I have a time window in which I can be “on”, and after that I’m ready to go home, put on my pj’s and not see people. It’s bee a while since I had an escalator in my life and I think that my responses are why. Thanks to therapy, I’ve developed a lot of great responses that are direct but not cruel.

  7. Escalator sounds like she needs to learn how to enjoy her own company more!

    • Cyberwulf said:

      Could be, or maybe she feels like she has to entertain her friends for hours (in a good way, not in a “oh what am I going to do with this nuisance for the day) to show them a really good time. Whatever the reason, it’s not the LW’s problem.

      • goddessoftransitory said:

        She sounds like an influencer without hashtags; the description of Escalator is making me think of the new film Ingrid Goes West.

  8. Inspector Spacetime said:

    This might be a cultural mismatch, but for me and my friend group the Captain’s scripts might be a little too direct… I could see the person getting offended and mad. I realize the Captain recognizes the possibility of that happening, but for my friend group that would basically be a guarantee.

    I would try: “Hey Escalator, I really like you and like hanging out with you, but I can’t really hang out too much in a row, I get exhausted. I need to hang out with friends in small doses.”

    I had a friend who did this to me, and I basically said that to her with some added introvert language and she got the picture! We are still really good friends who get lunch and then go our separate ways.

    • Amy said:

      This is true, but I think the Captain’s script is designed for when you’ve already tried more gentle routes (offering excuses, turning things down without being so direct about why), and it hasn’t worked. It’s intentionally direct, for people who aren’t picking up on indirect communication methods. So, there’s definitely some situational variation there!

    • Cor! said:

      This is a good way to be both direct and soften the blow. People are more likely to become defensive if they feel like they’re being blamed, making it a you problem (‘I’m just to tired, let’s just do the one thing’) may help redirect her. Problem comes if she starts to reschedule for a better time, then you have to put a firm boundarie of ‘no 3+ or 4+ things, we are doing the one thing and maybe getting a coffee. Nothing else, please’, not wanting to do it is a good enough reason to not do it; whatever she feels afterwards, disappointment, abandonment, those are her feels to handle.
      Now on a lighter note, anybody else here would love to see a comic book cover for “Awkward Adventures presents: The Captain vs The Escalator”.

      • Me! I think that Commander Logic would have to be a recurring character also, and also someone in one of those capes with the built-in wind who is named Esprit D’Escalier. (No, I can’t make this make sense, but I like it too much to give it up. Maybe she’s a long-lost twin cousin? Maybe the Commander’s first name is Samantha, and Esprit’s name is Serena?)

        • Twin cousin?

          Great, now I have the Patty Duke Show theme song stuck in my head.

        • Ixolite said:

          I’m french and I love the name Esprit d’Escalier.

          It expresses so much right there!

          Also I would absolutely adore a Captain Awkward comic book series. On top of being amazing it would surely be a great way to educate folks about stuff like boundaries.

    • whoville said:

      I like this script, but I think the Captain also considers that sharing a friend group means The Escalator might notice when LW hangs out with other friends for longer periods of time — and maybe keeps score about the fact that LW said they need to hang out with friends in small doses, but obviously makes other choices sometime (so why not with The Escalator, too?).

      • Inspector Spacetime said:

        Again, maybe just a function of my friend group, but nobody would be so crass as to bring that up. If she noticed, I would expect her to just quietly stop inviting LW to one-on-one things.

  9. Connie-Lynne said:

    Oh yeah, this is my mom! Any time I visit, she has to turn it into an all day ordeal of waiting to get the whole family together and spending the entire day together.

    I finally recently hit on a strategy similar to the Captain’s, and it seems to be working. I plan one time-bounded thing, and we do that, and if the family can’t all be there for that thing, I let her know the other family plans but I don’t change them around to accommodate her OMG WE ALL HAVE TO SPEND ALL OUR TIME TOGETHER freakouts.

    • Cyberwulf said:

      Haha are you and your sibs all grown? Because that sounds a bit like my family. For years we’ve done “the whole family” things but since my sister had a baby we’ve just had to switch to “let’s plan a casual thing, send the word out and whoever can come, comes”. Kids grow up, move away, get married, have kids of their own and there’s never going to be a perfect time to all get together.

    • Muddie Mae said:

      Are you my sister-in-law, and are you finally on board with my strike against your family’s marathon hangouts? (jk)

      My mother-in-law is like this, and since they live in another city it makes visiting Ex.Haus.Ting as they expect us to spend several days with them from breakfast to bedtime. I visited once before I insisted on staying at a hotel for all future visits, and by the second visit I was insisting that we plan a break away from them for each day. (Said break cannot be spontaneous or MIL will pout.) The best visit we ever had was when a friend was with us and thus we had a “reason” for not spending every waking second with them. I might need to cultivate some imaginary friends in that city.

      • How about some online friends in that city? You can say, “I need to connect with Friend X, who lives in town. See you later!” Then go and send Friend X an email. DONE! And you have all the free time that you would have spent in transportation and doing things with Friend X. And it’s honest, too.

    • Hey, are you my cousin? Because I have an aunt who does this. She is a lovely, giving person and I love her to pieces, but she does things like inviting me to go round a garden centre with her and then it’s OOPS HERE ARE TWENTY-FIVE MORE RELATIVES and everyone is going to eat at the garden centre cafe, which seats eight at most and can’t provide soya milk for lactose intolerant Uncle Alex or a high chair for Cousin Lizzie’s toddler. She once heard that another relative was going on holiday and booked herself, my uncle, her widowed mother, her sister and brother-in-law into the villa next door as a surprise.

      • Jenna said:

        I was flying to my brother’s funeral. It wasn’t a direct flight. My cousin showed up at the connecting flight and had purchased the seat next to mine.
        No, I don’t give her details of my travels now. “I’ll be there sometime on X afternoon” is PLENTY for this cousin because she’s never ever getting flight details again.

  10. Tea Rocket said:

    I agree that this LW is on the right track. All I can suggest are variations on what the Captain has already said.

    Another possible script:
    LW: “Hey, I’m going to [activity] at [specific time and place]. Do you want to join?”
    Escalator: “Sure. And then we can do [other activity] and then go to [other place] for [yet another activity].”
    LW: “I actually will have to head home after [activity suggested by LW], but I’d love to see you for then!”
    Escalator: “Well, maybe we could reschedule for [other time]?”
    LW: “No, like I said, I’m doing [initial activity suggested by LW] at [specific time and place initially suggested by LW]. [Optional: We could do [one of the other activities suggested by Escalator] on [some other date in the future]. This option might send a mixed message initially, and given how fed up the LW sounds with the Escalator, it might not be good to use right right now. However, it might be something to say in the future once s/he resets her/his relationship with the Escalator and wants to encourage making plans for shorter spaces of time.]
    Escalator: Why don’t you want to hang out?
    LW: I do want to hang out, that’s why I invited you for [activity].
    Escalator: But why don’t you want to do the other stuff?
    LW: I told you, I already have other plans for the rest of the day. There isn’t room in my schedule for a full day hang out, but I would like to see you for [activity] at [time and place]. If that doesn’t work for you, that’s fine—we can try again some other time.

    At this point, the Escalator either agrees to the LW’s plan, or continues to try to negotiate, to which the LW says, “Hm…it doesn’t sound like you’re down for this plan. That’s too bad. We’ll try again some other time. I have to go now—talk to you later!”

    A lot of how this is received is down to the tone of voice the LW uses. If it’s firm but friendly (with a very mild amount of disappointment if the Escalator isn’t board with the initial plan), then hopefully the Escalator will eventually reset her expectations when she’s with the LW.

  11. Zinc said:

    I really like LWs social units analogy and captain’s social budget. I have someone I work with who always escalates plans and it just gets exhausting. Fortunately I don’t that person often so I budget out extra social units when we do things together and have time to recuperate after.

    As captain said it seems like she is going to have to have an honest conversation with the person if she wants to try and continue this relationship. The escalator seems oblivious to how her behavior affects others and unless someone tells her she will never figure it out.

    Unfortunately there is a lot of social pressure to maintain the status quo and not hurt people’s feelings. Not all problems can be fixed with subtle cues and hinting around. One of the valuable lessons I’ve learned from reading this blog is that it is okay to have these kind of conversations. It feels awful when you first do it but it can squash problems before they spiral out of control and helps maintain healthy relationships.

  12. Slow Gin Lizz said:

    My mother started calling this “mission creep” a few years ago and now I do too. It’s so easy for things to get out of control when you were just hoping and planning for a simple event. “Oh, let’s do dinner AND a movie.” “Oooh, instead of just you and me let’s invite all our mutual friends, too.” Her mother/my grandmother usually wanted more time and attention than we were able to give her so we learned some self-defense mechanisms for dealing with it. So now to people like your Escalator I find that sometimes it’s easy enough to just say, “Let’s just keep it simple and only do the movie” and they will understand. Maybe Escalator will and maybe she won’t, but if you haven’t tried this yet I hope you will.

    I have also found that the less time people have to get together the less likely they are to try to escalate. (For instance, my friends with kids totally get it if I only hang out for a couple of hours on a weekend even if we’d both like to see each other more.) So if you follow some of the above advice to say you only have a couple of hours free ANYTIME YOU PLAN TO MEET HER she might get the picture and stop escalating. It would also be worth a gentle reminder at the end of the event that you’re glad you got to see her if only for a short time so that she gets the picture that even short get-togethers are worth it.

    Are you possibly able to have these meetings in the evenings after work? Then you definitely have a concrete excuse: “Oh, hey, gotta go and get to bed! Work in the morning, you know!”

    It seems like she takes it really personally when you don’t have time to do All the EscalatorEvents. Perhaps she will take these tactics personally, but would that be such a bad thing? If she thinks that what you’re doing is not personal (even though it is), she’ll be all the better for someone giving her limits. And if she takes it personally and doesn’t want to meet up with you one-on-one again, would you be terribly upset about it?

    • Guava said:

      I love, love, love the phrase “mission creep” in this context. It’s what a colleague of mine calls it when clients try to add more work to the same budget.

      • Slow Gin Lizz said:

        I’m pretty sure that’s where Mom got it from. Certainly I’ve heard it in that context too. 🙂

      • Anon, Goodnight said:

        Yep. I’ve also heard it called, “scope creep.”

        • Slow Gin Lizz said:

          Yup, that too. I usually call it that, actually.

          In addition, LW, I as an introvert know that I am really up for only one or two social events in one day. Perhaps you are in the same boat and can explain that nicely to your Escalator and maybe she’ll get that.

          Although I do like all the comments here about how laundry is very important and you need to schedule time to do that, too. Laundry is always an excuse, IMHO.

        • vortexae said:

          Or “feature creep” – when the client keeps adding items to the list of things the new website or app is supposed to do, long after the project definition phase is over and well into the QA period.

    • “you’re glad you got to see her if only for a short time”

      I’d be wary of using this one because when my mum says it, it means “I’m hurt you had so little time to spend with me and are leaving already, but I’m bearing it bravely.” Hopefully that’s just the her/me dynamic, but if Escalator has someone like my mother in her life, saying that might have the opposite effect from what you want.

  13. Amy said:

    I had a friend-group-person like this in middle school. She drove me so nuts. The final straw was when she invited me on a weekend camping trip with her family and I couldn’t figure out how to say no, so I went…and it was awful, because there was literally no one there that I wanted to hang out with for more than about an hour, and I was stuck there ALL WEEKEND. (I don’t think she enjoyed it either; I can’t imagine I was great company by day 2.) But it taught me to…well…not do that. It’s OK to recognize where the limits are on a given relationship. It’s OK to say ‘no’ even when you don’t have a ‘good reason’ (and you don’t actually have to explain ‘no’ beyond ‘that won’t work for me’). And if people push back on your ‘no’, it’s better to get blunter and stand firm than to give in.

    In your case: You’ve done the gentle no, and it hasn’t worked. So, it’s time to be more blunt. If you invited her to a thing and she tries to escalate, maybe say something like: “I don’t want to get complicated here. Let’s stick to seeing a movie on Friday evening–are you interested, yes or no?” Or, if she’s inviting you to a full-day agenda, feel free to say something like, “I can’t commit to the whole day, but I’d love to join you for dinner. How about you text me when you guys are heading that way, and I’ll meet you there?” Hopefully this can at least dodge the ‘Oh shoot, my flimsy excuse is falling through’ problem, since you’re not really giving a clear reason for your ‘no’–you’re just shutting it down as is.

    If you want to cut these conversations off entirely, though, I think you need to sit down and tell her that. She doesn’t sound like the type that’s going to pick it up from context. You could try something like: “I’ve noticed a trend where when I invite you to do something, you frequently escalate and try to tack on several other things (like dinner, coffee, or a walk). I appreciate the thought, but I’m pretty much never going to be up for doing several things in a row–it’s just not my style. In the future, let’s invite each other to do one thing, and focus on really enjoying that one thing rather than trying to turn it into a full-day agenda. Are you comfortable with trying that?”

    • “f she’s inviting you to a full-day agenda”

      It may be because I have a headache, but I read that as “full-day grenade.” And that is just how it feels, sometimes, isn’t it?

      When you have trouble holding onto you “no, thank you,” remember that you can say, “for personal reasons.” When someone pushes you for the reasons, you can say, “they’re personal,” and freeze them out after that, if they try to pry into your personal stuff.

      No is a complete sentence, but some people just won’t hear it.

    • myswtghst said:

      I really like your last paragraph. I think in this case it might be helpful for the LW to set a boundary and then enforce it, and making it about different styles (versus a right / wrong way to do things) might be helpful in trying to keep the Escalator from taking things personally.

  14. Lizards80 said:

    Great scripts! I would suggest adding what you DO want her to do.

    “…I like hanging out with you but I don’t like it when I invite you to/when we decide to do one thing and you suggest additional things on top of that. I would like to stick with just So in the future, when I suggest/we are talking about doing a specific activity, I would like you to leave it at that one activity instead of suggesting extra things to do as well. Cool? Thanks!”

  15. Mae said:

    Am I the only one with Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell now stuck in my head?

    • Elizabeth said:

      Well, now you’re not. 😉

  16. Deidre said:

    Ironically you’d probably want to do more with here if she didn’t escalate

    • isabeausuro said:

      Probably. My mom is a variant of an Escalator, where it’s never explicitly escalating plans but she finds every excuse in the book to linger — and so there’s a self reinforcing cycle of me pulling back (if I have energy for 5 minutes but not thirty, or thirty minutes but not two hours, I will say no to socializing at all just then) and her then lingering as long as she can when she does come over because she “never sees me” (by which I mean we talk by phone/chat/text/email 5-20 times a day, have a regular Saturday coffee “date”, and often other in-person stuff, but it’s still ~not enough~). If she didn’t linger, if I could trust her to respect my limits, she’d get to see me more often — but she does and I can’t so she doesn’t.

      • Thanksforallthefish said:

        ugh that sounds exhausting!

      • No Longer In Academia said:

        OMG. If my mother insisted on being in touch that much, I would probably have faked my own death, changed my name and fled the country by now.

    • Kitty said:

      This is the sad fact isn’t it? My mum whinges and complains that she “never sees me anymore” and can’t seem to grasp that her neediness and passive aggression actually makes me want to see her even less. :-/
      If she could just chill the hell out I might actually enjoy spending time with her.

    • Gatorade said:

      Yes! I have this exact problem with a friend and have never known how to describe it but now I do. He’s very clingy and wants to be in touch via text every day if I’ll let him. I do want to catch up with him but once I reply and catch up with him that’ll stimulate days worth of him messaging me without a response about several different topics until it eventually tails off. So I’m reluctant to do the catching up I’d love to do as I don’t want to commit to days at a time of texting, and as a result I try avoid messaging all together.

      He does the escalating plans thing too and I can’t stand it. I’d like to be friends who hang out once per month or so for a coffee or go to gigs together every couple months, but he tries to turn it into whole day hangout sessions where we meet early, spend all day, go to the gig and perhaps stay over followed by another day together the following day, and I just want to meet for a couple hours and split. For example we went to a gig recently and I put my foot down and said I would be arriving just before the doors opened and I’d see him there, I did that and we hung out for four hours and caught up yet he still text straight after saying ‘we’ll have to meet soon for a proper chat!’ and the difficult thing is it’s usually me driving the conversation as he doesn’t have a lot to say. I told him I’d be out of touch for a month with deadlines and he responded with saying he was gonna swing by my city (two hours away from his home) soon anyway and he’d let me know when so we can meet ‘even if only for a pint’: I said I wouldn’t be free but hoped he had a good time and he didn’t end up visiting the city so it was clearly just a ploy to meet up with me on the sly when he couldn’t get my consent to actively meet up.

      The whole thing just frustrates me so much I’ve been purposefully distancing myself and lately have no desire to meet at all as I can’t handle the continuous dampening down of escalating plans or contact. Ironically if he’d just chill and back off a bit I would want to see him occasionally. But I’m too nervous that if I give an inch he’ll try take a mile and even after periods of distance he goes straight back to these behaviours so I think it’s a lost cause and my heart isn’t in the friendship any longer.

  17. Dear LW,

    I’m with the Captain on this, “won’t” and “don’t want to” are legitimate and appropriate responses to the demands your acquaintance is making.

    I’ll say one thing she didn’t quite: you’ll probably hit 0 with her, at least for a while.

    (I hope Escalator learns to dial it back soon.)

  18. Clarry said:

    “When you keep suggesting we do something more, it makes me want to do something less, not spend more time with you.”

    I love calling her The Escalator. Describes it perfectly.

    I believe her escalations come from a place of anxiety. It’s so unfair of her to spew her anxiety on your head. My escalator, when I made all the plans solid, would jump in to pay my way. It’s like she wouldn’t let me take care of everything, and when I did, she felt boxed in or something.

    I love the Captain’s suggestions, but honestly, I believe the answer is going to end up being zero. In my experience, nothing I was able to say was ever enough to ramp things down. It’s like she has a huge teenage crush, and you just can’t talk people out of those.

    • Leonine said:

      Interesting. I feel the anxiety angle. I used to do this with gift-giving, and I still do it with preparing meals, but I’m getting better. If it’s anxiety on The Escalator’s part, it might be that she’s afraid that the other person is going to be bored or like she has to keep people entertained, because if she’s not entertaining them, why else would they be hanging out with her? I remember terrible anxiety like this around gifts, as though if the gift weren’t a whole elaborate, multi-part production, the person would be disappointed and I would be crushed. The Escalator might not really believe anyone actually likes her just for her.

      LW, if you think that might be the case, first abd foremost, that’s The Escalator’s own problem to solve. Second, you might consider letting her know that turning every outing into a circus distracts from the purpose of the outing, which is spending time with her: “You know, when we pile plans on top of plans, I start to feel like I’m missing out on just spending time chatting and catching up. Let’s just keep it simple and low-key.”

      • Kitty said:

        I got the feeling that maybe her anxiety is to do with being alone – like maybe she makes all these plans to fill her time because she doesn’t want to go home and be alone?

    • Clarry said:

      It really is a puzzle as to why Escalator does this– especially if she does it to others and never gets a positive response. I suggested anxiety. Maybe insecurity would be a better word. Still, it comes down to not really mattering what the reason is. Whether it’s some cultural thing where she thinks she’s allowed to add to an invitation without actually making one herself, or fear of being alone, or maybe something to do with transportation and arrangements (if I’m going to drive all the way for p, it’s more pragmatic to tie in q,r,s,t,u,v,w,x,y, and z at the same time), it’s still not LW’s problem to solve. And I don’t think LW could solve the problem even if LW wanted to take it on.

  19. Tule said:

    I have a friend like this! This is great advice. Some other things I did that felt mean, but enforced my boundaries are: blocked her on certain social media, instituted a 24 hour wait period before I responded to emails and texts, shut down future plan making while we are hanging out doing current plans, made her do the inviting for a few times in a row before initiating again (this was when I was really ready to jettison the friendship and was okay if we drifted). She definitely creeps into lets be BFFs and see each other all the time territory, but when I shut it down, she’ll back off. I do feel bad because I know she’d like to be better friends than we are, but I don’t want to be that close. I’m very happy with our level of casual friendness and this has seemed to work so that we can still hang out occasionally which I really like.

  20. Yolanda B. Cool said:

    These are great scripts, LW, and honestly, I’m kind of exhausted with Elevator just reading this. I also want to suggest (if you’re not quite up to trying the Captain’s “cards on the table” scripts right away), a slightly different approach:

    You: ” Hey, let’s do lunch on Thursday!”

    Elevator: “Sure! But let’s get breakfast first. And then go shopping after. We can have dinner at my place! You can stay over! Do you need a new roommate?”

    You: “Oh!” (This “Oh!” Is important. You want it to convey the same sense of bemused surprise as a cat bringing you a dead bird, or a toddler handing you a fresh booger.) “That sounds like A Lot. Let’s just do lunch.”

    Then repeat “That sounds like a lot. Let’s just do lunch” ad nauseam, whatever suggestions are offered. No explanations. It just sounds like “a lot.” You want to make it tiresome for her to keep making suggestions that get no traction.

    It doesn’t sound like Elevator is super goid at picking up social cues, but she may be cognizant enough to realize, between your reaction, and the lack of success in up-selling you on the Friend Experience, that her efforts are better spent elsewhere.

    • Yolanda B. Cool said:

      Also, upon re-reading this, I realized that my phone auto-corrected ‘Escalator ” to “Elevator.” My apologies, LW, I did not mean to assume your friend’s mechanical composition.

      • isabeausuro said:

        LW’s friend does sound like one of those high-speed “get to floor 60 in 2.3 seconds” elevators though… 😉

        • Am I the only one who finds those things terrifying? Like, if it goes up that fast, how fast does it go down?!

      • Kitty said:

        “My apologies, LW, I did not mean to assume your friend’s mechanical composition.”

        This made me laugh 😂

        • Gatorade said:

          “My apologies, LW, I did not mean to assume your friend’s mechanical composition.”

          Spat my water out haha!

      • Kristina said:

        Really? An icky Reddit-style “assume your gender” send-up here? Really?

        • Carrie said:

          It…was a joke? Because we care about those things here?

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      I love this “up-selling you on the Friend Experience”

  21. laurencleansup said:

    I work a lot of hours and so have to schedule all of my life stuff – including self-care and recharging – very carefully! I plan everything within an inch of its life just so I can get it all done. It’s not the *most* fun but it works for me and I’ve made an uneasy peace with it.

    As a result, I know the the “open negotiation” tactic wherein I decline and my friend wants to know all about why and maybe we could do another time, etc. As a bonus, most of the time, my reasons don’t really make sense to them – like, I need that time to do laundry (really, I do! It’s the only time I have that week) sounds like “I would rather be doing laundry than hang out with you.” That might be true, and it might not – but someone without my lifestyle would generally be hurt by hearing that because they have a lot of freedom to decide when and where those types of things get done.

    I have fallen in love with the phrase “I’m not available,” — “I’m not available for [thing]” and “I’m not available after [time.]” and more. For best results, don’t chase it with “I’m sorry” (makes it sound like you really do want to – which triggers the Problem Solver reflex in folks) and don’t include a reason (or you’re off to the negotiation races!). You’re just not available. If there’s pressure for more of an explanation, I just smile and reiterate what I can do – “I’d still really like to see a movie with you! Is there some reason you’d rather not do that unless I’m available for more?”

    If you do prefer to add more information stating boundaries is usually more effective with “I don’t” rather than “I can’t.” So, “I don’t skip my yoga class after work.” or “I don’t budget for treats like coffee during the week.” or “I don’t plan things that far out.” This makes it more about a choice you make that you’re owning so a pushy person can’t just steamroll your boundaries without having to own, on some level, that they don’t care about your level of comfort with your choice. It’s not about convincing you that you can, just this once! skip or splurge or whatever. It’s about this is what you do. So it’s easier to say, “Mmm, yeah, maybe, but I know that doesn’t work for me. I appreciate you understanding! So, back to the original plan ..”

    I agree that at some point you will probably need to be a little blunt with friend, but adopting the above had gotten me very far in avoiding the drawn-out exchanges you’re finding so tiring. Best of luck!

    • This is a great comment–especially “I don’t” vs. “I can’t.” I’d never thought about it that way, and I can’t wait to try it out!

      • You mean you don’t wait to try it out.

    • Mate, laundry is hard work and vitally important. If anything I should be scheduling more time to do laundry.

      • And laundry is something that affects the whole household. Nobody else can shower or do dishes or do their own laundry while you’re doing yours.

        I suppose they COULD shower or do dishes, but the water pressure and temperature will be all wrong.

    • johann7 said:

      I second all of this!

      “I can’t” = externally imposed problem to be solved
      “I don’t (want to)”/”I won’t” = self-determined boundary

      Yes, some people might be upset by enforcing boundaries as a matter of preference rather than an external obstacle, but it’s more honest when that’s actually the case, and it forestalls well-meaning problem solvers from trying to solve the fabricated reason.

    • ruinousillusion said:

      I have actually just gone ahead and told people who wanted to hang out while I needed to be getting chores done that they could hang out, but they’d have to either help or entertain while I did X,Y, and Z. So far multiple people have taken me up on it and it’s not turned out too badly, there are some people who want to chat with you enough that they’ll come over and read you entertaining stories while you scrub your place down for a parental visit then do dishes when you need a breather.

      It felt weird the first time, but I’ve gotten to the point where I can say “I really have to get [thing] done, and it’s got to be during that time that you say you want to hang out, so unless you want to hang out and keep me company while I do [thing], we’re going to have to get together another time.” Laundry is actually good for this, I can talk with them while sorting and have them help haul stuff, then we can sit and chat while things are cycling, and watch a show or something while I’m folding. Works best for low-energy friends.

      n.b.: this approach does not work for any chore where you need to be naked. At least, it doesn’t work for me. You do you.

      • myswtghst said:

        My husband actually did this recently with an escalator friend / former coworker of his, and it worked out surprisingly well! We were cleaning house to prepare for a home visit from a dog rescue (which went well, yay!), and he kept telling the guy “I can’t do fun things, I need to clean all day while myswtghst is at work” until the guy said “cool, I’ll bring my shop-vac over and help!” He did lots of vacuuming and rug shampooing, then stuck around briefly for pizza-and-cartoons socializing when I got home from work (but he was too worn out for all night video game marathons), and everyone was pretty happy.

    • The Real Dill said:

      I agree with laurencleansup about not saying “I’m sorry” when you say “I’m not available,” as apologizing suggests that this is a *problem* that *you* have *caused.* You might try substituting “Too bad!” or “That’s too bad” instead, as it conveys some measure of regret about your lack of availability without the connotation of *culpability* on your part.

  22. Thistledown said:

    I mean this in the kindest way possible, but I think you shouldn’t be worried about hurting her feelings. Finding out that she’s doing something that makes people want to spend less time with her will sting, but it’s good information for her to have. (Although I absolutely agree with The Captain that you should phrase this as “I don’t like this” and not “we don’t like this.”) It sounds like she would like to have a very active social life and is undermining herself. Hearing a few hard no’s may help her pick-up on the soft no’s which is a very valuable social skill.

  23. Dear LW, people are telling you good things. Listen to the things. I’m just here to say that I really like your scale of interactions. It’s a great way to frame the idea.

  24. Clever Name Pending said:

    I have chronic fatigue syndrome and live by the phrase “I don’t know if I have that in me but what about..?” Would something like that work? “That sounds fun but I only have the mental energy to be engaged for x” doesn’t need cfs to justify, a few of my introvert friends have started using it

  25. gryphon said:

    A couple of months ago, the Twitter account Very British Problems tweeted: “Being asked “what shall we do today?” when you thought you were already doing it” and thousands of people sighed in recognition. I’ve had two Escalators in my life. I don’t know if it’s a common thing with Escalators, but both of them were really hard to make plans with and chronically late. So I’d feel a short-lived relief when we were finally together in the same place at (sort of) the right time, but then that relief would evaporate when they immediately started trying to plan the next thing. I’d be thinking: “It’s taken several phone calls and two changes of plan and you’re 40 minutes late for a simple coffee but now you want to dash off somewhere else before we’ve even taken a sip of the damn coffee? GIVE ME A BREAK.” I think in one case the Escalator just had a short attention span and a lot of energy and money, in the other case they wanted to increase our closeness to a level I wasn’t comfortable with. Both of them were just exhausting and I wish I’d read this advice years ago because I ended up basically cutting off contact with both of them.

    • gemmaem said:

      Hahaha oh god, I have this problem in my marriage! My husband is an Organizer. Just this weekend we had a conversation like this:

      Him: “What shall we do for lunch?”
      Me: “Hm, there’s not much in the house. We could head out?”
      [short conversation where we decide where we’ll be heading out to]

      Five minutes later:
      Him: “When shall we have lunch?”
      Me: “Well, NOT NOW, because it’s TEN THIRTY.”
      Him: “Oh. Sorry.”

      • the815 said:

        I am always wanting to pre-plan meals with the boyfriend like that – at lunch time I’m asking about dinner and so forth. I’m trying to lose weight so I track everything I eat and budget my calories. So if dinner will be big, maybe I’ll go easy on lunch, or vice versa.

        If he’s not watching what he eats, maybe he wants to plan what his stopping point will be if he wants to first get some work done/work out/run errands, etc.? Although I do get that it’s annoying when people want to keep discussing something you thought you’d already sorted out.

        • johann7 said:

          Seconding legit reasons for this, especially re: large meals eating (and esp. drinking) out balanced by light meals the rest of the day.

  26. chiaro said:

    Wow it’s almost as if we know the exact same person LW! I never really realized what was going on so I’m thankful for your letter.

    My ‘escalator’ would for example host dinner parties and then expect me(out of everyone) to help with everything(sometimes starting before noon). Then the dinner would sometimes end in a drug/orgie party(I always made sure to leave on time) nothing wrong with either but that wasnt what people came for. People mentioned to me that they wished that just dinner could be enough but it never was for the escalator. Everything always had to be big and look good. There were definitely a lot of bees (consent & control issues) that are off-topic but it makes me wonder if more is going on in your situation too.

    I really hope setting clear boundaries will help. It might take a while for her to get used to, especially if everyone in your friend group is doing the same. In my case I told my escalator exactly what was bothering me and the friendship ended. It might be something that you have to consider. Especially because you already experimented with setting clear boundaries and it didn’t work.

    • Yolanda B. Cool said:

      “the dinner would sometimes end in a drug/orgie party….”

      The Ron Burgundy “That escalated quickly” gif is almost too on the nose. 0.o

      • chiaro said:

        The gif is very accurate haha. I remember one dinner where I had just been eating my dessert and when I got back from the bathroom everyone looked a bit off… they had just taken ketamine. Usually when the boobs came out I knew it was time to go.

  27. CarpeFelis said:

    She sounds like one of those people who can’t or won’t go out and do anything alone, so whenever someone proposes an outing she wants to squeeze in a bunch of stuff she wants to be accompanied to. I’d consider that “not my circus, not my monkeys”.

    I like the Captain’s scripts. Being a very blunt person myself, I’d opt for telling her you only have x number of hours for a given outing and really had your heart set on doing Y and not Z, but YMMV.

    (Then again, I probably would no longer be friends with this person by this point, because there are few things that irritate me more than pushiness. When I say no, I do not mean “please twist my arm”, I mean an emphatic NO.)

  28. IsayIsay said:

    Introvert here so I totally “get this”. I have two long time friends who insists on “girl’s days”. We go out rarely (even though we all live within 20 minutes of each other) but it’s always a marathon day. They always want a long day of: morning coffee, a long drive to shopping destination, lunch, shopping, dessert, shopping, maybe a snack and then the long drive home.

    But to be honest, none of us have a great deal of money and we rarely purchase anything on these shopping trips. Also, the amount of actual talking we do can easily be done in the span of a leisurely lunch, preferably at a mutual location that we can all easily drive to on our own. I’ve tried switching things to a fun Friday drinks and dinner after work sort of thing and I get, “oh, Sundays work better for me – then we can shop!” My thinking is it would be enjoyable to connect more often but in drastically smaller doses of time.

    These scripts really help me think I might be able to change things.

  29. Oranges said:

    If you like this person then it’s worth spending some awkwardness to try to save the friendship, since otherwise it sounds like you are going to nope out of it anyway. If it works, then great! Friendship saved. If it doesn’t, and she gets mad/offended, then you would have not been willing or able to continue the friendship anyway.

    I like the Captain’s suggestions, but also like some of the others where you can just rip the bandaid off and tell her exactly the level of interaction you want and that her suggesting more is stressing you out and making you want to avoid her, without waiting for a new situation to arise.

  30. SWJ said:

    I think delineating the time you have (mentally, though she doesn’t necessarily need to know that part) available to spend with her might not be a bad thing.

    So instead of saying, “I’d love to spend *some* time with you, let’s grab lunch and catch up!” tell her instead “Hey, I’ve got 2 hours free on Friday, wanna grab a bite to eat and catch up?”

    That makes it easier to nix anything that you don’t want to do, and an easy (or easier) escape path on the day. “Damn! Look at the time! Gotta go, I’m about to be late!”

    Escalators are an awful sect of the Energy Vampires … Good luck! (Really, not snarky 🙂 )

    • LanguidGnostic said:

      Being upfront about a time budget (assuming all activities are roughly equal to you, which they might not be) could be a big favor to Escalator. If she knows she’s only getting 90 minutes of your time, she can prioritize which thing she most wants to do with you, or which topics she most wants to chat with you about.

      • Buni said:

        I live in a near-constant state of making up previous appointments to curtail activities – “Hey, I’d love to see you! I’m done at [job] at [hour] and have to be back at [hour] for [evening thing], but can totally see you in between!”. If I find out I am enjoying myself after all, I can always fake a cancellation text. Luckily I have a no-particular-hours job that *could* intervene at any point, so people believe me,,,

  31. What a stressful situation. When this kind of thing happens to me, I will usually start by saying something like “That sounds fun. I’m not really up to _ and _, but the coffee and movie sound great.” You can like a person and not be up for all the things all the time. Sometimes I’m down for whatever, and sometimes I’m not up for a whole lot. I’m not some kind of Friendship Party Robot. Lol.

    I hope these fresh scripts from The Captain help. Maybe new wording or a more direct conversation about the issue will help her understand that her idea of creating the perfect friend outing is exhausting/stressful/excessive for others. It would stink if after all this you gotta stop seeing this otherwise nice person and catapult an African Violet her way from far far…far away. Good luck!

    • OK, we need an inventor on here to make and market an African Violet Catapult, for when you just can’t get too close to the former friend.

  32. That sounds so exhausting. I cannot even imagine trying to deal with it all.

    To the Captain’s excellent advice, and Jane’s lovely script above, I will add this:

    It is 100% okay to decide that training her to accept your “no” is not worth the effort you will need to put in.

    I sometimes assess my “hard work” relationships in terms like, “If this person told me tomorrow that they were just chosen to be a Mars colonist, would I be profoundly relieved that my obligation to ‘friend’ them was gone from my life?”

    If your answer to that is yes, it’s okay to decide that the cost-benefit analysis of this relationship is too far askew.

  33. mercutia said:

    I have a friend who’s sort of like this, though I can usually talk her down. I feel kind of bad for not doing All The Things, but I have limited energy and I. Just. Can’t. We see each other every so often, and it works. best of luck to you, LW! Stay strong and hold fast to your limits!

  34. charmedomega said:

    Additional script suggestions:

    “Hey, I have a free 2 hours on Saturday, wanna hang out/go to this movie/get drinks?” and honestly, IMO, go and enjoy the 2 hours and let her tack on as many things as she wants in the 2 hours. She wants to see a 90 minute move then race over to the coffee shop, then drink the coffee while speed walking to the rose garden? Cool. Whatever. Set an actual honest to god alarm on your phone for when the 2 hours are up, and then your alarm went off so you have to go. Don’t get drawn into an interrogation about what you have to do and this was so short let’s hang out immediately after you finish what you’re going to do and why can’t we do this on a day when you’re free for 24 hours straight here let me pull out my planner and find one for you. “Oh yeah, being an adult is hard. I’m probably free again in 2 weeks, let’s catch up then.”

    also, “I’m an introvert and I just can’t handle more than 2 hours with people at a time”

    another idea: all your plans with her are with her and another person. It should make the interaction a little less intense and when one of you is going the party is breaking up and it has a real end. See also: so and so has a hard deadline and you were their ride, so there’s no way to stick around after they leave.

    • VG said:

      “let’s hang out immediately after you finish what you’re going to do”

      Oh god, I had a friend in college who did this all. the. time. I remember once we went to a professional sporting event (already not my thing) on a hot summer’s day (also not my thing) and when it finally ended I said “this was great, but I have to go do [insert prior commitment]!” and escaped. Two hours later, I was at home nursing my sunburn when I got a phone call from her saying “Are you done now? I’ll come pick you up and we’ll go shoot pool!” Gaaaaahhhhh.

  35. I would like advice on how to deal with a similar situation, but instead The Escalator also invites other people. E.g. I say “hey, let’s see this movie on Saturday!” and The Escalator says, “Great! We’ll have coffee first, then dinner after! I just texted Alan, Brenda, and Charlie, and they will meet us there!” and then I’m already exhausted from too much friend activity.

    • JenniferP said:

      “When I invite you to something, I’d like to see *you.* If I want to set up a group hang I will. Please don’t invite others without checking with me first!”

      • CB said:

        This often happens with friends who I’d say have higher social value to me than I have to them. I want to see just them, but they aren’t willing to assign a whole time slot to me, but figure it’s a good chance to multitask with some other acquaintances. Occasionally it turns out their acquaintances are nice and maybe even become my own friends, more often I just note the disparity in our interest and stop pushing them to hang out.

        • Dana said:

          This has happened to me more than once. It’s sad, but the only graceful thing to do is bow out of the event and as you say, accept that the friendship is a mismatch. Take it as it comes from then on.

          I have two people in my life who are less intense versions of the Escalator.

          One of them always cheerfully backs off when I say, “I’m just up for [the one thing] if that’s okay,” thank goodness. I never have to push back with her. I think she knows my time is at a premium for REASONS, and she just wants to see me as long as she can when I do have time. But she’s great about it.

          The other is a close relative, and it’s HER time that is at a premium, so I feel like whenever she has time to see me, she feels guilty that she’s so unavailable much of the time for TOTALLY LEGIT REASONS, and so when she is free, instead of dinner and a movie, I get the invite for THE ENTIRE WEEKEND. Sometimes at my house, because we are close like that. So that’s been harder to navigate. But thankfully if we are somewhere together for AN ENTIRE WEEKEND she understands if I disappear for a nap or to be in the woods alone or whatever (and to be fair I have inflicted my own very different issues on her from time to time, so our scorecard is totally even).

          I love all the honest yet polite scripts that have been suggested.

        • individ-ewe-al said:

          CB, I don’t know your friends, but I can tell you that I do this thing you’re describing. In my case it’s not because the person I do this to has low social value to me, it’s because I’m extremely extrovert and also very busy. I get a lot of happiness and extrovert energy out of hanging out in groups of half a dozen or so, and I’m over-optimistic about my friends getting on with eachother. I know this is a flaw of mine and I try to be aware of it and cut back, but I assure you, it’s motivated by something completely different from not caring much for the first person. In fact, I’m more likely to be tempted to do it to people I really like, because I think, oh, X is wonderful, I really want Y to meet them and see how great they are!

          • JenniferP said:

            Yay for self-awareness!

            The way to proceed here is to ask – “Is this a hangout for just you and me, or can I invite ___ also?” and then actually listen to the answer. ❤

          • What JenniferP said.

            Actually, your friend might want to meet your other friends, but if they are introverts, they may need to do it on a smaller-scaled basis. Instead of turning a one-on-one into a group, why not say, “I think you and X would really hit it off. Want me to arrange an introduction?” NOT set up a date, even a friend date. Arrange an introduction is all you do, and let them take it from there.

            I get that you want to share, but you have to consider that your sharing could be very painful for them, if they are introverts.

            But good for you for having that self awareness and working to improve your interactions.

          • trigly said:

            Oof, yeah. This. I’m an introvert for the most part, but I’m also relatively busy. I have regular evening activities three days a week. I need a few days of “do nothing with no one” time, so on the few remaining days where I have time and energy to hang out with people, it just makes the most sense to get them all there at once.

            So it’s a touch of that and a touch of “oh god 1:1 hangout what if we have nothing to say and it gets awkward maybe I’ll just invite other people and we can all entertain each other!”

            I… do not hang out 1:1 with almost anyone. Plus, pretty much all of my friends are mutual friends with my partner, so it’s already a three-person hangout. I don’t THINK friends who try to schedule hangouts intend for 1:1 time, and I sincerely hope if they do, they aren’t thinking “oh she doesn’t like me that much” if I extend the invite!

          • Alexia said:

            Interesting. I used to have a friend like you and, as an introvert, whenever she sprung those invitations on me I always wanted her to do the following:

            1) Invite me, not do a bait-and-switch (“We planned/were planning a 1:1… but here are all my other friends who you’ve never met!”)
            2) Tell me a little about why she thought her other friends would be people I would like to befriend
            3) Still have 1:1 meetings with me, even if they were a lot less frequent than the group gatherings
            4) Let me decide whether I wanted to keep meeting with her other friends
            5) Not be late/flake out and leave me alone with all the strangers

            She didn’t do any of these and blabbed my personal secrets to them (including details about my sex life!), which is why our friendship eventually came to an end.

            Oh and one thing I’ve seen extreme extroverts do is invite introverts to parties, not present them to anyone they would be compatible with (including an explanation as to why they think they’re compatible), and run off to talk to everyone else for the rest of the night. Please don’t do that either.

          • johann7 said:

            Reading all of the comments on this sub-thread, a couple of possible best practices occur to me:
            1) When one person is inviting one other person to do something, all parties should assume this is an invitation to a 1:1 thing. Also, if you overhear someone inviting another person who is not you to do something, do not assume you’re also invited because you happened to be in earshot (this has come up in other letters).
            2) If you are thinking of a group gathering, make that clear at the time you’re inviting people. Don’t frame something as 1:1 or even a small group and then escalate it after the fact.
            3) People prefer individual or group events for a number of reasons; don’t assume someone’s preference for one over the other indicates anything other than a preference for that kind of interaction in that particular context.
            4) Some mutual accommodation may be necessary for friends with discordant preferences. If you prefer to do things with one other person, step up and do things with the group every month or two. If you prefer group events, set some time aside every month or two for your friends who like spending time one on one.

            I think these practices can foster harmonious coexistence.

        • Yolanda B. Cool said:

          Offering a different perspective – it may not be a comment on social value. I, personally, love to play “friend matchmaker.” I try not to be obnoxious about it, but if I have different friends I think would love each other, I’ll invite them to a party at my place, or arrange a group hangout so they can meet. If your friends are anything like me, it may just be an earnest (and occasionally misguided) attempt to introduce people that are awesome to other awesome people, so that the awesomeness can multiply exponentially.

          • CB said:

            I totally get that idea! But that sounds like people know in advance that it’s a group thing, and maybe that it’s your own invitation. What I run into a lot is setting up a meal or scheduling a show with a friend, only to arrive and find a third person at the table. So those friends and I never hit it off, because we both or all thought we had arranged a personal lunch with our friend and now there’s this third wheel (or two more wheels), and we resent the surprise. Even if the matchmaker tells us in advance, it’s a drag, after exchanging messages all week to pin down a plan, to be told “oh I invited Janice to join us!”, when… I don’t know Janice. Maybe I had things to talk to my friend about but now we’re all just going to stick to innocuous public pleasantries, or else we take turns talking to the mutual friend about our shared stuff while the other person feels excluded. Everyone becomes a crasher at someone else’s party, when we thought it was _our_ party.

          • Alexia said:

            What CB said. I am not going to delve into an emotional connection I have with one person when a stranger is there explicitly to get involved in our conversation, even if that stranger is a friend of my friend’s.

    • CAinUK said:

      I had a friend who would turn every invite into a group thing as well. If the person suggests it, I just say: “I’m not up for coordinating a group thing, let’s keep it simple.” If they pushed back? “Okay, have fun. Let’s get together another time.”

      And in the instances where I show up to the coffee house and there are a bunch of extra people there? I stayed for 20 minutes, then simply said “You all have fun! I’m going to take off.” There would be a passive aggressive text of “whhhhyyy did you leave early” and I just deploy the same script: “I didn’t feel like a group thing and didn’t realize you invited other people, so I left. We’ll try again next time.”

      They did quickly learn to ask ONCE if others could come along, then accept the answer.

    • CommanderBanana said:

      I’ve had friends who have done that, and it’s really irritating – especially if they’re inviting boyfriends/girlfriends you don’t really know that well, or they’re inviting people to something that is easy with a small group but gets unmanageable with a larger group (wrangling brunch for 3? Easy. Wrangling brunch for 7? All of a sudden we need somewhere with space that also takes reservations and has a menu that works with everyone’s restrictions, and and and).

      I also admit I have occasionally been guilty of this, when I’ve been invited to do Fun Thing and I know Other Friend loves Fun Thing and I mention it to them without squaring it with the person who first invited me.

      What I’ve done to head that off, if I’m doing the inviting, is make it VERY CLEAR in the invitation email (I tend to do group emails for invites to stuff) if something is limited to the people I’m emailing or if I want them to spread the word/invite partners/invite everyone or if space is limited.

      Or, to keep my sanity as the person who is almost always the group’s Designated Planner, let people know that I’ll be at X place with Y people and if they want to meet us, great, but managing tickets/reservations/transportation is on them.

      • Shanny said:

        Ohhhhh the brunch for 7 thing. My social group started doing Treat Yo Self day (coffee, spa, shopping, dinner – we’re all extroverts), but our group expanded as new friends and SOs were brought in until finding a spa that could accommodate everyone, and then trying to match everyone’s schedule, became an absolute nightmare. Last year we cancelled it and the original trio just slipped off and did it in secret.

    • Slow Gin Lizz said:

      Or maybe “Can we keep it low-key and just the two of us?” preemptively the next time you plan something. I have a friend who does this too and I’m always relieved when she asks a whole lot of people and no one else can come.

    • quinalla said:

      I had invited my parents and my one brother, his wife and son to our house for Thanksgiving. My other siblings had other plans (at the time) so we said great we can just have the smaller gathering. So somehow my other siblings became available, so my Mom just invited them to my house and I heard about it offhandedly from my sister and was stunned. I mean, my Mom did this kind of thing at her own house all the time, she’s an extrovert and the more the merrier for her which is awesome. But I’m an introvert and it was MY HOUSE. My Mom also has the MUST ALL BE TOGETHER FOR HOLIDAYS disease too 🙂 Anyway, I wrote my Mom a long introvert email, gave her some time to digest and then called her. I said we understood if she couldn’t come anymore, but she was still welcome, but that she can’t invite people to our place. She could have asked if they could join in, we would probably have said no, but it was definitely a no now as we knew saying yes would just invite the behavior again. Anyway, my brother’s family ended up coming and it is still my favorite Thanksgiving ever as it was so chill. And I don’t know that my Mom really gets it as even though all her children lean introvert (some of us more heavily than the rest – me) and her husband too, she still doesn’t really get introverts, but at least she always respects my boundaries and limits when I speak up about them.

      My script was basically, “You can ask me to invite others along, but don’t assume that I am up for that. When I invite you, I want to have an outing with YOU, not necessarily with a bigger group. I’m an introvert, so it can be really draining for me to be in larger groups vs. one-on-one, even with great friends/family.”

    • wordnerd28 said:

      Ugh, I had a similar situation with some old friends. Every event was a ‘let’s throw out a mass invitation to all of our billion friends!’ event. And as a bonus, all of these events either started after 9 pm regardless of the day of the week, or they started in the morning and lasted ALL DAY LONG. I love these friends and am sad that I don’t spend as much time with them as I used to, but dude. I just can’t handle it anymore. I have a full time (soul sucking) job. I have the energy for small, intimate friend gatherings that last a finite amount of time, not an open invite for every person you know within six zip codes. And since I can’t make those smaller gatherings work, I just see them less. It’s really sad and I feel guilty as hell about it, but their hangouts are exhausting. Sympathy to you and I hope you can work it out.

    • CMart said:

      If you were my friend (and you might be, because I just realized I do that without thinking fairly often) I think the suggestions given above are all great ones that would work on me and not hurt my feelings.

      And definitely preempt invitations. “Hey, I miss you. Want to see a movie with me, just the two of us?”

      For me, I don’t get many opportunities to do Friend Stuff so I try to *~optimize~* my social time by gathering all my people (who also all like each other and hang out together regularly) into one slot. It’s good to be reminded that it’s not my place to optimize other people’s social time 🙂

    • Kitty said:

      I had to have this awkward conversation with a friend who was not an escalator, but who would automatically bring her fiance along all the time when I invited her to something. I said that although I think he is great and we get along fine, sometimes I just want to hang out with you, so when I say “do you want to do X”, I mean just you. When I say “do you guys want to come to Y”, I mean both of you. It was awkward, but she took it well, and in the end less awkward than having him unexpectedly also show up at my door when I was expecting to just hang out with her.

      • Thank goodness! For a second, I thought the fiancé wouldn’t let her go anywhere without him.

  36. lbee said:

    Heh. I have an Escalator right now – they’ll bend over backwards to adjust plans so that they can see me, they tack on extra events to invitations (movie AND coffee AND board games), etc. They are a fairly new friend and I am an introvert, so this is really kind of exhausting. The thing that makes it okay is that on several occasions they have added “and by the way, when I invite you to things, no thanks is absolutely an okay response and I will respect that!” and then followed through on it. So we’re still figuring out the right balance, but clearly they know that it can be an issue, and they are direct and clear about setting and respecting boundaries.

    I mention this because I think it’s a hopeful story! Maybe some day your Escalator will also realize that they can have their DO ALL THE THINGS feelings but in a way that doesn’t alienate people. I hope so, anyway. The Captain’s advice, as usual, seems sound.

    Best of luck!

  37. jennthemighty said:

    Is your friend my MIL? This is exactly what it’s like trying to make plans with her and I now funnel all MIL plans through my husband. I have him tell me what he and his mom/family are doing and I say whether I will make it for all of it, a portion of it, or none of it. It’s awesome. I’m completely off the escalator. I hope your pal is just an enthusiastic person, who can find a reasonable solution to your different plan-making styles, vs. a manipulator. (Guess which one my MIL is…)

  38. joyjacobs said:

    depending on your social circle, invoking spoons/social energy can be super useful. like “wanna get coffee?” “yes, and let’s get a movie after that!” YOU COULD a) cancel b) make an excuse c) say “no just coffee” like the captain suggested BUT if you feel like you want to offer an explanation that is both truthful and not hurtful, i often use something like “oh! thanks so much for inviting me, but on weekends i really need to conserve my energy so im well rested, so i basically turn into a pumpkin after an hour!” or whatever. i find that people rarely question these when they are stated as immutable fact, but it is a good way to avoid hurt feelings.

  39. Serin said:

    The Escalator sounds like an extrovert with a lot of introvert friends.

    Lifelong introvert though I may be, I do sympathize with her! She’s trying to get her battery recharged with more interaction, and every time she steps closer, her friends back up. It probably feels the same way to her as it feels to us when we’re trying desperately to get some more solitude and people keep stealing our alone time.

    I like the scripts from the Captain, and from Jane at the top of the comments list. If no one has explained introversion/extroversion to the Escalator, that might also be helpful.

    But it might be easier to keep liking her if you remember that her more-more-more-of-your-day feels the same to her as our more-more-more-time-alone-with-a-book.

    • chechina said:

      I agree with you. I know a couple of people like that (I’m also an introvert), and I don’t see any malice in the interaction. LW, I think, “I have other plans” is too vague. I suggest you try what I say, “Whoa! Let’s just start with the movie”, and then change the subject. If she refuses to change the subject, “Dude, I like you, but I don’t socialize like you do. A movie is all I’m committing to right now” should be the final word. If that’s not the final word, then malice is intended, and this person is not your friend.

  40. Convallaria majalis said:

    Oh, dear LW, that does sound hard!

    I fear that when I was younger – and much less certain about myself and feeling much lonelier I might have been a bit like this person. Perhaps (and hopefully, as the others have put it) they are indeed very excited about the prospect of your company, I know I was back then when I met someone I truly liked a lot. In the hindsight I feel ashamed about how I was back then.

    I am neither introverted nor extroverted but something in between: I need a lot of alone time and luckily, so does everyone in my small family – but dear LW, whether or not you are introverted or something else, there are still different kind of people. Some are really nice, but they fill up one’s social quota pretty quickly – and some are very easy to be with – and one can still love them and the amount of love does not have to depend on how much time one can comfortably spend in their company.

    My mother was the type one: when we were together it clearly had an expiration date and after that it became more and more uncomfortable. Luckily, my beloved is the other type.

    It is clear that you know what you need for your own well being and comfort and that is truly great. Once again The Captain gave great advice: stick to your boundaries and do not feel guilty for defending them. I hope there is a way to explain to this person that you like them well enough. You told us that you have found out that they are similar with other people, so it is nothing personal. Although you truly do not need to concern yourself with the why of it I still cannot help but wonder.

    Best of luck to you – and courage! You are marvellous at defending your boundaries, I wish I was as good.

  41. CB said:

    I’m going through this now with a new friend. It’s a surprise variant, though, because it isn’t ever our plan, it’s just spontaneous scope-creep.

    I really like this pal, and every time I see her I think, ‘why don’t we do this more often? She’s great!’ But her natural timespan for hangouts is just… way longer than mine. We meet for tea after lunch, and after a couple of hours I’m saying ‘okay, I need to head out’ and she counters with ‘I’m going that way too! Let’s get cookies for the walk! Let’s just stop and eat our cookies in this park! You’re getting groceries? I also need groceries! I’ll walk you downtown!’ etc. I get home after five or six hours and she’s ready to schedule another day out next week, and I panic and say I can’t – and she knows she’s pushing me and steps back, but is clearly hurt. I don’t know how to say it without upsetting her, but tbh I’d see her every week for an hour and a half, but if it’s an entire day, that’s more of a quarterly thing for me. So we both lose.

    I tried always having somewhere to be a few hours after we meet, but she saw that for what it is – and she takes it as a rejection. (A three hour tea is not a rejection!) Evidently this needs to be a conversation, but I can’t work out how to frame it for her.

  42. maia said:

    My fiance and I figured out the source of a recurring mismatch between us a few years ago and it was relationship-changing! His basic way of operating in the world is “if a little is good, MORE is better!” Whereas I seek out experiences that feel “just right.” I could never understand why he would consistently escalate as soon as I was enjoying a situation (let’s go even faster on this jet ski! if you are laughing a little let me tickle you even more!), or why he thought I didn’t like a board game if I “only” wanted to play it for 3 hours. He’s shy so doesn’t particularly do this with social invitations the way the OP’s friend does, but we bumped up against it in all kinds of ways until we figured what was going on. I wonder if that dynamic could explain the friend’s escalation of invitations? In addition to the extrovert/introvert explanation others have suggested. If this is the case, I know my fiance found it helpful when I explained the concept of what “just right” feels like to me, in contrast to the way he approaches experiences.

    • I love cake, but if I eat too much, I get sick and throw up.

      Just right is a real thing, y’all!

  43. NaoNao said:

    Aw man, I’m friendly with an Escalator too. She’s in a bad place in her life right now, my next door neighbor in a two-unit building, and she’s…a lot. Like no indoor voice, unpredictable moods, high and low emotions, can be snappish with service people for no apparent reason, not a great driver (and always wants to drive me around!) and just intense in general. But she really needs a friend and a stable influence in her life and I’m kind of a Mother Hen type so…

    Whenever we hang out she offers or asks to do more stuff “I’ll drive you [to next thing you have to do that you mentioned to make an exit from this hangout]” “Okay, I can come with!” “You barely saw me!” “It’s only been an hour!” and so on.

    My BF and I were talking about her and other people who are overall not bad people, but seem to live on this super high frequency vibration and intensity and are always in trouble and need help and have a hurricane of drama around them and he said “It’s like they’re Feral People.” That was such a good description of the hurt/anger/lashing out/help me/all the moods/drama/hurt/bad choices/anger/help me cycle that some people are in all the time it stuck with me.

    Poor Escalators and Feral People. I feel for them.

    • Violet said:

      Ooooh, a lot of things you say about your Escaneighbor ping my alarms, but the one I need to say: if she drives you somewhere (as you say she constantly offers/tries to do), that gives her a _lot! of control_ over whether/when you leave the place or end the interaction. That plus unpredictable moods, etc etc and driving badly (aka unsafe! And a bad combination!) and poor boundary acceptance – I feel like I’m watching a horror movie and a character is going toward the barn and I’m like DON’T GO IN THE BARN….

  44. Thanksforallthefish said:

    Everyone sent some great advice.
    There’s one element here that I suspect is filling you with anxiety. It sounds like you already sorta lied to Friend that the 2 week vacay can’t work for time and money reasons. You know she’ll be hurt when she finds out you’re doing something else with other mutual friends and exclude her.
    I don’t have THE answer but I think…maybe just don’t make a big deal out of it. Maybe post something about it after the fact “Had a great time doing x for vacation!” and leave it at that. Don’t announce it in advance to prevent the +1 attempt.

    She may feel some feels about it but as long as she doesn’t bring it up, it’s not your problem.

    If she does confront you about it…”You said you didn’t have time or money for a vacation!” Then you might bring out some of the TALK scripts. Or you could say that the place and the people and timing worked well for you. If you are feeling really generous or feel bad about the lie, you can apologize for that…you can say “I’m sorry I lied to you about my availability but you like to fit so many activities in each day and when I try that I become overwhelmed and exhausted, I needed a vacation to relax.” Or use that to bring out the other scripts.

    I don’t know if mutual friends will let the cat out of the bag before the vacation, but you may ask them to keep it quiet.

    Best of luck!

  45. Friday said:

    I know a lot of escalators. In fact I used to be one : so much pressure to make sure EVERYONE IS HAVING A GOOD TIME. It was extremely exhausting and I quickly changed my ways.
    One way I deal with close friends and family who are escalators is by being very truthful about the reasons I don’t want to hang out more: “I absolutely love seeing you. Nothing would make our dinner more perfect. Drinks after will not make me have a better time. They will make me tired and make me regret going out in the first place.” Or “I am perfectly happy and content when I see you for two hours. And I like finishing my day on that high happy note”.

    It works for me. They are also the scripts I used for myself to stop escalating (why am I miserable after a night out if I had such a good night????)

  46. DeltaDelta said:

    I used to know an Escalator! I called her a Level Jumper, but I like Escalator much better. Things were often on the level of “hey, let’s have a beer” or “let’s go for a hike” or whatever. But then sometimes things would get weird and it would be talk of going on vacation and renting a house on the coast together. I didn’t like it.

    She and I fell out of touch (no, I ghosted her, essentially, because I found her to be horrible). I heard from a friend who works with her that a new person started at their work. On the second day the Escalator was already telling the new co-worker that she could sleep over at her house if the weather was bad and she didn’t feel like driving. New co-worker reportedly became very weirded out by the situation. Apparently the Escalator also often fondly refers to me as “my really close friend, DeltaDelta.” Yeah, no.

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      Huh! you just helped me realize something about my sister. She does this a bit. I mention I want to sew a costume and she wants us to spend a day sewing together in which we’ll make all the things! at her house! which is also small. I want to go camping? She hasn’t been camping in years, let’s go…I want to travel? She wants to go with me to India. I drop by to chat for 5 min during our work day? she keeps talking for 30 min overriding every “I gotta go” I say. Hmmm

  47. bopper said:

    I also wonder if it is a case of “Hey let’s do this introvert thing where we don’t have to talk much” and she says “But I need some Extroversion too and time to talk so let me add a talking activity”…but clearly for you to keep the friendsip you need to keep it at the minimum level of interaction.

  48. whistle said:

    LW, there are lots of good scripts here.

    I don’t see how you two don’t end up at 0 if you don’t explicitly state that you will have to stop reaching out if she cannot accept a 30. Once this has been established, it should be easier to remind her of this once the escalating starts again (“I really would just prefer an afternoon meet up. Is it a date?”)

  49. Chris said:

    I have a friend like this. Whenever I offer to hang out, she accepts and then tries to build on grabbing a beer + dinner. For a while she was doing it 1:1 and acting mad at me if I stuck to the original plan. Then she did it in a group setting, and when I said “I don’t remember anything about dinner plans” she admitted she had just added the suggestion herself – which made me really mad because it showed that she was consciously adding things, and it wasn’t just poor memory or communication. I have to admit I’ve been cutting back on hanging out with her.

  50. JennyLouWho said:

    Oh man, I’m an extrovert who lives alone in a place where I don’t know people yet and the few friends/colleagues I do have are super introverted. I know that I could have a tendency to do this bc I’m so soul-crippling lonely. I work hard to give my introvert friends space so they don’t write letters like this, but it’s turned me into someone who always waits for their cues. It’s really hard to feel like I’m suppressing what I need – going to a movie and not talking is great for them but is entirely unappealing to me. I don’t feel like it’s acceptable to ask for a little more effort that asks for a little less focus on their needs because I know I’m an overwhelming extrovert and I don’t think I matter enough for that. So these scripts seem like they’d work, but they sure don’t show compassion and I’d rather a friend dial to 0 so I’m not having to feel like I’m begging for friend-scraps. Because begging for friends scraps so I’m a little less lonely is a really, really terrible feeling.

    • JenniferP said:

      I hope you find some fellow extroverts to hang out with, if your current friends are this incompatible with you.

      The Letter Writer is trying to remain connected TO this person, not cut her out. It’s okay to have limits on how much you can or want to hang out!

    • Perhaps you could ask your introvert friends if they know any extroverts you might like to know, and introduce you to them? The best way to expand your friendship network is to get your friends to arrange the introductions.

      If you specify extroverts, I’ll bet they’ll be thrilled to introduce you to some extroverts, who are also having the same (I need extrovert energy, so why do we only do introvert stuff?) situation as you.

      It’s a win-win!

    • Muffin said:

      Oh gosh, I really felt this hardcore when I was finishing my dissertation, and there’s just so little sympathy in the academic world for extroverts. I’m so sorry you’re in this situation.

      Here’s what I learned through trial & error and through having a really great therapist:

      – You are not obligated to spend your life waiting around for other people. Truly. If someone expects YOU to be available whenever it’s convenient for THEM, but always makes it difficult to find times or activities that are good for YOU, that’s not an introvert/extrovert mismatch — that’s a considerate/inconsiderate mismatch. People who can’t get past this are not going to be good friends to you.
      – Showing awareness at the outset that your style of hangout may be different from other people’s can put introverts at ease. I’m an ask person, so I solve this by asking a lot of questions: “When we go to a movie, does that mean you will want to get drinks and talk about it afterward? If not, could we go for coffee *instead* if the movie? How long a coffee is too long for you?” Sometimes just flagging these questions can help people stop panicking if they’re worried that you will want more than they can give. (Note that this is the polar opposite of The Escalator.)
      – Over time, see if you can find *regular* activities that get some of your interaction needs met but are low-impact for your friends. I used to have people over for a tv watch once a week. Knowing that there is a definite future time when interaction will happen can take a lot of the pressure off and lower stakes for negotiating other interactions.
      – Another way to negotiate from a position of comfort and strength rather than insecurity is to make dates with yourself that are unmovable. One of mine was lifting weights; maybe yours is sketching at the museum or volunteering with a local activist group. Have some things on your schedule that feed your soul and are all about you.

      Just to reiterate: there is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with you. I know from hanging out in a lot of digital and IRL introvert-dominated spaces that extroverts frequently get the message that they are too needy, too overwhelming, too selfish, and that can cause a lot of us to curl up into smaller and smaller balls until we’re miserable. At best, this is a big misunderstanding; at worst, it can verge on bullying and controlling behavior. You do not have to make yourself infinitely small and infinitely available in order to deserve friends, I swear. You do have to respect other people’s boundaries, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get to have needs (and, hell, boundaries of your own).

      Good luck, fellow extrovert. ❤

      • Serin said:

        Wow, this is fascinating — as an introvert, I often feel that the world is extroverted and is constantly demanding that I change; I had no idea that extroverts felt the same way!

        Your suggestions are compassionate and practical.

        I also wish that parents did a better job of really teaching and demonstrating to their kids that people are different and that’s OK and here’s how we deal with that, rather than either “You must change yourself to be someone other people like” or “Normal people are like us; people who are different from us are strange and need to be forced to change.”

        • Muffin said:

          Totally agree! Honestly, the number one thing that helped me sort through all this was becoming an accessibility advocate. Thinking about these issues as “how do we make hanging out accessible for everyone,” rather than some sort of weird push pull — it completely changed my perspective. “Normal” isn’t always accessible or useful!

    • Boy, I feel for you on the lonely thing; I’ve been there. But I think you’d do better to not think of it as “friend scraps.” These aren’t some leavings you’re being doled out as a token, this is what they have to give such that they can have happy lives. That’s frustrating in your circumstances but if you’re going into the day-to-day of this relationship with a predisposition that you’re being shorted there’s just no way either person has a gratifying relationship.

      You might do well to find some way to have a recurring/regular sort of event with folks, rather than this situation where trying to be respectful of their limits makes you feel like you’re always scrambling. Regular game night, maybe. Offer to host it so folks who feel anxious about too much togetherness can leave when they need to.

      • winter said:

        Absolutely agree.

        I also think this would be the perfect situation to look for a group activity that will get you some of your interaction needs met. – With new people I mean. At worst, you see a group of people once a week that share something you like with you. At best, this will allow you to slowly build more connections with people who are more on your wavelength.

  51. I have an escalator friend, and I’ve learned the hard way that “you can stay over at my place if you don’t want to drive home” is the gateway to a lost next day. The overnight turns into the dog walk which turns into brunch and then wham it’s the late afternoon. That happened once and never again. She recently invited someone else along and I was pissed off about it but later she talked about how much she thought we’d like each other so once I realized it was an attempt at friend matchmaking I got insight into her thinking and my attitude softened. I think it really is about clear communication and strong boundaries. I invoke the phrases “introvert hangover” and “social battery” often so she gets my POV. I talk about my need for recovery and sleep. And quiet. She still walks me to my car, asks me if I want to sleep over, won’t say goodnight. I’m prepared for it and it doesn’t get to me as much.

    Don’t get me started on the friend who always shows up WITH HER EX in tow. That’s bizarre and irritating. I stopped socializing with her because dafuq I want to make stilted conversation with the person you broke up with five years ago?

    I have started practicing The Art of the Leave when it’s a Big Groups thing. Work stuff is great for this. It’s all about commitment and confidence. You wait for a lull, look at your watch and say, “Well, it’s time for me to hit the road. Thanks for great evening. Then you throw on and you, wave and walk out. I’ve seen colleagues hit the parking kit a minute later, so I know I’m freeing others from social jail by paving the way.

    I love my friends, but I love them less when I have to spent time with them when I’m exhausted. I’ve put it in these simple terms and they’ve gotten it.

    • Slow Gin Lizz said:

      Ummmm, why is she still hanging out with her ex from five year ago (and ALWAYS???)???? Dafuq indeed.

      Introvert hangover is a good phrase. Gonna steal that one.

  52. mf said:

    Haven’t read all the comments, so forgive me if I’m repeating advice that other people have posted.

    One thing that has worked for me with this type of person is to NOT give a reason (any reason) why I can’t do the thing I don’t want to do. The Escalator wants to do drinks after the movie? Sounds like fun but I can’t! The Escalator wants to do brunch AND a museum AND the beach? I can only do brunch that day but have fun hitting up the museum and beach without me!

    If you say, “I can’t. I can only do X activity,” most people won’t press you for a reason. And if they do, don’t give them an excuse: “I can’t. But have fun without me!” If they *really* press you for a reason, keep it vague: “Too much on my plate right now, so I can’t.”

    And if you want to give an excuse, blame it on your need for downtime: “Brunch would be fun, but I need some me-time this weekend. So let’s just do a movie. If that doesn’t work for you, then we can cancel.” Nothing wrong with needing a little time to yourself! If a friend can’t respect that, then they aren’t much of a friend!

  53. hannahkeefer7 said:

    I’m a super introvert, and I have to partially accept invitations all the time. My go to is something like, “X and Y and Z is a bit much for me. How about just X?” Over time my friends get used to the idea that I’ll rarely spend a full day with them, and I’m more likely to say yes to a short invite with a definite time frame. Some similar tricks may work here. You don’t have to say, “I don’t like you enough for all that time,” but you can TOTALLY say, “That is too busy of a day for me. I could do like a quarter of that.”

  54. IrishEm said:

    I’m an introvert with chronic pain, and I have one lovely friend who is a complete extrovert, and doesn’t really get the whole “I have only so much people energy” thing, but she does get that my pain levels REALLY affect how much time/energy I have for doing *anything* above the bare minimum. When she wants to see more of me – and I have the people energy levels to deal with her – I’ll invite her to go grocery shopping with me, or to buy white goods if I need to replace the washing machine, or whatever thing needs to happen in the house. If I have extra social capital I’ll go to the pictures with her or go out for food or, or, or, I don’t add things because it hurts too much (and I have limited social capital, but she doesn’t understand that). I will now ask her when her bus is due when I want to signal that I need her to skedaddle, and she takes no offense 🙂

    I also had a work colleague that I liked enough to say “Let’s go to the pictures when we’re both on our day off!” The next day off we both had, I was in the shower when I received 10 texts and five missed calls – each of which rang out, so she let it ring for a loooooooong time – and I immediately told her to delete my number from her phone. I was way too stressed out by the level of intensity she wanted to escalate to. Lesson learned.

    • Slow Gin Lizz said:

      10 texts and 5 phone calls during your shower??? I’m going to assume that your showers don’t take four days, because that’s about the only reasonable amount of time I could imagine that would require that many calls. And even that’s pushing it.

      • IrishEm said:

        About 20 minutes + 10 for drying my hair, or thereabouts. My mother thought there was some emergency the phone was ringing so much.

  55. BetsyBleedingheart said:

    I have a friend like this, and I didn’t have the language to explain it until now, so thanks for that, Captain and LW.

    I would love to dial things back with her but she’s in my bridal party (she didn’t start acting like this until after I asked her), so that will have to wait a bit. Meanwhile, I’m spending way more time than I want to saying no to her. Recent examples – no, she can’t bring a play date for her preschooler to the ceremony. No, when we call a meeting of the bridal party we can’t do it at her new house way out in the country two days after she’s moved (“everyone can bring their own chairs!” “okay but we have plenty of furniture here”). No, she can’t unilaterally decide that I need a colorful belt for my wedding dress when I have already declared no belts will cross my waist. Etc etc.

    I will say this – having her as a bridesmaid is teaching me how to create and maintain good boundaries.

  56. Clarry said:

    I don’t mean the following terribly seriously because it smacks of games playing in order to make a point, but reading the comments made me think of one way to haggle when you don’t want to haggle. Example, if I offer an item for sale at the fair price of $50, and if someone sees my price and automatically offers $30 because they have it in their head that no matter what the listed price is they should always offer less, I automatically say “hmm, no, I think I want $70. This is for when I’m sure $50 is fair and that I can find a buyer for $50.

    Or I’ve never had nerve enough to do this, but when a server in a restaurant is being obnoxious about upselling, I’ve always wanted to cancel the order I’ve made and just order the lesser item. In other words, if I’ve ordered water to drink and an entree and the server suggests an appetizer, I’m tempted to agreeably say “that sounds good, skip the steak, I’ll just have the salad.” Then when the server suggests that I might like iced tea instead of water, agreeably say “you’re right, no salad, just iced tea.” And then when the server says that they don’t server just drinks and that I must have food, get up and leave while explaining that I initially hoped to have a steak.

    I said earlier that I’m not optimistic about it working out with Escalator. I do believe the default will be zero. I can’t help fantasizing, however, about ramping down instead of up. LW invites Escalator to a movie, and Escalator says “Great! And how about coffee before”? Escalator says “Let’s just get coffee and skip the movie.”

    • CommanderBanana said:

      Re: servers upselling, yes, it’s obnoxious, but a lot of them are required to do it by their employers, and punishing them for doing what they have to do to not get fired seems really unfair. You can decline tacking on orders to your meal without playing some weird zero-sum game with the server. And if you have a server that is seriously getting on your nerves, you can always ask for someone else to wait on you. (On the flip side, I love ordering dessert when I eat out because I don’t go to restaurants very often, and I get annoyed when the server zips past the table after we’ve eaten and drops off the check without asking if I wanted dessert, because I usually do, and they just blew adding another twenty bucks to their check!)

      • Clarry said:

        Let me make a distinction between obnoxious upselling and required upselling. I’m okay with a server asking if I’d like a salad before the meal or dessert after it. I just say no and don’t hold it against them. The thing that makes this fantasy kick in (and it is only a fantasy!) is when a server contradicts every thing I say. I look over the menu, decide what I’d like, and no matter what I say, the server counters with something else. It starts to remind me of all the times a man has decided that I can’t possibly know what I want on account of my femaleness. Sometimes the conversation will be one in which the server asks if I’d like a salad. I say no, and the server asks if I’m sure. I say that I’m sure, and the server then suggests that I might like a different salad or the flatbread appetizer. I say no again, and the server asks if I’m sure again. I repeat that I only want the steak, and the server suggests a side, maybe the broccoli or the grilled asparagus. I become more emphatic, just the steak, said with a little gritted teeth in my voice. Eventually I look to my dining companion (usually a man, sometimes a woman) to see if they can make the point that I’d like the steak. I notice that my date’s orders are never questioned or if they are, the server backs down quickly. In those instances, I’m not trying to get anyone fired. I am trying to eat in a restaurant. And if I did ask for a different server, wouldn’t have the same effect in terms of the management either realizing that there’s something wrong with their upselling policy or deciding to fire the obnoxious server?

        • CommanderBanana said:

          Then they’re just being obnoxious, in which case, feel free to ask for a different server and/or leave, I guess. I think it’s a little bizarre for a server to keep contradicting what you’re trying to order, and honestly I don’t think I’ve ever encountered that, so I don’t know how I’d react. Upselling, yes, but never servers asking me if I want something other than what I’ve ordered.

          I do run into bartenders not understanding that I don’t like sweet cocktails or telling a cocktail isn’t really sweet when it tastes like sugar syrup, so who knows. Maybe my taste buds are busted after years of eating sour candy!

  57. CommanderBanana said:

    LW, I think I may have been someone’s Escalator? Maybe? I recently ended a friendship with someone who abruptly started declining all my invitations to hang out after we’d spent a year seeing each other multiple times a week (we live near each other).

    What I think may have happened is that the invites started to stress her out, and she didn’t realize that declining really wasn’t a big deal (these were mostly group text invites to events that maybe half the people invited could make it to – so more of an FYI this is happening if you want to come situation than anything else).

    But, I don’t know, because instead of Using Her Words, she took a really weird, passive-aggressive route and then invented a imagined slight from six months before to justify being upset, at which point I decided I really didn’t need this person in my life anymore, wished them well, and African Violeted them.

    I think, based on what I knew about her and her other friendships, is that she thought Using Her Words would have made her the bad guy, so she invented something to put the onus on me (kind of like, if you’re trying to break up with someone who actually hasn’t done anything egregious, they’re just not the right fit, but you’re trying to invent something so that you’re not the bad guy, if you know what I mean?).

    I guess my point is, if there is something about this friendship that is not working for you that needs to change, and the other person isn’t picking up on that, and you do want to keep this friendship, you do have to use your words to tell them what’s going on. Whether or not they accept this, or react as though it’s a rejection of them, is up to them, and that might have a lot to do with whether you stay friends with them.

    I also have a friend who tends to plan day-long Friendstravaganzas, and that’s ok, but we only do them every few months. I could not deal if it was every weekend.

  58. Not That Jane said:

    Ooh, I actually worried when I started reading this question that I might be the Escalator. Then I read further and thought, “OK, phew, I’ve never done anything that extreme.”

    But… it’s an uncomfortable lesson to realize that I do this, and to see it from the perspective of my friends. I’m reflecting on WHY I do this (in case that’s a helpful clue to those who want the Escalator in their lives to stop).

    I think I act in Escalating ways sometimes because I have all these awesome friends! And I only get to spend a few hours with you every couple months! And it’s so hard to schedule a hangout, and you’ve already indicated you’re free that day! So… instead of just lunch, why not lunch, plus a hike, and then we can play it by ear about maybe getting dinner after the hike?

    As for what to do about it… well, Post Therapy Me probably would react OK to just being told that the behavior is bothering you and you’d like me to do something differently. Initial discomfort plus solo processing time equals friendship saved!

    Pre Therapy Me, though, would listen in terrified silence, nod a lot, end the conversation as soon as possible, go home and cry, then conclude that I’m a terrible friend and you must hate me, and avoid you out of shame for the rest of eternity.

  59. Clare said:

    I have a friend who lives far enough away that going to see him is really only practical if I stay overnight. He’s also a fairly new friend, and it takes me a long time to class people as ‘close’ friends. When we agree to meet, he’s always hopeful that I will stay more than one night and tries to persuade me. Eventually I said to him, ‘I’m an introvert who doesn’t like to spend more than 24hrs tete a tete with one person. I would only stay multiple nights with my very closest friends.’ Yeah, I implied that he wasn’t one of my very closest friends. He didn’t love that, and I didn’t love that he didn’t love it, but I also didn’t love him always pressing me to stay longer than I wanted to say. Telling him, ‘we ain’t that close’ might have killed the friendship, but constantly parrying his advances might also have killed the friendship, so it was a risk worth taking. Tl;dr: setting boundaries sucks but is doable and better than letting yourself get annoyed to death!

    • Slow Gin Lizz said:

      Oooh, yeah, setting boundaries is a great idea! If said person doesn’t like said boundaries, then they are not really the right friend for you, eh?

  60. maggiebea said:

    Maybe somebody already said this (I haven’t got bandwidth today to read all the comments, but the ones I read were wonderful!) — in some families, and especially where anybody has had sales training (even by proxy), EVERY ‘reason,’ ‘explanation,’ or ‘excuse’ is assumed to be a step in a negotiation. “I have to clean my aquarium” > “Oh good, I always wanted to learn to do that, I’ll come over early and help you” etc. Somehow it is assumed that you voice an impediment to their grand plan BECAUSE you WANT them to help you fix the ‘problem.’

    Only in sales training did I finally learn that the only successful ‘No’ is ‘No.’ Or at most, ‘No, thanks.’ Repeated until they get it.

    (sigh)

  61. speedbudget said:

    My stepdaughter has sensory processing and developmental disorders, and she is The Escalator to a tee. She needs that constant stimulation of having a friend with her all the time, and it’s exhausting for those of us around her. I’m reading these replies with interest for things that might work to help us put the brakes on escalation.

  62. carabiner said:

    I have a friend who does this as well, although she’s less of an escalator and more of a Hogwarts staircase in that we make plans for a time and place and day of, without fail, I can guarantee she’ll try to switch it up on me multiple times.

    e.g.: we make plans to run at 6 PM, she texts me that morning, “Want to run at 2 instead?” I say no. She says OK and then an hour later texts back, “let’s grab lunch at 3 and then run after!”

    The best script I’ve found for this is to say, “I suggested [time] because that’s the time I’m available. If that no longer works for you then let’s circle back tomorrow and reschedule.”

    which I feel can be pretty well applied to an Escalator situation as well: “hey Friend, I suggested [time/activity] because that’s what I have the time & energy to do on Sunday. If you want to make a bigger day of it, feel free to reach out to other people. I’ll be joining for [x amount of hours] at [x place/doing x activity] and am looking forward to seeing you! In the meantime, while I am flattered by how much you want to hang, can I just make it clear that the activities I suggest are what I have the energy for and you asking me to do more makes me feel guilty and exhausted. I hate feeling that way around you because I genuinely enjoy your company! I’d appreciate it if you can respect our differing energy levels and know that if I want to hang out longer I will let you know.”

  63. Not All Extroverts (TM)! I’m an inveterate extrovert and I dread Escalators. I have a couple of them in my life and have trouble managing their apparent expectation that because I like people, I like THEM for eight straight hours of Roller Derby plus The New Comic Book Film plus That Ramen Place and then Beers and maybe the Bookstore If We Have Time. I think my Escalators are introverts who really want to dedicate a lot of very intense one-on-one time to me (or whoever else, I guess) when they have the energy for it. Which makes sense, but it also puts me in a weird position of having to be the social butterfly who actually doesn’t want to social butterfly all over you, Escalator McGee, for seven hours. One of my Escalators is also a Suddenly Escalator!, so we’ll be out doing the thing we agreed to, and as the activity is wrapping up, they pipe up with “And look, we’re right here next to Picasso and Pinot, let’s just pop in and learn to paint together for the next nine thousand years!” They are always trying to get me to carpool with them to various excursions, which also ups the escalation ante, because there’s no escape.

    Anyway, my solution: Don’t ride in the car with Escalators and always Have Plans Later, Sorry.

  64. bemusedlybespectacled said:

    As someone who can both be an Escalator *and* hates Escalators (I am a woman of many layers, like a contradictory parfait), I find one thing that works in the moment is “I have to tap out now.”

    “Tapping out” is a code that can mean anything from “I have to go on a grocery run” to “I’m emotionally exhausted and am going to go home and watch Netflix before I murder you and burn your house down,” but it evokes a certain finality that can be useful.

    Me: Ooh, we just finished this hangout and now there’s a Starbucks. Want to keep talking at the Starbucks?
    Them: Nah, I have to tap out. [Maybe an explanation of Things to Do]
    Me: Ah, okay!

    Them: Hey, wanna come to this afterparty?
    Me: Oh, look at at the time. Looks like I gotta tap out. [Maybe an explanation of Things to Do]
    Them: Okay, next time then.

    This isn’t going to stop her ahead of time, obviously, but it works if you find yourself getting sucked into an escalation in the moment and aren’t sure how to bow out gracefully.

    • Paulina said:

      I don’t see anything wrong with escalating activities per se. Where the situation being described goes off the rails is being pushy about it. If you’re not pushy, and don’t take offense at a “no thanks”, then all you’re doing when you escalate is making an offer. Mind you, I would say that, since I escalate all the time — but one step at a time, and I don’t make big huge plans in my head to get invested in before I have a response that indicates others are interested. Momentary idea, people like it: great. Momentary idea, people say they don’t feel like doing it right now: shrug, move on, if they’re interested in doing it (or something else) some other time they’ll let me know. This Escalator, on the other hand, seems to be getting very invested in their ideas before they know there’s interest, and then sets about trying to make it happen.

      Not wanting to do something shouldn’t require an explanation. Anyone who is trying to steamroller you into doing an activity with them is essentially explaining why you didn’t feel like doing it in the first place.

  65. Letter Writer said:

    Hi all, LW here.

    Thank you. Thank you to Captain Awkward and to every single person who has commented. Through reading all the replies I’ve realised that this ‘friendship’ has actually been more of an underlying stress in my life than I realised.

    I said in my letter that I’d basically be happy to have a casual friendship with her but she wants SO MUCH MORE. Having read all the replies and sat down and had a bit of a talk to myself about what I really want and whether training her to accept my boundaries is worth the effort I will have to put in. I decided no, it is not. I have been thinking about how to “save” the friendship and now I’m like “Save what? There is nothing I care that much about here.” Friendships are not supposed to feel like obligations or charity cases. FRIENDSHIPS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE FUN.

    So I am going to massively downgrade how I regard our friendship. She has now been moved to the level of friends-in-common acquaintance. Maybe she’s at some group thing that someone else organises and we have some light chit chat about how work is going and how funny the weather’s been lately. She is not invited to anything I organise. We do not talk about anything I would not talk about with someone I hadn’t just met. I do not engage in long chatty text message conversations with her. One reply to a specific question and that’s it.

    This makes me feel like a massive weasel, but honestly I do not feel that she will respect my asserting of boundaries in the future if she hasn’t respected them in the past, and every time I have declined a further invitation, she gets even clingier. Time to just unplug the life support machine and walk away. IF she brings it up, then I am armed with scripts upon scripts. But I do not think she will. I think she will just go and glom onto someone else for her marathon hangouts. I know she has been friend-dumped twice before, before she glommed onto me, by more explicit/assertive people than me. This suggests to me that she has massive boundary blindness or denial or active-destruction-attempts.

    A few commenters mentioned that she must be an extrovert. She actually alleges that she is a strong independent introvert* woman who don’t need no friends. NOT TRUE**. I know that she is unhappy and lonely and that is why she desperately clings to every interactions she can get her hands on because she wants to feel needed and valuable. She is creating a ‘begging for friend scraps’ dynamic. I feel like it would be a kindness to let her know that she is creating the problems in her friendships, but I am not equipped to deal with the fallout right now. I am not going to endanger my emotional health for hers. MY FEELINGS ARE AS IMPORTANT AS HERS. I AM ALLOWED TO NOT BE FRIENDS WITH SOMEONE ‘JUST BECAUSE’, I DON’T HAVE TO HAVE SOME MASSIVE ‘REASON’.

    [*Which is why so many of our hangouts are one-to-one, because we are “both introverts” which is why I am so goddamn sick of her company because it is never diluted by anyone else.]

    [**I have one very treasured textbook-extrovert friend and we manage just fine. He acknowledges that I get tired out from too many people but would love to see him one-to-one, and he has plenty of other friends to hang with and party with at other times, so doesn’t get offended when I say “No thank you” or “I’m going to leave now”. I acknowledge that he really values me coming along to the big events he organises with loads of people I don’t know even though he knows I really hate it, so I go for one hour right at the beginning and then leave. But we actually LIKE EACH OTHER.]

    • Slow Gin Lizz said:

      Yay, LW, good for you! I’m sorry you feel you have to let her go but she sounds like a major stressor for you and you definitely deserve to be free of that. Good luck!

  66. SH said:

    I’ve not had to deal with an escalator, but I have occasionally had people push for more of my time than was available.

    I’ve had good success with saying “3 to 5 is when I’m available.” And repeating, if necessary. I’ve also found it helpful to be relaxed and confident and NOT act guilty when enforcing a boundary. For some reason that makes people more respectful of my boundaries.

    In my social circle, it’s also comfortable to talk about the fact that self care is part of what keeps my schedule so busy. But I don’t go into details what self care entails, especially not in the context of making plans, because that feels like having to justify myself. And I *don’t* have to justify why I’m available only certain hours.

  67. greymaiden said:

    I’m a few days late, but I am sometimes an escalator for reasons unrelated to being insecure and needy. Odds are that my situation is not common, but some parts of it are very common.

    For instance, I’m a single mom. That’s a situation that means 3 things for me socially:
    1) I have a limited amount of time to hang out with my friends without my children. When I do have that time, it is at a premium and if I want to spend time I must schedule it in or it won’t happen.
    2) I miss out on a lot of the fun social stuff that my (mostly) childless friends do. I probably have my kids on the evening everyone else is going to see that cool movie everyone is seeing. But if a friend mentions being interested to me I will definitely jump on that and see if I can set it up with that individual friend.
    3) I have maybe one free weekend a month for my friends. I escalate because that is literally the only time I have to spend with them. And, to be honest, sometimes I feel like they don’t know how to be compassionate and considerate about the fact that I do not have the same kind of social flexibility most of them do. I mean, meeting for just coffee is great if they come to me in my town in rural nowhere, but I drove an hour to see you on one of my rare kid free days so maybe we can put more than just lunch on the schedule plz?

    Speaking of driving…

    I am disabled. In my case one of the things that means is that I can only drive an hour a day give or take. Not an hour both ways, one hour. And because I live in a rural area because rent near the city is too expensive for a disabled person, that means that in order to meet you for coffee for an hour I have to drive an hour to the cafe and also arrange overnight lodging nearby, which means prevailing on a lover or friend or sleeping in my car. And I’ve grown used to doing that and it’s not too hard for me to find a place to crash, and I’m fine with sleeping in my car until I feel well enough to drive again. But even if we don’t worry about that, it still means I’m stuck out and about looking for things to do for the rest of the day. Libraries exist, arcades, coffee shops, window shopping, knitting stores, plenty of places to hang. But maybe if I’m making all this effort to come see you you could prioritize a little more time for me also? If you suggest coffee or just lunch, I will probably try to escalate.

    I don’t think I’m as annoying about it as the LWs escalator. I’ve done a lot of work to maintain my liberal urban/suburban social circle despite these limitations. And not all of them really get it. And that’s fine. I love them anyway and we all have our limitations on emotional energy. But also the letter writer should take a moment to think about whether any similar limitations apply to their escalator that may make longer hangouts better for them logistically. Maybe the escalator is not being desperate or annoying, but really does have less flexibility socially or has to jump through big hoops such that the energy cost of meeting for just coffee is a huge physical cost for a short span of company.

    An anecdote: I knew three people in the [Big City Far Away] area, all of whom wanted me to come visit and mentioned it and invited me often. It would require a train or a plane to get there. So when my kids’ dad took them on vacation over a long weekend I said “Hey friends, want me to do that visit thing? Can I crash with one of you? Why don’t you three work out who wants to host me and when, I’m only coming for the company so as long as I get to hang with you I’m happy. And I can sleep on a couch and don’t have any special eating needs.”
    Here were the three responses(paraphrased) :
    1) “I might be doing some other stuff that might leave me wiped out that weekend but probably can see you Sunday night for a little bit but not too late but I’m not sure I may also decide not to do the other thing.”
    2) “I can only do dinner on Saturday but I’ll spot you for a hotel room for the weekend because I know you’re poor and I’m a mensch like that.”
    3) “Maybe. I’m not sure what I’m doing that far in advance. Coffee Sunday maybe.”

    Friend 2’s great hotel menschiness notwithstanding, I kinda expected that after inviting me multiple times and p
    begging me to come visit, and giving them plenty of notice, between the three of them my schedule would be pretty much full. Not necessarily with 100% out and about adventures, but at least “yeah you can come hang or crash on our couch and sometimes also we will watch movies or just bum around on our laptops in the same space” time. You know, like you do when you go visit friends.

    Instead I was looking at a hotel room alone and 4 days mostly alone in a strange (but cool) city. I decided not to go. The financial and physical cost was just too high to justify prioritizing it for people who weren’t really prioritizing me.

    In that instance I didn’t try to escalate, I was pretty hurt by the blowoff while also realizing intellectually that it wasn’t personal and people are just gonna people sometimes.

    I tell that story to illustrate my point though: When you are doing things with your escalator does the escalator come to you? Does the escalator have to pay more than a normal financial and energy cost to hang out with you? Does the escalator have more of a premium on their time for some reason? Maybe they’re a single parent like me. Maybe they’re in grad school and it’s eating their brain and their social life. Maybe their job requires a lot of travel and they have to carefully plan during the times they are in town?

    None of these ate good reasons to stretch yourself beyond your own capabilities and need to self care. But maybe if you think about it your escalator will make more sense and you will find them less annoying. Who knows, maybe you could even write a new script that looks more like:

    “Hey friend, I have limited social energy sometimes and can’t always hang for long, or schedule a lot in advance without being overwhelmed. I do understand that it makes nore sense in your situation of [disability/parenthood/travel/whatever] to hang out for longer amounts of time when we make plans. Could we possibly discuss a way to still hang out without overburdening either of us?”

%d bloggers like this: