Dear Captain Awkward,
Over the years, my smart, funny, fun friend Elizabeth has become ruled by her insecurity, anxiety, and grievances. She’s close with my friends from a couple of overlapping friend groups — I met my boyfriend through her — and somehow, her emotional needs have become the center of our lives. We are constantly trying to manage around Elizabeth’s irrational reactions.
Any time she isn’t invited to anything I’m doing, I’ll hear about it directly and again passive-aggressively. It doesn’t matter the reason. Every low-key hangout becomes a dilemma: do I invite Elizabeth, do I lie about my plans, do I just endure the confrontation. If I invite her when I don’t feel like it, she claims I wasn’t happy to see her. If she’s busy when we make plans, she’ll still say how left out she feels. Any time anyone has big news — they’re engaged, moving, pregnant — telling Elizabeth is a whole thing that has to be strategized around.
It’s not hard to tell this is the result of some deep and miserable insecurity and loneliness. I feel terrible that she feels that way. But she is using her anxieties to control everyone around her, and I’ve realized it’s a fucked-up game that I can’t win.
If she weren’t friends with all my friends, I would cut her out of my life entirely. Given the overlap, though, that would be difficult and dramatic (and maybe end up ruining her relationships with people who are frustrated but not yet totally fed up. She does need friends. I just can’t be one anymore). I am trying instead to see her as a friend-of-friends who I don’t care for. I don’t feel guilty about ways I inadvertently hurt those people. I don’t vent for hours about them to mutual friends. I don’t go to parties we’re both invited to and leave frustrated by all the ways they are disappointing me.
But I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to react the next time she tries to make me feel guilty or make something about her. I don’t know what to say that doesn’t turn into a big, involved, emotional conversation that I do not want. She always wants more from me. I want to give her less. I know what my boundaries are. How do I make them clear to her?
Hello! I think your question is going to resonate with a lot of people.
Story Time: Once upon a time a group of friends and I were trying to decide where to eat dinner. One of the group members had her sister in town, and Sister is apparently a VERY picky eater. Not medical-issues or food-allergies-picky, more like: Most restaurant food is gonna be too weird/too spicy/too ethnic/contain too many foods, like, the “rocks” and the “trees” might touch each other on the plate, so we had to find someplace that would have something she could eat. Great! A challenge! Chicago is a restaurant-rich environment. Surely there would be something.
I tell this story not because picky eaters are bad and shouldn’t be accommodated as much as possible (seriously, do not fill the comments with details about you don’t & can’t eat, I don’t care and it’s not the topic of this column). I tell it because the conversation went on for almost two hours with people raising suggestions and others shooting them down and because during all of this the Sister never said a word. She never said “Ok, Mexican or Thai is cool, I can eat some rice there” or “The diner is fine, I can get a grilled cheese probably and they’ll put everything on the side for me” or “actually Italian doesn’t work for me, sorry” or “Listen, why don’t I make some Kraft dinner here so I’m not starving and then come keep you company later at the bar” or “Hey, I know this is kinda weird, thanks for trying to help find something that will work for me” or “Can we pull up the menu online and see if there’s anything I can eat?” She just sat there quietly making frowny faces and grimaces for almost two hours while 6 people (most of whom she’d just met for the first time) tried to find something she could eat and auditioned options for her while her sister tried to interpret her face and mediate between everyone else.
It was so weird. It was one of the most amazingly dysfunctional things I have ever seen. I say “amazingly” partly because of the way that the visiting Sister had trained her sibling to anticipate and worry about her around eating and to fear her negative reactions to the point that she didn’t even have to say or do anything at this point. The mere prospect of her being sad or upset or unsatisfied was enough to have everyone strategizing around it. It was amazing how quickly we were all trained, by proxy, to react the same way. Also notable was the amount of effort it took to break out of the pattern that was instantly established among us, the amount of energy that it took to be able to say “Listen, I’m starving, we gotta goooooooo.” (We ate Mexican food. There were plain quesadillas. It was fine. Also, this dynamic played out before every single meal of her visit, three meals a day).
I tell this story because your story about your friend is partly about habits and group dynamics and the way they calcify. Elizabeth has trained you all to strategize around her and dread her reactions to things. She has to an extent trained herself to be let down over and over again. It has become a self-perpetuating cycle – the more negatively she reacts, the more she’s left out, which makes her react negatively, which makes people want to be around her less. Stir in some Geek Social Fallacies and it sucks for everyone, Elizabeth most of all. Since you can’t change what Elizabeth will do or how she’ll feel, so can you change the way you react to it so that the relationship works better for you? And can your example help steer the group to help break the pattern?
Relationships where one person is always apologizing and the other person always needs an apology are pretty unbalanced, yes? Relationships where you have to strategize around the possibility of them blowing up at you over pretty minor things are also unbalanced and exhausting. Whatever you’ve shared in the past, that’s where you are now. So, since you do have a lot of social overlap and history with Elizabeth and don’t want to ostracize her from the larger group, figure out your threshold for inviting her to stuff (it sounds like big group hangs are where it’s at) and do that. When you want to invite different people, hang out in smaller groups, make plans without her, or announce good news, do that. When you don’t want to go to something she’s organizing say “No thanks, can’t make it” without giving a reason or apologizing. Then, the hard part: Let her feelings be her feelings and don’t work so hard to fix them or manage them. Be kind and polite without being effusive or engaging deeply and otherwise withdraw to the place that you are comfortable and that feels sustainable for you.
Part of setting and maintaining boundaries with others is internal. It’s making & owning the decision that hey, my line is here, and if someone crosses it, I will withdraw from interacting with them, and if that upsets them, that’s sad, but it doesn’t automatically make the feelings my problem or my fault. Once you decide that you can deal with Elizabeth’s negative feelings without making them your problem, you’ll feel a lot more free and relaxed.
If you end up talking about things with her, say, when Elizabeth inevitably notices your withdrawal and pushes you about it, the script you are looking for might be some version of this:
“I definitely don’t want to upset you or hurt your feelings, but I also don’t want to apologize for something that isn’t actually wrong.
For example, if we’re going to stay in each other’s lives, it has to be okay for me to hang out with other people without consulting you first. It has to be okay for me to do social stuff when you aren’t available. It has to be okay for me to tell you good news about my life and hear ‘congratulations, that’s so great!’ instead of comforting you about the things in your life that you are unhappy about.
I’m not doing those things AT you or in order to hurt you or exclude you, and it’s not okay when you expect me to take care of your feelings when I do them. I find these conversations really exhausting and I don’t want to have them anymore.”
For another example, when Elizabeth starts venting about people who have wronged her after parties, what if you said “Hey, let me stop you there. I don’t actually want to listen to this”? Or what if you redirected her away from venting about people and toward talking to them? “You sound really upset with ______, why don’t you talk to them directly about it?” It sounds like there’s a dynamic here where Elizabeth is expecting you and other friends to expend a lot of energy listening to her grievances with others but won’t take the actual steps that might fix the situation. What if you removed yourself as that outlet and put the work of fixing whatever it is back on her? You can’t control whether she actually talks to the person but you can actually control how much energy you’ll expend on the problem.
- “Listen, every time I hang out with someone who isn’t you, it can’t become A Thing Where We Have To Have A Giant Talk. I really don’t want to.”
- “Where is this coming from?”
- “What is this really about?”
- “What would make you feel better about this?”
- “You’re right, we’re not as close as we used to be. I feel like I have to walk on eggshells around you, and I don’t love it.”
- “You’re right, we’re not as close as we used to be. Sometimes it makes me sad to think about, but also I think it’s okay if friendships evolve over time.“
- “You seem really unhappy in general lately, what’s going on with you?”
- “But friends don’t have to do everything together.”
- “This is really weighing on you, and you seem so unhappy lately, do you think it would help to talk to someone about it?”
- “I feel like this comes up every single time I do something without you. Do you really think friends need to do everything together?”
- “Wait, I just told you good news. Can I get a ‘congratulations’ for a second before we talk about you?”
- “Can you not?”
- “Hmmm interesting“
- “Not cool!“
- “Okay so we’re going with worst case scenarios then?”
- “I can’t talk about this anymore today.”
- “Have you told ____ what you just told me?“
- “What are you going to do about that?“
- “If we all suck so much, why are you friends with us?”
- “It’s a giant bummer when every party or brunch needs this giant post-mortem with you. Can we not?”
There’s a pretty wide variety there, so, find that script or scripts that lets you engage constructively with her behavior and disengage from a performance of feelings. It might be really valuable to have this out once and for all and really argue with her, like, “Hey! You are stressing me out a lot and making it hard to be friends with you! Knock it off!” It might be better to quietly withdraw. Don’t (for example) ask a lot of questions and dig deeper into what’s going on if you’re ready to be done with the friendship.
I think that given your long friendship it’s worth addressing head on and in depth at least one time. If you’ve never actually said any version of “Hey, this is an unreasonable question, you’re not the boss of my social calendar, knock it off!” before – for example, if you’ve defaulted to mollifying her in the moment (and then resenting the hell out of it later) – remember to start gently and give everyone a couple of chances to reset the relationship. It’s a longstanding problem for you, but it may not read that way for her if this is the first time you’ve pushed back. Does that make sense? Maybe give her a little room to have a less-than-ideal initial reaction and a little bit of time to self-correct things before you tap out forever and ever.
Also, never, ever invoke the wider feelings of the group when you talk to her. Own your own annoyance – “It bothers me,” “I’ve noticed,” “I am annoyed by…” etc. Other people may well have these same issues but appealing to the the group will not lend you authority. It will only justify Elizabeth’s paranoia about being left out and distract from the conversation, like, “Wait, everyone feels this way about me? Who exactly? What exactly did they say?” She already worries that she’s being ostracized and/or bullied, do not feed that worry. Keep it focused on you: “I can’t speak for anyone else, but it bothers me when you hear about me having brunch with other friends and take it as a slight.”
Speaking of “the wider social group” and “things that you can control,” try to stop talking about & complaining about about Elizabeth with the larger friend group as much as you possibly can. There is power and freedom in venting, but sometimes venting also feeds on itself and it becomes a habit unto itself at the expense of action. While you try to break Elizabeth and yourself of bad habits, what if you also tried to redirect the group’s habits, too? When her “b-eating-crackers” behavior comes up in the group (and it will), what if you channeled the complainstorm into “Yep, that is pretty annoying. Have you tried talking to her directly about it?”
- “I know we all try to strategize about how Elizabeth will react to news like this, but what if you just told her ‘I’m engaged!’ and let her feelings be her feelings?“
- “Yeah, she can be like that sometimes. I’ve been trying to set boundaries and just talk to her directly when it comes up instead of spending so much energy talking about her.”
- “I think we have this weird pattern, where Elizabeth overreacts to stuff and then we all overreact to her overreaction. I’m trying to break myself of the habit and just take her as she comes without too much angst about it. I wish nothing but good things for her, and I wish she could be happier but I don’t have the energy to dissect all this every time we see her.”
- “Elizabeth’s gonna Elizabeth, let’s not feed the fire. How is [new topic]?”
People may or may not follow your lead. Set the boundaries anyway, and then enforce them by changing the subject or walking way from Elizabeth-centered conversations. Go talk to anyone else about anything else (the way you wish Elizabeth would do!).
It will take time and probably a few tries to disengage. Be gentle with everyone, especially yourself.
Finally, if you read this and thought “Shit, I’m ‘Elizabeth,'” here’s some stuff you can do to feel better:
A. First and foremost, if anxiety about your friendships and whether people like you is seriously messing with your life, take the problem seriously and investigate solutions. Here’s a website (with forums) devoted to helping people with social anxiety. There are tons and tons of people dealing with this in the world, you are not alone, there are tons of strategies for managing it, everything from therapy & medication to improv classes. Chances are that you don’t have to feel this awful forever.
B. It’s okay to need reassurance from friends sometimes. If your current ways of reaching out aren’t getting the results you want, can you try out a strategy of asking for some specific action the other person can do that might make you feel better? “I miss you, it feels like we never hang out anymore” or “I feel like everyone is too busy to spend time with me” might be true, real, awful, overwhelming feelings. Sadly, expressed out loud or in text form they read like accusations that require a lot of emotional work on the other person to figure out what to do next. What if you translated those feelings into more actionable requests like “I really miss you, friend, can we have lunch soon? Tuesdays are generally good for me.” See also “I’m feeling really sad today, it feels like no one likes me” vs. “I’m really feeling sad today, what’s your favorite song that really cheers you up?” or “I’m feeling really down today, please send compliments & animal .gifs.” I don’t necessarily know what to do with “I’m so lonely and I feel like everyone hates me” but I do know what to do with “Everything sucks today, can you tell me something nice?” or “I could really use a friend to come over and sit with me and color and watch TV later, do you have a little time?” It takes time and practice to reshape this pattern, so, go slow and be nice to yourself, but try it.
C. If it feels like everyone is always hanging out without you, or like your friend group has calcified into a pattern that doesn’t feel good for you, what can you do to change it up? What can you control?
For example, I get a lot of letters & comments about people who wish they were invited to more stuff. UNDERSTANDABLE. But more often than not, when I scratch the surface and gently ask “Hey, what happens when you plan things for friends to do?” the person says some version of “No + Nobody would come anyway” or “I invited some people once but they didn’t want to come so I stopped” or “Here are 1,000 reasons that this advice is stupid and will never work.” And yeah, okay, maybe so. It sucks, I’m sorry. But you can’t control what other people will do, you can only control what you will do. If the situation is going to change, you’re going to change it, by either changing up how you interact or finding different friends.
Additionally, planning and hosting social events is work. The people in your group who are good at it and confident about it or just defaulted into being in charge of it because no one else wanted to do it also have worries and anxieties: That no one will show up, no one will have a good time. They worry about accidentally hurting people’s feelings by excluding them, or accidentally inviting awkward exes or mortal enemies, or running out of food or ice, or that they’ll make a ton of food and no one will eat it, or that they’ll suggest a bad movie or a board game that is not fun, or that everyone expects them to do the work and nobody ever helps or even thanks them (I get those letters, too). It’s easy, when you are self-conscious, to forget that literally everyone else is also a giant self-conscious weirdo too.
Mostly, and I swear this is true once we get past high school, most people who like hosting events want people to feel welcome and to have a good time. They do not enjoy excluding people or making them feel bad. With this in mind, maybe you can approach the person in your friend group who does most of the scheduling and inviting and say, “Hey, I really appreciate the work you do hosting trivia night every month, what can I do to help?” “Can I plan something for the two of us where the only work you have to do is showing up?”
- RSVP promptly when you’re invited to something.
- If the culture of your friend group is “people bring stuff to parties even when it’s not explicitly a BYOB situation” then be a person who brings baked goods or something to drink. Contribute.
- Set up chairs, offer to wash dishes, and do other tasks that keep your hands busy.
- Say thank you to the organizers afterwards.
- Pay attention to whether other people are having a good time. Is someone new here, do they seem shy? Could they use an introduction to someone else?
- It’s okay to hide out in the bathroom or on the porch or with the host’s pets for a little while if you get overwhelmed. The person who hosts the best parties I know of in Chicago is a bit socially anxious and take breaks from her own parties.
- If you don’t really gel with someone, give them space. Find someone else to talk to at the party. You don’t have to have the same level of intimacy with everyone in a social group.
- Invite people to do smaller stuff, one-on-one. Stop thinking of it as The Whole Group vs. You and think of it as a bunch of people you mostly like and some you like more than others.
- Try to approach events you’re invited to with the mindset of “People want to be kind and want me to have a good time here.”
- When you’re not invited to something, try (I know, but try) to cultivate the mindset of “Hey, not everyone has to hang out together all the time. I’ll probably catch them another time.“
D. All that said, it’s 100% okay for you, Relatively Lonely Person, to back off from friendships that feel like too much work. If people make you feel like you have to chase them all the time, if people make you feel insecure, if people judge you when you need a little reassurance or cheering up, if people never make you a priority, it’s okay to disengage. You don’t have to make all the effort or have to subsist on crumbs or leftovers to deserve friends.
To be totally honest, I am a recovering ‘Elizabeth.’ I spent my teens and 20s as a needy and socially confused bull in ye olde emotional china shoppe. I had undiagnosed depression and anxiety. I over-relied on friends to process endless streams of complaints and obsessions. I got rejected a lot socially and romantically and received a lot of negative and painful feedback from groups I wanted to be part of. I *often* experienced that moment of saying something and feeling a group of people go kind of silent and limp around my awkwardness, exchanging awkward eye messages with each other, and then changing the subject (“So…anyway…“) while my conversational turd sat there, unacknowledged.
Things that helped: Therapy. Getting older. Reality checks and boundary-setting from friends who were like “I love you but you are too intense sometimes, please knock this off so I can keep liking you” or “Look I know you’re sad but I am done talking about this” or “Do you realize you start every phone call by immediately just talking about yourself and how sad you are and don’t even ask me how I’m doing?” Losing friendships where I didn’t listen to these boundaries and learning from those mistakes. Painful self-awareness and trying to do better. Making the effort to reframe situations where I felt rejected and not automatically default to the explanations that most dovetailed with my poor self-image. Realizing that the “So…anyway…” moments were an attempt to let me save face, and that it’s okay for people to have limits about how much complaining they can absorb. Learning to read the room better and to ask questions before launching in.
It took a long time and it was hard and I still fuck up sometimes. In some cases I let go of friendships that didn’t work anymore and sought less rocky ground. In others I changed my behavior. In all cases trying was better than not trying. In all cases the only person who could really change the dynamic was me.
I hope things get better all around for you and Elizabeth(s). You can’t fix her feelings, so, take care of yourself and be as gentle as you can.
192 thoughts on “#1035: “My friend feels like she is being Left Out of social stuff, and her passive-aggressive reactions are making me want to…leave her out of social stuff.””
I am an Elizabeth (and also, my name is Liz too …). A friend planned a themed party a few months ago and invited all of our mutual friends except me. I was hurt, and reached out to her … turns out the reason she didn’t invite me is because she knows I’m usually busy, and really needed everyone going to 100% commit to going (it was a theater-type party). She had no idea I felt that way though. Sometimes it’s worth reaching out, depends on the situation, for sure.
I do a fair amount of organizing, but if someone is frequently declining my invitations, or says yes but then cancels/no-shows, I generally take that as an indication of their ability and interest and I’ll phase out my invitations. It can feel really pushy to keep inviting someone in that case.
However, I had a friend who was in grad school and he expressed that he would like to continue to be invited to things even though he often couldn’t make it. It just made him feel nice to be included, and we were happy to oblige by continuing the invites.
I feel like your friend went about things the right way. Like, wanting to be invited to the thing is totally reasonable, but its on HIM to ask for that, not you, to magically discern that by not showing up or answering he actually wanted to keep being invited to things he couldn’t come to, because there’s no way you could be expected to magically figure that out (which is what some Elizabeth’s want (ex. my teenage self)).
Organizers might worry about being rude as well, since sometimes people when people frequently decline it’s their way of saying “Look, thanks for the interest, but I’m phasing out this friendship” (or whatever) and most organizers don’t want to feel like they’re being obnoxious by continuing to issue invitations.
From the perspective of a frequent organizer of social stuff and a recovering Elizabeth, yes, exactly. I have SO much anxiety about filling people’s inboxes with invitations they’d rather not get. This is why when I have to RSVP no to something I’ll say something like “Thank you so much for the invitation. Unfortunately, I can’t make it this time, but I appreciate that you thought of me. I’d like to still be invited to things like this in the future for when (work/family/show rehearsals/whatevs) calm down!”
Yes yes! This is one reason I am not a fan of some of the depression memes that have gone around, like “a true friend keeps inviting me and reaching out even when rejected 99% of the time” or “here’s to all my friend who keep texting me even when I don’t respond due to headspace” and it’s like…that is SUCH a big burden to place on another person, to keep putting their hand out and having it rebuffed. Some people can handle that kind of thing, but most of us will feel wilted, hurt, or otherwise negatively emotionally affected by having to both do all the work and not get anything back.
It would basically have to be a BEST friend who has explicitly told me about her feelings on this and that she wants me to keep reaching out, for me to be OK doing this.
I’m a recovering Elizabeth and suffering from chronic illness. After too many declines and flake-outs due to pain, accessibility, or meds (combined with not being able to reign in my depression) my friends rightly decided to leave off inviting me to things until I’m better. I haven’t seen anyone in RL but my husband in over a year but I know it’s for the best. There’s only so many times a person can ask to be included when they know they won’t be able to attend before feelings start getting hurt.
That sounds rough. I’m sorry you’re dealing with that.
That’s really rough. I don’t know that I’d say it was right for your friends to stop inviting you because you’re sick–it’s one thing not to invite you to things they know you can’t make, but another thing to completely stop inviting you. The hurt feelings are understandable, but it also sounds like they might be making your illness about them, when it’s not. You know your friends and I don’t, of course, but I wanted to put out there that being sick doesn’t mean you should never be invited to things.
As much as it sucks to have to take on *more* effort, I’m wondering if it would help to plan low-key stuff you could invite your friends to, at places you know are accessible and times when you’re likely to be able to handle it. Like, meeting up for a simple meal out (Panera or the like), or hanging out at a cafe? Heck, if you aren’t able to go out at all, a Skype or Facebook virtual get-together where you watch the same thing on Netflix and chat about it might be fun.
I wish you well in both getting your illnesses better managed and having a social life that fits what you’re able to do right now.
I have a dear friend, who is chronically ill with “spoons” issues, and I solve the “maybe she can make it and maybe not” by doing what you said, having low-key get-togethers at Starbucks to sip coffee, or at my place to hang out with my kitties, or someplace else that’s indoors and cheap and if my “Elizabeth” can’t make it, it’s not a big deal.
I definitely understand not wanting to, say, spend lots of money on tickets and then Elizabeth has to cancel. Or a party/event where you really are counting on everyone who RSVP’s to show. But inviting her to hang out and have coffee or whatever is a nice way to make her feel included.
I would like to second virtual hang-outs when you’re too sick to leave the house for an extended period of time. Not everybody’s thing, of course! But there are a lot of games you can play over video-chat or group text, or you can all watch a movie or listen to a new album. Or even do easy artsy things, like drawing prompts with your sketchbook, if you and your friends are into art. So that way you’re spending quality time with your friends while also taking your mind off your illness / what you *can’t* do, and instead just enjoying each other’s company and making art.
I really second all of this. I’m sorry you are going through this, Ren.
Aww, I’m sorry to hear it. In addition to the other suggestions, might you be able to bring prople to you? I imagine that illness that prevents you from going out could impact your ability to host, buy maybe Husband could do some of that, or friends could manage everything except providing the physical space.
Yes, this exactly.
This is a good way to go about it. 🙂
I had something similar with friends, because I’m vegan and my friends are mostly meat eaters, sometimes they would not invite me to a restaurant dinner because they thought I wouldn’t want to go to a particular meat heavy restaurant. I asked the friend who did most of the organising if she could invite me anyway because I like to feel included, and then I could decide whether the restaurant would have anything I’d eat. 🙂
This is important. When I stopped eating pork and shellfish for religious reasons a few years ago, several friends went through a hand-wringing phase of whether to invite me to x restaurant or y restaurant in case there wasn’t anything I could eat there. Invites dried up and unless I organised something at a restaurant of my choosing and invited people, I didn’t get many friend dinner dates at all.
I did have to explain that researching the menu was my responsibility and most of the time I could eat the vegetarian or vegan option quite happily without it impinging on my new dietary restrictions. When they got that, the invites returned.
Don’t be so shellfish… (sorry, couldn’t resist!)
Oh Boy Yes.
I am another recovering Elizabeth and I once managed to cause a major friend-group crisis because they didn’t invite me to series of events the knew I would not want to attend (they were completely correct), but didn’t tell me, so I assumed they were avoiding me because they hated me. It was… really something.
I DOUBLE TRIPLE RECOMMEND the Captain’s comment that if you feel like you’re not being invited to stuff, throw some parties, or invite some people out. Its the easiest, lowest friction way of indicating that you’re available and want to see people. When you just sit in radio silence waiting to be invited to things people tend to assume that you’re doing other things that are either more pressing or more exciting, leading them to invite you to less things. I have learned this from terrible, drama causing experience. Please, anyone feeling that they might be an Elizabeth, learn from my mistakes.
But I also second the advice to the LW. It is not your responsibility to constantly process Elizabeth’s social feelings for her. Socialize with her as you see fit, and let her sort out her feelings, you cannot magically grant her confidence and social graces.
I used to be that person who would get pissy when people would make plans and not invite me. I’d thought my roommates and I were all in the same social group but then they kept getting invited to things and not even asking if I wanted to tag along, I definitely felt like the odd woman out and I made that frustration known. Additionally, I’d plan things and a large portion of people would either turn down the invite, or accept it and then bail at the last minute, and I hated that too. It took me months, and some truth talks with people who were friends, for me to realize that by getting hung up on people who were very clearly rejecting and excluding me, it made the people who were my friends feel unappreciated and crappy, AND being a Negative Nancy was making the rejectors/excluders feel like they were definitely making the right choice, who wants someone like that around? Once I learned to focus my energy on the people who wanted me in their lives, I felt a lot better.
I second your advice to those who want to be invited and included. Accept invites, even if they’re not always super convenient or centered around your favorite activity. Help out, don’t get too drunk, go with the flow, don’t cause drama when things don’t go your way. And if you’re not invited, give the host the benefit of the doubt, they had to make a cut somewhere, and for all you know you *almost* made it, and it was a tough decision.
To the Captain’s excellent scripts, I would add the “Sorry you feel that way [+Subject Change]”. Although there’s an art to *not* sounding huffy or passive-aggressive when you say it, so don’t try it unless you reckon you can pull it off; has to be genuinely sympathetic-sounding.
The specific phrase “sorry you feel that way” would definitely set me off. Naming the feeling would help evade my bullshit detectors, like “I’m sorry you are upset” or “I’m sorry you’re sad” or however it is Elizabeth feels.
Great point. Specifically recognizing the emotion keeps it from being dismissive and invalidating.
LW, do you actually want to hang out with her, or are you all just kind of putting up with her since she’s been a friend for so long?
I touched on this a little bit in the letter, but for me personally, no, I don’t. I haven’t had that conversation with the whole group. There are some issues between me and her that I didn’t get into here that don’t apply to the others so much. Most of our mutual friends either weren’t that close to her to begin with and so are less bothered by this, or still feel it’s a good friendship for them even when they’re frustrated with her. I respect that.
Then I think your best strategy is to stop engaging on a level deeper than small talk and polite group interactions, tighten up your social media (filter/unfollow is your friend), and enforce the boundary with short scripts like “Hey it sucks that you are feeling sad but I really don’t want to get into this with you/I am not the best audience for this/I like seeing you at group things but I don’t think I can sustain a close one-on-one friendship.” Find 2 or 3 safe, pleasant, lighthearted topics to talk about when you do see her in the interest of making some positive interactions to chase out the negative ones. And then let the feelings fall where they fall. If you are consistent and the overall group is important to her chances are she will adjust with some time.
Something I’ve found incredibly useful in distancing myself from someone who wants too much from me without explicitly hurting their feelings is:
– Be totally positive toward them in word, facial expression, & gesture, but:
– Offer very little eye contact and keep my responses vague.
The minimal eye contact seems to prevent my emotions being affected by the other person’s. It’s really worked for me.
Ah that changes what I’d suggest.
Since you don’t want to be her friend, don’t.
– Don’t invite her to one on one things
– Be polite, not warm
– Consider ending conversations when they get uncomfortable
– You don’t have to listen to her complaints, or those of your friends
– Remind yourself that if your friends drop her, that’s not your issue
– Consider telling your friends you’re tired of conversations about Elizabeth
Jedi hugs if you want them.
+1. I call my local version of the Geek Social Fallacies “sitcom syndrome”, where for a while everyone acted like everyone in the friendgroup must be at every single hang, like we’re contractually obligated to be there on the same couch for the rest of the season. IMO, it’s way worse to invite someone you don’t like than to not invite them. Like, why should they be in the same room as someone who doesn’t want them around? Eating the spinach dip of grudging toleration? Fueling the next the-second-they’re-gone-everyone-complains session? That’s the real social anxiety nightmare. It took me until my 30s to really internalize that I couldn’t be everyone’s jam and vice versa, and that not being invited to a thing wasn’t a referendum on my human worth, it was a simple case of “not everyone is everyone’s jam”. I wish I’d worked harder on internalizing that lesson sooner. Not everyone is everyone’s jam.
Eating the spinach dip of grudging toleration?
That is such a great way to put it!
I’m so glad this was posted… I went through a very painful friendship breakup a few years ago when one of my best friends went through a case of postpartum depression that just turned her into a different person, and she never got it treated, and I had no idea what to do because I couldn’t make her get the help she so desperately needed. She was awesome, and then she became so insecure and passive aggressive and negative after her first child was born. I gave her love and patience and kept reaching out to offer friendship and love and meals and babysitting and it was almost always pushed away. For three years, she verbally abused her entire friend group for always doing EVERYTHING wrong in terms of social plans with her, no matter what we tried. (We were insensitive if we invited her to non-kid-friendly things that she couldn’t come to. We were jerks if we didn’t invite her to them too, though, because then we were excluding her. We tried to figure out kid-friendly hangouts but we always failed to magically divine what would work for her kids. She never offered an alternative that would work for her though. But we got passive aggressive comments constantly about how nobody liked hanging out with her anymore and everyone must hate her kids. After awhile… kinda, yeah!)
And then just when she was starting to seem the tiniest bit better, she had another kid and it all started again. So I put up with 5 years of being accused of being a bad friend in response to all my attempts to be a good friend, before I realized that I wasn’t getting anything out of it anymore and I had run out of patience. I slowly faded out of the friendship.
But I still feel like I did it wrong. She used to be awesome, and maybe that girl is still in there somewhere. I feel like I gave up on a great friend who probably still needs me even now, and it was her depression that killed the friendship and it wasn’t her fault. She had basically nothing but her depression for so long that it was impossible to be a friend to her anymore, and almost all her friends eventually faded away from her, but still. I feel like I left my friend because she got depressed and there’s no way to feel good about that.
This kind of made me feel okay about it. I wish I’d read it a few years ago and maybe given her a bit more honest feedback about why everyone was starting to pull away from her. I wonder if it would have helped at all.
Ugh. Both the OP’s friend and Laura’s friend sound painful.
Many moons ago I had a friend who would send feelings mail once or twice a month telling me that I was a bad friend. I eventually decided that if she thought I was a bad friend, I didn’t need to spend the effort to be her friend any more. Of course, fewer moons ago I had to relearn that lesson with the same person. Walking away and putting up healthy boundaries often feels yucky; but, I’m much happier for it.
My sibling had a friend who suffered terribly from anxiety and depression. Sibling did their level best to be there for Friend no matter what. Left their phone on all night, dropped everything when Friend needed to talk, wouldn’t listen to Oldest Sibling when she said “You’re allowed to have your phone off when you’re sleeping/studying, you’re allowed to contact Friend’s Dad if you think Friend is in a really bad place, you don’t have to be on the phone for hours and hours getting yourself wound up”. The stress ended up making *Sibling* sick. And in the end? Friend turned on Sibling and accused them of trying to control Friend’s life.
The moral of the story is that you can’t make somebody get treatment for their mental (or physical) illness. And you don’t win any trophy for sacrificing your own well-being through trying to make them get the help they need.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever read was over on Tomato Nation’s The Vine:
“No good ever comes of placing the desire to please crazy people ahead of your own well-being and self-interest.”
It’s a no win game. Even if you love them. Even if it’s not their “fault.” It is impossible to love or care somebody into mental health when they aren’t on board to actually do the work of recovery and dealing.
As someone who has suffered from severe anxiety and moderate depression most of her life, I want to tell you that you did absolutely nothing wrong. I’ve been in therapy for ~4 years, and when I look back at the jerky way I treated some folks during the years I was depressed(+scared+panicky), I don’t feel anger toward them; I feel regret and compassion. Brain weasels can make us humans act mean and cruel because of the way they distort our perception of the world, but that doesn’t mean that those of us who deal with mental illness get a free pass to be forever jerks. The hard truth is that your friend is ultimately the one responsible for seeking professional help for her depression; it can be hard to see from the inside, true, but there were plenty of indicators for her to realize that something was wrong (years of feeling like crap after not experiencing it before, and treating everyone like they’re out to get you? INDICATOR). It’s not your job to be someone else’s punching bag until they wake up and realize that “hey, this sucks, maybe I should get help?”.
It’s possible that “honest feedback” might have helped, but it’s also possible that she would have seen it as an attack and responded in kind. It’s not your responsibility to be the World’s Most Perfect Human with endless patience, bandwidth for emotional abuse, and ability to “fix” all problems. You already went well above the call of duty by putting up with 5(!!) years of this treatment by your friend. Try to be kind to yourself now and see that you did everything you could and you were immensely tolerant and supportive. Maybe you leaving (and others too, no doubt) was the kick in the rump your friend needed to see that things weren’t going well with her, and that she needed seek some help. Let us hope!
*Jedi Hugs* (if you want them)
As a life long severe depressive with social anxiety, I fully endorse this comment. SO MUCH. I do not blame friends in my past who had to get out of my then-toxic orbit.
I had post natal depression. (Or That’s what my emotional state was named/ labeled. I still don’t know how anyone would not get depressed after the issues we had combined with sleep deprivation. I am not disputing the condition, but I had depression years before my baby and it wasn’t the same thing for me).
I definitely wasn’t my “awesome warm fussy” self. Even in my deepest cloud, I never treated my friends the way you are describing. In fact, I was appreciative of their patience and being there for me. And I made sure I communicated that.
Thankfully it didn’t last long. It was awful.
And I am just posting that to say do not feel bad: depression and parenting is not an excuse to behave like a jerk.
Maybe the depression wasn’t her fault, but behavior is a choice. Five years is a long time.
“Let her feelings be her feelings and don’t work so hard to fix them or manage them.”
Honestly, this is the best advice I’ve taken away from this blog. It’s been said in other posts and it’s been a true statement each and every time. It’s given me the courage to say the things that need to be said in tough situations. A person is allowed to have feelings but it’s not my job to manage them. Last year the “Elizabeth” in my group of friends was invited to my annual holiday open house. I schedule this to start at 3pm and end at 9pm so people can come and go within that time frame and still do other parties, put kids to bed at a reasonable time, errands, etc. My “Elizabeth” showed up at 3pm on the dot with her kids, her mother, a neighbor of hers, and two of her neighbors kids. She began pestering me to find out when another friend of ours was going to arrive. I told her I didn’t know. She complained about the food that we had provided. She got upset that I hadn’t bought gifts for the two children she brought (that I didn’t even know!). Slowly other friends drifted in and out and still she sat there complaining, making no effort to socialize with any of our other friends. She eventually texted the friend she’d asked me about earlier and announced when she was going to arrive. I said a polite “okay, thanks” and moved on to catching up with friends and family. The friend showed up about 45 minutes later, “Elizabeth” visited with her for 15 minutes and then she started packing up to leave. She took a HUGE plate of the food she’d complained about home with her for her mother in law – who, “elizabeth” told me, thought I was trash and didn’t want to come to my party. It literally took everything in me not to knock the plate of food out of her hands as she was telling me this.
It’s exhausting. I told her that I wasn’t inviting her this year and she was upset and a bit surprised. She really thinks that she’s a fun person to be around and that her behavior is okay. I know that she’s upset and I’m sorry to have had to be the one to make her upset, but I’m not sorry that I took her off the list and I won’t be giving in to her dramatics in order to make her happy. If only one of us can be happy in a situation I’m nearly always going to want me to be the happy one! 🙂
“If only one of us can be happy in a situation I’m nearly always going to want me to be the happy one! ”
Truth! Yes, it’s worth coming to a workable compromise. But if such a thing cannot exist for whatever reason, I’m going to take the action that suits me best, nearly every time.
On the let them have their feelings and it’s not on you to fix thing, sometimes stating as much is needed too. Some long time ago I happened upon “that’s not something I can fix for you” and it’s been very helpful. Rarely I’ll get a response like “I’m not asking you to, I’m just looking to commiserate” and sometimes that’s fair, sometimes I have to say that I can’t be a sympathetic ear about this thing anymore. Because it’s a self-inflicted misery, because it’s about someone else I’m friends with, because I don’t think it’s healthy etc whatever. But usually it’s down to “regardless, I don’t think we should talk about this anymore and I am not going to.”
You are a better person than I am. I would have said, “Hey, please leave that food for the other people who will be coming as soon as they see you leave.”
OK, I wouldn’t have said that – but I would have made sure she noticed that *I* noticed the big plate of “crappy” food in her hands. Good on you for not inviting her this year. Bad behavior shouldn’t be rewarded.
>>“Let her feelings be her feelings and don’t work so hard to fix them or manage them.”
Honestly, this is the best advice I’ve taken away from this blog.>>
Saaaaaaaaame. It is something that a lot of us are socialized to do, and I don’t want to be too hard on us for it — but “dramallamas gonna dramallama” is almost a guiding principle for me now. AND when I am the llama — which I am, a lot — it reminds me that it’s on me to work on that.
I am an Elizabeth too, sorry to say, and wish more people would “uh-huh, interesting” me into shutting up instead of doing the Oh No, Someone Has Feelings Dance.
>the Oh, No, Someone Has Feelings Dance
Internet stranger–but no stranger to this particular dance*–coming here to thank you for this phrase! Is it okay if I incorporate it into my life as “wisdom I read on the Captain Awkward website?”
In return, I’ll offer you another: the Oh, No, Someone Will Explode Unless I Do Lots of Back Flips Starting Right Now dance (or gymnastics routine).
* Over a period of many years, I’ve learned that it’s okay to stay sitting down when the band plays this tune. 🙂
I have pissed off many, many, many people by doing the Oh, No, Someone Will Explode Unless I Do Lots of Back Flips Starting Right Now dance. I do that dance when I think there might even be a chance I might have said the wrong thing. I will even pre-emptively apologize to avoid setting off accusations of being an -ism.
Ha, thank you and of course! And I am familiar with the backflips, too. Have tried to train myself out of them; can’t unsee it when others do them; urrrrgh!
It’s truly amazing to me the level of knock-down drag out obnoxious behavior people can roll out and claim to be unaware of.
Less amazing since November, but still…
I understand the idea of accepting even the inconvenient invitations to solidify friendships, but in my geographic/transportation/health situation, that often involves enough time off from my business to be a mini vacation. Plus taking a vacation to make an outfit to fit the theme. These people don’t attend events in my area, and even something in the middle is a problem for me because I’ve had to give up costuming as part of having a business (but I can’t afford to buy outfits).
So a lot of my relationships are online only.
And if that works for you, do what works for you! Hang out when you can, find other ways to connect when you can’t. Prioritize friendships with people who are also good at maintaining friendships online.
As long as you understand that if you never accept any invitations, it will make sense if people stop inviting you over time, and it’s not because they hate you. It’s because they understand and accept your situation AND they also want to see their friends in meatspace and have costume parties sometimes. You probably wouldn’t yell at them for being bad friends or make them have emotionally exhuasting conversations because they are working hard to exclude you on purpose.
I’m not a Halloween costume person just now. If invited to a costumed thing I’m gonna say “No thanks, have a great time” and do my thing. I’m not going to rail against costumes as being unfair or make my friends deal with my feelings. That’s what’s become unbalanced in the OP. “Elizabeth” is mad at the Letter Writer for having fun with people even at times that Elizabeth wasn’t available. If that’s not what you’re doing, don’t worry.
Totally off topic but it’s so good to hear from other people who are not super into costuming, esp. Halloween costumes. I don’t have like moral or ideological opposition to them, they just are a ton of work and effort and don’t provide me much joy in return. I get stressed out every year because ALL my friends LOVE costumes and “How can you not know what you’re going to be for Halloween?” and “OMG you aren’t making a new costume” and and and. I have run out of ways to say “Your hobby is not my hobby and that’s okay! Go enjoy your costume thing and don’t worry about me. I already did my fall thing three weeks ago with apples and cider donuts and pumpkin spice pies, and I’m all set for a quiet weekend in.”
I don’t do Halloween anymore
Luckily for me, my friends mostly don’t either.
But I feel you
I do, uh, clearance candy a couple days after Halloween? I’m pretty indifferent to the rest of it, I just like cheap kitkats.
Yeah I don’t do costumes either for the same reason, it seems too much effort to me. But I still go to the parties anyway on my regular clothes and it isn’t a big deal, and I enjoy seeing the effort that others have put into their costumes. 🙂
Yes! I love OTHER PEOPLE’s costumes (the way I love other people’s kids & dogs). It’s just not for me personally.
Some costume parties are fun even if you’re not dressed up. My friends go to events where they are trying to create an illusion of being in another place and time. It isn’t worth traveling half a day plus overnight lodging and a return trip if I’m just going to be the person everyone else stares at for being gauche and spoiling the atmosphere. I’m not going to enjoy it if I’m not part of it. These aren’t Ren Faire events where there are actors and crew; it’s everyone.
What I like best is when my super costume-y friends say “If you show up without a costume, we’ll put one on you!” I get how some people would find that controlling and intrusive, but like, I show up having done zero work, someone sticks some cat ears and a tail on me, and someone else does some face paint, and then the costume-y people are happy, and I get to see the freakin’ amazing costumes the hard-core costume-makers have designed. Everyone wins!
Out of nesting below but wanted to add: one time a male friend of ours had a Disney themed costume party and he came as Russell from Pixar’s ‘Up’ and it was amazing. He had the scout outfit, the backpack and balloons, he even made a sash with all the scout badges on it, I was so impressed and entertained!
This! Autumn is my favorite season but I just don’t care about Halloween! I am a cat every year (all black, $7 ears and a tail. Every. Year.), even when I taught preschool and everyone was ALL ABOUT costumes. I’ve just never been into finding/making/paying for costumes. But it is fun to see others be creative. We have a party every year at my current job and some are really fun!
I was Red Riding Hood for four years in high school because all you need to be Red Riding Hood is street clothes, a red cape with a hood, and a basket, and if you wore a halloween costume you didn’t have to change for gym class.
My mom had made a Red Riding Hood cape once so I used that and tossed some stuff in an old easter basket every year for four years.
“all you need to be Red Riding Hood is street clothes, a red cape with a hood, and a basket,”
No sniper rifle/scythe?
yeeeeah, I am all about that harvest-spiced, warm, roasted food and sweaters and walks in the cold air and crunchy leaves. Halloween costumes just make me feel tired and inadequate.
My wife and I just wear animal onesies for the one party we’re invited to every year. Minimal effort!
Of course, that only works if A) you can tolerate the sensation & temperature of wearing a fleece bodysuit for several hours, B) you don’t mind looking like a total dork, and C) people are chill about you not putting any effort into it.
Can we switch friend groups? None of my local friends are into it, and my friends who are are in another country.
If pressed, I am always an Undercover Cop. That way I can dress the way I would have dressed for any other event and I can still go and enjoy the party and other costumes.
I hate costumes and also talking to people about why I’m not wearing a costume, so I got a pair of cat ears. I wear all black, draw on whiskers, and wear the ears. Halloween is now 150% more enjoyable.
TeamNoCostume represent. I don’t hate costumes on other people (although I also don’t go gaga over them unless they’re REALLY amazing) but for myself, no thank you. I can barely dress myself in regular old clothes some mornings.
I’m *much* too busy handing out candy on Halloween to get costumed up 😉 Kids don’t want a werewolf or a skellington to answer the door, they want a non-threatening nice lady who oohs over *their* costumes and gives them lots of pure sugar.
I hate wearing costumes. Even as a kid I was the one slapping a baseball cap on my head with a sports jersey and that was about it. I hate having thick make-up on my face and I hate the fact that I never feel fully comfortable in what I’m wearing. HOWEVER…I am ALL about the costumes for my kids who LOVE that stuff. I have been making their costumes since they were small and every year my skills get a bit better and every year my kids get to be something that they love instead of settling for some off the rack costume that they’re not really into. This year my daughter and her friends (yes, I made their costumes too!) are going to go out as the Heathers (the off-Broadway musical version which are just a bit “brighter” than the movie versions). Last year she went as the Childlike Empress from the Never Ending Story. Every adult who saw her marveled at how good her costume was. My son was Owen from Jurassic World last year. This year he wants to go as a Shiny Umbreon Pokemon. His is a challenge!
Oh gawd the Halloween costume thing. I can vaguely go along with most things that are important to people, but costumes are anywhere from profound indifference to active distaste for me.
… so my husband gets to go out to the cool Halloween parties and get dressed up and have fun, and I get to stay home with the kids (aka get them to bed and then sit alone, in front of the fire, with a glass of wine and a good book and no one to interrupt my reading). BLISS. it works for us. 🙂
LW, the Captain’s advice is all great. One thing not mentioned though, is your boyfriend – I’d recommend talking to him about this as well so he understands why you’re taking [actions] and ideally, has your back. I’m betting when/if you make a change in how you react to Elizabeth, someone in all those overlapping friend groups *will* bring it up to him sooner or later. Even if the most he says is “Huh, well, that’s between LW and Elizabeth, how ’bout that local sports team?” it will be worth the conversation.
True story for other recovering Elizabeths:
A couple years ago, I threw myself a birthday party and invited all my friends far in advance, sent reminder invites and everything…and ONE person came. Two hours late. Meaning for the first half of my “party,” I dragged myself around my empty house picking at the snacks and crying.
What I did: made sure to stop crying before that one friend showed up; acted excited when they showed up; suggested things for us to do together (we watched a movie and had drinks and laughed a lot); later, took a couple of my cancel-friends up on their offers to hang out one-on-one some other time; and shared my feelings of sadness and inadequacy with one or two carefully selected close friends who lived in other states and hadn’t been invited in the first place and would therefore not feel guilted by me saying “Only one person showed up to my birthday party and it makes me feel bad.”
What I didn’t do: passive-aggressively try to guilt my friends for bailing; get mad at anyone.
Pasting on a smile for my one friend was hard. Responding, “No worries, catch you next time!” to a bunch of cancellation texts was hard. But these things paid off immediately–my friend and I had a great time–and the long-term result is that I still have a good relationship with all those friends who couldn’t make it, and we’ve had great hangouts since then. I’ve also successfully thrown other parties! It turns out, nobody being able to make it to one event is just a bummer thing that happens sometimes, and was not a reflection of how much my friends like me. One of the cancellers suggested an alternate time to hang out the following week and it was secretly a date! We ended up going out! And if I had said to her, “Wow ok hope u have a great evening I guess, I’ll just sit here by myself eating Twizzlers,” I am 100% positive she would not have wanted to go out with me. Being snarky with my friends would have turned that isolated incident into a self-perpetuating spiral (and I know because I did that to a group of friends in high school and I’m no longer in touch with any of them). Un-Elizabething is hard but incredibly rewarding.
Thank you for sharing, this is a great example of how our behaviours shape our experiences 🙂
Oh, sneaky, I’m sorry that happened–it sounds really rough. The way you handled it was really awesome, though! I aspire to be that together and cool.
Same here. Threw myself a birthday brunch because it seemed like the only time that weekend everyone was available – nope, at the last minute a bunch of people decided they were too tired for brunch. Each person probably felt it was no big deal, didn’t know most of the other “confirmed” guests had also bailed, two people came. It really sucked and I worried that the people who came felt bad for me, but I put on a smile and appreciated the crap out of the two people who came, and it didn’t even occur to me to shame the ones who bailed, I carried on our respective friendships like nothing had happened.
This story is awesome! I think I would have struggled a lot in the same birthday situation. I have found scheduling one on one hangouts with people you want to build friendships with has had the best results for me. I have also actually scheduled parties by first getting one guest that I really wanted to attend on board where they were guaranteed to be able to show on such a date and time and place so I knew I would get to have fun with one person no matter what. It has helped alleviate my anxiety around that a lot.
That’s such a good technique–building a party around one person you know will be there, and getting chill time with them no matter what. Borrowing it.
This is so amazing, you’re my hero and this is now the go-to for handling something like this gracefully and healthily! Kudos and jedi hugs to you!
Yep. I’ve quit throwing birthday parties because I know that no one is going to come. I basically have quit throwing parties because I realize no one is going to come, and it’s too much work for a bunch of last-minute cancellations. It sucks, because I like parties and it especially sucks because I would like to have my birthday acknowledged, and it sucks because I would like to be at least a little bit of a priority in some people’s lives, but that is not the social circle I have and that’s that. My spouse and like, two close friends remember and try to hang out with me near the day, if not the actual day, and I’m grateful for that.
*Two* close friends! When I were a lad i’ Yorkshire, we used to DREAM of ‘avin’ two close friends… (/Python reference)
I have only one close friend plus a spouse, but I’m totally fine with that. I have also come to dislike parties more and more as I reach the age of discretion, so if you were my friend I might not want to come to your party but that wouldn’t mean I didn’t like you. I’m sure your friends are lovely, but I’m sorry they can’t fulfill your party-giving needs. You sound awesome.
When I were a lass of 12, I would have sacrificed body parts for a close friend, so I am not diminishing the two AT ALL. But, I went from zero close friends to college where I was always hanging out with a bunch if people and parties happened at least once a month to adulthood where they just… don’t. It can be a bummer.
Heh. I moved to Yorkshire 3 years ago and still dream of havibg close friends. Left everyone behind in Manchester, & since we’ve been here I’ve been too busy with work & small child to grow new friends. Cross fingers for 2018…
Same. I try not to make my feelings other people’s problem, but after a handful of ‘parties’ where nobody showed up, I figured out that it’s way less depressing to just find something enjoyable to do on my own/with my spouse than to spend ages beforehand worrying and ages afterward feeling rejected.
😦 Oof. There’s no saving grace when literally zero people show up. I feel you, hard. Like, maybe you’ve accidentally only befriended incredibly introverted people who hate parties, but even in that case…eesh.
Nah, mostly people who have a lot more going on in their lives than I do… either way, I’m resigned to it.
Antigone10, have you tried MeetUp? In my area, there are whole groups just for people to go out.
I work nights and weekends, so MeetUp is not a strong option for me. I have made it to a couple of the MeetUps, but quite frankloy they seemed like already established social groups, not people interested in folding in new ones.
sneaky, I’m a bit concerned by the fact that you’re referring to this as “un-Elizabething” and calling yourself “a recovering Elizabeth” for having feelings about what happened. It sounds like it was just very bad luck and your friends made it up to you, and I’m sure you did learn some valid lessons with your high school friends, but what happened at your birthday party is no small deal, and being upset about that is worlds apart from sulking every time someone in your social circle has a life outside you. How you handled it was impressive, but honestly, if I’d been the friend who attended your party, I would have been happy to comfort you while you cried, and I think many other people would too. Not being an Elizabeth doesn’t mean you have to be 100% accommodating of others on EVERY occasion where you’re stood up, no matter how bad it is. What you did was impressive but I really want you to know that you don’t HAVE to do it.
I appreciate this, but I don’t feel like a recovering Elizabeth because I had feelings, the feelings were super normal; I’m a recovering Elizabeth because past-me reacted to way less upsetting situations with passive-aggression and manipulation. This anecdote definitely isn’t the only acceptable reaction to feeling left out, rather it’s a reaction that made me feel good. I didn’t do it because I felt like I had to, but because I wanted to–I wanted my birthday to involve fun and laughter, not crying and resentment, and since I can’t control my friends’ behavior, I was only able to shift the situation from resentment to enjoyment with my own behavior. I wanted to be happy and I wouldn’t have felt happy crying on the one friend who showed up. I shared this anecdote because it took me a long time to learn that it can be both possible and really rewarding to let stuff go, and because I wish someone had shared something like this candidly with me when I was in high school.
You give me a lot of hope here, sneaky, that I, too, can get out of this Elizabeth spiral someday. Thank you so much for sharing this. You’re awesome and inspiring!
YES. I had a graduation party go in a similar direction, although definitely not as dramatically. There were supposed to be six of us from my master’s program all sharing a pavilion in a local park, plus one other friend from another program. 5/6 of the people from my program bailed the week of, and the sixth dropped out the day before because of one-off family drama. It was disappointing because I had this whole carefully-curated image of what this party was going to look like…and it ended up just being me + my fam, the friend from the other program + their fam, and a non-school friend who was down to drink sangria and eat fancy cheese for any reason. It was still a lovely day! And the reason it was still a lovely day was because I managed to shove down all of the anxiety and inadequacy; enjoy a lovely pre-ceremony bottle of champagne with the last-minute bailer; and then be present for what the party was, not what I wish the party had been.
In the moment it was really hard. But I’m still friendly with the 5/6, and still very close with the 1/6 and the other two friends. That would not have happened if I’d given into my inner Elizabeth, and I’m very grateful that I’d had the life experiences to have the ability to acknowledge that there was not a single thing I could have done to change the reality of that party. The only thing I could control was how I reacted, and I wanted to react with grace and find a way to enjoy it for what it was. And I 100% vented to my mom while we were getting ready (direct quote, “I will slice this fancy cheese, even though probably no one will even eat it because this party will be a DISASTER and NO ONE LIKES ME and I’M SO MAD AT 1/6’s DAD”) but she was a safe place to put those feelings. For me at least, the realization that I could decide what kind of reaction I wanted to have to a given input has been so freeing and empowering.
I am full of admiration of your ability to reframe events as ‘it’s not about me, it’s not a judgement of me as a person’ – I had a birthday party where half my guests did not come, and I am afraid I was far less graceful.
Thanks for saying this. It was healing to read.
Oh sneaky, that’s like the ultimate social nightmare – and you handled it brilliantly! I can understand how bad that must have felt – I’ve been there myself on occasion – so massive respect to you for being big enough to take it on the chin and keep going.
This sounds like a great way to salvage the situation, good on you!
I had a similar thing a couple of years ago, I’d organised a big birthday dinner at a restaurant that did special banquet things (though not everyone had to order this if it was too expensive for them). And in the end out of about 18, so many had to cancel last minute for various reasons that only three showed up. It was the worst birthday ever and I was super bummed. I didn’t do the passive aggressive thing to those who didn’t come because they all had legit reasons, but I probably was a bit more of a sad sack at the dinner than I needed to be. Also the vegan options they created for me for the banquet turned out to be super underwhelming (one course was just a carrot sliced in half. I kid you not.).
Though I do still feel kind of annoyed at the three friends who offered to cook me dinner at their place another time to make up for bailing, and just never followed through. If they had suggested another dinner out maybe I could have brought it up again to them later, but I felt too awkward and pathetic to try to remind them that they’d offered to have me over for dinner, and it never happened. I guess they were drifting apart from me anyway.
Boooo for bad vegan options!! That alone is reason to be pissed off on your birthday. Ditto friends who put you in the awkward position of waiting for something promised and feeling unable to remind them about it. Definitely been there as well.
Boo to the restaurant and Kitty’s three flaky friends!
Phew, sneaky, that’s rough. Kudos to you for coming through that one.
I am not able to perform that kind of emotional turnaround, so virtually any “party” type event I throw is going to have a core of something that I wanted to do anyway, even if I’m doing it by myself. This is probably why I do a lot of dinner parties, because if no one comes then I have leftovers for the whole week.
Similar story. A few years ago one of my friendgroup members was having a baby. we usually pull together fairly casual showers. I asked other friend if anyone had one organized and could I help. And other friend was like “oh my gosh you didn’t get the email” and forwarded me an email organizing the shower. At first I was convinced I had been deliberately excluded and was now being guiltily invited. (So much middle school and high school emotional baggage). But I only shared that feeling with my husband. He sympathized but told me it was probably an honest mistake and I should go anyway. Day of the party when I was double checking the time, I look at the original email and see that they have me on the original list but with my email address misspelled. I had always been invited! Boy am I glad I didn’t barrage everyone with pity me feelings messages.
Just wanted to say that I am having a party tonight to which very few people I have invited are going to come (partner’s friends are making up numbers… I hope) and this comment has helped me lots. Close friends have bailed for valid reasons but it still hurts. However I did all my crying now, and I’m going to make a real effort to enjoy seeing the people that are coming, and meeting some new people. So thanks!
What if “Elizabeth” is your mom and the scripts would just get met with “HOW DARE YOU BE YOU SO RUDE” and no change in behaviour? Assuming she acknowledged you said anything at all while she’s not bother to ask how you are or that you don’t want to hear about her retired social drama, that is.
Go even lower-contact than you already are? Find a few safe positive topics, check in at regular intervals, and let the rest go? Sometimes shit is unfixable and the part you can control is how much energy you expend about it.
Give yourself permission to stop caring when and whether your mom thinks you are RUDE, Oh So Very Pearl Clutchingly Rude, HOW DARE.
You can deal with her thinking you’re being rude. You can’t/don’t have to deal with her treating you like crud.
I second going the lower-contact route; it’s helped me. Unfortunately, doing this can be hard, because it involves admitting to yourself that the sort of relationship you WANT to have, it just isn’t possible right now. (Or at least in my case, the sort of relationship society wants you to have. Going low-contact made me realize that that was the sort of relationship I wanted with my mom, because of the frustration and fights involved in trying to have anything deeper. But, I digress.)
And I’ll go one step further than Nope Octopus: I, a random, anonymous person on the internet, give you permission to stop caring when or whether your mom thinks you are SO RUDE. It’s hard to give yourself permission for this – been there, tried that – so until you’re comfortable with that, you can use my permission to judge your behavior based on your own standards, not your mom’s unreasonable ones.
I like the differentiation between the sort of relationship YOU want to have and the sort of relationship SOCIETY wants you to have. It’s important.
Also and OT – love your username! Is it a Check Please reference? 😉
Alas, I’ve never seen Check Please, but from the descriptions I’m seeing, it sounds like something I might be interested in. 🙂
Rather, it’s a combination of a programming joke (parsing input) and my love of food, and is pleasantly alliterative to boot.
As an added bonus, it’s exactly 16 characters long – which was important back in the halcyon days of AIM, when nobody thought twice about “Oh, X is taken? As are X1 through X30? I’ll use X31!”, it meant that I’d never have to worry about a ParseThePotatoes2. 😛
(In other news, I’ve been using this name since at least 2005, which was twelve years ago. Now I feel old!)
LW, you may find it helpful to read the post and comments about The Escalator. It’s not the same problem, but the ‘setting boundaries around someone who feels irrationally rejected. https://captainawkward.com/2017/08/07/1004-the-escalator/
Something that works really well for my friend group is a Facebook group. We have two threads: general chat, and planning stuff. So whenever someone wants to grab drinks somewhere, they post in the planning group. Bigger events (movie nights, parties) get an event page with invitations, so the host can also invite unofficial Brunch Club members. But usually when someone has a friend they like, bam, added to the group. Planning rotates around the 2 or 3 of us who like to plan, and whoever can make it shows up to each event. Polls and event reminders also help to get RSVPs.
Now, this only works because we don’t have any particularly anxious members. We have get-togethers once or twice a week, and everyone’s invited, and luckily no one feels the need to show up to all of them. If they can’t make one, there’s always another one coming up. But this could help groups get some shindigs organized!
I’ve been both Elizabeth and OP, and I’ll toss out a vote for – if your friend circle dynamics are calcifying in ways that are not fun, it never hurts to shake things up. Get coffee with a fun coworker who you think you connect with. Join a new group that does a hobby you’ve been considering but never tried and go to a few of the meetups. Reach out to some of the folks who’ve drifted over time and catch up. Or hey, even go to a movie by yourself, go for a hike, do some self-care.
Everything is more annoying and fraught and intense when it feels stuck (these are your only friends ever and they include her you need to make it work with them because reasons) and also when it’s continuous (every time I want to be social, this thing is there that I dread).
You don’t have to bail on your group. You might not even meet any new people that you think are really worth pursuing. But it absolutely can’t hurt you to try it out, and sometimes a little distance and perspective take the power away from the things that vex us the most. Best of luck.
This is so true and comforting! I’ve been going through something similar recently–I’ve been dealing with some depression that means I need to be really deliberate about seeing my friends, but I’m realizing some aspects of my friend group at school are also Not Great, so I’ve been taking the time to hang with people outside of the friend group and oh my gosh they are so much lovelier than I remembered! I’m going hiking and talking silly TV shows with one person, or getting coffee, or hosting study groups for midterms, and I feel so much more settled and happier now that I’m figuring out how to meet my needs from a different set of people.
LW, it sounds like what you really want is to no longer be friends with Elizabeth, and you’re trying to find a way to do that without ruining the entire group.
Here’s how you do that: You stop being friends with her. You stop inviting her to things. You stop talking to her on the phone/skype/messenger/whatever. If a mutual friend asks if something’s up between you, tell them “I don’t get along with her very well anymore,” and leave it at that; don’t let it become a big talk-about-Elizabeth session, though, and change the topic if they try to have a talk-about-Elizabeth session with you. If you see her at an event someone else is hosting, you be polite but don’t engage much, the same way as you would with a non-past-friend who you don’t like much.
If your mutual friends are likely to become involved in this (aka if she is likely to pull them into the middle of it whether you/they want them involved or not, which it sounds like she is), then I think you should give them a heads up on a couple things:
-You and Elizabeth aren’t good friends anymore.
-You don’t expect them to be the middle-men in this. If Elizabeth tries to put them in that role, they should feel free to say “You need to talk to LW about that” and leave it at that. You don’t need or want them to try and fix your friendship with Elizabeth; it’s between you two.
-You are fine with going to events where Elizabeth is also invited. You will be polite and sociable, it’s not a problem on your end.
-(If they try and talk to you about Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s feelings, etc.) “I’m not up for talking about this. How about that new game that came out last week?”
That’s enough to give them a heads up that tension exists, clarify some of the logistics of event planning and the like, and make your boundaries clear. In short, by doing this, you’re minimizing tension with the rest of the group as much as you can.
If/when Elizabeth throws fits at you:
-Be polite. Stick to this for the duration of your interaction, even if you’re frustrated or upset. Trust me, people will notice that you’re behaving well. It will help smooth things over in your friend group, to the extent that anything you do can.
-Calmly state facts. “Yes, we’re not close friends anymore.”
-Don’t get drawn into the ‘why not’, ‘what did I do wrong’, etc. territory. There is no ‘right’ answer to these questions–the truth will probably just perpetuate her feelings of persecution, and apologies might give her hope that you’ll change your mind and go back to friendship with her–so keep it vague. “Relationships change over time” is a good line. “It just is that way” is another.
-Try to disengage from the interaction as quickly as possible. “I don’t have anything else to add, so I’m going to go now” is a good line for that, I’ve found. I’m guessing the main place you’ll see her will be friends’ events; you can go get a drink, go talk to someone else, go to the bathroom, whatever you think will discourage her from following you and trying to pick things back up. (If she refuses to let you walk away, that’s on her, and your polite, calm, reasonable behavior will show that you’re doing your best in a situation not of your making.)
For what it’s worth, I’ve been in this kind of situation before. A and B were both part of my friend group. A went through some really hard family things and mental health things, and ended up taking it out on B. B tried to support A as much as possible and be understanding, but ultimately the situation reached a point where A’s behavior went too far, and B chose to break off their friendship as a result.
I don’t think B ever sat down and had a let’s-talk-this-out moment with A. Instead, she stopped hanging out with A one-on-one, stopped chatting with A via text/phone/email, etc., and stopped engaging on anything more than a superficial level when she saw A in a group setting. If she planned events, I’m sure she wouldn’t invite A to them.
A realized at some point that B wasn’t engaging like she used to, and asked the rest of us what was going on. B had already given us a heads up about the situation and how she planned to handle it, so we weren’t caught off guard. We just told A “That sounds like something you should talk to B about,” and left it at that. A accepted that answer.
A couple years later, A and B don’t really talk at all, but the rest of us are still friends with both of them. I really admired how B handled things–she stuck to her own boundaries without pulling anyone else into the middle of things. A also handled it well too (didn’t push it too hard with B, didn’t try and put the rest of us in the middle), but if she had handled it poorly, that would clearly have been on her–we wouldn’t have held B responsible for A’s response to their changing relationship.
I hope your situation works out as well as theirs did.
I’ve actually tried this with my friend group “Elizabeth” and I’m the only that’s left out because she decides that she can no longer be invited/go to/show up where I am. Even though I have repeatedly told my friends they are not required to pick sides, I’m a mature adult and can be polite in mixed company, and that this should not affect their friendship with her because their friendship/relationship is THEIR’S and is not MINE. I guess I should have realized that I expected her to be just as mature, massive oversight on my part. So, who is no longer invited to things because they don’t want to make her uncomfortable? Me.
Fuck that. Sounds like your “friend” group isn’t really yours. I assume they’ll interact with you one on one?
Is there one you’re close enough to to ask if they are intentionally choosing her over you or are they obliviously following the social fallacy of mollifying the person who will pitch a fit?
Otherwise, I don’t know what options you have other than find a new friend group.
If your friend group is choosing to prioritize a tantrum-throwing brat over an adaptable, flexible friend, that….says something about your friend group. Even in cases where A and B really can’t be in the same room, I would expect a solid friend group to invite each of them to some events, not completely cut off one of them. (Assuming the conflict is based on normal interpersonal stuff and not, like, things anyone should object to. If B can’t tolerate being around A because A is a neonazi, that’s a different scenario, because nazis shouldn’t be tolerated.) Anyways, I’m really sorry you’re dealing with this–it’s got to be painful for you.
But on the flip side, it’s a nice clear sign that it’s time to find a new social network. Maybe one that prioritizes emotional maturity? Doesn’t believe in letting an individual control the entire group via threat of temper tantrum? Will do their best by all their friends, not just the convenient ones? You deserve those things, and it sounds like this group has decided not to provide them for you, which….while it’s awful, it’s also good information to have.
Elizabeth is my sister. I love her dearly and make an effort to see her semi-regularly and invite her to some things but I don’t feel guilty when she pulls out the passive aggressive “I wasn’t invited!” I did feel bad around one of those events because I specifically didn’t invite her because I knew she was really busy with work and didn’t think she could make it…it was literally a build a huge thing in a day all hands on deck situation. I didn’t want to demand more work from her than she likely had energy for.
One of the first clear examples of it was when I visited her in her city and crashed on her couch for a month while I worked on a short-term project with a bunch of folks some of which were her friends first and we would be chatting at work for hours a day and end up inviting each-other places and going out to dinner together just because we were all in the same room. She was really upset to hear about something we all did one night and I was like…it just happened to come up in conversation and we were all in the room so we went to the same place…there was no exclusionary tactics involved. I was as honest about it as possible…sometimes things happen by proximity and not at all by who your best friends are.
Over time I think she’s gotten enough feedback from enough people she’s realizing her approach isn’t great. She’s gotten better about some things. But I’ve mostly made peace with the fact that only she can determine what will make her happy and pursue it and I should be allowed to make my own friends and hang out with them without obligation to her.
My one bit of advice to anyone who thinks they might be an Elizabeth is consider the ways you improve your friend’s lives. I have been a bit of an Elizabeth though it never spilled out it was always internal but I was wishing I had more friends and then I realized…what exactly do I do to build friendships? Or do I more find a convenient ear and dump my anxiety and mental processing around my childhood on anyone who will sit still long enough to hear without providing positive support or value-add to their lives? I was using a bunch of people as unpaid therapy it turns out..my friendships have improved since then…also I got a paid therapist.
If my sister stayed with me for a month and went out with my friends and didn’t invite me, I’d be pretty pissed, too. I’m sure this was just one example you chose to use, but I can understand your sister’s unhappiness.
I can, as well. I can’t imagine staying with my sister for a month, deciding to go out with her friends, and not saying “let’s wait until Sister comes home so we can all go.”
But perhaps this example was more like “people who are working together on a project all went and grabbed lunch while Sister was otherwise occupied because hey, we all need to eat.” This, to me, is quite different than Going Out.
“… consider the ways you improve your friend’s lives.”
It’s rare that anybody asks themselves that question without prompting, so good on you for thinking about it and doing something about it.
“Additionally, planning and hosting social events is work. The people in your group who are good at it and confident about it or just defaulted into being in charge of it because no one else wanted to do it also have worries and anxieties: That no one will show up, no one will have a good time…or that everyone expects them to do the work and nobody ever helps or even thanks them.”
I just wanted to say, thanks for saying this. I have been hosting a regularly scheduled get-together for my friend group for many years and I’m always anxious that no one will show until the first person arrives, despite the fact that that has never happened. I am also starting to feel a bit taken for granted and have seriously considered not hosting any more, but I’m afraid I’ll never see most of these people unless I continue to provide the venue. I realize that part of this is my own insecurities, and part is the fact that I have a better space for entertaining than many of my friends, but…offers of help/reciprocation/appreciation go a long way, yanno?
Yes! Oh me too. I just posted a separate comment about this but I wanted to say something here too. In my case it’s a really simple solution: occasional words of appreciation or enthusiasm really help silence the feelings of worry or resentment.
If you haven’t had that kind of conversation with any of those friends, and you think they’re the sorts of people who would understand and be willing to make an effort, it might be worth a shot. Tell them how you’re feeling and what they can do to help you and ask if it’s something they can handle.
In my Elizabethan moments, it’s been really helpful to say to myself:
“Self, you are tired.
And all your friends are just as tired as you are.
All your friends are way too tired to elaborately fake being your friend as a joke or a prank. It is much more reasonable and sensible that they’re actually your friends, who sometimes Have Stuff Going On In Their Lives.”
I’m nodding in agreement IRL.
I wasn’t exactly an Elizabeth in my teen years – I was pretty sure no-one liked me, but instead of being loudly passive-aggressive, I went the other way and decided I’d be a LONER, oh yeah, way more cool than “lonely and friendless”, isn’t it? One thing that helped me to shake that feeling as I grew older was realising that hey, most adults are reasonable people, while teenagers can be cruel to each other for petty, petty reasons. So if a colleague or acquaintance says “hey there’s a thing on later, do you want to come to the thing”, it’s not a trick to lure me there and then pointedly ignore me while occasionally glancing over and then laughing. And if there’s a thing on and my friends went but didn’t tell me it was happening and I spent the evening sitting at home when *I* could have been at the thing, it wasn’t a grand conspiracy to hurt me. It was a last minute decision, they forgot, I usually have a commitment that night and they assumed I wouldn’t be free etc.
I disagree with this part here —> One thing that helped me to shake that feeling as I grew older was realising that hey, most adults are reasonable people, while teenagers can be cruel to each other for petty, petty reasons.
I think that most people – regardless of age – are reasonable people. I think teenagers are more thoughtless than adults though and that’s often mistaken as intentional cruelty.. I see it with my daughter. She’s so focused on her own thoughts, feelings, hormonal changes that she doesn’t really see that others in her circle are going through them as well. It’s made me look back at some of the things that happened to me in middle and high school and really wonder if there was intentional cruelty there or thoughtlessness. If I’m being honest with myself I can write off about 1/2 of the crap that happened to me as other kids being too wrapped up in their own self to have given an honest thought as to how I was feeling in that moment as well.
That being said, there are still many adults who I won’t be around because there is honest cruelty there. Ex: a parent of one of my daughters friends had a school meeting / social event recently. She invited the entire class of parents except five people (I was one of them). When one of the parents not invited heard about the event (something about fundraising for computers) she called and asked about where and when it was. This mom actually said “This event is for the parents with kids who have actual social standing or money to make a difference.” WHAT THE HELL??? This same woman recently told my daughter that she didn’t like her because she thinks that my daughter is turning her child into a nerd. My daughter told her “No, your daughter was a nerd before I met her. I’m making her into a better nerd!” I was so angry and wanted to raise all kinds of holy hell with this woman but my kid thinks that it’s funny that she – the nerdy cosplayer, fangirl, straight A student, in bed by 8:30pm (because SHE wants to go to sleep!) kid – is thought of as a “bad girl influence”. She wants to have a t-shirt made that says “Lock up your kids, here comes the nerd!”
Wow! I hope that woman’s daughter grows up to be an awesome nerd regardless of her mother’s influence.
This reminds me of the Simon Pegg film The World’s End, where he plays a character still trapped in the desire to be the “cool alternative guy” he was in school, even though it’s twenty years later. Everyone around him has grown up and moved on and are soooo tired of him trying to conduct every relationship the way it existed in high school.
BRB, embossing this on my mirror
I am a person who rarely does the social planning because I’m a terrible organizer (I have more than once had people show up in different places for the same event…I can’t be trusted, apparently). But sometimes it can’t be avoided. I wanted to offer a process that has worked for me to generally avoid the “threw a party and nobody showed up” scenario (which I have learned from closely observing friends who are far more socially intelligent than I am).
1. Find out what date/time works for 1-3 of your closest, most reliable friends who you know aren’t going to bail last-minute.
2. Plan the event for that date, with the assurance from those friends that they will be there.
3. Invite everyone else.
4. Resolve that you will have an awesome time no matter who else shows up because you get to spend that time with at least 1-3 of your closest friends.
Obviously, this plan has limitations (I have a lot of dear, flaky friends who can’t be counted on to make it…not everyone has a “definitely won’t bail” friend, for example.) But it has worked for me many times in the past!
This is how I plan my birthday parties 🙂
Additional advice: if your event is at a place other than your own home, enlist one friend (more is okay too, but one is enough) to be there with you at the announced starting time, so that you don’t sit there by your lonesome for 15-30 minutes waiting until the fashionably late arrive.
And if the event is your birthday, bring an extra bag for the gifts you will receive. This will feel greedy, but is in fact practical.
Thank you for this site.
I’m a reforming Elizabeth, and the archives here have helped me a lot. I started reforming a few years ago, thanks to therapy, but I realized recently I’d gone too far in the other direction and had become a bit of a doormat. Finding the balance has been difficult but rewarding, and you’ve helped so much. Thank you.
Slightly OT: Cap, I have recently introduced a group to the concept of the flat “Wow”, and it has gone down very well. A lot of us are kind of awkward and tend to freeze when someone says something racist/sexist/homophobic etc., and they all agreed that was a great way of registering disapproval whilst a) not needing to think of a snappy comeback and b) returning the awkward very thoroughly to sender, registered post, no backsies. So thank you for this.
I really, really feel the truth of this. Back in college I did a summer internship that was intense because of the workload and some dysfunctional management, but very rewarding in terms of the relationships I developed with some of my fellow interns. When I re-connected with one of them a couple years later, he reminisced about me venting to him about the frustrating aspects of the job, and it was a real wake-up call for me. I didn’t want the main thing for this awesome person to remember about me to be how much I complained at him. And we’ve further developed our relationship, so I don’t think that’s the case anymore. But truly, one you fall into that pattern it becomes a self-reinforcing loop and it’s extremely hard to disengage. And j don’t like the person I am when I get into that kind of pattern of negativity, especially when it’s very, VERY possible that this kind of negativity will get back to its subject eventually. And that’s a terrible feeling, generally.
My first reaction when I read Captain A’s story about Sister was that this girl managed to keep an entire group’s focus entirely on her and her issues for a solid two hours, and then multiplied that by three meals a day for days. She used her drama to remain the center of attention, and that seems like what Elizabeth is doing. There comes a point where she has to be told that, at least as far as the LW is concerned, it is not always about Elizabeth all the time, and the LW has to know that she should not feel guilt over this.
This relates to the Captain’s comments about event planning and how it takes work.
I’m the one who does the majority of the event planning in almost all of my relationships. Many of my friends are fairly quiet people who tend to stay at home and watch Netflix if inertia has its way, despite an interest-in-principal in doing Other Stuff. I’m definitely one of the more organized people in my friend group and I have a strong bias for action and a love of trying new things. That makes me good at making fun things happen. But making social interaction happen is still work.
Not only does it take time and logistical wrangling, it takes an emotional toll. Being the inviter can be hard! If a friendship has a really one-sided invitation dynamic, as the inviter it’s easy to doubt the other person’s interest. Is this a “real” friendship, I sometimes ask myself? Or would it fizzle out due to lopsided interest if I stopped doing most of the “let’s actually see each other” work? This has sometimes been a real source of sadness for me and has caused me to draw back from some friendships.
The magic balm in most cases is communication. I’ve had conversations with friends about these anxieties, and let them know that I can do the logistical work of making the hangouts happen but I can NOT do the emotional work of always wondering if my company is really wanted or if I’m just tolerated because I’m a useful social convener. The end result is simple: my friends make a point of occasionally mentioning how happy they are that I am willing to do the work of organizing/inviting/finding fun things to do, especially if they’ve turned down a couple invites in a row. I know that the lopsidedness of the invite situation in most of my relationships does not reflect a lopsided interest in the friendship, and they don’t have to worry that turning down invites is going to send the wrong message, etc. Everybody wins.
So if you’re someone who can’t always accept invites and worries that you’re being excluded as a result, please: SPEAK UP! If your invitations are petering off, it might not be that the person doesn’t want you around. It might be that they’re reading signals into your attendance patterns and are responding to their own anxieties about not wanting to pester people.
Of course, if someone is deliberately choosing not to invite you…well, that’s another story. Sail on and find people more worth your time!
As a final note from the perspective of the inviter: I love all my friends but I do not invite everyone to every event. I have to balance many factors, like how many people is a good number for this board game or how many people will overwhelm my shy friend or what is the perfect mix of nerd spheres for the ultimate pub trivia team. If I do not invite someone to an event it just means they were not a good fit for that one particular thing and it could be for any number of reasons, none of which is that I don’t like the person, because I don’t invite people I don’t like to ANYTHING! So take heart if you’ve been left out of one thing or another. It probably does not mean what you think it means.
I feel you.
I’m not a very good organizer, but it seems I’m (almost?) the only one in my “group” interested in doing Other Things. I have also noticed that when I don’t organize things myself, I tend to slip out the consciuosness of other people. It would be nice to (sometimes) kick back and enjoy the non-responsibility of being invited.
Sorry, didn’t mean to Eeyore.
I really came here just to upvote your post, or like or whatnot 🙂
Jedi hugs if you want.
I have felt like Elizabeth on many occasions. But also due to my mother dismissing or downplaying my reactions to her problematic actions most of my life, I also feel a strong need to check whether my reactions to things are reasonable, or an overreaction. So usually I think for days and ask other friends whether I am being reasonable before I say anything.
Usually it’s been worst when it seemed to me like most of our mutual friend group was doing an activity that I definitely would be interested in or had actually expressed interest in, without me. There was usually a reasonable explanation, like the planner was inviting many people and just forgot to send it to me and others assumed I had been invited but couldn’t go, etc.
And I’ve been trying to work more on dealing with my own emotions around feeling left out. Especially when it’s just smaller groups or pairs of our larger group hanging out on their own. Even though I feel sad I’m not invited to those things, I tell myself that they have every right to spend one on one time or small group time with each other if they want to, and I don’t have to be invited to every single thing. Especially since rod course I don’t always want to invite every single person we know to every event that I plan. Sometimes I just want to do one on one or two other people.
What’s helped is therapy in challenging negative anxious thoughts, and also actively trying to divert my thoughts when they start going down that rumination path. Nope, ok going to choose not to dwell or obsess over this.
Interesting post. I do not believe I am an Elizabeth but I am aware of my potential to be – so will be keeping this stuff in mind. I’ve recently started getting help for social anxiety etc. instead of just discussing with friends. I still do that with a couple of close ones plus boyfriend but hopefully on a different level. I’m a bit of an accidental over-sharer in the sense of talking about things. That’s due to my neuro-atypical self, which influenced (?) much blah previously. My tip is to find the thing that works for you….Mum used to try and give me scripts about social interaction but I actually disliked that.
Also. If you’re going to a 21st birthday party where the host (aka me & family) has explicitly said (several times), “We need final numbers by date”, *please* tell the host if you’re coming or not by then, or at least give a heads-up warning of “would love to but things may change by party date in a week’s time”….
I invited a big crowd of people knowing that some had social anxiety etc. like me so might be flaky, but I did not expect practically all of my friends to post last-minute (i.e. on-the-day) bail-outs in the FB group. Some of these people I had known for years and thought we were quite close still. Others were newer but I thought the friendship was becoming stronger. Having only three friends plus boyfriend show up, with the rest of the party being made up by family (most of whom actually DID show though we hadn’t seen each other in a while). It was still a good day because I had fun but afterwards it stung. I thought I’d got better at realising the difference between “friends” and “friendly”, but apparently not.
Hmm, was that a feelings!rant?
My two biggest nightmares (other than not being able to find my locker and discovering that I never dropped that class and finals are tomorrow) are that
1. I throw a party and nobody comes
2. I throw a party and there is not enough food.
I know they are inconsistent.
I actually did throw a party – I invited all the women on my block – all of whom I had met before – to come over after work one night. I had all these great snacks and wine – and Not. One. Single. Person. Showed. Up.
I waited and waited and looked out the door to see if anyone was walking to my house and nope. Not. One. Person. Came.
So yeah. Not fun!
For my sixteenth birthday, I invited about ten friends to show up at x o’clock so we could all go to the movies, for which I had bought tickets in advance (this was long before Fandango etc), and then they would all sleep over at my house. One friend showed up half an hour late. Eight showed up two hours late, and I subsequently found out this happened because they all decided to hang out beforehand. They didn’t lose track of time, they just sort of… didn’t? I dunno. Groups of them also kept leaving the house to hang out outside in the middle of the night, a thing I got in major trouble with my mother over in the morning.
I complained to the friend who showed up first, and she said I was throwing a pity party for myself. Maybe I was! I felt ashamed, never brought it up again, and told myself I was lucky anybody showed up at all. But in retrospect, with over a decade of growth and perspective… Being treated like I didn’t matter on my birthday and ditched for something I had planned for and spent fifty bucks on (they knew this would be happening) sucked, and it’s a reasonable thing to be upset over. It’s ok to say a thing that sucked, sucked.
Now that I think of it, the year before that I had a Halloween party, and two of my three invitees said they were sick and couldn’t come? But they had never been to my house before, so they accidentally came to it trick-or-treating. I opened the door and there they were, healthy as horses and dressed as princesses. It was awkward.
I’m really sorry this happened, and I’m glad you’ve realised subsequently that you deserved so much better.
Uh yeah, that behavior sounds objectively shitty from the outside. They left you to wait on your birthday when they knew something was planned. This is not kind.
Hanging out without you and refusing to enjoy the film with you *was* shitty. I actually feel better reading _so many_ stories of parties where people bailed out at the last minute: lousy as the experience is for every single one of us, it makes it more into a ‘sometimes people do a shitty thing (and may or may not realise how much they hurt the host)’ rather than ‘my so-called friends hated me’. Though in your case, they were at least indifferent.
I love the picky eater analogy, because this is my horrible sister and my mom + relatives whenever we’re supposed to be picking a place to eat out. Everything is too ethnic or spicy or has no gluten-free items. Usually it’s the first two but Sister is also an asshole about being gluten-free for possible medical reasons too and the entire family will dance around her offering things while she sits there poisoning the atmosphere. The difference is that even if I say I’m hungry that doesn’t mean they’ll pick anything. I want to try leaving them and finding a restaurant I like next time everyone does this.
I also used to be massively insecure about whether people liked me or not, coming from a childhood where an entire school mostly rejected me. I figured out that they were happy to see me if I made an effort and they were happy to see me and it wasn’t like me following them around. It took a lot of creating awkwardness and losing many friends because we weren’t as close as I thought before I forced myself to stop worrying they would reject me. It felt like squashing the lid of an overfull compost bin down.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but doesn’t it seem a very common group dynamic that a bunch of people dive in to solve the “problem” for picky eaters when you’re heading out to eat as a group? (*)
Just an example among a myriad of others: A mother-in-law for one of my brothers is rather picky, and we’ve done some big family trips together. And whenever it was time to eat, she’d be like “I can’t eat/don’t want A, B or C.” And then leave the rest of the group to figure out and come up with examples of where to go and what to have, for her to dislike or approve, which could take an hour or two… Instead of shouldering the responsibility, saying “This is what I’d like, and I’ve heard X is a good place to get it. How about we go there and check it out?”
At the opposite end, I have a longtime friend who’s sensitive/allergic to most spices, as well as tomatoes and some other stuff. But she goes along almost anywhere. She just tells the staff that she’d like a piece of meat with potatoes/fries (whatever’s on the menu), but no tomatoes/ketchup and absolutely no spices but salt and pepper.
(*) I realize I might come off as a prick for saying this, especially as people are allergic to a wide variety of things. But I’m talking about people who doesn’t even try to be part of the solution for themself.
I haven’t seen that a whole lot, but it definitely happens. I wonder if part of it is the idea that not having too many preferences is being more easygoing, and that working around food issues already feels like making demands of people. They might feel awkward about saying, “I want X, let’s go here,” and be trying to give other people more control of where they eat. This is absolutely backwards, because actually participating means taking on the emotional labor rather than sticking someone else with it, but it seems like a thing people do.
IME it can be part of a passive-aggressive style, part of Guess Culture, or a vague cultural, generational or gendered learned attitude that one must never directly ask for things because that’s being *demanding.*
“Oh, whatever you want!” – others make the choice – *radiates disappointment and/or disapproval*
UGH I FEEL YOU SO MUCH. We have a couple we’re friends with, and the wife is gluten sensitive, and WHENEVER we make plans with them it’s “let’s meet here!” “No, I got sick there once.” “Okay, let’s go here!’ “I don’t like [food type].” And never a suggestion will she make! Her only answer is “no!” It has gotten to the point where I don’t want to hang out with them because she’s so frustrating to pin down.
On the flip side, I have another friend who has celiac, and she is crystal clear about where she feels comfortable going, or, if you’re bringing a dish to her house, what does/doesn’t work for her, or she asks a few questions about how you prepped it and never makes you feel bad if she doesn’t feel comfortable eating it. I imagine it must be awful and exhausting to think so carefully about what you can/can’t eat but on the flip side…no one truly knows what you can/can’t eat except you.
I have a “rule” which I will tell people in as friendly a tone as I can if necessary. If you reject a suggestion I make, it’s your turn to make the next suggestion. 99% of the time the other person takes this really well because they honestly hadn’t realized they were doing it. The other time I will straight up say “I am not going to sit here and keep throwing out suggestions for you to reject – where do you want to go?” This has only happened I think twice, and both times it’s been because the person has One Specific Place they want to go but they want me to be the one to think of it so they aren’t demanding, or something. I suggest just straight up telling your “no!” friend “OK, it’s your turn to make a suggestion!” as directly as you need to. If she gets mad, well, you’re already getting to the point where you don’t want to see her, so…
I am one of the literally, 2 people in my group with no dietary restrictions/pickiness. I am legitimately happy to go basically anywhere, and have never yet found a restaurant where I can’t find anything I like. I realize I’m lucky, but figure if I’m generally going to go to my “second or third choice that I also like” that’s fine, but hate when people try to make it feel like “my idea”.
The last go-round with her I finally said, directly, “well, why don’t you pick? I know you have more restrictions then we do.” And it’s like I gave her permission to express a preference.
It did kind of put a light on for me, though, of something I’m feeling lately, where I am the social committee chair and how I feel like I’m always doing the planning, and I just don’t have time for all that anymore. And here I was, breaking my neck to try to make someone happy who isn’t bringing a whole lot to the table. It’s something I’ve been chewing on since then: which friends are the ones I want to invest my (limited) time in?
As a person with food allergies, I experience the opposite issue. People (particularly more casual acquaintance) want me to pick where we ready every time, while intuiting what their preferences are every single time we eat together, when when I provide a wide list of options that work for me.
I am very picky, and have a food allergy that also is an inhalation allergy if someone within 3-4 feet of me has it. I can find something to eat almost anywhere though, and I’m fine with them using in the kitchen beforehand, just not at the table. It’s sometimes awkward, and one of my best friend’s relatives gets angry if I ask the waiter/waitress “no at the table please.” However, if I don’t, he doesn’t ask them not to bring it himself! I had to leave the group and move to a different table or go outside a couple of times. 😦 The best friend in question has an allergy to an incredibly common allergen that is often hidden in unexpected foods. So, she tries to contact the restaurant ahead of time to “ask the question.” If it’s more spur of the moment, occasionally they can’t serve her and we go elsewhere.
I forgot to add, neither of us have held a group hostage while they debated the picky/allergy issues and we just turned down possible options! My friend’s sister is allergic to half the universe, but even she researches options first or figures things out on the spot instead of presiding over The Great Restaurant Debate!
FWIW, I’ve actually done this, and it’s magic. Me, cheerfully: “Hey, everybody, I’m absolutely starving, so I’m just gonna go to [restaurant], and whoever wants to come is welcome to join me! You don’t have to come if you don’t want to – I’m totally fine going by myself – but you know how I get when I’m hungry, so I just really need to eat.” Lo and behold, suddenly we’re all going out to [restaurant] together, and even if it didn’t work out that way, at least I get to eat. (Because the bit about “you know how I get when I’m hungry” is 100% true; I turn into a bad-tempered beast.)
YMMV, because in my case, I used to do this with my mostly non-dysfunctional friend group who just couldn’t make a decision to save their collective lives. We weren’t dealing with a challenging personality like your sister. But maybe it’s worth trying just once?
Arg, the part of the original response I was referring to didn’t come through in my comment; my comment above was in reference to this: “I want to try leaving them and finding a restaurant I like next time everyone does this.”
I’ve done this too, back in the day when I had a friend group which included a couple of spectacularly picky eaters. “Listen, I *have* to eat. No ifs, ands or buts. I am turning into a hangry she-beast.” And I picked a place (it was to-go) and got myself some noms. Yes, the pickies grumbled, but I felt So.Much.Better for having eaten.
Sometimes one just has to say, “let’s fish or cut bait.” I think that people who do have dietary restrictions, or are just picky, have a responsibility to know what they can eat and where, instead of just saying “No!” which isn’t really a solution.
Yup. If I were hungry enough if they grumbled because I decided to just go for it I’d say something like “well, the alternative seems to be talk for another two hours and nobody eats anything, so….” But this is why I try to eat before that. 🙂
I assure you that the “Well, if You don’t express a preference we’ll be arguing for another hour while noboby eats anything” argument has come up with Picky Mother-In-Law, but still… 🙂
Sister is also an asshole about being gluten-free for possible medical reasons
This rubs me up the wrong way, as my partner has periods where gluten-free really helps their digestive system to calm the hell down, regardless of the absence of a precise medical diagnosis.
Your sister may be an asshole about choosing a place to eat, but if she tried both gluten and gluten-free, and feels better on gluten-free, I’m willing to believe her. (I’m even willing to believe that there are some foods that people know they don’t process well and occasionally eat _anyway_; I know that I do.)
‘too ethnic or too spicy’ sounds like a cop-out here: most restaurants have mild (and/or Western) dishes, and the racism, well, that’s just something people need to get over.
It doesn’t rub me the wrong way as I know GF’s that are @$$holes and GF’s that are not. Sarah’s sister sounds like she is the former.
If she weren’t friends with all my friends, I would cut her out of my life entirely. Given the overlap, though, that would be difficult and dramatic (and maybe end up ruining her relationships with people who are frustrated but not yet totally fed up. She does need friends. I just can’t be one anymore).
Is there a reason you feel like you have influence over Elizabeth’s interactions with other people? I kinda feel like if you keep in mind that Elizabeth’s friendships with other people have to be managed and nurtured with those people, regardless of you, you’ll feel better about setting your own boundaries.
I’ve come to the conclusion that all of us “giant self-conscious weirdos” who follow Capt. Awkward, are really the COOL people. I always find something to ponder after reading each post, and also the comments that follow. Everybody always says the same thing I would have, if only I’d thought of it!
I don’t think I was ever an “Elizabeth” but I’m sure I was close at times. Maybe a “Liz” or a “Beth”. I’ve been accused of being “negative”, (who, me?) when I’m basically a pretty happy person. In my situation, I complained about things, sometimes to have something to say, and sometimes because I was trying to be funny or used negativity to mask feelings of inadequacy. I was really unaware of how I sounded to others. Add to that my apparent lack of that filter that makes you think before speaking, and I really wonder why I had any friends. Thankfully, I’ve mellowed a bit, and learned that sometimes the best way to be articulate is to remain silent.
Anyway, thank you fellow weirdos for a lot of good discussions.
Oh man. I’m a former Elizabeth and all of this is spot-on A+ perfect.
(Thing that specifically helped me: I grew up in a really, really tiny town in rural middle-of-nowhere, where everyone was up in everyone else’s business all the time. You have to cultivate a certain amount of social paranoia in these situations, because everybody really does remember everything from 20 years ago. The rest of the world does not work that way, though. The rest of the world knows how to mind its own gdmn business.)
(Another thing that specifically helped me: I’m the product of abuse. My childhood was spent walking on eggshells, desperately trying to navigate a world where the rules constantly changed, but where if I did something the least bit wrong, there would be pretty terrible consequences. It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I realised that I was applying those learned behaviours to all other interactions in my life. Hyper-vigilance was what enabled me to survive my childhood, but it was ruining my adult relationships. A good therapist helped me unlearn all of this.)
You sound awesome and also here are soft feathers if you want them because dang, the world cheated you out of nice soft things.
Unlearning hyper-vigilance has been a huge part of learning to control my anxiety, too. For kids in abusive situations it’s really common to develop the habit of constantly monitoring the emotional and mental state of people around, trying to read into their mood and state of mind, in order to see the bad things coming.
This can translate into massively over-analyzing in a destructive way when the same tendency is applied to healthy non-abusive relationships. Once I realized I was doing it and understood why, there was a definite period of adjustment, but then it got easier. I no longer feel the need to constantly scour for the underlying motivations/thoughts of safe people like friends and partners and good coworkers – if they say they’re tired and want to postpone drinks, I can now believe that they’re….tired! And just want to postpone drinks!
It was a huge improvement for me. Truly life changing. It was a hard process though. When you realize that despite being a successful adult, this legacy of abuse from your childhood still has its claws in you, it can be a real shock to self-identity and confidence. I felt simultaneously somewhat relieved (at least I understood why I was doing and feeling things in this bizarre destructive way) but also discouraged and disempowered (because it made me feel like my abuser was still around in a way, still ruining things). Anyway, I got past it, with the help of a good therapist and a hell of a lot of work and journalling and conversations with loved ones and long walks where I sorted through my own thoughts and memories.
Really happy you also found a good therapist and got the chance to unlearn it! Internet high five.
Exactly! I’m hyper-vigilant/empathetic to the point where I subconsciously pick up on body language and “chameleon effect” it. I have occasionally been walking down the street or in a supermarket or whatever and suddenly felt angry, scared, sad or happy out of the blue. I look around, and someone 10′ away or more, within my line of sight whose face/body language are radiating that emotion. I’m not Deanna Troi, I don’t think my reading of others’ emotions are perfect. It did lead to confusion with my previous therapist when he told me “nobody can make you feel anything.”
I’ve been on both sides of this myself, but my additional advice to Elizabeths would be: when you do spend time with friends, try not to spend the whole hangout venting about how nobody ever wants to hang out with you any more.
A while ago I had issues with a friend who is convinced that the rest of our friend group is hanging out without him all the time, and we’re really, really not. Any time I do see this friend, he spends most of the time complaining about how he never sees any of us anymore and it’s really hard not to respond with:
1. Um, dude. You’re seeing me, right now. Could you try to relax and enjoy it for a second, rather than complaining about how you never socialise *while you are right in the middle of a social event*.
2. I’m one of the people who actually makes an effort, so maybe I am not the audience for your complaints? Why not reach out to the people who you don’t see any more?
3. Here’s a radical idea: maybe ask me something about what’s going on with me? Anything at all? Because it’s not that fun to be around someone who only talks about themselves, and usually negatively.
4. What exactly do you expect me to do about this? Because all of your venting makes me feel like you are trying to push the responsibility for your social life onto me. Believe it or not, I do not have a weekly meeting with our friend group where we allocate guest lists and decide who we’re leaving out this week. I am not going to guilt trip anybody on your behalf.
I just wanted to second the RSVP promptly rule. So many people (and I’ve been guilty too) just never respond, and if you’re the host, who is investing time and money, you really need to know. Constant lack of response caused a friend to stop throwing parties altogether. And a friend who recently had a baby shower received RSVPs from only 3 guests. Then after confirming with those who didn’t respond, 12 who said they’d “of course come” never showed. The venue had required her to pay per person.
Why is this so hard to do?
Yup, as the usual planner of the group, this drives me bonkers, because sometimes I need to know if we have a critical mass before we plan something, and just not responding isn’t helpful. I’d rather get a no. I have one friend who habitually doesn’t respond because she wants to wait until the day of to decide if she wants to go, which is fine for some events but not for others, and I have another friend who habitually invites a lot of other people, which is fine for some events but not for a restaurant when we told them we’d have 7 and now we suddenly have 12.
I’ve kind of settled into a groove, though – like I know which friends will go to what sort of events and invite accordingly.
Just a plug here for being a good guest – if you legit can’t commit to something because of spoons, illness, whatever, that’s fine – I think it’s totally ok to tell people hey, I can’t say for sure until the day because I don’t know how I’ll feel.
Oh my god, especially when it’s on Facebook or over text and you get the “read” receipt.
Me: Hey, can we grab dinner this weekend at 8pm? I’ll pick you up?
Them: ✓ Read 4:38pm
If you don’t have a chronic illness or a family member with one, there is no good reason not to RSVP. You’re just a flake.
Hard disagree here. There are plenty of reasons, good reasons, that have nothing to do with chronic illness. My job is unpredictable, so I will sometimes RSVP with “I really want to be there, BUT”. Because I have an obligation to my clients and my firm to handle emergencies. Because I can’t guarantee that I can leave work at 5 PM on the dot to make an event.
I prefer more low-key get togethers and socialization anyway.
But that’s still an RSVP. You may not have given a concrete yes or no but you’ve reached out to the host to let them know you’ve received the message but can’t commit either way. And that’s okay. IMO it’s the radio silence invitees that are rude. Telling the host “I’d love to but honestly can’t give a definite yes or no right now” is perfectly okay. It’s honest and polite.
Thank you for the correction. I should have added “or work or family emergency.” I’m glad you RSVP with “I really want to be there, but.”
Having been on the receiving end of some crap communications around events, I now give myself three options for RSVPs:
1. Enthusiastic yes! Sure, sounds great! Can’t wait to see you in X place at X time!
2. Regretful no. I’m sorry, I won’t be able to make it this time but I’d love to see you soon! (Possibly insert future plan suggestion)
3. Yes-but-maybe. Sometimes I know in advance my work will be in a precarious state that day so I say that I’d love to come but may have to cancel last minute. Would they rather keep the plans as is and maybe have to cancel or to rearrange the plans now for further in the future? It gives them a heads up and explicitly gives them the option of choosing a maybe plan now or a firm plan later.
But if I actually don’t want to go to this thing and don’t want to see the person again in the future… “No thanks, but thanks for the invitation.”
Wow this makes me feel Way Less Terrible about turning into the RSVP Monster for my friend’s baby shower, jeez. That’s fucking awful and those friends are jerks. Like, for something informal, sure, whatever, be a flake…but an event with a venue? Kindly fuck off into an etiquette book forever kthx.
Hey Captain, thanks very much for sharing these stories about how you were awkward when you were younger. It’s really heartening to remember that socially adept people didn’t always start out perfect, life gets better and even if people find you an unpleasant person, you can change that over time. Also as a young woman I get a lot of messages that life ends at 25, but you remind me that age and experience are actually good things.
Oh my goodness I want to send you so many Jedi Hugs. I’m in my mid-40s and what I’ve experienced is that each decade/period of our lives is different – not better or worse than the others, just different. With more experience/time we change and grow and sure, while I look back on my 20s with nostalgia because I had fewer life worries and a higher metabolism and more energy that let me party and still run on little sleep, I can tell you that SO MANY THINGS are SO MUCH BETTER now. Three huge things that I’m so grateful for at this stage of my life are 1) Sex gets better and better and better as we age, 2) I like myself now. I’ve made many mistakes and have regrets (everyone does) but they’ve shaped me, made me grow up, made me realize my priorities, and just overall become a happier person, and 3) Professionally, I get more respect at work as I age. Part of it is just age, and part of it is that I now have a much better sense of self. I’ve learned assertiveness instead of feeling defensive or aggressive.
My best advice to you? Keep yourself healthy – I guarantee that will go a long way to feeling good physically and having a good amount of energy, which in turn means you’ll have more emotional energy too. That’s something I didn’t do and am working on now but it would have made the past 20 years easier. Best wishes to you.
I’m 34 and I cosign all of this.
Gonna agree on the whole bit about: “Things that helped: […] Reality checks and boundary-setting from friends who were like “I love you but you are too intense sometimes, please knock this off so I can keep liking you”
I wasn’t an Elizabeth, but I did have a habit of going into rants that were not nearly as witty, hilarious and Dennis-Leary/Chris Rock-esque as I thought they were. A few gentle words from friends that “sometimes when you go on about X it’s kinda stressful and depressing” were INCREDIBLY helpful and I am eternally grateful for them.
Seriously, even if it hurts to hear at the time, actually being told “this thing you do is making people uncomfortable,” is usually a godsend in the long run (not that you are in any way obligated to perform the emotional labor required to tell them these things – just that if your concern is ‘oh I don’t want to hurt her’ know that you’re probably doing her a favor).
Relationships where you have to strategize around the possibility of them blowing up at you over pretty minor things are also unbalanced and exhausting.
I see you’ve met my late in-laws.
“Everything sucks today, can you tell me something nice?”
One year, my husband’s mother sent him an email on Christmas saying, “Everything sucks and I get despondent.” (This was after her Christmas newsletter where she railed about all the “old white men” – like her husband – who were screwing up the environment.)
Well, Merry Christmas to you, too, Doris!
Some years ago I became close friends with a true, vocal Elizabeth, and had a sort of painful perspective on the disintegration of her friendships within our mutual group. She was the type to *always* effusively accept an invitation, and *always* bail (with an effusive apology) at the last minute. She was busy, sure, but so were we all, so people started either assuming she didn’t actually want to come, and/or getting exhausted by the repeated and time-consuming excited-yeses and self-deprecating-nos. It made things much worse that she would randomly actually follow through on plans with people I didn’t think she was particularly close to, so to those of us whom she referred to as good/close friends, it felt like a major slight. “She didn’t have time to come celebrate X’s birthday, but she went tailgating with Y and Z the same weekend?” Again, there was the shrug reaction of “okay, she must like Y and Z better, good for her, we’ll do our own thing,” which led to her being included less and less, and there was the hurt reaction of “wow, that was really rude/upsetting, I don’t want to put myself in the position of being rejected like that again,” which led to… her being included less and less. Over time, I became the only person in our group who would continue to give her the benefit of the doubt. I thought I was being caring and empathetic… in retrospect I was allowing myself to be used.
From my perspective, as her supposedly closest friend (her words) who was the shoulder to cry on about a lot of different things, I saw that she felt excluded from the group she considered most at home with, and she didn’t understand why. So many times I wanted to tell her, “They don’t invite you because you never come! And when you don’t come you send long, emotional text messages or emails about why you’re not coming, and how sad you are not to be coming, and how you can’t wait to see them at some other unspecified time! And no one wants to read that just because you felt too busy for board game night this week!” But she was always so deeply sad about missing out, and I could never get up the courage to say anything. So she was pushed farther and farther from the center of the group, until her exclusion became intentional and her original feelings were validated after all.
It took me YEARS to recognize that her pattern of effusive-yes and exhausting-no was not going to change, no matter how much I tried to adjust plans in her favor. It became too painful of a pattern for me, as I saw myself and our pre-determined one-on-one plans over and over again being rejected in favor of unspecified busy-ness or a random last-minute invite from someone she had never mentioned before. When she last-minute cancelled our plans to have a good-bye dinner shortly before I moved away, after I had bent over backwards to accommodate her schedule for it and we both knew there was literally no other time it could happen, I realized that no matter how much she claimed to love me and value our friendship, I was NEVER going to be a priority for her. If I had realized that a few years sooner, I’d have saved myself a lot of heartache and rejection.
I am an Elizabeth who realised she was an Elizabeth just a few months ago, and is slowly pulling herself out of it through medication and learning to self soothe. This was so incredibly helpful and heartwarming to read, and gave some much needed advice. Thank you.
I’ve had a number of Elizabeths in my life, mostly the parents of my children’s friends. These people haven’t gotten the memo that sometimes the kids want to have one-on-one hangouts with their pals, and sometimes a parent doesn’t have the space, the energy or the money to host 6-8 kids at a time. I’ve been working with my kids for years to give them the tools to process feeling left out, and how to navigate those feelings without making it the other friend’s problem. Now that some of the kids are starting to get phones and use social media, it’s impossible to maintain any sort of privacy. I’m trying to work with my kids to let them know that it’s OK to have healthy boundaries – if you didn’t invite Friend A this time, you’ll catch up with them next time, and vice versa when the tables are turned. But the parents…oy, the parents…seriously, the tweens are more mature, resilient and kind than the adults. It’s exhausting.
I was an Elizabeth, many years ago, and I was right. Clumsy, naive, and right. I’m assuming here that Elizabeth’s unmet emotional needs aren’t restricted to the issue of being invited to things and kept in the news loop. Those sound to me like specific expressions of a general unhappiness on Elizabeth’s part about the degree to which she is devalued. Maybe the lady’s got a point. I did.
I really was being consistently demeaned and trivialized, though I wonder how many in that circle would admit it even to themselves. (Those who can are among my best friends now. From what I hear, I was a naturally intimidating young woman, and that drew fire. As one friend says, there was always someone elected to get kicked, and for a while that was me.) If I seemed insecure and angry, it was in no small part because people close to me were constantly low-key provoking me in order to shore up their egos, tamp down their fears, and keep me in my place. With their various provocations, they were trying to negotiate my dignity down. With my expressions of anger and hurt, some of which flared up over seemingly minor things, I was trying to negotiate my dignity up. But there’s no negotiating dignity. There’s no negotiating much of anything with people who have a prior commitment to your lack of worth. The world has more than its share of demeaning assholes who live to be frenemies, and these people clump and reinforce each other. They will paint up your flaws until flaws are all they can see, and then they will blame you for their failure to perceive anything else.
Sometimes you’re only as unreasonable as the situation you’re in. But don’t let your choices hinge on other people’s validation; most people who benefit from a situation are unlikely to see anything wrong with it.
Fellow Elizabeths, my advice: check your gut-level sincerity. Yes, these people are breaking your heart on the regular and now everybody knows it, but what does your brain say? What are you like when they’re not around? Compare the social messages you get from them to the messages you get from people outside those circles. (Don’t know any? Meet some today.) If you suspect you might be full of it, work on that. But if you truly do believe that you’re being treated badly, leave. Hit the road. The best time to do it was the moment you met these people, but the second best time is now. Block the pettiest of them, unfollow the rest; at most, take aside a few whom you particularly want to keep, saying, “Hey, this group’s social dynamic isn’t working for me but I want to make sure that you and I stay in touch.” (Sometimes that worked brilliantly and sometimes I got nothing but crickets.) Vague but firm is good. Be ruthless, bold, but unforthcoming; you’ve said your piece and now you’re acting on it. You don’t have to do it perfectly. It may get messy, but in the long run that won’t matter much. Just get it done as best you can, and then put that grievance energy into something that’ll distract you and get you somewhere better.
I believe in quitting. Anyone who treats you badly is replaceable. You can do better than death by a thousand social cuts. You put up with them because you were strong enough to endure. You complained because you were strong enough to speak your truth. That is the strength that will let you leave.
When I left, I found that it was a shockingly great world out there, full of people who enjoyed my company and wanted to hear what I had to say. My time for socializing is limited, and I’d been spending far too much of it with my ghastly former friends; it was frankly heady to discover how much warmer and sweeter and more vivid the world was outside that shitty little fishbowl of nerd socializing. (Fandom’s the worst, y’all.) Mostly I thrived. But I wish I’d had someone to tell me this: do watch out for a while. Take some time for relative emotional unavailability. Just as you probably wouldn’t date for a while after leaving an emotionally abusive romantic relationship, don’t be in a big hurry to get yourself a new pack of BFFs. Don’t glom, even if you meet someone who seems to be all about the glomming. Meet lots of new people, build lots of low-intensity/low-risk friendships and acquaintanceships, and stay chill and friendly as you would to neighbors. Spend a lot of time alone, too.
I’d say, prepare to give yourself at least a year to reset; I needed two. Get some exercise. Learn some skills. Keep busy while the dust settles. Remember, you’ve been lying down with dogs; you’ll need some time to pick off the fleas. You probably do need to change up some aspects of how you interact, because you’ve been trained to a role you’re casting off. If you watch yourself closely and honestly, you probably will discover all sorts of self-defeating things you can stop now that you’re out of that mess. Furthermore, you are going to be a jerk magnet for a little while: walking away from a social group puts you into a vulnerable position and there are people who will instinctively take advantage of that.
Whatever you do, do not volunteer to potential friends that you left a social scene because you were consistently disrespected. Talk to your therapist, talk to your dog, but do not infect a new situation with social proof of your supposed inferiority. You have nothing to gain by carrying that behavioral contagion with you, and nothing requires you to do it. If you must talk about it, a tack that worked well for me was to say that I’d realized that my values weren’t in step with the values of people around me, and then segue hard into talking about something I valued.
Don’t bother with revenge, my dear Elizabeths. It will be provided for you. Life comes at you fast. Some degree of tragedy comes to us all, sooner or later, and it won’t be shouted down or shunted aside. People who consistently give in to their fear of intensity will be too weak to handle themselves when the shit comes down. (I get some of the gossip about my former friends, and I run into them sometimes. My god, what a hapless, lily-livered bunch of sorry messes those people are at midlife. No resilience at all, these people.) Count yourself lucky that you won’t have to carry them.
Also, my dear Elizabeths, learn to close your tags.
If I seem a little heated, it’s because I did wind up talking with a couple of those former friends just a few days ago. Wow. Wow no. NOPE.
This is really cool, actually.
Obviously, neither of us know if OP’s Elizabeth is on point or not, but maybe it doesn’t matter. If a person finds herself constantly pursuing a friendship with only the mildest reciprocation, it’s time to think, “actions speak louder than words.” If a person says they want to be my friend, but they don’t *act* like my friend (whether it is inviting me to things or treating me well), then, whether they realize it or not, they don’t want to be my friend.
And that’s a sad realization. But, it’s also a freeing one. You can’t make someone want what they don’t want. Which means, if they don’t want to be my friend, I’m free to stop trying, and I’m free to befriend others.
To quote my favorite childhood fictional character of all time, Tiffany Aching, Witch: “There is no way things should be. There is what happens, and what we do.” Whether or not they “should” like me, they don’t. So what will I choose to do? What is wise?
To act is wiser than to not.
I’m glad you’ve successfully found kinder, braver friends.
Oooooh, this is GOOD. THANKYOU.
Yep. It’s hard when you’re the group scapegoat, or go against your established crowd, but listen to your gut and act accordingly. If you’re not sure, seek some impartial outside help.
I have an established group of friends I recently told I needed to take a break from, because of mental health issues. One person in the group, who I felt closest to, would tell me how I should come to gatherings, because if I didn’t, people would stop inviting me. I went to one before I was ready, and I was stressed and a bad guest. Which made that person upset with me. They’ve had some other things to say, but now I take it with a grain of salt. I still value them and want them in my life, which makes the recent criticism so hard, but I also know I’m doing right by me, so I’m going to keep on my path.
It’s tough to know if you are being an “Elizabeth” or just taking care of yourself, and self-reflection isn’t always the best guide. Frankly, the OP’s Elizabeth sounds like a pill and I’m glad the OP is taking steps to remove themselves from her. Even if Elizabeth isn’t the problem (and it sounds like she is), you should always do what’s right for YOU. Even if other people don’t like it.
Yep. It’s hard when you’re the group scapegoat, or go against your established crowd, but listen to your gut and act accordingly. If you’re not sure, seek some impartial outside help.
I have an established group of friends I recently told I needed to take a break from, because of mental health issues. One person in the group, who I felt closest to, would tell me how I should come to gatherings, because if I didn’t, people would stop inviting me. I went to one before I was ready, and I was stressed and a bad guest. Which made that person upset with me. They’ve had some other things to say, but now I take it with a grain of salt. I still value them and want them in my life, which makes the recent criticism so hard, but I also know I’m doing right by me, so I’m going to keep on my path.
It’s tough to know if you are being an “Elizabeth” or just taking care of yourself, and self-reflection isn’t always the best guide. Frankly, the OP’s Elizabeth sounds like a pill and I’m glad the OP is taking steps to remove themselves from her. Even if Elizabeth isn’t the problem (and it sounds like she is), you should always do what’s right for YOU. Even if other people don’t like it.
Knowing you’re on the right path is the best feeling, even if all the feelings around it are the worst feelings.
I honestly can’t tell if the OP’s Elizabeth is a dyed-in-the-wool pill or not. That business of the OP’s “venting for hours to mutual friends” is disturbing and telling. Hours? Literally? If people are getting together for a cozy three-hour hate session about their mutual frenemy Elizabeth, her freaked-out behavior is serving a social function, if only that of making her a good target for a communal pissing session. Either way, I’m glad the OP’s getting out of her life too.
The simple way to not vent for hours is to just not vent for hours. Alternately, one can try venting to non-mutual friends instead of lengthily propagandizing somebody’s friends against them. (Or former friends, or almost-former friends, or what-have-you) Though by and large, a venter gets boring fast to anybody who’s not getting a thrill out of being in Mutual Hate Club. But, hey, OP, you do you.
This letter and everyone’s comments on it have been very enlightening and useful for me. While the stuff I’m picking up comes a couple years too late to fix my calcified former friend group, or alter the way I handled it, it’s still helpful for me to hear some of these things articulated. Specifically, the thing about Elizabeth/ the sister in the example training the people around them to anticipate and worry about negative reactions + strategize to prevent them–that really struck home.
I can occasionally be an Elizabeth. I used to try to have a birthday party at a Sci Fi convention that most of my friends and a lot of my acquaintances attend, since my birthday falls around that weekend. Nobody showed up, or only a couple of people did who didn’t stay long. I decided it’s not that they don’t care about me, but things are so hectic that it’s hard to plan specific things that work with everyone’s schedule. So, instead I would meet up with people one on one or in small groups for lunch/dinner on different days during or just before or after. I call it my “birthday week,” and it’s kind of nice spreading it out!
The worst times I’ve been Elizabethed at were on a few dates with guys I met through online dating. They spent most of the date complaining about how few people responded to them, asking me how many dates I’d had through it, complaining about previous dates that went badly, etc.
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