#1168 and #1169: Friendship, Conversation, and TAKING TURNS

Here is #1168: “Is it unreasonable to want your friend to feign polite interest in your interests?”

Hey Captain,

I (she/her) have a close friend (he/they) who I’ve known for going on six years now. We originally met through real life things and bonded over having similar fandom-adjacent interests, although over the last few years our interests have diverged a bit.

Here’s the thing. When we hang out, they talk a lot about whatever they’re interested in at the moment – currently, it’s a bunch of bands. They’re really dedicated to these bands – like, to the point of going to multiple of their gigs all over the state, getting tattoos in the bassist’s handwriting, etc. – and while I personally have no active interest in these bands, I’m glad they’ve found something they like. I listen to my friend talking about them a lot whenever we hang out (which isn’t very often – maybe once every two months) and ask polite questions. They are aware that these bands are not in my wheelhouse, but even though it’s not my passion, I think part of being a good friend is showing polite interest in things your friends like.

However, when it comes to things I’m interested in – currently a Kpop group, a podcast, and my almost-finished medical degree – my friend changes the subject ASAP and doesn’t bother to ask a single question. I understand not wanting to hear hours and hours of talk about Korean awards shows or C-sections or whatever, because I know my interests are quite niche, and I do try to pick stories or topics which have more mainstream appeal and not ramble on too much, but I feel like I can only talk for a minute or two about things I like before the conversation swings back to my friend’s bands again. I’m not asking for them to be fascinated by my obsessions in the same way I am, just for them to return the same courtesy I extend to them – i.e. feigning polite interest for five minutes.

Also, when they don’t just hate my interests for no particularly good reason, they have some excuse about why they hate the thing I like so much they can’t bear to politely make conversation about it for five minutes – like, “someone I hate likes that podcast, so even though I haven’t listened to it I refuse to hear anything about it because now I associate it with this person”.

It’s hard for me to find other topics for me to talk about with them, since I don’t have much time for anything in my life at the moment other than my degree and my interests, and my friend won’t talk about politics or anything else that’s not, like, related to their life or interests.

This is a relatively small problem, but I’m not sure if I’m overreacting/have unreasonable expectations, or if this is genuinely something rude. I know it’s edging into Geek Social Fallacy territory, but I’m not asking for my friend to also be obsessed with my obsessions, just to be polite about them in the same way that I’m polite about their obsessions (which again, don’t interest me)! I like my friend a lot, and I don’t mind hearing them talk about their stuff because it’s nice to hear someone be passionate about something, but this (perceived?) lack of reciprocation is beginning to make me feel very neglected and unappreciated. We both have plenty of other friends, so it’s not like either of us desperately Needs the other person, but I would be sad to lose this friendship.

Should I say something about this to my friend? Should I just suck it up and accept that all our conversations will be primarily about their interests? Should I begin fading out of this friendship?


I Just Want To Be Asked One Polite Question

We’ll call this #1169: “My friend could replace me with a chatbot.” 


Long-time reader, thank you so much for the good work you do!

I have a non-neurotypical friend, who I became more close to after he had a falling out with one of his friends. We have a lot in common, including intersectional stuff. He has mentioned being non-neurotypical, and has problems gauging social cues. I have a lot of friends in the same boat. I only mention because it means I try to be more patient with him.

Months back, I noticed that he never asked me anything about myself, and when I’d try to talk he would go off on (only semi-related) ranty, negative monologues. It’s exhausting, and hard to get him to stop, to the point where I have to be careful what I talk about. I was second-guessing the energy I was investing into the relationship, so I carefully used my words about monologue-ing. He apologized, and improved.

Still though, he never says anything positive. We could be having the best time, in the coolest place, and he’d still find something that offends him. I’d be ok if we were discussing genuine hurts, but it’s usually things that don’t affect him at all. Or things that affect me, but not him, but I have to manage his reaction. I’m open to listen to venting (especially important things), but it’s like venting is all he does.

He rarely asks how I am. When he does (twice a month?), I mostly get grunts, or distant/neutral ‘huh.’ Not once, not ever, has he asked follow-up questions. Captain, I’m not boring! He just seems to stop listening. I probably know every detail of his life but I’d be surprised if he knows anything about me, but he’s usually the one to seek me out.

Lately I’ve been avoiding my favourite online videogame because he jumps online as soon as I do, and I don’t always have the energy to hear (negative thing) about (abstract thing). This week, I politely, light-heartedly disagreed with him on a neutral topic, and he stopped talking to me for about 20+ minutes, while playing the game in such a way that guaranteed we’d lose.

So – my experience is that he has improved when I’ve asked him to. But, I’m so drained. My question is: should I have brought up the negativity & the seeming lack of interest in my thoughts on things when I asked him to stop monologuing? Do I bother mentioning that it’s really not cool to ruin someone else’s game? Should I tackle this all bit by bit? Should I throw in the towel?

Thank you for any insight!
From, An Increasingly Tired Human

Hello, “One Polite Question” and” Increasingly Tired,”

I put your letters together because they have different roots but (in my mind) very similar solutions. Also, you both represent a common recurring question in my inbox. Thank you both.

I think that there is unlikely to be a single “let’s approach this problem straightforwardly” conversation you can have with either of these friends that will resolve this.

LW #1169, you tried being direct with your friend.“Please stop monologuing, it wears me out” and you got an apology and some effort, but not sustainable change and you’re still feeling drained by the friendship.

General Community Notice: I’m always very wary of running “This person is treating me badly, could it be because of their disability?” questions and I plan to do it a lot less, maybe zero more times, in 2019 because there is so much stigma around this and topic and the more we associate bad behavior with neurodivergences or mental illness the more we reinforce the stigmas, even when the actual discussions are meant to refute that very thing. I realize that the more neurotypical/more mental health-advantaged folks are asking because they WANT to stay engaged with the people they’re asking about, they want to give them a lot of benefit of the doubt, we’re meeting them when they’ve already tried some things that didn’t work and they are kinda at the end of their rope (nobody’s best self), and they want to double-check with us because they don’t want to be ableist or make things worse, but I think the accumulation of questions and the consistent framing really bum out the excellent, wonderful majority of neuro-divergent readers who are good caring friends to their friends and who do try to take turns talking and who don’t need to read another version of “Is this person behaving like a jerk or is it just that they have (common diagnoses) which, I am wondering, might be a special kind of Jerk Disease?”

So, I’d like to dam that question river a bit. Going forward, if a person in your life is making your life really difficult, and they aren’t responding to your kind and reasonable attempts at resolution and direct communication, instead of asking me “Is this because of their diagnosis?,” try going with “They have x diagnosis” AND “They are behaving badly/not meeting my needs” AND “I need this behavior to change so I can be okay/safe/happy in their company, so I’m going to ask them to fix it/tell them to knock whatever it is off/keep the conversation very focused on behaviors and what I need without trying to link any of it to their brain functions” and see what you get from there. Does it get better? If it doesn’t get better, do you want to keep trying or do you need to bail?

P.S. I made a post and a Venn diagram back in 2013 that should help with the romantic breakup subset of this question. Good talk, everyone, thank you. [/End of Notice]

In the case of the friend in #1169, we could talk about “can’t” vs. “don’t want to”, but while certain neurodivergences make picking up on social cues harder and a tendency toward monologuing more likely, direct requests are wonderful things. Most people who struggle a bit socially do not want to exhaust and drain their friends, even accidentally. They like being told what their friends need so they don’t have to guess and possibly screw it up. They might not be naturally smooth and amazing at all of it out of the gate, they might benefit from some patience and some gentle reminders, like, “Hey bud, you’re doing the thing again” (and my enthusiastic #ADHD ass sorely appreciates these reminders at times!), they might find it harder in times of stress, but if everybody does their best it’s usually fine. Also, EVERYBODY need to reminded about what their friends need sometimes, EVERYBODY needs to work on taking turns sometimes or being more patient and kind and thoughtful or whatever, it’s not like neurotypical people are all awesome at everything to do with human interaction and everyone else is second best – NOT EVEN CLOSE. EVERYBODY needs to be able to ask for what they need and honor those needs with the important people in their lives. Monologuing isn’t inherently bad, and trading monologues can be fun. Nobody has to be perfect or be the friendship tutor when the overall vibe is trusting and pleasant and respectful and caring.

Constantly steamrolling a friend, dumping all your negative thoughts on them after they’ve asked you not to, giving them the silent treatment and tanking a joint game session (a nonverbal social cue…that communicates displeasure) because your friend disagrees with you or sets a boundary, never making an effort to see how your friend is doing or learn anything about them isn’t because of a disability, it’s because of selfishness, maybe intentional, maybe a bad habit, definitely sucky. Letter Writer #1169, maybe your friend isn’t that interested in anything about your life. He doesn’t like being told no. He doesn’t like not having you totally available as his sounding board on demand. He doesn’t like having to think about whether you’re enjoying yourself. He’s willing to sulk and tank your whole time together if he doesn’t get what he wants. If you want to engage with him about this further, maybe try this:

“Friend, I know we talked about monologuing before, and I really appreciate your attempts to do better. But some stuff is still really bumming me out, and I need to tell you that my bandwidth for hearing rants and complaints is very small right now. Going forward, I’d appreciate it if you’d ask if I’m up for hearing about [problemzzzz] before you start the download. And it’s not cool to give me the silent treatment or try to tank our game play if I say no or disagree with you. What’s that all about?” 

If. Let’s hold onto that word while I talk to #1168.

LW #1168, you’re still wondering whether to even try having this conversation, but when I think about how dismissive your friend is – changing the subject ASAP and finding reasons to avoid even hearing about a thing you’re interested in every time you bring it up – it doesn’t bode well. I suggest trying to be very direct at least once: “Friend, did you realize you’re monologuing about xyz, but you haven’t asked me a single question? When we talk only about your interests but not any of mine, it really bums me out sometimes. Can you make more of an effort?” See what happens, at least you can tell yourself you tried. But keep your expectations very low.

You mention the Geek Social Fallacies, which remain useful to our general work at Captain Awkward Dot Com Enterprises, but I don’t think they are at play here, though there is principle at work here that could give you an interesting way to push back on your friend’s behavior and see what remains, if anything, to talk about.

Your understanding of reciprocity and conversation and friendship is that, by listening to a bunch of stuff you’re not really interested in, you’ve made a tacit bargain with your friend that they will also do some listening about subjects that they are not interested in, because your interest in each other overrides all. You’re not interested in their favorite band, but you’re interested in them, so you want to hear their take on things. And you think the reverse applies to you (and I also generally subscribe to this theory of reciprocity in friendship, you’re not silly for assuming or wanting this), but your friend is not acting as if that is true. They don’t think there is a bargain, whether by design or obliviousness, and they have no trouble saying “I’m not interested in that!” when they aren’t actually interested in what you’re talking about.

If you decide to keep engaging with this person (and we’ll pin your if next to #1169’s If on the If board), what if you tried paying more attention to your own interest levels and less to what you think of as polite? Not to be snarky or get back at them, but a neutral, “Hey, you’ve talked about that band for a while, and you know, I’m not really interested in thatfollowed by a subject change to something you are interested in? Do they follow you gracefully to the new subject?

(Based on what you describe in your letter, I predict either a fauxpology that ends with you comforting them for how bad they make you feel OR a weird huff where the person doubles down on why your interests are “objectively” Less Interesting, but you never know, you might get a “Oh, no worries!” and then an enjoyable subject change, and realize, hey, I could have tried this all along. It’s worth a try before you blow everything up?)

Back to those “If” questions:

  1. Letter Writers, do either of you think your friends think about this problem even 10% as much as you do or try even 10% as hard as you do to be good friends to you? (25%? 50%? 5%? 0%? Other?)
  2. What do you think would happen to the friendships if you stopped trying so hard to manage your friends’ feelings, listen to their interests, get them to pull their weight?
  3. How much effort, if any, do you want to spend on fixing or managing this?

Ultimately, this is why I put these two questions together. My recommended solution in both situations is the same, mentioned in another post:

…if there is a friendship or other relationship that makes you feel like a pair of mismatched socks, what if you stopped trying so hard to make it work or fix it? Stop coaxing, stop auditioning, stop trying to convince people of your awesomeness, do other things with your time, see where you are. 2019 is a good time for trying new stuff. ❤

You don’t have to make a tough or dramatic decision to end the friendship forever, or have a big friendship summit and renegotiate things. If there are still things you enjoy about interacting with these people sometimes, see them sometimes And, overall, do much less work:

  • You don’t have to argue, or persuade, or call everyone to account.
  • You don’t have to fix it.
  • Engage when you want to, in small doses.
  • Enjoy what there is to be enjoyed, be pleasant, don’t start conflicts.
  • Disengage when it’s not enjoyable.
  • Listen to and respect your own enjoyment/energy levels. You’re feeling drained? This is not a day to even try engaging with Possibly Draining Friend. You feel drained every time you interact with this person? Maybe they’re not a good fit for you and it’s time to just stop.
  • If you stop doing all the work, and the friendship ends due to inertia, oops, oh well!
  • If you stop doing all the work, and the friendship ends b/c the other person is mad at you (and unwilling to do any work), oops, oh well!
  • Keep your expectations low – you know what these people are like, they are unlikely to change, so don’t be surprised when they behave like themselves. You chose to engage for a bit, so keep your sense of humor and choose to enjoy it. When you stop enjoying it, time to be done with Skype/video games, etc. for the day. Maybe some other time.
  • If people cross your boundaries, tell them, as directly and neutrally as possible. “We said no monologuing, right?” “Oh, I’m not interested in that band.” 
  • Resist the urge to be someone’s “pity friend” or make endless excuses or search for reasons it’s not their fault when someone doesn’t treat you well. Being a jerk, crossing boundaries, never showing interest in your friends and their lives, reacting badly when friends give you feedback about what they need are all actions with predictable consequences (people will want you to be around you less). If these folks have a hard time holding onto friendships, it’s not a mystery why, you don’t have to solve it or make up for a cruel world at your own expense!
  • Instead, put your energy into friendships and activities that nurture and feed you in return, with people who understand what a gift they are getting. 

Happy 2019. Do less work on being friends with people who are doing zero work on being good to you.





298 thoughts on “#1168 and #1169: Friendship, Conversation, and TAKING TURNS

  1. Quoting: If you stop doing all the work, and the friendship ends due to inertia, oops, oh well!
    If you stop doing all the work, and the friendship ends b/c the other person is mad at you (and unwilling to do any work), oops, oh well!

    And that, right there, is why I haven’t seen my dad in over a year nor talked to him in more than 18 months; because I was doing all the work and I just… stopped. And he did… not step up in any way. In fact, I received a bonus round of hate snail mail about being a terrible daughter and terrible person!
    And yes, that was unpleasant, and some days I still cry about it, but good god damn, I have my own life back. The energy I wasted trying to get my letters and messages and statements just so, just perfect, so he could see how much he hurt me… yup, none of that worked, because he WANTED me to do all the work. And now I don’t.

    1. I had a similar experience with my Mother. It was white the release to realize that I could just walk away and stop trying so hard to be what I was expected to be. Now I can just be me.

    2. Same. I stopped putting in all that work &, oh well, got divorced. Guess he wasn’t that great of a friend after all. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    3. roramich – your sencond paragraph, hard right? expectaions are the hardest to let go. yeah i felt like i was doing so much thinking about my dad, and what was said, what was done, things he said which were very telling of his real thoughts. yeah the: why wont you stop defending yourslf and just listen to what im explaining, trying to get each sentence to convey the right meaning with out it causing uproar. not a terrible relationship now, but you hurt for what you could have had i guess. xo

    4. yeah, that’s basically how I soft-core cut my dad out of my life too. After much agonizing (because every interaction was uncomfortable, and you never knew when it was going to turn hellish) I just…quietly stopped engaging with him. The rest of the family noticed before he did. I still see him at big family events like weddings and stuff. But I don’t seek him out, and he seems to have gotten the hint. It was so hard, but such a relief!

    5. “The energy I wasted trying to get my letters and messages and statements just so, just perfect, so he could see how much he hurt me…” Holy shit, did that ever hit me like a two-by-four to the face.

      Because I, too, am on #TeamDaddyIssues, and toward the end of things (I went no-contact 5 years ago) I remember how hard I worked on my last email, trying to find the one, exact, perfect way to say it so that he would finally understand how hurtful he was being and why I was at the end of my rope with him, and why I was only willing to continue trying to have a relationship with him if he was willing to take responsibility for the hurtful things he was doing. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. My phrasing was pretty damn good, but it wasn’t a magic bullet, because there is no magic bullet for someone who just wants you to keep doing all the work.

      My “uncle” – Dad’s best friend – tried to chide me for “turning my back on” my father, saying that “men just aren’t as good at this kind of thing and he needs some help. You need to help him with this.” I honestly kind of lost it, and said something to the effect of “He is a grown ass adult and if he hasn’t taken the time to learn social skills by now, that’s his problem. I’m not his mother. I’m not responsible for raising and teaching this GROWN MAN how to not be an abusive jerk to his children. I’m tired of managing this relationship all by myself, and I’m not doing it anymore.”

      And even now, to this day, I occasionally get wistful and wonder if maybe Dad has changed? Maybe I should reach out and see what happens? But now that I think about that, underneath the “maybe he’s changed” thoughts what I’m really wondering is if maybe this time I would be able to say it the right way and get through to him.

      Thank you for putting that in a way that I can use to remind myself that there are no words perfect enough to force someone to change if he doesn’t want to change.

    6. Yup. Sister, in my case. If a relationship isn’t 50:50, absent certain special circumstances (e.g. when my mother had dementia), then it isn’t a relationship at all.

    7. It me, where “dad” = brother. Looking back, it’s amazing how long it took me to work out how little (where “little” = the minimum to respond to my overtures—sometimes) he was doing to maintain the relationship. I think because I was brought up to thing that was “normal” and “reasonable.”

  2. Follow up question that I hope won’t sound too whiny… “If you stop doing all the work, and the friendship ends due to inertia, oops, oh well!”

    What if I do that and the friendship ends? What if, like, all the friendships end?

    I don’t think I’m exaggerating, but when I fell into a hole of postpartum depression over this past year and stopped being the one to reach out/make plans/check in, those people stopped reaching out to me. Two of those people noticed and reached out to me, everyone else just kind of moved on.

    (And I don’t mean I stopped writing them back — I just stopped initiating and no one picked up the ball).

    Where do you go to find people who want to reciprocate friendships?

    1. I think at that point you ask yourself, do I basically like these people and want them in my life (even knowing that they might be there for me in a limited way) or not? If you do, reach out again and see if you can rekindle the connection, maybe these friendships won’t be as deep as they once were, but you’ll feel like you have someone to have coffee with on occasion. Dynamics can change SO MUCH when people have kids, when there is a crisis, not everyone is the person who will keep pushing through that, sometimes people develop an unthinking habit around who is the inviter and who is the invited and get complacent. Sometimes the affection is still there, and it’s unfair, but maybe you need to be the one to reach out if you want to try to restart something. If you don’t want to risk that (and I understand if you don’t), grieve what you lost and put some energy into making new friends.

      1. Can I suggest a possible alternative to complacency? When someone I like reaches out to me or invites me to do something, I think “ah, look, she is making me a kind offer that I would love to accept!” But when I’m the one doing the initiating, I feel like I’m asking the person for a favor (hanging out with me), or demanding their time and attention. Because how could someone possibly like me enough to interpret my invitation as a gift, rather than a request for a favor? 😉 So in most of my relationships, I initiate less than the other person does.

        This is a ridiculous double standard, I know — it’s ironic that worrying about not being worthy of people’s friendship is actively making me a worse friend!

        1. This is totally a thing! I’ve more or less internalized it now (thanks to wonderful feedback from people along the lines of “Thanks for organizing/inviting me/suggesting this” etc.) but the first few times I reached out to try to get together with new people, it was tough. Not the actual experiences, those went fine, but I was so afraid of not just rejection but of their thinking I was being intrusive. I told myself several times “Normal, friendly adults don’t interpret an invitation as an insult. If it turns out these people do, you don’t want to be friends with them anyway.”

        2. Oh wow, I do that too and I had never quite verbalized it that way! Thank you for this comment; I think it will be really useful to keep track of when I’m doing that.

        3. I struggle with this too! And it’s something I’m actively working on changing my mentality about. One thing I try to remind myself of is that most of my friends now are very good with boundaries (that was untrue in college, which is part of the problem). They can and will say no to things they don’t want to do; they’re not showing up out of obligation or pity.

          That said, this is also why I hate being the one to initiate everything, and I *have* let friendships fade a bit when it became apparent I was doing all the work.

          1. Er, I realize that last bit might sound callous to the situation that started this thread. I try not to fade out on people completely if I still like them and they seem to still like me. I will usually just reduce the one-on-one hangout attempts, or stop those but keep them on the movie night list, etc. I’ve only ended friendships with people who had Stuff going on when they also started regularly being a jerk to me.

        4. Well, dang. I just had a real eye opening about why I have so much anxiety about inviting people to do stuff. (Doesn’t help that, until recently, I lived a good drive outside the city where all my friends live, so it really WAS kind of an imposition to ask them to come to me.)

        5. Holy smokes, I think I low-key make this assumption too, especially with people I’m just acquaintances with. I’ve always been quiet and nerdy, and in elementary school kids would sometimes include me out of [what felt to me like] pity. I think on some level I assume that when people stop inviting me to things or messaging me occasionally, it’s because they’re actively avoiding me, rather than the more innocent explanation that they also have a life and they just got busy.

          Wow. DANG. I’m re-thinking some stuff now.

          C, thanks for sharing this.

          1. “The innocent explanation that they also have a life and they just got busy” is a great example of Occam’s Razor (the simplest explanation is often the correct one). It’s a particularly tough thing to try to remember. It really is.

            Add in brain weasels and chronic illness making me have to flake on things or commit very tentatively because I might not be well enough/energetic enough to do them, and I tend to fall into the pattern of thinking “They don’t like me any more,” when it’s probably more correct to say that they’re busy too and just haven’t thought about messaging me between work, getting the kids to their activities, grocery shopping, and life in general.

            But damn that’s hard to internalize.

        6. Wow, I have never seen this put this way before and it very well describes how I feel about many relationships, but I don’t think I consciously realized it until now. I’m often tentative when reaching out to arrange time together, or sometimes even just initiate contact, because of the sneaky back-of-the-mind voice that says “Well if they WANTED to spend time with you/talk to you, OBVIOUSLY they would have initiated and by reaching out you are BOTHERING and ANNOYING them.”

        7. WOW YES SAME HERE.

          My friendship groups right now are “people I like but mostly see in the context of a specific activity and don’t really get together with outside of that,” “people I dearly love who live far away in different directions, so we schedule regular time together online and occasionally manage to visit,” and ONE family that has two kids in the same grades as my two (and who are close friends with my two) and tends to initiate “hey, let’s all hang out!” or “the 5th graders have a sleepover, the moms take the 8th graders to a PG-13 movie, the dads have a session of geeking out about tech stuff.”

          SecondKid has a friend on her dance team who every time I see her walks up to me and asks when they can have a sleepover. It’s cute but kind of annoying and I’m scared of being the 40-something version of that kid. 🙂

        8. I have this also. For me it feels like some variation of imposter syndrome. When i try to frame it that way, it feels easier to overcome, though i have a problem doing it too…

        9. Oh my, this is ME. I am almost a senior citizen and never thought this through. This is life changing. I am going to work on not being afraid to invite people.

      2. If I had a postpartum friend stop reaching out, I’d assume that she was busy with the new baby and/or exhausted and recalibrating her social life. If I wasn’t particularly close to her, I’d assume she just didn’t have time for me and would pop up again if/when she did. I would gracefully bow out to give her space. (I’d be afraid of being the needy friend who doesn’t understand why her friend with a newborn doesn’t have the same amount of free time.) All of my assumptions might be wrong, but my actions would be rooted in concern for my friend.

        Your friends could just be assholes, but they might be trying to helpfully give you some space and delighted to hear from you again. Or anywhere in between.

        1. And unless your new-parent friend isn’t a very good friend to you, they’ll generally appreciate a message like, “Hey, how are you doing? I’m assuming you’re busy with the new human, so no pressure to get back to me unless you have time.”

          Source: A friend of mine (who is only about a year older than my daughter) who had a baby at the end of May 2018. She doesn’t always return messages super-quickly (because she’s parenting an infant), but she’s always glad that I’ve checked in with her and explicitly given her the space not to worry about getting back to me until she has time. Which reminds me, I should send her a “Hey, how’s it going?”

    2. I just stopped initiating and no one picked up the ball

      Part of me will never stop wondering if this is because I am strongly an Ask Culture person, and I tend to befriend Offer Culture people who would rather wait on invitations that never come than risk being direct and giving offense. The line of thinking goes thus: “I know they tend to wait for invitations, so they probably see a lack of invitations as a signal that I’m not ready to hang out/attend events/get together, and don’t want to risk overstepping by ‘making’ me turn down an invitation.”

      Sometimes a conversation or a couple of them can solve that (being a direct person comes in handy here, because I feel pretty comfortable poking at people to say that I’m not up for planning things, but I still want to be included in stuff, please invite me places and give me ways to connect).

      But sometimes, it’s because I was just … never that important to them. And that’s a lot harder to deal with, especially if they’ve become important to you; then you’ve got to deal with that grief. And it IS grief – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

      Where do you go to find people who want to reciprocate friendships?

      I almost wrote that it’s easy enough to find people willing to show up for activities, especially if there’s food, but actually no, that *hasn’t* been my experience. Han and Matt Know It All did an episode fairly recently about flaky friends (it’s toward the end of #97, if you’re interested) and the experience they covered there about friends flaking out is actually much more in line with my experiences as a post-30 parent of two kids. So what I’ll actually write is: if you figure this out, please share your notes, I’d love to know too.

    3. I totally get where you’re coming from because I have similar anxieties about my own friendships and my go-to place of self-destruction during bad episodes of depression is “Oh my god, everyone hates me, no one wants to see me, no one ever asks me to do anything, if I didn’t constantly bug people into coffee-dates then I’d die alone and be eaten by wolves”. And the thing is there IS a bit of an imbalance in a lot of my friendships. I tend to be the one checking in more often, planning activities and sending the random messages along the lines of “I just saw this cool thing and it reminded me of you!”

      Would I love it if I had more friendships where people did those things for me? Sure, but there’s a few caveats with that. First I have to be really really honest about how I feel when these things actually DO happen. I’d be lying if there weren’t times when someone has asked me to do a cool activity and part of me has totally panicked. Or times when someone has texted me and it’s taken me a week to get back to them. My jerkbrain tends to delete those memories as being irrelevant to the issue but I’m getting better at reminding myself that I’m not ALWAYS the one doing the chasing.

      Also (and this has been super helpful to me), I’ve started to see that it’s not such a binary issue as “I do all the reaching out and no one ever does the same for me”. There are a lot of shades of grey in how people communicate the “Let’s be in the same place at the same time” stuff. I have one friend who rarely asks me to do things but if we’re both online at 2am, he’s more than happy to hear about everything I’ve been up to recently. I have another friend who doesn’t do a lot of the organising of activities but she’s really enthusiastic 90% of the time when I ask her to things and we always have a nice time together. I have another friend who is never specific about planning meet-ups and instead says things like “Let me know if you want to do X sometime”. I used to be really confused about why he wasn’t actually inviting me to anything but now I’ve realised that this is his way of saying “I’d like to see you but I’m scared you’ll say no/I don’t want to make you feel awkward if you don’t really want to/I have a lot of stuff on at the moment and if I commit to a specific day and then need to change it, I’ll feel bad”.

      I also need to look at how I’m actually spending my time. Am I living in a way that makes people think that reaching out or asking me to things is a safe bet? I’m actually not brilliant in crowds, spaces where there’s a lot of noise or doing activities where I have to remember a lot of rules (so even boardgames can break me out in a cold sweat). Unfortunately that does mean that people will be less likely to make plans with me because I’m just a bit more difficult to spend time with than other people might be. I’m not unpleasant to spend time with but I’m definitely not someone you can just slot in with whatever you happen to be doing at the time. But that’s OK – I wouldn’t be anyone other than who I am and I know the people in my life value me for that.

      In terms of people reaching out when I’m at my worst, I have a very small list of people who I can actually go to about that stuff and that’s actually OK with me. I realised that the thing which was making me feel the worst was feeling there SHOULD be more people doing that kind of stuff and there must be something wrong with me that there weren’t more people reaching out (spoiler alert: there wasn’t). When you said that two people noticed what was going on AND reached out to you, that’s brilliant. It’s highly likely the rest of them did notice but felt awkward about saying anything or suddenly had a crisis of their own to deal with. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d have the energy to deal with more people doing the regular checking-in during my worst periods – two would be fine by me. The rest I would divide into categories along the lines of “Will always have time for me if I call”, “Is available at night but not in the day”, “Can do the occasional lunch but isn’t really available the rest of the time”, “Only call this person if you can avoid heavy topics”, “Prefers texting/online chats” etc etc.

      I don’t think if I stopped doing the work that all my friendships would end, necessarily. There may be a few which would drift away and a few which would become unsatisfying for me to continue with. The rest would either change into a different shape or possibly even become stronger. I have had times where I’ve stopped putting in so much work and the other person has stepped up their game. And it really does free up a LOT of mental energy.

      1. To expand on my comment because it might seem flip: Two people reaching out is great, that means you have two people who truly care about your well being, and that is literally not nothing. If you are upset because not more than two reached out, I’d examine that more closely: is there really one PARTICULAR person you are upset about?

        1. People can fail to reach out for other reasons than not caring about their friend’s well-being. I’m not saying it doesn’t suck, but I don’t think that’s a fair blanket assumption of their motivations.

          (Me, I *never ever* bother people with kids because they have much more important things to do. I know nothing about kids and cannot offer anything that would enrich the kid’s, like, development, nor can I babysit. None of that = “doesn’t care.”)

          1. YMMV, but if there are people who have kids that you would otherwise reach out to, it’s still okay to reach out to them! Friends who are parents still have needs and interests that aren’t their kids, and it might be a relief if you can offer, say, a grown-up meal while the kids eat chicken nuggets, or a ten-minute adult conversation when there’s a lull in the childcare chaos.

          2. I went through a devastating mental health crisis a year and a half ago and I was so surprised how people I loved and respected almost completely disappeared. I sad-googled it, and it turns out that it happens to widows, people with cancer, people with pregnant loss, etc, and is a really common thing.
            I wish people understood that 1. Their loved one may be “given a lot of space” by many people and not just the friend/relative in question. And 2. You don’t need to solve my bipolar disorder, but you could text “how are you,” every couple of weeks. 3. It doesn’t matter too much what the motivations are. We count on our friends to push through and be there for us. When they don’t (especially when several don’t) it hurts like you wouldn’t believe. I hate that, although the bp is under control, I know i may well be one crisis away from everyone bailing again. I wish I could unknow that.

          3. sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that people not reaching out don’t care, just that the two people are positive proof of caring.

        2. the “one particular person” comment struck a chord for me.

          When I had my depression, I fiercely made an effort to try to arrange lunches with people, to keep myself from being isolated. Fighting back against that sneaky thing depression does.

          One friend, I tried FOUR times to set up a lunch with, and every single time, she called the day of to cancel. Bad deadline, things going wrong, etc. I was so understanding.

          But I got so insulted and so angry and so, so hurt. I didn’t say to anyone, “I’m fighting depression, please help me by going to lunch.” But four times? And no counter-offer from her of a makeup date?

          So that one particular person upset me.

          I can see someone being really hurt if the person who bailed was the one who was always leaning on them for help themselves. And this woman was in a bit of that spot as well; she’d had a tough time when we worked together, and I tried so hard to be a source of support and affirmation for her. So that was a problem for me on that score as well.

        3. Yeah data point: I have about two people in my life who aren’t my family or boyfriend that I can regularly rely on no matter what. And that feels like the right number. I’ve known them for a very long time so those friendships feel very fulfilling, but I feel like most people, even those with many good friends, only have a tiny handful who are their ride or die people.

    4. Hey SJ, fellow postpartum depression-haver here, just wanted to say I completely empathize and my experience felt similar. I think there’s a couple things at play:
      1) when you are depressed, it feels like you want everyone to come tend to you and figure out how to help you, because you sure as hell don’t know what to do to feel better, and you take other people not jumping up to do that as evidence of your unworthiness, because depression. But when I got out of my depression and asked around, everyone from my husband to my mother to my friends were all like, we had know idea what would help and/or we thought you’d tell us what you needed. So this is to say, I think there’s a fundamental miscommunication in that area specifically, and maybe mostly the depressed person’s desires are understandable but not realistic bc other people aren’t mindreaders and they are also busy, etc. (before I had my second kid I made sure to make a list of things that would help me should I fall into PPD again and gave it to my close people and had talks with them in preparation and that seems to have helped clarify for everyone)
      2) early motherhood can be a real clusterfuck of an identity crisis. your time with family vs. friends, your weekly rhythms, all of it changes to varying degrees but you have to kind of go through the paces a bit to figure out what works for you. in the meantime, other people are likely giving you space and waiting until you emerge and have more time to do friend things (or even to see if you’ll still want to do that, bc they are also unsure how this experience my change you), and while that might be exactly what you need, it doesn’t mean it isn’t lonely.
      you might need new lower-key friendships to fill gaps. what ended up working for me was keeping me 2 solid good friendships and my sister close, and then letting everybody else drift and settle wherever (aka once every 2-6 months we manage to get together). my good friendships happen 99% over the phone because they are all long distance, and this is where I can just be me and not talk about kids but deep dive into career or relationship or whatever I want. for day-to-day social stuff i made a couple new mom-friends, which, while we’ll never be like deep friends, it’s kind of refreshing to have people you can call to grab a coffee at the last minute, who don’t mind all your conversation being constantly interrupted by the kiddos. they’re also great resources for all things kids & local and they don’t get their feelings hurt by you bailing on plans or fading out for a few weeks. keep your eyes peeled for anyone who’s got a similar parenting vibe to you!
      But most of all, hang in there! it gets better i promise! Your social life will come back, albeit in a different form, and the stuff that was the hardest to figure out or work through ends up being the most rewarding when you finally get it to work for you.

      1. I remember when I was home with my first baby, how lonely it was. I didn’t know any other “stay at home” moms in the neighbourhood — because I had always been working — and I didn’t know how to meet anybody either — because I had always been working. I had to learn how to make friends all over again, and of course with a new baby I didn’t have a lot of energy or free time.

        1. omg yes, me too! and depression made me feel really fragile so it took a lot to work up the courage to approach people. I just started more conversations with moms with kids my age at the library and the park and joined a couple local groups on facebook and slowly, with practice, it started to feel more normal. but yeah i wish people talked about that more! unless you happen to already know a bunch of friends with kids in your area, it can be so lonely & hard to find new mom friends!

    5. I’ve also run into this phenomenon a lot, with people ranging from platonic friends to romantic partners. I think part of it is life-stage realted: following high school, people tend to move around more, have shifting life priorities (career, marriage or similar partnerships, kids, etc.), and wind up in new social spaces where the time/energy they’re puttting into social relationships changes. As I’ve moved from my late twenties into my early thirties, I’ve developed a new group of friends and acquaintences who are more settled, and the reciprocity with them is more balanced than with the people who moved away with whom I was doing most of the work to stay in touch.

      So one strategy may be to focus your social interactions and energy on people who are more settled. Or if you, yourself, are someone who moves around a lot (even within your area from one neighbirhood to another or between different social scenes), maybe reframe your expectations to see horter-term friendships as natural amd normal, for you, for now.

      Another part is, I think, technology-driven, and related to choice paralysis: with instant communications, social media, etc. the physical barriers to staying in touch with people are reduced; this ironically may make it harder to maintain a given relationship with any particular person because all of us may dilute our social focus across a greater number of people, which takes time and energy away from building and maintaining more intimate, socially demanding relationships with some people.

      Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do regarding this effect with respect to other people. You can choose to focus YOUR time and energy more narrowly, but you can’t force other people to do so. So my suggestion is besically what CA says – put only as much energy into a relationship as you really wish to dedicate, try to enjoy the relationship for what you ARE getting from it when you want to invest the time and energy, and remind yourself that you’re doing what you can and there isn’t necessarily a problem with your behavior if you feel guilty, rejected, etc. And focus your now-available tome and energy on people with whom there is more of a balance or on meeting new people with whom there might be (activism, Meetups, rec sports, book or film clubs, that acquaintence in your group with whom you get along but to whom you never really had the space to devote a lot of energy for a friendship – there are better, exhaustive lists elsewhere on this site and others).

      Other comments have covered the depression (and possible comorbid anxiety) angle, and CA notes that changing dynamics in response to a crisis or a new child can also impact things, with which I very much agree. In some of those cases, maybe it’s a matter of figuring out new ways to communicate and new activities or new approaches to old activities that can accommodate lower energy/spoon counts, childcare demands, etc., so if you haven’t looked at that part, it could help to spend some time thinking about ways to adapt your relationships to diffrrent constraints. For example, if someone was inviting you out to bars but you kept turning zir down because you weren’t drinking while pregnant and wouldn’t/couldn’t go out after because child care and depression, ze may have stopped because ze doesn’t know how else to reach out or what alternatives to suggest (and/or that may be complicated if ze thinks inviting zirself over to yoir house is an imposition). So it’s also possible that some ofthose friendships that faded could be strengthened, with the other person picking up more of the initiative again, if you can figure out new default modes of interacting.

      Best wishes!

  3. I usually use this for chatting with acquaintances on the bus but I find this rule really helpful: if I ask someone two questions and I don’t get a question back, I assume they don’t really want to have a conversation with me right then. Maybe think about applying that same rule to your own interactions with your friend. But generally, both of these people sounds like #thatfuckingguy and exhausting and are they really your friends if you’re just an unpaid “therapist” they can rant/vent/talk about their obsessions with?

    1. I tend to be self-centered in conversations; I get carried away with their follow-up questions and never ask any of my own. I think a numerical standard like this might be useful going the other way, when I want to convey that I’m glad to be in conversations with them

      1. There’s another mindset that can have the same effect: I offer a story, and wait for a story in return. I might try this twice or three times, and what I’m subconsciously expecting is a story — how the week went; what’s happening at home or work, yadda yadda — in return.

        Maybe this is a geek thing. Geeks aren’t necessarily showing off when we tell you some abstruse or weird thing; we’re more like, say, an excited golden retriever presenting this Great New Dead Duck we found, Look! Isn’t it NIFTY???

        And conversationally, it’s similar: Here’s a Thing; I’m expecting a Thing in exchange. Story Traders.

        Even geeks forget that it happens, though.

        1. That’s how I do it–I very rarely ask questions of people in social situations; it just seems so invasive (and I don’t like being asked questions, because it makes me feel like I’m being put on the spot). My comfortable default social situation is one where both parties ramble happily at each other, but it’s really, really incompatible with ‘questions mean interest and engagement’ culture, which seems more the default.

          1. Yes, this is my kind of conversation too. I have been on dates, for example, where the person kept asking me more and more questions but wouldn’t tell their own stories. Even when I kept trying to find the right questions to get them going, they would just answer briefly and then try to turn it back to me somehow, and I did not enjoy that at all.

            I can be a chatty person, but that doesn’t mean I’m your personal entertainment show. I expect reciprocation in the form of anecdotes and stories of your own.

            If someone asks a lot of questions but won’t ramble on themselves even with some coaxing, it doesn’t feel polite, it feels like they’re either lazy and want to make me do all the work to entertain them, or want and make me reveal things about myself without revealing anything themselves, or that they’re just kind of boring.

    2. I like this rule, and I might start instituting it with my friends, but I suspect the result will be exactly what SJ is worried about – my experience is that when I do not do 95% of the work in a friendship, that friendship ceases to exist. This has been consistent across genders, demographics, and four states. I’ve been wondering if there’s some island of people who check in on each other every day and are genuinely interested in one another’s lives, from which I’ve been exiled, because I’ve repeatedly asked multiple friends and partners to ASK ME QUESTIONS, please ASK ME TO TALK because if you let me listen to you all day without saying a word I absolutely will do that while my soul shrivels up inside.

      I realize I need to be better about voicing my needs. That said, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to wish that anyone around me thought about other people’s needs even half as much as I do, or tried to anticipate the needs of people they loved the way that I do. Or tried to feign interest as much as I do, as the LW wrote. My experience is that no one, no matter how much they like you, is actually interested in you – people are only interested in themselves. I know that’s not true, but my brainweasels are all too happy to confirm it when literally every interaction I have presents evidence for it.

      1. I keep thinking of making something like this a separate post, but maybe I’ll just put it here:

        I don’t strive for balanced accounting of effort in all my friendships. I basically never want to look at the balance sheets, I don’t want to give people tests. I have mental illness – I can’t give exactly 50% and receive 50% from each person even if I wanted to. There are people I love knowing that I’m going to do most of the work (I have more resources/time/energy than they do more of the time), and seeing them when they can engage is its own reward. I am That Friend for others at various times.

        I think paying attention to balance/reciprocity is really really important at a few major times:

        When just starting out – are we both equally into this, or does it feel like one person is chasing the other? (I’m more likely to BE chased, I don’t like it at all, it makes me anxious and guilty, so I will pull back from this feeling if I meet someone new who gives it to me).

        When I feel annoyed/hurt/like something is off (like these Letter Writers) – and it’s an exercise in “am I invested enough to do the work to ask for something different/is it time to scale back my own efforts until I find something that feels balanced/enjoyable/is it time to backburner this thing”

        At big life changes – mine and other people’s.

        I swear I don’t ride the borders of my friendships looking for ones to delete, I’m happy to have people that I see only every now and then, or where it’s a small doses thing, or unbalanced at times (you just had a baby, go be with your baby, do you need any help/chili/babysitting/distraction), etc.

        I don’t want things to be perfectly balanced or equal, I want to enjoy other people and pay attention to my own comfort/enjoyment/energy levels.

  4. oh bless.

    I do firmly believe that there are two categories of people with this problem (and it is a problem) –

    1) people who weren’t taught how to take turns in conversations and/or anxiously fill the air whenever there’s a silence and might even be afraid to ask questions in case those questions are somehow more awkward than monologuing

    2) people who, um, genuinely don’t care what you have to say and see friendship as a sort of performer/audience deal.

    I had a friend in category 2 where I would literally set the phone down and walk away and pick it up ten minutes later. This friend would never notice. Having a friend who just filled up all the space and provided human company worked for me for a while, and then I was going through a hard time and wanted to be actually listened to – and Friend was just not going to be that person. So we drifted apart, which was probably a relief on both sides.

    YMMV but I’ve found that Category 1 is more likely to be gendered, though that’s of course far from absolute. Though I can also personally fall into Category 1 super easily when I’m nervous.

    1. I think I have this problem to some extent. It’s not about #1 but it’s not #2 either. I just don’t always see the difference between ”person listens to me because they’re interested in this topic” and ”person listens to me because they are polite”. I’m a bit socially awkward but neurotypical as far as I know, and I do better in this regard now than as a teen, but I still appreciate direct feedback if I enthusiastically monologue about something the listeners aren’t interested in. I don’t want to bore or annoy anyone!

    2. Question for all the awkward parents out there: How do you instill the ability to take and give in conversation into children? I know kids are naturally self-centered because of their young brains – at what point to you work to make them more aware of how to conversation properly?

      1. First, you listen to them. Second, you model good conversations. As well as good conversational exits. So, if they want to tell you about something, listen and ask polite questions, and then when you need to be done, tell them something like, “That’s awesome, i’m glad you’re so into that, I have to go do dishes now, we can talk again later!” and go do that.

        Kids won’t ever ask about your hopes and dreams, and that’s fine. But if you model how human interaction goes, they will pick up on it.

        1. I at least noticed this when I was nannying – kids who were listened to SOMETIMES did not tend to talk ALL the time. But it’s definitely a skill that grew with time – one of my charges was the kind of kid who just talks and talks and talks and talks no matter what else is happening, and now she’s a good conversationalist because, you know, she’s not five.

      2. I have two kids close in age (4 & 5) and they both love telling me about All The Things and asking All the Questions. But they both want to do it at the same time and start talking/yelling over each other. I will actulaly put my hands on both their mouths to surprise them into silence then I say, “I can’t listen to both of you at the same time. J will tell me his thing first, then C, you can go.” I let the one speak, address what he said then turn to the other and happily announce, “Ok, it’s your turn now” But of course, it never goes perfectly. Often one will get into a huff because he wasn’t chosen to go first (everything’s a competition with kids!). But I consistently make it clear that I can totally give each one my full attention and they are learning that waiting your turn doesn’t mean you’re being overlooked or passed by. You just sometimes have to wait!

      3. And tell stories about when you were a child! My earliest memories of really listening to my parents (not just listening to instructions, or answers to my more self-centered types of questions) was when they started telling stories about their own childhoods. I wasn’t really interested in hearing about their day at work or their favorite TV shows, but I was fascinated by the stories. And it was great early practice for listening to other people share about themselves and learning to ask follow up questions (since those oftenprompted more memories and stories).

        Also my parents modeled a fair amount of conversational back and forth with each other while I was around. I know they saved certain important/sensitive topics for when I and my siblings were asleep or out of earshot. But they didn’t focus exclusively on us until while we were awake/around either. I tuned a lot of it out because it wasn’t particularly interesting but I know I absorbed some the pattern of it.

        1. “Tell me a story about your life” is my 9 year old’s favorite bedtime story. It’s interesting the prompts he gives sometimes, too. Like, “tell me a story from when you were four” or “lived in the dorm”.

          I really appreciate my husband being a good role model and calling the kids out for interrupting. I was so used to it that I didn’t see how bad it was. The first time one of them caught himself interrupting and apologized, I just about dropped my tea.

          1. May I take this moment to stand up and cheer and applaud your 9-year-old, Lurker in the Light?

      4. This is going to sound flip but – you converse with them. You have back-and-forth conversations where you listen to what they say, and when they talk over you, you interrupt them and remind them that they have to listen when others are talking. You can do that from day one, honestly. Their conversational topics are going to be suuuuuuper self-centered because they’re kids, but at least the pattern will become familiar.

      5. “How do you instill the ability to take and give in conversation into children?”

        One good opportunity is when a young child has something to tell you RIGHT NOW but you’re in the middle of another conversation or activity. Pause briefly to set a boundary – I’m doing [x] right now, but I can talk to you in one/two/five minutes (shorter times are easier for younger children to accept) – and make sure you actually follow through. If the child is literate, you can have zir write down what ze wishs to say if ze has a tendency to get distracted or forget, which is common with younger brains. This demonstrates taking turns with social focus, and reinforces that a temporary boundary is not total dismissal, that not ALWAYS being the primary and immediate focus doesn’t mean someone doesn’t care, while also helping kids learn to self-regulate and self-soothe for limited periods of time (which can become longer as they get older).

        If it’s just you and a kid who’s stream-of-consciousness monologuing, you may have to actively redirect the topic to things that are relevant to you as an adult in which the child may also be interested; the suggestion of stories about when you were little is good, since the child may be genuinely interested because ze can relate to the life stage, prompting zir to ask questions. Look for an opportunity to link something the child just said to a story about your own childhood – e.g. if the child is talking about playing a pickup game of tag, you can about what your favorite tag varients were.

      6. Once when I was little, my mum observed an awkward interaction in which we ran into a school acquaintance at the shops and I answered her questions as peppily as I could (she was a super enthusiastic type) then couldn’t figure out why the conversation withered immediately (hint: I focussed all my energy on tone and forgot to ask questions back). She v helpfully sat me down on the couch and had an explicit conversation about how conversations were like throwing a ball back and forth and then made me practice having a conversation with her in which we mimed “throwing” questions back and forth. I felt it was beneath me at the time but it sunk in and I appreciate that she took the time now hahaha.

      7. The point where I really had to do it happened when mine were seven and four, and FirstKid was talking over SecondKid so much that it was literally contributing to SecondKid’s speech delay. LOTS of enforced turn-taking and “No, FirstKid, I asked YOUR SISTER that, not you.”

        I think the biggest thing is to model interest in what THEY have to say and they’ll do it back. Even if they’re into something that you think is totally ridiculous. (One of my big parenting regret moments was the point where FirstKid was super into Littlest Pet Shop and I didn’t get it and kept snarking it as “Littlest Pest Shop.” If I had a do-over, I wouldn’t have done that. It was mean for no good reason.)

        My kids are 13 and 10 now and pretty good at conversations. Sometimes they get a bit monologue-y, but so do their parents sometimes. They are also good at understanding that “How was your day?” means I want to know, more than a mumbled one-word “fine”. And they reciprocate that and ask about my work projects, which is freakin’ awesome.

      8. There’s a lot in here about actively practicing these skills directly with your kid (i.e., treat them as if they were any other person, where you take turns and really listen to them) [and this advice is all spot on] so I want to instead chime in to amplify one of the above comments of “model good conversation with other people when the kids are in the vicinity”. Kids are always semi-aware of what is happening around them, and they pick up on a LOT of patterns without necessarily really knowing how or why, so if they hear you and [another adult] doing Standard Shared Storytelling, they will very likely start internalizing that. My kids definitely picked up on what they considered Standard Phone Etiquette just from hearing me speak on the phone, and it was really obvious (and adorable!) when they were CLEARLY working on Practicing This With Me (“hi Mommy….how was YOUR day?”). Shared meals together are also a great vector for conversational turn-taking also (and for that low-key eavesdropping thing, larger outings to a diner or whatnot are great, anything where there’s probably a couple of conversations going on at either end of the table). To your question of “at what point”: We did all these things from basically forever, and at 13 and 15, my kids are lovely conversationalists, even the ADHD one who can get a wee bit steamroller-y when she’s excited (fyi this was also very linked to feeling like she couldn’t get a word in edgewise; once I noticed and recognized that, and started ensuring she was given space in the conversation and definitely listened to, her monologuing dropped wayyyy down and only happens when she’s super into something or if she hasn’t seen me in a few days).

    3. damn it I’m Category 1. I hear nobody saying anything and am like “quick, Lily, you need to keep the conversation going or everyone will think you hate them!” and once I talked to the GF of a friend for a whole evening because nobody else was talking, and I didn’t want her to think that I didn’t like her whereas all she thought was probably “will she please shut up”
      Now that I know about it, I try to notice it and keep it to a minimum but it not always works out that way.

      1. I think you are just fine. What I forgot to say was “category 1 usually responds to redirection or someone trying to change the topic with relief, while category 2 will NEVER NOTICE”. I’m calling both of these letters about Category 2 Chatterers, because their chatterers were offered exits which they roundly dismissed.

        I think I bring it up because confusing the two categories results in such distress for everyone! Socially awkward blatherers (I am SUCH an awkward blatherer) will fall on a topic change with relief if they notice one is being offered.

        (Category 1 also includes many people I categorize as “fellows who want stronger friendships and were not taught how to take turns lady-style so they are just listing all the lego models they’ve ever owned with increasing desperation and will probably flee when they run out of air.” Again: often will fall on offered counterfacts with an air of OH THANK GOD, which is how I mentally distinguish them from Full Explainers or, you know, jerks.)

        1. I picked up some category 1 tendencies dealing with socially awkward/anxious friends in high school, who were interested in being around and, apparently, ‘conversing,’ but who would give short (even monosyllabic) answers to questions, not run with conversational prompts, not follow up with their own experience related to [current discussion topic], etc. I was also a lot like that, and, to compensate, I got in the habit of driving conversations because the other people around me never would. Unfortunately, it’s turned into a tendency to info-dump to fill airtime; I still try to ask questions, and I’m pretty good at not interrupting, but I’m sure there are times where I go on and other people just don’t know how to politely cut me off or redirect. So, I have sympathy for everyone who is similarly situated, and wanted to reinforce for people who get irritated with people like me in those cases that some (most?) of us developed those patterns to try to improve conversation with other people, so we may very well appreciate an interjection, a redirection to you relating your experience or opinion, or even an interruption.

          There may also be something like the ask/guess disconnect going on – if your norm is to ask questions and you expect to be asked questions in return, you’re going to run into trouble in groups where the norm is that people jump in and ‘interrupt’ when they have something to add, and vice versa. I don’t know if there’s a really effective way to bridge that gap (please share if any of you do!); I’ve had some limited success in mixed groups with explicit conversations about it where we all agree to try to adapt a bit to the other style of conversation.

    4. I’ll give you category 3.

      People who are talkative and a little self-centered (but not completely) who just sort of blithely go where the conversation leads, and who will follow along with your follow-up questions and then suddenly it’s time to break up the get-together.

      That’s me. I can just run the whole conversation, and many times I’ve ended one and suddenly realized that I didn’t ask them any questions. They were engaged–it’s not like I was monologuing. But I didn’t change the initiative over.

      I’m so, so grateful to the friends who just grab their own share of the conversation and run with it. I’ll ask questions, and listen, and be engaged. But I need them to grab the ball and run with it.
      Those are the friends I can keep for long-term.

      So I’m really hating the person in letter #1168 who flat-out says, “I’m not interested in that band.” What a fucking asshole.

      I can be the friend who never asks you anything about yourself if you give me the conversational ball first (I guess I’m a ball hog), but if you grab the ball and start showing off, I’ll enjoy it.

      1. I have a family member from a (insular regional sub-) culture where it’s actually rude to ask questions. If people want you to know things about themselves, they will tell you! You shouldn’t pry – you just make a series of statements and wait for them to pick the one that works.

        WOW does she run into conversational problems in our culture of residence. But her intentions are so good! She’s just waiting for someone to correct a guess or elaborate on a supposition! Whereas the culture I grew up in considers a direct contradiction to be unbelievably aggressive. She could say “the sky is green and full of flying pigs” and people would just go “oh, hmm, I never thought of that!” instead of contradicting her.

      2. Yeah. Add that to the fact that I was so socially awkward as a teenager that most of my training to be social was with therapists, where it’s your JOB to talk about what happened to you and how you feel about that… I am trying to learn, but when I’m relaxed with with you, I tend to overshare and blather… sigh.

    5. My mother did this with my Nana after my Mum moved countries. There would be a monthly (or so) call and my Nana would vent for up to two hours about thankless men and children. There were no cordless phones then, so my Mum would put down the receiver and make herself a coffee, check back in, then draw a bath, check back in, maybe even take a quick bath, check back in… and basically continue to go about daily business just humming sympathetically into the phone every ten or twenty minutes or so. Then my Nana would be called away and the call would end.

      The thing is, I am a terrible monologuer. It’s part culture (we fancy ourselves as storytellers where I’m from and you take your turn in regaling your ‘audience’ with another brilliant epic tale) but mostly it’s just me. It was possible to train myself to pause, however, and I remind myself that I am genuinely curious/caring about this person in front of me and their life so I must remember to invite them to share with me (if they wish) by asking some questions. If you’re motivated in this regard, with a bit of self-awareness, you can definitely meet reasonable friendship needs.

    6. Omigosh we had the same friend? This person would literally not notice me not talking ever. And i’m A super chatty #1 sort of person sometimes, esp with the anxious ‘fill the empty space’ thing. Which i really don’t like about amyself, but can’t seem to get rid of. I do try to warn folks i know, about the talking a lot, not to be one sided but to help them feel comfortable interrupting or reminding me gently. This only works for folks who’ve known me a while.
      But i never ever monologue without the other person speaking at all. We’re always engaged and when someone else goes on a monologue I DO listen. So it’s not a one sided thing, i just for some reason take up more space i think than i deserve.
      For the ones who just don’t care, i do a thing where i try to NOT compete for equal or even close to equal. I start letting them interrupt me (not when i’m Being chatty i mean just when a convo is started), and i’ve Found with some folks, if you just mmmm, they’ll keep going for long long periods. Then when the subject changes and i try to say something, they’re all, super shift back to them. These types of people are different i think, from the ones like me.
      The differential diagnosis seems to be ability to accept feedback. I recently did the African violet to someone bc they not only felt i had a nonspeaking role in our ‘relationship’ but would get annoying and needy if i didn’t answer texts within an hr, though they’d go for days without answering mine (which didn’t bother me in the slightest, i don’t feel entitled to anyone’s time), and when i asked to talk about stuff, gently, like saying hey i’ve Got this thing on my mind can i talk about it? Or said hey you’re awfully chatty today, gosh i can’t get in a word! Said lightly, they get mad or snarky. Those types i dump.
      Even though i’ve Got an awful tendency to be super chatty, when someone makes a comment about it or gives a reminder i never 1. Make them feel guilty about asking for what they need, and 2. I don’t get angry. I usually feel some degree of chagrin, and i course correct immediately. Which is probably why i’ve Still got friends…

  5. A timely post. I’ve been having some similar friend issues – as I’ve been feeling steamrolled and brushed off lately, and every response of my friend is somewhat self centered. Then I drew a boundary on a different issue and am getting the silent treatment. I’m feeling trained and perhaps need a friend break from this particular person.
    I think 2019s motto for me is going to be the Marie Kondo theory of letting go of “stuff” that no longer serves you or doesn’t fit into who you want to be (and I mean this in the personal growth way – letting go of people or things that are holding you back from developing/growing as a person).

    1. It seems rather cheesy, but I’m implementing the whole “does it bring you joy?” into every aspect of my life. Does this shirt bring me joy? (Maybe.) Will the experience of going out to a restaurant I don’t like with people I don’t know and pay too much for food ultimately bring me joy? (Nope.) Will calling a friend of a friend out for coffee and trying to form our own friendship bring me joy? (Yes!) Some of it is bigger picture too – might not bring me joy *now* (I’m not entirely looking forward to waking up early on a Saturday to go out for coffee), but I think it will ultimately bring me joy in the long run (new friend – yay!).

      So, LWs – do these friendships overall bring you joy?

    2. Does that friendship spark joy?

      I always have trouble w/ the KonMari question when it comes to things like the utility closet, but with friendships and life activities, I think it’s really valuable.

      1. The utility closet:
        Is not having these things likely to bring a very distinct lack of joy?
        The toilet plunger doesn’t have to be decorated with sparkly hearts or hello-kitty icons, it just has to make sure the toilet doesn’t overflow all over the floor.

        Lack of cleaning up sewage brings me much joy indeed.

      2. ^FWIW (and because I just replied with something about this on FB); I think it’s perfectly reasonable to recognize that something being functional and helpful does bring you joy. Sure, looking at my plunger does not make my heart sing 95% of the time, but BOY HOWDY am I ever thankful and pleased to have one when I can clear a toilet clog in under two minutes. With things like tools and supplies, when I am deciding if they have a place in my life, I try to be honest about whether this is actually functional for me (plunger: YES) or something that is wish fulfillment and instead giving me weird guilt about not using it (say, a wood carving kit I bought fifteen years ago and wanted to try but never have, or tool-wise, maybe for example a sander or such where I need to admit to myself I would rather let someone else who WOULD love it, have it, and instead be realistic that IF I ever actually need one, I can rent one for a day since the odds are so low I would need it). (Just sharing in case that is a helpful framing for you.)

        1. Long before I ever heard of Marie Kondo, my own personal rule was, “If you use it or you like it (or both!), feel free to keep it. But if you don’t use it or like it, there’s no reason to hang onto it.” It works for most things. And my number one rule is that if you literally forgot you owned something and then rediscover it later, it is time to get rid of it, because a) you’re obviously not using or enjoying the thing and b) even if you DID have a situation where it would be useful, you wouldn’t use it, because you wouldn’t know you had it to use.

          1. I do the same, specifically around moving – if I’m moving out of a place and discover a box that is still packed up and untouched from when I moved in AND I have no idea what’s in it… then the “rule” is that I just toss it without even opening it. This always seems to horrify people, like, what if there was something really important or priceless in there? there very well may be, but I clearly don’t know about it and haven’t needed it in x years, so it’s not really doing a lot for me.

          2. I have sometimes put something in a better storage space, so I’d find it if I went to look for something to meet that need.

          3. This is precisely why I’m grind-my-teeth annoyed when my mom brings me something from my childhood that she found in the house that I moved out of 16 years ago (and I now live 2 states away).

            Momma, if I wanted it/missed it, I would have asked for it. Please do me a favor and just get rid of it in the way that is easiest for you (I’m looking at *you* 3rd place swim team ribbon from 8th grade).

      3. What I did when I tackled the utility closet was to ask the converse: Does this cleaning supply make me feel frustrated or guilty?

        Bcs the cleaning brush I never use made me feel guilty, and the cleaning solution that doesn’t work made me feel frustrated.

        1. That’s a really good criterion. It’s very similar to the reason my make-up kit is so tiny. My face: it is what it is, and for weddings and parties and such it will be enhanced as much as I’m willing, which isn’t much at all 😉

    3. I love this!
      The state of existence that brings me the most joy is being at home on my small farm in the country. With partner is good, alone is good too. I have friends that I was really close to when we worked in the same building, but it slowly became my obligation to arrange meet ups when my two closest friends changed employment locations. I got to the point of being tired of doing the work & decided to wait for them to step up. It almost never happens, and without a hard invite, I prefer to skip the drive into town & stay home when I’m not working.
      So sadly I have drifted apart from these people, but given I have more joy at home, I just went with it. I am lucky enough to coattail on my partner’s friendships though. She is much more social, her friends are pretty much my friends, and I don’t have to do any of the friendwork if I don’t want to.

    4. When folks get angry about being asked to respect boundaries, it’s a good time to step back and reevaluate!!! I’ve been trying to do the same eval!! Good luck!

  6. I think there is a GFS component to it, at least on LW1’s friend’s side– isn’t there one about all societal norms being equally and inherently oppressive? (I remember a previous letter about someone who left broken glass on the kitchen floor?) Either way the solution is the same– take Cap’s advice and think carefully about how much work you really want to be putting in, for someone who’s putting in (for whatever reason) MUCH less.
    Captain, regarding your moratorium on “are they like this bc Diagnosis” I totally understand how it’s damaging and agree that there are enough of these columns to be going on with. I do want to thank you– and the ND community members who withstood being bummed out by them– for the letters of this kind that you have already answered. I think that there are, sadly, enough jerks who hide behind their diagnosis to avoid accountability/ableist jerk enablers who dismiss any criticism of the jerky behavior with “how dare you have any expectations of someone with Diagnosis!” that people come to you looking for a reality check. In my case have a family member who has depression and also behaves deeply crappily toward those who love him, and the degree to which my mom and sister jump down my throat when I object to even the most egregious behavior has seriously has had me questioning… just, everything about my own judgement and standards and whether I’m actually a terrible selfish person, even though I also have MANY friends with equally severe depression who DON’T treat me like crap, ever, as well as always trying to treat others with kindness regardless of my own issues myself. Their reactions really messed with my sense of reality, and your columns on the subject have helped a lot. So thank you, and hopefully people who are getting similarly warped messages from the jerks and jerk enablers in their lives can find those columns in the archives and be helped as well.

    1. (My argument about letting people with depression get away with treating you like crap is this: They KNOW they’ve behaved badly, and getting away with it just reinforces that demon about what a shitty person they are–there’s EVIDENCE right there that the demon is right. If you call them on it and make them feel bad, and they apologize, they have proof to show the demon that they’re NOT a bad person. Tell THAT to your mom and sister. I’ve had depression–I’ve met that demon, and experienced that dynamic.)

      1. Seconding TootsNYC as someone else with severe depression/bipolar/anxiety: accommodating and enabling the lyng liar of a demon that is depression is actually harmful, not helpful, at least for me. Setting boundaries and engorcing norms is the kind of social connection and care – you have to care about someone’s behavior to object to it, and correcting it, setting a boundary, etc. demonstrates that you’d rather deal with the conflict so that you can CONTINUE to see this person and enjoy your time with zir instead of fading away – that I find helps combat depression, and beyond what it directly indicates about one’s investment in the person and relationship, shared norms are a big way humans create and reinforce a sense of social belonging, so reinforcing norms can help someone feel more connected and less isolated.

    2. I also found the Captain’s advice around these issues super helpful. I can set my own boundaries with people now and not feel guilty. Like a lot of women, I was trained to believe that I had to soothe and fix people, and if someone had a hard lot in life, then it was OK for them to treat me like a garbage bin for their feelings. Now I do a cost/benefit analysis of relationships and cut loose anyone who falls too heavily on the cost side of things. I feel so much better.

  7. hi. FYI, im not an amazingly well written person up to date with all the terms etc. I am actually worried about getting slammed, but my heart aches in these issues.
    *i have a teenage child on the autism spectrum. i can appreicate the efforts you are making with this friend (who im assuming is on the spectrum in one way or another, maybe not autism completely but ball park), and you sound like a nice person. ok. spectrum people will always have the struggles they have, it can get better usually with modelling and practice and having things explained in detail, my overprotective mum self feels like this is life long learning and we always worry that theyll be manipulated or irritate others to the point people leave them, (not saying you are/will but feel that the lack of social ability leaves them vultnerable).

    what i find helps is saying “when you say …….. to me when i talk about this ……….. it makes me feel bad” or, they need clarification on whats going on – when someone says x they mean x and y, or, spectrum person:when you do this thing/say these things all the time and not mix it up with positive xyz, it makes the other person feel ……” i re read through what the response was above but i have another little person pestering me as i type.

    it feels like their internal compass is running a different type of system. they can need a recipie for all “life situations’. social skills are not intrinsic to them, all the people ive worked with and all the parent groups will say similar things. its so much work as a parent, parents cop it the most. but as a friend, you do need to have the ability to be ok with being a leader to some degree. its not like regular people hurt – friend break up/friend fade etc, sometimes a person doesnt realise their impact on others and while it would be terribly tiring to be that person. spectrum people that ive been with dont generalise information, they have to learn it across all sectors of their being. –the difference between how you talk smack amongst friends vs how you speak to parents. being awkward. being scared so acting like a bossy rude little sh*t. seeing behaviour somewhere else and mimicking it thinking thats a good idea. watching everyone else living and going about their business and standing on the sidelines wondering how others do it.

    alot of parents fear our kid/young adult/adult being out in the world because they dont have ‘regular level skills’. anticipating that if they behave in this way, their friend wont stay their friend… identifying their faults (which is hard enough for most people). the advice seems reasonable, you have to look after yourself and how you feel, i would second the if you start saying xyz about ‘this thing weve already been over (even though i know repetition is important to you’ ill have to go for now and come back another day.
    i guess good luck with it. cheers

    1. Hi, thanks for weighing in with your experience.

      I think it would help to keep a few things in mind in context of the original questions and the discussion so far:

      -As an adult, your child might have some challenges in forming social connections. Whatever those difficulties turn out to be, the struggle and effort will affect your child most of all, it’s not something your child is inflicting on other people to make life difficult for them. I’m sure you don’t think that way, but the more we all frame it that way and reinforce that, the better the world will be.

      -As an adult, your child is allowed to have needs within their friendships and relationships. Needs like: “I try my best, but sometimes I need some repetition and reminders.” I have friends and colleagues and students galore who say: “I don’t make a lot of eye contact, it doesn’t mean I’m not listening to you.” “I like to do something with my hands during conversations, it helps me focus.” “It upsets me and distracts me to be interrupted, can I tell you what I’m thinking and when I’m done, you tell me what you’re thinking?” “I like to work alone on projects if possible, group work and meetings really stress me out, I’d prefer to read emails/text rather than have face-to-face meetings.” Cool, good to know, thank you for telling me! These people are not supplicants or second best, they know themselves, they tell me how to be a good friend to them, I tell them how to be a good friend to me.

      -Other people may or may not warm to your kid, and some of that might be ableism (it’s a crappy, unfair world) and some of that might be their own behaviors. The standard I’m trying to work with here is “If a friend’s behavior is upsetting you, what happens when you ask them to stop? Do they at least try to meet you halfway, or explain where they’re coming from, do they give you something you can work with?” I’d like a world where your child feels like they can ask for what they need, and your child’s eventual friends can ask for what they need, and that directness is respectful.

    2. If I had a nickel for every time the *parent* of an autistic person decided to speak for all autistics, I wouldn’t need to beg the government for disability.

      Listen: being autistic puts a spin on social situations and can make it difficult for some of us, but we’re not stupid okay? I’m really sick of this idea that autistic folk are just helpless and unable to navigate the world at all without people treating us with kid gloves. I know you mean well and that you love your kid, but don’t speak for us please.

    3. yeah…no.

      your comment is a lot of words for “my kid finds Xthings difficult, therefore they won’t learn to do Xthings and everyone needs to work around this”. and it’s not helpful to anyone. it promotes pity friends at the expense of letting us find genuine connection. that’s bad for the pity friend (because they will get burnt out pretending) and it’s even worse for us (they waste time we could’ve spent learning to make real friends or doing literally anything other than cluelessly annoying the pity friend, it’s painful and humiliating when the pity friend ends the “friendship”, and years later when we do make genuine connections we’ll still be wondering “do they really like me, or do they feel sorry for me?”).

      it’s also not true. anyone can be selfish in conversations. anyone can be dysfunctionally ridged in their expectations. I’ve ended friendships with multiple people who failed at all the social skills you probably think are symptoms. guess what? they mostly weren’t autistic. one was, but most were neurotypical and selfish. most of them used *my* diagnosis to justify their behaviour (because people like you, with your good intentioned ablism told them I was So Hard to be friends with).

      attitudes like yours also lead to widespread sexism in the autistic community, and are the reason I feel unsafe going to the biggest autistic community event in my country.

  8. oops, i read the top letter first with the med student – you sound like a very considerate friend 🙂
    my longer post was in relation to the s.needs persn. thanks

  9. Somehow the idea of reciprocity in friendships, relationships etc. has gone missing lately. It’s not selfish to want the other person to actually behave like they give a crap about you! It’s not high-maintenance to say to someone, hey I’ve been listening to you monologue about your problems, when is it my turn? Relationships are about give and take, and it’s possible to say “this relationship is giving me absolutely nothing and I’m moving on” and still be a good person.

    1. Raising children, I worry about the dwindling level of reciprocity in relationships too. I wonder how much social media use has/will contribute to this. ONline, you are given something (a post/picture/tweet) and you spew out your response and…..that’s it. Online, there’s no need to wait your turn, to consider feelings, to focus attention on a live person. I worry that younger people are not learning how to have that polite back and forth, or that MY opinion isn’t the only one worthy of consideration, or that feelings matter.

      1. Online does have its own set of norms, though, or at least decent spaces do. Things like don’t derail, scroll on by if the conversation doesn’t interest you, think about what’s appropriate to share in a given context. They’re not the same as the norms for in-person interaction, but maybe they could serve as a starting point for discussing how to interact in person.

    2. +1. I’m in the process of distancing myself from a friend who frankly doesn’t offer much in the way of positive gains to me while sucking up my time and attention to listen to him and his concerns. I gathered up my courage and had a conversation where I told him, you never ask about me, you never listen to me, I feel like I’m just here as a warm body to listen to you talk. And that was a very hard conversation for me to initiate. To his credit, he apologized and he believes he has improved. But “improvement” means that now he very stiltedly and consciously asks me at the start of every talk, HOW ARE YOU??? and then sits silently, nodding mechanically through whatever I say in response. I can all but hear him thinking, “Five more minutes of feigning interest and then I can talk about myself.”

      I don’t know if he can fix this. I suspect it may be the best he can do. But it’s shoved me into the “fuck it” camp, and I’m consciously trying to hang out with other people more and him less. I do worry this may be confusing to him, the “why” of the distancing, but I don’t know where to go after I say “you need to make more of an effort” and more of an effort is made, but it’s still not good enough and at this rate unlikely to ever be. If fact, the “improvement” itself is an aggravation, since he’s apparently not very good at faking an interest he doesn’t feel. So I’m wandering off, and I’m trying not to feel guilty about it.

    3. There’s also this one:

      “Hey, I have been monologuing about MY troubles for a while. Would you talk for a bit? Would you share some of your troubles with me, so I can be the supportive one?”

      I have a friend who was always my go-to for my troubles, but I realized that she seldom confided in me like that. I don’t know why. But it made me wonder if she really wanted to be my friend, or if I was the one driving the friendship, or that I was the only one getting anything out of it.

      1. Or she’s not a confider.
        I will listen to, rant with, comfort, support, offer insight and advice, and plan with my friends any time, hours at a time. I’m a really good friend that way. But I share with them my fears and hurts? I can’t. I’m working with my therapist to be able to confide in *her*.

      2. I have a friend who was always my go-to for my troubles, but I realized that she seldom confided in me like that.

        As an active listener:
        There are friends who tell me their troubles, and I even call them when I want to hear someone else’s troubles, and be distracted from my own.
        There are friends who tell me their troubles, and make me feel smart and clever because sometimes, the solution to someone _else’s_ problem seems so obvious.
        There are friends who I know don’t talk about their problems often, but they tell me tell me their troubles because I have a reputation for not gossiping, so I’m a safe ear.

        and… there are friends who monologue at me. The difference is really, really clear.

      3. Maybe you’re not on her list of People I Confide In, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t interested in being your friend, or isn’t getting anything out of it. There are a lot of different modes of friendship and ways to be close other than talking about your troubles.

      4. That’s what I finally decided–she certainly made an effort to come visit me. She was the one spending the cash and vacation time! So I decided that I must not fulfill that need for her for some reason. Either my type of support wasn’t helpful, or she had other people, or she just didn’t need that sort of support. (It was a bit rocking, though, when her brother died and I didn’t find out from her until months later!)

        She did ask for help and advice when she was facing a tough work issue, though; that felt good, that I could help. But she was also asking more factual support than emotional; I had insights that she didn’t. And I suppose I wouldn’t have had concrete insights in the case of her brother’s death.

    4. It’s not high-maintenance to say to someone, hey I’ve been listening to you monologue about your problems, when is it my turn?

      “Hey, friend, you’ve been talking for 20 minutes, I’d like to tell you about my day.”
      “Why are you looking at the clock? That’s so rude! *continues monologuing*”

      Next phone conversation, after 5 minutes: Oh hey, Friend, gotta go!

    5. I honestly think it’s because there’s been a heavier push for self love and it spins in a wrong direction. I’ve seen so many people take the idea of taking care of yourself and make it selfish and cruel; I recently broke up with a friend for that reason. It sucks and it’s a sticky situation to talk about because the root of the idea (love yourself, look after yourself first) is a good one, but in practice so many people just become selfish and mean.

  10. After reading both letters I can’t help thinking neither of the LWs’ friends are actually friends at all.

  11. Another thought: is anyone else wondering if perhaps both LWs are female and the friends male? Because this sounds an awful lot like emotional labor being expected from the LWs but none being expended by the friends.

    1. 1168 explicitly says their pronouns are she/her and notes her friend’s as he/they.

      1169 didn’t indicate.

      But this was exactly the thought I had.

      1. LW 1169 referred to the friend as “he” – as did the Captain.

        Yes, I do think that this dynamic is gendered. That is, I think that the person worrying that they aren’t a good enough friend is most likely a woman. I believe that the conversation hog who punishes them when they don’t accept their role could be any gender, although I think someone AMAB and brought up as a boy is in general more likely. (The ideology of patriarchy includes the belief that men’s words are more important than women’s.)

        In the specific case where a woman was brought up around female conversation hogs, I suspect that she might have internalized being silenced by women as well.

        1. I’m a woman who can monologue or who can make the conversation all about me without much effort at all. I’m just pretty self-centered, and if you don’t grab the conversational ball, I might never toss it to you.

          But as the Captain points out:
          If you alert me to this, my reaction is going to be to try to fix it. I am going to join you in putting in a lot of thought and effort toward managing our friendship and fixing this problem.

          I think there ARE women who will be as selfish as both of these friends in these letters, but I think there are fewer of them.

      2. I have found that my men friends are much more likely to have trouble with reciprocity than my women friends. Women are just as capable of monologuing and feelingsdumping, but it seems to me are far more likely to then eventually go, “So how about you?” and let you have your turn.

        1. it’s my native tendency but starting at about age 8 most people tried to actively break me of “taking a lecturing tone” and “holding forth”. … Sexist as that is, I’m not actually sad that I got taught more reciprocal social skills. I have a lot of people in my life who only got the AMAB social training and really do want to have more give-and-take but feel stymied and unsure of how to start.

        2. Re: eventually going “how are you?” and letting you have your turn:

          I hope this isn’t terrible, but in the early days of my relationship with my husband I explained this to him as a sort of female tradition. Doing it explicitly, that is, like the idea that “hey, I need to dump my feelings on someone, but I promise you’ll get your turn too afterwards!” He did understand the general idea of reciprocity but he wasn’t familiar with that way of doing it…

    2. This is definitely a dynamic that I’ve often seen in man/woman friendships, but I’ve also experienced it in woman/woman friendships, so it’s definitely not unique to patriarchy.

      1. As an AFAB POC, I’ve noticed this is very consistently a problem I have with white women (as well as AMAB people). My BIPOC friends are much, much better at checking in and asking if I have the spoons to listen, and respect when I say I don’t (I’m disabled). They’re also better at asking how I’m doing every once in awhile or engaging in reciprocal conversation. White women have habitually used me as a dumping ground and gotten angry at me for attempting to set boundaries. I now try to keep a policy of ending friendships like this, because I am just tired of being yelled at for wanting reciprocity. I’m not yet perfect at enforcing said policy, but I’m trying!

        1. I hear you. It doesn’t surprise me that “listen while I hold forth” goes down the social power gradient, but I’m sorry that you’ve been dealing with it, that sounds exhausting.

          1. ❤ Thank you. It is exhausting, but thankfully CA and a lot of therapy have helped me develop and hold healthier boundaries. 🙂

      2. +1 on the “this happens in various relationships” point. My experience has been that this dynamic is more present with f/f relationships, with a dollop of cultural “You listen to your relatives rant in silence, little girl”.

        Either way, the solution holds regardless of which/any gender the people are. Ask me how I know.

        1. The “person who gets to ramble is a man” may not always hold, but the “person who is expected to shut up and listen and never interrupt and be ok with never being given a turn to speak is a woman” is 99.999999% of the time true.

    3. I also agree this is gendered. Ironically, I often have the exact opposite experience of the typical gendered pattern, which could itself be BECAUSE of the general pattern. I’m AMAB (and ID as male, though neutral/indifferent regarding social gender), and the only friends I’ve had who emotion dump on/process with me without offering reciprocation are women. My friends who are men and seek emotional labor from me are more mutually supportive – they’re interested in analyzing human social dynamics and particular relationships, and they like to talk about both their own and mine.

      As I said, I think this is due to the same general gendered social pattern: men who don’t offer emotional labor to me are also unlikely to seek it from me because men/males don’t do that with each other in their worldview, while some women (it’s not all women in my life) are going to be so burned out on providing unreciporcated emotional labor for men in their lives that they don’t really offer it to me when I don’t demand it (which is fine, I get support from other people and canbset boundaries around what I offer).

    4. Well, women can be terrible conversationalists as well, and bad friends, and emotional vampires.

    5. Someone who uses “he/they” pronouns probably doesn’t identify solely as male, and deciding they’re a cis male is kind of super gross.

      1. I use either he or they pronouns, and would find it insulting if someone referred to me as a cis male. However, being AMAB I’m very aware that I have been socialised as male and that I benefit from male privilege in many situations. I find it highly likely that the LW’s friend is in a similar situation. It does nobody any good to pretend that gendered behaviour doesn’t apply to NB folk.

    6. Besides what has been mentioned about women usually being raised to do the emotional labor in a relationship and be the more quiet/supportive/admiring friend to a man, I think there’s another aspect of sexism that makes it easy for a woman to end up with more than her fair share of listening if the man and woman have interests that fall along traditional gender lines.

      It’s often considered cute, spunky, or admirable for a woman to know traditionally male things, but shameful and ridiculous for a man to be interested in traditionally female pursuits. So when a guy friend explains his fascination with diesel engine mechanics to me and I manage to keep a friendly conversation going, he is proud of me and impressed. But if I were to expound on the finer points of sewing to him, he’d consider it a bit of an insult to his manhood. 😦

  12. I think of letting go of unfulfilling relationships as trading long-term hurt for short-term hurt. I had a friend in college who came out to me as trans woman in our third year. I lived alone, so she’d come over a lot to talk and wear jewelry and dresses and feel comfortable. At the end of fourth year it got difficult. It struggled on for a few years while I did all the traveling to visit and kept up the letter-writing and did favors for her. She got really mad at me when I couldn’t pick up a certain magazine for her — I called her out on her meanness, she called me a transphobe, and that was that. It stung like hell. I had to grieve the friendship. Ultimately, I traded about six months of hurt for four years and counting of hurt. Sometimes it’s better to make the trade.

    1. I really appreciate that framing. I’m dealing with a lot of that right now and I’m trying really hard to be fair when honestly, what I need is to let go.

  13. LWs, three months ago, I dumped a friend like this. It had been strung along for more than 15 years (!!!!) of this going on. The final straw was a bigoted opinion during a time when I just did not need to ever hear that kind of thing ever again in my entire life. So I’ve dropped her.

    It took me 15 years to accept that she wasn’t going to care about me or anything I do, 15 years of her telling me all about her problems with her family and her marriage and her work, 15 years of her not caring at all about anything to do with me or listening when I talked, 15 years of me going “but what does it hurt to keep trying”. Well, the “what does it hurt” was, in the end, “me”. It hurt me that she did it. And I don’t have to keep letting her hurt me.

    She used me as a sounding board, but I’m a human being, and I deserve more than that. That’s my mantra for 2019.

    1. Also, LW, something that helped me frame it: asking myself “if I asked her to tell me the first thing about myself, could she give an answer”. Like, actual basic things like “is RR dating anyone, what’s RR’s gender identity (yes, really), what does RR do for fun”. Could she answer that? The answer was a resounding “nope”. And that speaks volumes.

      1. RR said, this was my barometer, too. I realized I had several major life events that she knew nothing about. I even bought my first house and tried three times to invite her over to see it only to have her steer the get-together to a spot in her neighborhood. Like…I bought an actual house and you can’t take a 7 minute drive to give me 10 minutes to show it off? That’s when I knew.

        I also had another friend invite me out (to her favorite bar where all her barfly friends were, that played sports on TV which I have zero interest in). She spent the whole 2-1/2 hours complaining about work, her ex, her family. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise and finally left. The reason she invited me out? To celebrate my birthday! That’s when I knew with that one. You can’t even let me be the star of the show for two little hours on my own birthday?? No thanks!

        1. I mentioned upstream a friend with whom I have worried about the balance of our friendship (was I the only one benefitting? did I monopolize the conversation? was I never offering her emotional support, and only getting it? was she the only one giving up travel time and money to get together?).

          When she moved to a new city (she lived in the same city as my mom and dad for years, so I could combine visits), I made a plan to travel to her city to visit her new home in a deliberate show of interest and sacrifice for our friendship.

  14. This is timely – I have a “problematic” friend who I wish to keep in my life, but she has some mental health issues and some… challenging behaviours and personality traits. Some of which were on full display the last time I saw her. Most of our mutual friends have distanced themselves already. I still feel she brings positive things into my life and I like her company when she’s level. Boundaries are soooooo important for making this work, as well as remembering that I can always just take space for myself and do the “small doses” thing for awhile if need be.

    Finally, I find it important to not be afraid of losing the friendship if it comes down to it. My social circle isn’t large, and friends don’t need to be perfect, but if I ever get to the point where it feels bad more than good, I know I’m better off being a little lonelier than trying to hang onto something draining just for the sake of having someone to chill with a couple times a month.

  15. I struggled with this stuff for a long time, and I think it was because I felt like the other person in these types of scenarios clearly liked me! They spent lots of time with me! They sought me out! They shared all their dire emotional burdens and deep dark secrets! And I didn’t really understand why someone would do that if they didn’t really like and care about me. But actually people will do this sometimes because they like the emotional support that you give. They like the attention and care and having someone to talk to who listens attentively. And if they’re not reciprocating then maybe that’s all they really like, or see, or care about.

    This ties in with any issues you have around what a healthy relationship looks like, or low self esteem that makes you want everyone to like you. Or the feeling that just being yourself isn’t enough for a friendship, you have to provide some other value. I mean those are all factors for me anyway!

    But getting really clear about why these types of people acted as if they were my close friend in some ways, but like they didn’t like me at all in others really helped to let them go.

    1. “They like the attention and care and having someone to talk to who listens attentively. And if they’re not reciprocating then maybe that’s all they really like, or see, or care about. ”

      This so much.

      I see as they don’t care about you as a -person- but only as a role, which may be an isolated one (you’re the “dumping problems in and getting comforting noises out friend”) or part of a more complex social role (you’re the daughter/in-law, you gotta shut up and listen) but either way, you’re not getting treated as a fellow human but as basically a chat bot, to paraphrase one of the LWs.

      It hurts and it sucks.

  16. I think this is screamingly common, sadly. I do have a friend I meet up with occasionally. He had taken to complaining about work, which ended up taking over our entire hang-out time. Eventually, I suggested that our first 10 minutes would be non-stop ranting and after that, no more negativity for the rest of the visit. It worked! Now he initiates it and cuts himself off after 2 minutes and we get to keep this friendship.


    1. So wonderful that your honest negotiation resulted in something doable for you both. That’s what I call friendship! Hurray.

  17. Oof, #1168 reminds me a bit of my mom. It’s not quite so blatant, but it’s really hard to talk about something I’m interested in for more than a minute unless it’s something that interests her too. If only I had a good answer. I remember chatting with her about it a little and it got better, but of course then it got worse again. I feel like I “should” remind her again but I’m tired and it’s easier to listen to her ramble on about her day and friends and medical maladies for 30 minutes a few times a week. Ironically she talks about wanting to know me better but doesn’t follow up at all. She also tends to constantly talk and monopolize conversations in social situations, so I know it’s not just me.

    Yeah there’s probably a whole question to Captain Awkward in this, but I’ll just leave this here in solidarity.

    1. Same, except for the last part. In my family, it’s definitely just us daughters (sister and me) who get rambled at about the exact texture of mom’s bread this morning and never asked the slightest thing about our lives. Mom is relatively quiet and called a good listener by people who aren’t her daughters, which says volumes.

      1. My mom does this to everyone. I’ve just taken to interrupting her and with “yes Mom, but I need to tell you something important” and “Ok, but I hadn’t finished telling you my story” when she rambles without end. I also make copious use of “thank you, I got it. See you on [date] at [time]. I have to go now.” when the conversation starts repeating itself.

        Also “it’s great to chat, but was there a reason you called?” is a handy one to have in your back pocket.

        I might have to use two of these in any given conversation, but she doesn’t get mad at me when I do, so I call it a win.

      2. Oof, that sounds harder since you know she “could”. “Exact texture of mom’s bread” is totally how I feel about certain conversations. I can’t even imagine how to have a conversation that detailed!

    2. Wow, if this had been “mum” instead of “mom” I’d be like did I in fact post this? XD

      Right down to the says she wants to be closer and know me better, but makes no effort to show even a polite interest in the things I’m actually excited about.

      1. Oh I know, isn’t that the worst? She wants me to talk more, but has a habit of literally telling me she doesn’t care about some things or changing the topic really quickly for others. Solidarity.

  18. As always, Captain, your answers are so great.

    Yes, it’s good to be generous and give people the benefit of the doubt. But as you say, if you are giving and giving and getting next to nothing back, can that really be a friendship?

    And thank you so much for the reminder that disability or atypical neurology is not the same thing as being a jerk, ever.

    Quick anecdote… I made fast friends with work colleague years ago. He and I worked in an industry where you often worked with a small team of 2-3 people doing intense short term projects. We worked really well together and were great friends. I was recently divorced and this true friendship meant so much to me.

    Over the years we kept in touch, and would see each other in person when he would come back to our town after he moved away. In the meantime I had remarried and had children. For a great while it was fun to see him 2-3 times a year and go out to dinner and get a break from my routine and diapers and etc. But then I began to notice that he was doing a lot of venting about his relationships, his career, etc, and he basically cut me off or redirected when I vented. We could still have great conversations about cultural things we both enjoyed, and there was great overlap there, but I could see he didn’t want to hear a thing about my new career or my family. Ever. at all.

    The last straw for me was when one day he had asked me about a creative project I was doing, mostly just for the sheer fun of it, and he deprecatingly said, “Oh, you’ll never sell that.” And then moved right on to the next subject.

    I was crushed and angry.

    I gave him the slow fade after that. If he could be such an incredible wet blanket about a project that I KNEW was not about the money, that I KNEW would be difficult to sell, and yet share NONE of my joy or interest in just doing the work whether it ever sold or not…..

    Gentle Reader, I was done.

    I wish him well, I bear him no ill will, but I’ve never seen him in person again since that day and I found a way to gradually back out of our email correspondence without a big confrontation. Because there would be no point to that. He was only interested in me as a foil for his life. He really did not want to see me, the whole me, or listen.

    Thank goodness I have other friends who do want to. We had a great run when we were first work colleagues and I will always remember that. But enough was enough.

  19. It’s really hard to draw the line on where symptoms of a disability end and creepy/assholish behavior begins. I had to draw back from a guy in a hobby that I participate in who would message me ALL the time. He was a lot like 1169 except instead of negativity, he would usually want me to repeat something I had JUST posted about instead of commenting on that thread and would get a bit whiny if I didn’t respond right away. At the time I was willing to brush it off as non-neurotypicality, but like 1169 said, it got exhausting, and I eventually had to turn off the chat.

    Fast forward to last week, and two other women also in this hobby told me that he has also targeted them in a similar manner, and that he DOES NOT go after mutual male friends in the hobby. He lives near one of them and has gone as far as to try to figure out when she will be at work. They haven’t had any luck with trying to gently explain that while we like *him,* he tends to come on too strong.

    This is a pretty grey area for us, because we don’t know if it’s actually his neurodivergence or if there are more typical motives at work. We don’t really want to be MEAN to him and cut him off completely or use very harsh statements in case this really is the neurodivergence, but we also don’t want to be on the receiving end of behavior that, regardless of why it happens, feels very intrusive.

    1. Hi there Larielera, thanks for posting this, because this is exactly the kind of question/comment I want to address/head off in bulk, and this post was not an invitation for people to complain about people they know with neuro-divergences.

      You write “It’s really hard to draw the line on where symptoms of a disability end and creepy/assholish behavior begins.”

      I would argue, NOT REALLY. Here’s what you know:

      -The guy messages you more than you’d like.
      -He behaves this way to the other women in the group but not the men.
      -He over-monitors the women’s social media feeds, expects immediate personalized responses (vs. public posting comments to the OP), lots of attention, gets upset if you don’t give it, and has tried to figure out where at least one woman lives.

      You don’t have to do ANY work to figure out why this is happening and how much, exactly, to attribute it to a cognitive processing difference (and thereby associate creepy behavior with people who have the same dx as this guy). You already know what you need to know: YOU DON’T LIKE IT and HE CAN HELP IT (HE DOESN’T DO IT TO DUDES).

      Start there. You absolutely did the right thing when you blocked him on the chat. It would have also been cool to say “Hey, dude, if you want to respond to a social media post I made, just reply to the original thing, I don’t want to have private chats with you about things I post for general discussion.”

      Periodt. That’s it. You don’t have to diagnose whatever it is and I would actually beg you (and people who have similar stories) to stop doing this. Neurodivergences aren’t things that happen to or at neurotypical people and I would explicitly like this blog to stop working this dynamic out in 2019. You don’t have to be “mean” or “harsh” or “cut someone off forever” if their behaviors don’t sync up exactly, but you are allowed to say a direct “I don’t like this thing you are doing, please stop” and expect that the person will respect it. If they don’t, it most likely wasn’t because of their diagnosis.

      Thank you for sharing what you did, your post is a very common attitude and I don’t want to single you out, but we need to stop automatically associating “creep” with “brain works differently” and “communicating a boundary” with “being mean.” We’re GONNA stop doing it on Captain Awkward Dot Com in 2019.

      1. Autistic people (like me) really want people to use their words instead of going “welp, autism, can’t help it, what can you do?” We can help it. If we’re doing something wrong, we need people to tell us.

        I’ve noticed something about the kind of behaviour that tends to be discussed in this way, though. I’ve seen a lot of “well maybe that was because autism” and around 90% of it is about a man who treats a woman badly. “Is he really creepy, or just autistic?” they say. But I’ve never seen it the other way around. It seems to be the latest version of the whole “yeah but him grabbing your butt wasn’t really all that bad, was it?” thing. These diagnoses (often made of complete strangers) are usually an attempt to show compassion for both parties, but what they end up doing is adding to the stigma.

        The one place where I do think it’s useful knowing about neurodivergent conditions is sometimes in how to approach a problem. If it’s bothering you, you absolutely should approach it. You don’t have to tolerate someone being a dick. But I’ve given a few pointers below from the autistic perspective about monologuing because I think the best approach is different from what works with neurotypical people.

        1. Thanks for giving the perspective of a neurodivergent person. How would you recommend someone approach someone like you with a problem like those described in the letters?

      2. I sort of see the Captain’s point as “stop worrying about why.”

        Why doesn’t matter–you have no need (and maybe no right) to come up with reasons–stay in your own lane.
        You don’t like it–state what you want, what you like. And set up boundaries and enforce them.

        If someone is neuro-atypical, they’ll react well to this. Maybe they won’t fix their quirk perfectly, maybe they’ll be defensive or hurt. But they won’t be an asshole.

        (I’m a mom, and so the “why” *is* my business with my children, because God assigned me the job of loving them and teaching them and raising them, of getting them help with they need it, in whatever form is best for them. I voluntarily took on this job with my spouse, and he agreed to it. God also assigned me my siblings, to SOME degree. But I haven’t been given this job for everyone else. )

      3. Somewhere there’s a post about someone stepping on a foot. It’s like ‘you’re stepping on my foot, you need to get off. If you have foot stepping disease, you need to get off my foot. If you’re unaware that you’re stepping on my foot, you need to get off my foot. If everyone in your culture steps on feet, you need to get off my foot.’ There may be more, but that’s the idea (did you write this Cap?), somewhere on the inter webs. I don’t know why but for some reason this resonated with me 1000X. The idea that it really doesn’t matter why. It’s a reasonable expectation and there need be zero conversation as to the whys and wherefores. I think that special consideration for children and folks unable to care for themselves (senile dementia, etc) but everyone else gets ‘get off the foot.’

        1. It is a great, great comment (that I didn’t write) that first appeared on Metafilter. One of the great internet comments of all time. Good reminder.

        2. I think even children and senile people still need to get off your foot. Your delivery may be different; you may HELP them get off your foot. But…

          1. Yes of course, but for kids it’s a teachable moment, and for senile folks it’s caretaking (bc they will not get better).

    2. As someone who IS autistic and has also been harassed and stalked by men whose behaviors were excused as “socially awkward,” this type of post actually infuriates me.

      1. My stalkers were socially awkward, yes. They were also stalkers. Their social awkwardness maybe informed the WAY they were creeps, but it did not make them creeps.

      2. Why is it always men harassing women who get to use the socially awkward excuse? People will practically leap to a random guy’s defense to say he’s “just socially awkward,” but when I make a harmless mistake in a conversation, I get ostracized as the “annoying girl.”

      3. I would also like to posit that even if being socially awkward was what MADE some of these men creeps, that doesn’t mean their behavior is excused. Their behavior is still harassment and it’s not acceptable. So, really, whether or not the behavior is because of neurodivergency or not is BESIDES THE POINT.

      This attitude where a man’s harassment, stalking, and sexual assault can be excused as being neurodivergent is part of what puts women like me at risk because we are NEVER given the same amount of leeway in much less dire circumstances. This is the kind of attitude that allowed my college to let my stalker and assaulter come back to class every week even though the college believed me about what he did. This is the kind of attitude that let him come back to an elective dance class that he certainly didn’t need for graduation every week even though other women came forward with complaints as well.

      All because he’s “socially awkward.”

      Who cares if he’s neurodivergent? He’s a fucking creep and we need to stop allowing men to use that an excuse to get away with harassment while never actually examining the ableism behind such assumptions.

      Captain, I appreciate your efforts in this topic to prevent people from just complaining about neurodivergent people they know. Your response to this comment is on point and, as an autistic woman who is often targeted for harassment by neurodivergent men, is much appreciated.

      1. Thank you for writing this. I also feel that these ideas usually are brought up in deference of the aggressor, and never the “victim”. Why don’t people say: Some people are socially awkward and have a harder time defending themselves from (insert bad thing here), so we need to have zero tolerance for this.

        I’m so very sorry that you were treated that way by your classmate and your college.

        1. “Some people are socially awkward and have a harder time defending themselves from (insert bad thing here), so we need to have zero tolerance for this.”

          100% this.

  20. You can only control your own behavior. You can’t change them. They have to accept the feedback and want to do better. Don’t apologize, don’t be dragged along with what other people want from you if you aren’t having fun. There is only one person in this life that you are cosmically entitled to make happy…yourself.

    If a friendship takes this much work and so much of it isn’t fun…maybe you really don’t have much in common and can’t be good friends.

    Let go of relationships that don’t bring you joy.

  21. Both LW’s have every right to dump these people if that’s what they would prefer. Some people just don’t deserve friends plain and simple because they are takers and not givers. It’s hard when there’s an element of feeling sorry for them thrown in the mix, but in the end, you have to look after yourself too and only give yourself to other people who deserve it. If they have a problem with it, it is their problem to work on with a therapist as to why they can’t hold onto any friendships. It’s hard to find really good people to be friends with, but that doesn’t mean you have to put up with people who are bad to be friends with.

    1. There are also, unfortunately, people who parcel out friendship: “This person is my good-buddy-good-times friend, and this one over here is my venting friend.” So you can drop that person, or be dropped, and see them be good friends with somebody else…and it’s still not you. They found another vent-ee, that’s all. (And their good-buddy-good-times friend, even if they don’t suddenly find themselves reassigned to the role of venting friend, may eventually discover that they aren’t much use to that person if they stop having good times…because people like this are users.)

    2. I don’t think it’s a matter of deserving. I don’t make friends as a project to reward deserving people. I make friends because I like them and they like me and we like spending time with each other and _are_ friends. It’s as much a description as a choice.

      Someone you’re spending time with because you think they ‘deserve’ it isn’t actually a friend, IMO. Spending a lot of time with someone isn’t the same as being friends.

      1. Yeah, I agree with this. I don’t think it’s about awarding friendship only to the deserving, but simply maintaining those friendships that work for you (and hopefully also for the friend). If it’s fundamentally not working and you don’t see it getting better, and your heart sinks when you hear from the other person, it’s not really a case of mutual friendship any more – whether they’ve done something objectively wrong or whether their personality just drives you up the wall.

  22. LW 1169, are you me?

    I had a friendship end because I tried to ask if my friend could please respond to messges and texts within 24 hours and have her reply be tangentially related to my text before she starting complaining about work. Our in person meetups often includes her complaining about her coworkers for the majority of 2-3 hours, and I asked if she could try to limit it to an hour as I was starting to get really drained by it. She said my requests were increasing her anxiety and that I was making her responsible for my emotions. She then went on to say that a facial expression I’d made months earlier bothered her and so did the way I breathe.

    We are no longer friends.

    1. I’m sorry, just the juxtaposition of “You not wanting to listen to me rant about my coworkers for 3 hours is you making me responsible for your feelings and therefore bad/wrong” and “I don’t like how you breathe (implied ‘and it’s your fault’)”…does your ex-friend even hear herself??

      1. One of the most common user/abuser* tricks I’ve unfortunately been trained *very well* to spot is to hold one person in a dynamic to one perfectly reasonable-sounding set of standards and the other person to the opposite perfectly reasonably-sounding set of standards. The results superficially mimic the normal process of negotiating a shared dynamic that respects individual autonomy between two people, but with one person doing all the sharing and the other having all the autonomy.

        *This works for political ideologues too; ask me about the ways people argue about what expectations it’s reasonable to have of members of my activist org! It’s fantastically embarrassing to witness!

        1. Ok now i want an example please? I think you’re on to something and i can’t wrap my head quite around it. Thanks!!!

      2. She was struggling with a lot; substance abuse, past trauma, depression/anxiety. So I tried to be understanding for as long as I could, but when she started trying to police my breathing and facial expressions, I had to bow out. I’m neurodivergent myself, and it was taking a real toll on me. In a lot of ways I was sad, but also somewhat relieved.

          1. To this day, I’m not sure. She couldn’t explain it, only that it annoyed her so much that she did not want to be around me. I have no breathing/respiratory problems that I know of, and no one else has ever reported any annoyance, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        1. “I’m neurodivergent myself” & ” I tried to be understanding for as long as I could”

          so…I might be projecting, but are these things linked? I’ve found I/we (ND people, particularly ND women) spend so long being told the way we socialise is Wrong and we need to be More Understanding or people won’t like us that we sometimes get stuck trying to be The Most Understanding, Least Selfish Friend to people who are just not putting in that much effort.

          I mean, I’m sure your friend had issues she struggled with, but maybe her other friends weren’t as willing to Be Understanding because they weren’t socialised like that.

          1. I would say that’s right, at least in my case. Having an emotionally abuse parent that screamed at me about how I would never be loved and everything I did was wrong definitely made an imprint on my mind and the way I act around other people. Sort of a “take what you can get, no matter how awful because you don’t deserve better” outlook. I’m in therapy and it’s helping but I always have that little voice in the back of my head.

          2. For sure. I also grew up in an emotionally abusive home, so I’m used to taking crap. I have a “take what you can get, no matter how awful, because you’re never going to get anything better” mentality.

    2. Holy cow you were willing to listen to her rant for an hr every time you met!?? I mean some ranting sometimes, or situationally a lot of times for good friends who at other times reciprocate (bc we all go through bad stuff) but wow, telling you that she was anxious and it’s your fault bc she gets an hr?? And you breathe wrong? People who can’t take no for an answer and get mad when you say it, are not friends.

      1. Yeah, she would rant in minute detail about aaaaallllll the things that her coworkers said and did that made her mad. And repeat herself. I thought one hour would be a welcome relief from the record, which was almost five hours of ranting. At that point, I thought I was helping her by being a sympathetic ear, and I didn’t want to feel like a jerk for not Being A Friend.

  23. This issue is so germane to me that for a second, when I got on the website and saw the post headline, I thought I’d written in and just forgotten. In the last couple months I decided to back off from talking to somebody specific about my life and they haven’t noticed lmao. Anyway, good luck, everybody.

  24. LWs, if you haven’t had a direct conversation about this, I would really recommend doing that. Explain how you’re feeling, tell your friend what would need to change to make things better, and ask them if they’re willing to do that. It might work! Worst case scenario, they say no (or say yes and then don’t do it–a different path to the same result) and you’re left exactly where you are now.

    But if you’ve already tried that, and it hasn’t fixed things, you may need to recognize that your friend isn’t going to change their behavior. Unfortunately, you can’t force them to if they don’t want to, even if their behavior is killing your friendship. From there, you need to decide for yourself if the relationship AS IT CURRENTLY IS–not how it was a decade ago, not how it could be if they just tried a little harder, but as it is now–is worth your time, energy, and emotional investment. If the answer is ‘no’, it might be time to step back.

    1. Wellll, there can be worse case scenarios. Like they blow up at you; freak out; start calling 10x as often; start stopping by every day unannounced to say their piece then leave; gossip to your mutual friends about your cruel abandonment of them because you asked them to dial it down a little; they somehow show up wherever you or your kids are out in public; they go passive aggressive, sarcastic, and/or start picking fights with every word you utter…ask me how I know.

      Hopefully, there aren’t too many people like that in the world, and a direct conversation attempt is good, but be prepared that the friend who has trouble with reciprocal conversation may have fundamental troubles with reciprocal friendship. The person who never wants to hear you may not want to hear you when you talk about the never-hearing-you problem. And some people will respond to you stepping back by jumping forward onto your toes, because what they want you to endlessly listen to is SO IMPORTANT.

      1. I’ve got one of those as well, in our friend group. She kept blowing up at people, in this insidious way, going privately to complain about person b to person a, then when she did it to me (the complaining about others) one too many times i called her on it. She went OFF the rails. Like it was scary off. Luckily via text so at least there is evidence. And then when i set boundaries (like telling her i was sorry she felt suicidal and i would be happy to call the police but that the boundaries still wouldn’t change, like telling her that my words or lack thereof didn’t MAKE her do anything, unlike her claims, and like her alleged (i didn’t say alleged to her) bipolar disorder wasn’t an excuse to trample boundaries, etc etc, and then she attempted (still is) to erase me from the friend group (she’s in her 50s and when i would be at a pub, for our typical Friday, she’d secretly text others and invite them to another location, after i’d Posted, hey folks at the pub… your typical middle school stunts). She couldn’t make me disappear or make anyone else get on board to hate me, so now she just sits and literally picks at everything i say, others have noticed (which is good as it means eventually she’ll wear everyone out and hopefully it’ll become awkward for her). It’s awful and i wish i knew how to navigate it without leaving the group. It’s like she’s made it so toxic.

        1. I totally get that you don’t want her to shove you out of a group you enjoy. At the same time, this might be a good moment to also start developing one-on-one friendships with the people you’re closest to from that group, if only so you have a way to see people without having to deal with the toxicity.

          1. That’s exactly what i’m doing!!! It feels a bit weird, bc i keep getting told that she’s still talking about me, by those folks. But i’ve Gently said to anyone who tells me things, that they can ‘feel free not to tell me anything that she says, that she has the ability to tell me herself, and it kind of isn’t so good for my feelings.’ That kind of thing. It’s still going back to some equilibrium. And she drove one person away, with her never ending not so subtle jabs. I also think it’s time to start inviting more folks to the group, maybe dilute her a bit (though i worry she’ll just see it as new folks to torture). Mostly i’m Just tired of the emotional labor around trying to make certain i don’t fall into a false equivalence black hole every time i have to set another boundary…. but thanks for the validation!!!!

          2. Ugh, why are people like that? Good for you setting the boundary that you don’t want to hear what she says about you!

  25. Oh, LWs. I spent the first 23 years of my life in your shoes. I picked up a mishmash of good friends and friends with whom I was doing 99% of the work in the friendship.

    My therapist asked me what would happen if I matched the 1% energy in those relationships. Honestly, I thought that the other person would step up more so I pulled back. In most of the relationships, our friendship died quickly once I refused to do all the emotional lifting – and I realized that I liked having the extra time and space to invest in my good relationships.

    A similar pruning happened when my son was born very early. For the first year of his life, I had very little to give to anyone else because keeping him alive and healthy and being with my husband through the ups and downs took most of my energy. My good friends understood; I had been at their side during hard times and they came my way when my life got hard. My friends of convenience left – and I barely noticed until they reappeared as my son became a toddler. I said hi when they came back – but I only invested energy that I could afford to lose – and most drifted away again pretty quickly.

    Some friends are more of a hassle than they are worth.

    1. Yes this!!! My therapist said something very similar, she asked me how would i feel if i was doing and saying all the things that person x was doing and saying to me. That i should spend some time, a lot of time, like a good half hr or so, thinking of behaving like person x, and what that would look/feel like. It helped me to make a benchmark of sorts to get in touch with ‘I wouldn’t treat another human that way so why am i actually putting up with this??’ Feelings.
      It’s worse when you pull back though, like #1169, and the parasite refuses to accept your pulling back. At least with folks who just go away, it’s peaceful. I suspect #1169 LW is going to have to go defcon 3 on the blocking.

  26. I have a work friend who started being chilly towards me once I started dating my boyfriend. I don’t talk about him all the time, I promise! I think she is jealous. We used to be work pals, grousing about the general annoyingness of life and telling stories, garbage can human type stuff (that haha misery we all feel). I thought we were friends. I think she is avoiding me, and we had a very weird anti-conversation about shoes? She was very aggressively disagreeing with me about a brand.

    Her potential jealousy is her issue, not mine. I’m not rubbing her face in my relationship happiness or in anyway being too much about it. Everything is super chilly right now. I will be sad if it doesn’t thaw out. It’ll work out, or not. Her issue! Next time I see her, I’ll definitely mention how we haven’t seen each other, look at those work schedules, haha-not-really. Ask her about her life, what she’s been doing.

    I mention this because both LWs can have that talk with their friends, see how the next interaction goes, and they are going to feel whatever they feel. It’s ok to talk to your friends about your life!

    1. Maybe they are jealous, or maybe they just can’t stand that you suddenly have something in your life you are excited about. Either way, they are acting jerking, so it may be time to cut one’s losses and move on.

      I know because I’m dealing with the same thing. Friends who were happy to dump their unhappiness on me suddenly became quiet and short as soon as I had exciting news to share or wanted to talk about something that made me happy. Maybe they have their own busy lives, maybe it’s not something they wanna hear about right now – either way, trying to engage with them hurts, so I stopped. I like to think they’ll talk to me when they’re ready… in the meantime I try not to make myself hurt any more by going no contact.

  27. These may not be romantic relationships, but I feel the Sheelzebub Principle still applies. If you knew these friendships would ALWAYS look like this, no matter what, how long would you stay? It’s okay to pull back the level of effort you’re putting in if the friendship in general is one that makes you feel ignored and undervalued and leaves you frustrated more than it leaves you happy and satisfied. Some people are just sometimes-friends, or small-doses people. It can be anything -a mismatch in interests, or spoons, or someone who’s fun to do some things with, but whose company you just don’t want at all times.

  28. I am autistic (diagnosed twice by doctors) and I use people like the friends of 1168 and 1169 to improve my listening skills and to practice expressing empathy.

  29. Yep, been in Tired Human’s position with a friend, ended up pulling waaaaaay back on the friendship.

    There’s a toxic dynamic I notice sometimes in people around me – perhaps akin to a “geek social fallacy” (though not necessarily related to geeks – the one kind group I know of /I’m involved in where I notice this fallacy a fair amount seems to be “lefty social justice-y people” :

    Namely : the idea that negative experiences deserve being talked about /being listened to more, count more or are more authentic than positive experiences. Cue conversations originally meant to be supportive degenerating in snark and vitriol over several people basically competing over “who has the shittiest time gets to matter the most”.

    (Another possibly related “social fallacy” in these groups is that “to be a Good Citizen /Virtuous Activist etc.” you need to be constantly experiencing and expressing negative feelings at what is happening in the world, to the extent that some people end up spending such a tremendous amount of energy on being angry /sad /disgusted /outraged that they end up having little left for actually doing things that could improve the situation).

    I wonder if anyone else noticed that or has thoughts on it.

    1. YES!

      And I think it’s easy for this to happen in friendships, especially when a part of the value of the friendship is emotional support through difficult times.


    2. I see it in certain religious subcultures as well, indeed it’s a long-standing tradition in some. “The world is so awful, if you ever enjoy anything or take a break from railing against the darkness, then you are either complicit in the corruption or you are a frivolous, heartless, and useless person.”

      If you’ve ever seen “Cold Comfort Farm,” you will recognize the Quivering Brethren as a phenomenon all over the social & political spectrum.

    3. I have noticed this too. I actually started to fall into that fallacy, and became very critical of everything: This heartfelt romantic comedy is an abusive relationship, these sneakers are made by sweatshop workers, this sunset is a sign of global catastrophic pollution. It even affected my personal life: This work assignment is due to sexism and late-stage capitalist greed!

      It got to the point where I couldn’t genuinely enjoy anything, because it was More Virtuous to acknowledge the seedy underbelly of everything, and I felt so clever and informed for knowing The Truth.

      But really I was just becoming pessimistic and negative. I was constantly outraged and depressed and it sapped the joy out of everything because every solution, every reprieve was riddled with flaws.

      I’ve made a massive effort to seek therapy, be kinder to myself and others, disconnect from the news and social media, and become more aware of my emotions and thoughts. I’ve definitely noticed changes where now I can acknowledge the flaws of something but choose to focus on joy or positive aspects if I want to.

      “Yes these sneakers are made by sweatshop workers, but they are comfy and look great on me. This sunset is a sign of global warming but isn’t it amazing that somehow, on this rock hurtling through the vacuum of space, distant explosions happen to translate to such beautiful sensations in my brain? And aren’t I fortunate to be able to take this moment to feel awe and appreciation?”

      I hope others are able to make the shift to kinder, gentler thoughts when they want to.

    4. Re: the second social fallacy around activism: https://pics.me.me/stephen-kinsella-stephenkinsella-siri-describe-2018-in-one-tweet-please-38414436.png

      [Image description: Twitter post by Stephen Kinsella: “Siri, describe 2018 in one tweet.” Quoted tweet by Tim Grierson: “Being angry all the time is exhausting and corrosive. Not being angry feels morally irresponsible.”]

      And absolutley, it’s important to discuss the bad things that are going on in the world and happening to specific individual people, but you (general) also need a damn break from all the bad stuff if you’d prefer not to burn out.

      1. Don’t forget the additional bind around those perceived as female. We are dismissed and denigrated for expressing anger in the first place.

    5. ::flails:: ARE YOU IN MY HEAD???!!! That is exactly what I have been dealing with recently. I will never get away from the discrimination and shit I deal with as a marginalised person, but for the first time in my life I am happy and I want to ENJOY it instead of constantly retraumatising myself. This did not go down well with someone who I regarded as a close friend, but I am happier now that I pulled away from that environment. Thank you to CA and commentaters for teaching me how to use my words with this.

  30. I’m a little worried LW1169 might actually have to have some kind of friendship summit/dramatic interaction/something to get out of this situation. The way this guy horns in on LW’s time playing their favorite game and can’t handle boundaries, along with the way he actively seeks them out for emotional support, means to me that he might create a LOT of friction around LW1169 pulling away from the friendship.

  31. I’m going to push back on the idea that everyone,in order to be a decent human, takes part in uninteresting conversations as a sign of affection. I think this is an unreasonable expectation that the LWs are putting on themselves and that the ground isnt going to crack open if they say in the moment ‘oh I am not interested in x, lets talk about y’. There may be other friends who do this purely for affections sake in a way that works (kind of like a love language) but you know who they are. I would decide if there are less talky activities like movies that could work, or if birthday cards and Facebook likes from a distance are more appropriate signs of affection. It could be that they just want a vent machine or they simply have no idea that you would continue to sit there listening if you were not truly fascinated.

    1. I actually think that putting up with some degree of uninteresting conversation is a really important social skill! There are limits, of course–you can’t reasonably expect people to listen to you rant about your latest obsession for hours if they’re not into it, no matter how much they love you. But a little bit is a normal, standard part of making conversation; not everything is going to be about your personal favorite thing, and part of adult communication is finding ways to engage respectfully and on a level that’s appropriate to your relationship even when the topic is the new restaurant your friend discovered and you’d rather be talking about your favorite band.

      And conversation is critical to relationship building. If you can’t handle your loved ones talking about their passions for even a few minutes? If you shut things down and change the subject every time they bring up a topic that isn’t offensive or anything, but isn’t your favorite thing either? Most people don’t have time for that dynamic. That goes double if they’re clearly taking the time to listen to you talk about your interests and you’re not returning the favor…but even if they’re not going particularly out of their way, most people will be pretty offended if you totally shut down conversation every time the topic turns towards something you’re not passionate about for a few minutes. If you keep it up for a long time, they’re eventually going to stop trying to talk to you, and then the relationship is dead in the water.

      It’s true that some people will refuse to do this. But that’s because they either have poor social skills and haven’t learned better yet (in which case a direct conversation explaining why it’s important should go a long way towards fixing things), or because they’re a jerk who doesn’t care if they hurt others as long as they’re getting exactly what they want (in which case no amount of conversation will fix it; you just have to decide to either put up with it or move on from the relationship).

      1. There is absolutely a time and place for this approach in order to grease social wheels. My point is that at some point they should start turning for you on their own. That it is perfectly okay to say: “Oh you (should) know that’s my thing! I am more interested in hearing about…” You can say that in the moment, because it is both honest and helpful, and not be a terrible human.

        I think social skills are great but eventually conversation has to be personally rewarding. Even if you are socialised female where I think the social fallacy is ‘I should love perfecting my people skills more than having mutual fun and interests with someone’

        1. also, I think there is some “grabbing the conversational ball away from someone” that is ALSO a social skill.

          I find it so hard to have good friendships with passive conversationalists. And my most rewarding friendships have been with people who will just take over and talk about their problem, or their favorite band, or their latest challenge at work, without me having to ask leading questions.

          1. Thank you for this framing about grabbing the conversational ball!

            I am less interested in friends behaving “correctly” or even fairly than I am in compatibility. I’m an enthusiastic talker, I do well with the same, I love a lot of quiet people and do my best to take turns/give them room and air, I don’t mind being interrupted, I might forget to ask the exact fair/right number of questions if I’m enthusiastic about something, I’m not a great Guess Culture person.

            I’m not interested in setting up a master list of things everyone has to do in conversation to be a good friend, I am interested in giving people permission to be direct with each other about what they need, look for compatibility in their friendships, and to respect their own energy/enjoyment/involvement/style.

          2. Agreed; I’m much more like you, TootsNYC and CA, conversationally. I recently made a new friend, and one of the reasons I get along very well with her (beyond similar values, outlooks, etc.) is that she’ll grab the convo ball and run with it, so we can trade off pretty effortlessly. People with whom I have to put more effort into conversation inevitably have others with whom it would seem effortless – it’s very much a matter of compatibility.

          3. Hmm this is an interesting frame that helps to explain a thing. Some of my most frustrating friendship moments have been with people where we typically take turns grabbing the conversational ball… and on most topics I am perfectly fine with & good at that! So I develop great witty banter friendships with these people. But when I’m trying to talk about complex serious feelings things, I’m not witty or articulate, I need a lot of extra time to find my words + more active follow-up questioning. So we reach a point where I listen to them talk about serious problems, but they don’t listen to me in return, because we can’t/don’t figure out the conversational style switch that I need. Feels bad every time!

      2. The other conversational skill I think some people don’t have is the art of asking questions that shape the monologue/rant.

        I don’t really care about that rock band, but I care about you. So I’m not interested in hearing that they’re touring next year as straight-up news–how does that intersection with YOU? Are you hoping to catch them? What might stop you?
        I don’t much care about their new album, but how does their music make you feel?

        When I’m talking about something that my friend doesn’t much care about (they don’t read Terry Pratchett, or watch Mrs. Maisel), I try to make my conversation be about something more general. Is there some insight I have gained, and hearing me talk about it helps you get to know me better? Or is more of a commentary on our world in general?

    2. I feel like in the question ‘talk about hobby I don’t find interesting’ got very muddled with ‘talk about my life’. In friendship there should always be a component about caring about what is happening about your friends life and what is going up there. Things like “I am X close to my medical degree and these are my feeling about that” is a totally different breed and color of horse than “Here are some interesting facts I learned about C-sections”. Just as “I traveled all night to see X band but they were rained out so we camped in our car” is a different story than “Here is the real meaning of the lyrics of X band’s new song – only superfans really understand”.

      My husband is super into sportsball, but I can personally only handle about five minutes of information about what is going on this season before I have to call a stop to the conversation for the sake of marital harmony. But if he went to a game, I will happily listen to him tell me about his friend he was there with and how the weather was and this funny thing that happened at halftime.

      Which is to say that someone not wanting to hear about a fact dump about your new favorite thing is different from someone never expressing interest in your life or care about how you are doing. If someone never retains information you told them about yourself or follows up with it “Hey – how is that ear thing you had doing – did the dr. end up figuring it out?” then that is a sign that the other person is not invested in you as a person.

      1. Very well put. The guy I was dating last year, there was a fair-sized venn overlap of Our Interests, but there were bubbles as least as big on each side that were explicitly His Stuff and My Stuff.

        And it…actually worked out? Many of the things in His Stuff were topics I actively disliked, but I was happy to hear about what he thought, why he enjoyed them, what happened that was meaningful/funny/cool, retained enough of what he said to ask questions and offer feedback, etc etc. He afforded me the same courtesy regarding My Stuff.

        (All this was also convenient because we had lots of stuff we could do together as a couple, but also we had fairly regular things we knew the other wouldn’t enjoy (unless we specifically requested the other’s polite attendance, used sparingly), and it was a great balance of relationship time and solo time.

        Le sigh. I wasn’t super-passionate about the dude, but wow do I miss that dynamic.)

      2. ” ‘talk about hobby I don’t find interesting’ got very muddled with ‘talk about my life’ ”

        I think you’ve summed it up really well. The complication is that it is very possible to have a lovely friend with a very boring life because your initial interest or connection has waned. Or two lovely friends whose lives are very different and boring to each other.

        I don’t think taking turns to pacify each other will necessarily work (it will work for some people because they truly value effort and friendly inquiry for its own sake as a sign of caring) while other people would see it rather more as not wanting to bore their friend in payment for being bored and a sign of pending incompatibility. These people would rather find a new interest together, or focus on being less conversational and more active or even just move on and drop the friendship.

        I agree with the first letter writer that it is not polite to use up all the air in the room and not notice your companion is being cut off on every topic. My point is that it is not impolite for the letter writers to disrupt the flow in return, and not the aim to smooth the wheels for their friends at all costs. They can say “Oh I enjoyed hearing about your passion for x, but I dont think I am getting it enough for talking about it. Can I tell you about y?” Or even “I am not as up for talking today as I thought because all I can think about is c-sections. I know that’s not your thing, so rain check?”

        It could bring things to a grinding halt because the talker was only interested in the free stage. Win. But it could also highlight the ‘not working for me and I will totally go home’ dynamic in which case the other side has to decide to step up or step away.

      3. I think that’s a really important distinction, and I’m glad you added it to the conversation.

        This reminds me a little bit about a Miss Conduct column (or possibly a chapter in her book) where she shared a strategy for talking about topics you’re not interested in by asking more abstract questions about the topic.

        You can use this to find common ground where your interests intersect with theirs. For example, a dog person and someone with a psych degree might have a great conversation about training and how dogs learn. Or the dog person and an avid hiker might talk about the best trails in the area.

        I think you can also do this to show an interest in someone’s life. That is, if they’re getting into super obscure details of the interest, you can ask questions that focus more on them. Like, wow, you learned a lot about c-sections. Are you planning on specializing as an ob-gyn? Or, do you feel like you’re ready for finals? I think there are ways of avoiding overload on topics that don’t interest you without shutting someone down.

    3. There’s a wide range between “occasionally sit through a précisof a movie that doesn’t interest you” and “never get to talk about your own life.”

      We don’t have to put up with silencing. I believe we do, however, as humans in the social world, have to learn to cope with conversations that aren’t focused on our interests.

      1. Exactly.

        My best friend and I are actually explicit about this — I’ll say to her, or she’ll say to me, “I know you’re not in to X but [this is really important to me/I need to squee at somebody about thing that happened/at least you know what X is and I have no one else to talk about it with], so I’d like a few minutes for the topic if that’s okay?”

    4. I suppose I’d agree by framing this a little differently: people who are interested in you as a full person are going to be interested in what’s going on in your life and what interests you. Even if they’re not into those things themselves, they’ll be interested in the fact of your interest because that’s part of YOU, which is enough to sustain some low level of dicussion of what you’re getting out it, current projects/activities, challenges and successes and failures, etc.

      I agree with e.g. Amy that learning to put up with uninteresting conversation is a valuable social skill, I just think it’s one you should mostly need to apply at work receptions, diplomatic functions, family reunions, and other things that you have reason to attend other than the direct mutual interest of everyone involved. If you’re not generally enjoying interactions with someone, I wouldn’t use “friendship” to describe the relationship. Friendship is a matter of mutual consent and interest, not something owed or even granted.

      1. Yeah, I have endless willingness/ability to listen to a friend talk about their hobbies, or something they did with their family member who I don’t know, etc. Even my friend who plays a sport I’m not at all interested in — it’s a thing she does, so hearing her talk about it is fun!

        One-sided talking about media is a different thing in my mind. I don’t find it enjoyable to hear about stuff at length that I haven’t read or watched, or to talk about media to (at?) someone who doesn’t know about them. If I do end up monologuing, I tend to end those topics of conversation quickly, like “well, anyway, I think I like Character X in this book because he’s similar to Character Y in that show we both like” or “if you’re ever looking to watch a murder mystery sports anime, I’d recommend this one!” and then work towards changing the subject to something we can both talk about.

        If the LW’s friendship with this particular person was originally built on shared media interests, and they don’t have any in common anymore, then I think maybe the friendship has run its course. Not because of the GSF “we don’t like the same media, so we can’t be friends,” but because they never had much else.

        1. Additionally, just to throw a wrench into things:

          There are people I super like where I will gladly listen to them go on and on about whatever they are interested in, I don’t really care if they take turns or ask me questions, part of the enjoyment is “finding out with X is into right now and enjoying their enthusiasm.”

          There are people I don’t like enough for that. There are people who don’t like me enough for that.

          There are people who are great listeners and who take turns well and who are so considerate and kind and they don’t do anything wrong and….we’re not compatible.

          This is all okay!

          It doesn’t mean that one is a better person or a better friend, just, my enjoyment matters, chemistry matters, I’m way more tolerant of stuff with an old friend than I am with a potential new friend. It’s not about fairness or coming up with an objective set of “Friends must do xyz” rules. That’s what this whole post is about for me. Are you enjoying yourself? Do you feel compatible? Do you look forward to seeing/talking with these people? Use those things to steer your efforts in 2019.

          1. ” my enjoyment matters, chemistry matters”

            This is why I come here. So many places tell women to work harder or set societal expectations on everything but what to insist on for themselves.

            I too, will let a really valuable to me person ramble on about something *not me* and it is not out of politeness, cause I’m not…I am genuinely digging them because of our big picture. It’s…compatibility.

  32. The “Do less Work” advice is excellent. Putting in lots of effort and grinding through and investing huge amounts of energy can work wonderfully in some areas (like learning new software or starting up your own company) – but it can backfire spectacularly in relationships and friendships.

    This took me an embarrassingly long time to learn.

    Not waiting till you’re steaming with resentment due to lack of reciprocity, but leaning back a little in a friendship that feels unbalanced feels unnatural to people who have the tendency to work work work to fix fix fix things and make them better, but making less effort may be just the thing that makes a somewhat onesided friendship more sustainable.

  33. A very dear friend of mine came down with a serious case of conversation hogging, which sadly has persisted for several years. She was always very talkative, but after some changes in her life the chattiness turned into long-winded monologues. One time I hung out with her for four hours and she asked me two questions, one of which was ‘how are you?’, which I didn’t actually get a chance to answer because she cut me off with a story about herself.

    I suppose the thing I’ve struggled with is that I really want to talk to her about it, because she is precious to me and I hate that . However, when I’ve sought the counsel of others, they’ve suggested that I either phase her out or be very indirect about it – like it would be this incredibly rude thing if I told her that it bugs me when she takes up all the air, and that I’d like her to ask me questions, because it’s hard for me to share otherwise. So I kind of have her on the backburner, because I seriously cannot stand spending extended time with her at the moment, but then it’s sad because I also don’t have my friend in my life like I used to.

    Thoughts? Use my words, even this late in the piece, or just accept it’s how she is now and let it go?

    1. the ‘I hate that’ is supposed to read ‘I hate that I feel resentful to someone I love so much’.

    2. If I were the overchatty friend, I would prefer it if you said something so I could adjust my behaviour rather than being phased out, not knowing why.

    3. Phasing her out will work if what you want is to end the friendship. Being very indirect is not likely to work at all with someone who isn’t listening to you in the first place. It sounds like you don’t want to hurt her feelings by addressing the problem directly, but she has been hurting yours for a few years now! I don’t think you have much to lose by telling her what’s bothering you.

    4. Elektra, I think that going ahead and using your words is a great idea! Worst case scenario, she gets upset and cuts off contact. But you *already* are sad and upset that this friend isn’t in your life. So the worst case is only a very little worse than current state. Best case, she (probably gradually) changes her behavior with you and things get to a more reciprocal place. Whatever you decide, I hope you have luck!

    5. Use your words, because (a) you want to talk to her, (b) it might help, and (c) you aren’t happy with the back-burner approach.

    6. Go with your gut and use your words. You’ve probably already tried the indirect nudges, considering this has been going on for years, and it clearly hasn’t worked–so that option’s out. And it sounds like you’re not ready to phase out the friendship. So words really are the best option you have on the table.

    7. Use your words 🙂 I don’t know why the other people you’ve talked do want you to be “very indirect” but I think that goes directly against most of the Captain’s advice. You know her best, would something like “Friend, I love seeing you, but lately I’ve been feeling like I can’t get a word in edgewise. Can we try to have a more balanced conversation today?” land well at the beginning of your next meet up, or would she get upset? If you two are very dear friends, I would hope she would respond with something like “oh no, I’m so sorry I’ve been doing that! I’ve just been so wrapped up in [life events], thanks you for saying something. What *has* been going on with you, anyhow?”

    8. I think you’re getting bad advice. That said, you don’t want to use the language of resentment.

      I think you should be direct and say, “Lately I feel that I am completely shut out of our conversations.”
      My favorite mindset is to talk about (and think of) what you want TO happen, and not what you want to NOT happen.

      So you want to be more a part of the conversation. You want to be listened to. You want to have room in the conversation for you to talk for a bit.
      You want to feel that there is a back and forth.

      Say that.

      Don’t say “I want you to not monopolize the conversation. I want you to stop taking up all the air.”

      Focus on what you want to be right, and now on what is wrong.

      The other thing I’d say–as a person who can hog the convo or take up all the air, without consciously realizing it, and all the while wanted to feel connected to you–is to grab that conversational ball back! SAY: “My turn to talk!” or even “Do you realize I never got to answer the ‘how are you’ question?”

      Interrupt her, steamroll right over her. See how that works. Maybe she needs some of that pushback.

    9. Elektra, when I think I need to “use my words” but can’t figure out how to make that work out, sometimes I try asking for advice. Like, ” Friend, I need to talk to you more about what’s going on in my life and have you show more direct interest in it, but I don’t know how to say that without making you feel bad about how things have been going between us before. And I don’t want to make you feel bad! Can we work on this together?” Or something like that.

      Naming it and asking for help is sometimes a framing I can make work in my head, when nothing else does.

  34. I’ve struggled with this as well.

    One of my closer friends (and I’m pretty sure I was one of her closest friends) seemed to make no effort to keep in touch or meet up. She has kids now, so I understand she may have less time/bandwidth, but I feel like she could manage a text every now and then?

    I decided to stop making the effort for a bit to see what happened, and there was silence for a few months. (At this point, I’d been feeling this way for years). Then I got an exciting work opportunity overseas, and when I told her about it, she responded with “when r u back”. Full stop.

    The lack of enthusiasm continued when I eventually saw her in person during a visit. She made a point of telling me she had no interest in ever going to the country I was in, and made a dig about the hotel I was staying at. I don’t require a ton of interest/enthusiasm, but I couldn’t get past the fact that she didn’t make a single comment conveying any interest/happiness for me, like “it’s great that you’re getting to travel so much” or something.

    I get the sense that she’s someone who expects others to make the effort, and perhaps we had also gotten into that pattern. But if we were close friends and she wasn’t hearing from me as much, surely she could reach out even once to ask how I am? Nope.

    After being away for a bit, I also met up with another friend. I asked her what was new, and she monologued for an extended period (spoiler: nothing was new, but I was happy to listen to her). Except….she didn’t ask me a single question. Not even, “how are things?”. After I’ve been living abroad in an exciting new job, in the same profession as her. And travelling. Seriously?

  35. There was a buzzfeed article this week – 34 tiny reasons people dumped people (or something like that – and though some of the things weren’t tiny, and it was kinda sad to see them characterised as such, one that really stood out to me was someone who dumped a potential SO because she’d spent over half an hour trying to find parking near his place to visit, and couldn’t. And I loved that, because, honestly it’s a fab litmus test: how long would I spend looking for parking before I cancelled my date with this person? if you’re not getting enough out of a relationship to make hunting for parking worth while, cutting off the relationship is the right thing to do. (and it’s a nice, neutral kind of example, because it’s not a reflection on the person or a judgement, it’s just a shitty fact of life that sometimes there’s no parking)

    LWs: you are not obliged to park for these people. If you want to see them, you can pre-pay your parking, and take the Cap’s awesome scripts with you. But if they very thought of seeing them fills you with meter-based dread, you don’t have to go! Turn in your permit and find someone in walking distance.

    1. The Buzzfeed article list was interesting. I thought the one about the Civil War re-enactor repeatedly getting dumped because he “loved history too much” was highly relevant to this post – the question which immediately sprung to my mind was whether the real reason he was dumped was an expectation that GF would automatically slot into the position of adoring fan/road crew in support of his starring role as the Brave Civil War Soldier when she was expecting, you know, a *shared* and mutually enjoyable activity. I’ve seen that dynamic play out a lot when one partner has an all-absorbing activity like historic re-enactment or competitive sport.

      The same thing goes with these LW’s: the issue is not necessarily so much whether you have an interest in any given topic, but whether hearing and talking about it gives you a feeling of sharing something with your friend. As other commenters have said, there is usually at least some common ground to be found even in topics that aren’t your thing.

  36. The idea that you don’t have to be friends with everyone who’s interested in being friends with you is something that can take a while to learn, especially for those of us who had a hard time making friends as kids or who tend to want to help everyone. It took a couple years and conversations with my spouse and mother to decide that I really could stop trying to make things work with a particular acquaintance. They’re in one of my circles, and I’m fine with seeing them at other people’s events, but I honestly find them kind of boring, they do things that I think are rude around social planning, and they complain a lot on social media about how no one seems to have time for them. The fact that they’re not actively mean doesn’t mean I have to be friends with them!

    1. Yes – it took me a long time to realize that no one owes anyone one else a chance at a romantic relationship and that woman are allowed to be attracted to someone and have that directly affect who they want to and don’t want to date. It took me even longer to realize this applies to friendships as well. We don’t owe anyone a friendship, and if you don’t enjoy being around another person you do not need to hang around because they want to be your friend.

      I have to say one of the most liberating (and also super awkward) experience of my life was when I accidentally let someone know I didn’t want to be their friend. I Had been working with this girl over the course of the school year and when the year ended we wouldn’t be working with each other anymore. Last day she’s going on and on about how much she would miss me and we should keep in touch and wouldn’t I miss her too? And I just went total deer in the headlights. This chick took up all of the air in the whole of the campus and I had been counting down the days until I would hopefully never see her face again and when I heard the words saying she wanted to be friends forever my brain just shut down in self defense. I had been so good about being nice and friendly up until then but then it all abandoned me. Then she was standing there saying “You aren’t going to miss me??” and I just stared at her for another couple painfully long beats before I made up something that needed to be done and ran off. It was not how you should do things – but I have no regrets.

      1. “it took me a long time to realize that no one owes anyone one else a chance at a romantic relationship and that woman are allowed to be attracted to someone and have that directly affect who they want to and don’t want to date”

        It’s interesting to hear this, as it’s something that I’ve definitely felt from men (e.g. many men, including strangers on the street, seemingly feeling that I *owe* them something on the basis of the fact that they find me attractive).

        It can be a real shit show when you’re a woman considered to be conventionally attractive.

        1. Yes, this. I’ve had someone try to convince me that I ought to date a guy because of how extremely attracted he was to me, and all I could think of was, “but…I don’t want to?” (The guy himself took rejection very well.) I really don’t like the idea of women owing men a relationship when the attraction isn’t at all mutual.

    2. I would love to zoom back in a time machine to my twenties and just …walk out on a bunch of situations and on people. I think we get overly trained with school and siblings to ‘make it work’ and put yourself last because those are situations youre held hostage to. When you are older you are much freer to quit not-going-to change situations and seek ‘works for me’.

      1. “we get overly trained with school and siblings to ‘make it work’ and put yourself last because those are situations youre held hostage to”

        Hmm, that’s leading to a interesting thought. I was picked on in grade school and jr. high, and by high school I had made the “fuck these people” decision. I knew, starting in late grade school, that I was leaving that town, and I think that feeling really helped me in high school. And I also found it really easy to say, “I don’t want to go out with you again” when a guy I’d been introduced to wanted a second date.

        I wasn’t feeling it, and I felt ZERO obligation to reciprocate. I hadn’t thought that this confidence may have come in large part from NOT feeling “hostage” to all those relationships from school.

    3. There’s an insidious social norm that reinforces this, and I’ve seen it come up (in the context of pushback againat it, which I think is great!) in recent conversations about bullying and the violence entitled men perpetrate against women. It’s the idea that exclusion is social violence – GSF #1. I can, as an autistic who was excluded from social groups for being weird, appreciate the intent/concern that drives this, but, frankly, I was always painfully aware when someone had been ORDERED to spend time with me, which was even more miserable than exclusion. Trying to force social compatibility simply doesn’t work; we can and should encourage people, especially the young, to not exclude people based on harmful, baseless prejudices (including racism, sexism, classism, and ableism), but there’s a limit to how effective that is, and it’s also sometimes important to question why someone is trying so hard to be around people who don’t like zir or want zir there. (I’m always reminded of the time Kate Bornstein came to speak at my college campus, was interrupted by – ironically cisgendered – protestors who objected to her defense of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival’s AFAB-only policy, and posed the question – she paused her talk to see what the protestors wanted, and most of them actually stuck around after to listen to the rest of it – “Why would I want to go to a festival where people don’t want me?”) Does anyone really want to hang out with people who dislike one, let alone people who dislike one for bad reasons? That seems like a recipe for misery for everyone involved.

      My mom bought into this heavily; she was excluded a lot as a child because her family was destitute, and she’s carried that damage with her for her entire life. It’s not healthy, though, and I was thankfully inoculated against internalising it, because I didn’t want to spend time with people who treated me badly any more than they wanted to spend time with me. The social contract demands politeness, not friendship.

  37. Autismo here: mighty superhero and monologuer supreme given half the chance. Can I give an autistic perspective on this? Not diagnosing anyone or making excuses because I know how frustrating this behaviour can be. But I have been guilty of this behaviour and this is how it is for me. Autistic “special interests” are an absolute joy. They’re like falling in love. You know how it is when someone is besotted with someone else and they wanna talk about them because there’s just SO MUCH of them in their brains? Yeah, it’s like that. Except that instead of Kevin it’s fountain pens (in my case) or some other topic.

    I think the key thing to remember for other people is that approaching this as a neurotypical “give and take” conversation where A talks about their yoga class and B talks about how their sister is getting on doesn’t work all that well with us. Social interaction is work because there’s so much to take in and remember and absorb. It can be rewarding work, enjoyable work, but it’s a lot more effort for us. It’s like going for a run, whereas talking about the special interests is more like lounging on a hammock enjoying the sunshine. It is REALLY hard for me to talk a little bit about pens and then a little bit about something else and then one pen-related sentence, and then something else for quite a while, because they’re not just different subjects. They are completely different activities.

    But you don’t want to talk about pens all the time. What I would suggest is this: negotiate blocks of time to talk about the things you care about. Like: “hey, Cantatrice, let’s talk about the situation with my boyfriend until dessert arrives, and then you can talk about your latest pen acquisitions until we leave.” Or perhaps “I don’t want to talk about pens in the next hour. Let’s agree that you’re not going to change the subject to pens.” I had to agree with my therapist that if I tried to change the subject to pens, she was just going to refuse to engage and change it right back. It’s much better to come up with something really solid so that we know if we’re getting it right. It helps us to relax and pay attention to what you’re saying. It works much better than any version of “I don’t mind if you do this sometimes, but maybe a bit less than you are now?” And I’m afraid that hints and non-verbal clues are pretty useless.

    Most of us really want to get it right. We don’t want to alienate our friends. We can learn, and I’ve mostly figured it out. But the place where the LW friends are is very much where I was into my 20s.

    1. Hello, thank you so much for this comment! Monologuing/trading monologues about a passionate interest can be awesome and laying out explicitly “we’re taking turns and this is how” is so helpful.

    2. Here’s my immediate reaction to this sentence:
      “Autistic “special interests” are an absolute joy. They’re like falling in love.”

      I haven’t had a lot of long contact w/ non-neurotypical folks. But I have seen this. That joy is a bit infectious, and it does buffer the monologue.
      I can see that the person is captivated by this; the enthusiasm is so clearly there. They love it! They can’t help but talk about it!

      That’s so different from someone focusing on themselves. I can tell the difference.

    3. I want to like… come to a presentation about pens now? With slides and stuff. Or a salon night where everyone takes turns talking about their thing. Like show and tell for adults.

        1. I live in a medium-sized Midwestern city with lots of academics in it, and a couple of bars here do drunk powerpoint nights where you can just sign up for a 10 minute time-slot and present on whatever weird thing you want. I highly recommend googling “Drunk PowerPoint” and your city name to see if you have anything similar!

  38. I think it might be useful for the LWs to reflect on how the relationship dynamic has got to this point and how their own behaviour might be contributing to it. I speak from experience as a quiet person with many talkative friends. An epic friendship-ending fight with my former BFF led me to look at my own role in the situation and why I had ended up fuming in silence for so long rather than nip the problem in the bud.

    For starters, I was raised to be non-confrontational, and I didn’t realise that politely asking other people to modify their behaviour around me was even A Thing until I started reading this blog. I thought that raising the issue was criticism and all criticism was mean and terrible.

    Secondly, I moved around a lot as a kid and often felt that other people were reluctant to include me in their friendship groups because I was the newcomer. I thought I was lucky if anyone wanted to be my friend at all, so I had to avoid rocking the boat at all costs. Another factor is that my mum is incredibly chatty. To this day, when I speak to her on the phone, it’s 45+ minutes of her doing most of the talking. She is a good person who would legit do anything for me, but she talks and talks and talks, and this is the pattern I grew up with so I’m used to doing a lot of listening.

    The Captain is spot-on when she talks about the bargain we strike with people by listening. In my experience, my mother talked constantly but also fundamentally cared about me and had my best interests at heart, so I assumed that other talkative people were basically the same as her and that my listening would be repaid with loyalty. But the other people were not reading from the same script, and it turned out some of them were just selfish or clueless, and took my listening as a cue to keep talking indefinitely and never ask me about myself. These were the people who got super offended when I finally tried to take part in the conversation, because that wasn’t the dynamic they thought they had signed up for: they thought I was more of a talk show host, there to bring out and amplify their most interesting anecdotes.

    It may or may not be too late for the LWs to rescue these friendships, because sometimes the pattern you set up at the start is just too strong and the friendship isn’t flexible enough to accommodate any changes to it. I agree the friends in both situations sound selfish and frustrating. But if you often find yourself fuming in silence, it’s worth asking yourself how you got to this point and how you might prevent getting into similar situations in future.

    1. “the bargain we strike with people by listening”

      As a talker, I often think the bargain is that we’ll take turns. But I need you to TAKE your turn. When you get an opening, go. Talk.

      I guess you might not know whether the other person will be the one who gets superoffended when you try to take part, or whether it will be me, who will be glad of a chance to shut up and be entertained.

  39. “if there is a friendship or other relationship that makes you feel like a pair of mismatched socks, what if you stopped trying so hard to make it work or fix it? Stop coaxing, stop auditioning, stop trying to convince people of your awesomeness, do other things with your time, see where you are. 2019 is a good time for trying new stuff. ” and “Instead, put your energy into friendships and activities that nurture and feed you in return, with people who understand what a gift they are getting. ” I love these quotes so much. Thank you! Your words finally gave me the courage to stop doing the work on a few friendships that have made me feel terrible for a long time.

  40. OP#1 – sounds like it’s time for this friend to become a Small Doses Friend.

    OP#2 – this “friend” sounds absolutely exhausting and soul-sucking. His reaction to you disagreeing with him is to stop talking to you and sabotage your game? Time to African Violet this “friend.”

  41. This is great advice. My only question is about #1169’s online games. They said that they’re increasingly avoiding a favourite game because Friend keeps following them there, and has deliberately tanked the game on at least one occasion. What’s the best way to handle that? I hate to think of LW having to abandon the game entirely because of the other person’s behaviour. Is there a way to block them so they don’t find out you’re online, or stop them from playing “with” you if they’re deliberately playing to lose?

    *Disclaimer, I know nothing at all about online games! So I have no idea if this is something the Captain and the LW are taking for granted as being either an option or not an option, or if there’s a more obvious way to sort this out.

    1. Good reminder, thanks! This might have to be part of the conversation the LW has with the friend, like,”Sometimes I want to play the game without you” or (guilt-free!) using block/privacy tools so he can’t see they’re online.

    2. I, also, know nothing about online games, but maybe a different username? My SO plays online games and some of them give him an alert when certain users enter a game, so maybe that would work.

  42. OP1 – I’m wondering how this person is even a friend. She isn’t interested in your life, doesn’t care about what you’re interested in, doesn’t care that she’s steamrolling all over you with her obsessions because she’s basically reduced you to a receptacle for her braindump, is rude, etc.. What is her purpose in your life? I can’t find it. Peace out, deliver unto her the African Violet, and enjoy the people in your life who actually care about you.

  43. To add on to the community notice and letters in this vein… in my (neurotypical, so take it with a grain of salt) experience, neurodivergent folks are even more likely to be concerned and thinking about (or at least have a structured awareness of) “am I monologuing/not taking turns/irritating someone socially,” precisely because they’ve lived their entire lives with a constant barrage of the bullshit stigma CA mentions, as well as actual communication barriers. They’ve been punished socially and otherwise when they go against norms, so it’s on their radar out of both kindness and self-preservation.

    …all of which is to say, yeah, if someone’s ND and being a jerk, they are probably just naturally a jerk.

  44. I’d like to suggest a really awesome book: Jenny Brown’s “Growing Yourself Up: How to bring your best to all of life’s relationships.”
    This book was transformative for me as a reciprocal-friendship-neophyte, and really helped me understand my own attachment style, and how better to engage fully, without being consumed in the hell-fire of bottom-pit monologues.

  45. As an autistic person who is regularly on the receiving end of this behaviour from more than one neurotypical friend, I can categorically state that behaviour is not because of autism. Sounds more like bog standard selfishness.

  46. I have a neurotypical friend who does this. It’s a selfishness thing, not a neurodivergent/mental illness thing, ESPECIALLY if you are directly asking them and they get in a huff about it. That’s not misreading social cues; it’s deliberately ignoring them.
    My friend monologues at me, and if I want to tell him about something, it can be annoying, but if I don’t feel like talking, it can be nice to have someone else do it, and he doesn’t expect me to listen super closely 100% of the time. That said, he’s not someone I would rely on for support if I got sick or into seriousy trouble, for this plus other reasons.

  47. Any advice for when it’s a family member who’s displaying what I would call “conversational selfishness”?

    My dad is a lot like the band-obsessed friend in the first letter. I miss him when I don’t see him or talk to him, but he can go on and on about his own life/job/hobbies while displaying no interest in mine. When I do bring up something of interest to me (like the new kickass job I just got!), he basically shrugs and moves the conversation back to him and his life.

    He’s getting older and had a health scare this year, so I’m hesitant to dial back the effort I put into our relationship. (We talk about once a week.) I keep thinking that I would regret it if he passed away and I had chosen to see/talk to him less. But it’s also hurtful that he doesn’t seem to care about exciting things happening in my life.

    1. It’s so sad when this is the case, but I think we can regain a lot of freedom from acknowledging: Your dad is unlikely to ever change this behavior.

      You might need to (for your own sake) speak up to your dad sometimes and say, “Dad, I’m always happy to hear about what you’re up to, but you need to ask me about my life sometimes, too, for example, I just got a new job, can I tell you about it, I’d like my dad to be excited for me and happy for me instead of changing the subject!” Assume nothing about hints, assume that he needs to be told exactly what you want him to do, keep your expectations very low for what will happen, know that he won’t extrapolate from one conversation to the next, so even if he does change his behavior right after you have the talk he won’t learn anything from one conversation to the next.

      You might even say, “Dad, I just told you about my new job and you changed the subject. What’s going on with that? It hurt my feelings.” and see what he says. Same “low expectations” caveat apply.

      You might keep up the weekly call as it is now, knowing how it will be, try to keep your sense of humor, enjoy what you can about it, set a timer for yourself, do something nice for yourself afterward. Your dad is your dad, you called him, this is how it is, you did your best.

      He’s probably not gonna be the caring dad you need around this, so also, invest in friendships or other relationships where people are properly excited for you, too, ok?

      There’s no way to optimize it, but it’s ok to let it be imperfect.

  48. [TL/DR] Boundaries hurt and it’s never pleasant to enforce them. Jedi hugs offered alongside a strong “yep, been there”.

    This is making me think a lot about some (a lot of my current friendships), and I can’t say I have a lot of answers (although I can offer much sympathy LWs, if you want it).

    One thing that I noticed with friends that drained me emotionally was that they were okay with dumping emotions on me, and letting me dump occasionally, but as soon as things got better for me they started to pull away. It was hard because I kept putting in the effort, because I felt like I had to be the friend I wanted them to be, but I felt hurt when they did not reciprocate. At one point things got bad for me again, and the response I got from them was “that sucks, let me tell you about this thing that happened to me THAT IS THE ACTUAL WORST!”* It doesn’t seem like much but it was the final straw.

    In the end I had to tell myself that engaging would just keep hurting me more, and to make a conscious effort to pull back. And LWs, I still have to do it. I have to remind myself that engaging with these friends just hurts me more and that I don’t have to engage until I am ready. It’s really hard, and if this is something you also feel when enforcing a boundary, I just wanted to put it out there that it’s human to feel that way.

    *there is no such thing as the Pain Olympics and I appreciate that we all attribute different importance to different challenges in our lives. That doesn’t mean I want to participate in the Pain Olympics when I’m busy trying to keep my head above the metaphorical water and neither should anybody.

  49. I had a friend who monologued and didn’t listen to me…

    so I started paying attention to her “that doesn’t interest me” phrases, and using them as appropriate. Friend set the ground-rules for this type of interaction, so after a few years of being bewildered and not-listened-to, I paid attention.

    Don’t hold grudges, but pay attention to the rules on display. Friend modeling a specific type of friendship? Go and do thou likewise, LW.

    1. That sounds like a good strategy. How did it go? Did your friend do a polite subject change, or get upset?

      1. Oh, Friend was _shocked_ to hear her words reflected back at her. This Is Not The Way The World Is Supposed To Run!!! Eleventy!!!

        But I stuck to it, because she did.
        If friend is annoyed at the mirror-treatment, that’s a pretty good gauge that hey, Friend’s behavior was annoying 😦

      2. Oh, my friend was absolutely shocked when I mirrored the behavior I saw.
        The World Should Not Work That Way [tm]… but if that’s the case, it shouln’t work in my direction, either, so too bad.

  50. The first LW identifies herself and her friend as she and he/they. I would be very interested to know whether both the dismissive/monologuing/overtalking “friends” were raised and socialized as he’s, and both listening/ignored/emotionally-laboring LW’s socialized as she’s.

    Because that dynamic is extremely, extremely, common even without any neurodivergence at play. And the expectations and behaviors you were raised under are very resistant to change. Even when you are trying to change them, which it doesn’t sound like these folks are.

    There doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship for people to fall into a traditional gender-role dynamic.

    Maybe not. Maybe they were all raised in the same role. Or any other combination. But my spidey-sense is tingling that there’s likely some dudely entitlement going on.

  51. I hope everyone on these threads appreciates their contributions. Rachel’s comment, “But if you often find yourself fuming in silence, it’s worth asking yourself how you got to this point and how you might prevent getting into similar situations in future,” comes to mind. I’m one of those people embarrassed by how long it took me to realize I was repeating the wrong behavior—fuming in silence with inconsiderate friends instead of standing up for myself, not to mention attracting and being attracted to inconsiderate friends—and why. My mother used to confide in me. She worked nights and my dad worked days. When I would be getting home from junior high he’d still be at work and she would just be waking up. “Pamela, come in here and talk to me,” she would say, lighting up a cigarette and patting the edge of her bed. “Talking” meant me listening to her grievances about her rivals at work, her petty triumphs with men who expressed admiration of her, and her increasing estrangement from my dad, who she was at first considering cheating on, and then actually cheating on, and who I loved. Whatever his failings, and I know he had them, he was honest and treated my mother with kindness and respect. Keeping a secret I did not want was hard on me, but I found a sort of comfort in the fact that she found me useful, and so I did listen, without complaint, for years. This would become the template for my friendships with women as I grew up. I expected men to be kind and good, but I expected my girlfriends to be inconsiderate of me and to have wildly stupid dramatic lives—and I never flinched when a new friend confided that I was the only one she could talk to—the ONLY one qualified to understand her. In fact, I thought, oh, we’ll get along great. Never saw the red flag in, “you are my only friend, the only one who will put up with me.” No shit, I think now, but until I turned 50, I never saw that pattern for what it was. At 50, I caught on. How I caught on is another story, but point is, I did. That is now 17 years ago, that aha moment, yet I am still handling the old friendships from before I knew better, with difficulty. These women are not responsible for my pattern of behavior that invited them into my life—I am. And I want to give them a break and a chance, wherever I can. But I’m running out of real estate. I do not wish to be 80 and going, “I can’t believe she just said that to me.” And I will not be. Because I am onto it in a renewed vigor sort of way now. Thanks to Captain Awkward, and all ya’ll—I’m beginning to think of you as first responders in the emergency of the what-the-hell-am-I-doing part of so many peoples’ lives—I can see more, all the time, so many ways you’ve shared that show me how I could look at a problem and let myself off the hook.

    1. “How I caught on is another story, but point is, I did.”

      I am very interested in whatever amount of that story you’re willing to share! (And if that amount is none, of course that’s fine too)

      1. I’ve had friends like this too who seem to have a lot of friendship drama with everyone except with you. They are a bit like those guys who say every other girlfriend they’ve had is ‘crazy’ but you get them and your bond is special. TLDR they will betray you, dump you when convenient and the way they talk about others is the way they speak of (and think of) you. And anyone besides their actual selves.

  52. I feel like I learned over and over again throughout my 20s that some people really get a lot out of an Exchange of Negativity in friendships, and it can feel really good and pleasantly intense! like your friendship is a big deal! when everything is dramatic dumping. But over time I found that people who wanted access to my negative emotions so that they could share their negative emotions just weren’t a good friendmatch for me. It sends my anxiety through the roof and runs counter to my coping strategies – and for people who really want/need Dumping Parties as their primary friendship mode, me going “let’s turn this conversation around before we’re both in the rumination pit” feels like I’m not paying attention.

    Anyway, that’s kind of off-topic of me, since reciprocal Panic Parties feel as bad to me as nonreciprocal ones (if anything, sometimes worse, because I don’t want to have to expose my soft underbelly to make someone feel like they’re being a good friend!) but it’s just something I noticed. I think that there’s a mismatch thing there for me. The worst Panic Party friend I stopped hanging out with because we were always making each other upset – but a mutual friend who has a completely different anxiety style than I do experiences this person as a ride-or-die good buddy who just needs to vent sometimes and is easy to hang out with. If anything that finally reassured me that I don’t have to be the lid for every single pot, even when someone is objectively fine and not really doing anything that would get them convicted of selfishness in the Court of Good Social Skills.

  53. Very good answer. I cut off an online friend because all she wanted to do was obsess over whether some British actor she’d never meet would like her back. I was sympathetic to her obsession, but then my dad died and she completely ignored it and acted like I’d not even said anything to continue obsessing over this actor. Some people are emotional vampires.

  54. Snap, I am experiencing something really similar with my own ‘friend’ group. I’m friends with twins, which makes things interesting. Logically I know they never learned social nuance because, twins. And logically I know they are intelligent and well meaning, but its like they never mentally progressed past high school, so they are eternally the Smart Ones who are Always Correct that never learned basics like asking other people how they are doing, or showing basic interest in someone/something other than themselves. I ran into the same issues listed above – they are fun to hang around with (most of the time) but in recent years I had to dial it back to Sometimes Friends, where I only see them every few months, if that.

    I know they don’t mean to be selfish, self-centered, domineering in conversation, abrupt, know-it-all, argumentative and sometimes downright rude/nasty but because of their upbringing and unique twin-ness that’s just how they are.

    I finally came to the conclusion that I didn’t have to cut all ties with them, but I had to cut off a lot of contact to save my sanity. This is who they are and we get to choose what’s best for our own mental health.

    1. I never heard of “twin-ness” as a thing that made people jerks. I know several sets of twins and none of them are jerks. I think that maybe somewhere along the line, someone (maybe you! but also maybe them?) decided that the reason these two were jerks was because they are twins, and that somehow made it OK just because it was explanatory.

      If we take it this far, there’s probably a reason that most jerks are jerks. Everyone has a reason to be a jerk if we look hard enough. Parents, life circumstances, brain chemistry–these are all reasons someone may be a jerk! That doesn’t meant that these reasons excuse bad behavior.

      1. Or they told me literally they never had any reason to socialize because they were twins. Sorry, who has first hand experience? Me, or rando internet person who doesn’t live my life? But no, really, tell me my business.

        1. you wrote “because, twins.” That’s a sentence structure that means “a universally recognized reason.”

          You didn’t write “because they were twins.” Or “because they spent all their time together.” Or “because of the kinds of twins they were.”

          Write carefully next time so people will understand what you mean.
          I too took it to mean that this was something you thought everyone agreed was true with twins.

          And they may have never socialized with other people much, but they didn’t live in a closet; they had other people to watch, TV shows that would have acclimatized them. They’re using their “spend all our time together because we’re twins” thing as an excuse.

          1. Right, something can be true of a particular individual SET of twins but there is no “because: Twins” assumed set of behaviors.

        2. That does very much sound like they’re using it as an excuse, though.

          I don’t know them, maybe you’re right that they just ‘can’t help it’ somehow, and maybe they’re totally taking responsibility for improving their behaviour, but I have to agree that it kind of sounds like a variation of ‘I can’t help being rude’.

        3. These particular twins may in fact have this issue! Your comment strangely made it seem like this was a general aspect of Twinness, which I am glad to know was not intentional.

  55. IDK if my longer and more thoughtful comment got eaten or what, but it is in fact not woke and untransphobic to blindly replace male/man with AMAB.

    1. If you want to retype I’ll listen with interest. I don’t mean it as a replacement personally but in its own way that might be as bad because I know that there’s some vicious transmisogyny out there around the topic of How Much Women Should Talk. At the same time I do think that the experiences of trans people who choose to talk/write about this around “suddenly everyone is treating me differently” are instructive as far as “this is not some trait of someone’s gender, this is a society thing that everyone reinforces subconsciously based on biases.”

      Anyway if I’m running my big cis mouth it would be good to know.

  56. I have to say, my gut reaction is “these people aren’t your friends.” Not because anyone owes it to you to listen to a dramatic reading about Thing You Couldn’t Care Less About, but because friends are excited to hear about their friend’s excitement. Or they’re interested in what’s bringing their friend joy, and want to hear about and commiserate over their pains.

    I don’t want to hear a bunch of details about Show X in Genre Y that I don’t like but what my friend finds enjoyable about that, in my friend’s own words? If that doesn’t interest me it’s because I really don’t care about how that person feels. People who repeatedly show you they don’t care about how you feel but want you to listen at length about their feels? You’re not their friend, you’re their utility.

    I think the world has a place for fairly superficial friendships. There’s nothing wrong with having someone in your life who all you do with them is, say, play tennis. You can both get something out of that and never want to talk about your romantic or professional life. Maybe all you have in common is tennis. You just need to accept it for what it is the way the Captain talks about.

  57. I’ve been told off before about making “uncharitable assumptions” about the demographics here, so I’m not gonna comment on who’s running their mouth on what.
    If you’re talking about “AMAB behaviours” do you truly mean “in my experience cisgender men and trans women and male-assigned nonbinary people act like this”, or do you men “men act like this, and I think that trans women do too based on my gender theory”.
    As you said, you’re going off how people report being perceived, not anything to do with experiences of growing up (self aware as trans or not) and developing a corresponding personality. Men and women on average seem to act differently in social situations with women being more accommodating of other people’s needs. Do we know that that tracks with birth assignment for transgender people? If you don’t know for sure, I’d be careful with making statements about privileged and aggressive behaviours of trans women.
    The idea that there is a common experience of childhood socialization between transgender women and cisgender men is used in transmisogynist propaganda about “male patterns” of bad behaviours that trans women supposedly fall into, mostly WRT violent crime and rape. Hence why they’re a danger to women and shouldn’t be allowed into shelters/bathrooms/feminist groups. A softer form of that argument is that trans women take over feminist orgs because they’re just that aggressive and confident, with the implication that they should be kept from participating to protect the interests of real women. The claims of male patterns of violence are, AFAIK, unsubstantiated or based on bad science (I know of one study on criminality that was debunked), so I don’t think I’m being some feels over reals transactivist.
    If one thought for a moment and tried to really consider the culture we live in, one might also come to the conclusion that growing up as a trans girl you’d be pretty unlikely to think of yourself as someone worthy of a lot of respect.
    Are there trans women who seem pushy and aggressive and talk over people? Yes, obviously, just as there are trans women rapists. Are these behaviours more common in trans women than in cis women? Not as far as we know. Is it therefor correct to make an assumption of childhood socialization that determines your personality? An assumption that has gone completely, depressingly unquestioned in this thread and also hurts people IRL? It really isn’t.

    You’re saying that it’s specifically non-essentialist, but the childhood socialization argument does just essentialize gender. So the mechanism is socialization and not anatomy, but what you end up with is that birth assignment equals personality traits (and moral worth, for people think that way).

    Or maybe everyone participating in the AMAB/AFAB rhetoric in this thread knows a statistically significant amount of trans women and they all act like men, what do I know.

    1. No telling off from me, thanks for this, though I’m not sure where nesting was meant to put this. I’ve seen this phrasing pop up now and again and some push back about it now and again and haven’t made strict moderation decisions about it because I’m not always sure where people are coming from and they’re mostly SELF-identifying when they say this, for example, if a non-binary person wants to use this phrasing to describe themselves I don’t want to tell them no (when I don’t have expertise). I’m good with a loose “If you mean cisgender men, say that, if you mean something else, say that specifically (“nonbinary, assigned male at birth”?), but this acronym without more context is not getting it done, and also, make sure you’re only using it to describe yourself” policy? I think it’s gonna be messy in these comments for a while esp. when possibly correcting people’s “self” identification, and especially when (from conversations with transgender and nb writers) it’s something that communities are still working out for themselves.

    2. Thanks for responding. I think what you’re saying here is important. I’m going to think about this.

      For the record, I really don’t think wanting to be taken seriously is “acting like a man”. And I don’t think that wanting to be a good active listener and have strong connections is “acting like a woman”. I’ve known both trans and cis people who have gotten heavily policed for both, depending on how other people perceive them, not based on any change in how much they personally want to be taken seriously or connect well. (A friend of mine went through a really bad time with this in a macho workplace because he, and I quote, made too much eye contact during conversations. That’s one of the reasons why it’s on my mind.)

      But I think you’re right that we’re in a really fraught environment and continuing to throw around birth-assignment talk in this way risks doing real harm, and I am cis, so I’m gonna just stop doing it.

  58. Such a timely post, thanks Captain!

    I have a friend that is actually putting more than 10% of the effort in… a lot more, like 150% more. Only problem, he isn’t focusing all that effort into being a good friend with healthy boundaries. He’s putting it into an out of control spiral of being sad because I’ve wounded him in some way by not meeting his expectations or abiding by his rigid code of rules. And now there’s emotions all the time everywhere, cryptic ‘observations’ of my behavior, and well intentioned, one sided mini heart to hearts where he explains how my choices hurt him, complete with feedback.

    For example, last week he misread a text I sent that hurt his feelings. I told him I was sorry he felt sad (sorry, not sorry), but that he had misread the text. It was via Snapchat so I couldn’t “prove” it, but he agreed that he interpreted it wrong and that it was his fault for doing so, but still decided that because his misinterpretation was hurtful, it was somehow still true and what I intended?! What’s more, I seemingly needed feedback so that should I ever decide to actually say the hurtful thing, I would say it better?!? Argh?!?! I was kicking myself afterwards for not calling that particular bs, but I was tired at the time and I didn’t quite realize what happened..

    I know he’s well meaning and he genuinely wants to make the friendship good, but he’s in an emotion spiral. He’s panicked because I’m not ‘fixing’ things anymore. When I don’t manage his feelings, he doubles down on trying to manage *everything* and then the guilt trips start. I considered noping out of the friendship recently, but he does care and there are some outside circumstances that make it potentially unwise to be too direct *yet*.

    Even though he’s trying, 90% of the advice here stands. (Plus all of captains old posts) It’s slow going to set my boundaries consistently and stop myself from entertaining his pity parties but it’s getting there.

    1. It sounds like he’s putting 150% effort into trying to get his emotions managed for him, not into making the friendship work. It can look like it’s putting effort into the friendship because the friendship comes into it, but it’s really not much more related to the friendship than if he was putting 150% effort into school or hobbies or exercise or whatever.

    2. BrittleSoup – your entry felt like it was lifted from my journal! So many things resonated, but most importantly: “I was tired at the time and I didn’t quite realize what happened” and “He’s panicked because I’m not ‘fixing’ things anymore. When I don’t manage his feelings, he doubles down on trying to manage *everything* and then the guilt trips start.” Sounds to me, that your empathy well has simply ran dry with this person. There is a really validating article on shrink4men.com that might resonate with you: “When the Empathy Well Runs Dry.”

      I’m learning, seemingly continually, that even well-intentioned dysfunction… is still dysfunction. If your friend can’t self-soothe, self-reflect, and take responsibility for their own part/emotions, then that simply puts too much pressure on you to manage their emotions. It’s rough, especially when you are so far into it, that setting boundaries feels like abandonment to them. I am just a former people-pleaser-codependent also trying to get those boundaries to stick!I get it, I am so there right now. Take care of yourself.

      1. Thanks for sharing that link! It’s been such a relief over the last few weeks to be able to give names to the various dysfunctions. I was feeling so frustrated and confused because on the surface so much of what he was doing *seemed* reasonable. After all, if I’m doing something that makes him sad *shouldn’t* he let me know? Heck, there’s a whole paragraph in Captain’s response about direct requests being good things. (And really that is such good advice when it’s not done to justify repeatedly feelingsbombing someone into being your practically perfect Mary Poppins of friendship)

        What he’s doing is a really warped version of articulating needs, because my wants, needs and understandings don’t matter as long as he has FEELINGS. It’s like the LW’s friend that doesn’t ever ask about their opinions/life, but will 100% tank a video game the minute they disagree with anything. (Or in my case, start playing emo music in shared spaces and making jabs at me until I give him an opportunity to give me a monologue on the way friendship/trust/jealousy/etc. works). And “articulating his needs” is just the tip of the ‘reasonable’ behavior iceberg.

        My empathy well has definitely run dry – that’s a perfect way to put it. I just don’t have the energy to give him anymore. And if it turns out that I really am in the wrong and he really is being reasonable, whelp, I guess that’s just tough turkeys, because right or wrong he’s still going to be hollering into the void of no F***s left to give.

  59. I didn’t read ALL the comments here but I did notice a few who mentioned family members who follow these traits. I’ll just jump in and say that I have two close family members like this and ‘divorcing’ them is not really an option. My coping strategy is to rarely, if ever, share anything personal or to completely lower my standards of reciprocity so that I don’t expect interest, questions or engagement. Really I am just filling air space because they are likely incapable of ever responding in an emotionally intelligent, mature fashion. I have real friends for that.

  60. Dear Lord, I dated #1169. I dated #1169 TWICE. I’m all for kvetching (in fact, I think it can be a great bonding mechanism), but constant negativity is just exhausting, especially when all the emotional labor is completely one-sided. With my second ex, I ended up just constantly being “invisible” on Google Chat, just so that I could avoid speaking to him, because he was that draining. Eventually I just deleted him from my contacts completely, because I got so anxious trying to avoid him.

    And honestly? If he’s that one-sided, and he’s been that way for six years (SIX YEARS), and he throws a hissy fit if you so much as disagree with him, I wouldn’t even try to salvage it now.

  61. I have a similar issue to #1168 – my friend and I are both autistic, but I feel like we always wind up talking about his special interests and not mine. He loves video games – I like them, I have a few favorites, but I didn’t grow up playing them, and I don’t have a broad knowledge of them. I don’t mind talking about video games! And his factoids are genuinely interesting. It’s just . . . after the fifth “I really like Call of Warcraft: The Masquerade, did you know it was made by John Vidyagames, and he was really influenced by the works of Jason Platformer?” “Who are those people? Is that a game?” exchange, I guess I start to feel kind of, idk, ignorant. It’s not as if I don’t have my own cesspool of factoids to draw on, I can talk ALL day, but I feel like we never talk about things that are only important to me, just about things that are important to him. So I’m left floundering in an arena where I know very little and frequently have to confess that I couldn’t play a game because it’s too difficult (“It’s not as difficult as people say it is”) or that I didn’t buy it because I didn’t have the money (“It’s not that expensive, it’s only $100!”). It just always makes me feel like he gets to be in the position of the expert, and never me. IDK, is that petty?

    I haven’t brought it up directly, but I have tried to redirect the conversation towards my special interests, and the conversation has just kind of died out/he’s kind of been like “I don’t know anything about that”/I’ve felt like I’m having to force the conversation to stay that way.

    Should I say something? If so, how?


    Reading through everything has been so valuable to me, I appreciate it!
    To clarify, the only reason I mentioned the neurotypicality was purely to specify why I hadn’t already cut off contact to this guy – a sense of guilt which in hindsight, is very misplaced and misguided. I can see from Captain’s response & comments that he actually uses it as a guilt-trip thing, much as he uses literally *every other* aspect of his life as a guilt trip thing. It is 100% on me for not seeing through it.

    I realised that not only was he not interested in me at all, but some of his more recent comments about me were that brand of flirting that comes with an inbuilt plausible deniability.

    As for my favourite game… I’m just going to use offline mode for the foreseeable future, though I’ll probably be blocking him soon.

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