Getting space from a high-drama friend
December 7, 2009 10:00 AM   Subscribe

I've decided to distance myself from a high-drama friend. How can I transition from close friends to distant friends, with a minimum of unhappiness for both of us?

I met "Joanna" last year through a shared circle of friends. She's fun and has a uniquely magnetic personality. We became pretty close girlfriends.

The thing is, friendship with her contains a lot of drama. She's prone to flakiness, rapidly shifting moods, and dark thoughts. When we make plans, I don't know if she'll bail. When we talk, sometimes her bouts of deep depression will drain me. When she tells me things, I'm not sure whether if it'll be thrown out the window when her mood changes in a few hours. I've made my frustration known to her after individual incidents in the past.

She's gone through terrible things in her life, and is working with a therapist now. I care for her, but have decided to cut down on the frequency of our interactions, for my own peace of mind. I need help with a couple situations:

1. If she probes for why, or drops hints about not being invited to something, what do I say? I don't want to go into the reasons, because it'll be hard to avoid making her feel rejected. Is there a way to get out of answering?

2. In situations where it'd be an obvious omission to leave her off the invite list (e.g. I've invited five of our common friends), should I go ahead and invite her anyway? It feels bad to be overtly rude / excluding, but the current situation feels bad too.

(Btw we are both in our 30s, in case this matters.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Be honest. At the very least, she deserves honesty.
posted by gadha at 10:02 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


In my, thankfully, limited experience in this area there is no way to not have this go poorly. Inevitably there is always more drama around this. Whether you are honest or ommisive (yes, I coined that right now) there will be hurt feelings and awkward moments.

Some times just knowing you're doing what you can to take care of yourself makes the difference.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:26 AM on December 7, 2009


I believe that most friendships have an ebb and flow. We get caught up in things and lose touch, and we can always reconnect later. This philosophy gives me a lot of freedom to give space to friendships that are bordering toxic.

Flakes are relegated to invitations that do not hinge on them. Large gatherings where their absence won't be missed, or a night where I'm on the fence between being a hermit or a social butterfly.

Moody people are relegated to activities where I can minimize conversation if they're in a bad mood. Watching movies, playing pool or bowling.

Bouts of depression only get large gatherings. One on one activities tend to be way too draining for me. If they call me out on it, I point to my own bottle of Lexapro and say I'm in too delicate a state to be sucked into this sort of negativity. I can be a good friend in a crisis, and I sincerely want to be there for you, but I am not the sort of person who can be your stand in therapist.
posted by politikitty at 10:26 AM on December 7, 2009 [20 favorites]


Honesty, as gadha said, is a Good Thing.

Still, if you have already made the decision to cut down or end the time you spend with her, you also have to be willing to be a little brutal. That is, if she asks why she hasn't been invited, either ignore the calls or say that you need space and that you can talk to her later about it. If you invite mutual friends that are likely to tell her there's an event, talk to those mutual friends about your decision and ask them what they think about it. Likely, they know a lot more about the situation than you think and may be willing to offer tailored advice... and they may very well be willing to "play along."

Do be honest, though. Tell her that you need time to gather yourself, and that you don't want to abandon her but you need time away from her. If you do want to end the friendship, gather a bit of strength, meet in a public place and talk to her about it. You're both mature adults (to varying degrees) and should be able to handle a discussion of this nature regardless of the drama she seems to bring to the party. Be willing to walk away if it gets to be too much.

Good luck :)
posted by neewom at 10:26 AM on December 7, 2009


Treat it like a breakup - tell her you need some time off, tell her what she needs to do to so that you both can resume a closer relationship, and then follow-through on your promise to take some time off and stop interacting so closely.

Let her know what is unacceptable behaviour during this "breaking up" period, such as no teary, dramatic phonecalls, emails, texts of FB messages.

Basically, redraw the boundaries, and take a step back. If she wants to be close friends with you again you will be able to play by these new rules.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:40 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hypocrite alert. I’ve dropped people a few times for similar reasons – and although I’ve tried several combinations of cutting down on time that I spend with a particular person, feelings are hurt and it is a matter of time until the friendship implodes.

However, I have another small circle of friends right now and have watched them successfully deal with a drama queen (DQ), so I am just reporting observations and think this could partially work for the anony’s DQ.

If it gets out (ie, we are going to a play about TopicY and DQ was not invited and finds out), and DQ immediately responds with the comment, “You are going to that? Why wasn’t I invited?”, the person who arranged the event replies, “I thought you don’t like plays about Y. Remember you hated the last 2 plays about Y and you complained about it? Are you interested in Y?” DQ is usually silent (because that is what happened/and DQ would have in all likelihood hated it and complained).

I don’t see why the same tactic can’t be used for flakiness. If your DQ responds, ”Why wasn’t I invited to the MEETUP with everyone else to eat lizards at chez metafilter?!”, you can respond (although do so privately), “Remember how you didn’t show up last time? It made the activity more difficult for people who had to arrange it/or the restaurant, etc.” – sweeten it up a bit more than that, repeating what you state above “I consider you a close friend, we love your magnetic personality, but it makes it really hard if we need to rearrange things later if you don’t show up.” I would do this a few times. I would also give DQ another chance, but at least this time DQ knows what to do.
posted by Wolfster at 11:03 AM on December 7, 2009


polikitty has the best advice. Assuming you'd like some interaction, but not much, invite her (a) to parties with a number of other people, so her attendance isn't so important and her mood doesn't colour the entire tone and (b) to things you don't mind doing alone, or are okay not doing at all. Make last minute plans, not plans in advance. If she's too moody at any given time, it is fine to redirect the conversation, or end whatever you're doing with her because you're not up to that kind of conversation.

If you are able to, keeping her as a more casual friend -- inviting her to larger gettogethers -- would be nice. (It's not clear why you don't want to invite her to something where you've invited 5 common friends, so more details might help here.)
posted by jeather at 11:07 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, I know someone exactly liked this. The way I handled it was to just stop inviting them to things, and I declined if they invited me out. I guess I got lucky in that they never asked why.

Most people know that if they flake out on you too many times you'll stop inviting them out, but if she doesn't get the hint you can always say, "Well, the last time I invited you you didn't show up, and it's really an inconvenience..."
posted by biochemist at 11:09 AM on December 7, 2009


I'd second gadha's response. I had a similar situation years ago, where I decided I needed space from a close friend. I tried the brush off of not inviting them to things, and declining their invitations. Eventually, it blew up when I was really over it because I was stupid and blogged something stupid about them in passing. They had no idea I didn't want to be friends anymore (even though it had been almost a year), and in hind sight I should have been more upfront. I still feel guilty about how I handled it, but I still think it was a good idea to get distance.

So yeah, be honest but also make it clear that it's you. You need a break. You need distance. You need to take care of yourself. Making it more about you, and less about her makes it easier I think. Maybe?
posted by kendrak at 12:04 PM on December 7, 2009


Here's a thought: rather than cutting back on the number of interactions you have with her, cut back on the depth. You don't have to stop inviting her to things and all that; however, when she tries to unload her drama on you, keep it light but draw a boundary. The honesty approach will work much better this way, inasmuch as you stop feeding the beast she'll find other targets to unload on, and you might end up with a friendship that's good and healthy for both of you. That, or she'll pretty much disappear when she realizes you're not going to suck up her grief, in which case you get what you want anyway.

If she confronts you about it, you've already made your feelings known, so a simple "look, you know that I find your flakiness frustrating and I'm not in an emotional place where I can be the support you need when you're depressed. But I don't want to cut you out of my life, so I'm just trying to set new boundaries that are healthy for both of us. I'm sorry if that offends you."

Now, if your friends are sick of her, too, then just stop inviting her to things, and be honest as to why if she brings it up: "You flake a lot, and I wasn't in the mood to worry about it. When you start showing up when you say you will, then you'll start getting invited again. I know it sounds harsh, but that's the way I feel." Or invite her, but make no effort whatsoever to accommodate her flakiness -- don't say you'll wait, or save her a seat, or get her tickets, or anything like that. Just tell her when it is, where it is, and then don't think of her again -- if she shows, she shows, otherwise not your problem.

If you just want to cut it off, though, there's plenty of good advice above. I just wanted to add a few suggestions that don't involve an absolute cutoff.
posted by davejay at 12:09 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Personally, I think transitioning out a close friendship by finding out ways to justify not inviting that person to events and gatherings is immature, and disrespectful.

It sounds like you do care about this woman and her feelings, and you believe that by not "making a thing out of it" it will avoid pain, but in reality if you abruptly change your pattern without explanation, she will be confused and start dwelling over all the possible things that this could mean. Eventually she'll get the hint, but will feel like she's not only lost a friend, but that she was so worthless that her friend didn't even bother to provide an explanation.

If instead you sit her down and say "I really value your friendship, and I understand you're going through a lot right now, but I find myself feeling more like a therapist than a friend, and that's making me uncomfortable. I'd still like to be your friend, but in order to do that I think I need to step back a little bit..." etc etc.

Yeah, she'll be hurt. But she'll also know exactly why she's not being invited to events, and you'll never have to give a BS answer. More importantly, she'll know her feelings were considered, that she was respected, and that her friend still cares for her. And hopefully, she'll learn from this so that her future friendships don't follow the same unfortunate course.

Unless she's done something to personally offend you, she deserves your honesty.
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 1:53 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Honesty is a TERRIBLE thing. She's working on her issues, no need to make her feel shitty on top of it. Just gradually become busy, lag on returning her calls, and let things ebb naturally over a month or so. Maybe try to avoid getting the whole entire gang together for a bit- meet in smaller groups where excluding her won't be as noticeable, or maybe meet in larger groups where you won't be stuck with her all night. All you people recommending honesty? NO WAY. That kind of honesty is so selfish. You get to feel good, by making another person feel utterly shitty, just on principle? That sucks. I will now re-iterate my earlier opinion about AskMe people + honesty, originally posted on a thread about breaking up with a short term date:

a lot of askmefiers are very principled about honesty, and i see it in this thread. comments like "tell her the truth, you're just not into her. she's a grownup, she can take it". that honesty makes YOU feel good (i am sooo honest! yay me!).... and it makes her feel shitty (i was not pretty/funny/sexy enough to sustain this person's interest for a mere 3 weeks! i suck!).

say what you want about how we're all adults and whatever, but it sounds like this woman was hopeful that this would work out, and will probably be at least a little sad it's over. when her friends ask her "what happened with anonymous", give her a better story to tell than "he didn't like me". this is why i suggested what i said above: say "i've been talking to an ex, and now i'm confused- i probably shouldn't pursue this thing with you, i'm really sorry. you are cool but the timing is bad."

let her assume it was all in the timing, so she doesn't have to wonder what makes her so boring / unattractive that you didn't want to keep emailing and sleeping with her.

i've been on the receiving end of several kinds of breakups:

1. the vanishers, who just stopped contact- who made me feel like a dumb slut
2. the honest ones, who said "i don't wanna pursue this, sorry," who made me feel like a dumb, cheap, ugly, boring slut,
and
3. the gentle liars, who said "you're cool. but i am confused about my feelings for another person and you got caught in the crossfire, sorry," who made me feel like i was interesting and cute but the timing was bad, oh well.

now i'm a liberated woman and i KNOW, in my head, that i am NOT dumb, cheap, slutty, ugly, unfunny, or boring. (in fact, i'm smart, expensive, choosy, cute, funny, and interesting.) but the #1s and #2s in the scenarios above still made me feel like shit. yes, i'm an adult, but on a subtle level, their honesty damaged me, and then i got stuck doing work to fix that damage.

if you have nothing to offer to this woman but hurt, keep it to yourself. don't make her feel like shit.

as for all the #3s i met out there, i still think of them fondly- "we had a bit of fun, the timing didn't work out, i wish them the best." in hindsight, i know that some of them were indeed telling the truth (we're still pals, and i know they actually did reunite with exes, etc). but i also assume that some were probably letting me down easy- and my undamaged self-esteem thanks them for it.

Obviously this is tailored to dating advice, but the principle applies here, too. It hurts really badly when a friend decides they don't like you any more. Give her every reason to think the reason for your absence is YOUR problem, not HER problem, and let her carry on her life and her self-help journey with as little pain as possible.
posted by twistofrhyme at 2:29 PM on December 7, 2009


Oh, and to be a gentle liar in this situation, what you say is, "Hey, thanks for the invite to Y! I don't think I can make it, things are kind of nuts right now, let's hang out when the dust settles. Have fun at Y!" Repeat as necessary.
posted by twistofrhyme at 2:34 PM on December 7, 2009


Here's a thought: rather than cutting back on the number of interactions you have with her, cut back on the depth. You don't have to stop inviting her to things and all that; however, when she tries to unload her drama on you, keep it light but draw a boundary. The honesty approach will work much better this way, inasmuch as you stop feeding the beast she'll find other targets to unload on, and you might end up with a friendship that's good and healthy for both of you. That, or she'll pretty much disappear when she realizes you're not going to suck up her grief, in which case you get what you want anyway.

Yeah, this sounds spot-on. Keep it light, if she starts talking about something you don't want to talk about, just drift away (symbolically, possibly literally).

You don't have to invite her to everything, either, if she's going to ruin it feel free to leave her out. Life is like that sometimes. She can have her own parties and invite who she wants.

Ample use of "Oh, hmm. Hey, did you hear about [topic of mutual interest]?
posted by kathrineg at 4:17 PM on December 7, 2009


And lest my advice about excluding her seem cold, nothing sucks more than not being invited to a party than being invited to a party where no one really wants you there. It's unfun and you have to wear pants. Worst of both worlds.
posted by kathrineg at 4:18 PM on December 7, 2009


Please ignore above comment in favor of this one:

And lest my advice about excluding her seem cold, nothing sucks more than not being invited to a party, except being invited to a party where no one really wants you there. It's unfun and you have to wear pants. Worst of both worlds.
posted by kathrineg at 4:19 PM on December 7, 2009


If instead you sit her down and say "I really value your friendship, and I understand you're going through a lot right now, but I find myself feeling more like a therapist than a friend, and that's making me uncomfortable. I'd still like to be your friend, but in order to do that I think I need to step back a little bit..." etc etc.

Yeah, she'll be hurt. But she'll also know exactly why she's not being invited to events, and you'll never have to give a BS answer. More importantly, she'll know her feelings were considered, that she was respected, and that her friend still cares for her. And hopefully, she'll learn from this so that her future friendships don't follow the same unfortunate course.

Unless she's done something to personally offend you, she deserves your honesty.


Having just posted about being on the receiving end up this situation, plus having also been the person trying to create distance, I really like this advice. Honesty doesn't have to mean bulldozing somebody's feelings and it's better than being passive aggressive and coming up with excuses. Also just a rule that I've learned over the years is that even if there's conflict or you feel like you're worn out by somebody's drama (which is always in the eye of the beholder), that's still no excuse for at least not treating them graciously in stepping down the friendship. Or in other words, never use somebody else's insensitive/thoughtless behavior as an excuse for bad manners.
posted by green_flash at 4:30 PM on December 7, 2009


A small observation about your question #1: I think your high-maintenance friend is really looking for reassurance when she asks "Why wasn't I invited?" In other words, she wants to hear that she wasn't invited because [some bland reason], not because [she's a psycho drama queen and swirling sucking eddy of despair]. So if you can give her a bland answer - see upthread for many good suggestions - I think she won't probe any further. She probably suspects and fears that people see her as a psycho drama queen, and wants to be validated as a "normal" likable person.

If she does probe further, she's probably just trying to make sure that your first answer was true. Just keep giving her the bland impersonal reasons until she's satisfied. It doesn't sound, from your description, like this is the kind of friendship that would be best served by brutal honesty. You're getting tired of her drama and it sounds like you want to detach a little, permanently. (Honesty is necessary for lifetime relationships like married couples, but this sounds like a more casual friendship - the type that often fades away naturally as people move through life.)

I wouldn't lie to her, but I really don't think you need to worry that she will keep haranguing you until the bitter truth comes out. Nobody wants to be judged harshly by their friends, and I think she's just looking for "proof" that her fears are unfounded. Let her down gently with true-but-inoffensive reasons, and detach yourself gradually. Good luck.
posted by Quietgal at 11:07 AM on December 8, 2009


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