#1043: “My friend won’t stop giving me unsolicited advice.”

Dear Captain,

I just bought a new house (yay me!) and am still unpacking/deciding where things go. After living with family for about a year while I saved up to be able to afford a down payment, you can imagine how excited I am to be able to put my own decorating touch on my own space!

I invited my oldest friend over to see it over the weekend. While it’s nowhere near company-ready, and she knew it, she made many, many comments about “you should move the couch there”; “that picture I sent you on your phone would look good on your wall”; “did you know your floor sloped?”; “is this the couch that needed more stuffing? I can help you with that” etc., etc., etc. (I know, some of these sound nice but these are just the comments I remembered. The one that “got” me was the one about moving the couch. I actually had the couch specifically where I wanted. Oh, and she made a comment about one of my end tables being too big for the space. Well, I am downsizing so I can’t actually replace everything all at once).

I believe she comes from a good place, but this is how she is with everyone – constantly offering her opinions and advice when not asked for. It’s a non-stop verbal diarrhea and it’s like she can’t help herself. The onslaught was such that I couldn’t get a word in.

I’ve tried limiting my contact with her over the years for this very reason – I don’t like being told “you should…” anything. But I am a wimp at saying “You know, I didn’t ask you over here for advice, I just wanted you to see my new place.” When she left, she did say she was really, really happy for me, and I know she is. She’s just not one to keep her opinions to herself.

So, if I can’t change my friend, how can I change me? How can I get my internal “ugh, don’t tell me what to do” to become more external?

Because she really harshed my mellow.

Thank you in advance!

Hi there, congrats on the new house!

I think it is 100% okay to tell a friend “Oh, thanks, but I’m not looking for advice” when they reflexively offer advice. Your script of “Hey, I didn’t ask you over here for decorating stuff, I just wanted to show you the place” is totally fine.

See also:

  • Thanks for the offers of help – I’ll let you know if I need to take you up on any of that. Right now I am so happy to have my own space where I can put everything just as I like it.
  • “Cool, but the couch is exactly where I want it for now!” (Sometimes it’s easier to be assertive with positive statements).
  • “That photo you sent was really great, thanks.” (Make no commitments about hanging it)
  • I’m really going to take my time with any home improvements or decorating. This is a ‘showing off my new house’ visit, not a ‘hardware store list-making visit.
  • Huh, thanks, I’ll think about it.

Get ready for an aggrieved “Well, I was just trying to help” response, to which you can say: “I know you are excited and looking for ways to help but hang back a sec and let me enjoy the moment, will ya? I promise to seek your wise counsel if I need it.

Give her a few chances and some time to let her reset things. Her personality won’t change, but eventually, she’ll learn not to do this so much around you.

If you’re the reflexive advice-giver in this situation (um, hello, 1043 questions, I’m not just the Captain I’m also a member), here’s your reminder to ask first. Unsolicited advice is exhausting. Some examples:

If someone says they are enjoying a particular show, maybe try asking “What else are you watching?“or “Are you interested in some recommendations of things to watch next?” before you jump in with “You have to watch [fave]!.” Enthusiasm is great, but remind yourself that people don’t “have to” do shit.

If someone vents about a problem, ask “Are you looking for suggestions on how to handle that or just venting?” before you launch in with how they “should” have handled things. A “hey, this thing sucks right now” post is not an automatic cry for solutions. This goes a thousandfold for anything medical or related to eating. Are you the person’s doctor or nutritionist? Do you literally share a body with that person? Did they ask you for suggestions because they know you’re an expert on said topic? No? Great. Then stop with the “Have you tried _____?

And for the love of all that is holy and unholy, if someone complains about their iPhone or their Android device or their Mac vs. their PC or their Avid vs. Premiere or any technology problem, STFU about what they “should” have bought instead, forever and always, amen. I literally saw someone say “Well, this wouldn’t happen if you were running Ubuntu!” on one of my feeds yesterday in response to a question about Windows and it’s probably really good that I don’t have any telekinetic fire-starting powers.

I love helping! You love helping! We love helping! And yet? Unsolicited advice is exhausting and helpful intentions don’t make it less exhausting.

Letter Writer, I know you dread it, but the world won’t swallow you if you acknowledge your friend’s kind intentions while shutting down the behavior.

374 thoughts on “#1043: “My friend won’t stop giving me unsolicited advice.”

  1. LW, it’s hard to do, but one of the healthiest things you can do for a friendship is speak up like this. You’ve already started to see less of an old and dear friend because of this problem–what if you could have this friendship AND not have to deal with a constant stream of advice? You can even talk to your friend about this most recent visit.

    For instance, “Hey, friend, do you have a second to talk about something that’s been weighing on me a bit? I loved having you over, but it was part of a pattern where you give me a lot of advice and I feel pretty bad about it, since some of it feels like criticism and some of it feels like you not respecting my decisions. I want to spend time with you but I want to break this pattern. I don’t need an apology, but in the future can you watch out for this happening and be ok if I gently tell you to cool it?”

    Talking about this kind of thing is similar to making good apologies. You can talk about how you feel, but you must specifically talk about the circumstances and you must specifically talk about a reparative action (though this action is on your friend’s part). Otherwise it can easily get into unproductive territory. You say, “here is x circumstance. This is how I feel about it. Can you do y?”

    I’ve done this before, in my romantic relationship and with friends. Similar deal–on the drive to the airport, I told a friend, “hey, I feel like you made a surprising number of mean comments during this visit, like x, y and z. I would like an acknowledgment and apology, and that’s all.” She apologized and I was satisfied and BOY that healed the friendship instead of my sitting on it for the rest of time. Good luck!

      1. Of course that’s something to be prepared for, but if the friendship is worth it to the LW, it’s worth it to put the conversation out there–and maybe even to weather a feelingsbomb if it happens. That’s where the “reparative action” you’ve requested comes in handy. You can hold out through a storm of feelings that the conversation brings up if you know, “What I want is an apology, and I got that, so we can talk about our feelings now.” Or, “what I want is for her to stop doing this, and she’s said she’ll try.”

        The alternatives to the conversation are, 1) ending the friendship whether that happens slowly or with a cut-off, or 2) continuing to feel bad throughout the friendship. Maybe those are acceptable options to the LW, which is absolutely OK. But it sounds like the LW values the friendship, and this conversation will be healthy for it–even if the friend feels bad for making the LW feel bad and doesn’t react perfectly in the moment.

      2. Sometimes I think feelingsbombs are reflexive responses to discomfort, and other times I think they are really, truly, hostile manipulative actions. Either way, I still think it’s worth bringing up. The friend may respond with a slight feelingsbomb and then move on, or the friend may try to make it A Thing. That’s good information for the LW to know about this friendship going forward.

          1. Agreed. The main difference is that the reflexive feelings bomb will usually be followed in relatively short order by the Bomb Squad of Genuine Apologies.

        1. I think that’s very true, and the brilliance of suggesting a reparation is that it provides another outlet for for their discomfort which I expect most well-meaning people would rush through gratefully rather than flail around inside. Others will react differently, of course, but then you have valuable info. I see how this could all be turned on end in the hands of a manipulator, but it’s still a great tool for good as well.

        2. Oh, it’s always a hostile, manipulative action. But not always a *conscious* one. Most people, when you point out to them how manipulative it is, will get it, and at least try to change.

          When the don’t, well, then you know they’re doing it on purpose.

          1. I dunno, I don’t think it’s always hostile or manipulative. I mean, manipulative means an action to “control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly, unfairly, or unscrupulously.” And an emotional response to a criticism, even if the criticism is fair, isn’t itself an unfair or unscrupulous thing. It just sort-of happens. If the critic holds their ground, and the critiqued person ultimately resolves the conflict in a healthy way, then the critiqued person didn’t control the conflict or influence it into coming out into their favor.

            I get my shoulders up around my ears about the word manipulative, because I have seen a ton of verbal abuse situations where someone is bullied or belittled until they cry, and then the bully or abuser accuses the victim of being “manipulative,” and is clearly attempting to unfairly control the bully’s actions by, uh, inadvertently causing them to empathize with the victim’s emotions?

            When people are in emotional pain, I think the impulse to be compassionate is good, even if their emotions are more intense than mine (maybe they have an anxiety disorder?) and even if they brought the emotional pain onto themselves by their own actions. Compassion doesn’t mean I don’t hold my boundaries or stand up for what is right, but, to me, it does mean taking an expression of emotional pain at face value.

            It’s part of a broader idea, to me, that I’d rather wrongly believe that someone’s expression of pain and hurt is genuine when it isn’t, than to wrongly believe someone is lying about being hurt or victimize when they really are.

          2. 🙂 compassion and boundaries go together like .. uh… whatever the rest of that saying is 😉

          3. @christineseaforthfinch — just wanted to thank you for your comment. I read it, thought “huh?”, and did a quick search on rejection sensitive dysphoria.

            I’d never heard of it, but it really applies to me (though I tend to blame/lash out at myself instead of outward to others). So, thanks!

      3. I’ve been the recipient of many “I WAS JUST TRYING TO HELP” feelings-bombs, and it wasn’t until last year that I realized exactly how much I needed to fix boundaries when getting this response to reasonable requests.

    1. Oooh I like this and the “reparative action” piece. How do you pick a reparative action? How do you deal when you ask for a reparative action, receive it, and that turns out not to resolve the situation?

      [processing:] I’ve spent a lot of time unlearning the habits of people-pleasing and I can do the “ask for help” and “decline [help/an offer/an invitation]” conversations but I still really struggle with the “hey that really hurt me” conversation, especially in terms of feeling like the situation is resolved.

      1. I mean, you have to know what’s realistic and what will make you feel better. A lot of times I think about it and imagine out things that the other person could do and realize…no, I don’t want anything elaborate, I just want an apology and a genuine acknowledgment of my feelings. If it’s something like, man, you stepped on my foot and then used all my ice, I’m going to ask for an apology and some new damn ice.

        If you ask for a reparative action and it doesn’t really work on you, then you have to either deal with that yourself, or have another conversation. But the scale has to be appropriate. You know, if you’re in a situation where nothing feels like enough and you have fifty conversations…about the one time your friend didn’t invite you to a party, you’re being the crappy one, and you’re manipulating them into consoling feelings you should be dealing with. If those fifty conversations are about reparative actions for cheating, that’s more in line. If you’ve been harmed so deeply by someone that no reparative action could really make you feel better, then there’s no need to have these conversations.

      2. Well, *is* the situation resolved if your hurt hasn’t been addressed? I think it’s very possible for people who are supposed to be kind to us (perhaps because they generally always have been!) to be oblivious to how deep an action could have cut.

        I’ve had success with both my husband and my best friend in saying something along the lines of “Hey, I [appreciate the thing you did to fix the problem you caused/am not still upset about X thing], but I wanted you to know that it actually really hurt my feelings. I know you didn’t hurt me intentionally, and I think I’m so hurt because [reasons].” And then depending what the reasons are, I’ve identified the reparative actions. Did a missed coffee date leave me feeling not just annoyed, but unimportant? I tell them that, and ask in the future for them to be more mindful of the impact of a seemingly minor oversight.

        1. It isn’t resolved yet, but maybe the step after realizing reparation hasn’t fixed everything is a bit of introspection. Is the issue something like your example, where there are additional feelings at play that you hadn’t originally considered (like feeling unimportant)? Or maybe it turns out that part of the hurt feelings are residue from something else, like “this reminded me of something X person used to do when I was a kid and that made me feel Y, so now I’m feeling Y unexpectedly”. If it’s the latter, it still has to be resolved, but more reparations from the person who hurt you won’t help, because they aren’t the only source of hurt.

      3. I think if there genuinely is a straightforward fix, it’s often obvious to you. (For example: “replace the book you borrowed and then damaged,” “stop flaking on me from now on,” “wait until I ask for advice to give it,” “acknowledge that you said a mean thing and apologize.”) It’s often helpful to tell people these specifics, because while it’s often obvious to you, it isn’t necessarily clear to them–without knowing what you’re thinking, they might focus on apologizing when you really just want them to change their behavior, or try to change their behavior in an way that ends up frustrating both of you rather than resolving anything.

        If you don’t see an obvious answer, though, I think it’s better to not give suggestions. When you ask for a specific reparative action, you’re essentially giving your person a map through the situation at hand. If you know the path, that can be really helpful…but if you’re just guessing, your map is likely to be inaccurate, and you’ll end up in the difficult scenario where your person did what you asked and it didn’t work and now you’re both frustrated. It’s better to be upfront about it; either don’t offer a map, or say “I don’t know what it will take to fix this.”

        If you DO end up in the aforementioned frustrating scenario….I think you get one or two rounds of requesting specific reparative actions, and then you have to stop and decide to either accept it as good enough, or realize that it’s not going to be resolved and consider whether the relationship can survive that. (Note: that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re limited to small/short-term actions! An action could be something like “you cheated on me and that’s a big deal to me, I need to see continuously trust-inspiring behavior from you for a very long time before we can rebuild intimacy/progress with our relationship.” I’m talking more about, you can’t ask for A, then ask for B when they’ve done A and you still feel bad, then ask for C after B happens, then D after C, and so on and so forth.)

        1. Even this requires good faith on both parties.

          All too often I’ve seen the frustrater be like “I waited for frustratee to ask before giving advice that one time PROBLEM SOLVED FOREVER” and keep right on frustrating.

          1. Oh yeah, definitely. I’m assuming good faith on both sides because acting in basic good faith is a basic requirement for having a mutually beneficial relationship. Once someone has decided they’re going to act in bad faith, it’s very hard for the relationship to recover, because the bad-faith-er will just keep on causing problems indefinitely.

    2. Agreed! I like to do this before they even have a chance to weigh in, personally. Like, if I’m talking through Hard Feelings with a friend, I’ll introduce it with “Hey, I could really use a friendly ear/some sympathy/a place to vent about this–no advice right now, just hugs. Are you up for that?” I’ve found that most people (even chronic advice-givers) are willing to play along, and generally appreciate me being up-front about what I’m looking for. It dodges the ‘just trying to help’ hard feelings pretty well, because they’re not wasting well-intentioned effort on something I don’t want, and I’m not getting upset with them over something genuinely well-intentioned. (It doesn’t work on people who genuinely don’t care what you want and do whatever they want anyways, but those people are Not Good Friends anyways, so.)

      Unexpected unwanted advice is harder to be assertive with because I can’t preempt it like that, but I’ve found cutting someone off with “I appreciate that perspective, but I’m not in a place where I can take advice well right now. Let’s focus on ___ instead” tends to work for that situation.

    3. I love the suggestion of a reparative action for many reasons. Using your words! To ask for what you want! A great approach to getting good things or at least knowing where you stand with someone.

  2. I hate unsolicited advice, and I 100% agree that you should always ask someone if they want your suggestions before giving them. The whole “if you like X, you HAVE to watch Y!” is irritating because for all they know I have watched Y, or it’s already next on my list, or I want to but can’t because it’s not on any of my current streaming services, or I actually have no interest in it.

    Sometimes I get really excited about a project, and I want to announce to my social network that I’m gonna do something cool, but then I realize people will dump their suggestions all over it and suddenly it won’t really be my project, it’ll be a collaborative work (or at least look like one to the people who gave their input), and collaborative works can be cool, but if I wanted it to be a personal project that’s made up of MY ideas and brought to life with my own problem solving skills, it’s kind of annoying when my friends decide to make it a community effort instead. Call it pride, call it arrogance, sometimes I really do just want to do things on my own, if only so I know what I’m capable of.

    In general, unsolicited advice makes me feel like people don’t trust me to do well on my own, and that I *need* people’s help to avoid falling on my butt. It’s like having someone help you walk when there’s literally nothing wrong with your legs – you can’t help but wonder “do they think my legs are broken?”

    And you gave good scripts for how to graciously but honestly deflect that unwanted input. It can be nerve-wracking to actually say that stuff knowing how upset people get when you don’t want their help, but after reading this I feel more assured that it’s okay not to want that advice.

    1. The whole “if you like X, you HAVE to watch Y!” is irritating because for all they know I have watched Y, or it’s already next on my list, or I want to but can’t because it’s not on any of my current streaming services, or I actually have no interest in it.

      I hate this, and I actually hate its close cousin more: “What do you mean, you aren’t watching Breaking Stranger Thrones? It’s SOOOO good!” I tend to stop that in its tracks with a blunt, “I understand it’s good and I don’t care; I’m not interested.” It’s amazing how often the *response* is seen as the confrontational statement, when really it’s the one telling me questioning my entertainment choices.

      Someone who says, “I think you’d like B.S.T. for the following reasons” is at least showing that they’ve taken an interest in the kinds of things I like. I can deal with that a whole lot better than a random “This is good therefore you must enjoy it with me.”

      1. Breaking Stranger Thrones (and pretty much everything anyone recommends) won’t please me.

        When people have asked, I explain why. I even point out that it really is me and my idiosyncrasies. Doesn’t help.

        My refusal of others’ media choices reads as a refusal of them.

        I don’t know how to fix this, so I no longer try.

        I smile and say “Thanks!”

        Then I don’t watch or read whatever it was.

        And most people just forget the convo.

        1. I always say, “I’ll put it on my list!.” They don’t need to know whether it’s my watch list or my “never watch” list.

          A lot of times people are just making conversation and it’s not really about wanting you to watch it, it’s about wanting to share their enthusiasm.

          1. It’s usually sloppy use of language and excessive enthusiasm for something they like. But it’s still annoying as hell.

          2. And a lot of the time people believe they understand your tastes.

            (Or want you to change to theirs.)

            I can tell which is which most of the time.

            I no longer get pissy about this (I snicker internally though).

        2. Absolutely! I do this with my mother. At 87, she is not going to stop telling me how to do/fix things, so I just agree with her and do what I planned to all along. After all, she doesn’t live with me and will never know.

      2. The more people insist that I HAVE to watch/listen/read a particular show/album/movie, the longer it takes me to actually do so. It often turns out that they were absolutely right that I was going to love it (Firefly comes to mind), but it’s the way it gets pushed at me that turns me off.

        1. I feel this SO hard, with that specific example in particular. I finally watched it on a bet with a friend. I liked it fine but haven’t seen any reason to go back and REwatch it – and now that Joss’s harassing behavior has been made public, I don’t expect to find a need to watch it again.

        2. I so did this with Firefly too! I put off watching if for years because it was strongly recommended to me by my snobby friend who had just shit all-over my favorite show. I think I finally watched it when I was sick and really bored. Of course, I thought it was the best thing ever and was heartbroken that there weren’t more seasons. I’m convinced it’s rating were so bad because the over-enthusiastic fans were so off-putting.

        3. This is exactly what happens to me (and with the same show as one of the examples!).

          I get you’re excited, Friend, but the more you shove that thing at me and INSIST and GUSH and PUSH, the more likely I’m going to downright hate the thing and never, ever take part because now I have a super-negative association with it.
          When Firefly was out, I had not only what felt like all of the internet, but also many of my close friends just insisting and insisting that I should watch it. Even all these years later, I have zero interest in checking it out.

          I’ve changed how I interact online around things and am better at avoiding hype so it doesn’t kill a possible interest for me. (I don’t watch trailers either).
          I had to have some very pointed conversations with my friends to get them to realize that if they FEELINGSGUSH all over me about something, then I will never look into that something. Never.

        4. This is infinitely true for me. It’s how I didn’t watch Mad Max Fury Road until a year after it had come out, and how I’ve still never watched or heard Hamilton.

        5. Yup, this happened to me with a few things I can think of and I’d say it was about 50% success on people recommending things to me:
          Farscape – yes I loved this but put it off forever
          Harry Potter – again yes, but put it off too
          Ender’s Game – I did like it, but have woah mixed feelings about the book series and the author
          The DaVinci Code – OMG, I totally hate read this book
          The Magicians (TV show) – ugh, not for me

        6. and don't get me started on when they allegedly think i mean the 1979 one and make me clarify that i am referring to the one that literally just came out says:

          Hard true. Such as in the case of Mad Max, when I was suddenly “against feminist messages” because I didn’t want to watch a bunch of dirty postapocalyptic folks driving around in a desert. “Oh, well, it’s not technically postapocalyptic,” and “you have to try it!” and “symbolism!” Nothing about that movie looks pleasant to me and the more people act like I’m being unreasonable for not wanting to do something that I don’t want to do, the less I want to do it. The bottom line is that it’s pushy and rude. The first couple times it’s in good faith. After I’ve said “no,” though, that doesn’t mean “convince me!”

      3. I’ve had luck saying things like, “There are only so many hours in a day!” in sort of an upbeat tone, like “Doesn’t life have enough chores without making watching tv a chore too? Lol, #stressed” It only works if I get the tone right; if I’m too irritated I can’t do it. But usually the response is more akin to, “Yeah, I feel you!” So now we’re bonding over “so much to do, so little time” (which is pretty universal), instead of veering towards a debate about which shows to watch.

        I fully admit to almost exclusively watching the absolute fluffiest, least-conflict oriented shows in existence. Shows about charming people rescuing or training animals, shows where pleasant British people bake things, shows where underappreciated people are surprised with expensive gifts, home makeovers, or money to start their dream business, shows where clever people travel and try delicious local foods, shows where some young artists or designers compete to make the best art. I don’t mind that none of these shows are great conversation topics; they’re good to unwind with. Breaking Stranger Thrones is definitely a better show than My Cat From Great British Bake-Off’s Extreme Vacation Makeover, but also nobody gets beheaded, so… 😀

        1. I usually say something along the lines of “Oh, I’m so far behind that I’m not starting any new shows right now.”

          1. “The Great British Bake Off” is a popular show in the UK, it runs as “The Great British Baking Show” on PBS in the US (check your local listings) and the first 3 seasons are on Netflix. Netflix also carries a companion series called “Great British Baking Show: Masterclass” where the judges do the cooking instead of the contestants, showing how they would have prepared some of the challenge dishes.

            Very cool and pleasant and fun to watch. Lots of interesting contestants of all kinds. Just wish there was a “taste” button on my TV remote.

        2. Breaking Stranger Thrones is definitely a better show than My Cat From Great British Bake-Off’s Extreme Vacation Makeover
          I must respectfully disagree. That’s like saying Almost Getting Killed Doing Extreme Activity In Very Farwayland is a better vacation than Tea and Biscuits Every Evening in Little Cottage We Rented in Little Irish Village. Depends on whose vacation it is.
          Now want to watch BST on my T&BEELCWRLIV vacation.

      4. We don’t have a television. When people hear that it’s often, “But whyyyyy? There’s SO MUCH GOOD STUFF out there! You’re totally missing out!”

        Maybe so, but we’re pretty busy people and spend most of our down time reading. I spend some of that down time blogging. Not sure when we would watch television.

        A friend will DVR stuff she knows I would like, and once a week or so we have lunch together and then watch TV, eat chocolate and tell lies. It works for us. When I visit my daughter we’ll binge-watch a show she thinks I’d enjoy (and she’s been right about every single one thus far).

        Every now and then my partner or I will say, “Some day someone will give us a television they no longer want and eventually we’ll find time to stream stuff we both want to see.” But for right now, what we have (or DON’T have) is just what we want. I get tired of people telling me that I *must* have a television or lose out on the mysteries of entertainment. Thanks, got it, will put that show on the someday list.

        As others have pointed out, I don’t *have* to do anything.

        1. I don’t have a TV either, given that I’d never use it. I have a disability that leaves me with a great deal of difficulty watching video-based things; anything beyond videos of fluffy kittens being cute I can basically only watch with close friends where they don’t mind that I will end up regularly going into fetal position, holding my ears, squeezing my eyes shut, etc. from overstimulation.

          Navigating conversations about movies and TV shows when I am trying to pass as neurotypical is… tricky! I’ve engaged in a lot of “huh, yeah, glad you’re enjoying Breaking Stranger Thrones, I like the sound of the plot/have read the books… me, watch it? Um. Er. Hey, look, a three-headed monkey!” Thankfully none of my current social circle are pushy about this stuff because I would probably lose my shit if someone insisted at me that I must watch the latest Breaking Stranger Thrones Watch Kaz Hide Under The Bed show.

          1. Mine is, “Will it give me a headache?”

            I have an increasingly long list of Very Good Shows That Michelle Should Never Watch Because They Will Hurt Her.

            Unfortunately, and I don’t have any idea why, I also have a very short list (so far, just the two) of Very Good Shows That Michelle Can’t Watch Because They Make Her Vomit.

      5. I also don’t watch Breaking Stranger Thrones (I snorted audibly) and it gets irksome when my friends enthuse about how I HAVE to watch it because it’s SOOO GOOD over and over again as well. Usually I just offer something pretty boring: either “well, maybe when I have more time” or, if there’s a pretty straightforward reason I’m not interested, “eh, real life is depressing enough without watching depressing shows.” If they respond again with “but it’s so good!” I repeat what I said nearly verbatim and that usually gets them to run out of steam. I’m not really sure what I’d do if they tried again.

        The other thing I like to do is try to frame it in a positive way. I don’t think my friends are being intentional jackasses with this (otherwise I might feel differently). But pretty much ALL of them share the experience of watching these shows in common, and therefore it’s a fun topic of conversation and an enjoyable bonding experience among them to talk about it. So when I say I haven’t watched it, I think they feel a really strong desire to include me in their shared culture and bonding. Half of the time I think it’s less just about the show and more about shared culture and experience. My answer is still “no” and I still shut them down when it’s getting pesky, but it also helps me see them in a more positive light than just wanting to scream “WHY can’t you just let me watch things I like holy shit???”

        Friends still need to take no for an answer, but I feel less stressed and frustrated when I know their impulsive enthusiasm is about desiring to be inclusive of me rather than just their media obsession.

        1. There’s also ones where it comes to, “Yes, I started watching that, and yes, it was very good, but also, it was so emotionally intense that I felt drained after every episode so I’m putting it on hold until I have the spoons to deal with it. In the meantime I’m catching up on funny BBC panel shows.”

          1. I have some of those, too. Some of them are even shows I started out recommending to others, and wanting to share/bond over it. But then, something happened, and I stopped watching.

            Usually with me, if I get side-tracked from binge-watching a show (or even from regular weekly viewing on TV), if I don’t pick it up again within a few weeks, I’ll be off the show for good, until years later, I might start over from the beginning. I just have to do marathon or nothing, these days.

    2. I have a friend who’s a new mom, and I noticed early on that she started tagging every social media post about her life (especially the complainy/sarcastic ones) with some kind of very emphatic “Not looking for advice” hashtag. Really gave me some insight into how people must’ve been acting, haha.

      1. In the online infertility community this was known as “assvice”, which is a delightful word that I have incorporated into daily life.

    3. “You HAVE to watch XXX!”

      “Really? I HAVE to? What force compels me to? Is some drug addled ganglord going to break into my living room and hold a gun to my head? Will I be arrested and sent to a reeducation camp? Will alien lizard people kidnap me and use me for live vivisection? Why do you believe I HAVE to watch this?”

      But that’s a tad confrontational. On the other hand, they stop doing it.

    4. “Sometimes I get really excited about a project, and I want to announce to my social network that I’m gonna do something cool, but then I realize people will dump their suggestions all over it and suddenly it won’t really be my project, it’ll be a collaborative work”

      You’ve just really succinctly summed up my feelings about a similar situation I have. This is why I don’t tell my mother about many of the exciting or interesting things I’m doing, especially with regard to my career/professional development, because I know that the moment I tell her she will try to insert herself and all her unwanted opinions and advice into it and want to know every detail every minute etc etc. And then it will no longer feel like MY experience, but a performance for her or vicarious experience for her.

  3. “If I can’t change my friend, how can I change me?”

    The thing that’s helped me the most in letting these sort of comments slide off me is to make a game of it in my head. You say you don’t remember all her comments. That makes me think that there’s a sort of don’t-want-to-hear/can’t-help-hearing thing going on. Very understandable.

    But what if you made a game out of hearing all of them? You invite her over. You know she’s going to give her opinion on everything. Keep a tally either in your mind or even in a notebook of every bossy opinion. Make funny private bets with yourself about how many negative comments she can cram into 5 minutes. When you walk into a room, guess whether she’ll comment on the paint color or the window shade first. Give yourself points for guessing correctly and more points if she manages to surprise you with something you never thought anyone could say. (Your cat won’t like the bookshelves. That’s the wrong shade of white.) The idea isn’t actually to do anything with the game except to help you see the funny side of it. It’s hard to take criticism seriously if you’re keeping a list of which comments begin “you should … ” and which begin “this belongs …” and which begin “that would look better …”

    Once you’re hiding that inward smile, it’s easier to come out with answers like “I’ll consider that.”

    1. I can vouch for the ‘internal anthropologist’ game. Every time I go home, I wait for my father’s first insulting/ugly comment, to see just how long I am home before it comes. Once, he picked me up at the airport and we went to baggage claim. As I bent over to get my bag, he says, “I see you still have that twenty!” As I wondered if he had given me a twenty dollar dill the last time I was home, he slapped my butt. OOOoooh, THAT Twenty – pounds! It was a new record – I had been home about 20 minutes. Sometimes I keep a little scorecard on my computer and keep track of the doozies. Maybe it’s a way of feeling in control and/or not taking it personally.

      All that to say, try to disconnect from it if you can. I imagine she does this to everyone? So it’s not personal or a comment on you. And of course the Captain’s statements are great.

      Good luck LW, and enjoy your home!

      1. I am so with you! My question is always “Will I make it home from the airport before my Dad starts arguing with me about politics.”

        The answer is often No. It’s gotten better since I try to just shrug but then he say sthe most INSANE things. Anyway.

      2. O_O

        just in case you need confirmation that remark + slap (SLAP! ??????) was a doozy: it was a doozy. O_O

      3. Oh dear, insulting you AND slapping your butt? That takes the cake. And it gives me another idea for a game. In this one, you list all the inappropriate comments, then rate them from most outrageous to least. In LW’s original, she could put the one about couch placement at the top and maybe the one about the picture closer to the bottom. (Though my opinions about which comments I think are worse are irrelevant.) (I also just noticed something. Friend sent the picture on her phone. LW is supposed to be in charge of printing, framing and hanging? I suppose that’s better than Friend coming over with everything including hammer and nails.)

        Here’s what I like best about the game. It gives weight to the idea that even the lesser more innocuous comments are still inappropriate. Something doesn’t have to be a real doozy to count. I might really not mind if one friend said one time that a brighter light bulb in the lamp behind my reading chair would make me more comfortable, and that was the only comment of its sort. It helps me see a pattern if that friend made 30 tiny comments the way LW’s friend did, and it helps me realize the inappropriateness of it all.

      4. My late partner, and some of my friends, took the angst and sting out of situations like this with a “betting game”.
        We would bet with ourselves (or with our partner) what the outcome of a problem situation would be. The bets were
        “how soon” something unwelcome would happen or be said; or “how many times”; or “how disagreeable (on a 1-10 scale)” . The bets were jotted down and hidden away. In our financially-challenged days, the bet winnings were tiny; then we graduated to coffee dates/lunch dates for the “winner”.

        We’ve found it a way to, as Clarry says, feel more in control and not take things so personally. Also, have a secret snicker or two (got a secret bet going!) ; and lighten up an uncomfortable situation.

      5. You have my deep and sincere admiration of your self-control and mastery. Your dad’s behavior is really, really mean and further he is _touching_ you in way that is mean, which is just wow. I hope I am not out of line in saying so. I am glad you have found a way to avoid damage from it.

    2. I love your make a game of it idea! Find the fun!

      And the counting is such a good reminder that other people’s opinions actually don’t mean anything. We don’t have to do it just because they shared. We don’t even have to take the cue to observe our inner pressure levels. We can use it to remind us of anything.

      Every time they name something you don’t want to do, use it as a reminder of how much you will love not doing that.

    3. I love your make a game of it idea! Find the fun!

      And the counting is such a good reminder that other people’s opinions actually don’t mean anything. We don’t have to do it just because they shared. We don’t even have to take the cue to observe our inner pressure levels. We can use it to remind us of anything.

      Every time they name something you don’t want to do, use it as a reminder of how much you will love not doing that.

    4. I do this with my in-laws, but it doesn’t work very well for me. I find it turns into keeping score and resenting it. (“They criticized me and my home 25 times this visit, and I just let that happen? UGH.”)

      1. It helps if you can find a way to find it funny, ideally with the help of your spouse. This is not always possible, sometimes the criticism is just too toxic. But it’s great when it works. I have a brother-in-law who Asplains for Canada, Senior Men’s Division, several medals, and my lady wife and I have reached the point where instead of stewing when he embarks on a fifteen minute explanation of the bleedin’ obvious, we have to carefully avoid eye contact lest we burst out in giggles.

        (The giggling might do b-i-l good, but my sister is working her own situation out and doesn’t need us chucking grenades at it.)

        Maybe make side bets: how soon after you arrive, how many criticisms, total minutes. Advantage: the more they bitch, the more expensive your post-visit ice-cream can be.

        1. Oh, maybe! Spouse and I have been going through the backlogs of this-here site trying to make a plan for how to behave when we see his family at the holidays, but most of the ideas we’ve taken down so far have been polite deferrals in the vein of “I’ll think about it.” There’s an advantage to that mode, but maintaining your face and posture and words in Polite Neutral can get exhausting. Perhaps this way could work.

          Part of our issue is that the ILs are small-dose people who we can’t actually see in small doses because they live too far away, so visits become multi-day marathons, and they take our attempts to get a little space away from them as dire insults. They were recently invited to a very important and emotionally significant Pantalones Family event at my parents’ house, and while we set up for the party they spent the whole time sitting around criticizing everything my parents and siblings and spouse and I were doing and wouldn’t do either of the two polite things one should do in that circumstance (either cheerfully help, following your hosts’ instructions, or take a hint and leave). For HOURS. Yikes, yikes, yikes.

      2. I hope I didn’t give the idea that it’s either make-it-a-game OR stand-up-for-yourself. It’s just that I find when it comes to standing up for myself, I too often know what I should have said 2 hours after I’ve left. It’s easy for me to know the scripts, then have trouble saying them. The game is a stepping stone on the way to saying the right the thing in the moment. If anxiety is what’s keeping my mouth shut at the right time, then my first step is to relieve my anxiety, to get practice at not being anxious. THEN I move to using the Captain’s excellent scripts.

      3. Maybe put that sentence into a different tone:

        “They criticized me and my home 25 times — and I just let that happen, yay! Go me! I should go for a record.”

        You rock, they suck. You don’t need to defend yourself to jerks.

        1. Oh yeahyeah this is the key: you will feel bad and doormatty and powerless if you “just let that happen” because you felt you had no other choice. If you actively chose to ignore the comments because it’s worth it to you for some other reason & you know you had options (like icy criticism of their manners, or taking the piss out of their halpiness, or asking them to leave) but you chose not to do those things – you will feel much better about it.

    5. Sometimes I pretend that I’m in a movie and the people I’m socializing with are part of a dramatic plot arc. It’s another way of separating myself from attachment to the comments and decisions that get made, and it also provides some entertainment value. I can even put myself in a “role” where I act nicely to everyone, but in my head it’s just another role in the “movie” rather than something I’m personally doing myself

    6. Making a game of it is good for family members or coworkers you don’t want to fight with or eject from your life. I’d consider it too much work to do for a friend.

      1. Personally, I can’t imagine it not destroying the friendship in its own right. If you’re treating a conversation with your friend as point-scoring for bad behaviour on her part, you’re… not exactly engaging with her, are you?

        1. But what’s destroying the friendship, the bad behavior or the point-scoring? I’d say it was the unrelenting, unstopped bad behavior. We’re not talking about the sort of gaffs that most people make, the one or two odd thoughtless comments in a sea of kind, interesting, supportive ones. The one-offs are no big deal and easily skipped over. It’s when it’s gotten to the point where someone is constantly left speechless, frozen in feeling bad because of unwanted advice or veiled insults, that’s when keeping count can help as a means of distancing oneself until you can figure out the right way to respond.

          1. You don’t necessarily disagree with each other. The unrelenting annoying behavior puts dents in the friendship. The point-scoring might redefine the friendship as a less close one by making the point-scorer feel more detached, or it might mean missing an opportunity to help fix the problem by dealing with it directly.

          2. Yeah, what cinderkeys said. This advice is fine if the LW is fine with turning this friend into more of an acquaintance who needs to be held at arms’ length. But it’s not going to lead to keeping/fixing the friendship – why not give the Captain’s script a try first to see if there’s any hope of that?

            And personally, I think I’d go for an African Violet instead of counting points, because I wouldn’t see much point in keeping up the “friendship” with no emotional connection. But everyone is different, and it depends on the friend and what they mean to you.

    7. I love this!

      Yes, there are some people in my life that have certain traits that are simply the price of loving them. I love them, and I pay the price, because the rest of them is worth that one trait. But turning it into a game is a brilliant idea, IMO!

  4. This is great advice! As usual, I love these scripts 🙂 Something that stood out to me was that LW both seemed to not know what to say, but also seemed to have trouble working up to nerve to say the right thing. Does anyone here have advice on how to help folks like LW who have this problem? Like even when someone knows the right thing to say, in the moment it can be easy to chicken out and go with something more pacifying instead.

    1. I think having the script planned out, maybe practicing in a mirror or on the pets, is already a lot.
      The point is to make it automatic so you don’t have TIME to chicken out.

    2. For me, I like to say what I wanted to say when I see the same thing happening to someone else. So, if I was LW, and froze up in the moment….but later saw the same friend giving unsolicited advice to someone else, I’d speak my piece than. I might have missed the chance to stick up for myself, but if I can use that same script to stick up for someone else, in my mind, that’s just as good. And then you get practice speaking assertively when it’s less risky, which makes it easier the next time you’re the one on the receiving end.

    3. This happens to me all the time. The best advice I have is to just practice… start with low-stakes moments and work your way up. So often, when I think back on the things I’ve said that felt too blunt in the moment, they were really not blunt at all. They were perfectly normal and appropriate things to say, but I’ve been conditioned/conditioned myself to be a peace-keeper, so setting any sorts of boundaries or making any sorts of disagreements can feel like rudeness when it definitely is not. One important thing is to try to say something early on, before you have time to get irritated and resentful, because those emotions will definitely affect your tone of voice and the words you choose.

    4. I think part of it is practice, part of it is knowing that you’ll forgive yourself if you get it wrong, and part of it is finding the right spot to insert it in the conversation. I find that the hardest part is literally starting to say the thing, and sometimes I will spend a long time in absolute dead silence, just trying to get any words out of my mouth. If you can get direct/blunt words out with no problem, that’s great. If you need to make some kind of framing lead-up, that’s fine–it’s better than saying nothing at all!

      For instance: “I have something I want to talk to you about. It’ll take me a minute to find the words.” Or: “Hmmm….” Or even: “Ummm so this is a bit of a bummer but it’s not a huge deal but anyway here it is.” It lubricates the conversation a bit…and once you’ve started the transition, makes it harder to say never mind 😀

    5. I think Captain Awkward has given good advice on this elsewhere. The one about practice in a mirror is particularly helpful. I am another person who freezes in response to a negative moment and can’t say the thing I want/should say. You can practice in a mirror or with a friend “I’m not finished decorating and I didn’t invite you over for advice, please cool it with the advice unless I ask so we can enjoy me getting a house” Or maybe even the first point of bringing it up could be done via email or text (if that’s an acceptable thing between you two) where you can get all the words out while not facing her directly…then practice “please no advice” or just “we talked about this, no” and maybe just “no” at some point. Ideally once the communication happens you don’t have to be perfectly eloquent when enforcing that boundary.

    6. You know how in chess they tell you to plan several moves ahead? It’s not just “I’ll move my pawn here.” It’s “I’ll move my pawn here, then he’ll move his pawn, then I’ll move my queen, unless he moves his knight, in which case I’ll …” The thing that stops us from saying “Okay, but I wasn’t asking for advice” is the fear that they’ll say “But you need my advice or you wouldn’t have your couch in the wrong place.” And then we’re afraid that we’ll be stuck and will end up looking stupider than before. The trick is to plan several moves ahead. We need to think “The first time I stand up to them, they’re likely to double down. When that happens, I’m ready with “When I said I wasn’t asking for advice, I meant that you advice is unwanted and obnoxious.” “I’m sure you can put your couch wherever you want in your house, but this is mine, and I especially love my layout for my furniture.” It’s a lot of lines to memorize. Also remember that not everything you say has to follow directly from everything they say. They can say “did you notice your floor slopes,” and we can answer “well, it was nice of you to drop by. Sorry you have to go now.”

    7. Sometimes, as the Captain has said, it’s easier to start with positive statements.

      In the case of unsolicited advice, there’s phrases like the following:
      I love when people compliment my stuff!
      Please tell me which table you like best!
      Here’s my brand new spoonset, say you love them!”

      In other words, give the Fixers a pattern of what to say.

      1. This is SO true. I’ve done it in a joking tone in the past, like “I’m a Leo–I need praise the way other people need oxygen!” and then they stick to “What cute prints!” instead of “Those prints are crooked–I’ll lend you my level…”

      2. I think there’s another positive element to that. Too often I think that women are trained not to be excited about physical objects or to be self-deprecating. But we don’t have to be! Say stuff like “look at my amazing sofa!” or “I had this carpet, and I realized that it fits perfectly here!” or “Check out my new skirt, I was so excited to find that!”
        Starting out with that kind of enthusiastic gushing also lets you feel better about your own stuff and be excited about it, and also prompts the other person as to how they should be responding.

    8. I think there’s great power in having a standard reply. “Thanks, but I wasn’t looking for advice” might be a good one for our Letter Writer.

      And you just stick to it. When she says, “I was trying to help,” you just repeat, “well, thanks, but I wasn’t looking for advice.”
      Or, my favorite: “Nevertheless” (or, to soften it, “Of course [you were trying to help]! but nevertheless…”) or “Yes, well.”

      Or even just, “Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm” every time–and I mean literally every time. Sometimes you can get it pegged to a certain biochemical/emotional reaction almost as a reflex.

      The more automated you can make it, the better.

  5. Oh Captain, I wish I had had this advice years ago. I went through a period of my 20s where I and everything was a mess. I made a pile of bad decisions, was in a couple of bad relationships and add in a couple of stints of unemployment too. Nothing horrendously bad but not great and I had a couple of friends, a couple, who were super supportive in many ways. They made sure I was ok, made sure I ate properly etc. But there was a lot of condescension and unpleasantness. A lot of negative comments about my body from her and borderline creepiness from him. I ignored it becsuse they were so helpful and supportive though (which I obviously regret now.)

    Anyway fastforward a few years and my life is much better. Yet still the advice (which I didn’t ask for) did not stop nor did any of the other behaviour. I decided to mostly ignore it or just be non-committal. Anyway the whole thing came to a head when I got a two-day long barrage of emails from him about how my relationship was abusive and I had to cancel my wedding. There was a lot of awfulness. I’d tried to be reasonable but had to end the friendship after he WENT TO MY NOW-HUSBAND BEHIND MY BACK AFTER HE SAID HE’D BACK OFF.

    Looking back I definitely should have told him I wasn’t looking for advice years before. Don’t let this dynamic poison your friendship.

    1. All the side-eye for telling you he was done and starting in on your fiancé. What, like he wouldn’t tell you what happened?

  6. Seconding “should have bought”s about technology, and also extend it to free things like web browsers, and free alternatives to commercial products.

    “This wouldn’t happen if you were running Chrome” that’s nice dude but this is a work/school/library/not-mine computer, it’s got what it’s got, I need to get shit done regardless and you’re not helping.

    1. This reminds me of a friend of mine from college. He was one of those friends who knows computer stuff and can fix your computer. We learned quickly to never let him fix our computers. They would be returned with all his favorite web browsers, anti-virus softwares, and other programs installed. It was like, I know you’re trying to help and it’s not that these are bad computer programs, but if I wanted them on *my* computer, I would have put them on there myself, and you could have at least asked first. :/

      Decent friend in other respects, but I do not ask him for help with tech. He can’t not tell you how you should be doing it differently.

    2. Someone I know on social media once posted, “Hey, there’s this little casual game I play and it constantly bugs you to buy power-ups. I don’t want this, and I’d even be willing to pay for a version without them. Anyone know if I can get such a thing?”
      Someone else responded, I shit you not, with, “Why don’t you just read a book?”
      He’d been unfriended the next time I looked.

    3. One time I was playing the Sims 2 and there was a bug in the game, so I went looking on the forums to see if someone else had the same issue. Found it! Went to the comments to see if there were any solutions. And there was a glittering diamond: “Play the Sims 3 instead. lol.” I was like hooooooooooooly shit holy shit dude holy

  7. You seem to like this person. I have found people who do this sort of thing to be boundary pushing and annoying in other ways, but you know her.

    A friend recently offered me some advice, but I only did the thing when it was suggested by a lawyer. Even though it was the same action, the difference was that I was asking the lawyer for the advice as an expert! I get that people love to help and sometimes I can see solutions, or I think I can. I will remember the line: “Do you want advice or are you just venting?”, as well as “Oh, I’m not looking for any advice here, just venting”. No doubt speaking in a light and friendly tone will help.

    1. Yeah, I had two friends who offered unsolicited advice, even when I knew more about the situation than they did. It turned out whenever I politely demurred or told them politely that that it wasn’t helpful, they ignored my soft “no” and doubled down. One gave me an angry email that nearly torpedoed the friendship (and in retrospect, I should have–the sunk cost fallacy had me in its grip), and the other compounded the damage I’d already suffered after exiting an abusive relationship by blaming me and trivializing my feelings. Both definitely exhibited boundary pushing behavior, and refusing to listen when I protested. I’ve since dropped them, and while I regret having to do that (and the way I did it, in one case), I think it was the right decision.

      1. Yeah. A few years ago, I reconnected with a friend from college. We friended each other on FB, and a few days later, I got a DM from her with unsolicited advice about my social media presence in re my job. She’s not in my field, she doesn’t know my friends, she didn’t know how my FB presence was set up re privacy or how my professional circles overlapped with my personal ones, but here she comes telling me how to be. I responded with silence, and she unfriended me a few days later. Which. Good.

        1. That’s actually what happened with one of the friends I mentioned–we reconnected after almost a decade, and after my breakup her idea of helping was giving me unsolicited advice about how I should learn that “it’s not about the dishes” and how there was something I must have been doing wrong to piss off my ex, and how I just felt like I was wronged one because I was dumped. It was so against the narrative of what I’d been telling her, and yet she kept sticking to it and driving the blade in deeper when I told her how much that hurt me. (It turned out later, thanks to therapy, that she’d been completely wrong: he’d been emotionally abusing me, and it was by going along with what he wanted that contributed to a toxic dynamic! Displaying healthy boundaries was what pissed him off, tbh.) In any case, I finally unfriended her after a year or so of silence. I have many more friends who were supportive and kind, and I don’t need those who make me feel bad about myself.

  8. This is one of my biggest challenges in life. I’m a hedonist, and a rationalist, and I personally *love* receiving unsolicited advice (assuming it’s properly supported by reality). Even if it’s ultimately not useful, it still feels great; not only does that person cares about me enough to try to improve my life and/or “rescue” me from a problem, but I was made aware of more options than I would have on my own.

    Similarly, I’m semi-terrified of not doing that for other people. We all have knowledge gaps, and the idea of someone falling into one that I noticed but didn’t bring to their attention because of their feelings is…well…frankly, it’s impossible!

    The advice to ask if someone wants advice and/or help is definitely on-point, and I’m definitely going to work towards making that a habit. In the past, I’ve distanced myself from friends who didn’t share my philosophy about advice, hopefully this process will make that less necessary.

    1. I can’t speak for anyone else, but at least for me, if someone is going to be giving me advice or suggestions without my asking for it, framing it as “hey, did you know about X?” or (for media) “have you read/seen Y?” in a tone that’s closer to “oh, this thing you already have/are already discussing reminds me of XYZ” than “you need to do XYZ” is the best way for me to hear it. That way, even if the person telling me whatever is thinking of it as giving advice, I can choose to hear it as one of those leaps in conversation my scatterbrained mind is already so good at.

      1. That’s really interesting, because I am not like that at all. I usually hear “hey, did you know about X” as “Yo! Morley! Listen up while I tell you what to do, but subtly so you won’t know that’s what I’m doing.”

        (Yes, I mentally hear a “Yo!”)

        1. Question, though: suppose they genuinely meant it as a no-strings-attached sort of question? How can they word it that doesn’t make you mad? I guess I’m just confused about the “advice is helpful and how my friend shows they care” vs. “advice is rude and how my friend tries to control me” dichotomy in this thread.

          Maybe it comes down to what counts as “unsolicited advice.” If I’m telling my friend that I finished a book, and she says, “If you liked that one, I think you’d like X,” she is showing interest in my interest and it is friend behavior. I didn’t solicit this advice, but it’s kind and relevant. If I tell my friend I don’t like Genre and she follows up with, “But X is Different,” or “trust me. You’ll love it,” or “you haven’t even tried it!!” or “have you read X yet? It’s soooooo good. How about now? How about now?” then she is badgering me and not reading my signals. Not only did I not solicit this advice; but I also did not want this advice and it’s presumptuous.

          I get that different strokes and folks, but the thought that I might in good faith ask somebody if they knew about X and they would be offended is making me nervous.

    2. It’s also possible that some people should just accept that they should not try to be friends. Someone like what you’re describing would alienate me pretty hard, pretty fast, but that’s not always a bad thing.

      It can be very relaxing to give yourself permission to avoid someone, and to choose friends you actually mutually enjoy being with.

      1. That’s an option too, of course. The divide might just be too big to get past.

        Like, I still don’t understand why the Captain would say that unsolicited advice is “exhausting” – it never has been for me, not *ever.* And reading through the comments, I’m seeing lots and lots of agreement that “unsolicited advice makes me feel ‘bad/sad/intruded upon/controlled/insulted/other’,” whereas I can’t even model having that response. Literally. I don’t empathize with it or even understand it, not at all. Why does that feel bad? How could it?

        A stranger overhears my conversation in a restaurant, and offers advice? “THANK YOU! You’re so kind!” And if it’s good advice – which I got a few months ago – I’ll use it! My friends insist and insist and *insist* that I try The Show They Like, and I finally give in, and LOVE it? That’s great! Should have done that sooner! And if I don’t like it? Well, I was right, but they had good intentions, so all’s good! Someone’s giving advice that’s not well-enough informed? I’ll just skip ahead to explain. Why not? They’re trying to help, maybe they’ll have a better idea once they’re up to speed!

        But I can’t deny that I’m in the vast minority here. So who knows, people like me might not be nuerotypical in this particular area, and maybe the best we can do is accept it’s an inexplicable cultural practice (like silently facing towards the doors in an elevator) that seems silly to us but that we nevertheless have to observe when we’re out the community. With friends who’ve agreed not to care about the elevator rules, we can just face whatever direction we want.

        1. I’m so fascinated by this.

          When I give advice I make a ton of assumptions. Sometimes assumptions don’t fit the situation or feel good.

          In the last month I have had strangers meet me for less than a minute and tell me:

          What to eat to lose weight
          That I should lose weight
          Exercises that will help me lose weight
          What clothes are flattering/unflattering
          That I should smile less
          That I should smile more
          That I should write a book
          That I should write a book about their idea for a book
          That I should get married
          That I should wait to get married (Spoiler: I’m already married)
          That no one will marry me if I don’t smile more/less (and lose weight)
          That I should try yoga
          That I should try meditation
          That I should try yogurt
          That I should definitely take medication for certain conditions
          That medication for certain conditions is a crutch
          That if I don’t like American politics right now I should leave the country
          That I should have chosen a different career
          That I would make more money if I would just _____.
          That I should give Woody Allen movies a pass because they are so classic and magical. (ugh)
          That a young person like me just doesn’t understand politics and should travel the world more (I’m 43 and I used to work in the foreign aid business on three continents, but, ok, cool.)
          That if someone says something racist I should just ignore it

          If I tweet something about hating cold-shoulder tops and dresses for plus sizes (a trend just now that may be for you but is not for me) my mentions will buzz for *days* about how I should just put a cute shrug or cardigan over my clothes. I HAVE HEARD OF CARDIGANS AND ALSO NOT THE POINT.

          Should should should should should

          There is the kind of advice that is kindly meant and actually helpful and takes into consideration the audience and what they can absorb.
          Then there is the kind that says “I know what kind of person you should be better than you know yourself, and I’m going to impose that on you.” How is that NOT exhausting?

          1. I find it fascinating too! I totally agree with you that there is unsolicited advice where the subtext is, “I know what kind of person you should be better than yourself,” and it is EXHAUSTING, because the subtext is, “I don’t accept you the way you are, and you have to change to be accepted by me, or justify not changing.” And the sub-subtext _I_ hear is, “And…maybe no-one else accepts you either? Just saying.”

            For me, unsolicited advice of the non-acceptance kind concerns my appearance, my fashion sense, my demeanor, my body, my relationship status, my religious beliefs, my decorating sense, my interactions with others, my entertainment choices, my ingestion of food and medicine, etc. These things, for me at least, are not going to change, because they’re pretty closely entwined with my personality, character, history, and ingrained likes and dislikes.

            It sounds like people who aren’t bothered by unsolicited advice either haven’t gotten a lot of the non-acceptance kind, or they have gotten it and they don’t hear a subtext of non-acceptance. (Not saying that any way of hearing unsolicited advice is right or wrong.)

            Unsolicited advice that is kindly meant and actually helpful is very specific; is given when I express distress/confusion over a situation; is not tied to who I am as a person; and (most important for me) is easily achieved. “Hey, there’s actually a form you can fill out on X site instead of recreating Y from scratch.” “Captwainawkward addressed this exact problem, I am not kidding. It might give you perspective. Linky!” “I apologize for eavesdropping :::emerges from bathroom stall::: but if you are experiencing Z symptoms, you should get your thyroid checked.” (This latter advice was excellent, btw.)

          2. What I like looking at is more important than what you like wearing, the things in your house you love most are ugly to me and if you love them you’re just wrong, your priorities and values in deciding where to live are wrong, the job you want to have is wrong.

            Maybe the previous poster has been unusually fortunate (I find myself wondering if they are male, but perhaps not) and really has encountered mainly genuinely helpful advice in their life?

            I would say actually helpful advice that doesn’t imply disrespect for my personal choices is maybe 1% of the advice I’ve got in my life. And the 1% was generally when I asked for it.

          3. Also the chance that it’s something you haven’t thought of or couldn’t think of yourself is one in a thousand.

            If someone is doing something a certain way, it’s basically always because they want to.

            Those rare rare other situations can be handled by 1) thinking really hard about whether you honestly think it’s likely they have never heard of the thing you’re talking about 2) thinking really hard if it’s likely this is their preference 3) asking them if they want advice on it (don’t overuse this though, because some people will feel like they have to say yes even if they absolutely don’t want it)

          4. Oh, wow!

            So I think I see where the confusion is, because I’m not engaging with people nearly as frequently as you appear to be. I think if I were, I might be annoyed, too, not just by the advice, but by the small talk / conversation that started it. My initial gut reaction to your experience is, who *are* these rude people who are talking to you? Why the hell aren’t they leaving you alone?!

            My experience is that I rarely talk to strangers, and rarer still long enough for them to offer an opinion about anything. I can’t even pull more than that one recent example of someone offering random unsolicited advice than what I mentioned above.

            My guess is that you and I are having wildly different lifestyle-based experiences. I live in a famously standoffish American city where conversation with strangers is Just Not Done. Furthermore, I work in high-end hospitality (so I’m frequently appropriately asked for my opinion about where to go, what to eat, etc), but I work an unusual shift, so I come in contact with relatively few coworkers, guests, and random strangers who might start up conversations. My graveyard shift also has me commuting and shopping in off-peak hours, so I have less exposure there, too.

            I also wear earbuds nearly 100% of the time, often because I forget they’re in my ears when my iPod is off. I’ve found that tends to work as a kind of conversational repellent, particularly in the denser urban areas.

            This makes so much more sense. Thanks for taking the time to explain!

          5. Captain wrote: “Should should should should should”

            When i give advice–especially if it’s in any way close to being unsolicited, but even if I’ve been specifically asked–I change the modal.


            Not “should.”

            To my niece complaining about her cluttered drawer in the kitchen, I say, “You could put the cookie cutters in a basket on the shelf above. When you have only one drawer, it might be wise to reserve it for the stuff you use every day. And if you’re going to make cookies, you’ll be doing some setup, so getting out the cookie cutters won’t seem onerous.”

            It’s such a subtle semantic difference, but it’s SO valuable and powerful.

            There are other semantic tricks that advice-givers can use (“Have you heard of/thought of…?” or “What worked for me is…” or “Did you know about…?”).

            But just changing “should” to “could” is so VERY powerful.

          6. That last bit, with telling apart the kind of advice that’s helpful and has the audience in mind v. the one that imposes what *they* want for you? That is so helpful. That explains why I found it so aggravating, especially since it seemed like the imposing folks didn’t really *see* me as a person, but just as Someone Who Was Wayward And Needed To Be Fixed. And I can’t stand that attitude. And when I told them either to stop or that the advice wasn’t helpful, they doubled down, either with “I’m Just Trying to Help” or heaps more of condescension and invalidation. Wow.

          7. I kind of get where StoryGirl is coming from. And I like Toots’s way of doing things, with “could,” instead of “should.”

            Yeah, when you see someone about to step in front of a bus (metaphorically speaking), you want to help, by calling out the advice to step back. And when you know something that would probably change their decision, you want to tell them that thing, and then let them decide from a fully-informed perspective.

            That kind of advice is useful, and not, as Tepid Tea describes, “non-acceptance” kind. I also like receiving that kind of useful, helpful, kind advice. But, yeah, the non-acceptance kind of “advice” really does suck the happiness right out of me.

            In such cases, I respond best to “Did you know?” or “Have you ever?” or even “I wonder if” or “How about?” as preludes to the suggestions. Keep the judgement out, and the information in, and know that you don’t know everything about their situation, and they will choose based on their own expertise of their own experiences and lives.

          8. RE: could vs. should

            One FASCINATING thing I learned in one of my business classes was a huge cultural divide on the most appropriate way of giving suggestions/feedback. The Second City does this workshop for business communication that involved a lot of role-playing, one scenario was giving suggestions using different wording (must/should/could).

            The lesson was supposed to be that saying “could” gave the receiver of the feedback agency. You weren’t implying they were incapable of making decisions on their own, you weren’t ordering them to do something, you were just offering a different viewpoint. People respond best to “could”.

            Except for my classmates from one specific (non-US) country. Out of the ~10 in my class from there, four spoke up directly and most of the others nodded in agreement that “must/should” is a better way of giving advice. “Could”, in their experience in their home country, is wishy-washy and signals that the person giving advice doesn’t actually care about you or your actions. Stronger language like must/should indicate that the giver of the feedback is invested in the receiver. It’s not to be taken as an actual order, but the order-like language demonstrates that what you do is important and worthy of passion. “Could” is just cold and disinterested.

            All of this is to say: yes definitely, language matters! Regardless of what cultural context you’re coming from, softer vs. more direct language have very different implications hiding behind it.

          9. Wow, CMart, that is interesting. Having traveled to a few different countries, I can confirm that cultural differences can come up in very surprising ways. I never heard of this particular one, but I absolutely believe it.

            I love how they believe that the stronger language shows more concern for the person’s welfare. Like in “The Curious Savage,” where they said that “Don’t forget to take your umbrella” meant “I love you.”

          10. The nesting is running out, but I am reading people discussing different ways of wording advice and the use of ‘could’ vs ‘should’.

            Personally, I have never myself found it to make one wit of difference. Many of the worst unsolicited advice-givers use the pleasantest and least direct language full of ‘you could’ and ‘have you ever considered’. They are still thinking ‘should’, and the ‘should’ comes through loud and clear.

            Unless someone is actually changing their thinking and not just their words, they fool no one, IMO.

            Likewise some direct, blunt, people come off as way less bossy.

            Personally I wouldn’t put that much store in finding the magic words…

        2. Re facing the doors – it makes sense, because:
          a) you are then facing the right way to see that your have reached your floor and leave the elevator during the short stop without holding everyone up;
          b) it’s less intrusive into everyone’s personal space if you don’t have to make eye contact with strangers (many people find that too intimate); and
          c) you don’t have to spend any energy on working out which way to stand. (This is a small benefit but a benefit nonetheless.)

          The vast majority of cultural practices have a reason and a benefit, if you analyse them.

          1. FWIW, I think I instinctively do this even if I’m by myself, I turn to face the way I want to go next *now*. But I agree, that does make a lot of sense for why people expect it from each other.

          2. Well, I was talking more about the convention of everyone going into a weird, charged silence, rather than just the facing-the-doors part. My language wasn’t really clear on that, though.

            One of my favorite elevator moments was being in a crowded one at a mall, all the adults standing, and a six year old kid suddenly bellowing into the silence, “MOMMY WHY IS IT SO QUIET I DON’T LIKE IT!”

            What’s really fun is to get on an elevator that has multiple doors, and see the awkward shuffle!

          3. I have been in three elevators that have multiple doors. Yeah, I remember them all, specifically, because of the awkward shuffle.

            If you know you’re exiting from the opposite door, and you walk in, and stare silently at the opposite door, and people already in there don’t know about the opposite door, it really freaks them out. Even weirder is the side door. That one actually caused conversation, as everyone wondered which direction they would exit.

          4. Where I live, there is no consensus on facing the door. Also, the display showing which floor is reached is seldom on the same side as the door. I usually face the display, not the door.
            That being said, I encounter a lot of habits that just doesn’t make sense for me. I just have to accept that it’s the way things are done around here.

          5. Out of nesting, but I wanted to say that the little kid in TheStoryGirl’s post is my new hero.

            I’ve seen the elevator dynamics even in situations where it literally makes no sense. I go to sporting events in my home town a few times a year, and when riding the elevator back up in the parking structure, often everyone there will be supporters of the same team. Yet the effort of will to say more than “Good game”/”Tough game”/”F’king refs” is real, despite the fact that we’re all there for EXACTLY the same reason.

        3. I suspect that some people get targeted for advice a lot more than others, for subconscious reasons that don’t make sense, but that means some people experience “basically a sensible conversation, with occasional suggestions thrown in” and some people experience “everyone is just constantly telling them how to live their life, even on things they’re pretty well down with already”.

          Like, if I lament that X is annoying, and ONE person says, “have you tried x-workaround?”, it may help, or I can ignore it, or say, “thanks, it definitely helps a bit but I still hate X”. But if that’s the majority response to me complaining about X, I want to scream. Yes, I KNOW there are workarounds. I already USE the workarounds, and it’s STILL annoying. And the tenth response, even though it feels to the suggester just as innocent to the first, feels awful to me because it feels like whatever I say people assume I’m just a lost innocent who’s never even considered improving the thing I’m annoyed about (or never considered where my sofa would look best, or never thought about X political topic, etc).

          I’m not sure, but hence, very different responses.

          1. And I guess, some advice sounds a lot more patronising than others. Sometimes someone says, “oh hey, have you considered [this thing about something you know lots about]” and it feels like an introduction to a conversation, and sometimes they say basically the same thing, but it’s clear they just assumed you knew absolutely nothing about it, which is infuriating to most people if they’ve put a lot of effort in, or it’s THEIR LIFE and they know a lot more about the possible trade-offs than someone else . And I don’t really know what controls when that happens, but it seems it does.

            It’s really easy to look at a sofa and think, “oh, well, my first impression is it’d have more room to put it on that wall”. But sometimes you blurt out your first impression, and sometimes you assume your friend had a good reason for putting it where they did.

          2. And there came a point when I was jaded.

            The odds are against most advice givers actually knowing more than I do about subjects that interest me.

            Experts know more, and I ask them

            Other people, not so much.

          3. If someone says, “I hate X,” and I want to offer a suggestion, I’ll say, “OMG, same. What I do is Y.” Then the idea is out there in a non-confrontational, conversational way. If they want to know more about Y, they can follow up, and if they don’t, they change the subject and I take the hint.

        4. I don’t know if this helps, but for me the vast majority of unsolicited advice that exhausts me is unsolicited advice that’s trying to solve a different problem than the one I’m complaining about/asking for advice about.

          Recent example: I recently had a gap in primary care physicians because mine sucked for Reasons and I asked the facehive for advice about where to get a specific thing taken care of in a specific way while I was in between.

          Some people gave me advice about that and they helped me find a fix. Awesome!

          But like 3x as many people chimed in with advice about a different thing I could try instead, or advice about why they thought doing it my specific way wasn’t the best way and had I tried doing it [x] way (yes, I had, and specifying the way I had found worked after trying your low-hanging fruit way was done to avoid having a conversation recounting all of the other solutions that I have already tried unsuccessfully).

          I considered all of that advice unsolicited and exhausting.

          In regards to the same problem, I was complaining to another person about how I felt about being in the gap in the first place. I wasn’t complaining about not knowing how to fix the gap, I was complaining about how it felt to have my doctor tell me I was in need of psychiatric care because I told her that she hadn’t solved my physiological symptoms yet, and instead of responding to me about the problem I was talking about (my doctor called me crazy because I’m not responding to blood pressure medication and that felt really scary), she tried to solve a completely different problem, and now instead of solving the problem I wanted to discuss by saying “you’re not crazy, I’m sorry that happened to you,” I now had to spend energy I didn’t have because I was in a great deal of emotional distress explaining what I’m already doing to fix a problem that is already fixed. Exhausting.

    3. I want to point out something here. You say, “We all have knowledge gaps, and the idea of someone falling into one that I noticed but didn’t bring to their attention because of their feelings is…well…frankly, it’s impossible!”

      So, here’s the thing. This mentality is sort of a mix of anxiety and ego which I *totally* recognize (albeit in a different format; not giving friends advice, but in other arenas of my life). The ego part is, you seem completely sure that your friend is doing something you would not do because they are ignorant. You’re assuming a lack of knowledge is leading them to make choices you would not make.

      The vast majority of the time, though, that assumption is wrong. And, I mean, it’s a bit insulting when someone assumes I’m ignorant when, in truth, I’m making the choices that work best for me, you know? So, for example, I’m going to use a choice I make that often seems irrational to the outside. I have a chronic medical condition, cystic fibrosis, that is exacerbated by consuming dairy products. I know this, but I eat dairy products pretty often anyway.

      I eat dairy products because I’m vegetarian and struggle with being dangerously underweight (not related; being underweight is related to a medical condition I’ve had since birth, whereas I’ve only been a vegetarian for six years). After attempting a vegan diet and losing too much weight, I went back to being vegetarian. I’m vegetarian for spiritual reasons.

      Since part of my condition causes infections or blockage in my small intestine, sometimes I know eating anything at all will be painful. In those instances, the main way I can motivate myself to eat is if what I’m eating is incredibly delicious. My favorite foods in these contexts almost all involve cheese or ice-cream. It’s taken a combination of counseling, GP-visits, and advisement and care under a gastroenterologist in order to create a sustainable, ethical diet that works for me.

      When people say, “you should stop eating dairy!” they’re saying, “I know more than three different doctors whom you’ve worked with for seven years!” That’s ego, and it’s obnoxious.

      OR they’re saying, “Valuing animal welfare is wrong,” if they’re suggesting I replace dairy with meat, as if I came to my ethical conclusions unwisely, which is an unfair insult; or that “You should be able to force yourself to eat vegan food even when you’re in pain,” which implies they perceive me to lack willpower, which is also insulting. I have plenty of willpower, I just don’t spend it when I don’t have to, yeah? And both insults come back to ego: the critic assumes I have negative character traits, without any evidence beyond the fact that I’m making a different choice than they make.

      So that’s the ego part. But the anxiety is there too. I sympathize, because anxiety can ramp up ego even more, and it can be hard to push it back down. You’re afraid that if you don’t give your friends advice, they’ll get hurt because of their ignorance. That fear makes sense! But it’s to an irrational level when that’s what’s driving your actions.

      You’re thinking, “If I don’t tell them, who will?” But the genuine answer to that question is either, “Their doctor,” or whoever is the relevant expert with whom they’ve built a trusting relationship over time. Or the answer is, “Probably nobody,” in which case, I promise you: nothing bad is going to happen.

      It won’t! It really won’t! Your anxiety is giving you worst-case scenarios. To the point where you’re “semi-terrified.” But the most likely scenario in which people don’t hear your advice is…run-of-the-mill life stuff happens, which is what happens to everyone anyway. Just in different varieties. No one is going to end up on their deathbed saying, “If only TheStoryGirl had advised me *not* to drink that bottle of rat poison, I wouldn’t be in this predicament!” 😀

      It’s going to be more like, “I’m glad TheStoryGirl isn’t hassling me about drinking a couple beers at her barbeque; we’re having much more fun together now than we used to.” And if your friend gets a hangover tomorrow because she drank more than she should’ve…well, she deals with a hangover. It’s a run-of-the-mill life thing. If I kept aggravating my symptoms by drinking dairy when I shouldn’t’ve, then…I deal with a bit of a cough. It’s not the end of the world; it’s not worth, as people are pointing out, making your friends feel “bad/sad/intruded upon/controlled/insulted.” As someone who values rationality, you can see that, yeah? Nobody’s a wholly rational being, and it can be tempting to rationalize anxieties so they *sound* rational. But, my anxieties about small spaces aren’t rational, and your anxiety over whatever will happen if you don’t “rescue your friends from a problem” aren’t rational either. The good news is, everybody can work past these anxieties! You’re already learning, which is great. So…keep it up! You’re heading in the right direction.

      1. This is a really helpful perspective. I didn’t think of myself in the camp of giving too much unsolicited advice (because I am also in the camp of receiving too much and being exhausted by it at times) until you put it in context with the anxiety-driven need to “rescue friends from problems.” I’m a worrier and I jump to worst-case scenarios very easily, and I can’t help but see those for other people’s actions/decisions as well as my own. I do try to curb this instinct, but I’ve been called the “mom” of my social group more times than I can count because I’m always the one making sure people have sunscreen, making sure people are buckled up, making sure everyone’s had enough to eat, etc. Essentially projecting my anxieties onto those around me. If I’m driving, I reserve the right to make sure my passengers are wearing seatbelts, full stop. But you’re putting things like sunscreen into a different perspective for me… presumably my friends who refuse to wear sunscreen do know that sunburns are dangerous. Presumably they have access to as much information on that topic as I do. If they know that and still choose not to wear it, yes that causes me anxiety (and maybe a little irrational anger), but maybe it’s not my business to keep after them about it.

        1. And there is a big difference between “I have sunscreen in several SPF levels if anyone needs it!” vs “Gary, I’ve noticed you never seem to use sunscreen, let’s talk about how horrible skin cancer is.”

          1. Yep. I love the “Who needs sunscreen?” people. And when I’m out with the little relatives (under 12), I am the “you WILL use sunscreen” person, because Little Dude doesn’t like to put it on, but he’s just as fair as I am. The older kids went through it, and now they are grown enough to choose for themselves if they want to take the risk. So they get the offer, not the command.

      2. You have some points, but there’s an important element here – the kind of advice I’m offering is pretty different from what you’re talking about.

        I don’t get involved unless I’m very certain I have superior information, a proven methodology, will be doing a universal benefit, etc. I obviously don’t have that with people’s medical stuff, or their personal decorating tastes, or personal phobias!

        So most of my unsolicited advice-giving is straightforward money-saving, know-your-rights, and/or industry-specific type of stuff. For example:

        1. When I find out anyone is buying a new car, I proactively recommend they check out “How to Buy a Car…Using Game Theory” (http://bigthink.com/think-tank/how-to-buy-a-car-using-game-theory), because that strategy is not common knowledge and is virtually guaranteed to save them thousands of dollars (and possibly time and social anxiety/stress at the dealership).

        2. I proactively advise new hires at my job not to waste a certain personal holiday benefit that is “use it or lose it.” They do receive a digital handbook that contains this information, but it’s buried deep within the online employee portal, and out of the five-dozen or so I’ve warned, not *one* of them was familiar with it. These are minimum-wage workers; missing a paid day off because nobody volunteered the information to them in an accessible way absolutely *is* a bad thing that *will* happen if I don’t interfere.

        3. I work in the hotel business, and I regularly warn both guests and friends not to use online travel agencies (Expedia, et al), because:

        a) their policies make modifications/cancellations a hassle, if not impossible, ditto refunds even if the hotel egregiously fucked up,
        b) they rarely relay critical requests (like “quiet room” or “two beds”),
        c) this adds an extra step with additional computer programs to the reservations process, which brings up the probability of a reservation getting lost/overbooked/accidentally-whatevered,
        d) they take a commission and are used by bargain-hunters, so hotels view those guests as lowest-priority, and
        e) most hotels will match any advertised online travel-agency rate anyway, so there’s no financial advantage in using them as anything but a price-comparison tool.

        The exception might be if a frequent traveler is using the travel agency’s rewards program to earn free nights; but most people aren’t doing that, which means it isn’t worth the risk for the typical traveler.

        I’ve seen hundreds of people’s trips severely inconvenienced, if not ruined, due to complications from booking with online travel agencies; but people outside the industry have no way of knowing what they’re in for. Hence, unsolicited advice from an industry insider.

        4. Friends don’t let friends get involved in multi-level marketing schemes!

        I could go on, but the point here is that I don’t consider these things to be spiritually different from yanking someone out of the path of a speeding bus. I mean, who knows; maybe that seemingly-oblivious person next to me *does* see the speeding bus and they’re planning on practicing a last-second parkour move to avoid it, or they want to get hit by it and collect some insurance money, or they’re suicidal, but the highest probability is that they *don’t* see the imminent doom and that they’d prefer for me to proactively move them to safety, rather than assume they know what’s bearing down on them.

        And maybe it ultimately comes back to the advice offered above, about not trying to force certain kinds of friendships, because I couldn’t hang with the kind of person who would be offended by unsolicited advice like the four examples above, anyway.

        1. I believe you about your good intentions and the things you are an expert about. But “it’s different when I do it b/c I am an expert plus I mean really well” doesn’t really fly and your examples are pretty far outside what the Letter Writer is talking about. The employee policy example is pretty far away from a situation involving peers.

          If you’re looking for a “oh wait, unsolicited advice is cool when you do it” validation – I don’t know what to tell you. Everyone who gives unsolicited advice se s themselves as helpful and knowledgeable. If it’s working for you you don’t need my advice or validation. If you get friction from others when you do it that will be information you can use (or not).

          1. Fair enough; as you pointed out, the Letter Writer was mostly complaining about unsolicited advice on matters of personal taste (wtf I would never advise someone to use a particular piece of art they hadn’t selected themselves), and I drifted from that point after getting more fixated on the blanket prohibition of unsolicited advice.

            Given the consensus here of unsolicited advice being universally bad – unless I’m misunderstanding, Cap, you’re saying that “it doesn’t really fly” even when offered by experts! – I guess I’m back around to thinking this is just a blip of non-neurotypical processing for me and I’m not going to be capable of understanding it, much less internalizing it. A commenter here speculated that I might not be female because my experience of not being offended/injured by unsolicited advice seemed too unusually good for a woman; that assumption reminds me of this autistic female programmer trying to explain that she’s never felt discriminated against or hurt while working in tech (https://tinyurl.com/kwf2tj5). It’s like we can’t feel pain in a body part we never had in the first place. And you’re right, at a certain point, if that’s working for us, we shouldn’t try to do anything differently.

            Thanks to everyone who commented here! Even if I don’t understand it, it’s still interesting!

          2. This is why my mother gets angry with me whenever I reject her advice, even politely–she sees it as a personal rejection of her and her helpfulness, even if what I mean by it is that the advice isn’t helpful (or, when offered unsolicited, with the add’l “should” v. “could”, tends to make me feel terrible about myself).

        2. TheStoryGirl, I can see that it is important to you that you are respectful and considerate to people. For the record, I would find all of those examples to be intrusive and unhelpful forms of advice-giving. Obviously your mileage may vary, and I can only trust you when you say folks have been receptive to it.

          1. Interestingly, I find all of those particular examples exactly the sort of advice I would actively seek out from StoryGirl IF I KNEW she had it to give, and I would really, truly appreciate this advice being given to me, unsolicited or not. But how would I even know, in the first place, (except perhaps the thing about traveling, since she’s in the business)?

            Yeah, I’ll ask an expert, but I first have to know 1) I have a problem that needs addressing (such as the unknown holiday issue), and 2) who is an actual expert I can ask.

            I was once chided by my boss for not asking questions. She said, “If you don’t understand something, then ask!” I was new, and she didn’t know that I am the one who asks questions till the cows come home. But I THOUGHT I understood the process, so I didn’t need to ask a question in that particular case. If one of my co-workers, who knew, had glanced over and spoken up (“It’s a known issue; you have to do Step 3 twice”), I would have been saved a chastisement from the woman who explained it to me (incompletely, as it turns out), in the first place, while I was blithely unaware there was even a problem.

            TL;DR: YMMV Some people really *love* this kind of unsolicited advice, and would have asked for it, had they known they needed it. I am one of them. In the case of the holiday thing, if I found out that someone knew about it, and didn’t tell me about it, and I lost that paid holiday, I would not consider the silent friend a friend, because just one sentence, “Don’t waste your use it or lose it holiday X,” would have saved me a whole day. I don’t see how this could be considered unhelpful, at all. In fact, your statement that it was actually shocked me.

            Maybe I’m non-neurotypical, too? Or just weird?

            I guess there’s a lot of “Know Your Audience,” here. So, Typhoid Mary, what would you suggest for TheStoryGirl in such a situation. Should she say, “I know something you don’t know,” and hope you ask her about it? How would you prefer her to handle these situations, so that she would not come across as intrusive and unhelpful? Because I’m blanking, here, and really would like to know, please.

            Also, I bookmarked that website, and hope to use it to buy a car soon. Thanks, TheStoryGirl!

          2. out of nesting, so replying to Michelle C Young:

            You asked me “How would you prefer her to handle these situations, so that she would not come across as intrusive and unhelpful?” I’m going to try to answer each one in good faith, based on the situations as laid out by TheStoryGirl.

            1. Buying a car.

            Option 1: Don’t say anything.

            Option 2: “Oh, you’re buying a car? How’s that been going for you?” Listen to what the person is saying. Then say something like, “Cool, I hope it’s an easy process. I recently bought a car; let me know if you’re interested in some of the resources that really helped me.” If your conversation partner doesn’t ask, don’t add any more. Don’t provide the resource.

            If the person responds to “How’s that been going for you?” with a curt one word answer, don’t offer anything further.

            2. New worker vacation day policies

            This is the one I think would probably make the most sense as is, and I can’t really argue with; I’ve been screwed over by professionals not giving me information because I “didn’t ask” about something I had no idea was even on the table. Even so, I would STILL frame it as “here’s something you might want to know about our policy,” instead of saying something like “You HAVE to take this time off etc.”

            3. Hotel stuff

            Option 1: Don’t say anything

            Option 2: “Oh, you’re booking a vacation? I work in hospitality and have some great tips; let me know sometime if you’re interested!” Listen to how they respond. If they respond with curt one word answers, don’t offer anything further. Wait for them to ask for the info.

            4. MLM Schemes

            Option 1: Don’t say anything

            Option 2: “How has your candles/makeup/nail wraps thing been going?” Wait and hear their responses. “It’s sounds cool but I’m always a bit nervous about those ‘recruit your friends’ things; sounds a bit too good to be true! I’ve known some people to get really screwed over by them, so let me know if you want to read any of the resources I’ve found about protecting your interests in these kinds of situations.” Wait for them to ask for the resource; if they don’t, let it drop.

            You’ll notice in all of the examples I gave, there is a crucial step: the advice giver SEEKS OUT INFORMATION about the situation before offering the advice, and the advice giver ASKS if you want the advice. For example, I waited until you asked for advice on how to approach these situations! (: You will also notice that “don’t say anything” is always an easy option for not being intrusive.

            Additionally, I think a good rule of thumb is “If you don’t know the person enough to engage in that info-seeking conversation first, you don’t know them well enough to give advice.”

            Somebody can be an expert in care sales, but they are STILL not an expert on car sales in MY life. Yes, maybe online booking sites add charges/don’t allow for custom requests, but maybe it’s worth the extra money to me because of my phone anxiety. This thread is full of people describing advice they’ve received that is totally irrelevant because the advice giver didn’t have the full story (In fact, while TheStoryGirl has given really good advice in her comment, I already know some of it wouldn’t work in my life.)

            My point is that being an expert in something is not the same as being qualified to give a stranger (or even a friend) advice on it. You literally do not have enough information to give them accurate, useful advice. I personally find this to be true as somebody with mental illness; much of the advice I receive is predicated on mental/emotional/social resources that I simply do not have. The unsolicited advice functions as one more reminder that I can’t do things the way “everybody else” does them.

            I appreciate your curiosity and good faith. It really is heartbreaking when our good intentions are not received well, I know, but maybe this will give some insight as to why these friendly overtures can so easily feel like presumptuous intrusion.

          3. Michelle–to respond to “what would you suggest for TheStoryGirl in such a situation,” I’m a person who hates unsolicited advice and I think it’s totally appropriate to just give the advice in the new coworker situation without asking because new employees should expect to be taught the norms and policies of their workplace, including (gently) by co-workers, when they’re starting their employment. This changes a bit if someone who isn’t assigned to train a coworker is making a lot of corrections/suggestions, particularly if there IS an assigned trainer. In that case, if I found myself doing that and still had the holiday thing to impart, sometime near a break I’d offer to” buy new coworker some coffee and give them a download about weird policies.”

          4. The part that gets to me is that none of those examples have to be unsolicited advice. “Hey did you know personal leave x expires if you don’t use it?” is even about the same number of words as “You should make sure to use personal leave x because it expires if you don’t use it up.”

            #1 could be phrased as “I saw this really interesting video about how to save money when you buy a car, would you like the link?”
            #3 could be phrased as “hey you know I work in the hotel business and I’ve seen a lot of bookings for all sorts of things go terribly wrong, right? I’d be happy to tell you all about what I’ve seen work out the best for the most customers if you’re interested.”
            #4 is tough because my friends don’t “let” me do shit, they are not my mommy and I don’t answer to them. I think your best bet there is “I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about organizations like [insert MLM scheme here], I’m scared you’ll get ripped off.” and then listening to your friend who you supposedly respect (or why are you friends with them in the first place?) a bunch. Like another commentor said elsewhere in the thread, people can have good reasons for doing things their way. Just because you think they ought to optimize for most dollars saved when buying a car doesn’t mean a different person can’t have different priorities.

        3. See, what I’d find irritating about these examples is that in all but one of them, you’re not sharing information, you’re telling me what to do.

          (“Go to this site and watch this video, no there isn’t a transcription there’s just a guy droning for nearly three minutes, no-one has any problem with audio right?” is a lot more offputting than “I’ve heard that calling up dealers and telling them you’re getting phone quotes can get you the lowest price–would you like a link?” “You shouldn’t use online travel agencies (not that I know if you are using them) because litany of reasons!” is a lot more offputting than “I’ve seen online booking tools lose reservation information, in case you were thinking of using one.” And the concept that a friend is someone who gets to “let” a friend make bad decisions…)

          The information is probably useful (although it doesn’t strike me as either rare or necessary), but the way you describe the telling–as giving instruction, as parallel to physically yanking someone around in a life or death or bankruptcy situation, for the love–suggests you think it’s okay to tell people what to do because of some kind of Good Samaritan exception to people being the boss of themselves.

          (And, furthermore, if it’s not a situation where you have some kind of specialized-knowledge justification to tell them what to do, you won’t engage.)

          There’s a really strong whiff here of “let me fix you”, not “let me be your friend”. I think that’s what’s likely to be the offensive part, not the bog-standard (barring the employee handbook that sixty new hires never compare notes on) information.

          1. Aphotic Ink, you have articulated my thoughts so well.

            “And the concept that a friend is someone who gets to “let” a friend make bad decisions…”

            Yeah, that tells me right off the bat that the person trying to give me advice doesn’t understand my values. It’s also why I think the “trying to phrase advice so it doesn’t sound intrusive,” is kind of a fool’s errand. Maybe instead of the question from “How do I offer this advice effectively?” we should be asking, “How can I be a safe person to disclose problems to?” In my experience, being a good listener is 1000x more helpful than any expert advice! (:

            Also I am fully aware of the irony of me offering this unsolicited advice on giving unsolicited advice. I am full of contradictions and life is a rich tapestry.

          2. I was thinking about that apparent contradiction this morning! But I feel that the comments section of CA is a place where people are invited to discuss personal takes on the topic at hand, so there’s some degree of invitation to share thoughts?

          3. I actually super disagree. She’s not asserting that “Use your PTO” is the same as saving someone’s life. She’s saying that if it hadn’t occurred to someone that they have PTO that they lose out on if they don’t use it, they wouldn’t know to ask. They would be making the same amount, but working more days. That is helpful information! I would love if somebody interrupted my shit and told me that. Please, help me save money! You have evidently learned this from experience, and I would like to benefit from your experience!

            “Let me fix you” isn’t necessarily a value judgment, you know? We’re all learning new shit every day. The shit she learned is something she could pass on. The idea of somebody missing out on something without realizing they’re missing out on it is upsetting to her. You’re adding an implication that if you “need fixing,” then you must be “broken.” You’re not broken; maybe you just have an optional DLC that would make car shopping easier. Storygirl doesn’t think you’re broken. She thinks you don’t have this particular piece of information. I actually would find “I’ve seen booking tools lose reservation information, in case you were thinking of using one” a lot less helpful than “If you use x, y, and z websites, they do a, b, and c, and are overall a waste of time.” Unless my dad invented Travelocity, there’s no justification for taking that personally; so I would much rather get a concise rundown of the information than either Storygirl gently tapdancing around the issue, hoping I’ll ask for her input, or worse, saying nothing and observing as I lose out on PTO/fail to get my allergen-free room/get sold a lemon. Everybody has expertise of their own to offer. I’m sure there’s something mundane that you and I both do regularly, but you’re doing it in a better and more efficient way, and I could probably benefit from that. And if Storygirl told me some shit I could do differently and I said, “Actually, that’s a feature, not a bug,” I’m sure she’d probably go, “Gotcha,” and move on.

            This “don’t tell me what to do” thing is actually kind of funny to me. Think of it as if somebody said, “Oh, you know what? Target is having a huge sale on purses, you should check it out.” Your response is akin to, “Are you suggesting there’s something wrong with my current purse? Cool, didn’t ask.” The advice she’s describing is helpful if they take it, and if they don’t take it, it’s benign. What’s rude about the unwanted advice in the letter is that it’s (a) hurtful and (b) a recurring pattern in their friendship. The advice Storygirl is describing is neither hurtful nor a recurring pattern in your relationship with her. Linking you to a website that will help you if you’re looking to buy a car but won’t if you can’t watch the video isn’t the same as entering your home and cataloging all the things that are wrong with your new digs.

            I think maybe the issue here is that subtexts are being assigned to things that don’t have them. Storygirl went, “Here’s a website I found helpful. I’m gonna add it to this comment so they will understand what I am referring to when I describe well-intentioned, if not pressing, advice.” And you went, “I have auditory processing issues, and this website has a video. It’s disrespectful to assume I will be able to watch this video. And I didn’t ask for this website, anyway, so this is presumptuous.” And then I read your comment and went, “Aphotic Ink sounds really mad, so I think they’re being defensive,” when in reality, that’s probably an assumption on my part.

            Reading back on this, I guess I must be a part of this severe minority, too. I can see getting annoyed when somebody’s advice is condescending or unhelpful, but Storygirl’s advice is, worst case scenario, irrelevant to your specific circumstances. I wasn’t planning on going on a trip, but now I know in the future not to use travel booking websites! I’m glad I read that comment.

            TL;DR I don’t agree with your comment, but since everyone else, including the titular Captain Awkward, disagreed with Storygirl, I’m gonna have to assume she and I are outnumbered.

            Incidentally, if you’re ordering photo prints at a drugstore, Shutterfly and Snapfish do all the same things the store’s photo programs do, only because it’s a middleman, if the picture comes through cropped weird or of poor image quality, the people in the photo dept at the store can’t fix it. It costs the same, is easier, and has a better outcome if you just go to the Walgreens website; and it makes it easier on the people having to create your order. So, consider not using Shutterfly. Or don’t. I’m not your dad.

          4. True. I think what people are finding rude about the advice StoryGirl describes is that she describes it as a directive where she (because speeding bus!) doesn’t have to bother to check and see whether it’s useful. Which means the onus is on everyone she tells to do something to stop, pay attention to what she’s saying, process it, and evaluate it. It would take her one flipping question to check first before she jumped to giving direction, and she does not have to tiptoe and hope, she can just ask. It won’t take that long. The bus is not speeding that fast.

            (“Why did it take so long for the Boy Scout to help the old lady across the street?” “She didn’t want to go.”)

            If a stranger walked up to me and told me about a sale Target was having on purses, is assume they were either hired by Target or were doing that thing where one of their current focusses comes out of their mouth because *they’re* interested, not because they think I am. I wouldn’t assume they were saying anything about my purse. StoryGirl made it clear that that’s not the case, because she offers information specifically when she thinks the person she’s talking to needs to follow it. As she describes her own advice, it is offered because she thinks there’s something wrong with what I’m doing; she’s made that clear, so yes, she gets a “cool, didn’t ask.”

            Random coffee shop person can be having a bubbly day; it’s not about me. StoryGirl has said she’s only talking about it because she thinks I need to do a thing differently, so it is about me.

            That said, I don’t use either Shutterfly or Snapfish, I have no idea what why you think I’d use a Walgreens for anything when the nearest one is a 300km round trip and a border crossing away, and I’m pretty sure you’re not my dad because everything else aside there’s no internet access from the columbarium. 😉

          5. For me, a new employee is one situation where it is sometimes very appropriate to give the occasional unsolicited advice, depending on your relationship to them in the company. At least when it relates to easy-to-miss info like vacation days.

          6. Agreed. That was the one exception for me, although I am honestly a bit surprised that out of sixty new hires, none of them passed the word along. (Which might still make sense if they don’t work together, or if it was mentioned very early on in the work.)

          7. Agreed with everything you said here. I’m a bit of a know-it-all myself, and I’ve really had to work on how to say things so that other people don’t feel like I’m stepping on their autonomy. It makes a big difference to say things like “I noticed something annoying about the employee handbook, can you believe they don’t put the information about holiday X aspiring on the front page?” Or, “Hey, did you notice holiday X expires? It is pretty well hidden in the employee handbook and I didn’t realize until after if it happened to me.” And, “oh, you’re shopping for a new car? I found the advice on this guide to be very helpful and save me a lot of money, and some of my other friends have appreciated it as well. Do you want me to send it your way so you can take a look?”

            The idea is that you’re offering information that the other person can choose to use or not based on whether it works for their circumstances. And you’re sharing your own experiences and difficulties, which puts you on more of an equal footing with them, not assuming that they are dumber than you and can’t find the information you did, even if your experience is that that’s usually the case.

          8. @cleaning products

            “Let me fix you” isn’t necessarily a value judgment, you know?

            That’s reeeeally not my experience. Fixer and Needs Fixing is a really common unhealthy relationship dynamic and it can very easily slide over the line from unhealthy to outright abusive. My dirtbag emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend just wanted to fix me. In his eyes I could have been so much prettier and more popular and successful if I had just dropped my bizarre insistence on doing everything wrong (read: having priorities that didn’t exactly match what he thought I should want) and let him remake me into someone entirely different.

            I think it’s great when people offer me support and information, but it has to be an *offer*, not an order.

          9. Agree with Mel Reams here: “let me fix you,” while meant in kindness and helpfulness by the would-be fixer, usually just hurt me as a fixee, especially since the things they wanted to fix were fine, or the wrong thing to fix, and usually came with a lot of, well, “you are wrong and everything you do is wrong” when reality proved the opposite or that it wasn’t that big of a deal.

            I mean, intellectually I understand they’re trying to help, but when they insisted, it just made me feel like I wasn’t Good Enough for them and really crappy.

        4. I would have a problem with (1) and in some contexts (4).

          With (1), unless I’ve asked for advice about how to buy a new car, I’m not looking for advice about how to buy a new car. Maybe it’s worth an extra 1k to save 15 hours of time learning and game theorying out my car investment. And, to me, that sounds a lot like someone trying to optimize my behavior–game theory is, in fact, specifically about optimizing in this context. My behavior is largely already optimized for my parameters, and while it’s awesome if you and your friends haven’t had the type of people in their lives who have created bad associations with optimization by insisting that the way they have optimized a certain task is optimal for the listener as well (ignoring the listener’s protestations that the proposed optimization actually doesn’t maximize the listener’s preferred variables) that’s a thing that a lot of people (including me) have experienced. So this one would really grate on me. I know how to buy a car (and already do the thing in the video you linked), and when I don’t do that thing it’s because I don’t want to.

          (4)–for lots of people, MLMs fill a hole where self worth and productivity go, particularly for housewives. There’s a lot of articles about this. Obviously, I think MLMs are a social ill, and I get where your impulse to discourage them comes from because they’re bad for society. But someone in a MLM is gonna hit you up to buy a product if they’re close enough to you to respond to your advice. That seems like the appropriate time to bring up your thoughts on MLMs, unless in advance of that they’ve said something like “should I join [MLM],” in which case it’s now solicited advice. Pushing advice about why the thing the MLM-er is trying to fill their hole with sucks to hear–it doesn’t help fill the hole, it just tears down the MLMer’s attempts. People about to join an MLM need help with the problem the MLM is trying to solve before they will decide not to get into the MLM, and once they’re in they usually don’t get out until they experience consequences. Maybe instead of offering advice to your friends about to get involved in an MLM, you check in with them about whether they’re doing okay and go from there?

          2-3 seem appropriate to me because there’s a sort-of default state of solicitation by the relationship with you. If you have a new coworker, your new coworker expects that they are going to be taught the culture and procedures in their first few weeks and should expect to be taught those things without needing to ask every time–in fact, sometimes they won’t know they need to ask because of assumptions that are wrong. There’s a default training period for a new coworker in which advice is expected under the social contract.

          Same with advice about booking hotels pursuant to your job. Your job is to make sure that your customers have a good experience at your hotel and will patronize it again. Giving them information about your hotel itself and information that will make it easier for them to come back are why they’re talking to you-they’ve asked you to help them get a room, you’re doing that.

          Generally, I think the objections I have come to these statements as to purpose: “I’m very certain I have superior information, a proven methodology…”

          Outside of a professional relationship, you will *never* have superior information, in my view. That’s one of the reasons that I, as a lawyer, can’t give advice to some random friend or stranger on the internet. Of *course* I have superior knowledge of the law itself, but I have inferior knowledge of the individual situation. When I sit down with a client, I ask hours of questions to make sure I understand everything at play that could be relevant to what my client should do. When someone posts a question about whether someone has stolen their art, I can’t begin to know everything I need to know to answer that question well, and if I try to give them advice, it could well be the opposite of what they need to hear. (That’s solicited advice, obviously, and I do send them to some solid legal summaries of applicable law because they asked, but I also don’t jump in on “OMG someone stole x”). Similarly, with your car optimization advice, maybe you do have superior knowledge of getting low prices by putting in time to find a final price before going into the dealership. But maybe I need a new car TODAY because my abusive ex is threatening to report the car in his name as stolen or I just got hired for a job I need but the company requires me to use my own car, or anything else. It just isn’t possible for you to have superior information about that person’s car buying needs, and (for some people) it sounds like you’re assuming your needs = all needs when you assert you have superior knowledge of how they should do a thing they need to do, in the context of a life you’re not privy to.

          Similarly, for “a proven methodology,” all methodologies are only proven with respect to a limited, well-defined set of objectives. Double-blinded studies are “a proven methodology” for reducing bias in scientific experiments, but are not a proven methodology for identifying, for instance, overall mortality rates. Or, in the realm of something an individual might be likely to receive advice about in casual conversation: buying a 48-pack of toilet paper is a proven methodology for saving money on groceries generally but is an unproven methodology for saving money on groceries in a studio apartment. If all you know is that your friend needs to save money on groceries, you don’t know whether the proven methodology is to buy in bulk or to find a bulk-buying collective on their block.

          So, why can’t your listeners just ignore your inapplicable advice instead of being exhausted by it? Well, some of them probably can. Yay! But some of them may:
          -feel the need to respond out of a sense of politeness/obligation, spending energy either explaining to you why the advice won’t work for them or pretending to appreciate inapplicable advice
          -feel like you are presenting your advice in a way that indicates you know more than them, which I’m guessing can happen sometimes because of the language ” I’m very certain I have superior information, a proven methodology…” You used (which on my read implies you believe your expertise exceeds that of your listeners whenever you give advice). When your listener hears your advice and feels like you’re saying that you know better than they do, they then have to manage their feelings of either self-doubt or annoyance, which takes energy for most people.

          I don’t think unsolicited advice is an unforgivable flaw in a friend, though I do see it as a flaw. You don’t, and I suspect you probably have close friends who largely share this view, which is great! You don’t have to change your advice practices if you’re fine self-selecting people who share this characteristic with you. Unsolicited advice doesn’t, in my view, cross boundaries until you’re asked to stop giving it, especially since there are plenty of people like you who like it. You’re not a bad person if you give unsolicited advice.

          But I can tell you that I, personally, select the unsolicited advice givers out of my first string team me players, because when I am in a place where I’m already feeling kindof tired due to a problem I’m dealing with I don’t have the spoons to manage unsolicited advice. On occasion, I have even decided to drop people who have given unsolicited advice on a particularly sensitive subject that blatantly disregards why the subject is sensitive. And if you’d like a wider group of people in your closeness orbit (which you very well may not! You are probably otherwise awesome and may have more close friends than you can handle who love unsolicited advice), asking before giving the advice probably won’t select out any advice lovers and could select in those who, like me, dislike it.

          1. The bit about the advice creating more work as you have to pay attention and parse and sort and then possibly process and decide whether or not to handle it is very true. (As is the point about MLM – I do acknowledge I was reacting in part to the “let”, there.)

    4. I usually don’t mind advice that potentially fills in a knowledge gap. Sometimes I learn something I don’t know, and as you say, it’s nice when people care enough to look out for you. Where it gets irritating is when there’s little potential for a knowledge gap—when the solution proposed is one that everybody within the culture is already aware of.

      Asking if somebody wants advice is a good rule of thumb. Another good rule of thumb: Reconsider giving any advice that begins “Why don’t you just …”

      1. Yeah, I do totally agree on the absolute horror of “Why don’t you just…” I really, truly hate that.

        I think my favorite is “Did you know that…” advice. When someone pulls a “Did you know?” on me, either 1) I already knew it, and we can say, “Yay! Shared knowledge!” or 2) I did not know that, and I can say, “Yay! New knowledge!”

        And yet, I’ve met people who get supremely irritated by someone asking them, “Did you know,” even when it’s something they did not know, at all. And I don’t get why. Just don’t get how that can possibly be irritating, but I’ve seen it enough times to know that it can be.

        Life is awfully confusing, isn’t it? There simply is no “one size fits all.”

        Speaking of which, my sister recently knitted me some socks, and I LOVE them. I told her, “They fit like a glove that is actually the proper size!” I have a problem finding gloves to fit my hands. LOL

  9. My boss and I both became homeowners in the same year. We’re both fortunate to be in a place financially where we can do a lot of the new-house furnishing right away, but our incomes are very different (obviously), so his version of furnishing a new house means everything is brand new and from high-end stores, while my version skews heavily toward used/consignment and a lot of patience if I want something specific. That doesn’t have to be a problem, but it seems like every conversation turns into him offering me advice I can’t possibly use, me gently and politely saying I’m going about things in a different way, him reiterating his advice as though I haven’t spoken, me reiterating my “that doesn’t work for me but thanks,” ad infinitum until I change the subject. I’m beginning to see a pattern with him where he literally does not hear things I say that don’t match what he expects to hear. This is obviously very frustrating.

    The good news is that he is not easily offended, so I’ve just started being more blunt in my replies. Most recently I was excitedly talking about the trees we had just planted and how we spent all weekend on tree planting/yard work, and he jumped to “You should get a landscaper, I can put you in touch with ours, I bet she could do your whole yard for $XXXX.” My polite-but-gentle response was “We’re looking forward to doing it all ourselves,” which was met with “Oh I bet she’d do a consultation for $XXX.” So I said, “That’s still expensive, I’d rather spend that money on plants.” And – magically the subject changed! It was such a relief not to do the dance of gently trying to reveal my difference of opinion over the course of ten minutes.

    1. ” I’m beginning to see a pattern with him where he literally does not hear things I say that don’t match what he expects to hear. ”

      I have someone in my life like that, and in the long run it is soul crushing to spend time with them. It’s like the silent treatment, except they talk AT YOU (possibly a lot) while never ever acknowledging what you say.

      1. 100% agreed. I would not be able to take this kind of interaction from a partner or a close friend. When it comes up in work contexts it’s also really hard to deal with, and something I’m actively trying to strategize about. It’s been a primary source of stress for me with this job and so far my only management technique is to schedule our meetings late in the day so I can go home and unwind afterward.

        Have you had any success with your person in trying to shift their behavior? Or have you been able to talk with them about it at all? I don’t know what to say other than “You’re bad at listening, can you work on that?” which I can’t imagine actually having the courage to do.

        1. Mine is a family member, not a work person, so my strategies are more of the “make this gathering bearable” rather than “make them stop so we can actually discuss a work thing”.

          Right now I’m mostly arranging to spend time with this person when there is something other than talking to do, like watch a thing or participate in an activity where the thing/activity are the purpose of the get together. Conversation-centered gatherings, I will only go if more people are around so I can employ strategies like “go talk to somebody else who hears the words coming out of my mouth” or “go watch the cat and/or toddler test gravity with ALL the toys.”

          It’s still frustrating as hell and I don’t know what I would do if I actually had to have an important conversation. Maybe enlist other people, if there is at least one other relevant person who can actually get a word in? Shift communication to another medium? Do as much as you can without their input and have the in-person meeting be more of an update than a check in?

          Good luck.

          1. If it’s your boss, about work-related stuff, the update thing works well. If it’s AnyoneNotDirectlyInvolved/Affected about personal stuff, I find that “Thanks! I’ll think about that,” followed by not actually doing what they suggest works well, too. If they ask later why you didn’t do it, you can say that you thought about their advice, and decided to do something else. No need to explain why, just “I decided to do something else.” As long as they hear “I thought about what you told me,” they seem to be happy enough.

        2. dealing with the guy who ‘can’t hear your words’ at work:
          Respond to his suggestions with “That’s so funny! You’re such great jokester!” which is (ahem) totally friendly! Who doesn’t want to be considered a good jokester!

          This often derails the train of thought long enough for you to say “but that’s totally not in the budget, thanks” or “I’ve got my own consultant, thanks” (which may mean my to-do list, but whateves, dude, not giving you details)

        3. O/T, but this reminds me of my late father. He was often lost in thought, and would sometimes surface and start talking excitedly about some idea, interrupting people in the process. I never really noticed it until I was about twenty and he did it to an adult cousin. So I sat him down and told him what he was doing. I did it gently but matter-of-factly. He was horrified, and he thanked me for telling him. It was a really good moment for me. He respected my opinion as an adult, and he gave me a good model for taking critique. :’-( I miss him.

          1. that is a lovely story about what sounds like an important point in your relationship, Leonine. I wish you long life, and I’m sending Jedi hugs if you’d like them.

    2. It’s your boss. I think you get one free use of the “I’m afraid I don’t make enough money to do X thing you just suggested. If you’d like to raise my pay, I will reconsider. Otherwise, I’m going to have to be a bit more frugal than that in my choices.” It’s worth reminding the enthusiastic boss that your income and theirs are not actually the same.

      1. Haha yes, I have definitely considered making the point of “hey, you know exactly how much I make, do you still think this thing you’re suggesting is affordable from my perspective?” That would take many more balls than I have though 😉

        1. Sometimes, the person who knows exactly how much income you have is convinced that you have no fixed expenses, and can spend your money the way they think you should, and so, “Of course you can afford it! I know you make enough,” and continue with the argument.

          I’ve actually had people who don’t know how much I make tell me that of course I can afford something, if I just CHOOSE to. To which I responded, “Yeah, I suppose I could forego rent to afford this thing, since it costs the same. But I prefer living indoors.”

          Mind you, I know the power of budgeting, and of choosing one thing over another. But I also know that some people have reaaaaallllyyyyyy tiny incomes, and their choices are severely limited. And I also know that some people have large incomes, but also have a lot of fixed expenses (medical comes to mind) that cut their NET income right down to next-to-nothing. Some of those fixed expenses can be switched to smaller expenses (move into a smaller house, drive a cheaper car, etc.), but some of those fixed expenses just can’t be changed, or can only be changed at a really high cost that is just not justified.

          So, I guess if you do work up the courage to say to your boss, “I can’t afford X,” it might be more effective to say, “X costs the same (or more than) Y (Y being something boss must agree is important, such as rent, electricity, monthly grocery bill, etc.).” Because to him, X is simply X, but putting that Y in there gives him a different perspective. It’s like when people take pictures of a thing, and put another thing into the shot, to give an idea of scale. Coins, rulers, and other objects of standard dimensions are really useful for that, and can make a difference in how someone interprets the picture.

          1. To me “X costs the same as Y” still smacks of justifying choices that don’t need justifying. I can almost guarantee that in this situation where Boss is giving advice on what to buy, Boss will just come back with another reason why s/he is right. That’s the problem with arguing– and even if everyone’s voices are low, this still comes down to the Boss saying “you should buy X,” and Employee arguing/pleading/explaining his/her reasons for preferring Y. Employee doesn’t need a reason! Preference is enough. As soon as you say “I can’t afford it,” game on. It’s as though Boss has set up a dynamic where whoever has the best/most logical reasons wins, and Downtrodden Employee has to buy something s/he doesn’t want because s/he doesn’t have good enough reasons to justify their choice.

  10. When I worked a theatre job where we cotaught classes, we were trained to ask “I have a suggestion about X, would you like to hear it?” and then WAIT FOR A RESPONSE before offering said suggestion (or not). It’s been really helpful for me to feel like advice I give is actually wanted, and I found that it made me much less defensive just to know what kind of advice was incoming even if I didn’t feel comfortable refusing, so much so that it’s become a standard with my friends when they speak to me.

    All of which is to say, you can also expressly ask her to ask before giving you advice. “I’ve been realizing that I️ struggle with really listening to opinions if I don’t know they’re coming rather than being defensive – would you mind asking before you offer opinions? It’s something I’m working on, too.”

    1. Illustrator and professor Lynda Barry does this amazing thing where, after someone presents a piece of art they made, everyone is supposed to sit thoughtfully for 3-5 minutes. Then, the artist can either say, “Thank you,” and sit down without receiving feedback, or the artist can ask specific, open-ended questions of the audience to get feedback. Those are the two options. Feedback has to answer the artists’ question.

      It’s amazing and it results in phenomenal student artwork, because the students end up being able to explore their intuitive personal styles instead of being critiqued into a “house style” or getting so disheartened that they drop out of the program. I’ve never met another art professor who does critique like that, and it works amazingly well. Kudos to your theatre teachers for thinking in the same vein.

  11. When people tell me I MUST read/watch/like a thing it instantly sets off the anxiety switch in my brain and now I can never engage with that thing ever in my entire life. Seriously, so many movies and TV shows I can now never experience without intense panic feelings because what if I don’t like the thing and then ‘everyone’ hates me and my taste in things?

    My friends have gotten better at suggesting stuff to me now. They go with ‘hey, have you heard of Thing? Seems like it is maybe your jam, here is a small amount of info so you can decide, I will never bring this up again unless you bring it up first.’
    Giving advice is supposed to be a kindness, so if your friend cares about you – and it seems like she does, actually – then it’s good for you both to gently let her know it’s not something you like. She might feel weird, and might take a while to get better with it, but there’s every chance she’ll adjust to something that works better for you, like my friends did.

    1. Mine just hits a resentment switch. I have pretty specific guidelines for myself about what kinds of media I consume. I don’t like things that make me feel depressed or sad or cry or too scared. I find them very affecting. I also don’t like things that don’t have an ending in sight. I like things with female characters that have agency. Sometimes I also break these rules because they are my rules and I am allowed.

      But I just get tired of people constantly suggesting stuff, that no matter how good it is, I’m not interested in. (Cough Game of Thrones Cough)

      What I don’t mind as much is “I just finished thing, I really liked thing, for xyz reasons.” That is useful information, that means if it fits into my media consumption framework, I have a recommendation for it. Especially if it was something I might not have considered because it wasn’t well marketed or I might not have heard of it.

      I will admit that there are books specifically that i am like “SOMEONE PLEASE READ THIS BOOK AND TALK TO ME ABOUT IT PLEASSSSSSSE” and I get a little annoying. I’m trying to do better.

      1. There’s a world of difference between “*you* must read this because *you* will like it” and “please read this because I love it and want to talk about it.”

        1. Yes! My sister once asked me to watch a specific reality competition show so she’d have someone to talk with about it, so I did, and I was glad because I really enjoyed it. (Now, my sister knows that I don’t watch much tv and I’m generally anti-reality-tv so the way she phrased it was just right. For the record, it was America’s Best Dance Crews, which was competitions between hip-hop dance groups, and I adored it. I think I kept watching after she stopped. I really like to watch dance when I’m allowed to actually see the dancing (I’m looking at you, whoever directed the cameras for the Fly Girls way back when). Even styles I don’t do myself, or set to music I don’t care for.)

          1. I never heard of Fly Girls, but did the camera actually focus on the audience, instead of the performers? Or the scenery? Or something like that?

            Mind you, when I go to a football game, I prefer to watch the audience, because I don’t actually care about football. But a TV show that is all about dancing needs to actually show the dancing! If you’re going to focus on audience reactions, then call the show “Audience Reactions,” and have audiences watching different things every week. I’d probably watch that.

        2. Yes. Thanks for putting words on what I was dancing around and not quite getting. In addition to “read it because you will like it” and “read it because I like it,” I once ran into “read it because my therapist told me to and I haven’t read it but you should and explain it to me or tell me what you think so I know what to tell my therapist.” Not that she spelled out that she hadn’t read it before enthusiastically telling me to. There’s also “read this but you must share my opinion of it. If you don’t love it, it doesn’t count.” Also: “I hated it, and you should read it and hate it too so we can agree and trash it together.”

          I do make a distinction for sometimes how a recommendation is phrased. If a friend makes a one time recommendation of “you should read this book,” I find that no different from “I loved this!” and don’t mind. If the one time recommendation is followed up by giving me the book, telling me to read it again, checking back with me on whether I’ve read it yet, graciously (sarcasm) giving me more time, and then quizzing me, well, I don’t really have to finish this sentence, do I.

          1. “read it because my therapist told me to and I haven’t read it but you should and explain it to me or tell me what you think so I know what to tell my therapist.”

            BWWAAAHHHHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAA! My first thought – No wonder this person needs therapy.

          2. Hee!

            Yes, “You should consume X media” is just fine as a one-time suggestion. I like recommendations, even if I’ll never be able to get to half the stuff people recommend. Persistent attempts at persuading me to consume X media are a different thing altogether.

          3. “Read it because my therapist told me to and I haven’t read it but you should and explain it to me or tell me what you think so I know what to tell my therapist.”

            It was pretty funny when I figured out what she’d pulled in getting me to read the book. Funny and annoying too. Now that I look back on it over the years, I realize what she did was merely a continuation of the dynamic that was already in place. You know the way many an alcoholic is convinced they don’t have a problem with alcohol, the only problem is that so many people give them grief about how much they drink? This friend didn’t need therapy. Her only problem was that her friends weren’t supportive enough when she complained about her life. If they were just nicer, everything would have been okay. At the time, I was in the thick of therapy and couldn’t believe how helpful it was. Everything my therapist said was something I could have heard years earlier. It was amazing how my outlook was changing and how many situations I was able to handle with my new insight. I didn’t suggest she go into therapy, but I did suggest she read a book my therapist had recommended to me. (It’s When I Say No, I Feel Guilty, a book that’s not perfect for every situation but does have some good ideas and a book I’ve recommended here a few times.) It was another friend who really encouraged her to try therapy, and I guess that coupled with my enthusiasm for it were what made her go . She came back and told me her therapist had told her to read Gentle Art Of Verbal Self-Defense. That’s where I thought she’d already read it when she gave it to me to read, and that’s where I learned after I was talking to her about it that she’d never read it herself and was basically outsourcing her therapy. I look back on what happened now and see that as far as she was concerned she didn’t need therapy. She just needed friends to tell her what to do better. Seen in that light, giving me the book to read made perfect sense.

      2. YES to the resentment switch. I know a few people who keep recommending the same damn shows over and over again–not even because they think I’ll like it, but just because *they* liked it, and they don’t take into account that we have very different tastes–and it’s reached the point where inside my head, I’m like “no way in hell am I going to watch that now, because you’ve brought it up so many times the mere mention of it annoys me.”

        If they just tell me why they think I’ll like it and leave it at that, I’m a lot more likely to try it.

        1. I share your reaction except that I sometimes fail at keeping it internal. (“sometimes” meaning “almost always” – I really don’t like being told that I should do something “for fun” that I have no interest in).

      3. I’m with you on hating to watch depressing or scary movies, and I’ve had to TRALALALA my way through several conversations recently where people were adamantly insisting that I watch them. Also: things with robots or zombies.

        1. Third-ing this! I have very specific tv tastes – sometimes I break my own rules but, as LA said, they’re my rules and I can’t break them if I want to! I also get very emotionally invested in tv shows and upset at plot twists so I’d rather watch favorites multiple times so I know what is going to happen and it’s pretty rare for me to start a new show. Also, I love most fantasy/sci-if stuff but I hate anything with zombies. I was SO happy when everyone got tired of The Walking Dead.

        2. I have a good friend who simply cannot tolerate grim story lines in the entertainment he consumes. I watch and read A LOT of things that are light years from his entertainment wheelhouse. Every once in a while we’ll be chatting, and because my brain is a pop culture gum ball machine I will share a funny line or a funny scene from a show that I know he would never watch. But I frame it that way – “I was watching an old episode of “The Wire. The show as a whole is not your thing, but there was a scene where Idris Elba introduced Robert’s Rules of Order to a meeting of drug dealer lieutenants!” He knows I can’t tolerate humiliation humor or shows that do “Three’s Company” style super awkward misunderstandings, and he has the same respect for it. We can share fun tidbits that happen to come up, but we don’t go on and on and on. And we don’t share the parts the other hates or try to talk them out of hating that kind of entertainment.

          1. That’s awesome. A friend and I do a version of this with shows that we like but know the other person doesn’t, and it’s v. entertaining!

          2. I do this with my mom, who doesn’t like sex and violence in shows. I’ll be like “OK, you don’t want to actually watch this, but something something Game of Thrones last week.”

      4. Mine just hits a resentment switch. I have pretty specific guidelines for myself about what kinds of media I consume. I don’t like things that make me feel depressed or sad or cry or too scared. I find them very affecting. I also don’t like things that don’t have an ending in sight. I like things with female characters that have agency. Sometimes I also break these rules because they are my rules and I am allowed.

        This! Although my rules and yours differ, the structure is similar: I usually follow my rules, and sometimes I break them.

    2. It’s the worst. I can’t stand people trying to pressure or guilt me into watching and liking something. I specifically remember a case of some friends condescendingly going “*Thing* (that I was a big fan of) is terrible, it’s just a ripoff of *Other Thing* (that I’ve heard of but not watched) and it’s exactly the same but much better and you should watch that instead. You’ll totally see how great *Other Thing* is and you’ll definitely love it.” At some point I made an attempt to watch that Other Thing with them but I couldn’t actually enjoy it cause I just felt bitter and resentful about them being so negative and condescending about the Thing that I actually liked, and them kind of implying that I HAD to love it otherwise I was WRONG.

      And, it wasn’t the same at all, it had some concepts in common but was otherwise a completely different experience. It was probably decent enough, but I’ll never be able to like it now.

      1. I had the opposite of this and it was also the worst. I had a friend who was really into *Thing* and I read Thing and basically just thought it was a worse version of Earlier Thing I Liked, so after reading Thing at my friend’s urging I told her that it just wasn’t my cup of tea. She then wanted me to debate her about liking Thing, which I couldn’t do without explaining how it evoked Earlier Thing I Liked, which I did and thought that would be that. But she still wanted to talk with me about Thing, and every time she did she told me how much I should like Thing no matter how many times I told her I would never get anything out of the conversations if she wasn’t willing to read Earlier Thing I Liked and try to engage with my critique of Thing on it’s merits. It was exhausting–like, how could she keep giving me advice about how to enjoy Thing more when she wasn’t even listening to the reason I don’t enjoy Thing?

        I am not one bit trying to imply that you were doing this and didn’t know it. Just… The variety of ways that people feel the need to critique how others enjoy media/art is just astonishing. Especially because, like, the people that want you to consume Their Thing are almost always the people who get mad when Their Thing becomes popular/mainstream. Yeah, sure. I totally believe you wanted me to watch that *for my benefit*, not because you wanted to feel good about your discerning taste.

  12. One of my biggest and most major PTSD triggers is having anyone bossily telling me I “have to” do something, even if it’s with good intentions. (Ex Friend: “Stop watching Show A. It’s sexist. You need to watch Show B instead.” Me, internally: “I’ll watch whatever the fuck I want, thanks.”). Instant panic and rage. I try not to pull that on others because at best it’s still massively irritating.

    1. I can absolutely relate to that. It’s also probably related to past trauma for me, but not sure it’s a full on trigger. But it definitely makes something happen in my head that fills me with instant rage and spite and bitterness.

  13. How does your friend react when you don’t take her advice, or give her gentle push-back? That’s the dividing line between friend and former friend for me.

    For some people, giving constant advice and critical comments is just how they communicate with people. They’re not trying to be bossy or controlling; they literally don’t know any other way of having a conversation with someone. They don’t know how to make a non-qualitative comment about something. Maybe this is your friend. Maybe when your friend says “Move your couch here,” it’s her way of showing you that she is interested and engaged and wanting to help. If you can shift your perspective thiswise and you find that it helps you enjoy your friend a bit more, that’s great. And if not… well, the Captain’s scripts are great, as always, but it’s also okay to decide you find your friend’s behavior too exhausting to keep combating her with little reminders. You can limit your time with her or at least avoid her during moments when you just want to feel how you feel and save her company for when you feel you’ve had your moment.

    1. Yes, I agree – and if they are just showing interest and engagement, they won’t care if you don’t take their advice. If this is the case, you could try giving a running narrative of the decorating – “And then I went and got blah from place and installed it with a hammer” – more details for them to engage with might give their conversational energy another outlet.

    2. This was what I was wondering – it can be hard to tell the difference between “I’m kind of a jerk who needs to control everyone around me” and “I have no idea how to keep a conversation going except this way”. Fortunately, the scripts should be used for both kinds! On the other side of “How do I change me?” though – after telling her kindly when to step off, something else you can do is *choose* some situations to want advice for; either stuff you know she’s good at, or something you don’t care about that much. This is a tactic I use to actually off load some of my own mental labor – if I want to, say, put in a garden, but the mental toll of researching and picking out every single plant and where it goes and how to place them next to each other is overwhelming…I call Constant Advice Friend (who I probably only see every few months) and let them go nuts. They feel heard, I don’t feel resentful, everyone wins?

      YMMV, of course. And it only works well with people who can already hear “I don’t want advice on this” without flipping out, so it’s really more for “I like this person and want them around without driving myself nuts” than “I need this person to stop immediately and maybe not come back”.

    3. Letter writer here – we went shopping the other day for things to hang in my house, and I found a rustic pipe with hooks hanging from it. I said, “This is perfect for my kitchen, to hang coffee mugs from it!” Friend said, “Or you could use it for xyz [I forget now what she said]”. I pushed back and said, “No, I will use it for hanging coffee mugs.” Her reply was, “Oops, sorry, sorry, it was just a suggestion.” (I ended up not getting that particular one but she did take my push-back pretty well). It didn’t STOP her suggestions but it let me know I can say what I’m thinking and not offend her!

      I’m reading all the comments and I very much appreciate all the thoughts and suggestions. I’m also enjoying the “you must watch this or read that….” I get those too from various people LOL

  14. I am a woman that is a) very analytical (good at assessing a situation), b) very assertive, and c) that has strong opinions. It took me a LONG time to learn to ask, “Are you venting or are you looking for some advice?” It was a bit humbling to realize that all these folks weren’t coming to me for my profound wisdom and efficient problem solving skills. But it sure saved a lot of relationships. I had to learn to read body language though. I wish more of those people would have shut me down or cut me off. LW, please speak up. A truly good friend will feel bad when they realize they’ve been raining on your parade and will make an effort to stop.

    To the chronic advice givers, I suggest the change my dad made once it dawned on him that his kids were all adults. He changed his word choices from a “You must” and “I expect you to” line of speaking to phrases such as

    “Have you given any thought to….”
    “One thing that worked for me that you might like to consider is…”
    “Well, something for you to think about is….”

    He gets his advice in there, as any good dad would, but with wording that conveys respect and acknowledgment of the fact that the final decision is mine.

    1. I try those phrases a lot too… As a “jump right in” and “sitting with problems, even yours is painful” kinda person, I too always wanted to give advice and ways to solve problems to people and then got all pissed at myself when they didn’t do what I had (obviously wisely) told them to do! The audacity! So, now that more couching language makes the people on the receiving end feel less like I’m telling them what to do or making myself a know-it-all and I get the relief of thinking “aw, well, that didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped for that person but I only offered a suggestion”… It helped me let go of “ownership” of fixing people’s problems or issues. Better world all around.

      1. You know, I think this is the first time that “ownership” of the problem/advice has been mentioned in this thread. Thanks for that perspective! Changing the way advice is offered is good for both sides! Cool!

    2. I mentioned this tactic of mine elsewhere, but I’m so in love with the effect of it, I’m going to take this opportunity to repeat it.

      Just switch modals. Instead of “should,” use “could.”

      “You could move your couch over.”

      Try it–it’s amazing. (It’s especially amazing when you are telling those things to yourself: “I should clean my room today” vs. “I could clean my room today”–life changing, I’m telling you.)

    3. My dad does this… But that was always his style when we were children – the more politr it was, the more you knew it was a command So now it still comes out that way. If anything the hesitant ‘have you considered…’ just makes it sound like a huge important thing he’s given a lot of thought to and feels he just can NOT leave me not ‘fixing’.

  15. A lot of well meaning “advice” out there is actually very selfish. They don’t try or know how to focus on you as an individual or your situation or circumstances. They suggest based on what they like and what they can do as their own person if they were in your situation. Sometimes, their way is not the best, or not the best for you.

    Sometimes, I’m to the point it’s like, well if you buy me a separate device with all these things on it you say are so great (even though distracting in my life) and I don’t have to put out any money on it myself, I will re-consider. If there isn’t too much of a learning curve to distract myself from what I need in order to function with my own life, then your advice is more feasible. It’s easy for you, but is it easy for me?

    Sometimes, I can’t think of saying some of those things, so I just let people talk and slowly take the advice that I can if I think it’s useful or carry on with my own life.

    1. Good point about the selfishness.

      I find that when I really think about the person I’m giving advice to, my wording changes SO much.

      I’ve started a new approach when people tell me about their problems: I mentally picture myself going and standing BESIDE them, looking AT their problem. Not standing where I am, with my perspective, and looking AT THEM.

      I go BE WITH them, and look at their problem, and say, “that sucks! I’m sorry you’re dealing with this.”
      Or, at their great new apartment, and say, “Wow, It is so fun to have a new home! I’m so happy that you get this experience!”

      Only then do I open my mouth about stuff like “Your closet door leaves a gap before the shelves–that’s a perfect place to have a set of back-of-the-door shelves. Or a set of shoe pockets. You can put all kinds of stuff in there!”

  16. Oofda, I also have this friend. Constantly advice giving, has an opinion on everything, loves to play devil’s advocate, etc.. I called her out on it once and she was all “I can’t help it, I’m a Libra” and that was my cue to just Stop Telling Her Things. So now we have a very superficial We Like The Same TV Shows friendship. If she offers unsolicited opinions on things I nod and smile, and if she asks me for updates on things I had shared with her previously, she gets vague noncommittal answers.

    1. Ahhhhh! “I can’t help it!” One of my super extra favorites, coming from an adult. You *can* help it, folks, I promise!

      You can’t help it? How about, “I *could* help it, but I don’t feel like it, and besides, why should I bother, since I am so awesome and you will benefit from every syllable that passes my lips?” There, fixed it for them!

      brandnewday, sorry you had to limit your friend to that level. But good on you for doing it! ❤

      1. Fortunately I clued into this with her pretty early on in our friendship so it wasn’t a big deal to pull back a couple levels. It’s very different from now I’m used to managing friendships, but as a bit of a codependent/people pleaser, it’s also fantastically empowering. 🙂

    2. I get “but I have good intentions/I care about you!” I realize that, but it…it makes me feel bad. It makes me feel like these people think that I am utterly incapable of doing things when the opposite is true, and it hurts that people see me this way. And I think now I have a knee-jerk reaction where I will sigh and go, “Oh, God,” and that will trigger a fight.

      Thanks for writing in, LW–I think you put your finger on why this sort of thing bothers me, when I haven’t been able to articulate it before.

    3. Lo, my sister says this in a mostly-joking way. It’s a thing now:

      Her: [whining] I can’t help it!
      Me: [very dry] Have you ever tried?

  17. I have annoying conversational habits, and while it can be uncomfortable I consider it a gift when someone I like makes me aware of something I’m doing that I haven’t realised is annoying, because it gives me the opportunity to change. Just knowing doesn’t get rid of the habit, but it means I notice (sometimes on my own, sometimes with nudging) and start learning to catch the annoying slips before they come out, which eventually leads to different default ways of responding. You don’t need to help your friend change, but since you want to, know that it is possible if she can take it on board. She’s unlikely to lose all of her knee-jerk advice response, but she can tone it down.

  18. LW, I have a friend that I’ve known for as long as she’s been alive. About 20 years ago my now husband and I visited her at her new apartment and loved it so much that we decided to move into the area as well. She was thrilled about us moving nearby. Our apartment was in a different building than hers but had the same exact layout. I had very different furniture and decor than her. She also had children and at the time we did not. The weekend we moved in was spent with her telling me that I should do such and such with our new place. I made a lot of “Hmmm, I’ll consider it when we finally finish unpacking” noises but in my head I was screaming “STOP TALKING!” Two days later she called me and picked a fight with me because I wasn’t interested in taking her old bathroom decor that I was a snob. We got into an epic argument that resulted in several years of not speaking.
    Fast forward to 2012. We’d been speaking by phone for several years but by the time we made up she had moved over 1000 miles away. In 2012 my family moved to her area and we went to visit her at the house she’d purchased. The house was lovely but decorated in a way that I would never have decorated my own home. We had dinner, laughed, talked, etc. She asked me what I thought of her home and I told her that it was really nice.
    That night she sent me a text and told me thank you. I asked her why she was thanking me and she said “every time I have someone new to the house they tell me what I should do to decorate”. I ended up calling her and telling her that she was the reason that I don’t do that and reminded her of our big fight. She kind of laughed and said “Do you know the real reason I got mad and started that fight? I was mad because your apartment was nicer than mine. You had stuff that wasn’t ruined by kids yet and your stuff was so nice compared to the stuff I had.” I told her that I had suspected that, but that I had hated being told what I should do with all of my stuff so I made the decision to just appreciate the fact that every home is a reflection of who owns it and that I shouldn’t try to put my stamp on someone elses home.
    My point is it’s possible that your friend is harboring a smidge of jealousy that you have a shiny, brand new home. Use the scripts that CA offers and remind her that you don’t need a decorator, yon need a friend! Good Luck!

    1. That “smidge of jealousy” is likely behind a lot more “convincing to conform” than many people realize. When someone seems really invested in making others follow their life decisions (or house decorations, etc.), there’s a good chance that person is really unhappy with where they are in their own lives.

      Learning that and then mentally stepping back and remembering it when someone lets loose has saved me more times than I can count.

      1. Seconding. We used to have a neighbor who, because of her job as a flight attendant, couldn’t have a cat and really wanted one. She’d come over and love up on our cat, which was sweet, and constantly drop complaints about how we treated/fed/trained/maintained him, which wasn’t. Complaints like “You’re too strict with him! If he were my cat I would spoil him rotten.” (She’d witnessed me giving him the command to ‘Go wait for dinner!’–we had trained him to sit and stay at his eating place while I fixed it his food, mainly so that he wouldn’t be twining around my ankles and tripping me during the process) or “He should be fat! If he were my cat he would be FAT” (which… I don’t even know? She wanted more cat, physically, to bury her face in?)… It got really, really irritating. But I assume it was rooted deeply in her wishing she had a lifestyle wherein she *could* have a cat, and asserting what she would do if our cat were hers was as close as she could get.

        Probably there was something similar in the way she made frequent passive-aggressive comments about how we clearly didn’t care about how nice our home was/wasn’t because we weren’t repainting or redecorating the way she would have if done hers, I guess, she were home often enough to do the same.

        She was a very unhappy person who eventually picked a fight with all her neighbors and burned all the bridges before moving away.

  19. I left a comment or so I thought but I think it got eaten…. I know this person. I had this friend and the advice-giving destroyed our friendship quite conclusively. Though in my case there was more to the situation.

  20. Oh man, giving unsolicited advice is a really bad habit of mine – I jokingly blame it on the “engineer” part of my brain (it saw a problem and immediately needed to fix it!) and apologize whenever I notice myself doing it. I try really hard to keep it in check with phrases like “are you looking for advice or a listening ear?” or “I have some thoughts/suggestions about that if you’d like to hear them.” Sometimes my enthusiasm and desire to “help” gets away from me though. So my apologies to everyone who has an anxious or insulted or otherwise negative response! I’m just super stoked to share a neat idea and really am not implying anything about your ability to handle things yourself!

    LW, please feel free to go ahead and use any of the above scripts the next time your advice-giving friend starts being “helpful.” If she’s coming from a place of good intentions, she’ll probably appreciate hearing it and apologize profusely – she may not even realize she’s coming across that way or that it bothers you!

    1. +1

      I used to be super, super bad about jumping in with advice on any and all matters in which I thought I could be Helpful. I’m grateful to the friend who gently pointed out that I was crossing a line with her – the attention I paid to my habits, and the changes I made, have benefited more friendships than just hers.

      (Sadly, it has made me a complete grumpy crank when it comes to receiving unsolicited advice now, but life’s just a series of crosses to bear, ain’t it?)

    2. I once visited my niece’s new apartment. I love all the “organizing the home” tricks, so I told her ahead of time that I’d probably be itching to offer advice, and that I wouldn’t if she didn’t want me to. She said, “No, I might have some places I -want- some advice.”

      So I used all the “don’t be condescending” tricks I could use (“You could do this, or that” and “One thing I did in my drawer that might apply here is”).

      Among them was this: To act as though it was MY hobby (which it is), that I just had an idea, and it’s so entertaining to me that I’m going to talk about it as an entertaining thing–not as something YOU should do, but just something really interesting.

      And sometimes it was just that! She had a big closet in the bathroom with about 10 things in it. But there was this cool side wall, so I’m saying, “oooh, look at this cool side wall! A person could put baskets on there–use Command hooks, because it’s a rental, and get those plastic shower organizers and take the suction cups off, and use the holes to hang them on the hooks!”

      Then it became an intellectual/theoretical conversation about hanging baskets on the walls, and what sort of stuff COULD a person put there, etc., etc. And it wasn’t about advice at all.

      “Oooh, a problem, and I had a clever solution for a person in that situation. They could do this, it would totally work. But actually, I’m not talking about you; I’m talking about my clever idea that was just inspired by the conversation or your situation.”
      That’s far less pressure.

      1. Yeah, I try to frame my ideas that way, as ideas I had that I’m throwing out for consideration rather than things the other person *ought* to do. And honestly that’s usually how I mean it anyway.

        I picked up the phrase “one thing that worked for me/my friend in a similar situation was…” several years ago too and that seems to go over pretty well usually.

  21. Someone on this site, maybe the Captain, maybe a commentor, once wrote that they ask people who are ranting about something if they want advice or if they just want an ear. Thank you to that person because that little question has prevented so many conversations from veering off into advice-boundary-violation territory. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    1. My very best friend in the world is an advice-giver, so sometimes I will open a conversation with her by saying, “I don’t need help with this, I just want to know someone is listening while I rant.” This is working well for us.

      1. I seem to be the only one who is seeing a different side of lending an ear for ranting/venting while not giving advice.

        I am thinking of one co-worker in particular, who wanted to be my friend, and she had a simply awful life in every aspect. Near starvation finances, 30 year old son who was never going to stop sucking on her financially, a boss who treated her badly and made her cry regularly, estrangement from her adult daughter and denial of her grandchildren, and much more. Some of this, of course, was outside of her control, but a great deal of it was manageable if not immediately so. The problem was nothing ever changed for her and I was really tired of hearing about her son taking advantage of her and the boss treating her badly.

        I tried to avoid her eventually and found excuses why I couldn’t go to lunch with her as it always ended in tears. It’s nice to say we should lend a non-judgmental ear, but sometimes it just gets old. Thoughts?

        1. Well, I mean — there’s a difference between my BFF and a co-worker. For one thing, we’ve been friends for over 30 years and neither of us is going to take offense if the other says: look, you’ve been complaining about this over and over again so either we find a way to solve this problem and move forward or we stop bringing this up. (But I don’t think it’s gotten there for years, because if it comes up once whoever has the problem is probably already working on solutions or is preparing to work on solutions but needs to vent first.)

          It sounds to me, though, like your decision to step away from the relationship with your co-worker was the right choice. No one is OWED a non-judgmental ear, and I don’t think anyone says that.

          1. No one is OWED a non-judgmental ear, and I don’t think anyone says that.

            Agreed! I think “Do you want advice or do you just want to vent?” is only for people you want to preserve a relationship with and whose problems you’re interested in. You are not public property and do not have to listen to everyone who wants to use you as an emotional dumpster for as long as they want.

        2. I so hear you , Emma. I think this is where a boundary is necessary . Yes, I can understand not giving unsolicited advice but it feels bad to me to just have someone complain and complain and not make any changes to make things better. Of course that is their right and it is also my right to put a boundary on how much I can listen.

        3. There comes a point when your reaction is reasonable. I have problems in my life that I don’t do anything about because reasons. Because I don’t have plans to do anything about the problems, I try to limit the amount of time I complain about them to close friends. After a while, what is there for them to say that doesn’t involve advice? And there’s only so long you can burden a sympathetic ear.

        4. Something that worked for me in a similar situation was listening and then asking, “So, what are you going to do about this?” I could almost hear the record scratch sound effect as her brain switched from “woe is me,” to “I can fix this? I can fix this!”

          Incidentally, she later gushed at me about how I gave her GREAT advice! I didn’t give her any advice, at all. I just asked the question. The rest was all her.

  22. I have several friends I love who do this. To one I finally said, ‘I have a hard enough time making decisions without a lot of other input ‘. To the second , who was a houseguest , I would slip in the kitchen and take out a pad in a drawer and make a note of her suggestion so I could let go of it in my mind. She finally asked me what I was doing and I told her that her ideas were all good but I couldn’t remember them all so I was writing them down. Luckily, she got it and slowed down on the advice . I am guilty of this too so I see both sides of the issue . But I know it can be crazy making .

  23. ““That photo you sent was really great, thanks.” (Make no commitments about hanging it)”

    I’d recommend caution on that one. My parents went through a “photography” stage where they ran around and took photos of EV-ER-Y-THING. And of course made you sit down and look through them all every. single. visit. And of course I made those non-committal “oh, those are nice” comments on every. single. photo. Time passes. At some point in this stage I got my first apartment all to myself. Their housewarming gift to me was… a framed blown-up photo from each of them. I have no idea how I kept a straight face when I opened them because honestly, I really *don’t* want to hurt anyone’s feelings but… I felt really angry over that. They knew I was artistic, they knew I loved putting my own touch on things, and yet it never occurred to them that, my place being too small for much of anything, my limited wallspace might be something *I* wanted to choose how to decorate. My siblings and my friend have also bought me something to hang on the walls too and so now I have FIVE PIECES I don’t want to hang on my walls (two items from siblings proving that they are remembering my hobbies and interests from TWENTY FIVE YEARS AGO, and one plaque from my friend who knows I despise schmaltzy poems, “inspirational” quotes, etc, and who – as she always has – clearly went gift shopping with her own tastes in mind) and a major problem – every once in awhile one of them will say “oh you haven’t put [that thing I got you with no consideration for your tastes] up yet!” It’s been seven years. I haven’t got ANYTHING on my walls because if I put other stuff up it’s going to become very clear that I just hate their stuff, I don’t have a big enough place to just hang their stuff somewhere inconspicuous AND still get to indulge my own tastes, and I just on principle refuse to decorate the walls of MY place with a bunch of stuff I didn’t want, never asked for, and was quite frankly really upset when I was gifted.

    This got a bit more ranty than I originally intended. My point being, in my experience there are way too many people out there just DYING to find an excuse to fill other people’s houses with their ideas and tastes.

    1. Huh, it’s literally never occurred to me to actually hang-up stuff like that. I just quietly donate it to Goodwill. Nobody’s actually called me out on it, but one did stop bringing me horrible knick-knacks from their trips. Do you think I’m being insensitive? I have a vague memory that when you’re given something you don’t like, it’s nice to have the person see it used once. Like, you should wear your itchy sweater the next to see grandma, but after that you’re good. I’m wondering if there’s a similar protocol for decorations.

      1. I say take a photo of it, or yourself with it so you can remember it, make some kind of thank you gesture, and then get it out the door as you wish.

      2. Protocol for accepting unwanted gifts: No thank you. or, regifting. or, trash.

        Said protocol was started when a friend gave me a can of beets, clearly an unwanted space-taker from her pantry, and took offense when I gave her a flat ‘no’ instead of ‘thank you for offering me a gift that I don’t actually want.

        Really? The end, I am no longer graciously accepting gifts.

      3. Yikes, I hope I didn’t give you – or anyone! – the impression I think you’re insensitive if you handle such a situation better than I did! No, this is all about me not having the spine to do something that, on the one hand, I know is a perfectly reasonable, rational thing, and on the other hand, I know would hurt my parents’ feelings.

    2. I think you would be fine to say “I don’t have much space and it’s taken up with things I chose because I’m so excited about choosing things for my house”, but you could also do a “rotating art gallery” approach where you put their pictures up for a couple of months, then take them down and rotate new things through. “What goes up must come down!” as you release yourself from the feeling of obligation.

    3. Ermagerd, the parent who’s a photographer. I have one, too. For one birthday Dad gave me two large framed photos. I hung up one… Eventually.

      I have enough artists in my family that I have art enough to fill my walls ten times over. I put up what I want and don’t sweat the rest. Only people who live here get a vote on what goes on my walls.

      @tarna, it makes me sad to think you don’t feel you can put up the art you love in your own home. I hope you find a good resolution to that.

    4. I think I remember Miss Manners addressing a similar issue. As I recall, her advice was to have a small section of the house dedicated to showing off gifts, and just cycle through them. So, basically, each person’s gift is displayed for a brief period of time, before it is put into storage/given to Goodwill/sold, and the rest of the house is decorated in the home-owner’s style.

      Similar to the “wear it once, and you’re free” theory about clothing gifts.

  24. Super timely letter is super timely. I haaate unsolicited advice. It’s a huge trigger for me, the quickest way for me to go into an angsty ragey spiral. I’ve gotten better about just saying “thanks for the tips” or whatnot but I literally just had to rant last night because I’ve had literally 8 of my friends tell me to have my Vitamin D levels checked. I have been posting about a medical condition so people know why I’m not around much. I have thyroid problems and I am seeing a medical professional. My GP just referred me to an endocrinologist. Also, my boyfriend has been diagnosed with Vitamin D deficiency and takes prescription supplements for it – his D was so low that his doctor was CONCERNED and his symptoms weren’t as bad as mine are. Every human is different and yadda yadda but people seem to have trouble taking it at Face Value when I am like No It Is Not That. I tend to feel really insulted when people give me advice, because I’m an Overthinker and chances are that Yes I Have Thought Of That.

    Sometimes saying “thanks for the advice” and leaving it at that makes people shut up. Sometimes it doesn’t and they go on a whole thing about how Vitamin D really helped THEM and most people at your latitude HAVE to take it in the winter. I’m still learning how to disengage from that without just being really mad.

  25. Dear LW,

    I am like your friend. I know where people should put their stuff. I have ideas about their furniture.

    But I learned, and your friend can learn too. I wish I could tell you that I was given an insight by a friend, and it immediately took. That’s not what happened, friends said things, I talked to my shrink, and basically I thought lots.

    So getting back to your friend: if she’s really like me, she’ll take the correction without defensiveness, but she won’t change immediately. She’ll try, but it’s difficult to change a pattern.

    So go with the Captain’s suggestions. Curb your friend off at the pass, and assert that you love your new home and aren’t looking for her decorating tips.

    For other fixers: I had to train myself. I pay a compliment and then ask a question about the thing I want to advise on. That way the subject has shifted enough that offering advice and fixes is hard.

    1. As someone with extremely strong “fixing” tendencies (in another context, but similar enough) — thank you for sharing your side and how you deal with this! Sometimes I find it weirdly painful when someone is making a choice I find baffling about arranging a space, but I KNOW that to mention it would be ungracious. “Pay a compliment and then ask a question” sounds somewhat similar to what I already was trying to do, but now I can use that strategy a lot more consciously. Thank you!

    2. I am also like this. I do really just want to help! But if I said, “You’d have more room for X if the couch was over there,” and you said, “I want it here so I can see out the window,” or “I like it here better” or “I’ll think about it,” I would take the hint and shut the hell up about the couch. And if you said, “I’m still working a lot of these things out, so we don’t need to talk it through now,” I would say, “OK, let me know if you need or want help,” and change the subject.

      It really is a struggle if you grew up in an environment where solving a problem for someone was how you showed you cared about them. This has absolutely affected my relationship with my SIL – I figured out pretty quickly that when she was venting about everyday obstacles that she really just wanted someone to offer sympathy, but I figured that out by watching her get mad at other people over it. When I visited her and my brother’s new home, they mentioned in a couple of places that they were trying to work out certain furniture arrangements, and so I made suggestions. I have no idea if they took them, and I don’t care; it’s their house and they should do what they want with it. It didn’t occur to me until much later that they might have seen that as overstepping, because they would never have brought it up. But I wouldn’t have taken offense if they did! So instead we’re not as close as we might be otherwise because they won’t tell me stuff like this and I have to guess.

      All this to say – if this friend doesn’t harangue you about taking her advice, if she doesn’t follow up or “I told you so” about things, there’s a really good chance that she would take correction well. She really might have thought you two were just commiserating over interior decorating dilemmas. Use the Captain’s scripts as needed and if you like her otherwise, give her a chance to change.

    3. Also, the “pay a compliment” part shifts my mindset by reminding me that this is THEIR space/problem/whatever.

    4. I’ve been watching “Let’s Play” videos of various games I enjoy, and have noticed that with practice, I am not yelling at the screen, or pointing at the screen, or saying, “You’re doing it WRONG!” nearly as much as I did when I first experienced the “Let’s Play” phenomenon.

      Practicing on something that won’t be upset at my unwanted advice (and I can’t even offer it in a meaningful way, anyhow), seems to be helping me. I don’t think it’s so much that I’m learning to bite my tongue as I’m learning to just let go. “Not my game, not my problem.”

      I’ll tell you what, though. Learning not to give unsolicited advice is HARD. Especially when they prove you right.

  26. “You have to watch [fave]!.”


    Also, PLEASE remember that the other person has probably heard your recommended fave 100000000 times already from other people. When I did my twitter live-watch of Avatar The Last Airbender, approximately EVERY PERSON ON EARTH barged into my mentions to insist I HAD TO WATCH Legend of Korra when I finished ATLA. It was overwhelming and awful and I eventually got so frustrated that I wanted to erase LOK from existence just to make everyone leave me the fuck alone.

    1. It took me until this year to finally watch Pulp Fiction because of this sort of thing. And yeah, it WAS really good, and I’m glad I *did* finally watch it – but for pete’s sake, I had people who heard I’d not seen it telling me that I wasn’t ALLOWED to talk about film with them because I hadn’t watched Pulp Fiction.

      I mean technically they got what I wanted, because I just stopped talking to them altogether. Problem solved on both sides.

      1. I have never seen Evil Dead 2 because of this. Ever. And I probably never will. Also Farscape and I’m getting there with Sens8.

        So…yeah. This.

        I also had a cousin who was like LW’s friend. Fortunately, I had already gotten in the habit of saying “Uh huh” and “I’ll think about it” when she started in on what I “should” do with my (rental) home.

    2. When I told folks I was studying abroad in Japan my senior year of college, I got “OMG you HAVE to see Lost in Translation!” I did not appreciate this, even though I saw the movie (and was at best lukewarm about it. these days, not so much.) And FWIW, my year in Tokyo was nothing like the movie at all.

      1. I’ve had that same experience! Wound up falling asleep during the movie, woops.

        Though seriously, anyone with two seconds of thought ought to realise that if you’re STUDYING ABROAD there you probably have at least some level of cultural and linguistic competency, so of course it’s not going to be a similar experience to the movie’s protagonist.

        1. In my program, that actually wasn’t the case–we had varying levels of linguistic competency, from people who knew zero Japanese to those who could at least get around with daily activities! But I do agree that everyday life in Tokyo was completely different from the movie, and as I got older I actually find the depictions of Japan and Japanese people quite offensive. It’s a great place with great people and I felt it was reduced to “weird country with weird foreigners” in the movie.

      2. Yup. Got my BA in Japanese, then lived in Japan for nearly a year and *everyone* recommended that movie to me. Now if it comes up and they do that, I’m going to tell them I hate it because it’s a movie about foreigners in Japan who don’t like Japan and I love Japan or I wouldn’t have lived there.

        Also, same thing happened with Mean Girls, because I’m a white woman who spent her childhood in southern Africa. I think it’s probably an okay movie but the stuff about her being from “Africa” (it’s a huge continent fyi, being “from Africa” is an almost meaningless statement) was such a turn-off to me.

        The older I get, the more willing I am to just say “nope, I don’t like that thing because it’s isolating and alienating to have my experiences treated like they’re a punchline.”

  27. I get SO TRIGGERED by people coming into my house and offering the unsolicited decorating advice. It’s probably because it’s been coming at me on blast from my family forever, and likewise, my spouse has all the opinions about how a room should be decorated. The clutter doesn’t bother me, but the implied judgment does. Every once in a while, a well-meaning friend will breeze in here and suggest that I let him/her have a go at redecorating because they have ideas about where to put it and every time I shut it down hard. Don’t care if it’s cluttered. Don’t care if you think things are in the wrong place. Don’t care if it could look better. Comments about moving paintings or suggestions about better places to put my furniture send me right into Hulk Smash. But I do appreciate the fact that other people don’t have my baggage around this and seriously didn’t mean to piss me off. As I get older, I’ve gotten better at tamping down my response to a hopefully civil, choked-out version of, “That’s great, but I really don’t like getting decorating advice, how about [subject change]…” and usually, that’s all it takes.

    This is all to say that LW, you’re not alone and what you are asking your friend to do is not at all unreasonable.

    1. My mother is an interior designer, and it is SO HARD to get her to stop trying to redesign my space. And I know she’s just trying to be helpful, but I grew up having no say in anything–not the colors my room was or the pictures in my room, not even my bedspread/sheets–so I’ll be damned if I don’t pick out my own stuff for my own house. I’ve had to come down pretty hard on the “I like what I have and where I have it” boundary when she visits.

      It’s gotten better since I decided to ask her opinion about something every once in awhile (because she does have good advice–it’s just that our tastes don’t mesh 100%, and I don’t have $$ to do a lot of the stuff she thinks I should do) or for help in procuring something for a house repair/replacement. Home decor is a huge part of her life and what she does everyday, so acknowledging that by sometimes soliciting her advice helps curb her “I WILL TELL YOU HOW TO DO ALL THE THINGS” tendency. But I’m not going to do something just because she thinks I should.

      All of which is to say, LW, even when the person giving home decorating advice is literally an interior design professional, you still have every right to tell them you like things how they are, or tell them you’ll ask for advice when/if you want it.

    2. Hah, this reminds me of a possibly-invented story about a designer coming to Estee Lauder’s house and going “what I could do with this room!” and Lauder going “What I could do with that face!” at her.

  28. What is up with people who try to tell others how to decorate their homes? It’s one thing if asked to offer a practical suggestion – ‘if you put that there, you’ll have room for this here’ or ‘this picture fits that space better and then you can put these in this space’ – or suggestions – hey, you know what would be cute… – but telling someone what they should do or cannot do, which colors they must/cannot use, mandatory design schemes… what the hell?

    When I told my sister I was going to paint my fireplace green to match the dining room she told me with great authority that you *cannot* paint a fireplace green, and I told her it was my house and I could paint my fireplace any damn color I wanted.

    1. Yeah, I don’t get it either. I’ve been in homes with living rooms featuring Thomas Kinkade paintings, ruffles galore, and knickknacks-by-the-yard (I’m more of a Rothko/Jackson Pollock, minimalist type person) and I found SOMETHING to like about the decor so that, when asked by my glowing-with-pride host or hostess, I could focus on the positive rather than what I considered negative.

      It’s that person’s home, not mine. People decorate to suit themselves, not me. Yeah, I’ve been in some homes whose decorating schemes made me cringe a little inside. But it’s not that hard to give a sincere compliment (I love the colors! The lighting is just perfect! That sofa looks so comfortable!), or just a blanket “Your place looks great.”

      Because you know what? Seeing how happy the person is with the home they’ve created for themselves really IS great. And I can leave, probably in less than an hour, and go home to a decorating scheme that suits me. In my home.

      I wish more people understood that, really and truly, it is NOT all about you all the time. Beauty is subjective. What’s interesting to read, watch and do are all subjective. We’re all different. And that’s a good thing.

      1. Personally I would be annoyed at practical suggestions too.

        Just keep it to yourself, basically, unless asked.

        I have very low tolerance for this stuff, and it’s one of the reasons I rarely let people visit me at my home, even my family (ESPECIALLY MY FAMILY). I enjoy their company sooo much more now that they are mostly not allowed in my space.

        1. The only time I would offer unsolicited advice re someone’s furnishing/decor is if I recognize from personal experience a safety issue that isn’t obvious. Serious stuff that’s “oh my god that never would have occurred to me!” Specifically, I’ve been known to tell people new to California who put a bookshelf with lots of stuff on it over their child’s bed, “I hope you don’t mind my butting in, but in an earthquake, all that stuff is coming down on sweetie pie, so you might want to move that, or make it stuffed animals only up there.” Personal experience has made that kind of a trigger for me. Fortunately everyone I’ve said that to has seemed grateful for the suggestion.

          But you don’t go telling people glass top tables are dangerous, because hello, they’re not stupid.
          ‘this would work better over there or this color or more efficient use of space’ is acceptable only when requested.
          And ‘that’s ugly get rid of it – you have clutter/too much empty space – you should anything re aesthetics’, never ever ever unless specifically requested for an aesthetic opinion and only if offered as *opinion* not judgment.

          1. Yeah, the safety issues are a big thing for me, and I’d really appreciate that kind of advice.

            Aesthetics, on the other hand? Nope. It’s too personal.

            I recently watched a TV show, where some investigators came into a suspect’s house and commented about it, and I just thought, “Huh? What’s wrong with that? Looks just fine to me.” I really don’t think that the rug was an actual indicator of pathology, especially because it was just an abstract design, not pictures of blood and gore and cruelty.

            Off topic, but this reminds me, why is it that when Hollywood wants to set up a scene of a poor person’s house, they always make it grungy and dirty? Like, poor people can’t clean, or something? Ummm, no. Please no. Set the scene with poor and/or old appliances. Set the scene with missing appliances. Some poor people just don’t have a microwave or oven, and use only a hot plate or eat cold foods. But they clean their tiny little kitchenette.

            And some rich people are absolute slobs, so yeah, you could give us that, too, set designers.

            Poor does not mean dirty, and rich does not mean clean. Rich may mean that they hire a cleaning service, but when you have someone who literally works as a professional cleaner, and has a tiny apartment, because they don’t make much money, do you really think they’re going to leave that grime in their own kitchen, when they know how to clean efficiently? Sure, sure, they’re tired after cleaning all day, but they know how to clean efficiently, and keep it clean, so they don’t have to scrub hard, no, a professional cleaner is not very likely to live in filth, and if their home is filthy, it is a SIGN that something is wrong. It is a CLUE, not “standard poor scenery,” OK, Hollywood?!

    2. I too am utterly baffled by this. How you arrange your house is literally NONE of my business as long as like, the couch isn’t made of live alligators. I don’t even think practical suggestions are appropriate unless the home dwellers specifically asks you because you are, essentially, pointing out a perceived problem, i.e. a criticism.

      My only personal exception would be with my few friends who if I entered their house and was like “whoa, WTF that’s the most ridiculous ottoman I have ever seen” I could say literally that and know they wouldn’t feel like garbage about it. But it would take A LOT for me to do that – like an ottoman made of beast ice beer cans and ferret carcasses.

      Ditto for: clothes, food, media, family planning . . . literally any and all personal choices that do not impact me or society at large.

      1. If the couch was made of live alligators, I would be asking if they were trained to be docile and if I could cuddle them…

      2. Now I really want a couch made of live alligators. And I say this as a person who once sat on a couch cushion that contained a live, curled-up, seven-foot-long boa constrictor. I guess there was a little hole in the side of the cushion and the snake liked to crawl in there and curl up and get all cozy and warm from your body heat when you sat on him. It was a little unnerving to feel the couch shift under me at first, but was actually weirdly comfortable. Snake snuggling. Who knew?

    3. My mother’s friend once had a busybody tell her, “Don’t paint your house any color but white. Your house WANTS to be white.”

      She replied, “That house is old enough to know that it can’t always have what it wants.”

    4. Maybe she thought fireplaces can’t be painted, at all, because the heat would destroy the paint and/or cause dangerous fumes?

      At least, that’s where my mind went.

      But then again, most mantles are painted, aren’t they? I guess you just have to use the right kind of paint?

      As to color – as far as I know, there is no law about what colors can be used where inside the house. Outside, maybe, if you’re in a Home Owners Association, or a local municipality that has laws about that sort of thing, but inside? Naaww.

  29. Also pretty relevant to me recently because I was telling my sister about a thing I liked and she interrupted with some criticism about that thing and due to my comfort with her and anger I was able to immediately say “can you not? I’m trying to tell you about something I like…will you just let me enjoy it for a second?!?!” and she backed off but it reminded me she’s not always a safe person to validate my joy.

  30. LW asked, “How can I change me?” In 12 step philosophy, the maxim is we cannot change people, places or things. It’s great if you are comfortable or are trying to be more assertive to set boundaries, but if you don’t want to, that’s ok, too. LW, I have much experience wrestling with these kinds of issues. The older I get, the less things like this bother me. In the interim what I found is that the wrestling helped me learn what was most important to me, the friend, the boundary, or both.

  31. “maybe try asking “What else are you watching?“or “Are you interested in some recommendations of things to watch next?” before you jump in with “You have to watch [fave]!.” Enthusiasm is great, but remind yourself that people don’t “have to” do shit.”

    OMG I HATE it when people do that to me. Like, seriously, the one sure and fast way to make sure I DO NOT watch or read the thing you recommend for YEARS after you recommend it is to say ‘you haven’t seen X?!’ or ‘you HAVE to read Y’. It puts my back up like nothing else.

    My best friend knows this, and she tries really hard not to do it, but she just can’t stop herself. Not helped by the fact that obviously her suggestions are good, and I have read some of them and enjoyed them. But that’s another reason to just IGNORE all these suggestions – it confirms to people who do this that this is a good and successful thing to do.

    I am totally fine with ‘I am really enjoying book X at the moment, it’s about these unicorns who…’. Then I can listen and decide for myself if I want to take it further.

    1. Thiis and the nostalgia-related “HOW DID YOU GET TO (age) WITHOUT SEEING X”

      Gee, I don’t know, maybe I grew with different TV stations than them and have a completely different cultural and linguistic background?

      1. Or maybe I figured I wouldn’t like it and didn’t watch/read it. Yeah, that’s a real possibility.

  32. I can totally be like this. I love helping. I’m just a helper. Sometimes, I get carried away and over-help. This is a good reminder for me to look for cues my help is not helpful.

  33. I am this friend. I have an analytical/critical/puzzle-solving mind, I love helping people, and I love running through all the versions of things, out loud, even when it’s not My Thing. I have learned to check in with questions like “do you want X-type response or Y-type response.” However, it is really hard for me to switch gears once I’m in “but what if it was like this” mode. LW, one thing that may help is if you set the terms of the interaction before you meet your friend, so she is in the right mode. Is there a way you can invite her to hang out that makes it really clear what you do or don’t want from her? I’m imagining something like, “Hey, I have a great new place! Please come over and celebrate. It’s a work in progress, but no advice please– I just want you to come over and be happy for me.”

    1. Agreed with the first part, but I’d omit the “I just want you to come over and be happy for me.” since it feels like dictating how the other person feel/act. (actually, even trying to pre-empt with “no advice please” feels awkward to me, but I agree some people may need that boundary from the get-go so… YMMV)

    2. Thank you for this – it’s a good perspective shift for me to use with my optimizer husband. He works in IT and can’t seem to get out of programmer mode sometimes.

  34. “It’s a non-stop verbal diarrhea and it’s like she can’t help herself. The onslaught was such that I couldn’t get a word in.”

    You’re allowed to interrupt people when they get going and can’t stop themselves. Talk right over the top of them.
    You can pick something they said (maybe even something a few minutes ago) and start talking about that.
    You can tell them to stop you can’t keep up with their stream of consciousness.
    You can start talking about something else entirely. Right over top of what they’re saying.
    You can tell them to stop they’re making your ears buzz and you can’t hear them.
    You can look at them like they grew two heads. Most people will stop and ask why. Not all.
    You can pour something into their lap. Preferably something not hot and non-staining. You can make it look accidental or not.
    You can bang your head on the coffee table a few times.
    You can walk out of the room. Maybe start some tea, which they will have to stop talking to sip.
    You can take their hand. Maybe turn it over and gently poke the base of their thumb.

    You can say and do all kinds of things, but you don’t have to wait for them to pause for you to “get a word in edgewise” because they won’t. They’re busy filling up the empty spaces in their heads, and it’s actually not very much to do with you.

    In my experience, sometimes these are really lonely people who don’t get much chance to make connections with other people, and when they do they’re trying too hard. Being helpful is one way people try to make connections. They’re just going overboard with this one way.

    1. “You can pour something into their lap. Preferably something not hot and non-staining. You can make it look accidental or no.”

      No, you can’t.

      Don’t do that, ever.

      1. yeah, coffee-table example is screwy as well and could come off as ‘i am going to hit you if you dont stop doing the thing’ because its’ physical aggression in the same space. (that’s what my “relative did this once as a child and it terrified me” reaction is anyway)

    2. “You can bang your head on the coffee table a few times.”

      Ahahaha, I’ve had conversations that made this a good idea.

      “You can take their hand. Maybe turn it over and gently poke the base of their thumb. ”

      YOW no. Nopety nope. Do not touch. No touchies. Taking someone’s hand* is such a control move that I will take it as a physical attack.


      * romantic partners = not the current topic

  35. I both have this friend, and I am sometimes this friend. I can’t speak for everyone else who does this, but for me, I offer suggestions because I’m excited for you. If I were in a new space, I’d be super excited about paint colors and decorating/arranging it and I’d want to talk about it to (literally) everyone. I am assuming you also want to talk about it, so in my mind, we’re having a conversation about an awesome thing, together, bouncing ideas off of each other on a super fun, exciting topic. (I do try to frame it as, “Were this me, I’d put the couch there, because [reasons]. Tell me what you’re thinking!” as opposed to “You should” or “Have you thought of” statements.) I enjoy things more when I have a conversation about it, so in my mind, I’m giving you that opportunity.

    I strongly suspect that my overly suggestive friend is coming from a similar place, and that helps me not be annoyed by her suggestions. Sometimes she has really great ideas that I actually hadn’t considered, and sometimes, she’s totally off base. So I do my best to actually listen to her, take what I can use and ignore the rest. She doesn’t appear to be offended if I totally ignore her suggestions, and if I emphatically tell her that I am really not interested in pursing some avenue, she respects that. If I take one of her suggestions, she enthusiastically helps me carry it out. She’s doing it because she cares, not because she thinks I’m doing it wrong.

    LW, you shared that you thought your friend really was happy for you, and you were looking for new ways to think about your response. If your friend is like mine (or like me, TBH), they ARE happy for you, and this is just how they are expressing it. Does that help?

    1. I bet a good part of the reason you and your friend can do this successfully is that you take the other’s taste into account in your advice. You know to give ‘move this one picture here and then you can put these three pictures there’ suggestions to the person who believes that there cannot be too much wall art. Never to the person whose decor is minimalist.

      The problem with a lot of Opinion Dumps is that they are what the Advice Giver would want, without reference to what the Dumpee likes.

    2. LW here. The thing with the couch is – the couch was already in place. And I had no plans to move it. Yet the words “I have no plans to move it” just would not come out of my mouth.

  36. LW, are you friends with my mother?? Nah, on second thought, my mother’s comments would be a lot more critical and if I had left the room for a second, the couch would have been moved to where she wanted it.

    1. Ha, I thought I was the only one with parents who would do that. Or rearrange my closet, etc.

  37. Dear LW,

    First, let me focus on the most important thing at the moment in your life: your new apartement! Yay! Fantastic! Congratulations! I send you virtual rye bread and salt which is a traditional present in my culture for everyone moving to a new house (I believe they represent a symbol of prosperity and luck). All the unsolicited advice aside: please, enjoy your new home to the fullest. Having a first own home is a huge deal.

    … and then to the less happy part: people who give unsolicited advice, who stick their nose to where it should not be and who make happy things less happy and all about themselves. Unfortunately, they are everywhere, even in the circles one would not believe to find them. I do not know whether this will help you feel less anxious or not, but this happened to someone I know a few years ago. This is a story about a young woman, let’s call her Jane (and let’s also state that Jane gave her permission to tell her story).

    Jane is a very friendly person, but has also had a rough life so she is anxious and traumatized and suspected to be on the autism spectrum – but then, by a lucky chance, Jane happened to find herself a very friendly and well educated therapist, a middle-aged lady who understood her immediately. It took a while for Jane to trust this therapist as she had trust issues but then she decided to do everything in her power to trust and slowly but steadily her mental health began to improve. She got used to visiting this friendly therapist, to seeing her calming room which stayed the same… Until one day when she came in to find her therapist clearly agitated and the room very different than it had used to be. “Are you all right?” Jane asked the therapist. She shurgged and looked quite unhappy. “My colleague came in and altered my room”, the therapist told her. “I tried to stick to my boundaries but she did not give up – and look at it!” Suddenly Jane got an idea. “Tell her, that your autistic client got very anxious of the changes so you had to change everything back”, she told the therapist. She relaxed immediately. They put everything back as it used to be and the therapy continued. The therapist did just what Jane had suggested and her colleague understood.

    I guess the moral of this story (if there is any) is that this happens everywhere. One would probably assume that therapists would not give unsolicited advice, but apparently they do, too. I wonder if I do that, too, without even noticing. Giving advice might make people feel like they are important, that they have power. As some here have suggested, there might be envy or fear behind this kind of behaviour – but it might not be important to know why. The Captain gave very good advice and scripts which I am also going to adopt. Unfortunately you are not the only one suffering from people like this.

    I know a few people like this and I have found one trick which always works: give the advice-giver one particular area to focus their efforts to, perhaps something you do not care so much about yourself. When the floodgates of unsolicited advice open, throw them off by enthusiastically exclaiming: “Oh, you are just the perfect person to help me pick matching throw pillows/choose the house plants/plan a house warming party…” Choose something real in which they can really help with but also something you do not have strong opinions on yourself. They become very happy to be considered and probably enthusiastically dive in to help.

    Stick to your boundaries – and most of all, be happy. It’s your new home, your rules. Yay!

    1. “I have found one trick which always works: give the advice-giver one particular area to focus their efforts to, perhaps something you do not care so much about yourself. When the floodgates of unsolicited advice open, throw them off by enthusiastically exclaiming: “Oh, you are just the perfect person to help me ”

      Glad this works for you. Does not work for everyone.

    2. You are right, it does not work in every situation. I should have been more specific: I only use this “trick” with people who a) I know I want to stay in good terms with – or who are probably going to be in my life for a long time, for example family members, relatives and close friends who only give unsolicited advice in certain very specific situations and b) in situations related to studying or working. According to my experience it is mostly useless to use this much energy to casual acquintances or people who are not that good of a friend. I find being in the receiving end of unsolicited advice so exhausting that I usually just end up avoiding people who are prone to give them.

      Of course, there are always people who are in one’s life for better or for worse and who just do not seem to be able to conrol their advice giving. I have probably been lucky: my ex-mother-in-law was like that, but when I found out that it was her way of trying to express her desire to be useful it made it easier to find her tasks she could perform (luckily, she was also skilled and efficient).

      Perhaps the why of it, the reason behind this kind of behaviour does matter, if one cannot just shake the annoying advisor off. Probably giving the advisor a specific task works best if the reason behind giving advice comes from a good place: for example, my ex-mother-in-law was used to being needed and had fallen in a certain pattern of communication with her grown-up children. The same might apply to an overly enthusiastic yet friendly advisor – but is probably less useful if the reason behind giving advice is the desire to control or critisize.

  38. I once had an interior decorator friend come over. People ask her for advice all the time. But I hadn’t. And all she said was, “THAT is adorable!” about some furniture. That’s an example to follow, helpful advice givers of the world. If I wanted her advice, it was an opening to ask. If I didn’t, she was a gracious guest, end of story.

    When my kids were little and justified whatever nuisance they were causing a younger sibling with, “I’m trying to help!” I’d say, “It’s not help unless the other person wants help.” It might be showing off, manipulating, being an officious pain in the ass, bubbling over with wonderful ideas and imagination, not knowing what else to say, earning your good deeds merit badge, etc., but it’s not exactly help. So I test myself if I’m thinking what I’m being is helpful against whether the other person expressly considers it help.

    One more thing on well meaning people with too many pointed opinions coming out that sound like criticisms: I have a friend like this and eventually found it hellish to receive the onslaught of constant opinions and advice. When I asked them to cool it, adding that I felt crushed, they bubbled on about their gifts of analysis and teaching, why their childhood makes them do it, and how they actually were right… This is not the response to give if somebody asks for less advice. It resulted in us having pretty much nothing to talk about after that.

    1. “It’s not help unless the other person wants help.”

      I want to cross-stitch this and hang it on the wall.

    2. I wonder how much of the lack of unprompted advice was that she was aware home decor advice was something she usually gets paid for! I have noticed sometimes it feels like ‘likelihood of giving unprompted unwanted advice about a subject’ seems to be in a bell curve chart of how much you actually deal with the subject on a day to day basis and if you usually get paid for your advice. (Obviously, willingness to give advice when asked is a different ballgame.)

      1. I can tell you that, as an English professor, I never comment on anyone’s grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc., unless they specifically ask me to do so. That’s because 1) the purpose of language is to communicate, and as long as the idea is clear, I’m good, and 2) I want people to feel like they *can* ask me stuff without being judged. I suspect this designer believes that the purpose of interior design is to make people feel comfortable and happy in their homes, and if you’re happy, she’s happy. 🙂

        1. I’m an editor, and ditto. If people want me to comment on their grammar, spelling, punctuation, or writing, they ask me. Or, even better, they pay me.

  39. “The world won’t swallow you if you acknowledge your friend’s kind intentions while shutting down the behavior.”

    Hoooooly shit, this, this, this, this, THIS. I have both of these problems: being a chronic advice giver and also fearing the worst will happen if I dare tell someone I care about that they need to knock it off. Through COPIOUS amounts of therapy I’ve come to connect my advice-spew problem as part of the way I was raised, and have also recognized that it comes from my own need to manage everyone’s emotions into “everyone is okay and therefore i am okay!!!!” Other unsolicited advice-givers, once you recognize that “Hey, this has no effect on me whatsoever!” it is SUCH a weight off of your shoulders. I highly recommend it.

  40. It can be a gift if you tell your friend to stop doing this.

    Sometimes we fall into habits that other people find annoying and we really just need someone to say “Friend. CAN YOU NOT?”

    In my case, I have a personality where I make frequent use of rude sarcasm and dark humor. When I meet new people, I let this side of me come out slowly over time because some people can’t read it, and it is not for everyone. One summer, I moved in with a friend whom I had known for a year, and she seemed to be on board with this side of me. One day, after living together for a few weeks, I jokingly teased her about something . She just looked at me and said “that was mean.” It was meant in jest, but I apologized and realized that I needed to tone it down because living together had just increased our exposure to each other so much. I made adjustments and we are still friends several years later. I would’ve been really sad if she just let her feelings fester and then never hung out with me again.

    Please do your friend a favor and give her a chance to correct this behavior she might not have noticed as problematic 🙂

  41. “Unsolicited advice is exhausting and helpful intentions don’t make it less exhausting.”

    I feel like I should frame this as a needlepoint and send it to my mother for Christmas. 😂

  42. LW, congratulations on your new home! So exciting. It’s particularly exciting when you’re setting out on life in a new place, working out how your existing stuff is going to fit in and dreaming about what you’ll keep and what you’ll replace eventually. I wish you many many happy daydreams on your own terms.

    I hope you didn’t feel obliged to move a single thing as a result of your friend’s visit and I’m sorry the first comments you got were so caught up in rearranging things before you’ve had a chance to give your own arrangements a good test run.

    Seconding the Captain’s advice and scripts, and congratulations again. 😀

  43. Yabbut. What if you have a friend who frequently says things that are screaming out for advice? Or…something that I cannot for the life of me figure out?

    “I’ve been coughing for two weeks straight, and people at my office are complaining! I mean I was coughing so hard yesterday I passed out in the bathroom, why are they being jerks about me touching their stuff?” “I lent my boyfriend my credit card, and he charged $1000 more than I said he could! Now he wants to borrow my bank card! Ugh! Men!” “My sister called me all bitched out b/c I was supposed to babysit her toddler Saturday morning and I forgot! She screamed at me and called me unreliable and then she started crying! She’s such a drama queen!”

    (I’m exaggerating. By 10%, I would say.)

    I want to say things like “Go to the doctor, JFC” “Don’t give your boyfriend your bank card, JFC,” and “Cut your sister some slack, JFC,” but I don’t, because it’s unsolicited advice and she’ll give all kinds of reasons for why she’s right. And I can’t say what it seems like she wants to hear, which is, “Oh, you poor thing! Your coworkers should be fussing over you, not worrying about their own health,” “OMG men! Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em!” and “God, like your sister never overslept in her life?” I mean I could, but it wouldn’t sit well with me. So I either don’t respond, or I say something noncommittal and change the subject, and I feel like a crap friend.

    Obviously, the OP’s situation is quite different, because she’s expressing completely innocuous sentiments. Just wanted to point out that sometimes people get unsolicited advice for darn good reasons.

    1. ha ha, this is true. I know someone who complains about all the unsolicited advice they get, but they pretty regularly complain to people in detail about fairly fixable problems that they never fix and very few can resist pointing out the obvious.

    2. I think it’s fair in a situation like that to say “if it bugs you so much, you can do X” and then if they seem to prefer complaining to fixing, telling them you’re done listening to them complain about it.

    3. I hear this and can see it wearing very thin very fast. I suggest trying out scripts like “Wow that sounds stressful. What do you think you’ll do?” (redirect toward action) and/or “are you looking for suggestions or just venting?”

      You can go small doses on these conversations for sure!

      1. captain and BigDogLittleCat, this is good advice. I’m expecting her to police _my_ boundaries when that’s my job, not hers. I’m going to ask/redirect going forward. If that doesn’t help, I’ll go small doses on these convos and up our positive interactions (stealing advice from Letter #1044).

    4. I tend to respond to this with either “That sounds tough, what do you think you’re going to do about it?” (which redirects conversation away from venting), or “Do you want advice on this?” (which gives them room to say no, but also gives me room to say “OK, that’s fine (that you don’t want advice right now). I don’t think I can help with this, though. What did you think of tv show this week?”)

    5. Actually sympathy in this situation is a pretty good solution. “Aw, that’s too bad” sounds just about right.
      You can also phrase advice as I-statements. Just stay on the subject and start talking about yourself. “When I was coughing that hard a few years ago, I went to a doctor, well, a walk-in clinic actually where you don’t need an appointment and just see a nurse practitioner. It took me a while to find parking because it was hidden in the back. Well anyway, they had the neatest check-in set up with a computer instead of a receptionist, but I only had to wait a half hour, and then what do you know, turns out I had bronchitis which wasn’t going to get better on its own, but the prescription she wrote fixed me right up …”

    6. I can understand why you feel a need to go ‘aaargghh, why don’t you just-‘ but interactions where one person vents and the other person takes the side of the people vented about are THE WORST. Not only are your friends not supporting you, they’re actively supporting the people who have hurt you.

      Friends might say ‘that was a dick move’ (if you didn’t babysit because you couldn’t be bothered) but they don’t tell you ‘your sister was right to scream at you.’ ‘That sucks. I can see her point; I’d have been angry too, but screaming is not ok’ both gets the point across and affirms the speaker. Then, when things have calmed down, you can ask what they’ll do so this won’t happen again. (Set an extra alarm, not agree to babysitting before 11am, communicate better.)

      If a person consistently vents about things that seem like no-brainers (why don’t you go to the doctor, why do you even contemplate giving him your credit card ever again), I would either go for the non-committal option and question why I am friends with them, OR dig deeper. WHY haven’t they gone to the doctor. WHY do they support the moocher. The obvious advice (see a GP, ditch the motherfucker) is also the advice that almost everybody can come up with themselves; the more ‘obvious’ advice is, the less it needs to be given. (See also: lose some weight, get a job, move to a better apartment… the more likely someone is to get advice from strangers after five minutes acquaintance (if that), the less they need the same from their friends.

    7. I’ve given this more thought and realize that “what’s stopping you from seeing a doctor” is a question that may well have answers worth listening to. “Because I’m stupid” is assumed to be the answer, but that’s not likely it. Off the top of my head: Expense, fears, bad experiences with doctors in the past, insurance difficulties, time off work.

      Same goes for “Why are you considering loaning your boyfriend you bank card after the bad experience last time?” Same goes for “What’s going on in your relationship with your sister where you flake out and disappoint and she screams and cries?”

      I’m not suggesting anyone rush straight to these questions, but thinking about the problem in these terms instead of “why don’t you just …” has a lot going for it.

      1. Clarry and Friendly Hipposcriff, I do think that the empathetic approach has merits, and that is the kind of friend I thought I wanted to be. And for the record, I have a couple of friends who occasionally let health problems slide because they straight-up have no money to treat them. I know what it’s like to be so short on money that your health suffers, and I absolutely do not have a WTF response to that. In this specific case, money, insurance, and time off work are 1000% not the reason for not seeing the doctor. The best explanation I can offer it is that this friend has serious blind spots in the areas of self-care and self-protection, and it’s hard to watch.

        “The more ‘obvious’ advice is, the less it needs to be given” is a brilliant aphorism, and it supports two points. First, like you both say, it’s not kind to take the side of the people vented about. I will adhere to that principle going forward. Second, if a solution that is “obvious” to me is not being taken, it’s a good sign that whatever is going on is beyond my experience and understanding.

        Taking that latter point further, I don’t know that as a friend, I need to go further than accepting that some things are beyond my ken, and deciding to offer sympathy without engaging (or drawing other boundaries). There’s a reason that therapists get paid hundreds of dollars per hour to delve into the WHYs of so-called maladaptive behavior: doing it right is exhausting and doing it wrong is exhausting and potentially harmful. My untrained, unlicensed, and unpaid ass is sure as hell not going to do it for free.

  44. I have a personal policy that any time I start to say, “Why don’t you just…” I am being an asshole and I must stop immediately. I have been known to get halfway into that phrase, stop, explain the policy, and apologize.

  45. I could have written this post! I did tell my friend to stop offering advice, which did not go well, but I am glad I did. There was some blowback much like the Captain said.

    Past examples: Hey friend who wears mascara every day, what brand of mascara do you use? (Because I wanted to up my hair/makeup game for job reasons, and I am looking for non-gluey, non-clumpy mascara.) Cue unsolicited advice about hair/clothing/makeup in a way that makes me think she hasn’t actually looked at me in the past 30 years with bonus, obviously you are a slob and need this advice badly. (Being a close friend, she sees me mostly in casual wear–like going camping, not workwear.) “Wearing your hair in a bun is easy and professional!” Um, hair in bun. Every. Single. Day. For at least 5 years. Plus hair too short now and you’ve seen me recently.

    Hey friend, check out new place! Friend: You need a rug. Yep, I know this (because who doesn’t need a rug) and are you planning to contribute to the rug fund ‘cos that shit’s expensive.

    Hey friend, I am excited about downsizing and making my furniture work in tiny apartment (see above). Friend: You can’t get rid of your couch. Where will I sit when I come over? (You’re not. Coming over, that is.)

    1. If you are still looking for mascara recs, I am having good luck with Benefit’s They’re Real!, which started out a bit wet and clumpy but after a few weeks has become magnificent. You can get it in a deluxe sample size, too, which is good. CoverGirl’s Clump Crusher has had good reviews although I’ve never tried it. And the princess from Essence has also been recommended quite a bit, for another cheap option.

      In general, mascara that promising lengthening will be less clumpy than one that promises volume. And leaving it for a bit to dry out also helps (but not too long because of the 3-6 month shelf life once opened.)

  46. Yeah I get this with some friends too. One telling me I should move to a cheaper place when my lease is us (when I want to stay) and another I should leave my long term job with very large employer where there’s for something of more value workwise for a different employer and I’m being negative for not wanting to give up flexible hours and long service leave accruals and would prefer to move elsewhere within my current large employer. I just shut down those conversations by not raising the topic with those who criticise and shut down the conversation when it comes up. I’ve also said shut down the convo things like I don’t need to make any fast decisions (ie the end of lease situation as I can stay on) as I’m not being made to move nor am I being made to jobseek. But yes can be very annoying.

  47. I’ve been on both sides of this conversation before.

    For a very long time (basically until I started reading CA), I legitimately did not know that people would complain about problems just to vent, not because they were looking for advise on those problems. I have for sure advised in cases where that was not what my interlocutor was looking for. My brain still goes into “fixer” mode when in conversations like this, but I am learning to ask if they’re venting or want advice before offering, and to couch my advice in terms like, “when a similar thing happened to me, I found xyz to be helpful, but your mileage may vary” or “that sounds tough, do you think xyz might be helpful?” rather than “you should” or “you have to.” It’s taken me a while to shift, though, and I still get it wrong sometimes. If I catch myself fast enough I stop and apologize, but I don’t always realize until later. If I had a friend who told me to stop advising during a conversation, my reaction would be to apologize and to feel grateful to them for pointing it out. Obviously LW knows their friend best to be able to guess what her reaction might be, I just want to throw some more evidence on the “this person might not react negatively to being told to stop advising” heap.

    On the other side, especially with regard to everyone who really gets annoyed by being told that the “have to read/watch/listen to xyz media,” I have one friend who says this sort of thing a lot. At first I found it a bit off-putting, but then I noticed that all of her family members talk like this, too, and that’s when I started to treat “you have to watch this show” as a weird (to me) language pattern that some people use instead of “I’m really enthusiastic this show.” Now I run phrases like this through my internal English-to-English translator, and they no longer bother me, and I can then respond with something like “I’m glad you’re enjoying it.” (but your mileage me vary.)

    1. For a very long time (basically until I started reading CA), I legitimately did not know that people would complain about problems just to vent, not because they were looking for advise on those problems.

      Same here; I’m of a very practical turn of mind myself and have little enough self-esteem, so the thought of taking up someone’s time and energy with problems that I wasn’t going to fix simply didn’t occur to me. And by extension I thought everyone else was like that.

      (Not that that’s what the LW is doing, of course – they just invited a friend round to see the house. Congrats on the house, LW!)

  48. I’ve found that my reaction to unsolicited advice is very dependent on how it’s phrased and whether it comes from someone who has actually bothered to learn about my tastes and interests. I really love getting advice from people who know my situation, are empathetic and prepared for me to reject the advice if I don’t think it is right for me. With those sort of people, even if the advice isn’t entirely positive or useful it can spark constructive discussions or contain some little snippet that can be stored away for later.

    I find it really annoying though when people haven’t made that effort to truly listen or to know me try to shove stuff down my throat based on what they like and a tenuous connection to something they sort of thought I said once. Why no, I don’t want to watch Game of Thrones because you vaguely remember that I like “medieval stuff” – for starters, I’ve always been upfront about detesting the use of physical, sexual and psychological violence in things I read and watch because of my past history, do you seriously think I’m going to traumatise myself just to please you? And secondly, if you had paid any attention at all you’d know that my interest in the Middle Ages lies in researching and reproducing the art, science and technology of the period as authentically as possible, so tell me again how a drama which revolves around politics and personal vendettas, set in a fantasy world with fictional creatures, intersects with that?

    I’m not very good at confrontation so I’ll mostly just murmur something non-commital (if the person seems well-meaning at heart), or actively avoid the person and rant privately (if they’re pushy and obnoxious). I’ll only bother to try and discuss things and set clear boundaries if it is someone I’m close to and want to spend time with on an ongoing basis, otherwise it’s just not worth the effort.

    My advice to the LW is to decide first how close she is or wants to be with this friend, and if she thinks it is worth investing the time and effort into the relationship to then be honest (but kind) about how the ‘advice’ makes her feel and work out mutually agreeable boundaries for this kind of behaviour.

  49. My mom’s bad about giving advice in response to happy news*. I ended up telling her – hey, I need to be able to be happy for a little bit before you tell me what I can do better. Hasn’t made her stuff go away but has been very helpful in having established something I can refer to whenever she does it, so she can hop learn (seems like she wants to).

    *and sad stuff but I’ve had to approach it differently

    Yay for your new place, LW!

    1. I have to do this with my mom about anything, but I usually phrase it as “right now I need you to hear me and sympathize with me more than I need anything else.” So far it seems to be working alright, but I dread the day it doesn’t.

  50. In case you needed further encouragement, it’s not rude to say, “Thanks, but I’m not looking for advice, I like everything the way it is.” If you utter the words in a pleasant tone of voice and your friend takes offense, that isn’t on you.

    And she might well not take offense.

  51. Alternative tv talk script: “show x that you’ve been watching is/sounds a bit like show y. I love show y because [reasons]” – you can talk about the things you like about the show you think your friend might like without putting any pressure on them to watch it. That way they can ask you to help hook them up if they’re interested or you can just have a fun conversation sharing things you like about tv. (A “let me know if you ever want to try it” never goes astray if you want to emphasize that you’re not expecting anything)

    Also, if you’re in the process of trying to break advicey habits and a “you just /have/ to watch this” slips out, an easy save is to acknowledge that you didn’t mean it literally – a light/joking “sorry, of course you don’t actually /have/ to, but I do think you’d enjoy it!” usually works, especially if you field the conversation back to them, eg “but anyway, tell me more about this cool show you’re into!”

  52. What’s worked me is just stating my preference and changing the subject.

    Her: You should move your couch over there!
    Me: Nah, I like it where it is.
    Her: Yeah, but REASONS!
    Me: You may have a point but I like still like it where it is. + subject change

  53. I think I’m a bit of an unsolicited advice-giver and it SUUUUUCKS. Not that anyone has told me, but I also have an unsolicited advice giving relative as a lodger and I realise that if I bitch about anything I get the mantra of Have-you-tried-you-should-try and I feel incredibly condescended to, and I realised that I do the same thing and it sucks (and therefore I need to stop my sucky habit).
    I am suddenly hyper aware that my people-pleasing-must-help-ALL-the-peoples tendencies are doing the exact same thing. It’s a tough habit to break, but I have started re-framing my advice as X worked for me, or, I’ve heard good things about Y, but (Situation) sucks. If I know something directly relevant and helpful then yay, but I’ve definitely had to bite my tongue or rephrase something while I’m saying it, so deeply embedded is this habit *sigh* I do hate the word Should with the fire of a thousand flaming suns, though, so I do avoid the you-shoulds when I do veer into advice territory. I hope there’s not someone in my circle who is thinking of writing this letter about me.

    So, LW, my comment is deeply unhelpful but I want to say that it sucks that your friend is like that, it might not be coming from a place of malice but obliviousness is no excuse. I hope your friend learns to change.

  54. I am a recovering advice-giver myself so my perception may be skewed, but in reading over all the great comments here, one thing stuck out a bit.

    I love all the suggestions folks are having on how to work things through, and I think it really is great that folks are trying to come off softer in their advice-giving interactions, truly, but just rephrasing your advice as “a suggestion that worked for me!” isn’t likely to completely solve the basic problem of too-much-input from person A about person B’s life, choices, decor, clothes, hair, diet, toothpaste, non-dairy milk choice, sig other, fill-in-the-blank.

    If you’re the sort of person who tends to make unsolicited suggestions at all to other folks about their choices, you’re possibly also the sort to make a number of them in a fairly short period of time. Rewording it isn’t necessarily going buffer an approach that likely involves multiple events in a short period of time.

    If you find yourself trying for the third time in any given conversation to re-frame your advice as “not actually advice, really! I’m just free associating suggestions!” just keep in mind that you’ve probably hit your suggestion quota for the day, and anything else your loved one is doing incorrectly or inefficiently from that point on can probably wait to be pointed out or weighed in on until another conversation.

    And preferably, for the sake of your relationship, not in the very next convo you have.

    (Why yes, I HAVE learned this from the wrong side of the equation. The hard way.)

    1. Yep.

      I’ve started to ask myself: “what harm/bad thing/immediate consequence will there be if I *don’t* say anything?”

      99% of the time, the answer is ‘nothing’. The sky won’t fall, my friend won’t be APPALLED that I didn’t say anything, Breaking Stranger Thrones’ ratings won’t plummet into nothingness…you get the picture. So WHAT if the house isn’t “optimally” clean/decorated, or my friend doesn’t watch [fave show] or try [cool new restaurant]? It’s really helped me put my ‘advice’ into perspective and curb my enthusiastic impulses.

      Of course, I slip up a lot, but I think this questions helps put the onus on ME, the unsolicited-advice-giver, rather than asking my friends to pull out their boundaries.

      1. Exactly!

        I am horrible at conversations, and the thing is that sometimes what I would do in their situation is the only thing that pops into my head, besides “hmmm”, “really”, “gosh”, “ok”, etc. Not saying anything except non-committal space fillers feels really strange, but I have to remind myself that Person B probably still prefers that to the ass-vice conversational alternative.

        One of these days I may get better at conversations. But it would probably be safer not to hold my breath while I’m waiting.

    2. Yeah. There are certain people in certain situations where when they do give advice, ai am kind of interested, because they are so judicious and rare in giving it that the chance that it might actually be something useful to me is much higher than usual.

  55. “Well, this wouldn’t happen if you were running Ubuntu!”

    AAAAAAGHHHH!!! I hate this so much! Yes, I bought a Mac ten years ago, and yes, there are some differences between that and Windows, and yes, there are some things I cannot do/run on Mac, but this “advice” is absolutely and completely unhelpful.

    As for advice about what to watch/read/listen to, etc., I think the best way to express it is to 1) ask, “Have you seen/heard/read/etc. X?” and then follow it with 2) “I love X!” The advice to check it out is implied, but also firmly attached is “if you’re into that,” which not everyone will be.

    Now I just need to train myself to follow that advice about the things I get enthusiastic about. Human being, here, and this is definitely one of my faults, when I get on my hobby horse.

  56. I used to get tons of unsolicited advice when I was younger. Just TONS. I don’t know why, but everyone wanted to run my life for me. I couldn’t go to the grocery store without some halpy stranger advising me that I needed to buy organic/shouldn’t waste my money on organic, needed to buy the bigger Cheerios to be thrifty/needed to buy the smaller Cheerios so they wouldn’t go stale. One time I procrastinated on buying my nephew’s birthday present and then wanted it sent second-day air. I could barely get the PakMail guy to do it, because he was sure he knew better that I shouldn’t waste my money. Multiply by ten for people who actually knew me.

    I didn’t know this was strange in any way, in much the same way that fish don’t know they’re wet. I just assumed other people were better at not letting other people run their life. When I joined my church, I was in a covenant group where part of the covenant was “we do not give advice unless asked”. As soon as I heard that, I knew I had found my people.

    It got better as I got older, so that’s a relief, anyway.

  57. LW – I so hear you and wish I could help! My female in-laws have never bought a house with money they earned in their entire lives. Yet they delight in visiting here, to our house paid for with money earned by me, and pointing out every single thing wrong. Every undone repair. Every broken unfixed thing. (Their relative, my husband, doesn’t do repairs, I have to hire someone for all the repairs, painting, etc that I can’t do. He has other qualities, home repair is not one of them. ) There are a million lovely features to this house and we love it. It suits us, it is not a mansion. It is also not a crumbling wreck. It is far beyond anything I ever thought I could live in. I get repairs, replacements, decoration, etc. as money allows. I have been so tempted to say to them, “Well I am sure in the house you bought with your own money everything was perfect – oh wait – you never bought a house with our own money did you? Sorry, never mind.” But I haven’t. And do they tell HIM? No they tell me! Oh there’s a rip on the carpet. Oh, the doorbell’s broken. And so on. Never mind the curtains and furniture and paint and oh never mind. You get the picture. LW – I know. We are sisters under the skin with critics driving us crazy. Invite me over sometime – I’ll tell you how great you are doing!

    1. The only things that stopped the insults from some in-laws (past and present) were:

      1) informing them that whatever they were complaining about was something DH was working on, and he was just so slammed, I didn’t feel right making him feel bad about it.

      “Gosh, I know. That broken doorbell is really annoying. But DH insists he’s getting that fixed, and he’s so slammed at work, I would feel horrible even bringing it up.”

      “That ripped carpet? Yeah, I bought the supplies to patch that with, but DH wants to take care of it, and he’s so slammed at work it just makes him feel awful when anyone mentions it.”

      “DH insisted on doing all the cleaning for your visit this time, since the last few times I’ve had to do all of it, and I think he did a great job. But he’s been so slammed at work, he didn’t get as much time to tackle it as he wanted. I’d hate for him to feel bad after all the work he put into it.”

      The minute they realized they were making HIM feel bad, boy, they fell all over themselves insisting everything was GREAT. Lather, rinse, repeat. If you can get your DH to play along, it can work even better.


      2) never again inviting them to our house, and any time someone suggests getting together with them, we all go out to a restaurant instead. I love #2, myself. But it’s not always possible in all cases.

      Sending you sympathy! It’s annoying being on the receiving end of the Sneer Brigade. Here’s hoping you can get your DH to run some interference. They’re his family, so it may be easier for him to block their nonsense, so you’re not bearing the brunt of it.

      1. Oh my gosh AndyL you are a genius!! An excellent example of how fury shuts down the brain cells. I will totally do that next time. I cannot express what a great idea this is. As far as inviting them – hahahahah – they don’t need no stinkin’ invitation! When we were both working 50 hour weeks, his mother showed up here at 6 am on a Saturday with a friend of hers. (I went back to bed.) It got down to divorce time and he would NOT say anything so I finally called them all and told them I have to have 3 days notice before they show up to spend the night. I told them I have a mental disorder and they can. not. show up with no notice and expect to spend several days here. They think there is something wrong with me, and there probably is but that stopped that. Your idea is awesome and I thank you so much!!!

        1. … and here’s where I admit I feel extra silly offering unsolicited advice in a comment for a letter about how to stop unsolicited advice. (GIGANTIC eyeroll at myself… not as recovered as I thought!)

          Thrilled you could find it useful, though!

          Honestly, it’s taken so much negativity out of visits for me. It can be hard dealing with folks from the “June Cleaver” generations WRT housekeeping expectations. Everything inside the house, I get blamed and shamed. Outside, and car stuff? DH gets blamed and shamed. They just don’t get that many folks had a lot more free time back then.

          1. And June Cleaver wasn’t June Cleaver! (I saw an interview once of.that actress. She felt guilty about what her character has done to women – speaking of self inflicted blame and shame.) I write crime fiction so any free time I “should” have for such stuff, I spend creating mayhem on paper. We are as recovered as we need to be. The saints of olden times got pretty violent, and the stuff we put up with, they would be hard pressed to handle as well as we do, (as well as YOU do at any rate) so no more eye rolling.

  58. Hello LW – congratulations on your house!

    I’d say something to your friend. If she is really your friend, she 1) is acting in good faith 2) should be horrified to learn that her good intentions have a bad outcome. She might have NO IDEA that you are upset by her behaviour and is therefore ladling it on thick to make sure you can tell her intentions are good. If she is acting in bad faith, best you clear the air now, because that’s a bigger problem.

    I say this as someone who once watched a friend’s husband invite himself into someone’s home and then immediately tell the host that they needed to knock out some internal walls and redo their entire ground floor layout. After this was done, the host merely said, “Great advice, but as we’re renting that will be tough.” Hoo boy.

    But I also say this as someone who once gave a ‘friend’ some unsolicited advice, in good faith, because I thought I was helping – only to learn years after the fact (and years after we’d stopped speaking) that she took it as an act of extreme aggression. But she never said anything to me about this mistake of mine, only spent the entire time we were in a friendship group complaining about me to others, sabotaging my relationships at every turn, and then eventually getting me excluded from the group. I found out through a blog post where she made it clear her upset at that advice meant she was never my friend, although the things we did together over the years did fool me. All she had had to do right at the start was tell me I was wrong – I would have apologized immediately and never made that mistake again. It was a horrifying thing to read, how she spent years cataloging all my actions as further proof of my failings, when I had literally no idea this was happening. If you’re her friend, don’t you want to give her the chance to put things right? And if you’re not her friend, why keep up the charade?

  59. So, I am a helper. I grew up with parents who made me responsible for their marriage, my brother, the abuse my father was committing; I grew up feeling that ‘relationships exist on the premise that my value is in helping’ and ‘if people are unhappy, it’s my fault.’ It has taken therapy and practice to stop habitually trying to help. Advice is not a power trip, for me, it’s a safety move, a way to block off panic.

    I have had friends softly and bluntly tell me to butt out. They have told me that what I think of as an expression of care and love comes off as not trusting them to be ok and that it often comes off as superiority. That was hard to hear. What my friends didn’t do was assign me all kinds of motives that I was manipulative and fragile. They asserted boundaries then let me deal with my feelings. Which I did.

    OP, if your friend shows genuine good will and is a kind person, could you consider trusting that this will not be a huge feelingsbomb of disaster? Could it be that your friend is capable of changing and that you using your words can bring a new sense of respect, for yourself and her?

    1. ‘relationships exist on the premise that my value is in helping’ and ‘if people are unhappy, it’s my fault.’

      Wow. Wow wow wow. I’m writing that down and taking it to my next counseling appointment. Thank you.

  60. I’m late to the post, but I once accidentally blurted something that really worked, so I’m posting it.
    A newish, young enthusiastic friend once, very enthusiastically, started telling me something foodstuff/health related, and I said, “Well, yes, I have this thing though, I really hate being told what to do.”
    She immediately apologized that she had not realized that was what she was doing. It wasn’t even slightly awkward, I’ll use it again..

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