I have a friend who, for a long time, was a very chill person but as of late they seem to find fault in all I do and shame me for it.
For example: I’ll talk about a cute guy, and they will point out all the ways the guy is a bad dude or how I’m fetishizing being gay, somehow. Which is weird, because, how can you fetishize your own sexuality? Or I’ll bring up a piece of media I enjoy and they’re quick to point out every issue within the show, or I’ll even make an innocent joke about my own writing and suddenly the joke is under a microscope being picked apart.
I’ve spoken to them about the issue, even proposed we have a sort of signal (specifically, an emoji to include alongside our statements) along the lines of ‘this emoji means I just want to talk about this thing and not analyze it beneath a moral compass’. But even the most innocent statements seem to warrant a judgmental rant. They make me feel ashamed to the point I just don’t want to talk to them about anything anymore.
I’m a queer man with some shame-based trauma. This person knows that, and yet, it doesn’t feel respected, even after asking them to please keep this in mind during our discussions.
This friend and I are in a rather close knit group chat, so I don’t really have a means of stepping away easily and so I have to just face them and I try to suck it up but it seems relentless sometimes. I understand that there are morality issues everywhere one goes, but I just want to talk and chill out sometimes. If I want to talk about morality, I’ll talk about morality.
Any advice on how to get along better with this person or to avoid further upset with them? Are there any particular things I could say to deflect these unwarranted discussions?
Hi! This friend sounds really difficult and annoying, and I’m sorry you’re being subjected to that!
Two questions to start us off:
1) Do you think this person is still your friend? Have you had the “Hey, why do you jump all over me like this? What’s really going on here? Because when you tell me that everything and everyone I like is not good enough, it makes me feel like I am not good enough. Is that your intent?” conversation with them?
2) What do the other people in the group chat say when your friend behaves like this? Do they speak up on your behalf or do they just go silent (which may be a sign that the behavior makes them very uncomfortable too but they don’t know what to say). Does your friend go after the other people the way they go after you, or is it only you?
I ask because, if the other people in the group chat are important to you and generally kind to you, in your shoes I’d be looking for ways to connect with them outside of that group chat (i.e. negotiate bilateral friendship agreements instead of this multilateral thing you have going).
It sounds like your past discussions of how you don’t like this behavior and your emoji code word are not working. I don’t think that’s because you weren’t clear, I think that it’s because your friend did not want to hear the message or change their behavior. This means it might be time to get more aggressive and direct about shutting this stuff down when it happens in the group chat, and also taking self-care steps to remove this person’s access to you after they say something rude or cruel.
How this could work in practice in the group chat:
You mention a cute guy or a piece of media you like, deploying your code word emoji.
Your friend begins a rant about how the thing you like is actually terrible.
Interrupt them. I know we’re taught never to interrupt people, but honestly, it’s so useful sometimes to say “Let me stop you there! I know aspects of x and y can be problematic, but I want to talk about the parts I like. Are you up for that?”
If they agree and stop it, good. If they really hate X and don’t want to talk about it at all if they can’t tear it apart, that’s fine, then they can just tell you, “Nope, can we change the subject?” or leave and come back to the chat another time.
There are plenty of things I enjoy that I know are problematic, and also plenty of creators and works that I can’t or don’t want to have a lighthearted discussion about (For example, Commander Logic and I know about alllllllllllll the critiques and probably agree with most of them, and yet we will watch Game of Thrones together until the last dragony frame, yet I definitely skip a friend’s annual celebration of Woody Allen’s birthday and avoid showing his films in my classes). We’re all negotiating our own complicated balance between compelling content and how much bullshit we can absorb at a given time. As the wonderful Trudy of Cinemacked.com often points out, media consumption does not equal activism. Trying to convince me I should like something I don’t or trying to convince me not to watch something I’m into is gonna be wasted effort.
The automatic belittling you’re getting is not cool, and I especially tire of the behavior in geek circles where the act of saying you like something immediately provokes a dominance display in the form of a lecture or an interrogation. When someone mentions that they like something you don’t like, it’s okay to say “X really isn’t for me, but what do you like about it?” or “X really isn’t my bag, but do you enjoy Y?”
In your case, Letter Writer, if your friend won’t stop even after you say something, try this: “Hey, remember how we talked about how I don’t like it when I say I like something and then you give a dissertation on why it’s bad? This is one of those times. Please stop.”
If they apologize and backtrack, chat on.
If they double down, say “If you don’t enjoy talking about x, that’s okay, but it’s not cool to crap all over the things I like. Knock it off.” Then, depending on their response or how you’re feeling, leave the conversation. “Welp, I can’t be more direct than that, so I guess I’m done for the day. Catch you all another time.”
And then leave/shut it down/exit/whatever.
If you can be consistent about doing this, the friend might get the message and stop doing the annoying thing so much. They might also get peer pressure from the rest of the group to stop. The first time you call them out publicly will be the hardest time. After that, things are either going to get a lot better or you’ll just know that the friendship isn’t salvageable.
For your crushes and your own writing, you can say “Hey, my crushes and sexuality aren’t really up for critique” and/or “Hey, when I share my writing with friends, what I’m looking for is affirmation, not criticism” and repeat the pattern – if the person gets it and backs off, continue the conversation. If they don’t, absent yourself and say why. “Ok, didn’t realize it was Police My Attractions Day in group chat. Gotta go!” and then leave. It’s not fair that you would have to leave when you’re not the one behaving badly, but I think it would be good for you to remind yourself that you don’t have to stay and “suck it up” and subject yourself to more unkind behavior about things that aren’t up for discussion.
Your shame reactions are internal to you, so I can’t really address them beyond saying it’s okay to like what you like, and maybe pushing back on friend’s crappy behavior will return some of the awkwardness to sender. I hope you have some good mental health support in place to work on those feelings!