Drop her like she's hot?
September 2, 2009 7:51 AM   Subscribe

What do I say to my friend about her bad attitude?

I have this friend, I'll call her Sandy. Sandy and I met in my city a few years ago, through a specific local arts community. Sandy is avidly interested in this art form, and while she occasionally takes lessons in the subject, she mostly resides within the community as a sort of enthusiast. Sandy can be a very thoughtful, interesting person when she wants to be. The problem comes when Sandy's bad attitude turns up, as it inevitably does.

Sandy will be oddly antisocial when we go to functions, only interacting with the very short list of people she likes. She openly criticizes many artists in the community, their work/philosophies, etc. When debating the merits of one school of thought or another, Sandy has a terrible habit of throwing out "names" she knows and being quite arrogant about it. She is sycophantic to those who are known on a national level and has made some good connections doing so. She makes the point often that our local community is a "joke" compared with [other city] where many of her successful friends work. She will claim that some perfectly nice people have tried to "burn her" because they are jealous of her connections. She also gets great deal of pleasure in one-upping people on her knowledge of the art form, especially in a public space.

Certainly insecurity is an issue here. I am aware that she is nervous to spread her own wings artistically and have been very encouraging of her pursuing it further. I believe she falls back on her years as a semi-insider within the community as a way to earn her props. As I mentioned, she does have genuinely redeeming qualities, but overall l am frustrated.

I feel for her on many levels, as she is the perfect example of someone who is artistically blocked/fearful. I haven't said anything to her about it yet, but it's coming. She occasionally gets mad at me due to some small perceived slight (ie: not returning a call right away), or we might argue over her often irrational views of peoples' character/motivations. I don't want to pick friends based off public perception, but I think that going out with her socially may hinder my ability to make and keep relationships within the community.

Is there a way to give someone feedback about this behavior, in productive manner? Is it a waste to even try? I do value the parts of the friendship when we are bonding over our shared passion and I think that she does deserve a good friend, particularly if it helps her grow out of her bitterness. I don't shy away from ending relationships if there are no redeeming parts left, but I am hoping there might be some way to salvage this. Thoughts?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say that the honest route is the best way to go here. It may be that she's doing all this without realizing it. I know that I came off totally differently than how I thought I did for a while, and didn't know until a friend took me aside and talked to me about it.

If she's doing all this consciously, then she probably should seek treatment of some sort.
posted by reenum at 7:59 AM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

not going to be easy, you will have to risk the friendship if you want to give any sort of advice on this level.

If you are willing to do so, I'd suggest simple and direct. "I am not going to talk about that" then walk away, "When you complain about X I feel uncomfortable because I'd much rather focus on Y". "Please, stop. I love you to death but I hate it when people bash one another, cut each other up... etc" Don't be afraid of simply leaving, feed into her positive traits, don't feed into her negatives.

This may not work, especially given it seems like she gets a of reinforcement for her backbiting snobbish behavior, but afaik this is the only thing that might work.

carrot and stick... lotta carrot, small stick
posted by edgeways at 8:03 AM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Certainly insecurity is an issue here. I am aware that she is nervous to spread her own wings artistically and have been very encouraging of her pursuing it further. I believe she falls back on her years as a semi-insider within the community as a way to earn her props. As I mentioned, she does have genuinely redeeming qualities, but overall l am frustrated.

I'm sorry, but she doesn't sound particularly insecure. She sounds like a jerk.

People don't change unless they want to, and unfortunately, the art world (all art worlds, really) often reward this kind of behavior. And it's benefited her, so far--she's made famous contacts, and is able to inflate her ego and her status through name dropping and sniping at people. So what good would it do her to change?

Honestly, I think she's far more likely to attack you and bad-mouth you to those in your field if you stand up to her. It sounds like things are already heading that way, if you're arguing over her "often irrational views of peoples' character/motivations."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:06 AM on September 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

not going to be easy, you will have to risk the friendship if you want to give any sort of advice on this level.

In order to be loved you have to risk being hated.

Tell it like it is.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 8:12 AM on September 2, 2009

When I was younger, I was an insufferable asshole. Occasionally a friend or acquaintance would confront me about my most egregious social transgressions and I would get resentful and stop associating with them. Years later, I started to learn that these people were the only real friends I had at the time, and the things they pointed out were actually problems, and did actually need fixing.

You may not ever get thanking by calling someone out on their insufferably rude behavior, and you may even lose a friendship to boot, but the person still might change for the better.

And I think most of us actually were assholes as teenagers, and the people who don't realize it are probably still assholes.
posted by idiopath at 8:21 AM on September 2, 2009 [7 favorites]

She doesn't sound like she's worth the trouble.
Is all this petty high-school drama really worth the amount of time, attention and focus you could be using on your art?
What does she have to offer as a friend?
What are you really getting out of interacting with her?
If people aren't adding value to your life, they're taking it away.

No need for a huge send-off, just gradually see her less and less.
posted by aquafortis at 8:25 AM on September 2, 2009

Do you need this friendship, and why? If it's just about your shared passions, why not just limit your discussions? What are you looking for, that you so passionately believe another must radically change in order that you get it? I don't sense that you have a lot of affection for this woman; frankly, it sounds like you dislike her. Given that fact, I doubt you could be of much help to her. But if you feel driven to give advice, please ask her first if the advice is welcome. I'd also suggest you take a hard look at what it is that you want, from Sandy and from friends in general. If you find your own attitudes need to change, then you're in luck, because at least there you stand a chance.
posted by Wordwoman at 8:27 AM on September 2, 2009

Pay attention to the parts you like, ignore the parts you don't. When she's negative, been positive. If she comments that the local scene is a joke (which is entirely possible in the art world, however negatively stated), mention how far it has come since X. Invite or ask her to parlay some of the knowledge she has to the local community to help improve it. In short, put her ass to work if she thinks there's an issue.

I think approaching her and this problem as something that needs to be fixed or that something is wrong with her is negative way to go about this. Like anyone, she has strengths and weaknesses, so so push her positive aspects and minimize your contact with the negative, as it seems to be bringing you down.

Sandy's attitude may be a problem, but consider your reaction to her. You seem to be looking down on her and pitying her and while that's understandable, maybe you should have a different outlook on the situation.

It may be a waste to try, but it's pretty crappy to think a talented and good person who clearly has some issues isn't even with the effort. I'm not saying you're wrong in the assessment of Sandy or the situation, but suggesting that you are seeing this in your own negative light and that a negative feedback loop may be going on and getting stronger. Break the cycle and be positive.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:30 AM on September 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

Ugh, it sounds like she has some serious growing up to do.

If she really is insecure, treat her with the respect necessary to tell someone how you really feel about their actions. If she's not insecure and is just a social-climbing, manipulative drama queen (which, really, would be my assessment), then she isn't worth the courtesy of trying to protect her from the truth.

Tell her that her behavior is alienating, that you don't want to talk about the people she has beefs with, and that you aren't going to enable her drama anymore because it's unhealthy. She may feel that she is building "controversy" around herself, and that this is good PR; point out that while she may be making some connections in her favored field, she's also burning plenty of bridges. The art world is competitive, for sure, but that is precisely WHY people get father by co-operating with their peers than by stepping on toes and deliberately making enemies. Despite what amateur on-line artist communities may lead aspiring artists - ESPECIALLY younger artists - to believe*, when it comes to actually getting employment in art-related fields, nine times out of ten a reputation for being easy to work with will get you farther than raw skill, especially if the only formal training you have is "a few classes".

It sounds like you honestly want to preserve this friendship, so when you talk to her, be careful to not make value judgments or statements about her/her personality in general. Name the BEHAVIORS that are bothering you. Ask her why she feels the need for said behaviors. Try to demonstrate to her that her feelings can be valid without being projected onto everyone around her. If she still persists in perpetuating this high school bullshit, tell her politely that you need to take some space from her until she sorts her insecurities out and is capable of acting like less of a brat.
posted by ellehumour at 9:14 AM on September 2, 2009

The art world is fraught with Sandys...and they are energy drains!

Reading your post about her made me feel sorry for her, because you are right, she is likely artistically stifled herself...that is what generally causes behavior like hers. Still, she sounds like too big of a project for you..if you were to try to set her straight her ego strength is not enough to be able to take it. Anything you say to her will be met with defensiveness.

If you think the friendship has value ..I agree with Brandon Blatcher..simply pour on the positivity and see if it makes a difference. The art world is notorious for it's "tearing down" approach. She likes that..that is where she is comfortable--but deep down inside she would probably LOVE to hear something, anything flattering about her own efforts. As adults we do not get complimented enough, ever and she has decided to earn her place in the world by tearing down. It's too bad... it isn't your job to "fix her"..(and you can't). If pouring on the encouragement doesn't work....dump her!
posted by naplesyellow at 9:14 AM on September 2, 2009

Er, disregard the asterix in the above comment. I was going to make a point about the attitudes of young artists as influenced by online art communities like DeviantART, but I realized it was irrelevant and edited it out.
posted by ellehumour at 9:16 AM on September 2, 2009

She may well just be a mean person who will never change that attitude, but let's assume the best: some people define themselves in opposition to others, and the worse they feel themselves the harsher they get to everyone else ("yeah, I'm bad, but at least I'm not like THEM"). There's really no fixing that, it's just how they see the world.

However, if that's what her issue is, then what you are trying may actually help quite a bit, in time. As she feels better about herself, she presumably won't need to knock everyone else down as much to feel like she compares well to them... and the less she does that, the better everyone starts reacting to her, and etc. Whether it's worth the potentially-wasted effort is up to you.

(I'm apparently a sucker/magnet for this type of person, and have both managed to help and ended up having wasted a lot of time/energy on a truly mean person... no magic way to tell which they are beforehand that I know of.)
posted by Pufferish at 9:32 AM on September 2, 2009

You may not ever get thanking by calling someone out on their insufferably rude behavior, and you may even lose a friendship to boot, but the person still might change for the better.

At first sight, I thought this was the best advice in the thread (so far). And it is very good advice to the extent that it occurred to me maybe the best thing you could do is somehow "accidentally" let you friend see the text of your question.

But then I reflected on one of my oldest and best friends ... and what a prick he could be when he was younger (never to me, and usually with undeniable wit, which I guess is why I never dumped him). I remember once being pulled aside by another friend and asked to explain why I continued to put up with him. My answer was something along the lines of, "I think he's essentially a good person, uncommonly generous and great fun to be around when he's in a good mood. So I focus on that. And when he's a prick, I just walk away."

Now twenty-five or so years later, like I said, he's matured out of his prickishness and is as good a friend as I've ever had. Glad I didn't try something dramatic and provocative way back when.
posted by philip-random at 9:44 AM on September 2, 2009

The famous "I-statement" is your go-to here. "I don't feel comfortable talking about your grudges, Sandy." "I was hurt by your blowup over {small event}."

All you can do is state your truth. She will either listen or not listen to you, and change her behavior toward you accordingly. If she doesn't listen to you, she's not really someone you want as a friend, is she?

As for the other stuff, you're not responsible for keeping her from making an ass of herself or alienating people. If she asks, yeah, it sounds like you have lots of good feedback to give. But she's a grownup and so are you and she stands or falls on her own choices.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:10 AM on September 2, 2009

A good friend is honest in criticism.

A good friend is also willing to accept criticism without bringing hate upon the person doing the criticizing.

If you tell her what's what, you're doing the right thing. If she doesn't speak to you after that, she's doing the wrong thing, and isn't a very good friend.

If everyone follows the script properly, this creates a sort of "self-cleaning oven", where the people who are quality friends will have quality friends, and the people who aren't quality will alienate everyone, and it will be their own fault.
posted by Citrus at 12:10 PM on September 2, 2009

I'd recommend you pick up Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled. Fantastic, fantastic book.

This book helped me deal with the problems of the art community, especially when art is this solitary endeavor and thus doesn't nicely blossom into productive human communities.

Maybe this isn't all about Sandy: have you looked at the community itself?
posted by trotter at 12:29 PM on September 2, 2009

For me personally I think I'd wait unti the next time she did this to me (not amongst a group of people that included me):

he will claim that some perfectly nice people have tried to "burn her" because they are jealous of her connections.

I would then answer, in the sweetest way possible, "do you think there's any chance they do that because they've heard you badmouth nice people, like you're doing right now?" Then I'd let the sparks fly and have at it, knowing that I'll be added to her list of people trying to "burn" her.

But then, I"m that kind of person.
posted by davejay at 1:23 PM on September 2, 2009

i would talk to her one on one, and tell her directly, and if she doesn't like it or understand that you're only trying to help her...then whatever. she's not worth it anyway. friends should be honest, nobody wants a bunch of yes-men around them (at least i don't)
posted by runningoutoftime at 10:07 AM on September 3, 2009

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