The letter contains brief mention of the roommate either accidentally or accidentally-on-purpose leaving a pet outside for a while during a mental health episode. The pet was fine and this is neither the point of the letter nor the oddest thing in it, but readers have mentioned animals-in-peril stresses them out, so I’m including both a heads’ up and a cut.
Patrons of the blog have sent in short questions. Surprising nobody, I have written answers between “medium” and “epic.” This is Part 1 of 2, the rest will come later in the week.
In this batch: A friend is ghosting me to my face at work, I want to reconnect with a friend I accidentally ghosted, my downstairs neighbors complained to me about walking too loud, I need my partners to be more/differently supportive about depression and anxiety, and I’m about to burn out at work, will it kill my career if I take time off?
As I’ve tried to make better friends with her, I’ve realized that my roommate’s GF is a very negative person. Several times in a conversation, small talk will be shut down with very honest but also very negative responses that make it hard to move the conversation forward. Some examples:
Me: I heard you and your parents are going to [nice restaurant] next week, that’ll be so fun!
Her: It’s actually not very nice there.
Me: Oh, really?
Roommate: I think I’ll start taking Spanish classes.
Me: That’ll be fun! And it will definitely help in your line of work.
Her: I speak 3 languages and it’s never helped me.
A few points:
1) These are conversations that take place, for example, while we’re all sitting around in the den before we all scatter to do separate things. That is, she and I are not hanging out one-on-one or having intentional heart-to-hearts, it’s ‘we’re both/all sitting here, let’s not sit in silence’ vibes.
2) She has apparently told her BF she wishes she were better friends with me, so it’s not that she’s trying to shut me down and I’m missing the hint. I would have stopped trying by now if I didn’t know she apparently wanted to be friends.
3) I recognize that my pattern is to try and put a positive spin on things, and clearly she doesn’t appreciate that… but I have no idea how else to make light small talk, especially when she doesn’t seem to be introducing these negative angles in order to confide in me or something. It just makes the conversation die.
While I do want advice for how to manage this particular friendship better because this person is constantly hanging around my house, I realized that this is also a bigger question, and one I thought you’d be particularly suited to answer because it comes up quite a lot from the opposite side in questions here. What do you do when you’re the person trying to make the small talk that the other person apparently finds annoying or offensive (accepting as a given that they aren’t just trying to make you go away)?
Chatty Cathy (she/her)
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
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
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
Here is #1168: “Is it unreasonable to want your friend to feign polite interest in your interests?”
I (she/her) have a close friend (he/they) who I’ve known for going on six years now. We originally met through real life things and bonded over having similar fandom-adjacent interests, although over the last few years our interests have diverged a bit.
Here’s the thing. When we hang out, they talk a lot about whatever they’re interested in at the moment – currently, it’s a bunch of bands. They’re really dedicated to these bands – like, to the point of going to multiple of their gigs all over the state, getting tattoos in the bassist’s handwriting, etc. – and while I personally have no active interest in these bands, I’m glad they’ve found something they like. I listen to my friend talking about them a lot whenever we hang out (which isn’t very often – maybe once every two months) and ask polite questions. They are aware that these bands are not in my wheelhouse, but even though it’s not my passion, I think part of being a good friend is showing polite interest in things your friends like.
However, when it comes to things I’m interested in – currently a Kpop group, a podcast, and my almost-finished medical degree – my friend changes the subject ASAP and doesn’t bother to ask a single question. I understand not wanting to hear hours and hours of talk about Korean awards shows or C-sections or whatever, because I know my interests are quite niche, and I do try to pick stories or topics which have more mainstream appeal and not ramble on too much, but I feel like I can only talk for a minute or two about things I like before the conversation swings back to my friend’s bands again. I’m not asking for them to be fascinated by my obsessions in the same way I am, just for them to return the same courtesy I extend to them – i.e. feigning polite interest for five minutes.
Also, when they don’t just hate my interests for no particularly good reason, they have some excuse about why they hate the thing I like so much they can’t bear to politely make conversation about it for five minutes – like, “someone I hate likes that podcast, so even though I haven’t listened to it I refuse to hear anything about it because now I associate it with this person”.
It’s hard for me to find other topics for me to talk about with them, since I don’t have much time for anything in my life at the moment other than my degree and my interests, and my friend won’t talk about politics or anything else that’s not, like, related to their life or interests.
This is a relatively small problem, but I’m not sure if I’m overreacting/have unreasonable expectations, or if this is genuinely something rude. I know it’s edging into Geek Social Fallacy territory, but I’m not asking for my friend to also be obsessed with my obsessions, just to be polite about them in the same way that I’m polite about their obsessions (which again, don’t interest me)! I like my friend a lot, and I don’t mind hearing them talk about their stuff because it’s nice to hear someone be passionate about something, but this (perceived?) lack of reciprocation is beginning to make me feel very neglected and unappreciated. We both have plenty of other friends, so it’s not like either of us desperately Needs the other person, but I would be sad to lose this friendship.
Should I say something about this to my friend? Should I just suck it up and accept that all our conversations will be primarily about their interests? Should I begin fading out of this friendship?
I Just Want To Be Asked One Polite Question
We’ll call this #1169: “My friend could replace me with a chatbot.”
Long-time reader, thank you so much for the good work you do!
I have a non-neurotypical friend, who I became more close to after he had a falling out with one of his friends. We have a lot in common, including intersectional stuff. He has mentioned being non-neurotypical, and has problems gauging social cues. I have a lot of friends in the same boat. I only mention because it means I try to be more patient with him.
Months back, I noticed that he never asked me anything about myself, and when I’d try to talk he would go off on (only semi-related) ranty, negative monologues. It’s exhausting, and hard to get him to stop, to the point where I have to be careful what I talk about. I was second-guessing the energy I was investing into the relationship, so I carefully used my words about monologue-ing. He apologized, and improved.
Still though, he never says anything positive. We could be having the best time, in the coolest place, and he’d still find something that offends him. I’d be ok if we were discussing genuine hurts, but it’s usually things that don’t affect him at all. Or things that affect me, but not him, but I have to manage his reaction. I’m open to listen to venting (especially important things), but it’s like venting is all he does.
He rarely asks how I am. When he does (twice a month?), I mostly get grunts, or distant/neutral ‘huh.’ Not once, not ever, has he asked follow-up questions. Captain, I’m not boring! He just seems to stop listening. I probably know every detail of his life but I’d be surprised if he knows anything about me, but he’s usually the one to seek me out.
Lately I’ve been avoiding my favourite online videogame because he jumps online as soon as I do, and I don’t always have the energy to hear (negative thing) about (abstract thing). This week, I politely, light-heartedly disagreed with him on a neutral topic, and he stopped talking to me for about 20+ minutes, while playing the game in such a way that guaranteed we’d lose.
So – my experience is that he has improved when I’ve asked him to. But, I’m so drained. My question is: should I have brought up the negativity & the seeming lack of interest in my thoughts on things when I asked him to stop monologuing? Do I bother mentioning that it’s really not cool to ruin someone else’s game? Should I tackle this all bit by bit? Should I throw in the towel?
Thank you for any insight!
From, An Increasingly Tired Human
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