Rock and a hard place, and the hard place cries ALL THE TIME.
October 20, 2010 2:17 PM   Subscribe

I don't know if I can manage this relationship anymore, but the problem is, I've got to. I will attempt to describe this adequately inside.

Friend situation. Girl/Girl. Friends for ~9 years, we have a local award-winning creative venture between us. In general we make a good team, but she has self esteem issues and her work situation is, to put it accurately, shit. In the past there have been issues where in order to make herself feel better, she's torn me down - spoken to me as if I'm not very bright, for example. The last time that happened, I told her in no uncertain terms that she doesn't get to talk to me like that - which is where the problem comes in. When she does this (and other mean, undermining, or just shitty things, like taking singular credit for work we do together, for example) she says she didn't know that she was doing it, she didn't mean to sound that way, etc.

My position is, this is not about who you are, this is about what you did. If you didn't know you sounded like a condescending bitch just then, well, now you do, so don't do it again. I'm not calling you a bad person, I'm calling you out *on your behavior.*

Problem is the resultant crying jags and repentant phone messages aside, this kind of thing always happens again. I know it's not about me - it's about her self-esteem - but it's fucking old as hell and I have no idea where to go with it.

Added on to this is that her expectations of me have nothing to do with her expectations of herself. For example - some time ago, she said, if someone asks me about Creative Thing We Do Together, I assume they are asking me about US helping them, not me.

Great. I took that to heart, and now whenever anyone asks ME about Creative Thing We Do Together, I assume they mean "us" and not "me," even if they are asking me directly. Naturally this week I found out that she's taken a gig doing Creative Thing, didn't tell me until she was forced to do so.

On the one hand, I don't care about this project and I would have told her to do it without me unless she really needed me. On the other hand, I wouldn't have ever done what she did. In fact, I was in the position to do so very recently and did not. So I feel betrayed and consequently I'm pissed off. But given the cyclical nature of our past conflicts, I'm not at all sure that confronting her will result in anything but denials of understanding why I'm not pleased, crying jags, and then more of the same later.

The problem, naturally, is that Creative Thing We Do Together is part of a larger venture and if I drop her like a hot rock (which is really, really where I am right now) it will have consequences beyond myself and within our friend group that are pretty unacceptable. And we've been friends for nine years so throwing that away, and our collaboration, seems stupid to me. I just can't get over feeling angry, and I also am out of ideas of how to present to her my anger, frustration, and hurt without getting more of the same non-results.

To be clear, I am not claiming I'm a saint. But I try really, really hard to do the right thing when it comes to this person, and I feel like I'm not getting that in return. It doesn't help that other people have sometimes commented to me about the way she treats me and other people. I KNOW that she's not a bad person, but I'm at my rope's end as far as coping with this and I need ideas about how to approach the situation constructively.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Is Creative Thing You Do Together a business venture? Are you branded together? Do you do work together? Do you make money from what you do together? If so, can't approach this as being about a friendship. It's about a business relationship.

Try approaching her with something along the lines of this: "[Partner], when you accept jobs for us without telling me it jeopardizes our future as a business. We need to approach all of our projects together in an organized fashion and then decide who takes the lead on what. If I am approached about a project, I need to tell you. If you are approached about a project, you need to tell me. Can we agree on that?"

Don't come at it from a place of anger--you are concerned about your business together--you need to be firm. If she cries, then she cries. You will at least have stated your piece.
posted by phunniemee at 2:30 PM on October 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is really confusing. I can make sense of what you're saying in the second half of this question only by reading and concentrating carefully. I don't know if you write this way all the time or are only being elliptical and vague because you're trying to avoid identifying yourself. If you are usually this elliptical, maybe part of the problem is communication between the two of you? Shey may not know your expectations. It sounds as though maybe those expectations need to be made clear to her.
posted by pineappleheart at 2:38 PM on October 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

The best thing would be for you to "divorce" this person. She is not going to change and she has serious flaws. It is not only her self esteem, she is just not loyal and lacks ethics. This being said if you have to continue working with her, you need to take over the meetings, the presentations or whatever work situations in which you are together. You need to be the one in control, the leader.
You can tell her you are going to do it or just do it. If she dares tear you down, call her down immediately, in a "nice" way, in front of everybody. Let me be clear, you need to do it firmly, respectfully but forcefully, and without anger. You need to behave very professionally in front of other people, but making sure everybody understand that you are not a push over.

Regarding the second situation about her taking a project without telling you, you need to have a WRITTEN CONTRACT WITH HER specifying when and how all these situations should be handled, by whom, etc.

I think your main problem is that you are treating this persona as a friend (which she is not) when se is a business partner at best. So, a written contract with her is a must.
posted by dupedyestafada at 2:41 PM on October 20, 2010 [7 favorites]

Back away from the friendship part of this because, well, she doesn't behave the way a friend should behave. You obviously can't change her, and your very reasonable behavior requests haven't worked, so you can only change how you react to her. Treat her the way you would a business partner, and don't let her get away with BS like taking solo gigs while having prohibited you from doing so. When the anger has died down some (and it's very valid anger!) broach the subject of her having taken the solo gig, and make a suggestion for a new model when it makes sense for you two to work together versus working solo.

Continue to be friendly n group social situations, but back off. You don't need her drama, so the less you have to deal with it, the better. You don't have to protect her from other people being annoyed with her, either - they'll understand that you're her creative partner, not her keeper.

And then contemplate where your Creative Thing You Do Together is going to be in nine years, and how you want things to be different - and start working toward that for yourself.
posted by ldthomps at 2:47 PM on October 20, 2010

Been there. TWICE.

If you want to make a go of it a bit longer - contract.

You should probably start to pull away from this though -- is a fade out possible here?

Nthing this person is not your friend, this often happens in business relationships between people who start out as friends. Keep your head high. Start planning for a future without this millstone around your neck.

I recently wrote an answer to the AskMe about how to trust others... my answer was born of my experience with what you are going through right now... Basically, I now endeavor (gracefully!) to never to put folks in a position to hurt themselves or ME. It's time for you to fully grok what your very insecure business partner/friend is capable of (backstabbing and dishonesty) and limit her ability to damage herself and you. Alter the business dynamic as much as possible so that "everybody wins" until you can step away professionally from this train wreck.. er...person.

I wish you the best.
posted by jbenben at 2:57 PM on October 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Comparing to my own experiences with partnerships: can you split the business side away from the personal side? Is she a relative that you will have to see off work?
If you can split the personal then you can make the business a contractual process with signatures and everything. That will also release you from the personal dominance she is enveloping you with.

If you can't split the two processes your best bet would be to get a new phone number, a new residence and start doing Creative Thing You Do Together as your own. It's obvious from your description that you're capable of Doing but I don't have a handle on how welll you're going to be at selling.

It is not going to be easy and it will take years to get over it. But it can be done.

Been there done that.
posted by ptm at 3:30 PM on October 20, 2010

Like many above, I've been there. I'm still there to a certain extent. Unfortunately, my experience has been that you can't make people like this change their behavior. It sucks that nine years of friendship may be going down the drain, but when you get right down to it, that's her decision, not yours. You have a perfectly reasonable request-- don't be horrible to me-- and she's not willing to comply. The end. It would be nice if there were some magical way you could present your feelings that would lead her to take them into account, but there is not.

You say that the consequences of splitting up the Thing You Do will be "pretty unacceptable." Are they more or less acceptable than continuing to put up with her behavior?
posted by posadnitsa at 4:22 PM on October 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sounds like your venture is so big that it makes sense for you to become two companies and not one. You're both getting separate requests to do Creative Thing with people, wow, great. And you're really glad she took this job on her own because you don't have time to do it because of this other request, and so it's starting to seem like you're naturally growing upward into some entity that has common roots but, increasingly so, two parallel stems, and branching off so that each can blossom on its own would be the best solution. So it's not a divorce, more like a graduation into parallel and mutually supportive independence. Kind of a Jon Stewart - Stephen Colbert thing.
posted by salvia at 4:27 PM on October 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm inferring a lot here, but if the consequences of splitting up with a person like this -- who is emotionally immature, incredibly self-centered (she makes her apologies dramatic to feed something in her rather than set things right and move on in a good way), and in general a bad, bad business partner -- if the result of breaking up is "pretty unacceptable", IMO you're operating in a circle of friends who may be functioning more or less like her.

In other words, most of the problem is her, and another more subtle part of the problem may be that you are rotating in circles with people who don't see that. If you stay in that cloud, you'll always be judged and pecked at by immature people.

I say extricate yourself. I can't see this working itself out, but leaving sends a pretty definitive message. Whether she grows up after getting it should not be your problem, and especially not your business problem.
posted by mdiskin at 6:42 PM on October 20, 2010

If you absolutely cannot extricate yourself from this joint venture, consider going to couples' therapy together. You may not be a romantic partnership, but you sound like prime candidates for help from a third party.
posted by corey flood at 8:01 PM on October 20, 2010

I’ve had a lot of experience with friendships between two creative women. I was sort of nodding before I even finished reading your question.

First, you must think of her as your business partner. Clear all previous associations with her from your mind right now and create space for a new category in which she’s My Business Partner and only My Business Partner. Emotional history, friendship, and drama needs to be completely separate. This part of your mind is filed under a heading like “At the Office” “My Career” or “My Coworker.” Emotional history, friendship, and drama is in a completely separate category on the other side of your brain and has nothing to do with this. This part of your brain uses words like “team” “work well together” “venture” “success” and doesn’t use the word “friend” at all. This step should really help. Whenever you feel yourself getting too emotional, especially when you’re talking to her, go to this part of your brain and start using that kind of language.

Now I’m going to be a little bit of a Debbie Downer here. You’ve been friends for nine years, have a joint business and probably know all the same people. This is REALLY not a situation where you want to turn teen queen and dramatically burn bridges. Essentially, and not to be too dramatic, your life is now permanently intertwined with hers until one of you dies. It’s like the advice I would give divorcing couples-right now you’re thinking, “Fuq this, I just want to get away! This is impossible! Cut ties!” But that’s not going to happen. Even if you don’t talk for five years you will eventually run into her on the street and she’ll seem really great and you’ll feel sheepish for being dramatic and wonder why you weren’t just civil and detached about the whole thing at the time.

“she has self esteem issues…her work situation is, to put it accurately, shit… she's torn me down - spoken to me as if I'm not very bright…I'm not calling you a bad person, I'm calling you out *on your behavior…I told her in no uncertain terms that she doesn't get to talk to me like that …”
Eleanor Roosevelt said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. You are letting her get to you. Why? You need to not take this personally. It doesn’t matter if she’s lying and backstabbing or she’s a total ditzlebrain who really can’t remember how to tie her shoes. You’ll never know her real motivations and it’s a waste of time to figure them out. The functional outcome is equivalent in either case. Let’s assume she’s not lying and she really is hurting you completely by accident. Let’s say she really is that dumb and uncouth. She really has no idea it’s going to make you upset. Just assume that for a moment. Okay, so why waste energy being mad? Treat her like a naughty child. Treat her like someone with a pitiable condition, (which low esteem qualifies as). Pretend she has Tourettes and is literally completely unable to stop saying the thing she does. Laugh it off. Ignore it. It’s meaningless and trivial. If a five year old came up to you and said, “nyah nyah, you’re ugly and stupid lady!” would you think, wow that hurt my feelings, or would you think, jeez what an annoying kid that’s going to grow up with behavior problems?? Exactly. The only thing you can do is stop trusting her. And that phrase “loss of trust!” sounds very dramabomb, Brutus-and Ceasar stuff but I don’t mean it that way. I mean it this way: Would you trust a child with an important task? No. Would you get mad at a child for being unable to handle responsibility? No. You would just calmly and rationally make other arrangements without thinking about it. That’s the headspace you need to go to. Now, with regards to the specific issue of her taking singular credit or you plugging or not plugging each other’s work, that’s a business issue that needs to be addressed as business partners. Tell her to cut it out. Next time she does it, start taking singular credit right back and doing business on the side. Warn her that eventually this will undermine what success you have.

“But given the cyclical nature of our past conflicts, I'm not at all sure that confronting her will result in anything but denials of understanding why I'm not pleased, crying jags, and then more of the same later. …I just can't get over feeling angry, and I also am out of ideas of how to present to her my anger, frustration, and hurt without getting more of the same non-results.”Bingo. Trust your instincts. Talking to her is a waste of time. She’s not going to take responsibility for making you angry. And frankly, you shouldn’t try to make her. Deal with your anger without her in the picture because she’s clearly incapable of dealing with it. Forget having a heart-to-heart. Do what you need to do without consulting her and don’t trust her with your emotions.

“To be clear, I am not claiming I'm a saint. But I try really, really hard to do the right thing when it comes to this person, and I feel like I'm not getting that in return.”You need to stop thinking the universe owes you or is going to pay you back. It isn’t. This is business. Detach, detach, detach.
posted by Nixy at 1:56 AM on October 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Rock bands break up all the time, even as there are other people who are financially or emotionally depending on them staying together. Why do you think it your Creative Thing is so much more important? Move on.
posted by Free word order! at 6:09 AM on October 21, 2010

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