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Hi Captain Awkward,

One of my (32, she/her) very best friends (ditto, ditto), Sara, has been dating John, for about a year, and I’ve recently realized that I just do not like him much.

Most of the time, in either big or small groups, John doesn’t interact much with me or others at all; he’s in the “just kind of there” school of significant other-ing, which is understandable early in a relationship. We haven’t found any common interests (besides Sara) that could be an easy point of connection, other than me occasionally asking him about work in a small-talky way, which is too bad, but not a huge problem.

The problem is when he does interact with me unprompted, it’s often to “well, actually” me: things like “you don’t need bug spray, we’re on pavement” (yes I do) or “you say you’re avoiding sugar, but you’re drinking wine right now” (uh, OK?) or “you could take a rideshare for the same amount you’re spending on that drink, and then you wouldn’t need to stress out about taking the bus” (reiterating that I need to catch that bus is my way of signaling that this conversation will have an expiration date!). Or he’ll point out a flaw or foible in a sorta-joking way. Maybe he’s just a jerk; maybe he’s just socially awkward and is trying, badly, to join in the conversation. Either way, as another close friend, who has also not warmed to him, put it recently: it feels like he’s lightly negging us all the time.

I realize that part of adulthood is that my friends are going to date or marry people who are not necessarily my cup of tea, and that even if Sara and John break up, I will likely not be so lucky as to genuinely connect with every single person my friends ever bring around (though I’ve been pretty lucky so far). In these situations, what are some strategies I can use to forge some low-key social bonds, or at least manage to tolerate hanging out with, people who would not be my first choice to socialize with but matter to people I care about?

—I Could Probably Be Trying Harder Here Too

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Hello, Captain!

Could you talk about how to be good at setting boundaries in a non-situation-specific way? You get a lot of letters from people who are having trouble with someone else not respecting their boundaries, and obviously that is not the time to say “are you sure you really communicated what you meant?” But I (she/her) am someone who is GREAT at respecting “no,” but really, really bad at understanding deflection and being ‘politely’ ignored. I sometimes worry that people may generalize your excellent advice for a specific situation –

1) Express boundary
2) Hold firm on boundary
3) Minimize contact

to –

A) Gently hint at boundary
B) Gently hint at boundary again
C) Walk away.

Because that is definitely a thing that has happened to me. Not all friendships/relationships are meant to be, of course, but I really enjoy being able to be friends with people who see the world differently than I do, even when it requires a little extra communication work. So I’m wondering what you think the best way is to check in with oneself early in a relationship, when things are just barely irritating (when you, Captain, are very unlikely to be getting letters), about whether the actual, literal word “no” (or “stop”) has been said and ignored? Because I’m also pretty sure I’ve been on both sides of this, because who loves provoking conflict? Not me!

A Libra Who Doesn’t Really Believe in Astrology Except For That Balance Thing Which Is Awesome

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

Hey Captain,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks,

I Just Want To Be Asked One Polite Question

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

Hello!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi Captain!

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?

Longer-then-400-words-version:

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

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Dear Cap,

I am an insecure introvert with a big ol mouth and the occasional attitude problem. I’ve worked a lot on being more careful with what I say and keeping work relationships more professional than personal. Then I switched to teaching.

Teaching, as I have found, builds a kind of in-the-trenches bond with your fellow teachers. My school is a ton of twenty-somethings, so there’s lots of engagements and weddings and baby showers. In fact, I was on bedrest with my first pregnancy and they got together an insanely generous amount of money to help me out without even having a shower. I really feel close to a lot of these people. But I still don’t get invited to any of the outside-of-work social events. There was a teacher who got married today and I saw a post on Instagram of a group photo of a bunch of my coworkers together all dressed up and having a blast. I really felt hurt.

On the one hand, I take a lot of during-the-day work time to be by myself and recharge from the stress of the job, plus I never go out after work (even before the pregnancy) because I’m just a homebody and I like to be at home with my husband. So it isn’t unreasonable to think that maybe people assume I don’t really do work friends at any level higher than Facebook. On the other hand, it’s her freakin wedding! I absolutely don’t want to cost someone money, or be a pity invite, because of my insecure feelings about being left out. Same for the several other events this has happened with.

Mostly, I just hate this feeling of “Oh so they don’t like me and I’m awful” combined with a new fear that staying home/my family being a large part of my social life is going to leave me without meaningful relationships outside my family. Now that’s kind of stupid because my best friends have been with me since elementary school, but three out of four have moved away and the one left in town… we are both total homebodies and are really horrible about getting off our butts and planning to do things together!

So my big question is, how do I manage these left-out feelings without letting them negatively affect my work relationships? My corollary question is, is it normal to suddenly be this worried about maintaining relationships and worrying that I’m a selfish person because I’m not very social?

Thanks for giving me some of your time,
Everyone Is Hanging Out Without Me

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Hi Captain Awkward,

I find myself in a very awkward but relatively low-stakes situation with a classmate. There is a woman in my cohort at college who has this weird habit of rescheduling other students’ social events (not just mine, but mostly mine). For example, someone invites the group by email out to go hiking, and she’ll respond saying let’s all go bowling instead. Once I invited everyone to a dinner party I was hosting at my home, and she tried to change the event to be a restaurant outing at a different time!

I understand that in the course of group planning, sometimes people negotiate things like whether to meet at 8 or 9, or whether to get Mexican or Italian, but her behavior is going way beyond that. And frankly, sometimes I don’t really care if everyone can make it – I just want to go see this awesome concert and it’d be even more awesome if others wanted to join.

There’s obviously a lot of GSF5 going on here. How can I talk to her about this without making it seem like I don’t care about her presence? I do care, and I love spending time with her, but I can’t accommodate her on every social outing. Also/alternatively, what is a polite way to indicate to the group, after she inevitably makes some “helpful” suggestions, that my invitation is not up for negotiation?

Just Send Me Your Regrets
(she/her)

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Hi Captain Awkward,

You are a great resource, and I’ve referred a lot of friends to your blog.

My problem is something I think I should totally not be having, but I am. I have a friend who I’ve known for years who will be getting married soon. Suzanne and I used to live together, and were quite close when I lived in a different city. Since I moved away a few years ago, we’ve still been in touch, but have been in less touch the past couple of years. Because of our past friendship, and how much I value her, she was a bridesmaid in my wedding when I got married a year ago.

Suzanne is now getting married. She’s asked a few people to be a bridesmaid, but when I flew in to attend some pre-wedding festivities a few weeks ago, I realized that she wouldn’t be asking me. I’m not planning to talk to Suzanne about this. I know that it’s OK for people to choose whoever they want to be in their bridal party. But it still really hurts. I find myself comparing myself against some of the other people she’s asked. I also find myself questioning our friendship, and feeling like I may have misinterpreted how close we are, or have been in the past. I also then start to go down the road of thinking of other people with whom I’d like to be closer, but who don’t seem to return the feelings of strong friendship.

The logical part of me realizes that people move on, and recognizes that it’s natural that we’ve grown apart, since I’ve lived a way for a few years, and we now no longer talk on the phone regularly. The illogical part of me is upset and hurt that she didn’t pick me, and wonders if I should just let this friendship die completely.

Do you have any advice for moving on, and being mature about this? I’d like to reach out after the wedding to rekindle our phone call check-ins, but I don’t want to impose if she really has moved on.

Former Friend

Thanks for the kind words, Former Friend, and wow…”former” friend?

To me, the wedding party thing is a side issue, and you’ve already handled it/are in the process of handling it. You’ll let your weird hurt feelings be what they are, you’ll acknowledge to yourself that being asked to be in her wedding was something you were counting on and it’s more important to you than you initially thought, you’ll most likely go the wedding, you’ll say nice things to your friend and have a good time, and maybe after the wedding you’ll continue to drift or you’ll find a way to rekindle your friendship. I hope you rekindle the friendship. There’s “I would have been in your wedding if you’d asked me, you know! Is there a reason you didn’t?” and then there’s “I am so happy for you, and so happy to see you!” You know and I know which one is the right thing to say to someone you love who is in the middle of a big life event.

To me, this is a question about loneliness. Your friendship landscape doesn’t look like you thought it did or like you want it to. You’re a newlywed, still settling into being part of a couple and coming off a pretty busy year or so if you just got married, so this seems like a perfect time to take stock of where your other relationships stand and make sure you’re nurturing your own social connections. It takes more effort, or a different kind of effort, to maintain friendships when you don’t have proximity & being in the same life circumstances to connect you and to make friends as an adult. So what can you do about that?

Can I make a plug for the annual weekend away with a few close friends?

I have a friend group who does this as much as possible, at least once a year, often 2 or 3 times/year. Not everyone comes every time, but everyone in the group is always invited, and here’s what it involves: You, them, snacks (cheese!), wine, an inexpensive vacation-rental-by-owner somewhere that’s near a major airport hub and also maybe on a lake, pants with no waistband, laughing until stuff comes out your nose, the anticipation of planning the trip, the 10,000 jokes and stories and inside jokes that come afterwards, trading books & nail polish colors, telephone pictionary, side trips to local tourist attractions/wineries/cider mills but lots of down-time with no real agenda, the prospect of karaoke & a spaghetti dinner at the local Legion post that we never actually make it to, no spouses. IT IS THE BEST THING. DO IT.

There are other ways to foster community and closeness with people near and far:

  • The monthly or weekly casual dinner.
  • Join a choir. (No, really!)
  • Write paper letters. (No, really!) What if you wrote a letter to Suzanne that laid out how happy you are for her and how glad you are to know her? What if you wrote one letter to someone in your life – friends near and far, family, former teachers & mentors – every week or every month? It can just be a card, if you’re not a writer. If you don’t know what to say, start with: Thank you. I’m proud of you. I’m thinking about you and wishing you well. I’m so glad to know you. I’m so sorry that (bad thing) is happening, is there anything I can do? I’m so glad that (good thing) is happening to you, that’s the best news!
  • Do some social stuff without your spouse, like a weekly class or workout group, a weekly breakfast or coffee with a friend or friends. You just got married, so I suspect a lot of the last year or so has involved a lot of “We…,” so what can you do that’s just for you and about you?
  • Get a subscription to a local theater company or concert series or museum membership for you and a friend. Built in friend-dates + seeing new stuff = nice!
  • If you can, take the older people in your family out to lunch or invite them over one by one and ask them all the things you’ve ever wanted to know. What was it like when they were young? Who was their first crush? What kind of stuff did they used to get in trouble for when they were kids? What was their wedding like? What’s their favorite place they’ve ever been? (This is a good Home for the Holidays strategy, too – seeing relatives separately from The Big Day of Celebration & Whatnot can be way more relaxing).
  • If you can, take the teenagers in your family out or invite them over for dinner one by one and let them talk at you about everything that’s on their minds. My godmother used to do this for me when I was a kid and it was seriously the best to have the company of adult who treated me like a person and not a student or offspring to be molded for a bright future.
  • Take up a cause. Help people register to vote, canvas for a political candidate, read to old people and kids, see if the library needs help sorting anything, work at the food bank, pet & walk shelter puppies. If it heals the world a little bit and you can and want to do it, do it.

That’s a giant list, so don’t do all of it! Pick one thing and try it. In a few months, try something else. You might not get exact reciprocity, and some of your friendships might remain not quite what you want them to be, and you might feel sometimes like “what am I doing this for” and that’s okay. It’s okay to be hungry, it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to be lonely and think “but isn’t there something else that’s supposed to be happening?” The only way I know to deal with that hungry feeling is to put some love into yourself and into the world and see what comes back. It won’t come back exactly how you planned it or in a way that you can even predict, but it will come back.