#1208: “Question about Mom Friends being too Mothering:” BOUNDARIES SCHOOL is in session.

As promised…more “If you’re ‘not allowed’ to say no to someone, they are not acting like friends” content. I have kept the Letter Writer’s subject line as the post title so that readers too can have the “Wait, where is the part where this person is an actual mom” “Oh wait, phew, this person isn’t anyone’s actual mother, that would be even more horrifying” realization that The Goat Lady (my trusty inbox sorter) and I did.

Dear Captain,

I (she/her) have a friend, “Mary” who is, by her own admission, a “mom” friend. Mary is very kind– but emotionally overreaching. She feels responsible for making sure her friends are well cared for. Mary has even joked that if it weren’t for her, her friends would buy nothing but junk food and toys at the grocery store, instead of groceries. When we get together, Mary will insist on cooking, even when somebody else volunteers to cook instead. If one of us DOES cook, Mary will hover, or “help” by essentially taking over the cooking–adding ingredients and more or less pushing the other cook out of the kitchen. Mary will consistently cite any accident or mistake any of us have made as an excuse to swoop in. Then she will complain that she is always the one stuck with the cooking.

Mary also feels very much–if she thinks her friends are upset or potentially upset, she will become upset for them. (For example, I have been very stressed at work and with personal projects, and Mary started crying because I “am going to burn out” and that I am “such a perfectionist that you are going to hurt yourself!”) If I complain to Mary about anything, be it annoyance over traffic to a problem with a coworker, it becomes a “problem” and Mary is quick to give me unsolicited advice, get defensive for me or otherwise volunteer to help me solve this “problem.”

If she knows I am struggling with something, Mary will constantly bring it up (probably in an attempt to reinforce what she thinks is the “positive” message), or turn even a casual comment (“I wish could sleep for five years,”) into a big referendum or discussion on my mental health. If we have a difficult conversation or discussion, it will end with Mary crying, clutching me like I am some sort of child and even kissing the top of my head while I am just feeling frustrated. If I try to establish boundaries (“This isn’t a topic I am willing to discuss with you, let’s talk about something else”), my boundaries are immediately overridden. In fact, it seems as if my attempts to establish boundaries are interpreted by Mary as a further excuse to involve herself in me and my life!

I know that Mary is coming from a place of love and care. What reads to me as “manipulative” and “immature,” aren’t necessarily that–it’s just that it is to me! (Ed. note: IT’S NOT JUST YOU) I care very much about Mary but I am reaching the end of my rope. I understand this is part of the “mom” friend aspect, but Cap, I HATE being mothered. My own mother doesn’t even “mother” me. It has never worked on me, and will never work on me, no matter how many times Mary tries to become my surrogate mom. I’m trying hard not to become a hallmark-movie-style troubled teen and start yelling “You are not my real mom!” at her.

Sometimes, I just need to vent or talk about my issues without needing a “solution” or it turning into an “argument.” I feel like I have to walk on eggshells around Mary because even a casual joke (the kind that everyone in our generation and friend group makes!) becomes an emotionally exhausting exercise where I am left feeling emotionally infantilized and I start to resent Mary’s lack of maturity.

On top of this, Mary is attending therapy and seems to think herself the authority on all matters now–she declares herself an expert on conflict resolution but her form of “resolution” is to cry until she gets what she wants or can manipulate the narrative to seem like she was correct (in case it wasn’t obvious by now, Mary has an INTENSE martyrdom complex.)

I don’t want to lose Mary as a friend, and I can’t really get away from her for now. I don’t know how to explain to Mary that I don’t need a “mom” or a “mom friend,” and that her “mothering” is making it impossible to just be “friends.” How do you get a “mom friend” to stop “mothering” her friends?

I don’t know how to ask Mary to emotionally detach herself from me and my problems without making it seem like I am asking her to get out of my life. I also don’t know how I could possibly have these difficult conversations with Mary without it turning into an emotional meltdown on Mary’s part that she then projects onto me, as further evidence that I “need” her. Can you help me find a script to deal with Mary?

Thanks,

She’s not my mom (friend)

Optional P.S. Neither of us are parents, apologies if it was confusing!

Hi there, thanks for your question.

The “Mom-friend” thing was indeed confusing but I’m glad you expressed it that way because it drives home how incredibly far from “This is a good friend with just one problem that needs work” territory we are.

Good news, this lady is not actually your mom. If she were your mom, I’d be telling you that good moms don’t behave like this, moms who inspire actresses to win Emmys by turning the scenery into mulch when a best-selling memoir called Engulfed: Kicking Myself Free Of The Suffocating Maternal Prison gets adapted for TV behave like this. I was also relieved to know that she’s not anyone’s parent yet, since when the “Dear Captain Awkward, I know I’m only eight, but how do I divorce my Mom? She won’t let me do anything by myself and every time I try, she brings up all my mistakes as reasons she has to do it herself while clutching me to her bosom and crying into my hair” letter rolled in I’d feel ethically conflicted about teaching a third grader to fake their own death.

(I’d still do it.)

(But I’d feel conflicted.)

You say Mary is “kind,” “well-meaning,” and “coming from a place of love and care” but the description of how she uses every opportunity to bring up your mistakes and anxieties as proof you “need” her doesn’t sound very kind, it actually sounds exactly like what bullies do, and the creepy way she clutches you like a child and kisses the top of your head – even when she knows you don’t like it – had me cringing down to the marrow. “Kindness” that nobody wanted and that people specifically tell you to stop doing isn’t kind. “Help” that has to recite all your mistakes and remind you that you’re a weak piece of shit who couldn’t make it without them isn’t helpful. If this is Mary’s kindness and help, how does she treat people she doesn’t like?

The clutching and kissing especially feels like the kind of vampire shit that led my Yia-Yia to carry raw garlic in her bra and festoon it around all the windowsills in case something followed her from the old country so it could drain her life force. Mary doesn’t suck your blood but she does suck your agency, joy, attention, autonomy, trust in your right to set boundaries, or ability to express any authentic emotion in her presence without her feeding on it somehow. If I knew of magical emotional vampire-repellent that would work without you needing to endure more difficult conversations where she tramples your needs and applies her mouth to your head, you better believe I’d be shipping it to you and instructing you to smear it on all of your thresholds and also to research whether the civic water supply or an airborne formula delivered via crop-duster is the best way to inoculate the rest of the town.

I don’t know Mary, I don’t like Mary (spoiler!), I don’t know what’s likable about her (I accept that there must be something sparkling there, since people kept on inviting her to things after the first “Only I, Mary, Can Cook Dinner, Unlike You Fools, Who Would Starve Without Me” incident and all the other incredibly obnoxious behaviors you described), but I do know this: People who steamroll other people’s boundaries and have dramatic emotional outbursts whenever they hear the word “no” really love to keep the conversation focused on their feelings and intentions, as if they can mean so well that it stops mattering whether they do well, as if they can intend so much kindness that the people in their lives must absorb any unkind word or action without complaint. These people behave as if their feelings are so much more authentic and deeply felt than other people’s feelings that their tears have the power to neutralize all other human feelings within a 100 mile radius, a seismic event that it’s better to prevent at all costs. Said prevention is (conveniently!) best done by complying with what they want and never holding them accountable or disrupting their view that their intentions and feelings are the most important thing in the entire world. They will resist you at every turn because as long as the focus stays on their intentions and feelings, they might not have to change anything or admit they did anything wrong or feel bad. To fight them, you have to wrest the narrative away from their intentions, you have to decenter their feelings, you have to keep talking about their actions and the impact of those actions and what you’d like them to do in the future.

For Mary to stop and realize, “Well, my instinct is to parent my friends, either because I like to be in charge and feel like I’m in control or because that’s what I think I need to do in order to feel valued and important or because I think they are a bunch of ridiculous incompetent babies who can’t even feed themselves. But actually it doesn’t matter why I’m doing it because my friends are telling me they don’t like it at all so I should probably listen to them and stop,” she’d have to consider both that the impact of her actions is different than her intentions and/or (I’ll even accept an “or” here) that your feelings matter at least as much as hers do. “At least” because when it comes to your life, work, nutrition, etc. your feelings are the only ones that matter. It sounds like she would rather not do that. Or that possibly she can’t do that. Or that what’s happening right now is exactly what she intends, a possibility I am unwilling to fully discount.

Whatever Mary’s aim, whatever her level of self-awareness, I intend to be a really good friend but actually everything I do is patronizing, rude, and traumatic, and when my friends try to tell me how they feel, I not only refuse to change a thing, I also get so upset they will do anything to avoid upsetting me, even at the cost of letting me upset them quite a lot” doesn’t add up to “Mary is a good friend.” Her kindness is completely misdirected, she makes you incredibly uncomfortable and exhausted and wary of setting her off much of the time, she’s decided that she gets to be the most upset about any upsetting thing that happens to any of her friends, and this makes her a pretty terrible friend, in my opinion. As long as your friend group all keep playing by the rules that say “Mary is a kind, wise, helpful person and telling her ‘no’ is just a mean, selfish way of proving how much we really need her,” nothing will change. Maybe she can be a good friend someday? To be a good friend to you, now, she has to stop with this intrusive forced parenting bullcrap. All future good intentions have to start from there, the true “yes” that comes from respecting other people’s “no.”

You are an empathetic and reasonable person who cares about other people’s feelings, you don’t want to tell a person you care about that their feelings don’t matter, you’ve been taught that’s what mean people do, so, yikes!  But by ignoring all reasonable and gentle attempts you’ve made to fix this issue in the past, Mary is forcing your hand: You either “hurt” her feelings by being direct, refusing to get distracted from how her behaviors affect you, and assigning consequences like “Sorry to hear that, let me know when you’re ready to stop acting like my mom and start acting like a friend” (giving her more grist for her martyr complex or driving her away) or you submit to her rules, her creepy hugs, and her patronizing shitty head kisses of maternal disappointment.

People are allowed to cry, I cry all the time, it’s not inherently manipulative* to tear up during a difficult conversation. But if we have an argument about a thing I need you to stop doing because it hurts me, and you get upset during the discussion and cry,  I still need you to stop hurting me whenever you’re done crying. Your tears didn’t erase my needs. But that’s the expectation that Mary is setting: Once she cries, you’re supposed to stop needing whatever it was and never mention it again, ’cause look how upset Mary got the last time, do you want to be responsible for making someone feel like that?

*Note: We haven’t talked about how tears can be weaponized along power structures. When white women cry to deflect critiques from Black women and other women of color and treat boundaries as bullying (which they do so often there’s a name for it, White Women’s Tears, people have been locked up and executed behind White Women’s Tears), the tears are a power move based in white fragility, designed to silence criticism, paint the critic as the “real” bully, and resist any need to ever change anything. Crying is normal, weaponizing tears is not okay.

Back to the personal, Mary is converting “being told no” or “hearing that someone needs a different thing than she assumed” as “Now look what you made me do!” and “Why are you hurting me?” She is weaponizing her tears in a way that is incredibly Not Cool in any context. How are you supposed to find a script that gets around that?

You don’t want to stop being friends, you don’t want to have another exhausting conversation, so let’s do a thought experiment. What are some other things you and your friend group could try to avoid setting off one of Mary’s famous meltdowns?

[Entering the Thought Experiment Zone, Where Anything Can Happen, Including Bad Advisor Proposals]

1. Immediately cancel all get-togethers with Mary where there is food or cooking.

You could go to a restaurant or order food, but what if Mary complains that it’s too expensive or unhealthy for what she thinks her growing family should be eating, and after all, she’s happy to cook? If you were to say “Mary, I want to cook by myself” and then you kept on cooking without letting her take over, Mary might cry, or push past you anyway and grab the utensils herself, plus, do you want her to review all the cooking mistakes you’ve ever made in front of everyone yet again? Why put yourself and everyone and most importantly Mary through all that? Also, all of you ungrateful assholes keep saddling her with the cooking, why not give the poor woman a break?

Solution: Simple! Everyone should eat by themselves at home from now on. Everyone. Why risk upsetting Mary by sharing a communal meal with friends in a social setting or daring to turn on a hot stove or touch a potentially too-sharp knife unsupervised by her?You can always present your personal grocery receipts to Mary to reassure her that you ate responsibly. “Look Mary, no toys this month!” 

2. Never express any negative emotions in Mary’s presence, even as jokes. Especially as jokes. 

Why give her fuel? If you being upset where Mary can see you makes Mary get incredibly upset, why would you upset her that way? It’s better if she sees and hears about only happy emotions.

Since you know Mary can’t process “humor” or “hyperbole,” she takes everything literally, and then she literally uses her literal interpretation of everything you say as a literal excuse to literally treat you like a toddler, it’s time to stop saying jokes that make Mary worry about you, cry, and have inappropriately cloying reactions. Instead, speak only in short, declarative sentences that contain nothing funny when you know Mary is around, maybe stick to wishing one another “Blessed Day” or “Well met, Comrade” or “Everything is fine!” whenever she’s in earshot and leave the heavier stuff (jokes, differences of opinion, struggles, aborted and unsafe attempts at cookery, things that happened to you in your life that day) for after she’s safely tucked in bed. Otherwise…you know what the consequences will be. Honestly, it’s best if you’re mostly silent (but not silent enough that Mary will notice and worry about you).

3. Never discuss any problems that could be happening at work, in your life or the world with her or where she might hear you. 

Why did you let yourself get into such a mess at work anyway, didn’t you know that Mary would be unable to resist taking your burdens on, adding to the already unbearable load of the career path, nutritional needs, and emotional well-being of everyone she knows? You know Mary can’t resist clutching you and tearfully kissing the top of your head when she finds out you have a silly-iddle-problem-woblem, why would you risk making her do that by sharing a detail of your life that is less than joyful or optimistic? Don’t you know that every problem you have affects Mary more deeply than anyone, because of how empathetic and kind she is?

4. Put everything that Mary, Conflict Resolution Expert, has taught you into practice by never having conflict with her or mentioning any where she can see it. 

You wouldn’t want Mary to sustain any injuries for the weeping she’s forced to do whenever you incompetent, wretches with no understanding of human interactions have a different memory of an incident that she does or (EMERGENCY!) express a conflicting want or idea. She’s had some therapy! That means she KNOWS. Pretty reasonable, right? And, come on, you wouldn’t want Mary to ever feel bad and think that if she didn’t stop acting this way you might not want to be friends anymore!

“Wait, Captain Awkward, are you saying we should arrange our entire social lives and police our interactions so that Mary never has reason to swoop in, remind us we’re doing it all wrong, theatrically cry until she gets her way, or creepily hug us and kiss our boo-boos as if we’re her personal gaggle of toddlers that she is definitely responsible for even though nobody asked her to be and I personally have asked her not to?”

[/Leaving The Thought Experiment Zone]

No! I’m saying that’s a ridiculous thing to try to achieve and these are ridiculous expectations of what friendship requires. This lady is too much fucking work and I think you should all stop doing so much work to placate her, especially when she refuses to do any work to listen to or respect you, and yet keeps presenting all the work she does that you didn’t ask for as a sign that you owe her something.

If there’s no patient reiteration of “Why You Should Really, Really, Stop Acting Like My Mother, I Hate It When You Do That, Also, Please Stop Freaking Out Every Time You Hear The Word ‘No’, Also, I Don’t Think That Therapy Works How You Think It Does” that Mary will ever accept it’s time to try some less patient tactics, like saying “Cool story, Mary” or “Yeah, I’m just gonna cook by myself, thanks” or “Oh, I wasn’t asking for advice,” or “I was joking, it’s okay to just say you didn’t get it or not laugh, it wasn’t an invitation to therapize me” or “Ok, let’s change the subject” or “Please don’t touch me, I don’t want a hug” and “Oh, I already have a mom, thanks” and turning back to whatever you were doing like you expect that Mary will respect that and react proportionally. 

If she feels embarrassed and bad, okay, what she’s doing is really weird and bad and embarrassing!

If she starts to “have an emotional meltdown,” consider…mostly…ignoring it? The trick with this is to be very boring and to make it very boring. What if she were to throw a tantrum and nobody came?

“Captain Awkward, are you asking me to ignore a crying human friend who means to be nice and who is obviously feeling upset?”

Kinda…yeah?…when it concerns this particular human who you know cries specifically to manipulate people into giving her what she wants? You’ve tried asking her and telling her, you’ve tried appeasing her, has anyone tried a) inviting her to approximately 95%-100% less friend-stuff and b) when she does behave badly and then melt down when she’s called on it, just letting her meltdowns happen without judgment but also without comforting her or having any particular reaction, like, whoever is cooking says, “No, Mary” and keeps cooking.

You asked how you can get Mary to detach emotionally from you and behaving this way, but you can’t control that, so could you detach from her outbursts and just let them happen, like, go inside your head and calmly observe, like, “I guess this is happening now, but I still don’t want to have my jokes analyzed , I hope she figures it out.” 

Ever seen a parent spirit an overstimulated toddler having a meltdown out of a restaurant plop them gently on the sidewalk and hang out a little distance away while the kid screams it alllllllllllllllllllll out? From what I’ve observed, the trick with a “wailing in unspeakable rage and sadness ’cause I asked for butter on my rice and the restaurant put butter on my rice, the world is obviously ending” three-year-old is to 1) acknowledge the kid is sad (CommanderLogic to WeeLogics when whey were wee-er and had fewer words at their disposal: “Yes, I can tell that you are very sad right now”), 2) do some quick due diligence to make sure the kid isn’t actually sick or hurt in some way that’s not immediately visible and that it really is a Mad At The World meltdown, and then 3) give them some space and don’t engage until they’ve had a chance to cry it out and are ready to calmly rejoin the Big People again. Same deal applies to adults who throw tantrums when they don’t immediately get their way, except for grownup tantrum-havers you don’t even have to do the part where you lift them up and carry them outside or idly scroll through your phone while you stand watch against passing cars or kidnappers. They can go outside or to the bathroom or they can cry the restaurant ceiling down right here at the table, they’re grownups, it’s really up to them.

I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t incredibly hard and stressful and upsetting to just stand there while a fellow adult dramatically loses their shit without dying of second-hand shame poisoning and incredible pressure to fix it. And people who use big emotional meltdowns/tantrums to get their way KNOW this is hard and they USE IT, they train the people around them that it’s better to avoid a scene than it is to risk an eruption of Mount Feelings, they use the fear of embarrassment and discomfort and guilt for not empathizing enough to cultivate an environment where it’s just easier to let them have their way all the time.

Easier…it’s easier to just go along…easier to not bring it up…this is what the Outburst Prone always imply, but I must ask, easier than what, exactly? When someone blackmails you, your best bet is to tell the secret yourself. When an adult threatens to cry until they get their way, maybe today’s the day we find out how long a person can cry. When someone is willing to behave like this to get their way, and you try every reasonable and kind way to defuse it, sometimes all that’s left is “Ok, cry it out then, let me know when you want to try words again, in the meantime I’m going to be over here/go home/chop these peppers all by myself with a grownup knife that grownups use.” And then maybe you let whatever it is happen, even if it’s messy and awkward and embarrassing and Mary feels real sad when she’s not obeyed. You don’t have to reassure the person who won’t stop hurting you that it’s okay if they feel sad about hurting you. Let ’em cry!

You’re probably feeling pretty defensive of Mary right about now, Letter Writer, if you’re still reading. She’s your friend! I don’t know her like you do! SHE MEANS WELL. She tries. She can’t help it. This is just how she is. Ok, but what if “just how she is is” really incompatible with how you are and what makes you feel good in a friendship? What if Extremely Aggressive and Patronizing Self-Appointed Mom (That Nobody Asked For) Who Throws Tantrums When She Doesn’t Get Her Way Because She Thinks She Is The Best At Conflict is as good as it gets? What if your options right now really are a choice between:

  1. Patiently endure more emotional meltdowns that end with you clutched to her bosom while she plants tiny kisses the top of your head every time you say the word ‘no’ with her clutching little mouth, or —
  2. Stop putting up with the mothering behavior, say bluntly that you don’t like it and need it to stop, and if Mary decides that she’d rather stop being friends than have to respect a boundary or change her entire personality (fair), wish her well and let her go.

What if no third option exists, since Mary has already repeatedly and with great fanfare rejected the world where you set a boundary and she listens to you and stops doing an incredibly weird, intrusive, obnoxious thing and you get to live happily as nice relaxed adults who see each other as equals?

Perhaps this song from the Story Bots will convey which above option I think is both healthier and more likely with the appropriate amount of fanfare (transcript of lyrics available at the YouTube link):

 

I do have sympathy for Mary and would for anyone who is acting this far outside of reasonable behavior to the point where they are about to lose all their friends if they don’t stop, it probably feels terrible inside her head.  That’s not for us to sort out or diagnose, though.

Even if we knew for sure that a diagnosable condition were present I promise you – I promise you – that the cure would not be your continued compliance with everything Mary prefers. People who are having legitimate trouble maintaining reasonable boundaries with others need their friends and loved ones to pick up the boundary slack, not abandon the idea of boundaries in the face of Hurricane Feelings.

You get to have needs. You get to have different needs than Mary thinks you should. You get to have needs that directly conflict with Mary’s needs. You get to not need Mary at all or give any lip service to her idea of herself as the needed one and you as the needer, you get to say “don’t tell me what I need” and “let’s leave need out of this, except for the part where I asked you to stop acting like my mom, ’cause that is what I actually need from you.” You’re allowed to want to make jokes and talk about a less-than-perfect workday and cook your own fucking food without fear of setting off a giant emotional storm, and Mary can have extremely sad feelings and at the same time you can have feelings called “Mary, it sucks that you feel this sad about something that is happening in my life, but I still need you to stop [clutching at me][trying to diagnose my issues][taking over the kitchen whenever I’m in it][turning every joke into an opportunity to show how smart you are about my life] and give me some space, right now, so stop.” You don’t have to solve Mary’s feelings every time you have a feeling in order to be her friend.

Let me leave you with some possible (non-ironic, un-ridiculous non-Thought Experiment) action steps:

First, the blog theme for 2019: If a relationship sucks and makes you feel bad all the time, what if you stopped trying so hard to fix it? Not, what if you ended it forever or made a dramatic pronouncement or big decision about it or had one more big serious talk, or found a way to try a little harder, just, what if you stopped working on it. Mary’s gonna Mary, you can’t fix Mary, so what if when you’re not in the mood for Mary you stayed home (or went home) and when you want to hang out with people you prioritized the ones who aren’t so much work?

To build on that, if you’re not ready to end this friendship, you’re the boss of you! But, what if you didn’t hang out with Mary for a whole month? What if you saw friends in smaller groups, met up with people solo, hung out in different venues, and took a 30 day break from Mary. No need to inform her, just, don’t initiate contact with her and when she seeks you out say, “Oops, I’m pretty busy right now, I’ll get in touch when I have some free time” and don’t jump at her commands. (Remember during your break: SOCIAL MEDIA FILTERS ARE YOUR FRIEND, don’t give a person you’re trying to keep at arms length a ton of tools and information to monitor you.)

When the 30 days ends – Ask yourself, do you miss her? If yes, I guess call her. If not, try another 30! And, what if every time Mary violated your boundaries after that you decided to take a break from spending time with her? Instead of explaining or reasoning or comforting or enduring more emotional conversations and baggage, what if you let whatever she did or said pass without a big discussion in the moment, but once you were out of her presence you let it be a sign to stop hanging out for a while? A message that can’t always be delivered in words: Respect my boundaries, we hang out and have fun. Act like my mom, we don’t hang out, because I can’t trust that it will be fun for me.

Third, I do think you should stop telling her details about your life or talking about any heavy subjects, that wasn’t a joke suggestion before. She uses everything you tell her as fodder, time to keep everything real light and breezy and vague for a while.

Fourth, what if the next time Mary does something that bothers you, you told her, “Mary, I really need you to hear me. The thing where you act like my self-appointed mother annoys the living fuck out of me. I care about you and I want to be your friend, but you need to stop x, y, z specific behaviors, starting now, they make me feel infantilized and exhausted.” Don’t explain more than that, reasons are for reasonable people, we’re wayyyyyy past reasonable. It’s okay to raise your voice, it’s okay to be furious if you feel furious.

Also, it’s okay to communicate this in a letter or email, or on a phone call that you cut short when you’re ready to be done talking, you can avoid sitting down in quiet venues or situations where a long discussion is easy or likely. Everybody who gets news they don’t want to hear insists that they would have reacted better if it had been delivered differently, and they might be right, but you still get to prioritize your own comfort, especially when you know a person is prone to dramatic reactions and that you don’t like those.

Fifth, what if you tried the above strategy of asking Mary to knock off the Mom-stuff, and she had a giant meltdown, and you waited out her reaction and then repeated what you needed. “Ok, I get that you feel unappreciated and upset right now, but what I need hasn’t changed. Please stop all Mom-like behaviors like (specifically name them again, it’s part of shifting focus from her intentions to her impact on you) when we’re hanging out.” 

Sixth, what if you held firm, and stayed consistent, even if Mary tried other tactics to manipulate you? Offering favors that no one wants and then using that to demand deference or favors or access in return is manipulation 101, one word for it is “favor-sharking,” it’s never actually kind or nice, it’s just manipulation. Then there’s this thing creepy people who were obviously hitting on you do when they get called out, where they get fake-outraged and accuse you of imagining the whole thing, like, “How dare you imagine I like you that way” and tell you you are ugly. People who attempt these abrupt reversals and gaslighting ‘negs’ are almost always trying to trick you into reassuring them that you understand their pure intentions (there’s that word again, intentions) and will forget their overstepping actions, they win when you get flustered and apologize to them for misconstruing an “innocent” remark, you win when you say, “Okay, great, I’m so glad it’s just a misunderstanding, so I definitely won’t have to worry about [specific creepy behavior, name it, always name it] anymore, what a relief!” If Mary tries to project her behavior all back on you, accept, with aggressive positivity! “Phew, that’s good to hear! Just to be clear, if I’m cooking, you’re going to stay out of the kitchen and not comment or try to fix my food? Sweet, that’s all I wanted. Thanks, good talk everyone!” 

When you pull this off successfully it’s the best, ’cause there’s not a thing they can reasonably say back without obviously becoming the asshole in the room. You’re agreeing with them! You’re accepting their version of events, as long as [here’s the catch], they knock off the crappy thing you wanted them to stop all along.

This all still feels like Too Much Work, and I want to be clear that none of my recommendations are going to be the perfect script or the perfect approach, simply because I don’t think there is actually a way to convince someone who finds the idea that you might be the expert at living your own life utterly inconvenient to her concept of herself as a good person (who just happens to be better at everything than you including knowing the best way to be…you!) to Just Fucking Not, Already. You’ve been perfectly clear all the other times you’ve tried this, what was missing was the willingness to step away and stop working so hard if she refused to adjust.

Letter Writer, good luck salvaging…something…here, even if it is blessed freedom from being mommed to death if your friend decides to take her marbles and goes home. You’ve been incredibly patient and tried to see the best in Mary, even when it’s invisible to me, I hope that pays off how you want it to. You have my sympathies if it doesn’t.

Everyone else: I think we find out who people really are when tell them “no.” If you’re worried you’re dealing with A Mary, start sprinkling the word “no” liberally all up and down your friendship and see what happens. If you feel like you can’t say “no,” like you’re not allowed to say “no,” consider if this is a relationship you want to keep at all, it might already have gone too far wrong to salvage.

If you do say no and the resulting conversations are all about your friend’s intentions and feelings, try dragging the discussion back by naming specific actions, focusing on how the actions affect you/the world, and describing what specific things you need to happen now. Friendships can survive “no” and having different needs. Relationships that can’t survive that aren’t friendships, they’re something else, and we don’t have to stay in those.

If you’re worried that you ARE a Mary, when a friend tells you “no,” consider stopping whatever it is you’re doing at once and, if you’re feeling extremely upset by being asked to stop, try waiting at least 24 hours before you respond further or try to explain yourself to see if the urge passes. If you feel the compulsion to cry, okay, but try to do it privately, not because tears are wrong but so that there’s no pressure for your friend to comfort you for something you fucked up.

Remind yourself that when someone says “stop,” it’s not actually the time to explain why you shouldn’t actually have to stop or promise to intend to stop. Just stop! Maybe it doesn’t matter what you meant, or how embarrassed or upset you feel at being asked to stop, maybe it matters that the thing stops. The stopping IS the demonstration of good intentions. The best, only, necessary way to prove you are a person who can take no for an answer is to be a person who takes no for an answer.

Edited to Add: 

I’m closing comments as of 6/13 – I think all the angles are more than covered.

THANK YOU, Letter Writer for your updates in the thread, which quickly showed that it’s time to 1) consult a domestic violence hotline for help making a safety plan and 2) consult a lawyer for getting Mary (who is a roommate in a house the LW owns) out of the living space.

382 comments
  1. egl said:

    “If we have a difficult conversation or discussion, it will end with Mary crying, clutching me like I am some sort of child and even kissing the top of my head”

    This part made me cringe so hard, it probably registered on the richter scale.

    • tapati said:

      Goddess, yes. :shudder:

      • valentine said:

        Mary’s scary. She enmeshes with everyone, appoints herself Mom despite the dearth of vacancies, reasons like a small child (crying=conflict resolution), and practices an astounding level of gaslighting where seeking space means you require she run roughshod.

        LW, letting Mary cry it out and otherwise changing your responses may feel like death at first. If so, I hope you can keep at it and break through to Mary-free stretches of time that bring sweet relief.

    • Kitty said:

      Also, Captain is that a real memoir? Because I would read the shit out of it! Couldn’t find it on google though.

      • Kitty said:

        Oops this was meant as a reply to the main post

      • JenniferP said:

        It isn’t as far as I know, but I bet a lot of people could write it. 🙂

  2. People are allowed to cry, I cry all the time, it’s not inherently manipulative* to tear up during a difficult conversation. But if we have an argument about a thing I need you to stop doing because it hurts me, and you get upset during the discussion and cry, I still need you to stop hurting me whenever you’re done crying. Your tears didn’t erase my needs.

    As someone who has for my entire life cried incredibly easily and dealt with a lot of judgment and internalized guilt and shame about it at times, I really, really appreciate this. The fact that I’m prone to burst into tears in the presence of any strong emotion makes a lot of people really uncomfortable, but what makes me uncomfortable is people reacting to my tears by assuming I’m trying to manipulate them or stop the conversation we’re having.

    At a certain point I started having a very frank conversation with roommates/partners/datefriends/etc early in our relationship, it goes like this: “So, when we inevitably fight or have a really fraught conversation I am going to burst into tears. And it sucks and it’s annoying and you’re going to feel incredibly uncomfortable, but unless I actually say that I need to take a break or that I need some type of comfort I need you to just let me cry and keep going.”

    Because I’ve been like this for 30+ years, and I hate it. If I could stop I would, but since I can’t the best I can do is minimize the potential for damage.

    And I HATE the Mary’s of the world, because they make my life and my relationships so much more difficult just from the psychic scars they leave in their wake.

    Mary is not your friend LW. Even if Mary can’t stop herself from bursting into tears all the time, she absolutely has a choice about how much of a tool of manipulation those tears are going to be.

    • Yes, I am also a crier! When I’m stressed, when I’m angry, when I think something is unfair, and when I just have strong feelings. It doesn’t affect my ability to think or to understand, though it sometimes does make actual speaking difficult.

    • Nicole said:

      I am also a crier, but I feel terrible when I cry (because I worry it comes off manipulative) and I make sure I’m still listening to people. But I have an ex-friend who was a manipulative crier- and, as with this person, it was never just crying. There was always a performance (really a tantrum). As CA said, the point of the tantrum was to make it so uncomfortable for everyone that they had to react. If you are trying to non-disruptively cry, it isn’t the same thing at all.

    • Serin said:

      Ha, yes, I’ve had that very conversation with people I’m close to. My kid (who got a talent for emotional insight in some fashion that clearly didn’t involve inheriting it from me) sees me tear up and says, “It must be important.”

      • LeighTX said:

        Aww, that’s so sweet! Doesn’t it feel wonderful to be “seen” by your own kid? 🙂

      • Leonine said:

        I am only a moderate crier, but that made me tear up a little. :’-)

      • Oh my goodness what a wonderful way to re-frame this!! Gonna steal this from your wise kiddo

      • What a thoughtful, observant child. And yeah, I might steal that framing along with the others. Thanks, Child-I-Don’t-Know-But-Whom-I-Admire.

    • sorcharei said:

      I cry. I have had that conversation with many people. I learned long ago to have it as early as possible. I have even learned how to remind people of the conversation while I am crying. People who can’t cope with my tears are bad fits for friends and lovers. People who have had bad experiences with other people manipu-crying at them, however, often seem very relieved by my approach.

      One way I “have the conversation” is to tell a story where I cried and use it as a chance to make the remark that this is just a thing my brain does, and to say how much I appreciate the people who can take me at my word that I will tell them when my tears need to be addressed, which is almost never.

      • Sunflower said:

        This is a great approach! I’m going to be thinking about/keeping an eye out for my own crying stories to use this way—thanks for sharing the idea!

      • Thanksforallthefish said:

        Thank you. I wish I had these words and this knowledge six years ago. People who can’t cope with my tears are bad fits for lovers. So glad to be free now.

    • Renita said:

      Yeah, I cry fairly easily – and not even because I’m sad or anything, just feeling temporarily overwhelmed with emotion – and it took my husband a little while to finally get it in his head that I wasn’t crying at him, because in his head it was manipulative. He finally is somewhat comfortable with it and understands that while I might need a minute, I’m not trying to shut the conversation down or “win”.

      (Of course there ARE people out there who cry as a form of manipulation but trust me, I don’t want to, and the irony was if I was able to stay calm through a hard discussion, he thought I didn’t care – but that’s a whole different Captain Awkward comment section.)

      • TiffanyAching said:

        It took my husband a while, too, to realize that me crying wasn’t an attempt to “win” the argument or make him feel bad. I like to say that on an emotional scale from 1-10, anything 3 or below or 7 or above could provoke tears.

        It gets really awkward at work when the boss has constructive criticism and I go 12 shades of red and tears leak out of my eyes — like I promise I’m not really that upset, thank you for the feedback, I’m definitely internalizing this, I just think you’re a good boss and don’t like disappointing you.

        • sugaquillz said:

          Yes this! I cry more when I worry that I’m disappointing people (or disappointing myself, really) or even just overwhelmed, rather than when I’m feeling the Actual Sad Emotion.

        • Renita said:

          Hah, yeah, I’ve totally cried in front of my manager due to mild embarrassment or feeling briefly overwhelmed and thank GOD she’s been pretty understanding about it and I haven’t been pigeonholed as the office crier 😛

          I also sometimes start to tear up when someone asks me if I’m OK – and it’s like, I was fine, and then you said something sweet, and the emotional dam burst for a second!

      • FairestCat said:

        “Feeling temporarily overwhelmed with emotion” is exactly it. It’s as likely to be happiness or embarrassment or blinding anger as it is ordinary upset.

    • green said:

      are you me? because that all sounds like me, also your userpic looks like me. XD /easy crier fistbump

      • FairestCat said:

        /easy crier solidarity.

    • Britpoptarts said:

      Ugh, I am unpredictable with regard to crying. I know I am more likely to cry at sad orphan pet ads than a sad thing happening TO ME, and am more likely to get teary when I am frustrated or angry than when I am feeling melancholy, but there’s really no telling before a particular situation happens whether I will cry or not. It’s not manipulative. I do my best to hide it and will even reassure people that they can ignore my watering eyes. I’m not trying to make anyone DO anything or stop doing anything, my eyes are just leaking. If it is going to be really embarrassing for me to have a weepy moment, VOILA, I will have a weepy moment. That seems to be how it works. It’s not tied to actual sadness as much as it is to that feeling of overwhelm.

      Sometimes being a brick with a stoic expression and stiff upper lip is just too much to ask, and here come the tears. Yay.

    • eALLEN said:

      I tell people that my face leaks. They don’t have to do anything to fix it, or pay any attention to the leakage at all – it just happens. it appears to work out ok in the end.

      • Ermintrude said:

        Hah! I say my eyes are leaking.

    • bluephone said:

      Hardcore same, I am someone who cries in the presence of very strong emotions (ESPECIALLY anger) and it’s so effing annoying b/c people assume I’m doing it to be manipulative. I am not! Believe me, if I could have any superpower in the world, it would be to not cry while angry or stressed out or even at something sad ever again!!!!!!

    • ReallyLilyReally said:

      Ahhhh I have this problem too – I tell people that any emotion rating 3/10 or above tends to come out of my eyes, whether it’s happiness, sadness, frustration or hunger.

      Early in my working life, I had an EXCELLENT coworker, who the third time he saw me tear up at work over a very stressful email chain, said “I can tell you’re getting upset about something – I’ve seen this happen a couple of times now – are these the sort of tears where it would be helpful if i stopped what I’m doing and gave you a hug or something, or is this more of an ‘ignore it, business as usual, just frustrated’ situation?” He was INCREDIBLE and in that moment it felt really easy to tell him, as above, that i have overactive tear ducts and just to ignore me. His framing of it, as possibly just a side-effect of being stressed, which is normal at work, gave me a framework to use in future. Now when a colleague notices me getting upset the first time, I give a little spiel about being a leaky person in general and tell them it’s fine, recommended even, to ignore me, and that if i need help i’ll definitely reach out. It has always worked, and does a lot to minimise work tensions. I still tear up the fifth time someone ignores my urgent email request.

      • Bagpuss said:

        That’s a great response!

    • Persia said:

      Another crier here. I always feel less than when I cry in public, because adults are always supposed to be self-controlled and mature. (Yes, that’s a lot of toxicity right there.) But I can say with confidence that I’ve never been a Mary or utilized White Women’s Tears, because I always apologize whenever someone calls me out and thank them for doing so.

    • Emmers said:

      God, yes, so much this. I hate the idea that tears are a weapon, but that idea exists because of Marys.

    • Moolloo said:

      I had a staff member have this chat with me, sooo much better. Now i just hand her a tissue and keep talking.

    • Bagpuss said:

      YES!!
      I cry is I am really angry or (to a lesser degree) stressed.
      I have spoken to my business partner about this (ahead of what we both knew was going to be a very, very difficult business meeting) and told him explicitly that if I cried it would be due to stress and/or anger and that he should ignore it and carry on

  3. tapati said:

    I’ve kind of been on both sides of this dynamic. I’ve been sort of a minor league Mary, without the melt downs or taking over kitchens, but overdoing, over-nurturing because that’s what I was expected to do for my single mom and the only thing that got validated by her. It did take therapy and a lot of reading about boundaries to get better at not doing this and I recognize the impulse without always acting on it. Not perfectly but loads better than in my young adult years.

    I’ve also noticed that I had become a “project” for other women, usually slightly older, and they really did view me as someone they had to fix and improve and mentor without my seeking that. So while I thought we had a relationship of equals I came to find out when their reform efforts blew up that they were trying to fix me and had a definite vision in mind of how I could reach my potential.

    It’s not fun on either side of this equation. As a would-be nurturer I felt I could never turn down a request for help. I felt anxious if someone was suffering in my general vicinity and like I had let them down if I failed to alleviate that suffering. This of course was not coming from the friend doing the suffering–this was all left over stuff from my family dynamic where I was guilt-tripped if my mom was sad/angry/whatever. I could also be subjected to more abuse if she didn’t start feeling better pretty quickly.

    These are great strategies and Mary really needs this exercise in boundaries too, no matter how much it hurts at the time. It’s good for both parties to put an end to this dynamic. If Mary can’t accept boundary-setting at this stage, that’s for her to work out. It’s an opportunity for Mary to learn to put all that energy into her own life and herself (without feeling guilty, another thing I carried from childhood). These skills were likely survival skills in childhood. They just aren’t working in adult-to-adult relationships now. She has a therapist to help her deal with her feelings about encountering boundaries she doesn’t like.

    • mica dancing on the keyboard said:

      “I felt anxious if someone was suffering in my general vicinity and like I had let them down if I failed to alleviate that suffering.”

      God, this exactly. There was a very long time in my life where friends’ disagreement, or pain, or even discomfort was a complete emergency for me. For me that resulted in me avoiding friendship or intimate relationships, rather than going down Mary’s path. As someone who has had a lot of dumb emotions, I can kind of see where Mary’s coming from. I’m actually really lucky that I had some people who faded me, broke up with me, complained to me, and otherwise didn’t quietly put up with me. I was going to suggest that the LW say something like “Wow Mary, you seem particularly anxious today” when she starts doing her thing, but even that is playing into the s/mothering dynamic too much I think. Mary has to do the work on her own, and the absolutely best thing LW can do is be consistent and firm.

      • johann7 said:

        You sound a lot like my mom, who responds that way thanks to a severe anxiety disorder and an overabundance of empathy. The thing is, she actually DOES mean well, and one of the ways I know it is that she actually self-monitors and self-corrects and does modify her behavior when it’s causing problems for others in a not-previously-known way. It seems like a miserable way to have to exist – I feel really bad for people in your situation (my own issues with anxiety and overwhelming emotions are less severe, but I personally experience a lesser, analogous version from which I can imagine how the more extreme cases must be).

        My point is that the difference between manipulation and good-faith difficulty self-regulating becomes clear from how you respond. There may be some people who can’t handle you even though you’re making your best effort and doing a (relatively) good job of avoiding harmful behaviors, and that sucks (they of course get to and should choose their friendships), but I hope most people in your life can recognize and appreciate the difference, because there is a functional difference (this is one of those cases where intent can/should noticeably impact behavior, as CA notes, and therefore good intent counts for something because it translates into better behavior, if not necessarily IDEAL behavior for everone).

      • tapati said:

        I’m glad you got past the worst of this and I can understand avoiding relationships for awhile.

    • Thanks for this description. (And “minor-league Mary” cracked me up.) You just helped explain a friend to me. We also “broke up” because of a lack of boundaries.

      • tapati said:

        I hope your friend learns something from the experience and it leads to change down the road. Good for you; it’s really not easy to deal with.

    • Jake said:

      > I felt anxious if someone was suffering in my general vicinity and like I had let them down if I failed to alleviate that suffering.

      The thing about this that’s so hard when you’re on the receiving and (and I’m not saying this for you, tapati, because I think you know) is that all the “comfort” you’re getting is about the feelings of the comforter, not the comfortee. When someone is doing this to me I feel like I’m expected to perform “being comforted” and “feeling better” or they Just. Won’t. Stop.

      And, like, ugh. No, dammit. I get to be sad. I get to be angry. I get to not want to be comforted. I get to keep having those feelings.

      Sorry tapati, like I said this is not directed at you. It’s just such a trigger for me to be expected to pretend I’m not having negative emotions for the comfort of the people around me.

      • tapati said:

        I understand where you’re coming from. I’ve also worked to separate out how much of my anxiety is about me worrying that I can’t help vs. genuine compassion or empathy for the suffering friend and trying not to make it all about me and my anxiety. THAT is a lengthy process in therapy, let me tell you! Also going through grief taught me that feelings don’t just magically disappear because someone offers sympathy or comforting. Yet I do still feel the pull that even if I myself am tired or in pain (I’m chronically ill these days) I should try to help if asked and it’s been really hard to have to refuse or delay help because of illness. And in the past I’ve fallen prey to people wanting endless free therapy–even after I became seriously ill–who would barely ask me about my day or life before launching into their latest drama. I was forced to weed them out of my life just as illness was already limiting my social circle.

        It feels like there are levels to the lessons people like us have to learn. Boundaries 101: don’t take over people’s kitchens or other space, don’t forcibly try to solve their problems when they ask/tell you to STOP already. Boundaries 220: Remember that people aren’t obliged to stop feeling their feelings when you offer comfort or sympathy. Also watch out for people who use your anxiety to get free therapy time and never get around to reciprocating.

        I’m sure one could offer endless courses on the subject and I should take them all!

      • Hrovitnir said:

        “When someone is doing this to me I feel like I’m expected to perform “being comforted” and “feeling better” or they Just. Won’t. Stop.”

        Oo, that’s so good. It is a succinct way to explain why my mother trying to dredge up trauma to comfort me (I no longer express feelings to her so she tries to evoke them) makes me incredibly angry. I am not here to perform for you.

        Obviously this is oblique to your main point, that is well made.

      • Scullery Wench said:

        “When someone is doing this to me I feel like I’m expected to perform “being comforted” and “feeling better” or they Just. Won’t. Stop.”

        It’s like having to fake an orgasm because otherwise, they won’t leave you alone to get on with your life and sleep, or whatever. Your actual lived experience isn’t what is important — it’s the script playing out in their head that is important to them. And they are very invested in not acknowledging or accepting that insight.

        • Thanksforallthefish said:

          Wow the resonance! on both fronts. ugh. yes.

      • Anne Elliot said:

        This happened to me when my dog died unexpectedly during a routine surgery. The vet called to tell me and he was SO UPSET. He knew how much my dog meant to me, he knew how much he valued his own skills as a vet, and the whole thing had been very traumatic for him and his staff. So I found myself on the phone in the middle of the grocery store unable to even begin processing a profound personal loss, because the nurturing part of me meant that I had to comfort HIM. And it was very much a wake-up call for me, the WTF-edness of that dynamic. Even as I heard myself say “It’s okay,” in my head I was thinking IT’S SUPER NOT OKAY, WHY ARE YOU EVEN SAYING THAT. My pet died in his hands, in his care, and the fact that he didn’t mean it, the fact he didn’t cause it, the fact that it upset him TOO, did not change that ultimate truth. And it was MINE to feel bad about. Not his. The loss of the dog did not ultimately change me. I will have dogs as long as I live, which means I’ve lost them before and I’ll lose them again. But that conversation in the grocery store did change me. I learned that I don’t need to automatically prioritize other people’s comfort over my own, and you can bet that’s not something I routinely do any longer.

        The relevance to the LW is that the nurturing impulse may not just be at work in Mary, but may also be at work in you, LW, to your detriment. Because once you’ve set boundaries with someone, if those boundaries make them uncomfortable and they articulate that, many of us — and many women, specifically — have a tendency to take the boundaries back: “Shit, you’re crying; you know what, never mind, it’s okay after all.” And it’s NOT OKAY. So once you figure out how to draw and articulate your boundaries, don’t let her discomfort make YOU feel uncomfortable and then prompt you to erase those boundaries again. It’s okay if she feels uncomfortable. She doesn’t get to take care of you, and you do not have to take care of her.

        • For me that particular moment happened when a partner had done something to upset me profoundly, and I told him to go away because I didn’t want to see him or talk to him. His protest was, “But I feel so guilty! Let me comfort you!” So – he wanted me to endure his presence and *feel worse* so that he would feel less bad about hurting me…right, that totally makes sense. That was the moment that I realized how disconnected he was emotionally from me, and told him to fuck off.

      • I know this is a thing, and I would like advice on how to compassionately and respectfully disengage when my attempts to comfort someone don’t seem to help them. I don’t want to push myself on someone or try to make them perform feeling better if they don’t, but I also don’t want to give the impression that I don’t care, even if nothing I can do or say will help. “You must feel better!” is clearly inappropriate, but I need a response that’s not just “Well, I’m no help here, so bye!”

        • Jake said:

          When I’m struggling with something, I like it best when people are just there with me. Not reassuring or helping or pointing out bright sides, just present. Say something like “Oh Jake, that sounds so sad. I’m so sorry.” and then STOP TALKING. Let me talk if I want to. Say lots of “mmmm” and “oof” and “that sounds really hard.” If you need to say something, reflect what they said back to you and validate the feeling they’re having: “It makes sense that you feel angry! XYZ is totally infuriating!” But also, don’t be afraid of silence; just be present.

          If it seems like the person might want solutions, it’s okay to ask. “Are you looking for solutions, or do you just want to be upset?” And if the answer is that they just want to be upset, just let them.

        • Nanani said:

          Maybe give them some space, and tell them explicitly that’s what you’re doing?
          Tell them you’ll be there if/when they want to talk, and the follow-through will probably outweigh any awkward words from earlier.

          At least, it does for me, who is very much in the “Need to process the emotion alone before I can deal with other people’s attempts to help” camp.

    • Nebula Ersatz said:

      I have the same problem with other people’s discomfort, and for similar reasons: my mother also used me as a confidante/surrogate parent/emotional spouse. My wife has a touch of it too, from a less (but not non-) dysfunctional childhood, and it can create some messy feedback loops.
      I’ve started attending ACoA meetings recently, and an unexpected benefit is the opportunity to practice sitting with those feelings, listening to other people (to whom I often relate very strongly) talking about their pain and trauma in a setting where it would be entirely inappropriate to try to fix or solve anything for them. That’s been really healing.

      • tapati said:

        That does sound like a great place to practice sitting with others’ feelings and noticing how it is to not “fix” them in any way. Plus it must be powerful to observe as others in fact do confront and deal with their own feelings without expecting your intervention.

        I know when I had kids I made very sure to have friends (and therapists) to share my problems with rather than inflict my adult feelings and needs on children.

        • LMs 2 cents said:

          Kudos to you for building a support system so you didn’t burden your kids.

        • Nebula Ersatz said:

          Yes. I had years of work to do on myself before I was ready to become a parent, and it’s never done. And reality checks from others are a crucial part of that.

  4. felixthegolden said:

    I’m so glad the LW put “mom” in quotes because that in the first couple of paragraphs – jumping in and doing stuff for your kid, telling them they’re not capable, making them take care of their emotions about your problems – is pretty much the definition of how not to mum. No kid ever learned anything good from behaviour like that. Most of mothering, after the first couple of years and apart from remembering to buy snacks and change the beds, is sitting on your hands and keeping your mouth shut while your kids have a go at things themselves. (Which in itself is a very frustrating way of living, and I think it’s essential to the mental health of mothers that we have the experience of being able to complete things, whether that’s work or hobbies or something else.)

    • Esme_Weatherwax said:

      Agreed. The best gifts I have ever given my children are the things I didn’t say in the moment that would have cast long shadows.

      • felixthegolden said:

        Well, I would expect nothing less from Granny Weatherwax!

    • Serin said:

      Made me think of Mother Gothel in “Tangled.”

      • I have explicitly been told by a friend not ever to watch “Tangled” because she’s concerned Mother Gothel would be triggering for me.

        Because, tragically, this *is* how some moms mom.

        • felixthegolden said:

          Mother Gothel is amazing. The people who wrote that character grew up in a house like mine for sure. When I watched her on Tangled I was blown away by the fact that a) my mum was on the telly and b) she was being portrayed as the bad guy. What? With all those “helpful” comments and that “motherly” impulse to keep her daughter close to her and safe from the outside world? It was a real come to Jesus moment for me and happened at exactly the right time, as my mother had started her nonsense on my kids (who were toddlers at the time, so just slowly getting old enough to be able to understand enough to be manipulated) and I was seriously considering going NC. I googled “why is my mother like Mother Gothel” and (without wanting to armchair diagnose anyone except maybe a fictional character) I got directed to websites like outofthefog and raisedbynarcissists and suddenly everything fell into place. I only wish it had happened for me earlier. I don’t know if it’s just the company I keep these days, but I feel like concepts like narcissism and personality disorders and emotional abuse are all a bit more widely spoken of these days, specially since certain political events in 2016, and I really hope that that means that people are copping on about this stuff earlier than I did.

          • Britpoptarts said:

            *raises hand* Not a Disney fan, but 100% bought “Tangled” because I felt seen.

          • AMT said:

            Years ago, before I watched the entire film, I saw a clip of it (the “Mother Knows Best” song) in a bar. I don’t want to use the term “flashback” because that’s a very specific thing, but that was what it felt like to tipsy me. I was shocked at how *uncanny* it was. I was so glad to find out via the internet that I wasn’t the only one!

          • Forsworn Memorialist said:

            Wow, I’ve never seen Tangled (or Frozen, though I’ve danced to “Let it Go” unto next-day myalgia). Now they are both on my watch list. felixthegolden, you might flinch/be amused to learn that my mom took my undergrad self to “Terms of Endearment”. There I sat for 1.5 hours within hand’s reach of her, trying not to show that I was finding it not endearing but unbearable with a recognition I knew better than to voice.

          • +1

            While I’m not in the exact same boat, and I definitely can see how Mother Gothel could be triggering, I think the fact that she’s explicitly a villain and that her underhanded emotional abuse is just as bad as, say, Cinderella’s stepmother’s physical abuse and put-downs, has made ‘Tangled’ a very healing film for many people. Especially in how it portrays Rapunzel’s healing from MG’s wounds as something that takes time.

            As a kid, I often related to Ariel, and read her desire to live on land to be less about love at first sight and more about escaping a controlling parent who dismisses what you love and pressures you to live up to the “potential” of a talent you never asked for and would get rid of in a heartbeat. Plus, she’s the only disabled Disney princess, and her disability isn’t portrayed as a tragic thing.

            But, her escape from King Triton is complicated by the fact that he’s not portrayed as the villain; Ursula is. Ursula is the only one who understands what Ariel actually wants and loves, and is the only person who tells her to embrace her ability to make choices for herself. But she’s also…y’know, trying to plot some political scheme and turns merpeople into weird seaweed just for the sake of villainy. So it muddies the empowering message. ‘Tangled’ is a lot clearer on that front.

          • felixthegolden said:

            AMT, have you come across the concept of emotional flashbacks? I don’t know if that’s similar to what you experienced but it explained a TON of things to me.

          • AMT said:

            felixthegolden: I wasn’t familiar with them — thanks for the link!

      • Nebula Ersatz said:

        I may or may not have nicked a Rapunzel from my son’s box of Disney Princess band-aids to wear somewhere near my heart next time I have to deal with my mother.

        • Kaila said:

          Talk about being an easy crier – this made me tear up.

    • goddessoftransitory said:

      That kind of smother parenting is how you end up with the Operation Varsity Blues scandal: all those rich parent thinking they were doing this “for their kids,” when in fact they were concerned about their own images, and basically telling their offspring that they can’t do anything on their own.

  5. sleight said:

    So, as a person who is also referred to as the “mom friend” in multiple different friend circles I want to say that in my opinion Mary is totally abusing that term to get away with behavior that no one should have to put up with.

    I’m called the “mom friend” because I’m the one who always has granola bars and advil on hand. Because I’m the one who finds the list of reasonable hotels or airbnbs for people to choose among for a trip. Because I’m the one that creates the google spreadsheet for everyone to enter their info into. Because when people have vaguely indicated they want to do an event, I’m the one that creates the doodle so we can all pick a mutually workable time.

    The key part here is that in my experience with normal “mom friends” in friend groups, even in the ones where I am not that default “mom friend” (always a treat to me, tbh), they are facilitators not micro-managers. They don’t make all the planning decisions, they just provide enough organization and cat herding that plans actually get made and followed through on. Not all friend groups are the same and usage of a phrase like “mom friend” can vary, but this is mostly how I’ve seen it used: as an indicator of a person’s willingness to routinely provide LOGISTICAL support, not as an indicator that a friend more routinely provides EMOTIONAL support than anyone else.

    To me, it feels like at least a small part of the way in which Mary is being emotionally manipulative is by, knowingly or not, capitalizing on this phrase and conflating it with the traditional parental role of providing special emotional support. And then providing theatrics and drama instead of actual emotional support.

    tldr; take it from a “mom friend,” most of us just make sure that some kind of dinner is actually happening and don’t really feel the need to do all the cooking ourselves. we certainly don’t use it as an excuse to vampire our way into center of all emotional attention. honestly we don’t really call ourselves the “mom friend,” its the rest of the group that does as a kind of affectionate joke and thank you for all the google docs.

    • Ros said:

      ‘I’m called the “mom friend” because I’m the one who always has granola bars and advil on hand.’ THIS, OMG. I’ve had someone call me ‘mom-friend’ because I’ve usually got a grip on the Adulting Question Of The Day (budgeting, finances, car insurance, how to get said car insurance to lower rates, budget groceries, how to cook a certain thing, how to de-stain a specific thing, etc), but I also STFU until someone asks me how to do the thing, becuse until I’m asked I consider it to be none of my damned business and proceed accordingly. AT MOST, I’ll ask if someone wants to hear how I do The Thing, if they haven’t asked but look to be flailing. But otherwise… like. Adult Friend wants to live on chips and KD? Adult friend is an adult and not my child, so… none of my busness!

      Also: I’m an ACTUAL MOM, of multiple children, and that kind of behavior towards small people I’m actually responsible for would be borderline (… not borderline…) abusive. The goal is that my preschooler will turn into an adult who is capable of managing their own life, y’know? That means that me doing my job as parent is basically ensuring that the kids know enough to no longer need me, which means letting them do things without managing my feelings about it!

    • Horse Meet (for discerning equine singles) said:

      Coming from the theater world — this is the Producer Friend!

      • johann7 said:

        Also coming from the theater world, I canht believe I missed that analogy! Great suggestion!

    • Kelsi said:

      Yeah, “mom friend” is definitely a term (seems like fewer folks are familiar with it than I realized), and it’s useful to describe a dynamic that happens in a lot of friend groups where one friend is usually going to be the more practical-minded, responsible one. The friend who makes you drink water and puts you to bed when you got totally hammered. The friend who has a kleenex on them at literally all times.

      That is NOT what is happening here, Mary has taken the term and decided it means “abusive mother who controls everything her children do, but a friend version.”

      • CMart said:

        Yes – the Mom Friend could also be call the Scout Friend (“be prepared”). They have snacks and wipes readily accessible, they stay generally clear-headed and make sure everyone gets headed home safely, they know where the public toilets are. There is probably bottled water in the trunk of their car alongside the jumper cables and knowledge of how to use them even if they also are probably the ones with a AAA membership.

        They very well might give warm, reassuring hugs and may fix you a mug of tea without asking if you’re feeling down.

        However, they do not attempt to Of Mice And Men pet you to death in a neverending anxious/controlling spiral.

        • SaraFox said:

          Thank you for having one of the least gendered replies on this thread. I’m honestly surprised how many people like and use the term “mom friend” without thinking about the connotations.

          Not all parents are warm and reassuring, and not all people who are warm and reassuring are parents. But scout, I like.

          • C said:

            Plus, I’m pretty sure I’d hate being in a friend group where one person was (implicitly or explicitly) acknowledged as the expert on adulting. In most of my young-adult life so far, the people around me have recognized each other for their unique talents: Person A has encyclopedic culinary knowledge, Person B is an expert on car maintenance, Person C gives great advice about navigating bureaucracy, and so on. You bring the safety pins, I’ll bring the water bottles.

    • Kayjay said:

      Honestly, some of this behavior can also read as controlling and manipulative. I’m not saying you’re that way – but there was a friend we recently had to ask to take a step back because she would attempt to “facilitate” every activity we planned together.

      Sometimes, we wanted to just show up at a theme park and hang out. But, this friend would want to book meal reservations and establish firm meeting times and plan certain activities on a schedule. She’d provide us lists of options and would say she was flexible – but the constant pressure to make decisions on her timetable was frustrating. Then, if we were late or changed plans, she’d be texting as right away for updates.

      I think a lot of it stemmed from her own anxieties about being included – but it wasn’t relaxing or helpful for the rest of us. Instead, it caused additional anxiety because suddenly, we could be “late” for a fun day and need to explain ourselves if we wanted to do something else than what we’d decided on beforehand. I’m super organized in my job and the last thing I want is to have to apply that same level of rigidity to my personal life. So, we slowly just stopped inviting her along.

      • sleight said:

        Oh, definitely. As with many things, the “mom friend” facilitator can become it’s own kind of toxic. I was mostly trying to describe what the more healthy version of that dynamic looks like and how it normally doesn’t have the emotional component that Mary seems to be twisting into it. Like in your theme park scenario, a good “mom friend” would only have stepped in after people had talked about how nice a theme park hangout day would be for a while without actually doing anything. At which point the “mom” friend might say “you know we could totally do this, here’s a poll to vote for what day works best” and then not do anything beyond that nudge other than make sure to have a large bottle of sunscreen on hand to share when they showed up on the actual day.

      • Some of that can also stem from “I need these things to be able to enjoy the day”. I have autism and spontaneous can be…a nightmare. I need to know firm times for eating and where, and exactly where we’re meeting, and a general game plan. Or the sheer amount of choices and and everything else will overwhelm my brain and I’ll wind up in a meltdown at some point.

        But that said, I’ve learned to spell out “Hey, I’m planning things because *I* need the plan so I can enjoy the day too.” And learn to if it’s an issue live with being left out and staying home – which sucks but it’s their days too. (Let’s me tell you being a very social autistic person can be a pain since I love doing things and being with people and doing new things — but all those things can also overwhelm me quickly. :/ But I’ve learned through therapy to be clear with what I need to people and learn to live with missing out on things sometimes).

        • I also have some of this. I’m not autistic, but I do go from zero to hangry in ten minutes, so I need to know when food is going to happen. And if I’m spending time and money for something like a theme park, I want to spend it seeing/doing fun stuff, not dithering over what to do next. Which just means that not everyone is a good fit for every activity with me.

          • Persia said:

            Why do people go to a theme park and dither? Just pick something and ride it, taking people’s limitations into consideration. For instance, don’t pressure the people who get motion sick into riding the roller coaster than spins people around upside down and backwards.

          • Kacienna said:

            Same reason a group of four people cannot decide on somewhere to eat dinner! (Though there, low blood sugar might also be an issue). I’ve learned to take on the mantle of the Designated Control Freak just to get things moving.

      • Cathy Boo said:

        Ooh, like Amy Poehler in Wine Country (on Netflix if you want to peek).

    • Erica said:

      Fellow mom-friend here! I’m terrible at event planning, but I’m famously the friend who always has tampons, advil, packets of tissues, safety pins, a link to a simple budget spreadsheet, etc. and is willing to hand them out liberally *on request*. A major difference between normal mom friends and Mary is that *I* didn’t decide I was the “mom friend” – *other people* started calling me that when they realized I was always overprepared and willing to share.

    • TiffanyAching said:

      Granola bars and advil, yes! In high school I was the “mom friend” because I always had snacks/bandaids/hairties/pain killers/a sweater/cough drops/etc. in my bag. In college, it was because I was the one who knew to immediately pour salt if you spill red wine on carpet and actually owned an iron and ironing board.

    • Britpoptarts said:

      I’m the Prepared Friend, because I have been put in situations where I had to do without basic needs and couldn’t rely on anyone to provide them or to help me. I reject the “mom” label. I never wanted kids, even though they like me and I was a very good babysitter. I’m happy to borrow other people’s children and then RETURN THEM PROMPTLY.

      In part, being Prepared Friend is being self-protective. I have a sewing kit in my purse, even though I am more likely to resolve a busted hem with a stapler. Life is hard, these are things I can do to ease discomfort and not obsess over a problem at the expense of functioning optimally.

      In part, it is a role I like to inhabit, as it makes me feel good to be of service to other people. It’s not thrust upon anyone, but it is something I can do if a problem arises. In an emergency, I will freeze and think, then address the problem efficiently, and then have an extended and messy reaction (usually when alone) to said emergency, and it may require some venting on line or a chat with my therapist. “Competent and prepared” are qualities I value, so I try to be competent and prepared.

      Mary clearly values smothering mothering, and it is behavior that boosts her beliefs about herself and what kind of person she is. It is backfiring, and pushing people away, probably exactly what she doesn’t want, and it may even be a relief to her, eventually, if she learns new ways to model “I care about my friends” that don’t piss everyone off and elevate her need to feel like she’s Being Caring over the needs of others, who want her to cut it the fuck out.

      It’s like when you get into a mode where you want to bond with someone and the only way you can think of how to do it in your current headspace is to make self-deprecating jokes or wry little “funny” complaints –The Grumbly Would-be Fail Comedian strikes again, being off-putting! Yay!–and if you have a little awareness you can clamp down on the urge to Seinfeld your way to work in the carpool with “what is the deal with those tiny airplane seats, they suck, amirite, har har?” comments. Most of us can choose to just sit silently or make non-complain-y comments.

      The fact that Mary’s inner “am I being a drag?” censor or shitty behavior filter isn’t functioning well isn’t your responsibility. You can worry about WHY she is behaving this way, or you can recognize that the only person you have control over is yourself and let Mary stew in her own juices if she can’t stop behaving like a giant weirdo around you. She’s not being a “mom,” she’s being emotionally manipulative and kinda creepy. No sir, no ma’am, no everyone, I am not liking that one bit.

      • Nic said:

        “In an emergency, I will freeze and think, then address the problem efficiently, and then have an extended and messy reaction (usually when alone) to said emergency, and it may require some venting on line or a chat with my therapist.”

        Yep, me too. I was the friend that people went to in a panic, because they knew I wouldn’t join them in the panic or be judgemental about whatever had happened. Which meant that I got to field such items as “a thief has broken into my room, there’s broken glass everywhere and my laptop’s gone – what do I do?”, along with “help, my boyfriend won’t stop crying”, “my off-campus friend just phoned and said she’d hurt herself, does she need an ambulance?”, and “My BF and I had a condom break and it’s all taken care of but I needed to talk to someone about it”.

        My biggest problem with being that friend was that I started feeling that whenever people came to me, I had to be able to come up with an answer for them. Which put too much pressure on me, and in later life I had to learn (what I already knew theoretically but still felt wrong!) to take a mental step back when post-university friends came to me to talk things over, because by and large they wanted to be heard and affirmed in their troubles/worries, not to have everything fixed by me.

        On the subject of Mary though – as you say, she isn’t being a “mom” by any observable metric (except possibly old sit-coms filled with bad stereotypes of moms). She’s just being hella creepy, and emotionally blackmailing everyone with her conspicuous performance of “care”.

    • johann7 said:

      The phrase “mom friend” sends my shoulders up around my ears in all contexts. The version that’s not a problem in practice – your version, sleight – could be called so many other things that DON’T imply some sort of fucked-up hierarchy in the group rather than a collection of (more or less) equals (off the top of my head: planner, wrangler, motivator, logistics officer, boy/girl/enby scout [always be prepared], only one of our group who doesn’t have AD(H)D – “helpful, impressively competent/knowledgable friend” is better AND flattering). The other versions invoke parentalism/adultism in name AND practice, so they’re consistent(ly gross), and we could differentiate the functional dynamic by not using a creepy term for it at all.

      Really, I think the abuse of the term “mom friend” is when it’s applied to a situation that ISN’T dysfunctional and harmful, not when it’s applied to situations that ARE dysfunctional/harmful (YOUR FRIENDS ARE SOCIAL PEERS, NOT YOUR PARENTS, AND CALLING THEM YOUR PARENTS IS CREEPY).

      • Cassandra said:

        Yeah, I don’t want to be the slang police but I’m not wild about the “mom friend” phrasing in general. Maybe because I mostly encountered it during my Tumblr days in contexts that seemed kind of…gleefully dysfunctional?

      • sleight said:

        That’s a very fair critique of the phrase. I think my groups of friends like “mom” because to them it also implies appreciation. In an ideal world, a mom is both responsible for and loved by her kids, so calling me “mom” as shorthand both acknowledges the logistical role and the appreciation they have for it. Plus, channeling our teenage selves for a slightly sarcastic “thanks mom” can do the time-honored friend thing of combining good-natured shit-talking along with some of that genuine appreciation.

        But you’re totally right, the origin of the phrase is kind of creepy now that I think about it. And even if it weren’t, the fact is that we don’t live in an ideal world and there are many people who have great reasons not to appreciate their moms. I’ll have to see about shifting my own groups to different slang (@alli’s “Cruise Director” has a touch of silly that I like =D)

      • Bennett Ellis said:

        Also tbc, it’s not like my different friend groups habitually call me or whoever the default group facilitator is “mom” all the time. In trying to explain the usage of that as slang that I’ve seen I think I’ve now used it far more than my group has in its entire text chat history

    • Yeah, most “mom friends” are so-called by those around them, it isn’t usually self-declarative. Mary’s usage reminds me of characters in movies who have some obvious physical trait that they’re insecure about, so they’re always the first to make a joke about it so they’re “in on it” in case everyone else decides to make fun of them for it. Like, Mary knows there’s something off about her behavior (power-hungry manipulation or reaction to childhood trauma, IDK, but just dysfunctional behavior) so she’s asking everyone else to call the behavior “mom friend”-ing before other people can call it something else like “controlling” or “creepy.”

      Also I haven’t heard that term used since college / early 20s, when people had generally just left home & Mom and were seeking a little of that from their friends. And the Mom Friend was usually just whoever was willing to hold back other people’s hair when they were drunk-barfing. Someone called me the “mom friend” once and it actually made me feel kinda bad, like I should be putting myself out there and taking risks more instead of caring for others, the same feeling I get when someone calls me “a good listener” and I’m like, oof I should spend less time nodding encouragingly and more time participating in conversation. It occurs to me that Mary, while being the center of attention, has also made herself completely invisible. If the LW chooses to try to mend the relationship, maybe ask Mary what’s going on in her life, ask about how she is doing/feeling, not in relation to anyone else or their “problems.”

    • alli said:

      This is me, too, but they call me the Cruise Director.

      • I got called The Motivator because when we were in college I was the only one who could get everyone up, with shoes and clothes on, and get us all out the door in a reasonable amount of time.

    • @sleight, the mom-friend with Advil and a google spreadsheet for Nudging Things from the Potential To the Actual:

      All hail the Hufflepuff in our midst!

      • sleight said:

        As a Slytherin I am OFFENDED… on behalf of Hufflepuffs, they are way nicer than me.

        What can I say, I like my ambitious schemes well-organized and headache free =P

    • A small houseplant said:

      Thirded or fifthed or whatever. Another Prepared/Helper friend. For example, a friend was moving away for a job. She mentioned she would have to learn to cook or something because she always worked at restaurants so she never bothered to learn. I was like, hey, I have a vegetarian cookbook I never use, here. Later I saw her, and was like, hows cooking? And she laughed and said, no, I haven’t. She’s an adult! That’s fine! This the end of my helping! If she were, like 17 and going to college or 21 and leaving the college dining hall for the first time, I’d be like, hey come over and let’s cook something together, if you want. I am available to my friends, I’m not insistent. The healthy boundary here is they are grown adults and I have my own shit to manage I don’t need to manage their shit. Happy to help, I’m over here in my Lane.

  6. Helbling said:

    Oooooh, I feel this. Mainly because my husband’s actual mother behaves a lot like this.

    ….we haven’t spoken to her for 2.5 years.

    OP, we don’t even live anywhere near her but the WEIGHT that suddenly lifted when husband and I decided we would take a break from contact with her for a while was incredible. Forget a fog lifting, it was like the poisonous gas had been released from the room and we were suddenly able to draw oxygen again. Honestly, it was a gift.

    I would encourage everyone in a similar situation with a similar person to give themselves that gift. It is one of the best we’ve ever got.

    • So does MY husband’s actual mother! I have not been to her house in (counts) nine years, because she is not my mother or my friend! (LW, I truly think this person is not your friend. Or at least she is not good at being a friend.)

  7. This is such a brilliant & perceptive essay! And, as per the usual for the Captain’s analyses, it is way more generally applicable than just overmothering friend shittio, but any kind of boundary-disrespecting tantruming manipulative abuser. The specific friend in this letter absolutely is an abuser! They consistently use emotional & physical threats & blackmail to get what they want. I mean refusing to back off other people’s cooking & take over is absolutely a physical threat.

  8. Shackleford Hurtmore said:

    Not sure where to place this, but just noticed a lot of similarities between your scripts above and some of the methods suggested in a book called “Verbal Judo” by George J. Thompson. That book is written by an ex-cop and is for dealing with Difficult People, but you’re patterns of “[identify their emotion], BUT [required behaviour]” are very similar. I’m wondering if it would be useful for any other Captain Awkward readers?

    • JenniferP said:

      I haven’t read it, thanks for the rec.

  9. Grey said:

    I find myself incredibly reminded of Rebecca and Paula’s early relationship from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Both women eventually worked on themselves and put boundaries into place, as well as some serious self-examination, but gosh, if this song isn’t a Mary song, I don’t know what is.

    • Obamamama said:

      Thanks for this! Made my morning. This is why I always read the comments!

    • srra said:

      Perfect!!

    • songofstorms said:

      I was thinking of this exact song while reading this letter! Thanks for posting it!

    • Amy said:

      I totes came here to post “After Everything I’ve Done For You (That You Didn’t Ask For)”.

  10. One problem with going from being a person who didn’t enforce boundaries (and did a lot of mental justification about other people being jerks to me) to one who does is that I am becoming increasingly isolated. I think I only started making friends who are generally polite to me later in life. But I’m also not sure I want the effort of finding a new Team Me.

    Sorry, OP, but this post spoke to me.

    • 42tlh42 said:

      Are you happy with the friends you do have? I do know some folx who are honestly happier with only a few chosen people (and chosen animals, too) in their life. If you are happy, then that’s what matters.

    • Jake said:

      Oof, I feel this nicoleandmaggie.

    • For me, this was a phase that passed eventually, and the friends I have now in my world full of boundaries are so much more richer and better than I could ever have imagined. I hope that you get to this phase too (if that’s something you want). But I totally think it’s doable, it’s just so scary and lonely in the in-between part.

    • When you have been “smothered” in this way, it’s really hard to trust other people not to continue to rampage past your boundaries. ❤

    • Cathy Boo said:

      Ditto. I have long been a magnet for narcissists looking to be fixed. After I finally recognized and started refusing the pattern, there was a long period in which I didn’t have many friends at all because I no longer accepted bad friends, who tend to be free agents after getting booted from good teams. I think part of it’s just that there are fewer free agent good friends out there. Kind like dating in your 40s–there are a lot more assholes on dating sites because the genuinely good people out there tend to be taken.

  11. MB said:

    I can’t tell if your friend group is providing enforcement cover for Mary (“why did you make Mary upset” or “Mary is just trying to help”) or not, but if they are (was this why you “can’t get away from her”?) and you need to respond to them too:

    1. Try not to get defensive, even if they are accusing. Refusing to tolerate boundary crossing behavior isn’t wrong. Unfortunately, human beings tend to translate defensiveness as guilt or acknowledgement of equal wrongdoing, so its best not to color any interaction with that.

    2. Don’t argue with any statement about Mary’s intentions. None of you know for sure, and that’s not the point anyway, so there’s no reason to move the conflict to something ineffable. Move the conflict to the your high ground. So if you get a “Mary’s just trying to help” you can (cheerfully if you can manage it) respond, “That’s what I figured, but I didn’t want that/its important to me to do X by myself/my way” or variations.

    3. If you must explain (Mary might be the type of control narrative too, so this might be necessary), don’t recount feelings or motivations or suggest you know what everyone was feeling, just recount actions. So a “Mary says you threw her out of the kitchen” can be responded to with “Mary tried to take my spatula out of my hand and tried to change the temperature on my oven, and so I asked her to stay in the living room while I cook.” “Mary said you pushed her” can be “Oh yeah, Mary grabbed my shirt and wouldn’t let go when I asked her to, so I just took her hands off me” and shrug with the implication that you have no idea why someone reasonable would react badly to that.

    4. Try to turn “Mary is special” statements into “We’re all special/My uniqueness also matters” so as to avoid Missing Stair justifications. “Mary’s just like that” —> “Yeah we all have our little foibles. Turns out mine is cooking by myself to focus/having a lot of personal space when I’m upset” “You know Mary’s sensitive” ——> “I think this subject was sensitive for me too, so I figured it was a bad idea for Mary and I to talk about it, since we’d both be sensitive”

    This could be completely unnecessary, but if part of your hesitation is how your friend group would react, I hope these help a little OP. And consider that if your friend group IS doing a lot of Mary cover, maybe it’s time to expand your group of friends.

    • Sharker said:

      Wow, I wish I’d had #4 when I was younger, but you can bet I’ll start using it now!

    • This is excellent advice, thank you!

    • This is very helpful!

  12. Tortoise said:

    LW: Sadly, Mary might have to go through a bunch of broken and lost friendships first before she is able to see how her fixer behaviour is hurting her friendships and as a result, hurting herself. You can’t make her see the light.

  13. Vicki said:

    Something thing OP might try (or add to the collection of scripts) is something along the lines of “She’s your therapist, not mine. No good therapist would diagnose or try to treat people who aren’t her patients. If you’re upset, maybe you should take it to your therapist’s office. I’m going to keep talking about $topic with Alice and Bob.” [The subtext here is that I suspect Mary is either misinterpreting, or outright lying about, at least some of what’s going on in her therapy–but you don’t want to go there, because that would give Mary a wonderful excuse to make the conversation all about Mary’s feelings, not her behavior.]

    • JenniferP said:

      Yes! Yes! Yes!

    • PollyQ said:

      Yes, and additionally, “I have received therapy, therefore I am qualified to dispense it to others” is entirely false. I had my gall bladder out, but you don’t see me going around performing abdominal surgery on my friends.

      • Same! OTOH, I have a bicycle pump, sharp scissors and some superglue so perhaps I should give it a go?

        • So…The sharp scissors and superglue I get, but what exactly are you planning to do with the bicycle pump?

          • SqueakyHammer said:

            (Hermione ‘pick me pick me’ gif here) ooh I know! Some laparoscopic procedures involve inflating the surgical site so the instruments have room to move freely.

    • One of the best lessons I ever learned was best put by an economist that I work with. He was noting that engineers tend to think the value of something they build is related to the level of difficulty and knowledge and resources it took to build it — it’s a very human failing, to think that something we worked hard to do or learn must therefore be of great value to others.

      To an economist, he said, that makes zero sense. A thing has value when someone else wants to buy it or acquire it in some way, and its value is what people are willing to give you for it. If nobody wants it, it has no value.

      That’s one hell of a life lesson, right there. You may think your painfully acquired expertise on something — like what your therapist told you or what you think about childrearing — SHOULD be valuable to others. It usually isn’t. Usually it’s of negative value — people will be willing to give something for you to shut up about it.

      I’ve been hearing a version of this a lot from boomer-aged friends for years now — “My children don’t want to hear all about my priceless and valuable childrearing experience! I have so much of value to offer!” I’ve taken to suggesting a literal interpretation of what my economist colleague said — “If you have truly valuable childrearing knowledge, start a blog! Put it out there! Don’t hide that light under a bushel! If it truly is of value, people will flock to read it!” Luckily, most of them are sane enough to realize that nobody really wants to hear or read their childrearing opinions, though they stop short of admitting they should just put a cork in it even around their adult children.

      • JenniferP said:

        :applause:

        This is a filmmaking thing, too. Editors are on set now a lot b/c of digital editing, you don’t have to wait for film dailies to come back to see what you shot, so editors are cutting in real time so the crew can get additional shots or re-takes while everyone’s still here. Very useful, esp. with big budget productions where a lot of effects work is necessary.

        But Walter Murch (editing grandpa teacher scholar) has long advised that editors avoid being on set, and keep their distance, so that they can evaluate the footage in terms of how it serves the story. Does this image/scene/bit work? Vs. how long the crew worked to get that complicated shot and how expensive it was to costume and dress that location. Editors have to be ready to kill some expensive darlings because the movie needs to breathe, and evaluating scenes in terms of how expensive or difficult or time-consuming it was to shoot it helps not at all.

        Sunk Cost Fallacy: Great fallacy or GREATEST fallacy?

        • I think it’s edging pretty close to greatest because it keeps showing up all over the damn place lately. Or maybe that’s just me.

          • Let’s see…it blows up space shuttles, prevents dissemination of life-saving medical knowledge, and cooks the entire planet alive as we speak. Yup.

        • Jackalope said:

          That’s a great one but I personally would nominate the relative privation fallacy for #1 since that’s the one I hear the most. But that may be just a difference in our personal life experiences.

          • The naturalistic fallacy is one I especially detest, but I admit that’s probably due more to my own circumstances than anything else.

      • Merry said:

        I see this ALL THE TIME in crafting communities. People spend months making quilts to give as gifts…to people who use them as bedding for their pets. The giver is hurt and offended because the gift had great value in their eyes; the receive thinks, hey, blanket.

        I prefer to spend my time making things for the joy of the making, and then find a recipient who actually wants it.

        • Shad said:

          Yeah, a variation of this is why I only craft to give, not to sell.
          I value making a ton! But I don’t want to give it away to people who I don’t care about, and the price I’d put on selling to someone I don’t care about is not the price people would pay. But if I’m giving it to someone I do care about, I don’t care about what price I’d put on selling it, I care that the recipient will benefit from it. Even, almost especially if, it’ll get used to death.

        • Nic said:

          Ouch! I don’t quilt myself, but I am aware of how much fabric tends to cost and how long quilts take to put together. I can’t imagine using a handcrafted quilt as pet bedding unless it was expressly made and gifted for that purpose (and even then I’d be wary, because of the potential need to be able to wash at high temperatures if it gets soiled).

        • From some people’s perspectives, letting their dog sleep on the quilt is a mark of high praise indeed.

      • Just me said:

        Indeed.

        Cf. used couches or home exercise equipment

  14. Tortoise said:

    Another sad thing with the fixer -fixee dynamic: the fixer NEEDS the fixee to stay broken.
    The fixee can’t be happy or successful, because that would put the fixer out of job! Therefore, the fixer – who appears to have your best interest in mind – doesn’t REALLY want you to be well & healthy. The Fixer wants the fixee to stay on troubled ground, because only then they feel safe and needed and important.

    • Majorlady said:

      OOOOOF.
      Yeah.
      Jeeze.
      This is very true.

    • Welp.

      You just explained why my mother is constantly asking me if I’m financially okay. Implying I can’t possibly be as she does it, if not outright stating it baldly.

      Eesh.

      • Saskia said:

        Yeah, my father does this exact same thing and I hate it. Sorry your mother uses this tactic on you!

        • Sorry your father uses it on you. Solidarity.

    • thathat said:

      Did a certain Disney song just start playing…?

    • There’s a manga called Houseki no Kuni about a race of gem people – think Steven Universe – where one of the characters, Padparadscha has holes in their body, and is permanently a patient. Rutile, who’s basically a doctor and in charge of fixing the gems when they get broken, takes it upon themself to fix the holes in Padparadscha’s body, but the thing is, they want to be the only one fixing Padparadscha, and they want to be in the carer’s role. When Padparadscha goes to the moon and gets the holes fixed there, Rutile isn’t happy about that because it’s got nothing to do with them. Thats what the fixer thing reminds me of. It’s not an equal relationship and it’s not fair on the fixee, the Padparadscha equivalent.

    • Ros said:

      Which is part of why the ‘mom-friend’ label sucks for this – as an actual mom, my job, re:my kids, is to help them be as independant as possible – essentially, so competent that they don’t need me. My actual JOB is to make myself redundant.

      If your momming keeps people under your thumb ON PURPOSE, that’s … the opposite of the goal.

      • iiii said:

        “The object of the exercise is to produce adults.”
        — my father, on childrearing

      • As a tutor, I have students sometimes who get angry with me because they say I’m wasting time by not just showing them how to solve the math problem or whatever. I point out that my goal is not to get as many problems solved as possible in that time. If we spend an hour solving one problem, but at the end they know how to solve all the subsequent ones, that is a much better use of our time than if I told them what to do and we finished all the homework, but they still had no idea how to do it by themselves. I’m always a little horrified when I run into teachers who resist getting their students to be independent of them.

    • Cathy Boo said:

      My parents adopted four older kids when I was a teen and seem incredibly resentful of two of us who have good jobs in our forties and no longer need their help. They complained and gave us guilt trips when we did need help earlier in life but simultaneously act angry that we now have what we need, especially single-mom-of-four me. I can never quite wrap my mind around their need to rescue others being their only way to experience love.

  15. YIKES. Is…is Mary the host at these gatherings? Because I’m honestly flabbergasted how she got multiple people to submit to this kind of behaviour without there being some aspect of “well, but she owns the poker table” or “well, but she’s Dave’s sister so we can’t uninvite her”.

    If that’s the case, I might consider enlisting a few friends before you tell Mary no? Not a big conversation (we’re trying to avoid those here) but just a passing “heads up, I’m trying to do lighter topics around Mar because my head is full up on kisses this month” and see if their reaction is “I know, right, that’s so fucking annoying” or if it’s defensive as fuck, in which case you know if you’re dealing with a broken stair where the group might turn on you for upsetting the cart?

    Idk, but this is weird and super unhealthy and I would be miserable.

  16. Kitty said:

    Are you friends with my mother? Because this is her.

    I don’t see any positive things that you like about her LW, that make you afraid to lose her. I wonder are you more afraid of what her reaction would be if you tried to cut ties?

    It is scary to experience their behaviour escalations when you set boundaries, but once you start to realise how you have all the leverage in the situation (you don’t need anything from her (I assume you’re not financially dependent on her), but she desperately needs you to bolster her self esteem), you begin to feel less afraid. You have all the power here, and if you stick to your guns with the boundaries, it’s likely that she will eventually learn.

    Best of luck xx

  17. Kitty said:

    Also, Captain is that a real memoir? Because I would read the shit out of it! Couldn’t find it on google though.

    • 42tlh42 said:

      Looks like it’s not; I couldn’t find it either.

      • CA recently recommended ‘What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About,’ which, while it probably won’t ever become a Lifetime movie, is definitely a solid essay collection on the theme of complicated (and, often, abusive or coercive) mothers.

        So, maybe that’s up your alley?

  18. I imagine that the LW must be getting something out of this relationship, but I’m at a loss as to what it is. I know I’ve had the tendency where, if someone wasn’t a Nazi or an abuser, to try to accept their overtures of friendship even if I found that I was dreading our get-togethers because I was desperately bored. This sounds even worse than desperately bored, and it might be worth it for the LW to ask if she actually wants Mary’s friendship or just wants to be nice. I know what it’s like to absorb and feel responsible for all the emotions around oneself, and I’ve sometimes had to tell myself that I’m not friends with person in order to be able steel myself to enforce my boundaries despite their feelings about it.

    • Amili said:

      I’m wondering if maybe it started slowly/small? Like, okay Mary gets v emotional sometimes, but usually excuses herself, that’s fine. But slowly she started excusing herself less and less and now we’re responsible for all Mary’s Emotions and htf did we get here even?

      • Kristin Schreiner said:

        This is my suspicion. I’ve definitely had friendships where things started out reasonable, but then they just kept bringing more, and asking for more, and it was gradual enough that I didn’t realize how ridiculous it was getting until it was just a full-on mess.

        And not all of those people were manipulative or intending to overstep, even! Some were, but some were just people I cared about who were dealing with more than I could actually support them through. It’s easy enough for this shit to happen even when everyone means well. It’s important to check in sometimes and give yourself permission to back off if you’re carrying too much for someone else.

      • Not only did it probably start slowly, but someone as extreme as Mary usually either has no friends at all other than their unwilling target, or they have enablers who are doing their best to keep Mary aimed at the person in LW’s position, because then at least Mary’s not coming after the enablers.

        LW needs to be on guard about this one, because the enablers will often fight a thousand times more dirty than the Mary’s if it looks like Mary’s chosen target might escape and leave Mary looking for someone else to devour as a replacement.

        It’s also highly likely that Mary lies a lot. We’re seeing the seeds in the letter — people who use their therapy sessions to try to tell others what they should do are pretty much never truthful. It’s likely that Mary lies constantly to whatever audience she can get about how LW desperately begs and pleads for Mary’s behavior and Mary just doesn’t have the heart not to assault LW constantly since that’s what broken little LW wants.

        LW, the creature people call my father pulled a lot of what you’re seeing from Mary and what I’m describing. Just the Christmas chronicles alone hit it all. The asshole would stalk me relentlessly as his preferred form of holiday cheer — I’d announce in August, to everyone I knew, that I would not be participating in Christmas in any way, that I would be busy working, but I wish them all the best with their holidays (and with those I was close to, I wasn’t shy about why — I’d come right out and say I was avoiding ol’ sperm donor stalkypants). I’d tell him flat-out, sternly, to make other plans and find some other way to occupy himself at Christmas, because I had work to do. He’d then spend months calling everyone he knew lying that I had called him sobbing miserably about having to work on Christmas and begging him to be there for me. He’d lie to me right up until a couple of days before that he had other plans, to keep me from saying anything that would counter his lies to everyone else. And then right before Christmas, he’d suddenly drive a thousand miles to where I lived and park himself in a cheap and depressing motel room (he could afford a luxury hotel) and then call everyone he knew to tell them he was a miserable, lonely old man sitting miserable and alone and lonely in a crappy motel room for Christmas because he’s just sooooo devoted to his poor daughter who called him sobbing and begging.

        Then on Christmas itself, he’d drive to my workplace. And sit there. In the cold. Minnesota-in-winter cold. And maybe make a few cell calls about sitting miserable and alone and cold and old and sad and cold and lonely and locked outside, all out of heroic fatherly devotion.

        And people would encourage him.

        Because they sure as hell didn’t want the freaking drama queen on their doorsteps wrecking their Christmases.

        • Ooooohhh my God, I’m so sorry you dealt with that leech! And, you’re SO right about the enablers playing dirty so they don’t become the targets.

        • Planegirl said:

          Good grief, Helen – that is some heavy-duty manipulation, right there. Just the thought he put into it makes my mind boggle. (Not to mention the rancid sense of entitlement underlying it all, that he believes he is entitled to your attention 24/7 because DNA…)
          You are absolutely right about the enablers (Flying Monkeys, as they are called on some websites) making sure that you don’t get away so you can keep being the lightning rod for the bad stuff and they can stay comfortably in their secure social set-up. This is particularly the case in families, as many abuse survivors will testify. You can tell when this kind of behaviour is being aimed at you, because the person doing it has that falsely sweet voice and is staring at you with a kind of desperate look as they are trying to push you into going along to get along.

      • AraSigyrn said:

        Definitely how I think it started was Mary doing little things and kind of laughing it off as the “I’m just kinda the Mom friend” and then those boundaries kept being edged back. We all forgive little infractions when we like the people involved and it becomes a case of ‘is it worth upsetting Mary for something that isn’t that much more than what she did last week/month’. People like Mary are almost impossible to reset your boundaries with because of all the crying and drama, so it’s easier just not to fight back over the little things even as the little things pile together into big issues.

        Until one day, you actually look at how things are and realise there are bees! It’s astonishing how much someone can get away with if they have been edging across boundaries for a long time.

      • Abusers never start out as terrible as they are; they’re always pushing boundaries, seeing how much they can get away with, and then going on to the next one.

        • Jers said:

          Yes! Which i learned late in life, that it means THEY KNOW. They always knew. Bc if they really were just clueless they’d have been this way from day 1 (not that it would matter, LW should still run far far away). But in most cases of my own Marys in life, it never started in such an egregious way. It slowly got worse til….

          • This is why the “socially awkward” fallacy frequently makes me want to scream: do these people do this to people they know won’t let them get away with *anything*? No? Then they’re not “socially awkward”, are they.

          • This is a very good point.

            Another one that’s a really easy identifier — if someone is just being clueless or temporarily stupid, pushing back on the problem behavior gets instant results in terms of them backing off it. You know if they keep on the same (and pretending that they just don’t understaaaaaaaaaaaand), that they’re lying because they’re doing it on purpose.

    • PlateOnAShelf said:

      I’ve also had similar tendencies to accept people’s overtures of friendship without thinking about whether or not the friendship brought me joy. I’ve always thought ‘the more the merrier’ and it’s take me all of my 20s to realize it’s ok to simply not be friends with someone you aren’t crazy about. I suspect it’s because being a nice person is part of my identity, however, I now believe it is more kind not to lead someone on.

      I’m still working on this but it’s been so empowering to back away from people that, after honest reflection, I’ve realized were emotional vampires/had poor boundaries/simply didn’t click well with me.

      • Wait. You can choose not to be friends with someone, without some reason (like them being a jerk-face)? Perfectly pleasant and friendly people?

        I think my mind was just blown.

        • NotAPirate said:

          Absolutely! You don’t have to befriend every person you ever meet. I don’t really do a binary yes we will be friends or no we will not when meeting people but I do mentally sort them into venn diagrams a bit. These are people i really click with and want to get to know closer and might try trusting with more intimate details. These are perfectly pleasant people I’d invite on a group outing but we didn’t have enough in common to get coffee one on one. These are people that would be interesting at a dinner party but don’t have a lot in common with me directly. These are people with the same fav tv show and we are making a group chat tonight to watch it from our own homes. And it’s constantly changing, some really bad first impression people have turned out to be fascinating and have the same sense of humor as me. Some people despite having similar hobbies are boring to hang out with.

          Also its a severe fallacy to think all your friends need to be friends with eachother and hang out together. TV and movies just do that because its so much cheaper to have 6 actors and quicker than tracking who all these people are to eachother. I was so much happier when i realized that.

          • But, I’m supposed to NETWORK. And Be Approachable! And what if I’m missing out on someone who turns into the best-thing-ever-for-my-life.

            I have chronic hostess syndrome, where I want to make EVERYONE feel welcome and included, as long as they’re not actively being jerks.

            I keep joking about wanting to alienate half my friends so I can have more downtime. Instead of making more friends…

            I guess the first step is admitting you have a problem?

          • Keep in mind, too, that there is a difference between being friendly with people, and being friends with people. You can be friendly and hostess-like all day, but that just means you’re friendly. It doesn’t mean you have to be friends.

        • If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the commentariat after all this time, it’s: You can choose to end *any* relationship, at any time, without a reason. You deciding it’s over is reason enough.

        • JenniferP said:

          Yes! Welcome to the rest of your jerk-free life!

        • Cathy Boo said:

          See also: if someone consistently hurts me, I don’t have to be able to articulate perfectly what’s breaking down in order to stop hanging out. Once or twice I’ve just stopped hanging out with someone and only realized when briefly checking in later what it was about them that always made me miserable.

      • Kacienna said:

        Hey, you’re doing good! I’m nearly 40 and only recently figured this out!

    • Oh, gosh, I feel this. There were at least two friendships I let happen because I just wanted to be nice (or was horribly lonely), and I really should have set boundaries instead of accepting responsibility for shit that wasn’t mine at all. (OTOH, like Amili and Kristin have pointed out, I’ve also had a friendship that started out lovely, and then slowly got hinky as more boundaries were rejected.)

  19. Shad said:

    Just to provide a contrast, this is (in my opinion) what a “mom friend” with reasonable boundaries looks like (in my opinion):
    Carries some basic otc meds and will happily give them if someone asks.
    Can probably recommend something for your cold if you ask.
    Will offer rides (one time plus gentle “are you sure?” reassurance) if people need one. Maybe throws a hand out if there’s a sharp stop, but that one’s a bit OTT.
    Is someone people will bring issues to *of their own accord*, and who will listen, offer sympathy, and check in about whether the person is venting or wants advice before offering advice.
    When a potluck happens, brings something homemade and possibly a bit OTT. Bonus mom level if others ask for advice or hash out specific recipe ideas. But again, notice how this is in response to what the other friend does, not starting with the mom friend.
    Basically, a good mom friend has taken some of those lessons and life skills associated with mothering, and they are available for other friends to benefit from *at those other friends’ request/lead*. A good mom friend does not try to actually mother their friends.

    • Will ask the extremely stressed friend “Have you had a food today?” or “When did you last eat?” and if the answer is “No” or “I don’t remember” or “Does a handful of Cheetos six hours ago count?” will offer to heat up leftovers. (But will not ask that question again if asked not to and will graciously accept refusal of offered leftovers).

    • Can I add? Things I’ve actually enjoyed from “mom” friends.

      Will offer help _once_ with difficult projects, and accept no as an answer, or will offer in a way that makes it clear I can set terms. (“You’ve said on social media you’re having trouble keeping your room clean. Is there something I can do to help/can I come sit on your bed and chat while you fold laundry?”)
      Seconding the “carries basic survival _stuff_ and shares it as necessary without forcing”. (I see you’ve been hitching your skirt up a lot. If you’d like a safety pin, I have a bag in my purse)
      Asks “are you looking for solutions or sympathy” or your own favourite version of that question when encountering venting.
      For kitchen, the question I’ve found safest is “is there anything I can help with?” and then _doing what they say_.

      • “Can I come sit on your bed and chat while you fold laundry?” You are a lovely human being. One of my friends talks to me while I clean or do a shit-ton of dishes and it is one of the most helpful things ever.

        • Li'l Mittens said:

          Other things real mom friends do: send out a group message saying they’re making grilled cheese for anyone who shows up at x o’clock. ditto for pancakes. organize outings and say “i’m bringing snacks, water and sunscreen, all you have to do is show up.” offer to pack your dishes and glasses for a move if all you do is provide boxes and newspaper.

          • “We know not everyone wants to go to Sunday Brunch at [really good but expensive place] every week, so just know if you don’t but you want breakfast, we’ll have a pancake feast with eggs and bacon every Sunday. Bring something non-alcoholic to drink and yourself. Starts at 9 and ends when we run out of fixings (or it’s one in the afternoon, whichever comes first.)”

      • Britpoptarts said:

        Accepting “no” as an answer is the magic key, here!
        It’s OK (and kind) to offer something currently living in your purse to resolve a problem!
        It’s OK (and kind) to express concern if one of your loved ones or acquaintances is obviously unwell or unhappy (for example, because they SAID SO).
        It’s OK (and kind) to offer to help with drudgery-type stuff.
        It’s NOT OK to be pushy about it. You get ONE “are you sure, it’s really no bother” if you’re VERY close to the person you’re offering to assist and know they are reflexively saying “no” out of socialized habitual politeness, but THEN, if the answer is still “no,” THEN THE ANSWER IS NO.

        If you persist after that “no,” then you are making it more about wanting to feel like a Good Person or role-playing what you think a Good Person would do than you are making it about actually helping the person who you’re forcing to tell you “no” repeatedly.

        • JenniferP said:

          Precisely this.

        • Kitty said:

          Yes!

          It helped so much when I realised that my mum’s “helping” behaviour had zero to do with me and everything to do with her need to feel needed and competent. I could stop trying to convince her that I didn’t need [X] and just ignore her repeated offers.

      • MaryC said:

        “Are you looking for solutions or sympathy?” That is brilliant! I tend to want to fix things for people and often have to reel myself back in when I see that grimace that says, ” I didn’t actually ask for advice.” I am definitely adding that phrase to my lexicon.

        • My best friend and I have been practicing a variant where when we start a rant/vent/whatever we’re up front with the other person: “I need to get this off my chest but I don’t really want advice” or “I’m venting but after I’m done we can maybe discuss possible alternatives/solutions” or however it happens to fall out.

          Having that all out right up front can really help, too, with someone you know well.

        • Shad said:

          Most people have a default mode, and that’s probably mostly fine—ideally, people can go to the member of Team Me whose default mode fits what they need. But sometimes that doesn’t work, and I learned from having a super fixer dad to make that distinction explicit so I could get the kind of support I needed in the moment. So coming from that and especially having the kind of awkward friends where those sort of meta conversations are normalized, it’s become kind of an easy habit to spread the love of asking what kind of support people need rather than assuming.

        • Buni said:

          All my friends know I am COMPLETELY USELESS at sympathy but bang on for practical solutions. I’ve had a friend call me and say “X has happened, I’ve phoned #Friend1 and had a good cry about it so now I’m calling you for advice.” and that’s the way we all like it. I think it’s good + useful to identify among your tribe who is good for what, and to recognise it in yourself as well.

      • can I come sit on your bed and chat while you fold laundry?

        YES this is actually a thing that I have done for family members, while I ramble on about nothing much in particular, or write and narrate the storyline. And by the way non-writers are highly entertained by a writer going back and changing a word after wring another 2 sentences and suddenly realizing there’s a better word.

        Apparently folding laundry / cleaning the room is really JUST THAT BORING.

    • ashbet said:

      Yeah, I’m the “chronically ill, and therefore always a walking pharmacy” and “friends come TO ME to confide/ask for advice/vent” friend, and some of my friends jokingly call me a “mom friend” or “Goth Mom” (in part because I had my daughter very young, so I’ve BEEN an actual mother for most of my life), but the kind of smothering and inappropriate behavior the LW describes makes me cringe!!

    • Jaybeetee said:

      Yeah, I have one “Mom Friend” who’s great at it, and has gotten better at it as she’s gotten older (and learned to respect her own limits too, and to not automatically insert herself into Whatever Drama Is Happening Right Now). But she’s always been good at it, because in addition to her nurturing and supportive streaks, she’s good at “reading the room” so to speak. She’s good at knowing the difference between welcome help/support, and being overbearing. She knows some friends might welcome, say, her showing up with a meal during a rough time, while other friends might find that weird or invasive or just not want that kind of help. In general, I’d say she nails it because she’s probably closer to acting like a “Mom of teenagers” (supportive when needed, otherwise back off and let people do their things), as opposed to “Mom of toddlers” (must be involved with everything).

      I’ve had other friends try to do the “Mom” thing, and not do it well, because it’s often more about their feel-goods than whatever their friends actually want/need from them. The feel-goods could be “I want to be that friend everyone goes to for emotional support so I can build a bunch of super-close bonds with me at the centre!” It could be, “I’m at a good place in my life and I feel good about it, so I want to “help” my friends who are still struggling by offering “helpful” suggestions formed as loving nagging! Because of course I always have the entire context of the situation and know exactly what they need to do to improve things!” The feel-goods could be literally, “I am an anxious basket-case and I feel better when I’m the one directing things”. There are probably many other feel-goods, but the point is, those friends tend to be more oblivious to social cues or subtle suggestions from their friends that whatever they’re doing *isn’t really welcome*. Because it’s actually more about them.

      Luckily for me, even when I’ve had friends in Column B, who might not react to more subtle cues, they’ve almost always reacted to direct statements without upping the drama. Any polite iteration of, “I’m good thanks”, or whatever (or with particularly close friends, “Dude, chill” has been alright for us), they get it and back off. Because even if some of them were being ham-handed and self-absorbed at times, none of them *did* have bad intentions, and once any of them realized they were bothering me, they Stopped Doing The Thing, because they didn’t actually want to run roughshod over my boundaries. Some of them may have privately thought things about my decisions, but they did all understand the basic “no is no” I was giving them. There was one “friend” who used to do a lot of this (in the “I want a circle of adoring friends who all come to me for emotional support!” camp), who tended to not listen to stated boundaries, who eventually was dropped from the entire circle (she had a lot of mental stuff going on, and we felt bad for her, but… yeah).

      LW, your problem is that this is all far more about making Mary Feel Good than it is about any of you, and her behaviours are actually making you – and likely others – feel the opposite of good. If you haven’t tried the more direct “Dude, chill, I got this” method, start there. But if she then starts with the drama and the waterworks and the martyrdom stuff – honestly, if it were me, I’d escalate the conflict. Tell her to leave. Or leave yourself. Say you’ll talk to her when she’s feeling better. If you are bent on keeping her around, “train” her that when she gets pushy, and then manipulative – you absent yourself. Because really, this is a thing she’s doing for herself, and she doesn’t get to hurt the people around her (which she is, at this point), to make herself feel better.

      The good news is, for *many* people these behaviour starts to fade out by their late 20s/early 30s, or at least tone down. As people get older, and busier, and more preoccupied with their own lives, they have fewer spoons for engineering their social groups in that way. And for those who don’t change – the people around them are also getting older, busier, more demands on their time, and start finding that friends like these really aren’t worth the work.

      PS: Captain, I just recently realized that I’ve been commenting here for awhile with two variations on the same username – I’m not super-regular commenting here, and I switched devices at one point, so I hadn’t realized. I’m going to go with just “Jaybeetee” from here forward if no one else has that name.

    • Forsworn Memorialist said:

      When we were mourning my real mom together in the week after her death, my generation-older cousin served me vegetables and protein and asked me if I’d brushed my teeth. This might have felt invasive in peacetime but in acute bereavement it felt very nurturing and safe: the best side of “honorary mom relative”. I’m one whom grief makes stupid, and my executive function was all spoken for by executor’s tasks: I wouldn’t have THOUGHT to brush my teeth if she hadn’t mentioned it!

    • The one time I went clubbing in my last year of law school, we had a friend who carried OTC meds and bandaids on her. It was Halloween, and ironically, she was dressed as Maleficent, but I still remember that as being one of the sweetest things that night.

    • KayEss said:

      I’m probably one of the less mom-y of my friends, but I do throw a hand out if there’s a sharp stop when I’m driving. It’s a reflex born from keeping my purse (usually in the passenger seat) from tipping forward and emptying its contents all over the floor of the car.

  20. I think this would be a good moment to think about the roles other people are playing in this situation. Here are two friends to look out for:
    Friend 1: “Oh, you know how Mary is. She’ll be so upset if we don’t invite her. C’mon, it’s not really a big deal.”
    In some circles, Friend 1 is called a Flying Monkey. Reducing interactions with Mary may mean reducing interactions with this person too. If you call them on their behavior, they’ll likely tell Mary about it as soon as you finish talking.
    Friend #2 may be harder to spot. You may notice that they tend to be in another room when Mary has her meltdowns. They probably don’t draw attention to this. They just…are not there. Or maybe Friend 2 is someone you thought was interesting that used to hang out with your group but doesn’t do so much anymore. You are not the only one who feels this way about Mary! If you can find Friend 2, they may have helpful tips or you may be able to build a coalition.
    What if some day Mary has a temper tantrum and everyone just quickly and quietly leaves the room?
    One more thought. Say the day before you met Mary, a wise, kind future version of you came along and gave you some advice about her. What would they have told you? Could you do that now?

    • “Friend 1: “Oh, you know how Mary is. She’ll be so upset if we don’t invite her. C’mon, it’s not really a big deal.”
      In some circles, Friend 1 is called a Flying Monkey. Reducing interactions with Mary may mean reducing interactions with this person too. If you call them on their behavior, they’ll likely tell Mary about it as soon as you finish talking.”

      And if you do see this dynamic, then Mary might be a Missing Stair, the kind everyone works around because they’re part of The Group and it’s mean to exclude people. Ways to deal with Missing Stairs have included getting together with people one-on-one or in small groups instead of always the whole gang and just not inviting them to your stuff – and making it clear that any additional guests have to be approved by you. (I get along with most people and am usually happy for my friends to bring guests to my parties, but there are a few people I really don’t want to see, so I explicitly ask people to check with me first). And of course enforcing your own boundaries. People who push back on you for that are telling you what kind of friend they really are.

    • Sunflower said:

      I love everything about this comment (including my first introduction to the “flying monkeys” terminology—CACKLING). I think the suggestion of building coalition with Friend Type #2 (& the similar one from anamardoll upthread) is especially useful.

    • Jers said:

      Yes! My most recent ‘Mary’ was excused by someone in the group, who’d only known her for a similar amt of time, as ‘well i know she’s like this, but you really need to think about preserving the relationship. I mean yes she’s really wrong but…’ and this went on. The more i said ‘but i don’t want to preserve this relationship, it’s ok if YOU do, you do you, but that’s not for me.’ I realized that the folks who’d disengaged from the drama created by Mary were the healthy boundaried folks, and the ones who stayed were a mix of friend 1 and friend 2. The ones who blended into the bkgd and pretended not to hear a thing, or got really silent when shit went down, vs the ones who actively tried to say ‘but don’t you think you should…. well i know she’s awful but…’ and when i finally just shut all talk of Mary down, with ‘hey i dont’ really want you to bring up Mary to me. I’m so over discussing your feelings about my blocking Mary and not hanging with her, so let’s keep it simple. If you want to discuss Mary with me, Mary has to actually be in the room.’ Actually 1. Got it shut down, but 2. All of it really made me see that the folks in friend 1 group were just enablers with their own issues, and it was better to find a new group. Now i hang with the boundaried folks individually, and avoid the enablers, and have blocked Mary on all forms of social media that I can.

  21. Amili said:

    Oh gosh. Oh. Gosh. So, my friend group in uni was also one that had “mom friends” – but Not Like This. Like, admittedly, 9/10 times I was often the “mom friend” of the group, but…that just meant I was voted “Most likely to have what you need in her bag”, “Will show up with baked goods if anyone would like”, “Is likely to sit quietly and let you cry it out when you need it”, “Will absolutely immediately get it together in an emergency and make sure everyone makes it out and is safe”. Did we joke that no one would ever survive without (whoever was mom friend in the setting)? Oh, you best believe it. But also it was a JOKE. (Though seriously some folks would have forgotten to eat if not for the group, I think…)

    Literally, the “mom friend” is just the most adulty adult in the group, who is willing to shoulder some of the burdens of the group when they need it. That’s it. And a HEALTHY “mom friend” does something super important: THEY ARE NOT THE MOM FRIEND 100% OF THE TIME. That shit ain’t sustainable. When pronouncing Mom Friend, the emphasis should always be on the FRIEND. They are your friend, who happens to occasionally mom the shit out of folks when they want/need it. (Or say mom shit like “omg clean your ROOM even a pig is tidier!” or “So when did you last do laundry….? Bc I have Concerns about your well-being.”)

    This is a really, really unhealthy dynamic, and honestly reads like abuse. She literally has to tear HER FRIENDS down in order to feel like she’s got some kind of sway over them. NAH MAN. NAH. RUN.

    • Amy said:

      Yes! I have had great Mom Friends. Mary isn’t them. Mary is looking for all the spots where other people are doing Worse Than Her, and highlighting and poking at them so she can feel competent and strong and good about herself. A good friend (including a good mom friend) builds their friends up; Mary is busy tearing them down.

    • AraSigyrn said:

      My fiancée is the ‘Mum’ friend in our group and what that generally translates to is being the person who checks in, “Have you had something that wasn’t coffee/sugar to eat?” “You’re been very quiet/busy, do you need a break?” and the person who everyone goes to as a sounding board/strategist “I need to sort out [x], where do I start?” and the occaisonal cheerleader/buttkicker by mutual agreement.

      Not this. Never EVER this.

    • Quill said:

      Yeah. In college, we rotated a bit. Sometimes mom friend was me (most likely to have bandaids and non-expired advil) sometimes it was my first roommate (most likely to tell you to just throw out the ketchup that had been sitting out for a week behind the refrigerator already: if you have to ask ‘is it safe to eat’ the answer is probably no) and sometimes it was my second roommate (will tell someone off for you / tell you when you just gotta suck it up and tell them yourself.) This is how we weathered broken cars, undiagnosed mental illnesses, a ridiculous amount of viruses, and thesis.

      That mostly settled out at healthy, especially since we all started to get our stuff together, and the domino effect of each of us going to therapy began.

  22. Demon Llama said:

    Ah, hello familiar behaviours… “Mary” is my ACTUAL mother so… fun for me. The Captain gives excellent advice (and has done in previous Bad Mom posts) so really just reiterating – OP, Mary is not your mother so, y’know, feel free to nope the hell out of there!

    Also reiterating – even if Mary WERE your mother, this would still be bad mothering! Someone putting their feelings and needs ahead of yours, frankly someone not really caring about your feelings because the minute your presence or words trigger a feeling for them it is the Only Thing That Matters, is 100%, stone cold, Bad Mothering.

    P.S. On the 2019 theme, I have tried a lot less hard with my mother recently and oooooh the benefit when you realise you are using approximately 80% less emotional energy on a relationship (thank you Captain Awkward and also therapy, lots of therapy).

    • Right there with you, Demon Llama.

    • Guava said:

      Raises hand wearily…
      Me three.

  23. MusicWithRocksInIt said:

    This really reminded me of the book ‘My Mother’s Keeper’ about Betty Davis’s daughter dealing with her mother who needed to inject crazy drama and tears and martyrdom into every situation. It’s not as well known as Mommy Dearest, but really well written and shows a totally different kind of messed up childhood. Good read.

    It was a different dynamic, but I had a friend who had cast us into roles, her as the world wise bad ass, and me as her sweet little innocent naive friend who needed her protection from the world. She never was direct about it but I also think she saw herself as the smart one and me as the dumb one. Being patronized can really wear on you after a while. It took a long time to realize that just being around her annoyed the hell out of me and I was only hanging out with her because she was incorrectly categorized as a ‘friend’ in my mind and hanging out with friends is what you do. I re-categorized her as ‘person to be tolerated when needed in social group situations’ and then found out that my other friends didn’t really like her all that much easier, and she was being invited around because of me. Which is to say, let go of any pre-formed categories and really think about if you enjoy being around her at all. It is ok to admit to yourself that you don’t actually really like her much any more. It doesn’t mean you were wrong to like her before, but people grow and change and sometimes you just fall out of like.

    • only acting normal said:

      Thanks. This comment just helped me put my finger on how this letter kinda sorta reminded me of how a friend treats me (not in Mary’s league, but it rang bells).
      She formed a misapprehension that I need help or advice or something, and thinks she’s the one to provide it, but… just no.

      • Nanani said:

        I’ve had friends like that. We were all younger and awkward-er at the time, but the friendships didn’t last past the point where I no longer needed “saving”.

  24. Mary said:

    What if she were to throw a tantrum and nobody came?

    I extraspecially love this line.

    (also megacringing on behalf of the Mary population rn.)

  25. scrapworks said:

    I found myself in the beginnings of a Mary friendship in my mid-20s. Older lady who I worked with; she seemed cool and fun at first, but then one day said to me “I’m going to make you my new project!” I was so stunned I just stared at her for a very long moment, blinking, and then finally said “Mary, that’s just…so insulting I don’t even know what to say.” She seemed really shocked and flustered, and tried to push at me a little (“I just meant that I could help you, with all my life experience, etc, etc”). I finally shook my head and said “I’m not going to be a project. Sorry.” We stopped hanging out after that; I was creeped out, and my Mary just moved on to other young women that she could bully into being her ‘projects’. Not long after that, she got fired, and that was the last I saw of her.

    • 42tlh42 said:

      Great work showing your boundaries and *using* that flummoxed feeling for yourself!
      Long-distance High-Five!

      • scrapworks said:

        Thanks. It was definitely a case where blurting out my shocked reaction really did the trick.

        • EllenS said:

          It often does

          Too thick a filter can get us in as much trouble as no filter at all. Outrageous behavior deserves an appropriate reaction, and the most effective ones are sincere in the moment.

    • Oh good lord. I just had a massive epiphany. (CN: child abuse)

      There was a woman on LJ a million years ago who tried to do this to me, and at the time I couldn’t figure out what the hell she was on about but it was totally this. She thought I was going to be her new project. She was local, she ran in circles I had been exiting for a few years at that point (and ultimately left entirely, partially because the dysfunction was STRONG with those ones), and for some reason she ran into me on LJ and thought that I was a good target for her “life experience” etc.

      • And I took the bit out about the abuse, and then didn’t omit the note, sorry! There was more to the story (so much more) but suffice it to say she had actual children she was really shitty to.

    • MusicWithRocksInIt said:

      As I read this the opening strains to ‘Popular’ popped in my head – and now that song is stuck there. This is SUPER insulting and people need to realize that it is insulting to tell someone they are a ‘project’ and that they can make you better. You are not a quilt or a patio renovation.

  26. Dear LW,

    I want to reiterate that letting Mary have her tantrum, and ignoring it, will be difficult. Even so, doing so is less difficult than putting up with her behavior indefinitely.

    Also, that thing where she rehashes your “failures” (in quotes because most of them probably weren’t)- my ex used to do that. It was a method of controlling me and breaking me down. So good on you for protesting all her tactics.

  27. Cheryl Blossom said:

    In addition to everything else, LW, when people joke about having a mom friend or being the mom friend, this is not what they mean. In my group, that person is just the person who makes sure we all actually know where we’re meeting so we don’t waste an hour wandering around texting each other. But she knows we’d all be fine without her; she’s just a take-charge and responsible person.

  28. Not That Jane said:

    As someone whose actual mother died young, I would have a visceral and intense negative reaction to this “friend.”

    Story time. I once had a college professor who kept telling us she wanted to be our “school mom” while we were studying in her program. This was only a year or so after my mom died, and I found it intensely upsetting. Enough so that I found the courage to have a conversation with her about it (in which I disclosed that my mom had died – I was very young to have lost my mom so I knew she might not realize) and ask her to stop saying that. She was mortified, she listened, and SHE STOPPED. Which is what people with decent boundaries do.

    I can’t get over the idea of anyone who isn’t your own mom trying to insert herself into this role with such persistence and lack of consideration.

  29. Hi Op. This situation sounds horrible. And sooooo tiring. Having someone try to undermine your competence and maturity? That just sucks. I’m sorry you are having to deal with that

    I grew up with an actual mom who would veer back and forth between Mary behavior and Arctic cold rejection. It was like having two moms, both of them abusive and awful. It was incredibly damaging. Want to know which mom was *less* damaging?

    Yeah, I would have chosen Iceberg Rejection Mom any day of the week.

    Now, my sister is a Mary, full stop. Op, reading your letter gave me creepy feelings up and down my spine and I just sat here thinking, “Holy crap, could her Mary be my sister?!?!?”

    There is a lot of disrespect and contempt for others underlying all the Mary behavior that some of my family displays. They get a ton of credit for being all helpful and compassionate and selfless. Not because they actually are, though. Because they tell everyone that it is so and intimidate people into going along with it. All of those feelings have been weaponized.

    Op, do you really want to do so much emotional labor to keep Mary from having feelings at you? She sounds exhausting. She also sounds like she doesn’t really know or appreciate you as the awesome individual you are. It sounds like you are more of a project or a tool that she uses to prop herself up.

    I had to go no contact with most of my family for a lot of reasons. A number of my family members are quite abusive, and some are really dangerous. But as far as my daily life and emotional well-being are concerned, the best part of no contact was that I stopped having people tell me how incompetent and idiotic I supposedly am.

    Op, even if Mary is as well meaning as she says (like, maybe she isn’t?), do you really want to keep doing this?

  30. Jers said:

    LW I’ve encountered a few Marys in my life, and one thing I’ve learned, is that what the Cap says about ‘sprinkling no up and down in your relationship’ is spot on! If you’re feeling guilty about Mary (and clearly there’s room for empathy for her, from a distance bc she sounds pretty unhappy) try saying No and really sticking to it. Try calmly but very firmly enforcing any random boundary next time she breaks it. Don’t give in. Be calm and kind but do not give in. I found that really enforcing a boundary caused the ‘poor crying pitiful waif’ person to suddenly turn into ‘angry rage filled’ person. Sure the crying later, in some. But if you really don’t let her get her way, and she is forced to color inside the lines, you will see a different side of Mary. You’ll start to see the rage come out. This won’t be pleasant, but it might help you to disengage from her a bit. Because the term for what she’s doing is called enmeshment. I think some above have said it too. It’s really not cool. I’ve had folks do this to me, basically try to bogart my life to the point i felt i couldn’t extract them with a crowbar. Though sending a nice email that kindly delineates the problem behavior. Don’t expect her to change; you can’t change people. And it sounds like Mary is pretty entrenched in this behavior. But stick to your guns and you’ll find that you don’t need to reject her, she’ll more than likely reject you. DO expect some extinction burst activity, like creating loads o’ drama with your friend group. Try to either be prepared for that fallout as an individual, or as a group, if this is something the group has discussed and is united on. Not to get rid of her, but to enforce boundaries as a collective. Hey friend, you’re doing ‘that thing’ again. Whatever that thing is. Please stop. Please excuse yourself until you can…. some version of that. It will be hard the first couple times, but i noticed that not only did it get easier, but it also got me in touch with my feelings of self protectiveness and anger. Instead of having my feelings hijacked so i was feeling sorry for my Mary while she rode all over me, I began to see this as the egregious invasion of my human space, that it always was. And it helped me to set boundaries with those individuals even more. Some went away on their own, some were so comically annoyingly unable to respect clearly provided boundaries, that it became much easier to just present the African violet of dead friendship to them. Finally, YOU DON’T HAVE to do anything if you just want to end it. One thing i learned, i don’t NEED anyone’s permission to end a relationship. They can’t hijack your life with endless questions of ‘but i don’t understand i really need you to explain it to me, and give me examples, and…..’. You don’t need to fall into that trap either. You’re not a counselor or life coach (and even if you are, you’re not Mary’s counselor or life coach). It’s not your obligation to sit down and explain in excruciating detail why you want to walk away. You owe no one that. Whether they like it or not. Best of luck. I would say Jedi hugs but i think you’ve have enough unasked for hugs lately.

    • Cathy Boo said:

      “One thing i learned, i don’t NEED anyone’s permission to end a relationship.”

      Oooh, love this one. It literally took me two full years to get out of my marriage before I learned this.

  31. Esme_Weatherwax said:

    “Wait, Captain Awkward, are you saying we should arrange our entire social lives and police our interactions so that Mary never has reason to swoop in, remind us we’re doing it all wrong, theatrically cry until she gets her way, or creepily hug us and kiss our boo-boos as if we’re her personal gaggle of toddlers that she is definitely responsible for even though nobody asked her to be and I personally have asked her not to?”

    Here’s a challenge. What if you decide to say no and everyone else says, yes, we should definitely rearrange our entire social lives in this way? My spouse’s sister is a “Mary,” and I said no once, 20+ years ago, and she’s been on a campaign to get him to divorce me ever since. The family is so conditioned to her dynamic that they seem…fine with this? I definitely agree that setting the boundaries is worth it, but it may cost you more than Mary’s company/friendship.

    • What if you decide to say no and everyone else says, yes, we should definitely rearrange our entire social lives in this way?

      If that’s what happens, you have received some important information about how shitty your entire social group (and in your case, your spouse’s family!) are, and should exit, pursued by a bear.

      And OP, if this does happen, wow but you are about to experience a massive lightening of the many, many loads you will turn out to have been carrying! Also if this happens, think about the last few years of your social group and anyone who has left it. Consider reaching out to that person/s, if you got along with them.

      • Esme_Weatherwax said:

        Do you think the bear will eat my sister-in-law as I exit? That’s a cheering thought.

        • Given that it was a real bear, it might!

          • Siri, google “how to hire a hungry bear for the day” please

    • Nanani said:

      You could:
      – Not invite Mary to anything you host.
      – let your spouse go to events hosted on their side of the family without you (maybe you have another commitment. every time)
      – find new ways to host holidays, etc., where its natural not to invite any of the extended family (“it’s just me and spouse in Faraway Location this year”)
      – adopt a pet Mary HAPPENS to be allergic to
      – **make sure your spouse has your back** and also be sure to have their back if and when they decide to cut Mary out for themselves

      • Esme_Weatherwax said:

        I’ve followed most of your list except the pets. That’s a thing of beauty. Gonna have to think about how to discover allergies! The tough one, of course, is to “make sure” spouse has my back. Spouse does some weird code-switching, where when he’s in the home of origin all of Mary’s shenanigans make perfect sense to him, and as soon as he leaves, he starts to see the problem. Admittedly Mary is only one piece of a really messed up family of origin for him so I try to appreciate what he can manage rather than resent that he can’t be 100% “how DARE you, Mary?”

    • Amy said:

      If the entire social group goes along with Mary’s nonsense, then the problem isn’t just Mary. It’s the whole group, who have decided this dynamic is acceptable or even desirable. Just because their problem is inaction rather than action, doesn’t make it any less of a problem.

  32. Mimi Me said:

    LW, can you enlist some of the others in your group to support you when you decide to ignore her outbursts? Like, she starts crying over your life, making it all about her and you all just get up and walk out of the room?
    As I read CA’s advice (which was pretty fantastic) I couldn’t help but wonder what Mary’s reaction would be if you did this. Will she stop crying, pull herself together, and come find you when she’s calmed down? Or will she be like the toddler in the America’s Funniest Home video (won first prize!) who would stop crying the moment his parents were out of site, but literally the second he saw them he’d throw himself on the floor again to cry? If she’s the 2nd – it might be time to cut the ties with Mary.

  33. Amy said:

    OP, if you do want to keep hanging out with Mary (or if you encounter a Mary Lite in the future, who has similar traits but on a more bearable level)…one of the best ways I’ve found to handle this kind of behavior is just a confused look and a “Thanks, but I’ve got it.” Basically, project ‘competent adult’ at the situation, and it will get harder and harder for her to ‘mom’ at you.

    You’re cooking and Mary tries to shove in and start adding things? You stand your ground, look confused, and say “I’ve made this recipe tons of times, I’ve got this. You go relax and chat with everyone!” You’re complaining and Mary tries to jump in and solve all your problems? “I’ve actually got it under control, I just need to vent a little to a friendly ear.” In my experience, a genuinely well-meaning but somewhat overbearing friend will get the hint from these kinds of statements.

    Of course, there’s always the occasional person who either isn’t well-meaning or doesn’t get hints. If she keeps pushing, you move from ‘confused’ to ‘side-eye’ and get more stern: “I just said I don’t need or want you to fix this. I’ve got it. I need you to trust me to be a competent adult. Can you do that?” Odds are she’ll stop there, because if she says no to that, she’s explicitly saying she doesn’t think you’re a competent adult. If she does, though, you can definitely take explicit offense at that: “Wow. Okay. Um…I don’t think there’s much else to say, if you think that little of me. I’m gonna go.” And then follow through and go, and stay chilly towards Mary until she shapes up and apologizes.

    • Jers said:

      Whoa, I LOVE this. It’s a calm ‘reframe’. You’re refusing to allow her to ‘set the game’ by refusing to engage in an argument. You’re just setting a tone of ‘nope nope nopetopus’. Am stealing from you.

  34. Sunflower said:

    If you’re worried that you ARE a Mary, when a friend tells you “no,” consider stopping whatever it is you’re doing at once and, if you’re feeling extremely upset by being asked to stop, try waiting at least 24 hours before you respond further or try to explain yourself to see if the urge passes.

    My addition: As a heart-on-my-sleeve kind of person (including being an easy crier but I just have trouble masking emotions in general), I’ve found it really helpful to me to respond to “no” with “thank you.” There are definitely situations where this works less well (e.g., one of my very close friends has told me “thank you for taking care of yourself” when I said I wasn’t up for watching his kids/my godkids and that could easily have come across as patronizing from someone I was less close with) but it’s REALLY helped me retrain my brain away from the two options I had previously (showing disappointment or minimizing my own needs.) “Thank you for telling me”/”thanks for letting me know” are pretty broadly applicable.

    Both doing this and being on the receiving end of it have also made it easier for me to set boundaries. my subconscious now basically understands that when someone tells me no, they are giving me a gift: the gift of being able to trust their yes. (& vice versa, though that one’s been more challenging for me.

    • JenniferP said:

      I love this, someone who is telling you how to be a good friend to them is trying to stay in the friendship and trusts you to get it. “Thank you.” Good work.

    • Isben Takes Tea said:

      Yes! “Thank you for trusting me with your no” is something my mom and I say to each other a lot, because we’re both people who put on our caretaker “everything’s fine!” masks and run ourselves ragged trying to be the Nice Person. “Nos” are honesty, and it’s meaningful to be trusted with that.

  35. CappaRed said:

    And, just so you’re aware, the trope of “mom-friend” is not Mary. Mary is taking the mom-friend label and assigning it to herself in a really very twisty way. The mom-friend trope is the always prepared, hyper-competent, wise (plus willing to engage in kind tough-love), and genuine friend who will always have a tampon in her purse for other people’s emergencies even though she wears a cup, will encourage you to go for that promotion at work and here’s the article on the best way to ask for a raise that she found very useful, and I heard you were sick do you want me to drop by some chicken soup on my way home from work? Also, I’m calling you an uber because you’ve had too much vino to drive home from brunch; don’t worry about the cost it’s on my card.

    Basically someone who is thoughtful, careful, and genuinely caring. None of that requires boundary violation to achieve. Mom-friend wants everyone to feel safe, well, and fulfilled, and if they found out their actions were causing the opposite reaction in their friends THEY WOULD FEEL MORTIFIED AND STOP IMMEDIATELY.

    Mary may feel like that label is some type of badge of honor (or sword she can wield), or she may be co-opting it to be manipulative. But mom-friend, she ain’t. So don’t let her get away with using that as a justification for her behavior.

    Plus, having a friend like this doesn’t make them a mom. It just makes them a friend worth having.

    • Amy said:

      I feel like ‘mom friend’ is ideally one of those titles that your friends bestow on you but you never actually choose or announce for yourself. It’s like ‘nice guy’. It’s fine to hear someone say “Oh, you know Tom? He’s such a nice guy, I love hanging out with him,” but the connotations change completely if Tom says “I’m a nice guy!”

      • swallowfeather said:

        Exactly!

      • CappaRed said:

        EXACTLY! That’s a way better and shorter way to say what I was trying to get at.

      • Nic said:

        YES!!! That’s such good phrasing about who’s bestowing the title.

        (Also, thank you because this addresses something I was mulling over a few days ago, when there was a lot of vocal idiots complaining about the recent British Army report warning recruiters/trainers/officers to keep an eye on people who describe themselves as patriots. Cue shrieking from people on the political Right, about how you can’t even be a patriot nowadays without being suspected of being un-PC… I was rolling my eyes at the kerfuffle because the identification wasn’t “someone who has patriotism” but “someone who tells you (probably the first time you meet them) that they identify as A Patriot” and there is a difference between those two. I couldn’t put it into words properly until I read your comment.)

      • solecism said:

        Or just like the term “ally.” If you’re giving yourself kudos for being an ally (to marginalized groups) and applying the label to yourself, it probably isn’t true, versus considering it an aspirational goal. The whole noun vs verb thing.

        • CappaRed said:

          Oh yes, THIS is an excellent point. Some labels just cannot be self-assigned without totally negating the definition of the label.

  36. Question, how well would it go over if you replied to a crying tantrum with a gentle, “Oh dear, why don’t you go step in the bathroom and take a few minutes to collect yourself.” Mayyyyybe if you feel you have to justify, with a “I know you were just trying to help, but we’ve got this.”

    And some very clear, “OMG, this thing happened at work/etc. I just need to vent, no advice please, but STORY”

  37. Varda said:

    To paraphrase Ask-A-Manager, “I’m sorry. Your (Mary) is not going to change. You need to find another (friend).”
    A good skill to have is recognising when nothing you do or say will get an adult to change their behavior. Some people are so deep into their whatever-it-is that they can’t see themselves and can’t/won’t change. Their behavior is working just fine for them.
    If you can exit this situation, I’d consider it.

  38. Queerparent said:

    People who trample your boundaries, do stuff that you asked them not to, kiss you sloppily, and cry a lot are called KIDS, not moms. Mary is the toddler friend, not the mom friend.

    • Nebula Ersatz said:

      Yes! I read most of this yesterday during Nap Struggle Time and then was very struck by the similarities for the rest of the day.

    • bloodygranuaile said:

      I was thinking this too! Notice how much of Cap’s advice in dealing with Mary’s behavior comes from parents dealing with small children.

      LW, if it makes you feel better and helps reset the power dynamic in your head, definitely start thinking of Mary as the Toddler Friend, and ask yourself how much parenting *you* want to do. You don’t need to teach Mary basic life skills like self-soothing if you don’t want to. If you wanted a baby, you could probably find a way to go have one.

  39. LW said:

    LW here!

    I hope that it is okay for me to pop on in the comments section?

    First of all, thank everyone (Captian and crew!) for the wonderful advice and encouragement! I am going to try all of this advice and see if it works out … I realize I’ve put myself in situations where she CAN manipulate me, so I really appreciate the Wake Up Call! The clarity and relief of other people who aren’t tangled in Mary’s weird parental web saying “this isn’t right” was like cold clear water in a desert.

    Secondly, I HAVE tried ignoring her tantrums. I’ve removed myself from the room, etc and Mary has sat outside the door to the room I am in and LOUDLY CRIED for two+ hours before stopping, only to send me a text message that she had left a cup of tea and a bottle of water out for me and rewriting the whole narrative to be “[LW] was so upset and contrite that she locked herself in her room for hours and I, the Good And Loving Mary, tried to break through to her as best as I could!” which….yeah. I can ignore her tantrums until the cows come home and Mary will still make it all about her. I’m not sure how (or even if I should?) reclaim the tantrums to be about the issue and not Mary’s reaction to the issue. If anyone has some advice for dealing with this? Or will ignoring for long enough work? Should I push back on her rewriting reality or just leave it be and let her cry herself exhausted? I didn’t mention it in my original letter but everyone seems to have great advice soooo…

    I am super fortunate that most of my friends have my back in dealing with Mary, but they’ve been very hesitant to do/say anything about her (aside from trying (and failing) to cheerfully reshift the conversation away and being railroaded by Mary)…I think I will try asking them to take a more proactive role as well as the other wonderful advice I’ve gotten and see if that does any good.

    Perhaps most horrifying of all is that Mary is the most vocal about wanting children, wanting to become a mother and making plans for it which *shudder* Maybe she’ll grow up before then…?

    Thank you all again!

    • JenniferP said:

      Hi, thanks for checking in, Letter Writer.

      You write:

      “Secondly, I HAVE tried ignoring her tantrums. I’ve removed myself from the room, etc and Mary has sat outside the door to the room I am in and LOUDLY CRIED for two+ hours before stopping, only to send me a text message that she had left a cup of tea and a bottle of water out for me and rewriting the whole narrative to be “[LW] was so upset and contrite that she locked herself in her room for hours and I, the Good And Loving Mary, tried to break through to her as best as I could!” which….yeah. I can ignore her tantrums until the cows come home and Mary will still make it all about her.”

      [SCREAMING]

      [NOT HYPERBOLE, I LITERALLY SCREAMED WHEN I READ THIS PARAGRAPH]

      I thought I couldn’t cringe anymore, but it turns out I can! You are describing a hostage situation, Letter Writer. You see that, right? Mary is acting as your emotional and literal jailer. She is kidnapping you inside your fucking house and then trying to gaslight you that this is caretaking on her part.

      Question: Is Mary your roommate? If so, you need a new place to live, which I realize can take a while, but you can’t live with this lady anymore. So move that to the top of the agenda (this is worth borrowing money from parents/friends and breaking leases consulting lawyers imho if you possibly can), and then you can be like LW #1207: “I moved out to get away from you, so this stops now!”

      In the meantime, if she is your housemate, what if you a) opened the door and said “Take it somewhere else, Mary” and then closed it again, b) when you need to leave the room, stepped over her and also walked by the water or teacup without touching it, ever, if you accumulate 100 vessels outside your door trust that Mary the Martyr will wash ’em eventually or move them out of the way so she can have more cry-space, but you should never, ever touch these offerings or even acknowledge they exist c) don’t respond to any texts, you went into your room to get away d) greeted any aftermath attempts to rewrite history with the narrative with “Huh” or “Wow” or silence or “Huh, that’s an interesting take” or “Since locking myself in my room didn’t work to get away from you, what would work?”

      See also: d) Texting mutual friends and saying: Can someone remove the Mary from outside my bedroom door? She’s fucking at it again and e) Texting a friend with a free sofa to say “Mary’s fucking at it again, can I come over” and then opening the door, locking the door so she can’t get in your room when you aren’t there (if you don’t have a lock, buy one, today), stepping past/over her without a word, and leaving your house.

      If she’s not your roommate, ban her from your house starting now (garlic optional, though the symbolism might amuse you). If others you live with invite her in and she does this again, change a) above, to “FUCKING GO HOME ALREADY, MARY” and everything else to b) “Mary barricades me in my room, so we can’t be friends anymore, and I am not comfortable with her ever being in our apartment again.”

      Obviously it’s up to you, but “friend” is a word it’s probably time to stop using about Mary. She’s literally holding you hostage in your home (or, WEIRDER YET, other people’s homes, like you go to a dinner party and now crap, you’re in Mary-jail!) and then explaining how that’s your fault! Fuck this clingy asshole, find an old priest and a young priest, a spray-bottle full of holy water, the words “Mary, fuck off and leave me alone,” whatever it takes to get this lady out of your space and your life. Time to change your locks, your passwords, your filters, and your protocols. Sorry, I don’t think there is any happy future for you where this lady is in it. I’m not exaggerating when I say, if she lives with you, I would wonder whether she would drug your food or hack your computer or go to other lengths, CRIME-lengths, to keep you as her adopted surrogate. This is fucked up shit, this is Lifetime Movie shit, this is True Crime Podcast shit. This lady is not nice. She is abusive and scary. I hope you can get free soon.

      Having dinner parties does not require this difficulty setting. Abort! Abort!

      • egl said:

        And, if you can’t get the people you live with to stop letting her in, go back to the “you need to move” advice.

        It sucks to have to uproot your life, but you need Mary out of it.

      • Jers said:

        I didn’t quite scream but I did actually make a loud horrified noise when reading the same paragraph. What the actual efff? LW it sounds like you’ve been experiencing the Mary hostage thing so long you might not realize but this is so beyond the pale. I mean so beyond. I’ve had some enmeshed ‘friends’ i’ve had to ditch, some pretty insanely inappropriate stuff and so I get it, it’s like slowly heating water, you don’t realize how hot it’s gotten until you step out. But this water is over 1000 deg C already. I cannot. Believe. That this woman actually sits outside your door crying. Please please ditch her. Please ditch anyone who defends her behavior. It may seem hard at first, if it is, try branching out to find new friends, slowly, so that when you do make the cut, you’ve got something else to do. If you have to literally barricade yourself in a room to escape her and she sits outside… i can’t describe the level of creepiness here. Cap’s reaction is spot on! LW, imagine this was a boyfriend of someone you like. Imagine your friend tried to escape the bf, and the bf did this. What does that look like now? Seriously, spend about a half hr comparing that scenario, and see how creepy it looks. While women are less likely to be violent or physically dangerous than men, so the odds are in your favor here, Mary does actually seem like she might be heading toward the range of a safety issue. She has demonstrated that she will physically invade your personal space despite repeated requests to desist, and will insist loudly upon huge emotional displays of her ‘right’ to do so, while proclaiming herself the injured party. If she were a man and you were her gf or ex-gf, we’d all be begging you to move or go to police or something similar. Holy Jesus cow. I’m so sorry.

      • Or escalate it to Munchausen By Proxy…

        • HardlyLovelace said:

          J**** f****** C***** Munchhausen by proxy – I can totally imagine this Mary making her children sick for the attention – heaven help her unborn children – I effing can’t even

      • lunchphilospher said:

        “[LW] was so upset and contrite that she locked herself in her room for hours and I, the Good And Loving Mary, tried to break through to her as best as I could!”

        This feels like Mary projecting her feelings onto the LW??? Like Mary needs to save face, so her temper tantrum got pushed onto LW. Is there any script for addressing this or is it just kind of a side effect of everything else?

      • Holy shit.

        If Mary was a guy, Dan Savage would be saying DTMFA.

        Ditch all the gentle replies. Go straight for the “Get out of my life” approach.

        My response to Mary’s effed-up missive would’ve been an enraged HOW DARE YOU with multiple obscenities, and if she huffed off, GOOD.

    • Amy said:

      Just confirming that this is some INTENSE NONSENSE and you are totally right to be horrified and weirded out by it.

      This is unlikely to stop just because you ignore it. Most people would get the hint after a while and cut it out, but Mary has already escalated well past the point of ‘most people’. There is probably nothing you can do to stop Mary from acting like this; she’s choosing to do so, and her behavior is ultimately her choice and her responsibility. Since it sounds like you and most of your friends are pretty done with her nonsense, you should collectively stop inviting her to things. This can come with a “X, Y, and Z behaviors are unacceptable, and you keep doing them, so we can’t be friends anymore” speech, or it can just happen quietly–you don’t owe her an explanation.

    • Jake said:

      “I realize I’ve put myself in situations where she CAN manipulate me, so I really appreciate the Wake Up Call! ”

      Ooof, LW, it hurts my heart to read this. Mary’s behaviour is not your fault and not your responsibility. You are not putting yourself in situations where she can manipulate you, she is taking perfectly ordinary, everyday situations and twisting them into weird, loaded, manipulative situations.

      Given this new information, I honestly can’t imagine any of the Captain’s original scripts working. Mary is not your friend. Mary _cannot be_ your friend. You are done with Mary and your only goal now is to eliminate interactions with her from your life.

      • Sharker said:

        +100

        Gonna be real: it is definitely not your fault that you trusted a friend or believed someone wanted to help you when she said, “let me help you.” You took some real normal human actions here and the person you took them with has wildly betrayed not only your trust, but also the majority of social mores I can think of. You didn’t “put yourself” here, you just showed up in your own life and Mary hasn’t stopped punishing you since.

        You don’t deserve this punishment, buddy. You didn’t do anything wrong.

      • piny1 said:

        Yeah, “Damn me and my irrational need for human contact!” Abusive people prey on other people, and some of their most powerful tools are the social contract, the benefit of the doubt, the bonds of friendship and human compassion, etc. etc. It is not your fault that you are reluctant to treat her like the energy vampire she is! You are perfectly good and totally reasonable person. It’s like blaming a retiree for having a nice solid pension just waiting for a shady investment firm to swoop in and steal. Not on you! She sounds like a nightmare.

      • This is not your fault. This is not your fault.

        No buts. No what ifs (any plan that requires the use of a time machine to implement is a bad plan). This is not your fault.

    • Holy COWS OP, just holy COWS. So many cows with haloes are stampeding in every direction. I’m so sorry she’s doing this to you. This is literally unreal.

    • cupotae said:

      HO. LEE. FUCK.

      I hope you can flee this situation, and that you’re safe while you’re doing so. Nothing about this scenario is anywhere in the same city as normal, okay behavior. I’m going to go try to put my PTSD back in its box after reading that, and I hope you will please drop the good Captain a note soon saying that your life is mercifully Mary-free, because I think a whole bunch of strangers on the internet are going to be worried about you for a while.

      • roramich said:

        A-MEN, and seconded.

    • A Silver Spork said:

      Ahhhhhh! I’m reading this in bed and I had to hide under the blankets when I read this! There is no friendship here to salvage, LW. Mary is like an elephant, stomping all over your boundaries, except real elephants are actually very good at not stepping on things! So maybe more of a charging rhino. I think the best course of action is to distance yourself from her, and, sadly, from any friends who don’t do the same. I hope this is as simple as getting together as a group and putting a moratorium on inviting Mary anywhere, because trying to move to get away from her sounds horrible.

    • … that’s not a mom friend, that’s a toddler. And most toddlers settle down before 2 hours(!) unless they’re teething or have reflux or something.

    • Britpoptarts said:

      *hair spontaneously bursts into flame*
      AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

      Run away!!!

      This is emotional terrorism.

    • ianthe said:

      LW, I had a friend in college who would have massive, public tantrums when she didn’t get her way (she really wanted us to be extremely close besties; I did not want that) and ignoring those tantrums did not work either!! So I completely sympathize with you here. For me, the only thing that worked was getting my college’s Residence Life staff involved and having a mediated discussion with our RA and a Dean, and I still had to tell her, to her face, that I did not want to be her friend. And she reacted in a very scary way to being told this, but it was documented by our RA and then she wasn’t allowed to bother me anymore.

      I don’t know if you are in college/have access to something similar to a Residence Life (if you are, they can be amazing because they lend some extra bite to the boundaries you’re trying to enforce) but I would think the ONLY way to deal with Mary is to cut her off. You don’t need to tell Mary that you don’t want to see her anymore (she will ABSOLUTELY figure it out; and she’ll know why), but you do need your friends to back you up. They are hesitant to be proactive because it’s scary and uncomfortable when someone has a massive tantrum, and Mary’s tantrums sound PARTICULARLY ROUGH, but they need, at minimum, to stop inviting Mary over and stop inviting you to places where she’ll be. Setting boundaries with your “good” friends, the ones who don’t belittle and infantilize you and hold you hostage to their feelings, can be equally hard, because everyone wants to avoid upsetting Mary and therefore, in Mary logic, “causing” a tantrum. So Mary isn’t just squashing your boundaries with HER, she is making it harder for everyone in the group to set boundaries, even with each other!! But you need to be done with Mary. I hope your friends have your back every step of the way, but if they don’t, then you get to set boundaries with them too, up to and including not seeing them if they can’t keep Mary away from you.

    • tapati said:

      “I’ve removed myself from the room, etc and Mary has sat outside the door to the room I am in and LOUDLY CRIED for two+ hours before stopping”

      Even speaking as a person who had to learn about boundaries after I left my home where I had a mom in a super enmeshed relationship with me, I can’t remotely imagine behaving this way. This is straight up abuse. It goes beyond a mere boundary intrusion. One of my toddlers threw world class tantrums and they didn’t last remotely this long. This is an adult? This is a punishing manipulation that is meant to say “HOW DARE YOU IGNORE ME! YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO!”

      She is actively hostile to anyone who doesn’t watch and validate her drama and cede center stage at all times.

      There is no negotiating or boundary setting that will work with an actively hostile person like this. I’m so sorry she’s targeted you and your friend group but she’ll move on to fresh victims soon enough.

    • thathat said:

      “Mary has sat outside the door to the room I am in and LOUDLY CRIED for two+ hours before stopping, only to send me a text message that she had left a cup of tea and a bottle of water out for me and rewriting the whole narrative to be “[LW] was so upset and contrite that she locked herself in her room for hours and I, the Good And Loving Mary, tried to break through to her as best as I could!” which….yeah.”

      Well.

      There is something inside me screaming now, and I’m not entirely sure it will stop any time soon.

      I’m an easy crier, but *loud* crying really freaks me out. For an adult to sustain that for HOURS…and then to rewrite the narrative as you needing someone to “break through to you”…by sitting outside your door and wailing for hours…

      That is terrifying. Like, just straight up horror movie.

    • MusicWithRocksInIt said:

      Just… physically the energy and dedication it would take to cry audibly for two fricken hours – this blows my mind. That would take a toll on your body! Your ribs would hurt! Your throat! You would be dehydrated! Doing all this for some crazy show! That is next level messed up. Splashing around in a pool of drama is what this lady LIVES for. You will never be able to stop this from happening while around her because this is what she truly wants to do more than anything.

      • thathat said:

        That’s longer than my mom OR I cried that time that I had to physically wrestle her out of my Dad’s house when she tried to follow me in because she realized I was going to barricade myself inside rather than deal with her emotionally abusive ranting.

        Like, that’s longer than I’ve managed loud, sustained crying for the most devastating moments of my life by a good hour and 45 minutes.

      • Whingedrinking said:

        Right?! Like…babies cry loudly and at length because their lives literally depend on it. I haven’t raised infants myself, but I’ve been on planes during transatlantic flights when a child could not be soothed, and I’m sure none of them managed to carry on at top volume for a full two hours. Also, personally I’m one of those people who produces tears and mucus in equal quantities when she cries – that much vigorous weeping would put me through pretty much a whole box of Kleenex and give me a seriously chafed nose. That is some intense commitment.

      • Thanksforallthefish said:

        So true…I did cry for maybe 2 hours straight once. It was a very low emotional point for me. And…you’re right…I forgot just how very draining and straight-up physically painful that experience was. It was awful. I never want to do that again and thankfully I haven’t. I could not imagine doing that repeatedly.

    • Guava said:

      OH, LW.
      I want to make you a suit of chain mail entirely out of Evil Eye necklaces.

    • Clarry said:

      I hope you have no reason ever to follow this advice, but if someone was sobbing for 2 hours for no reason (or with reason), I think a call to 9-1-1 might be in order. The trick is to be honest with the operator. “I hope this turns out to be nothing, but my roommate has been sobbing uncontrollably for over an hour. I don’t know if she’s sick or hurt. She’s not bleeding, and she is conscious, but she’s not making sense. No, she doesn’t seem to have any sort of weapon, but she’s certainly out of control, and I’m afraid both of her and for her.” Then if they do send an EMT, you will have effectively called her bluff. You can tell her that if she gets into the same sort of state again, you will call them again. If they don’t, she doesn’t need to know about your call.

  40. Jaybeetee said:

    Also, I found myself low-key triggered reading all this, as it reminds me of a certain Vader Ex. Of course he never styled himself as a “Mom Friend” – he was A Mentor. But his behaviour was close to identical at times.

  41. oliver616616 said:

    I’ve wrestled with a couple of friendships like this – though not to quite the Mom level – where a “kind, well-meaning” person was actually terrible. Something that was difficult for me was getting over the idea of myself as selfish in relation to my friend’s unrivaled martyrdom. I was buying into the idea that “You can’t be ~mean~ to person! They [have had a Hard Life/only want the best/are so sensitive/etc.] you owe them fealty and friendship!”

    However you decide to deal with the situation, you have to let go of the idea of being “kind” to Mary. She’s the one hurting you. You’re not being cruel to her by setting hard boundaries, even if she takes it that way in the moment. Mary positions herself as the Mom and infantilizes you, but at the same time gets people to infantilize her (because she’s so empathetic/sensitive) so that they never hold her accountable. Mary – and even your other friends – might act like you standing up to her bull makes you a MONSTER who is CRUSHING HER POOR FRAGILE SOUL. Watch for tone & word policing, and invocation of Mary’s various sacrifices and troubles. You do not owe this person any more indulgence. Her feelings aren’t more real just because of how she displays them.

    • singularity said:

      “Her feelings aren’t more real just because of how she displays them.” Yes! My IRL mother is definitely a version of Mary, and it’s even more difficult to set boundaries when it’s an immediately family member. The response I get when I say no to her is usually, “But I’m just trying to help! I love you!” and “But we’re FAAAAMMILY”. Then she cries and won’t talk to anyone and my dad comes around and says, “Now, you hurt your mother’s feelings…” as if her hurt feelings are supposed to reset the conversation and make the boundary unnecessary. I don’t tell my mother anything important anymore because if I do, she turns it into a conversation about what she thinks I’m doing wrong.

      • oliver616616 said:

        Oof, that’s extra tough when it’s your actual mother. I have had to set a similar boundary with my dad, re: not telling him anything important.

        But yeah, I hate how you’ll have legit hurt feelings and thus try to set some boundary, but because the other person is wailing and flailing in the moment, they get painted as the victim. (I get bruised by the particular dynamic often.)

  42. FFS, Mary (probably very likely most definitely) needs a better therapist. It is very, very likely that she is lying through her teeth to her therapist (or rather, sharing her own skewed version of the “truth”), but a good therapist would help her work through seeing the other person’s point of view. Or suggest “If this upsets you so much, Mary, maybe you should take a step back from helping your friends, and focus on helping yourself”. Something along those lines.

    It wouldn’t shock me if her idea of “going to therapy” means “I’ve been watching Dr. Phil and praying about you.”

  43. Krista said:

    I have a “friend” like this – not to this level, and now that I have had some space her yelling really feels more like bullying than it used to.

    OKAY I JUST READ THE OPs UPDATE AND BOY HOWDY! SHE CRIED FOR TWO HOURS??? EVEN BABIES TIRE THEMSELVES OUT BEFORE THAT (MOST OF THE TIME!)!

    Everything out most precious Captain said in her reply to your update is perfect. I do believe you are allowed to take holy water home from the baptismal font but I would check with someone first.

    • emmelemm said:

      Right? I hate crying (although it’s sometimes necessary because emotions have to go somewhere), because it gives me an intense headache. The thought of crying AT someone for TWO HOURS has literally horrified me.

      • Nebula Ersatz said:

        Somewhat OT, but I’ve only recently learned that this is A Thing, and not just the way people work! I never understood why people talked about crying as this cathartic release until I realized that not everyone experiences incapacitating pain after crying.

    • Czarnoskrzydła said:

      Yeah, it’s scary really… it made me think that its way more manipulative and concious than I thought before. If she is just so emotionally unstable/very sensitive, she would probably tire sooner like a toddler… she is crying specifically to get a reaction and because the LW is ignoring her, she is keeping it up as long as she feels she has to – so it takes literal hours. It’s disturbing imo.

  44. slythwolf said:

    I meannnnn I’ve had “mom friends” in my friend group a couple of times in the past, and this ain’t it. The mom friend is like, the one who packs an extra water bottle for the hike in case someone forgets theirs.

  45. crooked bird said:

    You know, Captain, I love that you used vampire symbolism like it may have really come from this sort of person (and I really think it might!) because I’ve seen that too. Most especially I remember walking up to a friend’s door with an older lady who had temporarily inserted herself into my life (during a “spiritual retreat” which I’d just decided to leave early after realizing what manipulative BS it was) as the Kind Authority Figure who was helping Poor Hurting Me. She wouldn’t let me “go off alone” (i.e. leave the retreat when I chose to like adults do) but she couldn’t plausibly object to this nearby friend’s house, so she walked me there with Great Concern, gave me a cloying hug the instant my confused friend opened the door, and I swear I rushed through that door past the poor guy without asking, because y’know it was my friend’s house and I’d been invited before and…

    And Vampire Lady couldn’t come in. She hadn’t been invited. And suddenly I understood why that’s part of the legend…

    • JenniferP said:

      I was forced to go on a Catholic spiritual retreat for women in high school when I balked at making my confirmation (due to atheism) and the alternatives were: Do this or be kicked out/have no help with college.

      My roommate there, a woman 18 or so years older, somehow found out I was adopted, and decided I must be the reincarnated soul of the baby she’d regretfully aborted when she was 18. I was not the Captain you see before you today, I was merely a new recruit at awkward basic training, so I sat there for six (6)(SIX!) consecutive hours while this total stranger threw herself on her knees in front of me, clutched at me, hugged me, petted my hair, sobbed, moaned, wailed, and told me her entire life story including a lot…and I mean A LOT…of sex details. I thought this was what retreats were like (there had been a lot of uncomfortable ‘sharing’ in the group settings earlier in the day, I kept my sharing to ‘I really hope I hear about college acceptance soon!’) and did not know I was allowed to leave.

      Eventually a nun on the retreat staff came into our room to find out why we hadn’t come to dinner and I fled.

      I managed to spend the rest of the weekend “in silent prayer” in the chapel (i.e. reading novels and doing my calc homework in the chapel, a single-stall restroom with a lockable door on the attic level of the building, and an empty office I found, bouncing between them to confuse the lady and snatching naps on the thankfully-padded pews.) I wore the same underwear and clothes for all three days, my room was not safe to return to for more.

      She was a member of my church, so after the retreat was over she approached me at weekly mass and tried to mother and smother me relentlessly and weep and confess her problems to me and hug me and even my mom who had forced me to go on the retreat in the first place was like “This is very odd” and had the pastor have words with her. After that she’d keep her physical distance but start crying and wailing whenever she spotted me.

      Her name wasn’t “Mary” which means…there are more people like this.

      • Britpoptarts said:

        OMFG

        *dies of appallment*

      • roramich said:

        OH MY. OH MY WORD. THAT IS SO MUCH SOMETHING. SO VERY SOMETHING AWFUL.

      • MaryC said:

        Ugh! I am so sorry that happened to you! It sounds like a nightmare.

      • swallowfeather said:

        Wow. WOW.

        … uh, nice moves there with the chapel & restroom etc. Smooth.

        Wow.

      • Cassandra said:

        D:>

        That is one of the worst things I have ever heard. I am so sorry.

      • goddessoftransitory said:

        OH. MY. GOD.

      • Spicy Onion said:

        I’m a but late – but it is not unusual to refer to this as vampirism. There is a thing both in the occult and in a more psychological capacity referred to as Psychic Vampirism – kind of a tongue and cheek thing but still a very real type of person. Now, some people believe the occult version of this (which I am not going to get into due to the obvious reasons), but the psychological side of this is quite interesting. Psychic Vampires literally try to drain you with their over the top, boundary crossing, emotional black holes. They thrive off of this – and everyone (occultists and the like as well haha) recommend cutting these people out ASAP. You cannot wait around for this chick to figure this out about herself.

      • Holy shit, that is horrifying.

      • Planegirl said:

        Ooh my word, that is awful. Latching on to a young person half her age, and feeding off their most acute vulnerabilities – that is horrifying. It also says nothing good about the retreat organizers that they were so oblivious to this woman’s actions.

      • Wow. Just…wow.

        My first reaction was “Reincarnation?!?” and wishing that teen-you had told one of the nuns or priests there about it. I would’ve been very surprised if she’d kept her job, since reincarnation is extremely-against Catholic dogma. I’m suspecting that was a grooming attempt, and you were very smart to stay the fuck away from her after that.

        (No longer Catholic, btw).

        I’ve seen that kind of bs play out way too many times in the Pagan/New Age community: some older person gives fresh new person a line about “soulmates” or “karma” or “reincarnation” or some other bs justification for why the fresh newbie totally should sleep with the old rat.

      • slythwolf said:

        I can only echo everyone’s “Wow”, and add: wouldn’t it be great if your blog helps someone who finds themself in a similar situation to set a boundary and/or go to an authority figure at the retreat or wherever and say, this person is being super super weird and I need a different roommate. Thanks for everything you do, Cap.

  46. Britpoptarts said:

    Dear LW: I have a narcissist mother who sucks all the energy and attention in any venue into herself, and thrives on what she has stolen from everyone else. I find this exhausting.

    I also find your friend Mary exhausting, and here’s the good news: You are not related to her! It’s difficult to crowbar a difficult REAL mom out of your life to the appropriate degree (a little, for well-meaning moms just being moms and boundary-stomping their kids out of habit but who will listen and adapt; a lot, for toxic moms who MIGHT be trainable and can learn to treat you like a grown adult with different opinions; almost completely, for narcissist moms who suck all the air out of your lungs with what they say and do and then flash that little self-satisfied grin that gives the game away; and TOTALLY for moms who will never NOT be soul-crushingly awful to be around and who can never be managed or distracted or begged to behave like decent humans).

    Time to stop rewarding Mary when she acts out. Maybe also time to label what she is doing. It 100% doesn’t matter than she “means well” or whatever. You will be doing her a kindness to start weaning her off this “I want to mother my capable adult friends who don’t want or need mothering” kick. Maybe she needs pets to pour her mothering instincts into.

    Stop rewarding her with any kind of reaction (if possible) when she acts out. “I said no”, “I said I can handle this,” “I am doing the cooking, go sit down,” and other phrases may start having to be flung about on the regular, as being emotionally terrorized by the well-meaning IS EXHAUSTING.

    This smothery behavior does not magically get better if it goes unremarked and unaddressed.

  47. The Bibliotherapod. said:

    I will say that, having grown up in a family where this kind of co dependent behaviour (‘I make you the focus of my control/caring because boundaries might crack this fractured vessel and ruin us for good’) it was INCREDIBLY helpful to me when healthy people around me enforced their boundaries. Trying to smash every social relationship into the distorted frame of my family of origins patterns was so painful. Pain I was causing myself to others.

    That isn’t to say that I wasn’t distraught by what the boundaries brought up for me, but I then had the chance to process that in therapy, where it belonged. I knew that my way of relating was really messed up, I didn’t have a healthier way of relating but I became really motivated to figure it out when I began losing friends. Mary has a therapist, likely one who sees all this dysfunction going on. It’d be a gift to detach when Mary has a professional to help her process it.

    It’s certainly not your job, LW, to care for Mary’s feelings. Nor do you have to be the one to teach her. She may never change. By being clear and firm with her, it is a kindness, you are role modelling a way of being that isn’t so fraught with self created suffering. In hindsight, I am really glad for the friends who were tough on me. They made me want to learn to be better. I might never have done that personal work if everyone had let me carry on being a total nightmare.

  48. Shinobi42 said:

    She’s not a “mom friend” she’s a Helicopter Mom. 100%. Mom friends support you and find small ways of taking care of you. Helicopter Mom Friends swoop in and take over your life and infantileize you.

    I have learned via a younger friend that one thing helicopter parents really really hate is being called on being helicopter parents. Honestly, if you do have to tolerate her, I might start using that to correct her assumptions about herself. “You know me, I’m just a MOM.” “No, you’re a helicopter Mom it’s time to try some free range parenting.”

    “Oh look the emergency flight crew is here to keep me from chopping vegetables improperly.”

    “it’s a bird it’s a plane, it’s Helicopter Mary!”

    Mean? Yes, am I enjoying thinking of all the possible jokes to make about this. Also yes.

    I’m not sure teasing her about this is the best course of action. But man would I want to. She’s smothering you and trying to live your life for you instead of being a good friend. You deserve better. I hope you can get her out of your life.

    • slythwolf said:

      If the friend group has any kind of culture of teasing one another like this and the LW thinks there’s a possibility of getting Mary to change her behavior, this might be helpful. LW, it’s certainly not your responsibility to worry about this, but in my own life I always think about people who have caused me grief in the past that I hope they get whatever help they need and find some kind of joy because happy, well-adjusted people don’t treat others badly. So I hope you can find your way free of Mary’s smothering however you need to, and I hope you will put your own needs first in that process, but if you think you have the energy and/or wherewithal to influence her in some small way to change so she doesn’t go on to treat others like this, I support that. (If you don’t have that energy or don’t want to mess with it, I super support that too.)

  49. Czarnoskrzydła said:

    LW, mom-friend sounds kinda nice. Like someone who cares about you and loves you – so kindness and so on follow naturally.
    Maybe try reframing this to a parent-friend or even a boss-friend. Because in the end, it just means she appoints herself as the boss-of-you, the friend who is the parent to your child, the teacher to your student. It’s really insulting and controling if you take away all the fluffy mom-vibes from it.
    She is the I-control-things-here-friend because in the end that is what mom-child dynamic is, when the child is young. Mom takes care of the child, but also rules over the child and has authority over the child’s life completely if its small enough – and gets to create rules and punish if they are not followed. She gives and takes away privilages.

    I think when you reframe it like that she seems less kind very quickly. It’s something in the language – so no, not a mom-friend, a controling person who decided she is the boss of everyone like a parent to small children and uses a lot of toxic tactics that are suppose to create this association with a mother figure to make it more difficult to see past what is really is – toxic and manipulative and about control.

    • Czarnoskrzydła said:

      So I guess what I’m saying is that calling her the mom-friend imo normalizes pathological behaviours. Mom-friends exist and she is not one of them. It’s like calling a bf who beats you ‘passionate’ or something, or somone who is violently jealous ‘protective’.
      It’s finding a nice term that creates positive assosciations for something abusive. I think there’s a reason why she keeps calling herself mom-friend and puts so attention to this term. She knows what she is doing.

      • F as in Frank said:

        +1
        The only time I would change in the Captain’s scripts are the characterization of the behaviour as “mom like”.
        Being a parent should be a situation where you progressively work yourself out of a job so when everyone is adults you can hopefully be part of each others life and practice reciprocity. I say this as the oldest sibling who loves to help and give advice, as the responsible friend who is pretty good at organization and planning. I am constantly working on my reactions by teach my kids that they are capable and by observing others I care about doing things differently than I would while also recognizing that they can make their our choices without me meddling.

  50. Cassandra said:

    Three or four years ago my spouse and I invited a person we thought of as a friend to stay with us until she secured a steady job and apartment. (She’d found herself jobless and carless in a remote rural area with limited opportunities to improve her situation.)

    I could write thousands of words about her wildly inappropriate behavior, why my husband and I put up for it as long as we did, etc. In many ways the letter writer’s Mary sounds like a very different person—but what struck me as familiar was the bullshit about “oh, if not for me you silly children would buy naught but candy and toys!”
    That was a recurring jape our houseguest was fond of, too. She was a good cook and we were happy to let her make dinner sometimes, but grocery shopping with her was a nightmare of gritted teeth and forced laughter in the face of her “affectionate” “joking” about how my husband and I were incapable of feeding ourselves properly and isn’t it great that she’s there to take care of us blah blah.
    We hated it! We should have told her to knock it off the very first time but we were still far from the Fuck It, Fuck Her, Fuck This Whole Dysfunctional Situation event horizon, so we didn’t.

    Anyway, the dynamic where Mary “jokingly” condescends about her friends’ shopping and eating habits is an especially red red flag to me. I wish the letter writer courage and peace and hope she can exit the dynamic sooner and with fewer really goofy and exhausting fireworks than we did.

  51. thebimmerguy said:

    First-time commenter here.

    Oh, jeez. I used to *be* a Mary. Sort of. I never had outbursts, because I was too proud to admit that someone or something had gotten under my skin. But you’d better believe that if I asked, “Could you watch my dog for the weekend?” or “Do you want to hang out?” or “Can we have sex tonight?”, and you said no, you *dared* deny me something I wanted(?!?!?!?!)…I would treat you to filthy looks and a silence so frosty it could be served as a Dairy Queen desert item. And then if you asked me if I was angry, I would give you a response right out of the passive-aggressive textbook: “[Huff] Why would I be angry?”

    But, you know what? That stopped working for me, and as I lost more friends over perceived slights, I had to get over my ridiculous behavior.

    These days, I definitely try and do what CA suggested, and pay close attention to the way people behave when you tell them no, especially new people life. For instance, sometime last year, I had a guy I was seeing who invited me to cuddle one night. I told him I couldn’t because I had work in the morning. Really, I just didn’t feel up to it (and also had work in the morning.) Anyway, he immediately stopped texting me that night, and what was a steady, ongoing conversation turned into a trickle over the next few days while he expected me to ruminate in the consequences of What I Did Wrong. I wish I had paid attention that and dropped him right there, because he later shocked me by sending a racist screed after I told him no for something else.

  52. LW said:

    I feel bad for continually popping in, I am so so sorry for continually alarming people!

    Nothing like the horrified reactions of other people to make you realize how utterly insane the behavior you have become accustom to is…Turns out you can become used to being held hostage by crying at least once a month and not think anything of it….

    Mary is my housemate but sadly I cannot move out. The house is literally mine (my grandmother gave it to me in her Will when she passed, and I have been very fortunate to have a home that I could share with my friends) or else I would’ve moved out already. I had offered to let her stay with me to help her get away from a very bad situation. She and I had been friends for 8+ years prior, and while she had always been a Feels Too Much sort of friend, this controlling, manipulative behavior is super new. She went from the “good mom friend” (always prepared with otc medicine and granola bar) to the “bad mom friend” once we were living together.

    Of course, none of this is to justify anything, but rather clarifying. I had hoped I could avoid the Going Nuclear option and just figure out a way to live with her until she moves out (which she says will happen this summer)…But I might have to press that button sooner.

    Thanks again, to everyone who commented and shared their stories. My heart breaks for everyone whose actual mother is like This. I hope you are all safe, loved, wrapped in a warm blanket with firm boundaries.

    I am asking Mary to give me a move out date and I am going to hold her to it. Wish me luck!

    • JenniferP said:

      You have nothing to apologize for, the additional details have been very helpful in quickly demonstrating that the initial giant-ass answer full of sooooooooo many words from me would not actually work because you were already ignoring the outbursts and she was escalating. Your comments gave useful info, we could see that this was already at “take specific steps to avoid/extract yourself” levels, and I’m not even gonna poke fun at you for burying the lede – classic advice column style – with “My wonderful friend sometimes ALSO keeps me prisoner!” because your gradual reveal of details is so educational for other people about what the fog of being inside this kind of relationship feels like, the way we normalize and rationalize things to ourselves and then it’s only when other people see what’s happening we can find our own “yikes!” button.

      Because she is your tenant, and I have had the experience of trying to evict an abusive housemate from a place I was the leaseholder and failing (so I had to leave the apartment and she stayed), I have a few additional safety suggestions:

      -Get incredibly familiar with landlord-tenant law where you live, consult an expert attorney if need be. Follow every rule about how to communicate with a tenant to the ‘t’ (in writing), and document every step (in writing). Do not mention consulting a lawyer or doing legal research to Mary, just do it so you are protected if she refuses to move out. You don’t want to tip your hand and give her the idea there is a legal case she could make for staying.

      -Tell her verbally what you want re: moving out and then give her the suggested written/emailed notice. When/if Mary sees written communications and freaks out about that, your scripts are 1) “Hey, Mary, no need for alarm, I just want to make sure I do absolutely right by you and putting things in writing is the best way, especially since we’re friends. Ever since I inherited the house I’ve had to get really organized about this stuff, thanks for understanding! ” 2) “The legalese is just here to separate FRIEND-LW from LANDLORD-LW, I don’t want to skip any steps just because you’re my friend, this way we’re protected!” Cheerful tone, firm boundaries. P.S You can issue her a move-out date, if you wait for her to find one and actually stick to it we might be here in 2021 and you’ll have 1,000 cups of tea cooling in your hallway.

      -Secure important paperwork, private documents, pets, computer security, passwords, financial details, browser history so that they are Mary-proof. Once you tell Mary to move out and she does not want to, the two of you are in an adversarial relationship. I’d rather you be Too Careful and not need it than find out that Wait, Mary Reads Your Email Now, Too.

      -Once you ask her to leave, you’re in stealth “please go quietly” mode, not “let me try to rescue my friendship or reason with my old friend” mode. Keep it light, vague, cheerful, positive, no deep topics, “let’s have a pleasant time!”

      -Have an answer ready for “Why” when you ask her to move out, and think of other breakups with people who are not letting go. Own the decision as YOUR needs (vs. trying to get her to understand it’s her behavior). You don’t want to argue on that territory, instead try “I was so glad to be able to be a landing place, but I’m getting antsy to live alone again and I think I’ll be happier with a clear timeline for that, can you help me?”

      Your subjective opinion is actually the strongest argument for her to go, resist trying to find a “neutral,” “objective” reason. “Oh, I just think it’s best for me if I have my space again” or “I just think this is what will work for me.” The second you try to act like you want her to stay but it’s just that the air conditioning/renovations/schedule etc. is getting in the way, you are presenting her with a list of problems to helpfully solve so she can stay forever. She’ll do that anyway, don’t help her.

      I don’t think she’s gonna go easy but I’m relieved you have a plan.

      • Sel said:

        omg, please, please, PLEASE LW follow this advice to the letter. I wasn’t gonna comment because everyone has already said what I would have, but because it’s clear that you’re reading this I just want to emphasize that Mary is abusive and manipulative and she will NOT move out simply because you ask her to. Make sure you have all your ducks in a row so that if you must forcefully evict her, you can, and she cannot retaliate legally. Please, please protect yourself. And please get Mary the fuck out of your home forever.

        Good luck.

        • Yes, to all of this. Please.

        • Thistledown said:

          Yes, please take care of yourself. There is absolutely no chance that Mary will move out without a fight.

        • bluephone said:

          Yes to all of this. I know money issues might be a big factor in why Mary became a tenant/is still a tenant and I really do sympathize but omg, a rabid raccoon would make a better housemate than Mary at this point. The trash it brings in could probably fetch PECO money on Etsy and/or you could get influencer dollars if you created an Instagram account for your growling, foaming, furry new tenant. So that would take care of some of the money aspect and also, a rabid raccoon would be waaaaaaaay less stressful and manipulative than anything Mary has done or could do.

        • Especially the pets; if you can get someone to watch them or can afford to take them to long-term boarding, that’s ideal.

      • MamaCheshire said:

        +1 to all of this as someone who once had to take adversarial steps to kick out a suddenly-scary-dangerous housemate from a house I held the mortgage for.

      • Amy said:

        LW, please take CA’s advice to check with a local lawyer about tenant law in your area! I know lawyers are expensive and feel like an escalation, but you need to know what your legal rights and responsibilities as a landlord are in a case like this. There is a reasonably high chance that you’ll end up needing to formally evict Mary–it hopefully won’t come to that, but it might–and you want all your T’s crossed and your i’s dotted if it does become necessary. You want that information BEFORE it’s necessary so you know what documentation you should be keeping, etc.

        When you do ask her to move out, one strategy you should consider is controlling the message. Mention to your mutual friends that you’re really excited to be living alone again, you haven’t been able to adjust to having a housemate, etc. Build up that narrative starting now (little comments like “Oh yeah…well, I guess that’s the downside of having roommates haha” can start building the impression you’re not thrilled with the situation without getting too explicit). When you ask her to move out, she will likely try to twist it into something like “poor OP doesn’t feel like she deserves friendship! is struggling to be around people! needs help and care and love!” to your friends–either that or “poor me, I don’t understand what happened, why does OP hate me now?” By controlling the narrative in advance, you take away her ability to gaslight you and your friends into believing her version–your friends can be like “okay but OP’s been wanting to live alone again for a while, why is this a surprise?” and “It’s nothing personal, OP just misses having her own space.”

    • nnn said:

      Hi LW,

      I made some comments elsewhere in the thread before I saw that you’d updated, and I now see my comments are inapplicable, so please do disregard me 🙂

    • Okay, you need a lawyer, NOW.

      Also, you need to grasp right now, today, that what you are suffering falls directly under the purview of domestic violence advocates. Yes, I know, you’ll be thinking, “but it’s not that bad and those resources are for those who have it worse than I,” but you’d be wrong. You’re not safe in your own home — this person physically attacks you and barricades you in your room denying you free access to things like plumbing.

      You know when doctors do the thing they’re supposed to do and ask you if you’re safe in your home? YOU’RE ONE OF THE PEOPLE THEY’RE TRYING TO IDENTIFY AS NEEDING ALL THE HELP, RIGHT NOW.

      Call a hotline. Find out what the local resources are in your jurisdiction(s). If there is a local helpline or advocate number, call it — these are the people who can help you understand how to legally free yourself from this mess a lot sooner.

      • JenniferP said:

        Your instincts and recs are rarely wrong where this is concerned. Letter Writer: Call. Make a safety plan.

      • Serafina said:

        Lawyer here: THIS.

        If the domestic violence advocates aren’t able to help, try also your state and/or county’s bar association website. Many have an official Lawyer Referral Service (NEVER use a for-profit one) that will put you in touch with lawyers willing to do a free or flat-rate (usually $25-$75) consultation on certain subjects (you’d be looking for landlord/tenant and/or eviction help) for half an hour to an hour. Write down and trim down the issues as much as possible to bullet points, such as “(1) I want non-paying tenant out, (2) tenant is also a friend but has become physically and mentally aggressive, (3) I’m concerned tenant may do XYZ, soooo…bottom line, what steps can/should I take to get this done without legal OR physical risk?”

        • Britpoptarts said:

          In my area, the group to call is Legal Aid. They don’t just help financially-struggling or indigent clients, they also do referrals.

      • Saskia said:

        I completely agree this is a domestic abuse situation, and heartily encourage LW to take action and get advice from DV advocates immediately.

      • My mind keeps running to a bunch of strategies:

        I’d want to establish a paper trail as fast as humanly possible that this person has been told they do not have permission to touch me, ever, under any circumstances. And then I’d be littering the house with nannycams to capture the evidence when she does. And if someone parked themselves outside my door crying loudly, I’d tell them that if they are so out of control that they can’t go to their own room to cry, I would of course have to call emergency services for them because that is potentially a major medical event.

        But you want professional domestic violence advocates advising you on such matters, for two reasons: 1) They know, or can help you find out, what documentation and evidence works and is understood by your local courts and law enforcement, and 2) They know patterns because they hear this stuff all the time, and thus have a real feel for what tactics will work on a particular pattern of abusive behavior and what might backfire and put you in greater danger — the goal isn’t just to get this woman gone, but to have you escape unscathed, and that is not remotely a given right now.

    • Morticia said:

      Please don’t feel bad. We are glad to hear from you. I wish you the very best of luck.

      • Cathy Boo said:

        This! Sometimes when people who want our best freak out about how we’re being treated (like the horror my friends expressed when I finally stopped protecting my ex-husband from my friends’ wrath by revealing to them how had been treating me), their horror can feel directed at or deserved by you because “how could you possibly have accepted this?” comes out instead of “how could he possibly have used your goodness to allow you to believe you deserved this?” You haven’t done a darn thing wrong by not realizing earlier and having a big heart doesn’t mean you have a small brain. Please be kind to yourself, both by getting away and by knowing the good in you has been abused, not the dumb in you hasn’t seen it sooner. You’re fine! You know better, so you’ll do better, but you aren’t the bad guy for having tried to be the good guy.

    • Shackleford Hurtmore said:

      Mary scares me, and I’ve never even met her.

      Don’t forget changing all the locks the same day she moves out.

      Be prepared for last-minute attention-stretching tricks like “can I leave this box here and collect it next week”, “i forgot to change my mailing address can I pop over to collect”, etc.

      Are there any neighbours or other tenants who need to be kept in the loop of what is happening so they can avoid “helping” her if she hangs around later?

      Kia kaha! You’ve got this.

      • Britpoptarts said:

        You can head off at least one of those delaying tactics, once you get her new address. Put her change of address notice in for her, if possible. It’s been awhile since I had to do it, but I don’t think it requires info you wouldn’t have, unless rules have changed? Anyway, won’t it be nice to say, “I took care of that forwarding-your-mail thing for you because I know moving is stressful.”

        No requirement to do it, but this way you know it is done, and it cuts off “Oh, I forgot to forward my mail” unannounced drop-bys.

        • BigDogLittleCat said:

          And if you don’t have her new address, write “NOT AT THIS ADDRESS – Forward or Return” on any mail that comes in for her.

          It’s NOT YOUR PROBLEM if she doesn’t get her mail because she didn’t put in for forwarding.

      • Jers said:

        Omg the locks! Yes! Buy new locks in anticipation of her leaving by force with cops and change them that very day. Bc Mary will be back because ‘she forgot her socks and you weren’t home so….’. And ‘I just want to talk…..’.

    • tapati said:

      Everything the Captain said plus reiterating her earlier comment about your bedroom needing it’s own key lock for added security. Mary is likely to become magnitudes more dangerous like any abuser when a relationship is ending.

    • Jers said:

      LW it’s a red flag for me that you keep apologizing. I grew up with a mom who was (very correctly) diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Long story short i grew up with almost zero sense of entitlement and while i recognize healthy boundaries i still struggle to set and enforce, though i’m Way better. But one thing i notice i still do, is apologize for normal things. Like when it’s busy and i order a drink from the bartender, i apologize for making him bring it. Yeah i know. It’s odd. But you wrote, we chose to read, and we chose to comment. We’re not horrified for US, we’re horrified for YOU. Mostly we’re horrified Mary exists in your universe. Also, despite what Cap said, if Mary hasn’t paid you money to live there, she will not be classified in many states as a tenant, and if so, will be way easier to get rid of. You say housemate but don’t specify if money has changed hands. If money hasn’t been paid, you can chuck her at will in some states. Do all the stuff Cap says about extracting her. Because i have a sneaky feeling she will not go easily. Do document all of her crazy stuff in writing (like every single time she holds you hostage). If it’s particularly jarring to hear, you might consider recording her as this can be helpful for a judge to hear in court, should the eviction process prove troubling. It might be the thing that convinces the judge this isn’t a landlord tenant dispute or a friendship gone wrong, but a potentially serious safety issue at hand. Keep a log, email it to yourself often to create time stamps.

      • bradc said:

        Unless she’s been there for a very short period of time (like less than 30 days), I’d be surprised if you didn’t still have to go through a formal eviction process (or at least a variation of it) for an unpaid but long-term tenant.

        But I agree the details will vary by state, and possibly even by county/city, so don’t rely on legal advice from a comment thread, LW, find an attorney familiar with how it works where you are.

        But absolutely spot-on advice regarding keeping careful, written documentation!

    • goddessoftransitory said:

      PRESS THAT BUTTON, LW!

      It’s never going to be a good time. Mary makes it her life work to smother any “good” time to do anything remotely uncomfortable in its cradle under the tonnage of her issues.

      Give HER the move out date. If you need to call the local sheriff to enforce it (I’ve had to do this in my past as a building manager, and it’s not fun, but having an outside, real-life Law and Order type to undercut the wailing and shenanigans is invaluable, I promise you.)

      • Solestria said:

        THIS. Mary may never leave voluntarily. Issue her a move-out date in official capacity and get your house and life back. You don’t have to live like this.

        Routing for you, LW.

    • Saskia said:

      LW, Mary is an abusive person who is terrorizing you in your own home. Please take the Captain’s advice and return to comment all you like.

      Assemble Team You and go nuclear as all fuck. You deserve to be safe and free from Mary the unfriend.

      • Thistledown said:

        Yes! Please continue to comment as much as you would like. Captain Awkward never asks for updates, so that nobody feels pressure. But you should feel free to send updates, if you would like to do so. The Friends of Captain Awkward forum is a place you could get additional support/advice as you work through this process once comments are closed here.

    • Thais said:

      LW, in addition to the Captain’s great suggestions (especially legal!!), if you have the financial and logistical resources, it can be helpful to also have a scheduled service to help keep firm the date Mary must move out. As the Captain said, you wanting her out is reason enough for her to leave and also the best reason. But speaking as someone who has been in a similar circumstance and sometimes has trouble enforcing boundaries, once the move out date was issued, I scheduled some invasive and disruptive house maintenance services for right after the move out date. It helped me stay firm, and it helped that my home would be obviously less hospitable or habitable right at after that date. Additionally, the service timing wasn’t a ‘problem to fix’ because it was happening post move out. If the person is out as they agreed to, then why would it be a problem that the water would be shut off for two days? If the person is prone to stretching any deadline, having an exterminator scheduled right after enforced that there’s a firm time because all living things must leave the house for the pest control treatment. Be familiar with and don’t violate tenant/landlord eviction rules. In my situation it just helped me stay firm against manipulation and gaslighting. It also helped me do the “vague, cheerful, positive” mode that the Captain recommends, because I wasn’t steeling myself up for the deadline enforcing countdown as much.

      It depends on the flavor of manipulator you’re dealing with, but, for my manipulative “fixer” who “knew what was best for me,” it really helped to:

      1) Communicate/own a decision as centering my needs, as suggested by the Captain. This would at some point get “accepted.” But when my person pushed against that decision, because of course *they* knew my needs best…

      2) I made sure that violating and attempting to change that decision would not just impact my needs, but also other, outside people (the friendly plumber). I was so used to my needs being trampled and pissed on that sometimes I would realize that something would negatively impact the outsider before I realized that whatever action was trying to manipulate me and erode my decision. It’s not a long term solution (that would be lots of therapy lol), but I have employed it in times of confrontation with a specific kind of manipulator.

      Additionally, if there is anyone you trust to have your back and back you up, it’s very helpful to have them accompanying you on move out day. I don’t know how much stuff Mary has at your house, but hiring movers is also a great way to keep the deadline.

      Good luck, LW! I know you said you had wanted to avoid Going Nuclear, but, if it helps, Mary went nuclear on you long ago. Friends don’t hold people hostage for HOURS crying outside a closed door at least once a month, not to mention all of the horrible other behavior you described. She is not just cruel and rude, she is deeply unsafe. Protect yourself! In my situation I had felt guilty about leveraging my landlord powers/privileges, cause we’re all friends, right? If it’s just a friend conflict, why am I elevating it? But here’s the thing, the person in my situation and Mary are not being friends, they left that behind long long ago. They’re abusers in friend’s clothing.

    • Amy said:

      She’s not going to move out this summer (at least, not of her own will). From her perspective, the status quo is great! She gets somewhere comfortable to live. She gets constant access to you–the current object of her campaign to convince herself she’s a Caring And Helpful Person. She can compel attention from you just by sitting down in her own hallway and crying. She has every reason to think you’re going to continue to allow her to do this basically indefinitely. There is nothing about this situation that doesn’t work for her.

      The one it doesn’t work for is *you*. Your boundaries are being trampled, you’re being forcibly barricaded in your room for hours on end, you can’t have comfortable friend gatherings in your own house, your life is being taken over by Mary. None of these are your fault–but since you’re the only one of the two of you suffering in the status quo, unfortunately you’re realistically the one who will actually take action to end it. She’s not moving out on her own, and she’s probably not respecting a friendly agreement to move out on a certain date. Please look into what’s needed to legally evict her, and prepare to guard your valuables well in the process.

    • Bagpuss said:

      LW – please don’t apologise! It’s helpful having you pop in and respond.
      I agree with posters saying that you need to talk to al lawyer NOW, and find out exactly what you ned to do (and avoid doing) to get MAry out of your home.

      I also think that you ned to accept that you may lose Mary’s “friendship” over it and that that is OK.
      You can chose to be friendly towards herif you want, but if she decides that you are ‘mena’ or ‘cruel’ or ‘heartless’ because you evict her, and that she can’t be ‘friends’ anymore that is her choice and it’s OK.

      I would endorse the captains suggestion to give her reasons like wanting your own space (and remind yourself that at this pouint, it is about getting her out of your home as quickly and with as little drama or dangetr to you as you can. The fact that after she hs gone you may choose to take in a different house mate / tenant is also OK. telling her you want your space rather than that you want her out because she is a manipulative and abusive roommate is a white lie you tell her for your own safety and sanity, you don’t have to keep to it after hte event!)

      When you speak to the lawyer about evicting her, make sure that you tell them about her abusive behaviour so they can advise you as to waht diference that makes. (I’m in the UK where the rukes are different so I can’t comment on the legal side of things)

      Good Luck, and stay safe.

  53. “The clutching and kissing especially feels like the kind of vampire shit that led my Yia-Yia to carry raw garlic in her bra and festoon it around all the windowsills in case something followed her from the old country so it could drain her life force. Mary doesn’t suck your blood but she does suck your agency, joy, attention, autonomy, trust in your right to set boundaries, or ability to express any authentic emotion in her presence without her feeding on it somehow. If I knew of magical emotional vampire-repellent that would work without you needing to endure more difficult conversations where she tramples your needs and applies her mouth to your head, you better believe I’d be shipping it to you and instructing you to smear it on all of your thresholds and also to research whether the civic water supply or an airborne formula delivered via crop-duster is the best way to inoculate the rest of the town.”

    This is truly the best paragraph I have ever read in an advice column. It’s magnificent.

    • JenniferP said:

      Aw, thank you friend, if you’re not watching What We Do In The Shadows on FX, let’s find a kind sponsor to fly you here so we can watch it together and I can be there when you come to understand the comedy glory that is Colin Robinson, Energy Vampire.

      • emmelemm said:

        Colin Robinson is the most brilliant character in the history of the universe, without exaggeration.

      • !!! What is this! I know and love the movie and had no idea there is a TV series now. Very excited.

        • Britpoptarts said:

          I didn’t know it was out yet! OMG!! I am not 100% sure I even have FX with my basic cable package, but you best believe I will check when I get home.

      • Guava said:

        The episode where Colin meets Evie, the Emotional Vampire, is pure, solid, 24K gold.

      • Planegirl said:

        In the UK we have this on the BBC, and it is gold. As Guava says, the episode with Evie the Emotional Vampire is so funny-true it hurts – I was gasping with appalled laughter all the way through.

  54. SadieMae said:

    Miss Manners suggests that, in cases where someone is being difficult or demanding at a gathering and won’t stop, the host can send them away politely but in a way that makes it clear such behavior isn’t appropriate.

    For instance, let’s say Mary is at a dinner party and reacts with crying or complaining when she’s told not to help with the cooking. You can give her some time to calm down if you like, but with most Marys, they’ll continue to cry/whine and will follow you if you try to leave the room. At this point, the host (or a group of “concerned” friends) says, “Goodness, Mary, I can tell you’re very upset. I think you’re just not up for a gathering tonight, and in the circumstances, we couldn’t burden you by asking you to stay. Let me get your coat.” Any argument/recrimination from Mary is met with a bland smile and repetition of, “Oh goodness no, we couldn’t possibly ask you to stay when you’re feeling so awful. You must go home and rest.” Do not explain, do not argue, do not back down. Just politely but firmly hustle her out the door.

    It helps if you talk to a few understanding mutual friends beforehand and let them know this might happen. They can back you up if/when the time comes.

    This can be repeated if necessary and adapted to different situations. A variation would be not inviting Mary to certain gatherings at all and saying, if she finds out and asks why not, “Oh gosh, Mary, you always seem so upset when someone else is cooking dinner. We didn’t want to put you in that position again. Let’s wait and we’ll see you at Event X instead.” And if she insists she wants to come or whines about not being invited, no argument/explanation, just “No, of course we couldn’t put you through that again.”

    However you choose to handle it, LW, good luck! You are a kind person and I’m sure many non-head-smoochers would be glad to have you as a friend.

  55. nnn said:

    Specifically for crying, it might possibly be defuseable a bit by giving her space when she’s crying, on the grounds that *of course* a person wants space when they’re crying!

    Like imagine someone for whom you have complete sympathy starts crying but is struggling to control it, averting their face to hide it, giving it everything they’ve got to pull themselves together. You’d step away, avert your eyes, give them a moment to compose themselves and fix their makeup, and then resume as though nothing has happened.

    If it’s possible to step away from a crying Mary the same way, with a vibe of “Of COURSE I’m giving you room to compose yourself with dignity!” that would deprive her of the attention she gets from crying without any vibe of “I am punishing you by depriving you of attention.”

  56. A said:

    Hi LW,

    In light of your extra comments that Mary lives in your house, I have a couple suggestions on top of the Captain’s great advice. You might already be doing these as you seem to have been dealing with this beyond ridiculous behaviour for a long time now and they are similar to the Captain’s advice in other posts, so ignore if redundant.

    It seems like you have mutual friends and maybe y’all do cooking at your house? Mary probably feels like this is her home turf since she lives there. Until she moves out (and I hope that comes very, very soon for your sake), maybe hold off on having mutual friends over to your place. It sucks, but since Mary inserts herself into everything, you are unlikely to get much quality friend time with her around. Instead, try to go one-on-one or small group hangouts with friends outside your house without Mary knowing it’s happening. Do not let her tag along. You need time away from her. You need to be able to chat with your friends about good and bad things without her taking over and trying to solve non-existent problems.

    In the same vein, if you and her are headed to the same event because of mutual friends, do not carpool. This may seem cruel or like you are killing the earth since you live together, but you need to be able to go “NOPE!” and drive/skate/helicopter away if she gets out of hand (as she always seems to) without being obligated to drive her home because you came together. Make up fake errands or appointments that you need to run /alone/ before or after if she tries to insist you drive/transit/tandem bike to wherever you are going. Don’t give her any specifics about what these fake appointments are because it is not her business and she will latch onto anything. Frankly, I think you could probably use some appointments with Dr. Peace and Dr. Quiet, so don’t even think of them as fake. Hopefully, you don’t end up in too many joint situations though before she leaves and you get to turn your home into a tantrum-free sanctuary.

    I’m sending well wishes and jedi hugs (if you want them) your way.

    • Britpoptarts said:

      The “take separate cars” advice is gold.

      I had a roommate with whom I tried to carpool places, with the understanding that the Designated Driver would not drink more than one alcoholic drink, and would do that early on, so as to be sober when it was time to go home. My roommate would regularly be unable to control the urge to pretend it was not her turn to be the DD. She’d drink and take candy from strangers and then be unable to drive. I don’t drink much anyway, but there were several nights where I had to sit while still tipsy in a dark parking lot in a shitty part of town with a drunk person I was feeling resentful toward, and unable to safely drive home right away. Or I’d have to drive her car, which I did not like to do (I was not on her insurance policy). We stopped carpooling after about 2-3 repetitions of this (I’m a slow learner). I’m introverted and sometimes I missed out on events because I didn’t have the emotional energy to go all by myself and meet my roommate or other friends there, but when I did go out, I was able to go home when I got tired, and not wait for someone else to get their shit together. I also opted out of being the person who’d drive my roommate back to her car if I ended up taking her home, drunk, in mine. Take a taxi, and that’s not gonna be me.

      Over a DECADE later, we discovered that we were not two depressed people dealing with depression, but one mis-diagnosed bipolar person who had not been treated for the mania part of the equation for thirty+ years and one depressed person who wouldn’t even begin to know what a manic episode felt or looked like. Suddenly a lot of the out-of-character impulsive (or downright thoughtless, selfish & irresponsible) behaviors my friend would sometimes exhibit, to everyone’s puzzlement, were put into a framework we both could understand. And, at the time, separate cars hurt no one’s feelings and resolved a BIG problem! Plus also, we’re still friends!

      DEFINITELY do the separate cars thing!

      I’m thinking, too, that sometimes worrying less about the WHY of a behavior issue is a lot less necessary than figuring out a HOW (to deal with said behavior you don’t like). Sure, I wanted to know why my friend was acting like a jackhole sometimes, when there seemed to be no rhyme or reason behind it, but the most important thing was to extricate myself from any fall-out that her unpredictable behavior might cause. I just needed to figure out HOW, and separate vehicles was the answer. Even if her precise diagnosis had been known to either of us at the time, it wouldn’t matter, as it wouldn’t excuse bad behaviors and what really mattered was the HOW to deal part.

      Who cares WHY Mary is acting like a professional Ancient Greek mourner outside your door for hours on end? You just want to know HOW to get her to cut it the fuck out. If I thought taking a video of her behaving like this and showing her what it looked and sounded like would help her get a grip, instead of escalating matters, I’d suggest that. BUT! Having a video security system in place (one she doesn’t necessarily know about) once she moves out (or during the process) couldn’t hurt, though, if you think she is likely to do anything that the local law enforcement types might need to know about.

  57. EllenS said:

    When I was a kid I once threatened to hold my breath until I turned blue unless my mom did (whatever the thing I wanted).

    Mom said, “Go right ahead. Make sure you’re sitting down so you don’t hit your head when you faint.”

    It was very instructive.

    Along the same principle, I learned with my own toddlers that they can scream until they throw up. But they can’t actually scream themselves to death. And throwing up on yourself really takes the edge right off a good tantrum.

    The empowering part of both my and my kids’ experiences was that we learned you can survive those feelings. They feel very bad for a while, and then they stop.

    Perhaps Mary has never had an opportunity to learn that. High time she did.

    • EllenS said:

      Oh gee manee,. I just saw the update about being barricaded in your room. Never mind all this, GTFO.

      You are hereby absolved of being “nice” to this person. This has no resemblance to any kind of normal friendship. This is the “Mother Gothel” character from Tangled.

      Do not under any circumstances get in a power struggle over cooking with this person. Knives? Boiling water? Dear lord, stay away, and don’t eat anything she cooks after you start pulling free.

      Just get safe, and get out.

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      “throwing up on yourself really takes the edge right off a good tantrum.”
      QFT. And LOL.

  58. Anon for this said:

    I used to be a crier. As a grade school kid, I was a crier. Less and less as the years went by. Because I didn’t want to be a ‘crybaby’. Somewhere in my early thirties, I worked at unlearning that. Then sh… happened.

    I rarely cry these days. That is not a good thing.

    • Annafel said:

      *jedi hugs* if you want them. I am a huge crier. All strong emotions leak out my eyes. It’s often inconvenient and I have tried very hard without success to control it. I absolutely believe you that whatever has made you stop crying is not a good thing 😦

      To LW, on the topic of uncontrollable crying–it embarrasses me and I usually try to get away by myself so I don’t make other people uncomfortable. When that isn’t possible, particularly if I’m in the middle of an important conversation with someone, I make sure to keep my voice as clear and steady as I can and I ask them if we can both pretend I’m not crying, and usually the other person is relieved. I think this is a pretty reasonable way for a person who can’t stop crying to behave? Mary’s way is SUPER NOT.

  59. JetGirl said:

    I can’t stop screaming in horror, LW. But wishing you all the luck in extracting yourself from this situation, and hope that, once you are on the other side of this, that you can make bank by selling your story to Lifetime.

  60. goddessoftransitory said:

    All I can say is, I can’t believe Mary isn’t in a shallow grave while LW and her friends vow a solemn blood oath to Never Speak Of This Again, and I want to buy her therapist all the drinks on the planet.

    • Leonine said:

      That’s a very upsetting image.

  61. Jynnan_Tonnyx said:

    I haven’t even finished reading your reply, Captain, but I just felt moved to say thank you! I’ve been a lurker and reader of your blog for years now, and if it weren’t for your influence (and the influence of people like you), I may very well have ended up a LOT like the LW’s Mary.

    So, thank you for what you do here on this blog!!!

    • Jers said:

      If it makes you feel better, i used to exhibit some tendencies to ‘help’ unasked. Nothing remotely on scale of Mary. And sure we all do sometimes. i was raised by a malevolent BPD mother, who honestly had not a scrap of empathy for a soul except herself. And while i can pity her in the abstract, living with it growing up was really hard and i luckily got therapy and learned early that i don’t actually have to justify my existence in life by doing for others. I dont’ have to earn my space by sacrificing. Luckily i had some good friends give me some good feedback. I mean i never forced myself on people and i always heard the ‘no’ and was properly mortified. But the fact people had to tell me ‘no’ meant there was a boundary i was either sitting on the edge of, or jumping over. And i know now it was because my mother was never remotely decent to me unless i was doing something for her. So I learned to try to think up ways to please her. My worth was defined solely by my utility to her. Any time i had needs (sick, even hospitalized) she got so angry, like how could I be a human being with actual medical needs? My most basic needs (literally food, shoes, clothing, school supplies) angered her. I learned early to never ask or expect anything from anyone, and that working to do for others was safer. Turns out it’s not really and just sets you up to attract Marys and all sorts of abusive and vampiric folk. Mostly bc you attract all folks initially, but the boundaried ones will not suck up your space so if you’re shy or self conscious about making new friends and there’s a vampire invading, usually not horridly so at first, you let them bc heck it’s way easier than the fear of being rejected by new people. So gradually your life is taken over by toxic vampires and before you realize it, poof, you’ve recreated (well me not you) your childhood complete with weiners who suck all your life energy out.
      And when you make mistakes with the boundaried folks you see it as proof taht this is the best you can do. Which is wrong.
      Cap helps keep me sane. Therapy did a lot. Most of it really. But the blog posts are a good reminder for me that it’s ok to be human. Also some of the posts have me snorting with laughter. Esp the bit about yia yia and the old country…

  62. Ugh, I know that bewilderment that ensues when you try to set a boundary but the other person continues to trample all over it. I always feel like I’ve scaled such heights in affirming that it’s okay for me to have needs and recognizing that I want to set a boundary that I can feel dismayed by the ensuing stages when the other person tries to maintain the status quo. I have to remind myself often that I deserve better than being sucked under by the status quo.
    The joke (and serious) advice about not bringing up any problems around a Mary reminds me of someone who said they would only ever mention a cold to their (actual) mother. So, they wouldn’t mention any more serious illness or, by implication, other problems. I would (should) also avoid this with my mother, who is also very invested in reminding me of how incompetent and weak I am (and therefore how I NEED her). I’ve learned it’s a mistake to assert the opposite – if I say that I’m strong I get accused of having the arrogance to believe I’m invincible, and of “playing God”. I’m an atheist, but that’s another conversation that it will never be worth having. I did once manage to stop my mother in her tracks at least briefly by saying that I’m less likely to be crippled by illness since I take responsibility for my health (as opposed to just going along thinking that “God” is going to hurl all these thunderbolts of sickness at me, with the result, of course, that I will NEED her). But as I can’t prove beyond reasonable doubt that I will never get sick, I prefer to look into the boundary-setting techniques described above. Thank you for those!

  63. Ollie said:

    LW. please when you see the lawyer tell him/her EVERTHING especially her holding you hostage in your room. Perhaps there is some way you can get her out quickly for your own safety.

    • Cassandra said:

      The hostage-holding AND the lying-to-mutual-friends about it!

  64. deemz said:

    Ooff, I’m surprised no one has mentioned codependency, because lots of things about her behavior seem to fit that. I bring this up not to diagnose her, but to say to the LW, if this is the case, then your best option for both of you is to cut her out. Unfortunately, you can shove all the associated self help literature at her (and for anyone who sees a little of themselves in Mary, good places to start are Melody Beattie’s and Pia Mellody’s books) and it won’t make her change. Probably, the only thing will prompt her to change is actually some of her friendships ending. If someone can’t respect our boundaries when we ask, then our only option is to enforce those boundaries by actively limiting their presence as much as possible. Mary needs to lose some friends and then maybe, just maybe, she’ll figure out she’s the common denominator.

    I like to think I was never as bad as Mary, but I’m codependent, and I was certainly the mom friend for many years. I finally (like in the last year) really recognized what was motivating that (and I’ve been in recovery from codependency for three years, so it took me like two years of work to figure this out); I don’t gravitate towards relationships based on equality. My natural instinct is to either seek out or manipulate relationships and dynamics into ones where I am not on equal footing with the other person, either by being the “better” more caring, more adult, more successful person, or the opposite, being the reliant, sad, loser person. There are dozens of deep seeded reasons why I gravitate towards this dynamic, but I won’t bore folks with it. All I can say is that I know this is where my brain wants to go and I have to actively try to keep my relationships with people balanced and equal, let them be adults and handle their own problems, offer sympathy not advice or even service, unless asked. It’s hard work, but all my relationships and my life have improved so much, it’s unbelievable.

    If you feel bad about having to cut Mary out, don’t, because not enabling her behavior is the best favor you can do her. Mary is kind of like an addict in that respect, she’s addicted to manipulating and controlling other people and situations. You can’t force her to break her addiction, but you can stop participating in it, in the same way you can’t make an alcoholic stop drinking, but you can stop buying them booze. You’re her drug of choice at the moment, all you can do is remove yourself.

  65. Pam Ruatto said:

    LW; it is great that you keep updating us, clarifying where you are at. While I imagine it makes your situation less lonely for you I can also assure you that you have a pack of readers at this site who care very much, are very happy to hear from you, and are rooting for you all the way.

    • Yes, this — and please do update as much as you’re comfortable with. And please, please know that any horror we are feeling/expressing is at Mary’s behavior, and not at anything you’ve done.

  66. FrolickingElf said:

    Essential reading for all recovering codependent/people-pleasers-enablers: “When Pleasing You Is Killing Me – Setting Boundaries with the Controllers in Your Life” ~ by Les Carter PhD

    Former “Mama Bear” here. I was raised to be Mary – always doting on others, always forcefully helping in the kitchen, and always, always under-foot in social situations with my nobody-asked-me-but-here’s-a-truth-bomb advice. Took me until my 30s to realize how dysfunctional my behaviour really was (as it was all I knew). I eventually, albeit begrudgingly, acknowledged that I had faulty programming from child-hood. All I wanted to do was “help” and be appreciated, but I simply pushed healthy people away! So, after some confusing African-violet situations, while also choosing to go complete no-contact with my toxic family of origin… I had to learn to back-the-F-off. I’m glad that Mary is in therapy… but I sense that her double-down on her behaviour is a defense mechanism to explain-away the very thing she needs to work on.

    Real Talk: I had to confront my own issues, and change my own controlling Mary-esque behaviours. Two tasks that are NOT easy, and detaching from all the other Mary-Types in my life was very hard for me – until I realized that their crocodile tears and histrionics are indicative of work they needed to do – all I could change was my own behaviours.

    Best of luck dear LW – I have been in your situation from both sides!

  67. coffeepenguin said:

    Dear LW,

    I’m really sorry you have to deal with this situation. Your additional comments revealed some really chilling information, and I would like to emphasize the Cap’s advice on not giving her anything she can hold hostage/blackmail you with, like pets, personal information, objects of sentimental value, medication—basically anything you would not want in the hands of a person who is unpredictable and might use these things to hurt you (your house is part of that, which is why she needs to leave ASAP). She is ALREADY holding you hostage when you haven’t even told her to move out, and I’m worried this will escalate once you do. So please please have a good action plan in place BEFORE you tell her, and do not, under any circumstances, negotiate your position. My advice would also be to make sure there are witnesses (and documents in writing) to this entire process that can back you should any authorities etc get involved at some point because I see a real risk/possibility of Mary trying to make YOU look like the abuser. I would also advise to let people you trust in on your plan/whatever is going on (but make sure there’s no risk of anything you share getting back to Mary) and also for them to be present during crucial interactions, like for example when you tell her to move out, both as witnesses and for personal safety reasons, because I am seriously worried about how this might escalate. It really sucks that someone who has been your friend for so long is doing this but it’s important to realise that, right now, Mary is NOT your friend. Right now she is someone who is engaging in incredibly damaging, harmful and worrying behaviour, so trying to appeal to the “old” Mary that you loved and were friends with (and who might have been reasonable and predictable and not scary) is not an option.

  68. lunchphilosopher said:

    Holy moly. As always, Captain is on point and message here. I’ve learned so much (dare i say too much?) from this website and THIS would have been good to have growing up with my grandma.

    We aren’t in contact anymore, but the last time she texted me, it began by saying “my love for you is not always smart,” in reference to the *multitude of times that she has made Big Life Events about herself and her feelings* including her ex mother-in-law’s funeral and my college graduation. My grandma views me not as lunchphilosopher, but has Her Grandchild first and foremost. Part of what I have had to grapple with recently, in and out of therapy, is that the person that I grew up with (parents willfully ignored her behavior, extended family laughs about it) cannot and will not change and yeah, that makes us both sad, but it is also only eating away at me and my life. She’s content with hurting me as long as I stay Her Grandchild. I can definitively look back on my life and look at times I tried to establish boundaries, but she would cry at me and say, “but what about your nana??? I love you too much to not do (thing i was trying to set boundary about).” I have more stories and problems I could go into, but in true CA style, I’ll save those for the memoir.

    LW, I have an inkling of a feeling Mary looks at you not as LW, but first and foremost as Mary’s Friend and that’s why you two are inseparable in her mind. As has been mentioned, she needs you because you make her feel better about herself. You’re not crazy for wanting space and wanting to be respected. Btw, this isn’t even at the level of respect, this is just at the level of “I would like to cook for myself in my own home without being treated like an imbecile” and “you can’t cry outside of my room for hours on end and then makeup a narrative that projects YOUR feelings about yourself onto me.” That’s just… basic common courtesy.

    I feel like these people often times create/speak in absolutes that become… kind of like the opposite of self fulfilling prophecies? For example, my grandma was fond of saying “you HAVE to talk to me!” or “you HAVE to let me in your house (to poke and prod and tell everyone in my life things about you that you don’t want people to know)” and that turns into the exact opposite, where I have gone NC with my grandma and anyone who remotely tells her anything about my life is barred from it. Mary saying “You can’t function without me!” is just as self fulfilling, where you now want nothing to do with her. Mary reiterating “this ONE TIME YOU MADE A MISTAKE AND NOW YOU CANNOT BE TRUSTED WITH YOUR OWN LIFE AND FEELINGS,” is ultimately trying to speak something into reality that will backfire.

    I wish you the best of luck, I truly do. Emotional Vampires and their boundary crossing tendencies are objectively the worst.

  69. Catcat said:

    This is just reinforcing my belief that most “mom-friend” dynamics are inherently unhealthy. Good relationships don’t rely on you needing to feel superior to the other person! I love that my friends are self-sufficient and that we have a relationship where we mutually help each other and we trust the other person to take care of themselves.They don’t need to feel like if I ask to borrow a hair tie that they must provide it because I’m so helpless and weak and useless. It’s nice if they do! But I’m an adult and can go buy a pack of them on my own.

    I feel like part of the reason “mom-friends” get a pass is rooted in misogyny, both the idea that it’s harmless when a woman is being controlling and belittling others and the idea that woman are “naturally” supposed to get pleasure out of caretaking. Haha her husband is so useless she has to take care of the kids and cook and clean and schedule everything and he can’t even remember his own anniversary or where he left his car keys, isn’t natural biology cuuuuute?! It’s certainly not artificial constructions of gendered behavior!

  70. Sins & Needles said:

    When it comes to unwanted touching, I have found a physical response, on my part, to be a great tool. For example, putting my hand out, palm facing the Hug Zombie*, full on “Stop!” I lean back. I recoil. I step backwards out of the embrace. I leave the room. I put furniture between us. For receiving lines, I blade my body sideways, hand extended to shake. I resist and pull away from people who try and pull me in from the handshake. I will often use words, in tandem with my movements, but the movement is the most effective part.

    I shuddered when I read the part about Mary clutching one to her breast and kissing the top of one’s head. Gah.

    *People who, without asking, often without knowing me, advance with their arms open for embrace. Pose and gait similar to the shambling undead.

  71. Planegirl said:

    For what it’s worth, my take on this issue is that Mary is not a “Mom-friend”. Mary is someone with issues around being needed and central to other people’s lives. But she doesn’t have the confidence to accept other people as they are, so her way of doing social interaction is to act out this fantasy scenario of herself as the kind, wise, nurturing mother-figure, while using the LW or the other friends as props. That is not actually a nice thing to do to real human beings.
    Mary needs to explore this with her therapist, not use the people around her as living dollies.

  72. Shifrah said:

    LW, you need a lawyer now. You need a lock on your door. You need a safe place/escape route and seriously, if you need to flee temporarily, take your pets with you.

    Serve this woman with eviction papers immediately – following the absolute letter of every law, per your lawyer’s advice.

    She is not your friend, she is not safe. I think at this point you need to 1, consult with the lawyer. 2, make an escape plan and pack your grab bag. 3, notify your friends of what’s happening. THEN, serve her with the papers and immediately tell her that until she moves out, she is not to contact you or communicate with you at all.

    If she blocks you into your room, CALL THE COPS.

    I was kinda-sorta okay with the “setting boundaries, backing off” thing until you posted about her literally holding you prisoner. That is a bridge so far it is on Neptune. Mary is off the rails and you really do need to protect yourself.

  73. Thanksforallthefish said:

    Nthing this is terrible emotional terrorism behavior. Your house is full of bees. I wish you that quiet room/house of your own as soon as possible and the freedom to feel your own feelings as they are without commentary very soon. The two updates perfectly capture how awful this is and how much you’ve downplayed it/normalized it for yourself.

    As someone who recently left a longterm slowly worsening situation, you may not believe it’s as bad as all that and that’s ok…you still get to take steps to get her out of your life even if you think us internet strangers are over-reacting a bit. And I will also tell you the peace you feel once truly out of it will feel so amazing. You deserve that peace.

  74. Hi LW, a few odds and ends after reading your replies:
    -Consider looking into surveillance devices and what is legally allowed where you are. I’m guessing you can surveil your own spaces (room, car) and, after letting housemates know, something around the perimeter like those “ring” doorbell things. Research the laws, I’m not a lawyer.
    -Keep records of incidents. Keep in mind you’re not just looking for “bad tenant behavior,” but also things like threats, to you or herself. If she threatens serious self-harm or to kill herself, please consider calling the police for an involuntary psych hold. Calling the police might seem “way over the line,” but things like being trapped in your room legitimately qualify, as do threats she makes of harm to herself.
    -Alert “team you” of what is going on, some people who are not mutual friends with Mary who might gossip or feel the need to “remain neutral.” Sometimes when you have to divulge the whole bizarre and intricate situation it’s hard to know where to start (at least it is for me, so I end up saying nothing). A handy summary might be, “I’ve been living with a toxic housemate and tenant, and her behavior has become out of control and frightening.” No need to keep Mary’s “mom friend” narrative. And ask who would be willing to offer you a place to stay, either long-term or last-minute couch surfing in case some emergency situation comes up. And who can come give you a lift at odd hours if you need to escape your house.
    -Being around a toxic person, even a co-worker, affects you and the longer you’re around them, the more it affects you. Commenters pointed out that you were apologizing unnecessarily, for example. After you stop contact, FYI it’s totally normal to go through a “detox” period where you have to re-learn “the old you” in some respects. Pay attention to yourself and how you’re reacting to things (and be kind and forgive yourself for that stuff, it’s not your fault!) because when you’re able, those are things to work on healing. There’s therapy, self-help books, forums, YouTube videos and other ways of processing this stuff– hell, even the gym, if that’s what you’re into.
    -Keep records somewhere that Mary can’t access. Writing can come in handy legally, but also just to keep yourself sane. Toxic behavior tends to make you feel like you’re losing your mind and doubting yourself, so consider journalling.
    -Good luck, and you’re going to make it through this into something better! No matter how it comes about, a better living situation awaits you somewhere in the future.

  75. PandaGrrl said:

    I really only skimmed the post (still catching up on my reading list) and haven’t gone through the comments, but for half a heartbeat I thought this could have been written about a dear friend of mine. I was only partially relieved to realize it wasn’t; my friend doesn’t do things like cry and clutch at me (or others), but she does go on about how her roommates aren’t adulting well*, and I’m definitely coming back to read this one more in-depth to find strategies of telling her that I’m not the audience for her “venting”.

    *Her roommates are adulting just fine. They are adults, and therefore fine. They just aren’t doing things or living their lives the way she thinks they should. I told her to let it go (with very bad, loud singing, because I was tired of hearing about it already) but I suspect I will be hearing about it again at some point, so will come up with some strategies. (I have a lot of FEELINGS about this specific aspect of our relationship, but this is not my blog, and this blog is not my therapist, so I won’t process it here. I am going to examine the FEELINGS more and see what shakes out of it)

    • Amy said:

      With this kind of ‘venting’ it really takes the wind out of their sails if you just refuse to validate them. “I dunno, Mary, just because your roommate isn’t doing what you would do doesn’t mean it’s not a valid approach.” “Well, she’s an adult, she gets to make that choice if she wants to.” “I’m sure he has his reasons.” “I have a friend who did that same thing, and it turned out fine for them! It’s not for everyone, but it can absolutely work out.”

      Your friend might try to push back at first (e.g. “yeah but it’s a bad choice for this person because blah blah blah”), but if you’re consistent, I suspect she’ll decide that you’re a very unrewarding person to vent to. Most people gossiping this much about others’ lives and choices are looking for validation that they are right and the other person is wrong. If you’re not giving that validation, they’re not getting what they want, and they’ll eventually bring it to someone else.

  76. Sorry to hear that (but relieved you’re not dealing with a full-on Mary). Venting about ANYTHING can take a toll on the listener if it’s frequent and has that mix of bottomless anger and ugly judgement or that flavor of endless negative rumination without wanting a solution or different perspective at all. For me, it’s my family’s political ranting (even though I agree, mostly). Seeing people display their judgy, poisonously negative or hateful selves can be really upsetting even though it’s not directed at you, the listener, and that’s so difficult to voice why it’s upsetting. Maybe once you sort through some of these FEELINGS you could simply tell your Mary, “I’m sorry I know everyone needs to vent, but these conversations about your roommates leave me feeling [X]. Can we please take a break from discussing it? But I would be up for [talking about practical solutions to your roommate situation if needed, helping you think through and plan what you need in future living situations, hearing about your coworker’s shenanigans instead, heading to the gym together and working through the frustration with a punching bag, whatever you actually are up for doing with Mary-lite].” Sometimes if you’re not feeling up for The Conversation, a simple redirect might help: “wow it sounds like you’re really chafing against your current roommates’ lifestyles. What would your ideal roommate / living situation be, then? Have you ever had a living situation that was a good fit, what was that like?”

    • Oops, this was supposed to be a reply to @PandaGrrl !

  77. Carlie said:

    It’s the lying about what happened part with the room incident that terrifies me. That shows she isnt a clueless, emotional, boundaries-challenged person, but instead a master manipulator. Both for the sake of keeping your friends and for legally, start documenting everything. When you have a weird interaction, tell your Team You about it immediately. Write it in an email for a record. If she has a tantrum, get someone right over to be a witness. If she blocks your exit, call someone and put them on speakerphone so they can hear what she’s doing. If you are in a single-party consent state to record, record her when she does this to you (do not make it obvious). When you have the moving out conversation, do not have it alone. Have it with another person or in a public place like a restaurant where the same people will be within earshot for the whole discussion. If you have anyone who is close enough to you to ask, have them temporarily stay at your house for the period between when you tell her to move and when she actually does. She will not only make this difficult, she will try to destroy you on the way out.

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