How do I deal with a friend who constantly criticizes me?
February 19, 2009 6:42 PM   Subscribe

I have a new friend on my study abroad trip (we're both Americans) who likes hanging out with me and keeps asking to do things with me, but he always criticizes me. For example, I showed him some of my all-time favorite songs by a Danish band. He listens to it for 4 seconds and is like, "I don't like it. It's too conventional." I mean, I don't have a problem with him not liking the music; I just don't like how he had to label it, especially when I TOLD him they were my favorite songs.

I have a new friend on my study abroad trip (we're both Americans) who likes hanging out with me and keeps asking to do things with me, but he always criticizes me. For example, I showed him some of my all-time favorite songs by a Danish band. He listens to it for 4 seconds and is like, "I don't like it. It's too conventional." I mean, I don't have a problem with him not liking the music; I just don't like how he had to label it, especially when I TOLD him they were my favorite songs.

We cooked together. I don't have a lot of cooking experience but I do have some. He was making me nervous because I was afraid I'd make a mistake and then he would criticize me. So I wasn't performing at my top level. Sure enough, he's like, "I can see why you always do microwave meals" and "you're afraid of the pan!" (I was not, I honestly have cooked stir-fry a million times before yet there was no getting through to him because makes so many assumptions and conclusions based on minute evidence).

Also while we were cooking, I said I wish I'd brought my camera so that we could document the moment. He's like, "why would you want to take pictures of food? Bored people do that." I replied sarcastically, thanking him for calling me bored, and he said "you ARE bored. Taking pictures of food. That's like the most boring thing you can take pictures of." (he went on but I'll spare the rest of it). For the record, I am NOT bored. And he's a photography buff!!!

Then when we were shopping and I wanted to buy one of my favorite fruit smoothie drinks, he said that was an extravagance and that the drinks were trash (they're 100% fruit by the way, no sugar or preservatives added). He also kept criticizing me for buying microwave meals and how eating microwaved food is going to shorten my lifespan. He buys expensive organic and fresh foods and complains about not having money. I understand that fresh food is better quality but I'm trying to save money and have to live like a Spartan. What's so wrong with that?

We both live in the same dormitory. He was in my room one night and went off on a rant about how much he hated the dorms. He's convinced that we're being ripped off at the dorms (because they don't match up to his standard). He's looking for somewhere else to stay. He says I don't understand the concept of value. That I am just naive and going along with what I'm told when really I'm supposedly being ripped off. My rationale is: we're studying abroad. I am staying in the dorm because I want to save money. I'm not looking for luxury. And I happen to think that our dorm is a good value for money. I try to tell him this and he'll just start arguing against what I tell him, even if he contradicts his earlier arguments.

On the train one day, he said to me in an accusing tone, "You should have taken a Danish language course LAST semester." (This is my second semester here and his first). I didn't have enough information to take such a course last semester. I didn't know which courses were available and didn't know I would be returning for a second semester, etc. The only reason he's taking one is because I told him about it. He said it is always important to learn the local language. And I called him out on the fact that he'd previously complained that the Danish people should offer all important documents in as an option English by default. He responded with, "yes they should. English is an important language and the Danish people need to recognize that." So no matter what, he has to be right.

When I was waiting to cross a busy street, he ran across. When I finally crossed, he said, "you got to just RUN. You have to learn how to navigate in a big city." I've been navigating this city for a whole SEMESTER before he came!

I have helped him to get adjusted here in so many ways, and yet all he does is criticize me. Everything I do is wrong, "conventional" and just not right. He also complains to me about how dissatisfied he is with his experience abroad. I don't ask for anything in return for helping him. I just want him to treat me with a little more respect. Maybe there's something I'm doing wrong. I'm a shy and reserved person by nature, and not very confrontational. But I think I argue back too much when my buttons are pressed.

I don't understand why he keeps wanting to spend time with me, only to tear me down. Unless he doesn't realize he's doing this. I can't share anything that I like with him because he's bound to say something critical about it. it's a pity because despite that, we have connected and it's easy to talk to him. That constant criticism is what's making it so hard to enjoy being his friend. I know he's had major issues earlier in his life (involving therapists, family problems, the unfortunate loss of his father, etc) and I sympathize with him. I know he has a lot of anger with the world. I feel bad about that, and I want to help him. He's told me about his problems and I've tried to offer my insights. He seems like he agrees with those but then he has to turn around and criticize me and my tastes just because they aren't as "refined" and "off-the-beaten-path" (his own description) as his.

How should I deal with this? I want to be his friend still, but his negativity and criticism are really starting to take a toll on me. Should I confront him straight up about it? Or should I just ignore the criticism and play deaf? Or cut him out completely? Whichever is the best option, how do I go about it in a nice way?
posted by starpoint to Human Relations (45 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Dude, look how long you ranted about this guy. Do you really want to keep him as your friend? It's fine to be nice, but you don't have to hang out with him. You're abroad, you're probably surrounded by plenty of people from other countries as well in that dorm, go make some other friends already.
posted by lizbunny at 6:45 PM on February 19, 2009 [9 favorites]

He's an abusive dick who is using the fact that he's had problems in life (and I would assume you found out about these during a guilt trip) in order to bend you to his will. I'd cut him out piece by piece, and if he asks why, then tell him flat out that you feel he's negative all the time and you'd prefer your time abroad to be constructive.

Do you really want your memories of this trip to be dominated by his whining and manipulation? You don't have to be "nice," you have to be truthful, even if the truth stings. Don't directly accuse him, just tell him how the things he says make you feel, and if he keeps doing them, he knows why you've distanced yourself.
posted by mikeh at 6:48 PM on February 19, 2009 [10 favorites]

You should tell him he's too negative and critical, but beware, he might not like hanging around you anymore if it means he can't constantly put you down.
posted by bluejayk at 6:51 PM on February 19, 2009

Get a new friend. This guy is obviously making you unhappy with his criticism and you're pretty aware that he's going to make no attempt to change who he is. You're likely spending thousands of dollars on this study abroad experience and he is definitely not helping with the wonderful memories that usually come with studying abroad.

If he asks you why you're spending less time with him, just tell him the real reason(and watch him him to criticize you yet again, hopefully for the last time).
posted by nikkorizz at 6:53 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not just any memories, but once in a lifetimes memories, may I add.
posted by nikkorizz at 6:54 PM on February 19, 2009

Making yourself conveniently unavailable would be a good start, and don't invite him anywhere anymore. If it comes up he's trying to get you to go with him, or he invites himself along, try the following: "yeah, that sounds fun, but ah I feel tired. Maybe some other time." "Oh, I'll catch up with you later" "Nah, I thought I'd just go alone if that's alright.") might be a good way to go about it. He'll eventually get the message. If he confronts you about it, which he might (he seems pretty arrogant), you can tell him exactly what you're telling us: The constant negativity and criticism are really starting to take a toll on you. .
posted by lizbunny at 6:56 PM on February 19, 2009

Confront straight up. Frankly, this sounds like either a very not nice person, or else someone who lacks basic the social understanding required to function in relationships with other people. Either way, hints are not what will work. Tell him clearly that the negativity and insults are hurtful. If, like I expect, he tries to brush it off or turn it around on you ("you're so sensitive!"), don't let him do so, and be very firm. Then cut contact if necessary.

I feel like part of the reason you're writing this is because you want validation of how you feel. So let me validate you: Your examples of things he has said and done are egregiously rude and hurtful. I would not spend my time with this person.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 6:56 PM on February 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

He desperately needs to feel superior to you -- and he can only do this by constantly pointing out your supposed inferiorities. He is not a happy person, and some unhappy people are only gratified by making sure everyone around them is as morose as they are.

He does not sound like a pleasant person to be with, and you owe him nothing. Nothing. You are supposed to be there learning and enjoying yourself, and this guy is ruining your experience. Next time he asks you to do something with him, just tell him you're not available -- and go enjoy yourself with people who don't need to tear you apart to make themselves feel okay.
posted by OolooKitty at 6:56 PM on February 19, 2009 [11 favorites]

I've had friends like this before, and they are always a waste of time.
posted by peacheater at 6:56 PM on February 19, 2009

I see a lot of apologies in your post ("I wasn't performing at my top level", "I happen to think that our dorm is a good value for money", "I didn't have enough information to take such a course last semester", "What's so wrong with that?" etc.). Obviously explaining your perspective doesn't work - and my experience with such negative people is that it never will - so if you want to stay friends with this person you can't take any of their criticisms seriously.

You don't owe them a response. You can elect to disengage when the criticism comes out: ignore it, laugh it off, or just leave an uncomfortable silence. If someone wants a friend (and not a target), they'll get it.
posted by Paragon at 7:02 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

You didn't mention why you want to be his friend still, unless it's this: "I feel bad about that, and I want to help him." Pity-friends doesn't work. Start telling him to shutup/ditching him after he criticizes you. Either he'll stop, or you'll end up spending no time with him at all.
posted by jacalata at 7:02 PM on February 19, 2009

All you can hope for him is that he develops some maturity or self-awareness on this study abroad trip.... enough to get over himself. If you're shy, you may be afraid that you won't meet anyone better than him or you may be reluctant to step out of your shell... but that guy sounds like pretty terrible company and I'm sure you can do better. You don't want to inadvertently pick up on any of his habits.

When he asks to do things with you, tell him that the condition of your shared time is that he cuts out the negativity beause it's bringing you down. Otherwise you will go and spend time with others who are actually fun to be around. If he protests, tell him it doesn't seem like you guys have a lot in common based on his frequent observations about how wrong your tastes are.

You being 'nice' has not resulted in a satisfactory friendship so do a quick cost/benefit analysis and figure out if this guy's good traits outweigh the 10+ paragraphs of bad ones.
posted by cranberrymonger at 7:04 PM on February 19, 2009

I've had friends like this before, and they are always a waste of time.

posted by scarello at 7:06 PM on February 19, 2009

Would you be his friend if you were at home? I am imagining you struck up a friendship because you saw a fellow American, but he sounds like a real insecure jerk.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:08 PM on February 19, 2009

Ditch the a-hole american. In fact, try ditching all americans! Your study abroad will be much more fun and fulfilling that way.
posted by footnote at 7:32 PM on February 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

Absolutely agree with OolooKitty upthread, this guy is desperate to feel superior. It's possibly exacerbated by being in unfamiliar surroundings.
You should ditch him, this weird little (co-?)dependent relationship will limit you from making other friends - get out and meet some Danes and work on your language skills! Be aware that he will cling desperately to you - when you start to give signals that you can't be bothered hanging out, he WILL turn more criticism/ throw guilt trips at you.
Knowing what is really going on will give you the power to step out of his game.
posted by Catch at 7:40 PM on February 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure what this person is doing that qualifies as a "friend" because I sure wouldn't put up with that shit for very long. It may be that we're not getting the whole picture and this guy does in fact have redeeming qualities.

I think you might feel like you have to walk on eggshells or be super-nice because of whatever issues this guy had in the past, but it boils down to this: you need to tell this guy to fuck off the next time he starts acting like a dick. One more thing: this guy likes to argue for the sake of arguing - don't play along.
posted by O9scar at 7:46 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Should I confront him straight up about it?

Yes, IF you want to keep spending time with him. But be prepared for him to brush it off the way he has brushed off past attempts to confront him in the moment and be prepared to follow through on your side. If he listens to you, that's awesome--and who knows? He might. However, you need to stand your ground--if you say "It drives me crazy how critical you are of everything I do and I need you to stop; it makes hanging out with you really unpleasant" and he responds with "God, you're so sensitive... must be all that mediocre music you listen to" then you need to stop hanging out with him. It would be really big of you to give him a chance to change his behavior, on the off chance he doesn't realize how awful he's being, but you also need to stand up for yourself. I totally understand the shy/polite until you're super-angry thing, but you need to summon the calm but firm middle ground where you engage him kindly and directly, give him a chance, and then let him live with the consequences if he chooses to continue being obnoxious.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:55 PM on February 19, 2009

There was an episode of This American Life a while ago that talked about a psychology study wherein groups were given a task to accomplish. One person in the group, unknown to the others, was an actor. The actor played the role of a person exactly like you've just described... always making snarky, disparaging comments. The goal of the study was to see how one bad apple can affect the group, and the results showed that he was devastating to group morale and productivity.

So, yeah. This guy sounds like a jerk. Get him out of your orbit.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:11 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ding Training.

(I described this once before, for a similar question, but it works so well, I'm gonna re-iterate.)

I invented this as a way to tame a ruthlessly self-aggrandizing friend and it worked quite well. My friend used to compare himself to me all the time, always in a way that made him look better than me. It was lame. So here is what I did to him, applied to your situation:

You: Hey, I wanted to show you this cool video, it's a ninja cat--
Him: Dude, your ergonomic keyboard sucks. How do you type like this?
You: Ding. (say it in a normal tone of voice- don't yell it or make it accusatory or make a bell sound effect, just dryly say the word "ding".)
Him: Huh?
(Make sure to keep the tone light. You're making a point, but in a fun, ironic way. Do not allow hurt feelings to get involved here- slightly aloof is better than plaintive.)
You: I decided to start keeping track of all your criticisms. Every time you rag on me, I'm gonna ring an imaginary bell.
Him: That's stupid.
You: Ding.
Him: Can't you take a joke?
You: Ding.
Him: Okay, I'm gonna start saying Ding on you, too.
You: Be my guest, senor. Anyway, this video is funny, look at this. (Let it go, and get back to whatever you were talking about before.)

Every time he's a jerk, you dryly say "Ding" before going on to the next point.

Him: Your avatar is ugly.
You: Ding. This is a cool website, they had a post about robots.
Him: Robots are so last month.
You: Ding. Hey, did you see Slumdog Millionaire?

Do not make a big deal, don't accuse him, don't stop the conversation, don't have a tone of "See how often you do this?" Just say it calmly and then continue your sentence to get on with the conversation.

If you have to Ding him in public, do it. When others ask why, just wait- don't answer right away- let him explain. The shame of it will speed up the process. If he doesn't explain you mildly explain, "Jimmy here likes to insult me a lot, so every time he does, I ring an inaginary bell."

During the Ding Training, at first he'll be defensive, "Dude cut it out, you insult me all the time too, I just forget to Ding you, blah blah blah." Just mildly let him rant, and whenever he insults you say Ding. Don't take the bait and insult him back. He's just embarrassed because he realizes how often he's being a jerk.

Soon he'll start rolling his eyes & saying Ding himself, like "Oh, I know, Ding, right? Sheesh."-- He'll do it before you even have a chance to do it. That's great- it means he's starting to realize where the line is.

For a while, he'll try to Ding you every time you tease him, but it won't happen as often because you're not as mean.

Eventually, he will realize, "I am critical too often. Nobody is as critical of me as I am of them. That is not fair. I should stop this." He will never admit to these thoughts, but his Ding frequency will decrease. This took about 2 weeks in my situation, seeing the person every day.

When he scales back the insults, it's time for you to scale back on the technique. Til now you should have been Dinging him for every insult (unless it was REALLY funny, you can let those ones go). You wanted to make a point of showing him how often he does it, even if some of the times you Dinged him were not hurtful comments. But eventually, when he gets the point and brings the insult frequency back to an acceptable level, you can stop Dinging him for the friendly jibes. If he's just teasing like a normal friend, let it go & enjoy it. But you can reserve the right to Ding him for insults that cross the line, forever after.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:14 PM on February 19, 2009 [589 favorites]


There have to be other, less annoying people to be friends with there.
posted by fructose at 8:18 PM on February 19, 2009

I understand your desire to be compassionate, but you are not doing this guy any favors by just shutting up and taking this kind of treatment. Feel to disengage yourself and find other friends. If he asks why, tell him exactly what you've told us - "it's not fun to hang out with people who constantly criticize everything around them!".

I've been good friends with someone like this. I still love her to death, but I'm glad I don't live near her anymore. She really made certain parts of what was otherwise a fun experience NOT FUN.
posted by Knicke at 8:19 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

1. He doesn't respect you.
2. He makes you unhappy.
What are you getting out of this?
You deserve better, dump him and enjoy life while you can.
posted by aquafortis at 8:20 PM on February 19, 2009

Your friend is a lonely, bored asshole in a foreign country who has found a convenient dumping ground for all the reasons why his semester abroad isn't everything he imagined it would be. He's unhappy, and he's taking it out on you.

It's not your job to make him happy. Which is good, since it would be impossible.

If I were you, I'd just start sort of passively avoiding him. But I'm non-confrontational that way.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:25 PM on February 19, 2009

Is he romantically interested in you? This seems like a strand of jerk behavior that might fit.

Regardless, though, shut him down.
posted by grobstein at 8:30 PM on February 19, 2009

I feel for you. The best plan would be for you to lose him like the others have said, but if for some reason you can't do that, then try this.

The next time he criticizes you, just inform him how "simplistic" his viewpoint is. And it's the truth too, because he is only looking at one side of every situation. Instead of telling him outright how he criticizes you, tell him outright how he simplifies every single thing in his head and there's nothing simple about this world we live in. There's nothing that's simple.

This will bother him since he prides himself on knowing everything and being right. If you do this just right it won't be long before he is going out of his way to over think everything.
posted by cmcmcm at 8:44 PM on February 19, 2009

Ugh I hate these type of people who need to put their 'friends' down in order to feel good about their sad pathetic selves. Cut him off!

But if you don't - maybe there's some kinda redeeming quality that's not getting through in your post - here's some advice to deal with his constant criticism: don't get defensive. Don't give him the pleasure of seeing you bothered because in his eyes, it means that he's right, they ARE lame, they ARE unrefined, YOU'RE in denial of your absolute Lameness, etc. You know what you like, right? You're not looking for someone else to teach ya how to live, right? So just ignore it. You can't change him and he can't change you (although he can make you plenty annoyed in his efforts) so just keep your cool. Ignore it, stay silent, flip it around on him even; in a casual tone ask why he always has to make everything into a you vs. me sorta thing, can't we just get along, etc.

The easier thing to do is just, y'know, not hang out with people like that.
posted by parjanya at 8:48 PM on February 19, 2009

I'm dying at the "Ding Training". Brilliant.

Anyway, this guy is a tool. There is no reason in the world to waste any time with someone like this unless they are your own spawn and if that is the case, you do it and try to rehab them.

I've absolutely known people like this. Super negative nellies. They will ruin your mood, they will suck the joy out of every occasion they take part in. Lose him. Be busy elsewhere. Life is too short to spend time with that kind of draining personality.
posted by Edubya at 9:36 PM on February 19, 2009

Sometimes the body is more intelligent than the brain. Eat bad food and your body will expel it. Meet bad people? The brain isn't always wise enough to do the same.

I don't mean this as an insult to you, by the way. We *ALL* do this from time to time. There are times when we have chemistry with people we shouldn't.

Think of it as "Personal Botulism."

Lose him.
posted by 2oh1 at 10:09 PM on February 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

It'd suck if you were looking back on your trip and thinking only about this. If you had the time and inclination, I'd agree with pseudostrabismus about that being a likely tactic to work; but as is, seriously, try to meet some new people, maybe make some local friends...

Of course I am the worst person on earth to advise you on HOW to make friends with someone who isn't in the same looking-for-another-american kind of situation. Maybe you can look for someone to practice your Danish with, or trade them English tutoring for Danish.... could be a way to start.
posted by Lady Li at 11:10 PM on February 19, 2009

Oh, I feel for you.

Current study abroad student here. I'm currently in Salzburg, Austria, and I've seen lots of similar behavior.

This is your second semester there, and this is his first. He's probably being seriously weirded out by how different everything is, and as another American he probably sees you as a lifeline to what's "normal" to him. On the other hand, because he feels so insecure (first semester and all), he feels the need to put you down so he can feel better about himself.

Would you be his friend if you were at home? is a very good point. My experience has been that the Americans here form little cliques that constantly shift, complain viciously about each other behind each other's backs, yet cling to each other and never do anything alone because they're in a foreign country and they're scared. In general, the Americans I've seen here have been incredibly insular and behave atrociously (pissing out kitchen windows, loud fake German accents in bars) especially if they're under 21.

Ditch the asshole American and avoid Americans in general, especially in groups, like the plague. I went a month here talking to the other Americans before I realized what bad news they are, and my life here is so much better as a result.

with the emotional problems, dickish behavior, and loss of his father, he could easily be one of the students in my program. it was a shock to me to discover that i'm the only one out of ten students who isn't medicated.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:44 AM on February 20, 2009

Is he romantically interested in you? This seems like a strand of jerk behavior that might fit.
This. I'd make a large wager that he hopes to seduce you, but is simply very bad at it. Others have covered the essential ground that you either need to try to retrain him or get him out of your life, but I wanted to support the idea that this is a dynamic that looks very much like an insecure guy trying to get in your pants.
posted by Lame_username at 1:09 AM on February 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

this is a dynamic that looks very much like an insecure guy trying to get in your pants.

Yes. Especially since from his perspective you might well be the only Englisch-speaking female he's going to know for the next four months. I doubt the kid's got his head on straight right now.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:30 AM on February 20, 2009

When people show you who they are, believe them.

The guy is an inadequate asshole, DTMFA.
posted by fire&wings at 2:49 AM on February 20, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks so much for your responses and suggestions! I will come back later and take a closer look at them. They are all very helpful!!!

Yes I think in my original post I didn't write enough about his redeeming qualities. I do enjoy hanging with him because he has a knack for meeting people and taking me on experiences I never would have had otherwise, since I'm not as comfortable talking to strangers as he is. Plus he actually laughs at my jokes and I feel useful when I'm around him. He does try to be nice to me, it's just that his ways of doing it aren't always nice.

I don't know about the romantic thing...I mean there is chemistry but I am not attracted to him because his general air of negativity is a turn-off. I don't think he's trying to get into my pants. He's not that kind of guy. I don't want to get involved with a guy with that much baggage, unless he's going to truly work to change himself.

I like the idea of the Ding method. i think I just may try it!! Thanks again! :-D
posted by starpoint at 3:22 AM on February 20, 2009

Does he get to say 'ding' every time you whine about how you don't like it when he doesn't like it?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:51 AM on February 20, 2009

I'd recommend to try to get to know more local people to make the most of the experience abroad and immerse yourself, it is a unique opportunity to develop as a person. This is harder to do when hanging out with other foreign people, as you become less approachable and also less likely to overcome inertia/shyness/obstacles and initate contact yourself. It becomes even harder when the people you hang out with are from your own culture.
posted by meijusa at 4:08 AM on February 20, 2009

It does almost seem like he's using a "neg" technique from that stupid pickup artist stuff. But regardless, don't get sucked in to justifying yourself on his standards. Just tell him that you don't think you can have a friendship with someone who is so unrelentingly critical, but that you're leaving it up to him whether he chooses to remove the criticism, or himself.

And just a little additional note. In my experience, "friends" who try to "help" you be more outgoing, or unique, or hip, or whatever, are not your friends. He is coming from a very narcissistic place, and will never be there for you if you really need him.
posted by miss tea at 4:25 AM on February 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Your story reminds me of a good friend of mine. He's generous, honest, always willing to help out, and he's usually a lot of fun to hang out with. Pretty much without fail, however, he finds something to criticize about me every time we meet up, whether it's my appearance, my plans, my clothing, whatever.

This tendency to criticize used to really get on my nerves. I used to defend myself or criticize him in return. After a while, however, I simply grew to expect it, and began to find it pretty funny. I stopped taking the criticism personally, and started viewing it as a quirky part of his personality.

Now, there can actually be some benefits to having a critical friend, if the friendship is otherwise positive, and you're strong enough to let meaningless criticism roll off your back. One benefit: a critical friend may be more likely to inform you of some aspect of your behavior or appearance that's actually in need of improvement. 95% of the criticisms my friend makes about me, I simply chuckle at and disregard. The other 5% consist of criticisms that I can use to constructively better myself.

- My friend informed me that my teeth were yellow. I didn't realize it until he pointed it out, but he was right. I got my teeth whitened as a result and was thankful that he let me know about it.
- My friend mentioned that I had bad posture -- that I slouched too much. He was right! I'm seeing a physical therapist now. My posture has improved and I have fewer problems with back pain.
- After I lost a significant amount of weight, and was feeling great about my appearance, another friend informed me that my shoulders looked pointy and funny, and that I should start working out. I gladly took his advice and am happy with the results.
- After I lost my job a few years ago and went through some difficult family stuff, I turned into a hermit for a while. A good friend of mine gave me some constructive criticism that helped me to get out of my hole.

So, I can't tell you whether your current friendship is worth salvaging, but I can tell you that it's possible to have a positive friendship with a critical person, and I can also tell you that it can sometimes be very good to spend time with someone who's willing to criticize you.
posted by syzygy at 4:55 AM on February 20, 2009

I've had similar friends. I felt like their jester or their improvement project. It made me very reluctant to be genuine around them because they'd just poke fun at things that were important to me. Any benefits from their friendship (and there actually were some) were completely tainted by my own developed bitterness, the feeling of walking on eggshells around them, and the cloud of cynicism hanging overhead.

And yet I stayed friends with them because I somehow felt responsible for providing them with friendship, since they didn't tend to have many other friends. I wonder why! Things got a lot more joyful for me when I broke away and hung out with other people who were actually enthusiastic about life and respectful of me. And those original friends did manage to form other relationships - this also helped me to see how I was staying with them more out of charity than out of actual interest (not good!).
posted by cadge at 7:56 AM on February 20, 2009

Tell him to shut the fuck up.

I'm quite serious.

Most people who are as you describe are either completely insecure, completely unaware of their habit, or both. Call him on it. Don't act like it's ok, because he's being a dick. Don't couch it in nice terms. When he acts like a dick, just tell him to shut the fuck up and stop being a dick.

Telling insecure annoying people to shut the fuck up isn't a great way to built an enormous roster of friends, but it is a good way to make sure the friends you have are the ones you like and actually want to hang out with. =)
posted by JFitzpatrick at 10:25 AM on February 20, 2009

I know someone with similar issues, although not quite to that extreme. The root of the problem is that he needs to constantly be negative -- not so much that he needs to put you down.

I would say to him, "You're a really negative person. You have something negative to say about absolutely everything, and it's really tiresome. I've reached the point where your negativity is weighing on me, and I don't want to deal with you anymore." Then don't deal with him anymore.

While I don't entirely disagree with those who say "dtmfa," I think you'd be doing him a BIG favor by telling him that his enormous personality flaw is the cause. When I confronted the person I know with similar issues, she was shocked. She had no idea she came across this way, and she immediately had a 180-degree personality shift. Knowing that there was a problem was enough to fix the problem. YMMV.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:59 AM on February 20, 2009

I haven't read a lot of the comments here but the "ding" thing is just weird and kind of immature, in my opinion. I think that when you're abroad and in a temporary friend type of situation, sometimes you just have to ignore the weird shit that others do or call them on it. People have weird and stupid quirks and sometimes it is more fun if you just ignore them and get on with the friendship.

If you want to call him on it, just say, next time he starts getting critical, "dude, cut the bullshit. who are you trying to impress?" or something like that. He's probably nervous about studying abroad and dealing with insecurities by criticizing others or something.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 1:04 PM on February 20, 2009

I'm going to start out harshly: this friend of yours has issues, but it also sounds like YOU have a problem with confidence and that you give him way too much power over you.

1) The comment the friend made about the band wasn't about you, but you took it personally, as if his reason for not liking the band was more important than your reason for liking it.

2) "He was making me nervous because I was afraid I'd make a mistake and then he would criticize me. " How can HE MAKE you nervous when you admit that your nerves came from your own fear of his criticism? Again, this is your issue, not the friend's.

3) "..."I replied sarcastically, thanking him for calling me bored, and he said "you ARE bored. Taking pictures of food..." Why play his game with him? Recognize that he is the one who would be bored taking photos of food, not you.

4) "I'm trying to save money and have to live like a Spartan. What's so wrong with that?" Again, he has his way of doing things, and you have yours. Keep doing YOUR thing, if you are happy about doing it. You owe him no explanations.

5) "I try to tell him this and he'll just start arguing against what I tell him, even if he contradicts his earlier arguments." and "So no matter what, he has to be right. So you know he is oppositional." As soon as you stop playing his pschological game you'll cease to be amusing to him and he'll get his kicks from other people who find it necessary to justify their beliefs and defend themselves.

God, you sound like me. You want to find the best in people and ignore their bad habits as if your good qualities will cause him to want to improve himself, or your "lovingkindness" will make his world a more positive place, causing him to become a happier, less critical person. Guess what? He is a "nattering nabob of negativism" because that's who he is. It's not because of you. He wants to be around you because he uses your defensiveness to bolster his flagging self esteem. He NEEDS to be right.

So what do you do? You can be empathetic towards him and maintain a friendship with him safely IF you can understand that his problems are his own. If you can let his criticisms slide off of you without internalizing them or getting angry, you'll be a good friend to yourself (most important!) and maybe even a decent friend to him.

I'm sorry you are stuck with him, but use him as a lesson in your own life. That's what I do with difficult people. Think of him as a gift to you, put in your path to teach you empathy, kindness and self confidence.
posted by Piscean at 2:11 PM on February 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

Yes I think in my original post I didn't write enough about his redeeming qualities. I do enjoy hanging with him because he has a knack for meeting people and taking me on experiences I never would have had otherwise

The problem is that he also prevents you from having good experiences. Positive people avoid negative people like your friend. I'd wager that there are people we don't want to hang out with you, because they don't like him.

Learn to talk to people on your own, unless you want Mr Negative to be your frame to the world.
posted by 26.2 at 1:15 PM on February 21, 2009

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