Just let me be nice to you!
May 30, 2011 3:36 PM   Subscribe

Being a very generous and open person, how do I deal with a person who has in the past seen these qualities as insincere or manipulative?

I live with my boyfriend; we are involved in a serious and very committed relationship. We are also both involved in the underground music scene--he goes on 1-2 week tours a couple times a year, I travel a bit as well.

In February, he announced he was going to go on a two week tour with his most recent ex-girlfriend and that she would be moving to the same city as us at the end of it. I accepted this, but was (predictably!) a little uncomfortable. The way I chose to deal with this was to try to initiate conversation with the ex-girlfriend as a means of building familiarity and trust between all three of us. I made it clear that I wasn't trying to build an instant friendship between us and that my goal was to minimize stress and awkward feelings between us and to prepare for her arrival in town. She responded politely, turned down my appeal for communication and said that I just needed to trust her and get over my insecurities. I found out from my boyfriend that she thought I had been manipulative in my email...I was hurt by this in a way because I had come to her with my heart on my sleeve and in no way tried to guilt or blame her for my feelings.

However! I accepted her response, got over it...and got over the whole "touring with ex-gf" thing too. Until I started hearing about how she still thought of me as this ultra-possessive girlfriend who was "getting in the way" of her friendship with my boyfriend. There have been a couple similar incidents of varying intensity involving her since then that I won't describe in detail. The tour is now underway...she will arrive in my city in a week and a half.

My question is: how do I deal with this person when she arrives in town? I don't trust that she will be respectful and not cause drama, and it is unlikely that I will be able to avoid her because my boyfriend is her main connection in town. The way that I've been raised to deal with awkward situations is to try to be diplomatic and polite, be honest and open...but this seems to only make things worse with this person. I understand that she may harbor some underlying hostility/jealousy that is at the root of this (I have a little bit too), but the fact remains that we are going to have to deal with each other. She's also playing a show that I am setting up, we are both helping out my boyfriend by playing in a backing band for him, it's possible that she will crash at our apartment for a night or two.

She is a young woman and as a fellow female musician, I ideally would want to be her ally...it pains me that I can't even be nice to her without her being totally skeptical of my motivations.

All this leads to crazy brain loops, I feel stuck...frustrated...exhausted---what do I do?
posted by supernaturelle to Human Relations (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Realize that she is the problem and not you.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:39 PM on May 30, 2011 [11 favorites]

Until I started hearing about how she still thought of me as this ultra-possessive girlfriend who was "getting in the way" of her friendship with my boyfriend.

From whom did you hear all this stuff? If it was your boyfriend, you might consider that he's enjoying pitting the two of you against each other, at least on some level. Does he stand up for you with her?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:41 PM on May 30, 2011 [16 favorites]

You sound pretty mature; she does not. Oh well, not much you can do to force people to grow up. I would continue to be polite, because that's the right thing to do. If she thinks being polite is being manipulative, that's her problem.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:42 PM on May 30, 2011

Best answer: The way that I've been raised to deal with awkward situations is to try to be diplomatic and polite, be honest and open...but this seems to only make things worse with this person.

Yeah in email it's pretty easy to have your intentions misinterpreted. Be yourself and trust that in person you will come across far better. Instead of trying to prove to your boyfriend or others that your intentions are pure, simply place yourself beyond reproach by treating this person the same way you'd treat anyone else.
posted by hermitosis at 3:54 PM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

1. How did you hear this information that she finds you to be a roadblock in her friendship with your boyfriend? Unless you heard it directly from her, you need to examine both the message and the message deliverer. Someone who is running to you to tell you stories about how this girl is talking trash about you has something to gain from the situation. If it's your boyfriend telling you this stuff, ask yourself why he puts up with someone talking trash about his girlfriend. And then ask him the same question.

2. If you have to interact with her, be as polite and friendly as you would be to anyone else you encounter in life. Don't go to any extremes to be her friend. Just be polite, like you would to a waiter or something. If she wants to be friendly with you, let her make the effort. And if she gets weird and snippy and starts talking trash about you, just let her do it. Shrug it off. And take comfort in the fact that in that situation, she's the only one who looks bad. And she's doing it to herself. Always, always, ALWAYS take the high road in situations like this whenever you can. You may not always be "victorious", but at least you won't look like a total ass.

3. Prepare yourself for the end of this relationship, sooner rather than later. If your boyfriend is out touring with an ex and he doesn't defend you when she starts being all nasty, and he's okay with her crashing at your shared home even though she's rude as hell to you... yeah, that just doesn't bode well for the longevity of this thing. I'm sorry. :(
posted by palomar at 3:55 PM on May 30, 2011 [19 favorites]

Yep, this is absolutely her problem that she has (so far) succeeded in dumping in your lap (and in the laps of many other people, I suspect). If she is rude, disrespectful, suspicious, unkind, etc., simply observe it as evidence of some sort of burden she is evidently carrying. The burden does not have to be yours. Whatever is troubling her, it's pretty clear that you're not the source.

The best I think you can do is to cultivate a sense of equanimity: stay polite, stay calm, and try not to let her push your buttons. If she behaves badly despite how you behave, then most likely on some level she's trying to get a negative reaction out of you that will give her some sort of satisfaction (because it will "prove" something about you that's necessary to the narrative she's constructed in her head about who you are, who your boyfriend is, etc.). But, again, if this happens it is just evidence of some sort of burden/problem/pain she is contending with. Some people in pain feel (consciously or not) that the only way to alleviate their own suffering is to make others suffer along with them. The fact that you're already pained about this situation means, on some level, she's already getting her way.

And yes, as TPS says, I think it's instructive to look at your boyfriend's role in this. Does he defend you? Is he the one passing on her opinions and hurtful words to you?
posted by scody at 3:57 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Continue being polite. Do not try to be chummy at all. Don't do anything you're not comfortable with for the sake of appearing cool, laid-back, or trusting. If you're not comfortable with having her crash on your couch, let your boyfriend know.

Basically, you can avoid her and be polite at the same time. There's really no need to stress over this if you trust your boyfriend. If your boyfriend is crossing boundaries and sharing personal information about your relationship with the ex-girlfriend, that is another matter.
posted by Fairchild at 3:59 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Whoa!

I'd like to refocus the responses to just "how to deal with this person". I have total and complete confidence in my relationship with my boyfriend. He's not the problem here.

We are all involved in a small and intimate experimental music scene. As a feminist and musician, it would fucking piss me off if I couldn't go on tour because of some retarded social boundary. I sympathize with her. I want to support her as a musician. She is immature. I'm looking for ways to deal with the latter.

Lay off on the boyfriend as well, he does defend me, he is on my side. Cancelling the tour was never an option and never on the table. He would support me in a similar way.
posted by supernaturelle at 4:01 PM on May 30, 2011

Response by poster: And the info about her seeing me as being a problem is from a primary source. My boyfriend and I have been trying to deal with her together, trying to understand how she feels and how to keep everybody on good terms as best we can. He didn't foresee the amount of stress she would cause us (he wanted to help her out, I'm in support of this) and takes responsibility.
posted by supernaturelle at 4:05 PM on May 30, 2011

I'm getting mixed messages from your question and follow-up. If you have complete confidence in your boyfriend, I'm not sure why you felt the need to contact her directly at all. In her position I'd probably find it strange and manipulative as well. I'd recommend just dropping contact with her unless you two are in the same room, in which case behave normally, and deal with your jealousy on your own.
posted by wondermouse at 4:15 PM on May 30, 2011 [15 favorites]

She has some story in her head about you that she wants to believe. All you can do is play the part of who you want to be and not be goaded into the part she may have written for you. Just make sure you are making your own choices and try not to let this get in the way of having the relationships that are important to you.
posted by meinvt at 4:17 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Primary source"? I am not sure what this means, but since you're being veiled about it I have to assume that the ex-GF who is talking trash about you is not the person who told you about the situation. So my original point #1 still stands -- if you are not getting this "Madame X doesn't like you and thinks you're a horrible person" business directly from the ex-GF, you still need to question the message and the person delivering it. In my experience, when someone comes to me and says, "Hey, so-and-so really doesn't like you and has said some really nasty stuff about you," that message-deliverer is usually trying to stir the shit.

You are essentially being dragged into a potential catfight for someone's entertainment. Whose entertainment? I don't know, but take a good long look at that "primary source" of yours.

And if "primary source" = the ex-GF, then just say so. It's hard to be helpful when the information being provided is unclear.
posted by palomar at 4:18 PM on May 30, 2011 [10 favorites]

Unless you heard it directly from her, you need to examine both the message and the message deliverer. Someone who is running to you to tell you stories about how this girl is talking trash about you has something to gain from the situation

Agreed. It sounds like a lot of your interaction with this girl is through other people. Cut them off! Tell your boyfriend, and anyone else relaying things this girl says about you, to stop. Any true friend will understand this need and support you. It will save you a lot of energy to not have to worry about what she's saying about you behind your back. You might find she's a lot more bearable if you take her completely at face value, based only upon the way she treats you and not the way others says she feels about you. The things she says about you behind your back are totally none of your business.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:21 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

By the way, keep in mind that these questions show up on Google searches. Being that your username is your band name and you have your real name in your profile, someone could figure out who you're talking about if they know who your boyfriend is and who he's touring with, and you're here calling her immature, hostile, and jealous. Maybe she has a point, you know?
posted by wondermouse at 4:24 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Geeze...seems like I can't get this right today. By primary source I mean material written by the ex-girlfriend. Alright, stepping away from the computer.
posted by supernaturelle at 4:27 PM on May 30, 2011

I think the best you can do is to treat her the way you would anyone else new to your social circle. Try to ignore the exGF factor as much as possible. Don't reference it, it might be making her uncomfortable, especially if she is moving to a new town. You can't change how she acts, all you can do is be as neutral as possible and ignore gossip.
posted by kellyblah at 4:34 PM on May 30, 2011

Okay. I think your #1 task is to completely stop talking to this ex of your boyfriend's. Just let her go be crazy and vindictive as much as she wants -- she's busy showing her true colors to everyone around her. Just let her dig that grave on her own. You concentrate on yourself. Be polite to her, just like you would to any other member of your music scene that you are not friends with. If she starts being nasty to you, just walk away. Smile, and walk away. DO NOT ENGAGE. That's the most important thing. Don't take the bait. Most likely she is trying to goad you into a reaction, so she can have triumphant "proof" that you are the horrible person she's trying to paint you as. Don't give her that ammo.

It really sucks when people behave like this, and I'm sorry you have to deal with her immaturity. But really, the best thing to do here is just let her be a big old bitch. It won't take long for people to realize who the actual problem is, you know?

(Oh, and honestly, don't let her stay at your place. Really, really don't. Your home should be a safe haven for you, and you should not have to endure a hostile houseguest in order to prove that you're not the monster she's making you out to be. Really, really, put your foot down about it right now. She can crash on someone else's couch for a couple of nights. Your home is not the only building in town. Seriously.)
posted by palomar at 4:35 PM on May 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

This is a great article on how to deal with negative people.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:35 PM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

She is liking this little bit of drama. She's the ex. She's on tour. Her ex-boyfriend's current girlfriend is jealous. Oooh! So sexy! So dramaz! The tour -- the intrigue! It's so exciting!

The only course of action here is to rise above it. Behave neutrally cool to her. If she gives a hint of any of this silliness you can say: "I don't know what scenario is playing out in your head but I'm not the bad guy here and you're being immature." And don't you dare let her pull any of that shit in your house.

On a side note -- it's totally okay to feel a little weirded out by your boyfriend touring with an ex. Don't let her or him or anyone tell you those feelings aren't valid. It's how you act on those feelings that is the issue and it sounds like you chose a sane course of action.
posted by amanda at 4:40 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

She's also playing a show that I am setting up, we are both helping out my boyfriend by playing in a backing band for him, iit's possible that she will crash at our apartment for a night or two.

But....why are you doing these things, when she responded to your gesture of openess with overt hostility? If you're trying to be nice and she thinks you're a bitch, anything you do to set boundaries will also be intepreted by her as bitchiness. You can't escape that. What you can do is be polite, formal, and distant. Don't pretend to like her; you don't, and ethics does not oblige you to do so. Avoid her as much as possible without being rude, and when circumstances force you to interact, use common courtesy but don't go out of your way to talk to her. And don't invite her into your home. That's a situation that is guaranteed to be stressful and awkward for all concerned with a high likelihood of outright blowups which could help fracture your scene.
posted by Diablevert at 5:03 PM on May 30, 2011 [6 favorites]

Ideally, your boyfriend stops treating this like an issue of diplomacy and starts responding to it appropriately.

If he wants to do the wise thing, he should start being very cool towards her and withdraw his emotional support. No favors, no more "friendship" ... Just fade. He can do that and still be on tour. He can do that to an even greatest degree once he gets home.

If she's making this big a ruckus, everyone will see this as him disengaging from a crazy person and taking the high road on the way out, which is what he'll be doing.

This isn't your problem, it's his problem. Someone he wants to bring into your shared life is clearly and demonstrably out to cause major trouble for you both - why is he facilitating this girl in her goal?? He shouldn't.

Incidentally, there is nothing either one of you can say to fix this. The girl is being exceptionally mean-spirited towards both of you. He needs to be the one to break the link by breaking with her.

If he keeps her in his social circle, he's either very naive or secretly enjoys the drama.

People in successful partnerships don't let outsiders fuck with them or their significant others. You can't blame MetaFilter for wondering why he's continuing to offer this chick his support professionally or personally. It's not a situation someone who gets it continues to participate in.

He needs to DTMFA.
posted by jbenben at 5:06 PM on May 30, 2011 [8 favorites]

This is your boyfriend's problem, not just yours. He has a responsibility towards you to ensure that his friends treat you well. He is failing in that department. You are wrong to think that he has no stake in this. JBenBen has it.
posted by patronuscharms at 5:17 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

> Geeze...seems like I can't get this right today. By primary source I mean material written by the ex-girlfriend. Alright, stepping away from the computer.

Sorry, but, still a little ambiguous. My first thought is that you've been reading someone else's emails. If it's not that, what is it? Her diary? Her blog? Her novel?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:25 PM on May 30, 2011

When someone is overly nice for no good reason, or even in the face of a good reason not to be nice, people feel like they are on the path to manipulation. This seems like a little too much ado about nothing...
posted by gjc at 5:25 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm answering from the point-of-view of another woman in a small potatoes music league.

Musicians in niche tight-knit scenes have a strong ethos of helping out each other, especially on tours, because everyone is broke and obscure and struggling with the problems that result (crappy vans, shady clubs, broken instruments, empty shows, what have you). I'm guessing if your boyfriend weren't helping by providing transportation, loading in, and pooling resources the ex wouldn't have been able to tour at all. When you're on tour it's an "us against the world" feeling and just about the worst time in the world to try to communicate, especially with someone you don't know. While you had good intentions with your email but the circumstances were against her reading it charitably. To be clear: that doesn't excuse her from being civil to you.

I suggest calling this tour a done deal -- your boyfriend agreed to it, they're relying on each other, and you've decided to trust him so there's no point in trying to hash this out long distance, where bad feelings and miscommunication will naturally thrive. But once she's in your city, the game changes. She should find another floor to camp out on while you two reunite and hash things out. (This isn't a bitchy thing; it's a peace preservation maneuver and a smart thing to do.) Then, talk things through with your boyfriend. He should want to make it clear to his ex that being civil to you is part of sharing a friendship/professional relationship with him.

One last thing: take "supporting another musician" out of the equation entirely. You don't have to be this girl's help, mentor, or even friend. Civil acquaintance is good enough while you sort things out. Maybe you'll never get past the cool hello stage. Maybe once you've had some low-pressure face time you'll become big buds who can laugh off an early miscommunication. Either way, don't let a scene or social group or internalized honor code pressure you to bend over backwards her her if she's unwilling to give you some benefit of the doubt and basic respect.
posted by melissa may at 6:16 PM on May 30, 2011 [7 favorites]

If I were the ex, I would have been extremely annoyed to get such an email from you. It just sounds overwrought and unnecessary. I mean, did this really need to be sent? Be nice, mind your own business and if she's a bitch, she can't stay at your place.
posted by shoesietart at 6:36 PM on May 30, 2011

You just be civil. Don't be overwhelmingly nice, just be civil. It will take a lot of the pressure off.

The thing is a lot of the drama may not really be about you at all, so don't make it about you.

The other thing is - you felt you were being direct and honest in your initial communication; she felt you were being manipulative. I have had someone say that exact thing to me before - I'm an Asker, that person was a Guesser. Make of that what you will.
posted by mleigh at 1:05 AM on May 31, 2011

"Nice" could mean a lot of things. To me, by default, it means showing concern for a person's interests; for that, you need to know what their interests are; and for that, you need to get familiar with that person. If you haven't done that, but you're trying to be nice anyway, you might accomplish that by gathering information... since you apparently did that by sending an email to the ex-GF, I imagine that email might've contained a lot of questions. When a stranger asks me a bunch of questions, I feel like I'm being interrogated.

Alternatively, you might just have expressed your willingness to get along in various ways, in which case she might simply be confused. When your first contact with a person is over email, you have to get over the dearth of context before real communication is possible; basically, performing the email equivalent of smalltalk. Maybe she was expecting you'd do something like tell her about yourself (nb. not actually a reasonable expectation in this particular case, but reasonable in general, so she might have assumed it incautiously) and then, when you said what you said, it looked like you were assuming a familiarity that didn't really exist.

It's all just speculation. Social problems always have a ton of hidden variables, so guesswork is required.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:11 AM on May 31, 2011

Perhaps it might help to show this thread to the boyfriend and see how he feels about what folks have said so far?
posted by Blasdelb at 10:39 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

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