How do I keep my relationship with a former friend stress-free in a new work situation?
February 10, 2010 3:18 PM   Subscribe

How do I set up boundaries between myself and my friend after our friendship had a nuclear breakdown and we are bound to work together again?

A couple of months ago, I had a major falling-out with a close friend. For background, here's the anonymous question I asked on AskMe. I’ve kept my distance from her over the last three months. She showed up on my doorstop once, called and wished me a Happy New Year's, but I haven't really reciprocated besides being polite. I am sad because I've lost respect and trust for someone who was a good friend, but her apology blamed her parents for her troubles and were weak at best ("Sorry, but I don't understand why I incurred your wrath!").
Well, that’s been fine and good, but we will be living together again come spring. This job fits in well with my life and education goals, so I’m not going to change my plans. Still, I’m less than psyched about working with my friend again.
Here are my concerns: I don’t really want to accidentally fall into BFFness with her again. I’d like for us to remain acquaintances for now. She is still involved with the same person, which is fine by me now - my feelings for this guy aren't the same as they were. Still, when I think of them together it's still a painful reminder of this bit of history. So I just don’t really want to open my heart to someone I don’t trust. So, here’s my question: how can I establish those boundaries while living and working with someone? I'm a pretty friendly and sociable person and it's hard for me to fall in between the sulky-deliberately ignore awkwardness and the effusive person type. I’m pretty confident about my decision and I’d like to stay with it – but I also don’t want to make this person’s life uncomfortable or incur more drama or stress than necessary.
If I were to have a conversation or send her an e-mail with her before our season started, what are some good ways to establish expectations for each other while we work together for the next few months? I don’t want to be accusative – like, “In case you don’t remember, here are the ways that you fucked up!” I just want to be clear – “I don’t really want to be close friends with you right now, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings either. How do we avoid drama while living together?” She is the type of person to expect this to blow over and for things to be okay if we are working together again. Or is this conversation a recipe for disaster?
posted by anonymous to Religion & Philosophy (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think if you focus on setting up official "boundaries," it will just make the situation more awkward. The boundaries you need to establish are not for your friend, but for yourself. To protect yourself from getting hurt again, figure out how much you're comfortable with having this person involved in your life, and then don't go farther. There's no need to discuss it with her unless she brings it up. You're right that a conversation detailing your falling out will just upset both of you. If she makes overtures of friendship that you're not comfortable with, just decline politely. Treat her as you would a random stranger whose friendship you weren't particularly interested in.
posted by leafeater at 3:49 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think you need to send her anything. I think your desire to write her an email is about you still being angry (no problem there) and need her to know it. If you could just let your energy and focus go elsewhere it would do a world of good.

You know when you are in a group of people and you pay attention to some people more than others, just because, for whatever reason, they are on your radar more? Have her be one of those people not on your radar. (I am not sure how many people you will be with, so it might not work) Focus on the other people in your group more heavily. It will take up all your attention.
posted by Vaike at 3:52 PM on February 10, 2010


Hmm. Rock, meet hard place.

I wouldn't have the 'conversation' before joining up again. What I would do is try to have a personal, domestic and social life that doesn't include her. To avoid falling into the best friend trap don't treat her as a friend but as an acquaintance. Behave as if you have moved on from that time in your life (which it sounds like you have) and have thus moved on from the negative relationships also.

Understand what 'disinterested' means and behave like that. You have no responsibility to behave in a more than a generally friendly and well mannered way toward her. Don't invite her out with friends, don't single her out for interaction, just kinda ignore her as much as possible without being rude. Accept any apologies she has offered but explain that for you 'all that is in the past, including our previous close relationship'. Don't let her try to push your boundaries, or manipulate you into feeling sorry, just don't engage much at all.

(on preview, what leafeater and Vaike said).
posted by Kerasia at 3:56 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


If I were to have a conversation or send her an e-mail with her before our season started, what are some good ways to establish expectations for each other while we work together for the next few months? I don’t want to be accusative – like, “In case you don’t remember, here are the ways that you fucked up!” I just want to be clear – “I don’t really want to be close friends with you right now, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings either. How do we avoid drama while living together?” She is the type of person to expect this to blow over and for things to be okay if we are working together again. Or is this conversation a recipe for disaster?

How to avoid drama? It seems to me that the ball is in your court. She is expecting to be able to pick up your friendship at the same level of intimacy and closeness and you don't want that.

Do you think she's going to respect any boundaries you set if you only express them through your behavior? Can she take a hint? If you don't accept or extend invitations to hang out and be social and if you are only superficially friendly, do you think she will respect that?

If not, then you're going to have to decide whether you can live with her trying to ingratiate herself and re-establish your friendship as it once was, for the entire time you work and live with her. If you can, then that's fine.

But if not... even if it causes some drama, speaking to her before you move in together is probably going to be a good idea. Sometimes honesty is the best policy, after all. If you don't clearly establish with her that you're no longer interested in being as close, you may find living with her uncomfortable. Her feelings are less important than yours here.

If I were in your shoes I wouldn't set strict ground rules or rehash what happened. But at the same time, there's nothing wrong with telling someone that while you would like your roomate/work situation to work out, you don't feel the same way about them as you used to. You don't really trust her. You haven't completely forgiven her. But at the same time, you want to make this work. So you'd appreciate it if she would give you some space and let you keep your relationship light and not too personal for a while.
posted by zarq at 4:26 PM on February 10, 2010


Jobs that involve living with your coworkers don't make for great drama-free former-friend relationships. Is there any way at all that you can find an alternative living situation? I'd strongly suggest you do so if it is at all possible.

Either way, if I were you, I'd pull her aside--in person, never ever by e-mail--and say, "I want for us to get along and work together productively, but I'm not ready to be close with you again in terms of our friendship. I don't want to stir up drama or rehash our past conflicts, but I hope you'll understand if I maintain some distance."
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:23 PM on February 10, 2010


I think if you focus on setting up official "boundaries," it will just make the situation more awkward. The boundaries you need to establish are not for your friend, but for yourself. To protect yourself from getting hurt again, figure out how much you're comfortable with having this person involved in your life, and then don't go farther. There's no need to discuss it with her unless she brings it up. You're right that a conversation detailing your falling out will just upset both of you. If she makes overtures of friendship that you're not comfortable with, just decline politely. Treat her as you would a random stranger whose friendship you weren't particularly interested in.

I disagree with this. This is an incredibly bitchy, passive aggressive way to deal with someone who is trying to reinvigorate a friendship. It also has the potential to make her push harder. I think meg_murry's wording is perfect, respectful, and clear.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:49 PM on February 10, 2010


we will be living together again come spring.

I don't know what you do for a living, honestly, but I have to second Meg_Murry that jobs requiring shared living space as well are not going to allow you the personal freedom you deserve, even without the drama -- because living and working with the same people is bound to create drama even where none would normally exist.

Find an alternative living situation, or find another job, with the understanding that you're not giving in to her or giving up, but acknowledging that distancing yourself from 24/7 proximity to painful relationships -- and even healthy ones -- is a good thing. Lord knows I wouldn't want to live and work with the people I love the most, much less other people.

As far as the two options noted by PhoBWanKenobi above, I'm torn -- and I think the choice you make depends entirely on the kind of people you both are. Talking to her as Meg_Murry suggests might be just the thing...or it might backfire if she's the type to leave well enough alone and infers (or intentionally decides to infer) that you're rehashing the same old things. I know that I personally would prefer to have someone be up front about it, but I wouldn't necessarily trust another person to take my similar overtures as they're intended. May I suggest a combination, where you leave things alone and politely turn down friendship overtures if they're not desirable to you, and say what Meg_Murry suggests if and only if she elects to make an issue of it?
posted by davejay at 6:55 PM on February 10, 2010


Once you start living together again and she gets the hint that you will absolutely will not be her BFF again **watch out** she's seems exactly the type to go after you again. She might even do this premptively, because deep down, she knows she betrayed to you last year and she might be afraid you will gossip about her w/ other roommates, etc.

Why do I say this? Because she hasn't maturely acknowledged she is soley responsible for the fact that you don't trust her anymore. In fact, her apologizes put the onus back on you, don't they? This person takes little responsibility for her actions, and she's actively demonstrated that she has no problems whatsoever hurting your feelings. I'm sure this is a pattern of her's. Don't get caught up in it again.

What do you do?

She's your enemy - so follow that sage advice about friends and enemies and keep her close!

Honestly, I don't recommend spending loads of time with her and stuff, but I do recommend that you act all phoney baloney when you must interact (don't overdo it!) and never hint to her that you don't trust her. Ever.

BTW, My advice would be completely different if you were not set to live and work together again. But you are. And I want you to sail through the experience unscathed.

I definitely recommend you practice adopting a demeanor that presents as nice externally, yet distant internally before you see her again this spring.

Memail if you want more specifics, book recommendations, etc.
posted by jbenben at 7:37 PM on February 10, 2010


Nthing the shared living & working space comment. I don't see any way this arrangement is going to be stress-free for you, unless you decide to have a massive emotional blow-out with her (and the guy) with no guarantee of a good resolution, have a desire to continue angry/ ambivalent feelings on a daily basis when you see them, or think that you're capable of forgetting the whole situation and acting like nothing happened--possibly running into self respect problems. Not to throw all of this on you, but do you really expect her to handle this with maturity and grace? Because her track record isn't great in those areas based on the last post, and the only behavior that you have control over is your own.

I don't think that there are any "boundaries" that you can set that will make physical proximity less of an issue. Unless there's a shed that someone can live in or it's a pretty big house/ dispersed worked situation.

I don't know if this former friend/ the guy is working for the same boss or what the job entails, but management may be less than thrilled about drama being introduced into the work environment, no matter whose fault it is.
posted by _cave at 8:11 PM on February 10, 2010


how can I establish those boundaries while living and working with someone?
Like others have suggested, maybe you shouldn't live with her. How did it happen that you've ended up living with her again? Do you have a job where you have to live together or something (like on a cruise ship, treeplanting, etc.)? i.e. if you made the choice to live with her again, when maybe you could have avoided it, why did you make that choice?

Anyway, from both your posts, she sounds kind of flaky. Like she just couldn't stay away from this guy, she wanted you to be happy for her, she wanted to stay friends and not take any responsibility for her actions and her betrayal of you. You confided in her, and ok, they got together. Great. Relationships can be good things in people's lives. But then she continued to flaunt her relationship in front of you in your living space. If she wanted to stay with this guy, at least have the decency to take it outside or something! Geez!

I think the way to handle this is first, decide if this is someone you can be friends with, ever. I know you said that you want to be acquaintances with her, but do you not want to be friends with her right now and wait for some time to pass until you feel better, or do you not want to be friends with her again, period? She really doesn't seem like a good friend, so if I were you, I'd tell her firmly that you don't want to be friends with her, period. I don't think you should give her "hope" that you can be friends again, so that you don't fall into BFFness again, and so that she doesn't walk all over you again. This way, you can talk civilly about work while at work, and you can talk about chores and bills as roomates.

I think you need to be really clear about where your friendship is at, and be clear with yourself and her about what you want right now: friendship no, civility yes. She sounds like the type where if you give her an inch, she'll take a mile. If she gets the sense that maybe you still want to be friends with her at some point, I think you'll fall into that BFFness, or spend a lot of energy trying to ward her off. Or, if you do really want to be friends with her again, you have to forgive her (at least to yourself), release your hurt/anger and accept her, warts and all. And beware - she might do something like this again (disregard your feelings, not take responsibility for it), so try to be prepared for that this time and make her accountable for her actions.
posted by foxjacket at 7:52 PM on February 11, 2010


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