Tl:dr – What do you say when someone needs you to tell them that you care about them more than you do care about them? Is there a way to be honest but not make them feel like you actually dislike them? Is there a way to lie so that they actually believe you? Is there a way to get them to knock off asking you?
My partner has a long-time friend who is lonely, isolated, sporadically employed, and who has some mental health issues. Friend is smart, funny, usually well-meaning, and knows how far to push friendship and charity without pushing too hard. My partner gives Friend lots of time and occasional money.
None of this is a problem. Friend doesn’t intrude on our family time too much, and my partner’s friendships are theirs to manage. Partner doesn’t bring Friend into every conversation or insist that Friend is at all of our events. Friend doesn’t usually inconvenience me at all, and if they do it’s in ways that I’m happy to do to for my partner, and because I have goodwill to Friend and I don’t mind hosting them or hanging out.
My problem is that Friend will sometimes initiate conversations with me about what a burden Friend is to me, and how Friend feels ashamed to be included in events that are important to me when they are Partner’s Friend and not My Friend. I don’t think Friend actually wants to be my friend – they don’t usually ask how I am, or talk to me when my partner isn’t around, or seem to care about me except as someone to listen to them (although they are like that with my partner, too, because Friend is very self-absorbed). I think that Friend would like it if **I** really felt a true friendship-like connection to Friend that would cause me to **really** want to invite Friend to stuff not as a charity, and to **really** want to hang out and chat with Friend, even though I don’t think Friend feels that way toward me or wants to feel that way toward me.
Friend is very smart, and certainly is very sensitive to how people feel about them and react to them, so Friend knows that, in fact, I don’t feel those ways. I feel charitable good will, Friend isn’t an unbearable pain to have around, and I love my partner and don’t want to keep someone out of our home who matters to my partner. Friend also knows when I’m lying.
So when Friend asks me these things, I usually do some combo of lie and deflect. I say that Partner and I both brought lots of our own friends and family to the relationship, and that we each hang out with and play host to each other’s peeps. I say that it’s my pleasure to have Friend over. But even though both of those things are true, I’m not answering Friend’s real question, which seems to be something like “don’t you care about me,” or even “why don’t you love me.” I do think that my partner loves Friend. Love is a wonderful mystery, because I can see that Friend is not a very good friend in a traditional sense, but that if you love a person, you just do love them. I don’t love Friend, and I like Friend only in a casual way.
Friend’s need to be loved and to be reassured both touches me and also annoys me. Friend is not good with social conventions like “don’t make people choose between lying or saying mean stuff,” and when they ask me these things I usually fall back on really strict social conventions like, “I am at best saying empty nothing right now and at worst lying because That’s What We Do,” but I don’t like it. Moreover, it doesn’t give Friend any of what they need – it’s neither honest nor kind.
Is there a better, more honest, kinder way to respond?
– Not Your Friend, But Not Mean About It Either