This is going to be the first of a two-part series on how people who can’t hear the word ‘no’ are not your friends.
I (she/her) just moved out of a group house. I lived with five other people in the house, including a couple (Elsie and Jenna). Elsie (she/her) and I are pretty good friends and have known each other for a few years. I met Jenna (she/her) through Elsie when they started dating. before we lived together, I would have said we were low-key friends and that I thought she was cool, but I had never hung out with her without Elsie and we only ever saw each other in group contexts.
Elsie and Jenna’s fairly stable, two year long relationship became super rocky during the year we all lived together due to a lot of factors. During this period, both Elsie and Jenna, but especially Jenna, deeply relied on me for a lot of comfort/help/emotional processing. I like helping people and I think of myself as a comforting person, and I don’t mind helping, but this got out of hand incredibly quickly and soon I was spending all my free time processing Jenna’s emotions. This only got worse when they eventually broke up and Elsie moved out. Jenna would wait for me to get home and immediately come to my room to process for hours. I work two jobs that both require a lot of emotional labor and was struggling with depression and did not have the bandwidth for this. It made my living situation a personal nightmare for me, and I dreaded coming home. I attempted to set up boundaries (telling her I wasn’t interested in talking about it anymore! saying I was tired! locking my door!) but she was pushy and I didn’t stick to my guns enough. She also did a lot of unrelated things that made me uncomfortable in the breakup aftermath, such as trying to date a bunch of my friends/literally anyone I brought to the house to hang out, which made my friends uncomfortable so I felt like i couldn’t have friends over (a whole separate weird issue). Eventually, I just moved out of the house because I couldn’t take it anymore. I now live in a much better situation and feel much happier.
Since my move Jenna has reached out to me constantly about hanging out/spending time together. Three times in the last week, she has asked me to attend an event I was already attending with other friends, invited herself, and then brought a date along and made a HUGE deal about the fact that she was bringing a date (which is a part of her whole weird “I’m single and horny” thing she’s doing right now). She talks constantly about how much she misses me and is always asking to spend time together. I suspect part of this is because I’m a connection to Elsie (every time we hang she asks me about Elsie/talks about Elsie and I try to shut it down, but she just does it the next time anyway), and the other half is because she wants to keep using me as free therapy. I want out! I need space! We are not actually friends, she just uses me as therapy. I thought it would stop when I moved, but it hasn’t.
How do I nicely express to this girl that:
A. I refuse to process this breakup with her anymore
B. I wish she wouldn’t invite herself to plans I already made with other people
C. Its weird and unnecessary to bring dates to every interaction we have
D. I need her to hang out with her actual friends and give me some fucking space already
I’m not your personal live in breakup therapist
I can’t help you with telling her “nicely.” If nice worked, it would have worked from the start. You tried nice. You tried locking your door. You fled to a different address. Jenna now crashes your plans with your friends and brings a date along. She did not get the message. She uses your desire to be nice to manipulate you. Time to put an end to this whole thing, which includes throwing “nice” out the window.
What would be the worst thing that could happen if you CLAIMED space from Jenna with tactics such as:
- Filtering your social media feeds so that Jenna cannot see anything you’re up to.
- Slowing down your replies to texts/emails from her – waiting a day or so before you even respond – and then reply to specific invitations to hang out with “No thanks” or “That won’t work for me, have a great time” or “No again” or “Nope” or “I prefer not to” or “Count me out” and ignore anything that says “I miss you” or “Can we talk?” Don’t reply to feelings stuff at all. Only RSVP to direct, specific invitations, always with some version of “No.”
- NEVER OFFER REASONS WHY YOU CAN’T GO. Reasons suggest that there is an alternative time where you would like to go. There isn’t.
- When she suggests inviting herself to things you were already going to, try saying, “Oh, I already have my own plans to go to that, so, no thank you.” “Oh, I’d rather just do that with my friends like I already planned. No thanks.”
- Telling her: “Jenna, you’ve invited me to three things in a single week. I don’t like anyone that much. Give me space!”
- Telling her: “Jenna, you can leave me out of your love life – I’m happy for you but I’m not interested in the updates or being on the actual dates, please stop!”
- Telling her: “Jenna, I am done processing your breakup with you. I’m Elsie’s long-time friend, I’m not going to discuss her with her ex anymore.”
- Telling her: “Jenna, my practice officially closed when I moved out, you’re going to have to find a real therapist now.”
- Telling her: “Jenna, STOP.”
- Telling her: “Jenna, I’ve tried to stay friendly, like I would with any former housemate, but this isn’t working for me. I hoped that moving out would do the trick to give me some space from you, but it’s obviously not working, so let me be clear: I wish you well, but I don’t want to hang out with you anymore. Please stop asking.”
- When she balks at this, giving examples of how you listened in the past so how was she supposed to know, trying to tempt you into apologizing or comforting her, try saying “I tried so many times to make it clear, but you never listened. So I moved out. But that still isn’t working. So I need you to listen now: Whatever you thought our friendship was like in the past, I don’t want to be friends anymore, starting now. Stop contacting me.”
- Blocking her on social media and blocking her phone number.
- Telling people who know both of you, “Oh, Jenna and I aren’t friends anymore. She’s being kind of weird about it, so I appreciate if you wouldn’t discuss me with her or vice versa.” (Sounds like your friends would be largely relieved to not have to deal with her anymore).
- Once you tell her to stop contacting you, never replying to anything she sends ever again.The more you reply and argue and remind someone to leave you alone, the more they take it as a hint that the whole thing is still negotiable. You gotta go Full Ignore.
- Expect an ‘extinction burst’ where she ramps up contact and suddenly has crises and emergencies that require your attention and sympathy and ride it out without caving, if you ignore her 99 times and answer the 100th text, it just confirms that it takes 100 texts to get to you. IGNORE.
- When she shows up at stuff or tried to crash your social circle, give her a wide berth. If she approaches you, ask her to leave you alone. If she won’t listen, be ready to leave the event and ask friends to be buffers and not leave you alone with her. She might try to use your fear of offending other people or making a scene to get you to engage with her, so you might have to let a big old scene happen. “JENNA. WE TALKED ABOUT THIS. GO AWAY.”
What’s the worst thing that happens? She feels bad? Bad enough to…leave you alone? In other words, you get what you want, which is freedom from her, which you would have been happy to have in a pleasant, face-saving way ages ago if she’d showed the tiniest shred of restraint?
Edited to Clarify: My honest first suggestion would be to take out your phone right now and send a text that says “Jenna, stop asking me to hang out, I don’t want to stay friends” and then block her everywhere starting now. Do it without preamble, justification, or explanation, (since there is no “why” she would accept). You get to end it today if you want to! I included a wide variety of possible options that you could choose depending on your comfort level and how much Jenna is escalating her behavior, you can start with any step you are comfortable with, including “bye forever,” and do not have to check off the “attempt slow fade” before you cut contact. I hope the variety in the list might be useful for checking in with yourself about where does it start to feel “not nice” to you, like, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly do that, that’s a bridge too far.” Where does your own personal discomfort with enforcing boundaries start to kick in, where does it feel like her feelings are more important than your feelings of dread and claustrophobia, where does the word “nope!” feel like something you’re “not allowed” to say and expect it to be respected?
Does a lot of it sound like the advice I’d give to someone who is dealing with a stalker, especially the last bit? Yeah. I had a roommate who was so clingy and in my business (and eventually threatening and terrifying) that I found another apartment without telling her and waited until she was out of the country for three weeks to secretly move out. Did she still try to find me so we could hang out after that? Yes. Did I block her ass forever? Yes. Did that hurt her feelings? I guess. Do I care? Not anymore! The time for caring about her feelings was long done, she should have taken the first 9,000 hints and direct requests to step the fuck back.
People who can’t hear the word ‘no’ can’t be friends with you. Jenna has never once respected a single boundary you’ve set, she is immune to hints, there is no ‘nice’ way to get this done. I know you don’t want to “hurt her feelings” or “be mean,” but she is never, ever, ever going to leave you alone unless you say the words “Jenna, leave me alone” and then put consequences behind it. You fled to a different building to get away from her, it’s past time to be worried that a little cold shoulder action is being too harsh. Let her not like you, let her think you are a mean selfish fake friend who is never truly there for her, let her write the story with you as the villain, let her do and think and feel whatever she wants, as long as she leaves you alone.
Good friends don’t take ‘no’ as a letdown or an invitation to steamroll you, so in your other relationships, practice your ‘no.’ Say it early, say it often, it’s a beautiful word.
Hold onto your hats, readers, the next question is about a pushy “mom-friend” who…spoiler…is not actually a parent to the Letter Writer or any human creature.