She's not my BFF
May 19, 2010 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Is she clingy, controlling and manipulative, or am I cold and withholding?

I am a 40-year-old married woman. About 4 years ago, I entered a 12-step program for habitual behavior, not substance abuse. The first meeting I went to, a 60-year-old woman, also married, ran the meeting and seemed domineering. When she found out I was a writer, like herself, she started to make overtures of friendship to me. I'm a pretty laid-back person and a good listener. I'm also an introvert. I found Jane, as I'll call her, fun to be with in small doses. She talks. And talks. And it really wears me out.

Despite this, we did become friends, bonding over writing mainly. When I went through a really hard time, she was there for me whenever I called. I appreciated that. But over the course of our friendship, I just haven't been able to give her the intense BFF experience she seems to want.

I enjoy spending time with her, but she wants more. When I call her on the phone, she talks my ear off and I actually have to interrupt her to get off the phone when I become drained. When we hang out together, it's the same thing. She's very opinionated, and she just goes on and on about her opinions, many of which I do not share.

A few months ago, I stopped going to meetings. To work on my issues, I now go to therapy. I found that my vision of reality differs greatly from the other people in my old group. One of the things that bothers me most about Jane is her 12-step dogmaticism. The hopelessness of "once an addict, always an addict." The insistence that if you apply critical thinking to Program tenets, you are "in denial." The reliance on a nebulous Higher Power. Instead of solving my problems myself, in Program Jane and others encouraged me to "turn it over to your Higher Power and whatever happens next is the answer." It all seemed to pat and glib. I really did try to live my life that way, but I ended up passively accepting random things at the behest of group members intoning that everything happens for a reason. Eventually my BS detector kicked in. I see that as a sign of mental health, but of course the group sees it as backsliding. The problem that drove me into the group isn't bothering me as much anymore. Therapy has really helped.

Anyway, I say that just to provide background to the start of my friendship with Jane. I was pretty vulnerable and she, quite domineering. When she declared me her "best friend," I was flattered, but I never really felt that she was mine. A good friend, yes. But I don't think I have a "best" friend.

We've had some problems. She has forced her opinions on me more than once, with advice when I just needed her to listen. I called her on "taking my inventory," she apologized, and we went back to being friends. But I've always held myself back from her.

We've had a lot of fun and laughter together. But being with her doesn't recharge my batteries. Like a lot of introverts I find extroverts great company but I have to be in the right mood to be with them. I have to have enough energy to process the barrage of information they give. This has resulted in Jane feeling like I'm cold toward her more than once. And she gets furious if I don't return her calls or emails in what she considers a timely manner.

Sometimes it takes me a few days to return people's calls and emails. Sometimes I forget to do so, if I'm really busy. And right now, I am really busy. I'm in a very demanding job that currently has a lot of deadlines and needs me to work overtime. Jane knows this. Yet she still gets resentful sometimes if I'm too busy to spend time listening to her.

Jane is into a lot of New Age activities and in fact makes her living as an astrologer. I've never come out and told her this, but I think astrology is bunk and so is most of the New Age. The happy, fuzzy cloud of "it's all meant to be!" really irks me. But I think it's rude to argue with folks about their religion. And I've always wanted to feel spiritual (whatever that means). I've really dialed down the skepticism with Jane. It would just cause an argument anyway and she'd say I was in denial and tell me to go to more meetings.

I'm looking for a new job, and I mentioned to Jane that I was interested in trying sales (meaning a sales rep job with a reputable company). Jane has a networking group and she started putting me in touch with about half a dozen members who are into MLMs. I decided to be openminded and at least look into it, and ended up deciding it wasn't for me. I told Jane this and then notwithstanding, she gave someone else my email, and they emailed me with a little spiel about how they just wanted a half hour of my time to tell me about a wonderful opportunity. I emailed Jane and asked what it was about and she said Amway.

I was mildly annoyed and it took me about a week to reply to her email. During that week she left me a phone message about how she wanted my advice on a business problem. I don't know what it was. I didn't have the energy to talk to her right then and I ended up completely forgetting about her call what with my 45+ hour work week and evening activities every single night. I'm taking a couple classes as well as going to therapy alone and with my husband.

Finally about a week later I emailed her and told her again, still politely, that I wasn't going to be doing any MLMs, but that I'd seen her emails about her business (I'm on her mailing list) and it looked like it was going great. I didn't mention her call because I had forgotten all about it. I remembered about a day after that.

She hasn't replied and I think she took me off her mailing list. Based on her past behavior, I think she's mad at me because she perceives me as ignoring her and being cold. "Withholding" is her favorite word for people who don't pay attention to her.

I don't really want to call her or email her and ask if something's wrong and be accused of being withholding. Based on what I know of her, it would be predictable of her to say "you just don't forget to call your best friend! In a whole week!" She has said that type of thing before. As I've gotten healthier, she has seemed more manipulative to me.

But there's a part of me that wonders if I really am being cold-hearted. She can be very convincing. And the truth is I feel cold toward her. I feel annoyed and drained by her, and terribly guilty for letting her call me her best friend when I've never felt quite that deeply connected to her.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ummm. Is this possibly a group for co-dependency? Because you care wayyyyy to much about what Jane thinks. She sounds really clingy, and you obviously have your own stuff to work on. Who cares if she thinks you're "withholding," I'd definitely withhold if I had to deal with her!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:50 PM on May 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

You obviously can't stand this woman, you dread seeing her, and you describe a number of personality traits of hers that annoy you. Stop being friends with her already, someone like this you'll probably need to ignore completely to get rid of. You either be her friend and put up with her the way she is, or you cut her off. People like this don't meet you halfway, especially when they're this clingy and aggressive. Any notion of friendship here is fake.

She sounds like a nutcase. Life is too short to let people like this drain your time and energy.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:51 PM on May 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

You're overthinking this. She is simple-minded, domineering, and frankly doesn't sound like someone you value that much as a friend. It's okay to "dump" friends. There is no reason in the world to remain friends with someone who causes you this much angst.
posted by jayder at 7:53 PM on May 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

I only put up with this much crap (astrology? Amway? yikes) from people when they're family.

Continue with the "withholding."
posted by sallybrown at 7:53 PM on May 19, 2010 [12 favorites]

You already know the answer to this, this isn't working for you and you need to distance yourself from her, you don't need my permission or approval, but I give it to you if that helps.

While I was reading this it reminded me of a 'friend' I had a while ago with whom I didn't do a good, or even graceful job of ending it, which I feel badly about, but in all honesty, not having to deal with her anymore is really, really worth it. Good luck.
posted by cestmoi15 at 7:55 PM on May 19, 2010

Is she clingy, controlling and manipulative? ... "Withholding" is her favorite word for people who don't pay attention to her.

Yes, she is all of these things.

And if she wasn't, she's a very different person from you and you don't seem to mesh well (New Age? Amway?!) If her friendship is a source of stress for you, cut her off.

Personally, I'd stop phoning her and hope she ignores me back.
posted by clearlydemon at 7:59 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

She sounds like a bit of a boor and a bore. Sometimes friendships have expiration dates, and it sounds like this one is well past it.
posted by scody at 8:01 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I felt kind of exhausted for you just by reading your post. Jane sounds extraordinarily high maintenance. I think your weakness here is not having enough strength to set down some strong boundaries. And yeah, boundaries piss people off because they meet YOUR needs, not theirs. And it sounds like you've been bending over backwards to meet her needs, while not thinking enough about yours. I'm not trying to be mean at all, but you sound a little like a pushover. I think you might be trying to be nice/not cold-heared and think about all the good things and good times with her, but I think Jane sees you as someone she can take advantage of, even if she's not doing it consciously.

When you call her and spend time with her, say ahead of time that you only have (for e.g.) an hour or two and then you have another thing to go to. Let her run her mouth and opinions; you don't have to agree. If the group meetings that Jane runs don't work for you anymore (and it seems like she's running them in a pretty unhealthy way), that's ok. They don't have to. Sometimes things can work for you when you need them, and then when you get healthier, they don't anymore. That's a good thing.

Why can she be opinionated with you, but you don't let yourself be opinionated with her (e.g. with astrology, etc.)? How mutual is this friendship?

Based on her past behavior, I think she's mad at me because she perceives me as ignoring her and being cold.
I don't know if this is me being cold, but I don't see this as a bad thing, given that if you do have a conversation with her, it sounds like she'll be angry, resentful and accusatory towards you. It's not fun having people being mad at you, but I think she's being unreasonably mad at you, and I don't understand how she thinks you're supposed to fix it. Like, grovel and apologize for not getting back to her ASAP? Not doing the Amway thing? It sounds like she's only thinking about what she wants you to do, and not getting that you might have other ideas (and maybe that's because you haven't spoken up enough about them…).

As I've gotten healthier, she has seemed more manipulative to me.
It'll probably get worse as you get healthier. I think while you were unhealthier, it was sort of beneficial to her. Now that you're getting healthier, you may be needing her less and less and that's threatening and scary to her.

And the truth is I feel cold toward her.
Maybe this isn't a bad thing. Maybe this is what YOU need to do, given that you are annoyed and drained. Let go of the guilt. She sees you as a BFF, but you don't, and you probably have a (albeit undeveloped?) friendship philosophy whereby friendship is mutual. This one isn't. She probably knows that you feel guilty and uses this as leverage. Sounds like her friendship model is more like, "Whatever I say, goes, and if you don't agree, I'll punish you." It's kind of parent-child. Why are you so concerned about being cold and not concerned about having your needs met in this friendship?

Ok, I'm going to say it: DTMFA.
posted by foxjacket at 8:13 PM on May 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

You're not being cold-hearted at all. I think you need to be more assertive and trust your instincts here. The BS detector that finally helped you to help yourself, and to resist the passive and disempowering (IMO) model of lifelong dependency on 12 step doctrine, is the same BS detector that is telling you this is not someone you want in your life. If you feel drained and manipulated by her, then stop spending time with her! Your feelings CAN be trusted here! And, after you've DTMF, stop worrying about whether she's mad at you - it's not your problem, it's hers. Good luck.

Also - can I suggest a bit of light reading from the AA Deprogramming website?
posted by Weng at 8:27 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

She knows your emotional qualities and is taking ruthless advantage of them whether consciously or not. You don't need "friends" like that, but it sounds like you maybe ought to consider how/why you got into a relationship like this in the first place. Could this be part of a pattern for you in some way?
posted by clockzero at 8:31 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have been in this friendship! And it sucks.

You have an unfortunate situation; her unhealthy issues (sucking people dry) are a good fit with your unhealthy issues (being afraid not to let people suck you dry). And in dealing with your issues, you threaten to cut off her supply, and like any addict, she is lashing out.

And like I said--I have been there. It is hard to say no. You feel guilty, right? You feel like she needs you. You know all this stuff about her and vice versa. You've been through so much together. She's so pitiful, she'll never find another friend. Etc.

But she's still sucking you dry, even if she doesn't mean to, even if she really does "mean well" and care about you in a twisted way.

If getting well is about anything, it's about saving yourself and not just letting life grind you into the dust. Even if "life" takes the form of a messed up friend who pushes all your guilt buttons.

If it helps, when you feel guilty, think of it this way; so long as you are her crutch, she has zero chance of dealing with her dependency issues (or control issues, or whatever). If you cut her off, there's a chance, however slight, that she might take stock of her life and make some changes. If you let her keep using you as a prop, there is zero chance.

But really, you just have to value yourself and your own sanity enough to say, I'm not qualified to fix you, my broken friend, and I have to take care of myself. Best of luck in your life, I've done all I can, and now, adios. And then just let her go, cut off contact, and move on. Like a cowboy at the end of a Western, wave and ride off into the sunset and let the townspeople figure out how to deal with things.
posted by emjaybee at 8:44 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your question is: "Is she clingy, controlling and manipulative, or am I cold and withholding?"

Maybe both! Maybe neither! To me, she just sounds incredibly annoying and rather loopy. (But not loopy enough to be fun.) It also might not matter. A friend is someone with whom you want to communicate, and share, and reach out to, and hang out with. The amazing secret about friendship is if you don't feel this way about someone, you're not their friend! And you're not required to be.

Sorry, but, related: "I compromise my own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others' anger. I am extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long."
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:53 PM on May 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

It sounds to me like you have already made your decision. Correct me if I'm wrong: you would prefer not to be friends with Jane, to have as little contact as civilly possible. But you wonder if this means that you are cold-hearted.

While I'll admit, it's not the nicest way to end a friendship, it also sounds like you fear being abused or manipulated by Jane if you try to deal with situation directly.

No, I don't think your wanting this makes you cold-hearted. In fact, I think it's emotionally healthy, under the circumstances, and considering what I sense to be your values, needs, and preferences.

However, if I had been in Jane's place, I would have preferred more forthcoming-ness from you from the beginning. For instance, if (in your role) someone indicated to me that they believed us to be best friends and I did not share that view, I might have said something like "Well, yes, I do consider us to be friends, and I'm flattered that you consider me as one." However, if she pressed the point, then I would be honest with her and let her know that I did not share her feeling of "BFF", even at the risk of losing the friendship. Then, if the friendship proceeded, it would have been a more authentic one, and one less likely to snowball into this hurtful unraveling.

It sounds to me as though you had no intention of hurting Jane, but that indeed, she felt hurt. And I think it's understandable, because you unwittingly misled her into thinking that the two of you were closer than you actually were.

Since you clearly did not intend this, I would take this as a lesson to choose greater honesty and opennness from the beginning. After all, if someone feels more for you than you do for them, isn't it their right to know this and to back off if they see fit? Isn't that what you would want were the roles reversed?

This is why, I believe, that the Golden Rule is truly Golden. If you don't like being misled, then please don't mislead others, even out of "politeness."

I say this not to berate you, but to provide for you the feedback that I believe you were seeking about how to hold this situation in your own mind, and what value you can take from it.

It seems to me that over this time, you have learned a great number of important lessons, and that is to be commended, especially since it is so rare.

Hopefully, you can now (mentally) extend greater compassion to both yourself and Jane, and truly celebrate your increased self-understanding and wisdom. Since you don't wish to risk what you consider to be Jane's likely backlash, I support you in caring for yourself by foregoing any unnecessary contact with her.
posted by SociologistTina at 8:54 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't worry, after you "break up" with her she will almost certainly find someone else to engage in vampirism with in a very short while.

I, too, am pretty introverted, and you just have to come to the conclusion that lots of these very extroverted types just need someone to listen to them. Constantly.

That person doesn't have to be you.
posted by zachawry at 9:08 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

This has been going on for four years? I think you've definitely earned the right to let it go.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:53 PM on May 19, 2010

I think you would both be happier if you ended the friendship. You will be happier because it sounds like you don't really enjoy her company that much, and she will be happier because you're probably inadvertently repeatedly getting her hopes up and then hurting her feelings.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:54 AM on May 20, 2010

I'm an introvert too and, like you, DRAINED by someone being soooo needy and wanting all my energy and attention. As others have said, you need to take care of yourself and do what you need to which seems to include releasing this friendship.

You might want to look at why you chose (I'd say 'were dragged into') this relationship - what did you learn/gain from it and how can you use that knowledge to choose differently next time. Definitely a learning experience for you.

That said, let this go. There's no reason you have to hold on to it. She's going to be a pisshead regardless of how you do it or why you do it. Know that and do it anyway.

I had (past tense) several high drama friends and told one straight out that she exhausts me and I was able to be a better friend via email rather than in person visits. As you can imagine, that didn't go over well but too bad. I was tired of allowing her to exhaust me with her drama. And I chose something different.

Good luck with this. I know it's hard. But you will feel so much better when it's all said and done.
posted by Mysticalchick at 6:02 AM on May 20, 2010

It seems to me you must know that on MeFi someone into astrology, Amway and 12 step programs is not going to get a lot of sympathy. So are you just looking for affirmation? You say that she was there to support you when you went through a hard time, and though she's the one who talks too long, you do mention yourself as the caller. Perhaps you feel you might have taken advantage of her friendship as someone to lean on, even though you never really felt close to her and weren't really willing to reciprocate?

She doesn't sound particularly rational, but she's not your lab technician. She gave you emotional comfort when you needed it, and expects that of you - perhaps in smaller doses. But of course it isn't required of you. There isn't an objective answer to this question. It's an issue between you and Jane, and you get to decide the future here. If you want to have her friendship the next time you're going through something, you should find a way to appease her. If not, you can let the friendship dwindle away and move on, or even make a clean break.
posted by mdn at 6:51 AM on May 20, 2010

But there's a part of me that wonders if I really am being cold-hearted.

You are.

Well, not exactly. I'm sure you have a warm heart, or you wouldn't be worried about this.

I suggest permitting yoursef to be cold-hearted. If you don't want to be her friend, you don't have to. You don't need to explain or apologize. She'll get over it. You're just not responsible for how she chooses to react to you.
posted by General Tonic at 7:14 AM on May 20, 2010

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