I'm sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of how awesome I am.
March 6, 2011 3:18 PM   Subscribe

My friend asked me why I haven't been so friendly to him lately. The answer is that he's unbearably pretentious and accomplished and it drives me nuts. Should I tell him, and how?

This guy is nice, kind, smart, interesting, talented, and is dating on of my best friends (whom he treats very well and makes very happy). But he spells his [ordinary American] name with a silent "x," walks around town in period clothing, and makes tremendous effort to be special in every possible way. Moreover, every conversation winds up being about all the amazing things about him or that he knows or has done.

The thing is, he HAS done, seen, and been around some AMAZING shit. If he were bullshitting or talking about sports or the internet, I would just tell him to piss off, but his life experience is actually full of things that are seriously cool.

It's just that hanging out with him is so tedious because conversation is a minefield of tangents, anecdotes about his tai chi grandmaster or the poet laureate of the United States, and him saying "I'll be right back!" and then him returning from the next room with some artifact that shows how much more acquainted he is with whatever I was referencing than I am. It's a relentless stream of awesome, and I can't handle it.

But he noticed that I haven't been happy to see him lately, and he had the courtesy and forthrightness to check in with me via email about it.

So how can I go about explaining this to him in a way that's neither offensive or patronizing?
posted by Spock Puppet to Human Relations (30 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Your friend is boasting. He's doing it gracefully - it's not that socially awkward LET ME TELL YOU HOW AWESOME I AM version that's much more obvious, but he is bragging. It isn't an attractive quality in a friend. It gets really cringy at a certain point.

You might see if you can make this fly by saying "Dude, I really like you but the older I get the more I want to invest my time in friendships that have solid parity. You're way interesting but you're way more interested in you than in me."
posted by DarlingBri at 3:25 PM on March 6, 2011 [12 favorites]


It sounds like he is not that great of a friend. Everyone has friends that are that way, I relentlessly make fun of my friends when they do that.

Even if you are really awesome, friendship is about reciprocation; not an outlet for bragging.

It might sound weird, but I would make fun of him for it in a passive well received way.

It would sound like this coming from me:

Him: Man that reminds me of the time I was on top of K2 when my Sherpa died and I had to carry his body to his family for a proper funeral, I could have left him up there, but my yogi master told me never to leave another abandoned.

You: Was that before of after you flew around the world backwards to reverse time?

Its about keeping it light, but letting him know that over the top stories that show how awesome he is get really old fast.
posted by Felex at 3:31 PM on March 6, 2011 [14 favorites]


If he was forthright enough to ask why you haven't been happy to see him, he most likely would enjoy a direct and honest answer: "Spending time with you is annoying, because you are your own favorite conversational subject."
posted by Triton at 3:36 PM on March 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


It sounds like he might enjoy having you around as an admirer rather than a friend and, well, you can just tell him that.
posted by vacapinta at 3:38 PM on March 6, 2011 [13 favorites]


Ask him if he knows what you did last weekend/month:

"How come you're not talking to me anymore?"
"Well, last month, you saw suchandsuch celebrity, and went to Africa to help build a school. Do you know what *I* did last month?"
"Uh... no..."
"There you go."

Why isn't this friend taking you along on some these awesome trips? Friendship should also be about shared experiences.
posted by Seboshin at 3:39 PM on March 6, 2011 [16 favorites]


Perhaps some self-deprecation is in order, to get around 'blaming' him as the source of the problem. There's a risk that if you point out that the problem stems from him, then you're seen as jealous of his success or whatever.

So if you phrase it in a way of that you've been backing off somewhat because you feel you aren't contributing as much to the conversation as he can, or something like that, then you've at least made him aware that there is a gap between your relative experiences, and that that gap is to blame. You've now placed the blame for this problem either on this gap, or your own shortcomings. (And sure, this is a load of horseshit, but whatever.) As a friend, now aware of this problem, maybe he'll start thinking to tone it down.

Personally, I'd let it go. People grow, and they might grow apart. That's fine, too -- there's nothing wrong with either of them. You're just no longer compatible. Enh.
posted by Capt. Renault at 3:42 PM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Since he took the time to e-mail you about it, I think you should proceed with the near certainty that he's doing all of those things because he thinks you will enjoy it. (I mean "you" in the generic sense.) He thinks that he's sharing special treasures that will enrich your life. "Oh, you like Poet's work?! OMG, you will love getting to see this thing!"

That's completely separate from whether his handling of it is starting to grate, which I can completely understand. Sadly, I think that I used to be That Guy. I got better when someone was forthright with me and just came out with the slightly embarrassing, "You're frustrating to be around" conversation. It helped that it was someone I genuinely liked and who also obviously liked me.

Things that I think helped the conversation go well (and led to me actually changing my behavior instead of carrying on and being hurt):

1. Making it about the way something is said, not what's being said. "You've had a seriously awesome life, and I enjoy knowing about it. Sometimes, when you share about it you can sound like you're bragging. I know that's not your intention, but it still leaves me feeling a like you think I'm less awesome than you. It would help if you were to say something along the lines of "wow! I think you might enjoy seeing this book that came into my life, shall I get it?" instead of just scampering off to reveal it." (Or whatever. Just making it about the delivery helped me.)

2. The reassurance that it's not the stories that make me interesting. I sorta thought that people only wanted to be around me to hear about the awesome things I had done. I had also picked up the tidbit about social interaction being trading one story for another. So when someone shared a story with me, I shared one back. I thought I was building bridges, but it came off like trying to one up people.

3. Reasons you enjoy hanging out with/talking with me that have nothing to do with those things. (e.g. "You're a great listener!" or "You're always ready with a laugh." or "You're adventurous and we get in good pickles together" or "You're fun to cook with.")

Really, actually, that's it. I thought there was more but it all boils down to those three things. It's sort of a function of being a little socially awkward and a little insecure. Thinking that you're valuable as a person because of XYZ makes you think you should emphasize XYZ in Every.Interaction.Ever. Turns out, that just annoys people, and isn't really true in the first place.

Now, I think this is sort of a big time investment and has to be handled with extreme diplomacy and careful wording. If this is someone you actually like, I also think that it's completely 100% worth the time investment and you would be doing him a HUGE favor. Just don't make it about criticizing him or letting your frustration show through. One way to communicate that you really are serious about still having him as a friend is closing your e-mail with setting up plans to hang out. Also, don't make the e-mail too long. It's hard to sit through a litany of your sins.
posted by stoneweaver at 3:44 PM on March 6, 2011 [42 favorites]


Your friend is the worst kind of jackass; someone who's unbearable annoying without actually doing anything wrong.

I submit that he is the way he is, and nothing you can do is going to change him. So avoid him when you can, and when you can't, be polite but distant. If he asks you directly what's up just smile and tell him you've been busy. Just cause he's not a bad person doesn't mean you have to like him.
posted by auto-correct at 3:45 PM on March 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


Hmm, it seems like part of what's annoying, his costuming and silly name and so forth, is just an essential part of him. Even if he bragged less, you'd still be irritated, right? If that's the case I'd just find a way to back out gently, because there is no value in telling someone that you dislike their essential selves.

On the other hand, if you think a curb in the bragging would allow you to be a closer friend with him again, then by all means, tell him. He asked. Just be compassionate and honest about it. Something like,

"I'm grateful your brought this up because I haven't known how to talk about this. I have had a lot of good times doing x,y, and z with you, but recently I've felt uncomfortable. I'm not sure how to talk about my life or interests with you. The things you do are really exciting and important. But it doesn't feel like there's much room in our friendship for just doing x together like we used to, or for me to talk about what's going on with me. I'd appreciate it if you would do (something specific, like ask about your family or whatever) more."

Good luck. This all sounds pretty awkward and uncomfortable.
posted by serazin at 3:54 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have no idea whether I'd actually tell him the truth. This is a tough one. He's overwhelming and clearly wanting to broadcast his own awesomeness. Is he even going to hear it if you indicate anything to the contrary? That's what I'd have to decide - if what you say will even get through to him, or will it just cause unnecessary drama in your circle of friends.

The relationship is clearly audience --> performer, not friend -- friend; if you're willing to burn bridges, tell him you like him but even the greatest show on earth gets tiresome when it's going on 24/7. The whole thing of him emailing to make sure things are ok kind of reads (to me) as another part of his sheer utter awesomeness - that EVERYONE must love him, and if they don't, by god, he's going to get to the bottom of the problem and fix it.

Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I'd blow him off. Tell him you've been preoccupied with some personal stuff, but that things are fine, and just gradually disengage and withdraw.
posted by lemniskate at 3:57 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


He sounds like he has some other nice qualities and it seems like he cares about your friendship. Maybe if you could explain to him in a tactful way that his self-obsession is getting on your nerves, he might examine his behavior, knock it off, and you can proceed with the friendship. People can sometimes have the humility to try to change themselves when a trusted friend gently points out the offending behavior. But then again, sometimes they don't. It wouldn't hurt to try.
posted by Jess the Mess at 3:59 PM on March 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


To be honest, I don't get that this guy is Mr. Jackass Supreme. Probably because he's bothered to ask after you, a good friend of his S.O. What I do get is that he's one of those guys who has actually gone out (of his way) and done a lot of stuff that interests him, and as it interests him, he's going to talk about it. I mean, when do we talk about stuff we could care less about unless we have to?

... he's unbearably pretentious and accomplished and it drives me nuts. So how can I go about explaining this to him in a way that's neither offensive or patronizing?

Your answer: "You're a relentless stream of awesome, and I can't handle it."

This tells him:
1. That he's awesome, but it's overwhelming
2. It's you, not him

And maybe:
1. It'll help him realize that dialling it back a bit could help.

This is all predicated on you actually wanting to remain friends with this guy. Good luck. It's awkward all around.
posted by jlunar at 4:34 PM on March 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


He asked, so there's a good chance he actually cares. It might be that he always has a hard time staying close to people because of his xAwesomeness but doesn't know why. I think you can be kind and also honest, and say "dude, you are definitely totally awesome, but sometimes it gets overwhelming. Maybe a little less about you?"
posted by Lyn Never at 4:41 PM on March 6, 2011


I don't think he's necessarily a jackass, but there are people who like to be the center of attention and organize their circles of friends such that they reinforce it. I'd tell him a white lie like you've been working on your own thing/project, or figuring out how to change careers, or something else time consuming and asocial.
posted by rhizome at 4:53 PM on March 6, 2011


Stoneweaver has it exactly above, especially here:

The reassurance that it's not the stories that make me interesting. I sorta thought that people only wanted to be around me to hear about the awesome things I had done. I had also picked up the tidbit about social interaction being trading one story for another. So when someone shared a story with me, I shared one back. I thought I was building bridges, but it came off like trying to one up people.

I too struggle with the whole "and when I worked on the pirate radio station and met the ninjas and my friend went to jail for political reasons and I grew my first primary wingfeathers and ZOMG let me show you this poster from the awesome event I was at back then...." syndrome. I too used to worry about how my friendships felt insecure and off. I truly did not know how to act to express the feelings of friendship I had towards people, and I was always so scattered in conversation that it was hard for me to listen/ask questions. This was not because I thought I was super-wonderful, though. It was because I thought I was boring and pathetic and weird-looking, and that I had better tell all my stories and do neat things and be funnyfunnyfunny all the time because otherwise no one would like me. I also wore amusing clothes, not because I thought I was special but because I thought I wasn't. (I mean, I still talk too much and dress funny, but I've got it under control.)

If your friend is worried about how you're reacting, it may very well be that he wants to be a better friend but can't figure out how. You'll do him a great kindness if you tell him. If he's like me, he won't be able to change his behavior overnight, and he may feel a bit hurt initially, but it will be a relief to him to name the thing that's derailing his friendships and it will be less annoying to you once he's on board with the "oh, I should listen!" piece.
posted by Frowner at 5:02 PM on March 6, 2011 [35 favorites]


OP -- you are seriously looking a gift horse in the mouth here.

You've got an extremely accomplished guy who wants to be your friend. People who are extremeley accomplished tend to fall into two categories: buttoned up and laser focused (and they won't be your friends) or flamboyent, eccentric, and proud. You want nothing but modest friends, you're going to have mostly losers for friends.

Still, if you are exhausted by playing on his turf, change it up! "No, man, I've just been doing some new things these days. Come meet me out at the driving range on Saturday morning, and, by the way, club rules require chinos and a polo shirt." When you're in the clubhouse drinking beers after shanking 'em every which way for two hours, you won't feel like you've been bent under the jaws of the alpha male, but he won't mind.
posted by MattD at 5:13 PM on March 6, 2011 [10 favorites]


What is your endgame, here? Do you want to be friends with this guy? Do you only want to be friends with him if he changes? What changes are you hoping to see? I would take a cold, hard look at your friendship with him, and his friendships with other people. Does everyone feel this way? Does he have close friends, or is he maybe lonely? Are you letting jealousy interfere?

But... you probably won't change him, so change how you view him. There is a guy with the ability and social circle to make your life way more interesting, so why not hang out with him MORE often, and rather than hanging around his apartment looking at his treasures, go with him to meet his ninjas or do tantric quilting or skydive naked. Embrace this. Maybe he will dominate the conversation, but not all friendships are 50-50, and you could view this guy as less of a "friend" per se and more of an experience.

Or don't. If he bugs you enough that you are willing to sacrifice your connection, take the chance to try to change him or start distancing yourself or throw a giant fit, hopefully in a public place where someone can upload it to youtube.

I think he sounds fun. Tell him to be friends with me.
posted by jenlovesponies at 5:39 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


You've got an extremely accomplished guy who wants to be your friend

I have a hard time believing this person is "accomplished." He sounds like an entertaining dilettante. Which isn't a bad person to keep around, either, if you want to know where the best place to get coffee on the Romanian-Moldovan border is when youre planning your next vacation, but it's not like the OP is going to end up missing out on much... Unless this guy throws great parties or knows interesting people the OP can meet through him or something.

If you find this relationship unbalanced, I think you should ask yourself what you get out of the friendship or what you could get out of the friendship. I like jenlovesponies' idea--spend less time one on one with him where he tells you how awesome he is, and spend more time with him doing the awesome things he (supposedly) does and hanging out with the awesome people he (supposedly) knows.
posted by deanc at 5:44 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


He sounds like a character. Appreciate his friendship for the novelty that it is, or just move on. If you decide to keep hanging out, remember to take a deep breath before you see him.
posted by jabberjaw at 5:47 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


DeanC's point is well taken -- I guess I inferred from OP's love-hating that guyx is accomplished and not just a dilettante. Dilettante's are less consequential (although still often fun).

One more thought: don't be so quick to ditch friends. It may seem easy to amass friends, and friends' demands for attention may exhaust you ... but that changes. As everyone's professional and family responsibilities increase, the opportunity to make friends, and the opportunity and expectation to spend time with them, declines sharply. In other words, unless other action is truly necessary, do the work to keep the friend: ten or fifteen years from now, you won't easily find another like him, and maintaining the relationship will be easy.
posted by MattD at 6:12 PM on March 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


My completely wild-ass guess here is that a lot of the problem is that you need MORE friends. You're spending a lot of time with this guy, and don't have much of a sense of worth compared to his. His personality probably tends to wash out a lot of others, including your own.

On the other hand, he might be a fascinating guy to maintain as ONE of your friends. Someone to see every few days. A spice in the stew, as it were.

Nthing - don't be too quick to ditch friends, especially one with a novel perspective on the world. At 40-(mumble), I find it all too difficult to find and maintain relationships with friends who are not just generic, normal, white-bread kind of folks, especially in my part of the world.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:58 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is he actually, legitimately accomplished? Or is it more like he's been to parties with x, y, and z?
posted by kestrel251 at 7:28 PM on March 6, 2011


There's a lot of good advice above; something to think about is the fact that this may not be a conversation best had over e-mail. It's a conversation best had in person.
posted by awesomebrad at 8:09 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


As an entertaining dilettante myself, I highly recommend telling him (in email! Less embarassing that way) that while you find him very nice and interesting, he needs to pay more attention to other people in conversation rather than bragging and hogging the limelight. I would definitely thank you if you did. However I wouldnt take your advice because other people are usually boring.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:13 PM on March 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Presumably he is awesome but also compensating for deeply buried insecurities by focusing so much on how awesome he is. Perhaps he really doesn't feel all that awesome.

You sound jealous. You could try telling him that you're jealous of all the awesome things he does/knows and see how it goes from there. Doing it in a self-deprecating way during a conversation about something completely unrelated might help.

Who knows, it might lead to him inviting you to join his escapades and then you'll have a shared awesome story to tell.
posted by mleigh at 11:07 PM on March 6, 2011


telling him (in email! Less embarassing that way)

Not to derail, but as a general rule, that's just about always a bad idea. Whenever you have to tell someone something awkward, email is pretty much the worst way to do it.

Back to the subject: I have some friends (and a family member) who are a bit like this. I agree with stoneweaver and Frowner about what's going on here.

Given that you've described the guy as "nice, kind, smart, interesting, talented, and [...] dating one of [your] best friends," I think randomkeystrike's approach is a really good one: don't ditch the guy, just dilute him to a palatable concentration by making more friends.
posted by tangerine at 11:44 PM on March 6, 2011


I have a friend who is somewhat like this. I get the feeling that it's insecurity leading to the situation stoneweaver and Frowner describe.

I've never addressed it directly, but I have tried to give positive reinforcement in the other way: I invite her up for brunch-and-matinee days or something really low key, and tell her I only want her company.

In other words, she doesn't have to be cool and amazing, although she is, she just has to tell me what she thinks of the movie we just saw. So I try to keep the conversation on things that interest me, too, and I try to ask her opinion. Because she is a neat person, and I want to hear what she thinks, not just about what she's done.

If I could sit her down, I'd tell her she's more than the sum of her fabulous clothes and fabulous parties and crazy experiences and wacky friends. Even if she didn't do any of that stuff, she'd be a neat person, SO RELAX. I really should tell her that, with hugs and beer.
posted by lillygog at 5:14 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dear Friend,

It's you I like,
It's not the things you wear,
It's not the way you do your hair--
But it's you I like.
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you--
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys--
They're just beside you.
It's you I like.

Sincerely,
Spock


Not that you should send that if you're concerned with not being read as patronizing. I agree that an in-person discussion is easier than email should you decide to tell him what's up rather than just do a polite distancing (which is fine too).
posted by neda at 7:54 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I went through something like this, long ago. I had a great friend whom I loved like a brother. But when we were together he would mostly tell me how great his life is and all the things I'm doing wrong. It was annoying and taking what little self-esteem I had and squeezing it. I eventually just stopped communicating with him.

I regret it though. I know he meant well. If I had been mature and simply told him to stop with the criticism we might still not be friends now but at least I wouldn't have thrown an interesting and good friend out the window. I'm suggesting you communicate what's going on in your head. If you lose a friend anyway, well, at least you gave it a shot.

I can never tell if I'm using "whom" correctly.
posted by chairface at 4:48 PM on March 7, 2011


Always start with "I'm saying this as a friend..." and let him know to be chill. And talk to you not at you. Say to him sometimes you feel as if he has to play entertainer all the time and you're not really feeling the connection. Describe the distance you feel when he goes on and on talking about his adventures. For example, my mother loves philosophy and is constantly barraging me with quotes and advice. Fine. But it's not. Because I don't feel a connection with her on a normal, lame human level. That goes for some of my other friends who might be focused on just one thing. Like I have a social-activist friend who doesn't connect with me on a "hey so did you link up with that guy" level. Everything is about politics with this person. It's draining as much as I love 'em. But that happens when people have insecurities they are working through. For myself, I've recognized where I could improve with that. I don't like to talk about what I do much or brag about my singing. It's kind of like, if it comes up, sure let's talk. But like your friend, I used to be the girl who would try to be funny all the time and it ended up coming off as "wow, this chick is guarded and awkward. Funny but exhausting to hang with her." I'm learning better to just talk to people and ask a lot of questions and be chill.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 6:54 PM on March 7, 2011


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