"People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise."
July 15, 2011 6:15 AM   Subscribe

How do I deal with criticism from a friend? How do I ensure that said criticism is meant to be constructive and not just spiteful?

A close friend has been repeatedly bringing their annoyances about me to my attention in an attempt to "nip any future drama in the bud". The habits or traits they mention aren't anything that I've ever recognized in myself. In some cases, I can't help but think maybe they're overreacting or reaching. Nonetheless, I realise I'm probably wrong, accept the complaints as valid, and try to watch myself closely because I value the friendship.

During the "watching" stage, I become depressed and isolate myself. It really hurts and discourages me to think that someone you care about doesn't accept you fully. I wonder if others have become annoyed by the same things, failed to tell me, and if I've ever lost any friendships because of them. I end up feeling shame, anger, and sadness.

MeFites, I would like to be able to appropriately deal with criticism from loved ones. I'd also like to be sure that any criticism I receive under the guise of "constructive" is just that and not something more negative.

Bonus question: Is giving constructive criticism in a friendship a healthy thing? Things might annoy me mildly about the people I know, but I never bring it to their attention unless it's directly affecting my life or comfort in a really BIG and serious way. Should I be letting them know? If so, how?
posted by Vrai to Human Relations (41 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Ugh, no, this is not normal. This is your close friend trying to instigate drama, in a passive-aggressive fashion. Your friends should make you feel great about yourself, not shamed, angry or sad. Rather than pulling away from everyone, just pull away from this person. And if these criticisms are weighing so heavily upon you, and if there's someone else in your life that you trust to be both gentle and honest, and you really want to do so, you could lightly ask "Hey, so-and-so mentioned this issue with me -- can I get your perspective on that?" You'll probably be very reassured by their response.
posted by amelioration at 6:20 AM on July 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

Hard to know for sure without more details (which I can understand you may not want to go into), but it strikes me that part of the problem is that your close friend is doing this 'repeatedly'. We all have certain traits, that we may not be aware of, that irk some of the people we are close with. It might make us prickly to hear them, but it's ok to take on criticism. And to give it, but not in a way that could be damaging to the friendship. When you are aware that it may hurt someone to hear these things, I feel it would be wrong, and unnecessary, to do it repeadetly.
posted by Elmore at 6:23 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've certainly gotten constructive criticism from my friends, and given hopefully constructive criticism to my friends. But generally it's requested, and even when it's unsolicited it's given in a very gentle way. I'd suggest pushing back a bit and telling your friend that their criticism makes you feel uncomfortable.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:30 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've found that most people who talk about "avoiding drama" in any way, shape or form are generally the ones who seek drama out at every opportunity.
posted by xingcat at 6:39 AM on July 15, 2011 [19 favorites]

A close friend has been repeatedly bringing their annoyances about me to my attention

In my experience, though friends have to have difficult conversations and work things out sometimes, if someone is constantly chastising you for your behaviour it is probably that person who is the problem, not you. Interestingly, it is the very people who
are the quickest to tell people off who handle criticism of themselves the worst.

I'd rethink this friendship. Manipulative, hypercritical and demanding people can just be much more of an emotional drain than they're worth.
posted by orange swan at 6:41 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

This is your close friend trying to instigate drama, in a passive-aggressive fashion.

I don't think that's a fair assessment without knowing more details. If this was reversed and someone posted on AskMe "My close friend has some annoying traits that make them not as fun to be around and I don't think they are aware of it, what should I do?" I bet a lot of people would suggest that the person tell their friend about these annoying traits. Obviously everyone should be conscious of each other's feelings, but sometimes directly telling someone that they are doing something that bugs you is the least passive-aggressive way to solve the problem.

Things might annoy me mildly about the people I know, but I never bring it to their attention unless it's directly affecting my life or comfort in a really BIG and serious way. Should I be letting them know? If so, how?

So since your friend's criticism is making you sad which is directly affecting your life, you're going to bring it to their attention, right? If you say to them basically what you've said here (that you realize that the criticisms are probably valid but that it hurts you), I think it might help the situation.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:43 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd also like to be sure that any criticism I receive under the guise of "constructive" is just that and not something more negative.

This might not be answerable here without more details (which you don't have to give, of course). It's one thing if a friend can be very concrete about what they're criticising, and can do so in a constructive way - like, if you're always 30 minutes late to meet them, the friend can say "It makes me feel like our dinners/movies/activities aren't important to you, because you're always late. I don't believe I'm not important to you, because [examples], but this thing hurts and kind of drives me crazy. Is there some way we can fix this together?"

It's another if the criticism is vague or really subjective - "You always act so superior" and there's no good way to confirm that you're doing vague thing or a good way to fix it.

Constructive criticism from a good friend can indeed be a good thing. But it's a very difficult thing to do well, and depends a whole hell of a lot on there being a solid foundation of trust on the part of both people. Your friend may be being passive-aggressive and drama-queeny about this, or they may just not be very good at offering constructive criticism (a lot of people aren't), and/or you may not be very good at hearing it (a lot of people aren't). The issues they bring up may also be very specific to them as a person, and may not bug or be noticed by your other friends at all.

If your friend has offered concrete examples of specific behaviors, I second or third or whatever the advice to approach another close friend, if possible, to ask them about it (without bringing the criticising friend into it specifically, as this can just raise the drama quotient).
posted by rtha at 6:48 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

@Elmore Without exposing all of my potential faults on MeFi, I can detail a couple of their complaints.

I nag. The example given was that, during an evening out together, I asked them several times throughout the night if they were OK/enjoying themselves. They said they were fine. They said that me asking more than once, after they'd given me an answer, was nagging. (Turned out later my suspicions were correct and they weren't having fun at all. I just felt really bad at the time, and wanted to see if there was anything I could do to make the night better during the outing itself.)

I'm pushy. They detailed two times, during visits to their house, that I insisted on playing "my music" instead of theirs. They said this was "cute at first, but annoying later". (This is one thing that doesn't ring any bells. I usually make a pointed effort to respect the home of another. If the music's seriously offensive to my senses, I might ask them if it's OK to change it, but I can't remember ever insisting in a pushy or aggressive way that they must. It's very unlike me to put my own comfort above someone else's. Especially with something that I could just ignore instead.)
posted by Vrai at 6:48 AM on July 15, 2011

Ok, I just completely re-wrote my reply after the update.

Those example behaviors do sound pushy and nagging. Sorry. It sounds like they are really trying to help you.

My advice is: Don't take it personal. Try not to become emotional and think about it from a logical perspective. If multiple people are bring it up, there's probably an issue. Try to work on it. They are your friends and want to help.
posted by seesom at 6:58 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wow, if you want to keep this friend, she's going to have to seriously shape up. It is not ok for her to be labeling and blaming you. If there are certain things you're doing, she can address them in the moment (e.g., "Please stop asking me if I'm ok -- I'm fine"; "Hey, let me play my music!"). For her to get annoyed about these things, store up the gripes, and then dramatically announce that you are "pushy" and "naggy" after the fact, is in fact the DEFINITION of drama.
posted by yarly at 6:59 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

To answer this part of your question: How do I ensure that said criticism is meant to be constructive and not just spiteful?

A good friend of mine once gave me some really serious criticism -- basically, I was inordinately obsessed with some perceived career failures, ignoring the great things I had, and being really insensitive to this friend by bitching ceaselessly about my "situation," since she had her own challenges in the same area. She just got fed up with me at one point and called me on my shit. I immediately realized she was totally right on all counts, and I have never forgotten it. So I guess that my definition of good, constructive criticism is

A) feels instinctively correct and fair (even if it stings momentarily);
B) involves a serious matter, not just a trifle, and the criticism is proportionate to the seriousness;
C) ends up being helpful to me in the long run and make me a better person; and
D) most importantly, operates to strengthen the friendship, not to cast one person as "good" and "bad."
posted by yarly at 7:05 AM on July 15, 2011 [19 favorites]

With the first example, if you admit that you did it (even if you were doing it because you could tell they were lying), that's really annoying, although better handled in the moment, if you do this regularly, its worth mentioning. Also - if you know they're not having a good time, instead of nagging, why not suggest a change of venue/activity to something you know they will enjoy.
Maybe you don't agree with the second point but how often do you ask them to change the music? You don't have to do it in a pushy or aggressive way for it to be pushy. How do your friends feel about your music?

Something to remember, your friend is telling you these things because they care. If they didn't want to be your friend they'd just stop inviting you out/over and decline your invitations. If your friend is brave enough to point out these things to you, they're not the sort of person to accept invitations out of 'politeness' or to avoid hurting your feelings.

Of course, if you 'correct' the things you're being told are wrong with your behaviour and this 'friend' finds new things to complain about then just ditch them, they're not worth the effort.
posted by missmagenta at 7:12 AM on July 15, 2011

The problem here is your friend, not you. People who truly want their criticism to be constructive will put forth an effort to make sure you receive it well. Your friend sounds like the kind of person who looks for reasons to be annoyed.

It sounds like you need more self-confidence as far as friendships are concerned; your question and follow-up comment imply that you're worried that you'll annoy away your friends. Sure, it's possible, but the people who are at risk of leaving you over one faux pas were probably never good or close friends anyway. (And if you relax about fretting whether people like you or are having a good time around you, you'll be less likely to annoy or nag anyway.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:16 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The first one I can definitely see. I think I only asked them maybe three times throughout the night (about five hours together with some other friends), but I can totally see how that would get on their nerves. I'm a bit hurt they didn't just tell me the truth at the time. If they had, maybe the evening would've gone better for them. Maybe for both of us.

With the second complaint, I feel like I'm going crazy. I can't see it at all. Not that I couldn't be pushy, because I could very likely have come across like that. I can only remember one time I've ever asked them to change the music while at their house. One track had been on repeat for about an hour. It was very polite and not at all in a way of, "OH GOD THIS SONG SUCKS LET'S CHANGE IT TO THIS OTHER SONG I THINK IS AWESOME". They weren't as detailed with this example as some of the others, they just said "it's happened twice", etc.

There are other things they've mentioned too that are along the same lines as the second complaint. Meaning, things that I can see as being perfectly valid and I may have done, but I can't see myself having ever done them or understand why I would do such a thing. At least in the way that they give the example and say the thing annoyed them.

I think the reason all of it upsets me so much is because the majority of the complaints make me question how I view myself and what I know as my own actions or even thought process.
posted by Vrai at 7:19 AM on July 15, 2011

Well then, question how you view yourself. There's nothing wrong with suddenly realizing, "Shit, I've been a tool for a bit". You now have a great opportunity to dial down some of your behavior, thus making your personality more palatable, AND you have the chance to see whether or not some of your friends are really worth keeping. Win/win situation all around.

Yes, it hurts to be told that a part of you is lacking. I've been there. Use this instead as a chance to improve yourself (not overwhelmingly so), suck it up, and move on. Ultimately the things they're asking you to do are not drastic, and it sounds like there's been an incremental build up of "Jesus it's really annoying when Vrai does these things, we should tell them".

Just take some of it, throw the rest of the criticism away, and the next time this friend of yours has something to offer, flippantly reply, "Criminy! Am I some kind of makeover project for you? You've been offering critiques for weeks now. Either you enjoy my company as I am or not. Pick one!" and then wait to see what your friend really thinks of you.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:25 AM on July 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

I don't know whether your friend has good or bad intentions. But I think there are two main problems here. First, your friend is telling you these things well after the fact. No wonder you're feeling insecure and worried about everything you do, when you don't know whether she is noting some bad behavior and storing her anger away for later. Second, your friend is not being constructive and telling you how she would like your interactions to go.

If you want to give your friend the benefit of the doubt her, I would try talking to her and saying something like this. "When you tell me after the fact about all these things I did that annoyed you, I feel upset and worried. If you're mad or wish I would do something differently, I'd like you to tell me while it's happening and maybe we can make things better."
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:26 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Situation 1: I would say both of you could have handled it differently. It's frustrating to be out with someone who is clearly not having a good time and won't talk about what's wrong. It's also frustrating to be the person who isn't having a good time and keeps getting asked what's wrong. Unless this was happening frequently, I don't see why it merits criticism on either of your parts.

Situation 2: This one is bizarre and it has happened to me at times. It sounds like there was some sort of misunderstanding. My optimistic side is inclined to believe that your friend is oversensitive. My pessimistic side says your friend has some sort of major internal issue. This type of bizarre criticism, where you didn't actually do the thing specified, would make me seriously question the friendship.

For instance, one evening I went out to dinner with two friends. Friend 1 had a problem with her meal, which she nicely asked the waiter to address. Later, friend 2 complained that friend 1 screamed at the waitress and embarrassed her in front of the entire restaurant. Being an unbiased third party, I can say that the friend 1 didn't behave rudely.

On a side note, I'm not good at handling criticism either, so I can't really offer any advice on this front except to say that you aren't alone.
posted by parakeetdog at 7:27 AM on July 15, 2011

Sorry if I came across too harsh. It's hard to see without being there what is going on. The follow up to the second example does sound odd.

If they are constantly making issues of things like the music, then be discerning about their feedback. Do you have other friends that could talk to about this to see if they have noticed?
posted by seesom at 7:31 AM on July 15, 2011

Maybe you two just don't get along that well, in which case, why hang out?
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:41 AM on July 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

The first exame, to me, is ENTIRELY your friend's fault. It sucks ass to be out with someone in a shitty mood. Your friend was responsible to be honest the first time you asked, and then offer a suggestion as to a change or alter the outing so that they would be happy!

In the first exame your friend lies to you, you keep asking them about the issue because their words don't match their actions, yet somehow that's your fault??

In light of the dynamicintheir first exame, I am disinclined to believe anything else this person says to you.

Sometimes people are charming, but toxic.Do the fade from this person and move on with your life.

Everyone else said it - friends who don't make you feel good aren't worth keeping - and that goes both ways. If you are getting so many (imagined or ginned up) complaints, it's probably better to remove yourself from this person's life.

I wouldn't want to hang out with someone who can't enjoy my presence.


(ps. In your original ask, it almost sounded romantic between you and this person, is that going on at all here? Maybe on their end? Just wondering. Doesn't change my answer, tho.)
posted by jbenben at 7:59 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

IPhone typos galore above! So sorry.
posted by jbenben at 8:01 AM on July 15, 2011

Part of the problem seems to be that your friend brings things up after the fact, as generalized "trends". When my friends have effectively criticized my behavior, it was very much in the moment -- "what you *just did* was a problem for *this reason*." Those confrontations suck, but I understood what was wrong, and was able to integrate that well. The times when my "friends" have criticized my behavior in the "oh you have a tendency to do X, like that time four weeks ago. . . " it's been mishmashy and confusing, and I just wound up feeling like shit instead of being able to modify.

If I were you, the next time my friend brought up something old to "prevent future drama", I'd tell them that they really need to bring things up while they're fresh. That's what I would do if I valued the friendship enough to work on it.

If this person has a fear of drama, that may also be a fear of "in the moment" confrontation. Learning that dealing with things *directly* prevents drama comes to some people with maturity, but not everybody, and it's harder in some relationships than others. You may have your own lessons to learn (such as that once someone has told you that they're fine, you should stop asking, even if you suspect they're finessing the truth,) but the question is whether you and your friend are going to learn those lessons in this friendship, or after it.
posted by endless_forms at 8:04 AM on July 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

The first one I can definitely see. I think I only asked them maybe three times throughout the night (about five hours together with some other friends), but I can totally see how that would get on their nerves. I'm a bit hurt they didn't just tell me the truth at the time.

They didn't say it at the time because you were with other people, and friend didn't want to make a scene. I have a friend that constantly "checks up" like that. It's very grating through the evening, and sometimes will tip me from having a good time to having a bad time.

Is this person someone you hang out with constantly? Maybe the increased face time pushed s/he over the edge. Do you have another close friend that you can talk to about this? Approach it in a "hey do I give off an X/Y vibe?".
posted by kellyblah at 8:05 AM on July 15, 2011

I know that has to hurt, but I wouldn't take it too seriously, actually. I think she's creating drama instead of nipping it in the bud. No, I don't think she's right to be criticizing so far after the fact, but I don't think it's DTFMA time. No I don't think that's behavior that should be normal, or that you should be applying to other relationships. But yes, if that's the way she rolls, feel free to give her contructive criticism right back.
I would want to turn it around on her and say "You know, I would hate for this to blow up into something bigger than it needs to be. Sometimes I don't understand what's going on, because you seem very passive, and when you do things like not answering my question truthfully the first time I ask it, not telling me at the moment that I'm doing something that bothers you, I sometimes feel confused and hurt when you bring it up later. Maybe you could try to help me out with this."
posted by aimedwander at 8:07 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

@jbenben Not romantic, but I do care about her a lot. We both live somewhere that isn't our home town. Neither of us have a huge group of friends, and I probably have even less (in this country) that I'd consider really in tune with my thoughts or interests. When we met, it was like finding a kindred spirit. She remarked a lot at how similar we were and how it was nice to have interesting conversations and fun times with someone again. This reinforces how much the criticism hurts. In pretty much every other area of our friendship things are really awesome.

All of these answers are fantastic. I'd like to thank everyone for taking the time to give me some feedback. I think I definitely will talk to her and have an honest, gentle conversation about the frequency of the criticism. In the meantime, I'll also take some time to really reassess myself and my own habits.
posted by Vrai at 8:21 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, if they're a good friend, in my experience, it's ok for them to offer some criticism that's concrete. I think this is where you're confused. They offer the critique but you're not sure due to lack of evidence. For example, my roommate, we're not close friends but living with each other, let me know that I tend to be a pushover and she more or less dislikes being around people like myself. Always questioning myself and being insecure all around. However, she didn't say anything more than once. And if you feel you're constantly being critiqued, that isn't right and I totally understand why you feel you're performing on eggshells. This is what you do... become conscious of what you're actively doing but please don't isolate yourself from others. Whatever you've said or done is the past so never question it and never second guess yourself. Once you start trying that on for size, is when you can more comfortable in your own skin and less sensitive to criticism 'cause THIS time you know yourself well and you can choose to roll your eyes or take their "advice."
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 8:24 AM on July 15, 2011

Woops *can be more comfortable rather.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 8:25 AM on July 15, 2011

It sounds like your friend wants you to be more of a "guess". (Guess that I'm upset, and then guess what will make me feel better.) It also sounds like you want your friend to be more of an "ask". (If I want to change the music I'll just ask, and my friend should say yes or no.) Reading the Ask-Guess post could give you a better handle on how your friend thinks. As the Ask you're going to make more headway if you're willing to bend, remember that most Guesses have a hard time talking about this stuff. One place to start would be "Thank you for letting me know, it's really important to me that you bring these things up right when they happen, so that I can correct them immediately. It's hard for me to internalize it after too much time has past. So in the future, could you bring it up right away as a favour to me?" And then mentally roundfile it until your friend brings it up again.

A lot of people, women especially (unfortunately), have some pretty horrible expectations of Guess behaviour in close friendships even if they do OK with Ask behaviour from strangers. Other people just really have a hard time with subjects like "I'm having a shitty time tonight", although sometimes they also grow out of it.
posted by anaelith at 9:04 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

It might be worthwhile next time she brings something up saying something like this 'Oh, I'm trying to change that* - can you tell me next time right at the time, so I do that?" or some variant of that. That way you've responded and gently pointed out that telling people far after the event is not that useful, especially for minor social faux pas. Additionally, if it is something you do all the time without being aware of it, you'll find out.

* Whether you are or whether you think the criticism is valid or not.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:08 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow! I am totally put off by how your friend is acting!

First, I don't think that first example is nagging. You asked 3 times, in 5 hours? This may indicate that you are a bit self-conscious, or even needy, but really, not even. You were picking up on something, you were right about it, but your friends wouldn't admit it. I guess you could have then picked up on the fact that they didn't want to talk about it, but still, I think you were fine.

Generally though, we all probably have some annoying traits. I know I interrupt people a lot, and finish people's sentences too much, and I try to work on it, but I also know that my friends aren't going to make a big thing over it. The great thing about good friends is that they don't care about most our annoying traits, most of the time. They can call you out when it's way over the top or upsetting them, and do so in an appropriate way, but to call you out constantly for little things? If little things are really bothering her all the time, then why is she your friend? Accept you for who you are, because who you are is awesome, or move on. It is not her responsibility to point out every little thing you do that she doesn't like, and make you feel bad about yourself.

You said you don't bring stuff up with friends unless it's something BIG. I vote that this is something BIG, worth talking to your friend about.
posted by violetish at 9:15 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

It seems to me like the her critisims are valid, but it might be the WAY she is telling you. I've had to have the COMPLETE HORROR of telling a close friend that their recent BO had gotten to the point that their job (retail) was in jepordy. I tried to hint, I tried to set examples, I tried asking 'hypothetical' advice for myself, but....nothing worked. So I finally just had to say it, and it did not go well, and the problem was not resolved (she just thought I was picking on her)
My SO on the other hand, somehow was able to tell her in a positive way that not only spared her feelings but changed her habbits. (How he did it I'll never know). But from that I draw my 'its not what you say but how you say it' answer. Your friend might not personally have the tools to express herself more gently. Since she is a close friend I'd give her the benefit of a doubt that she is trying to be constructive.
Good luck to you. I think everybody has had to face a self-relization about a habbit we have, and it hurt. But that is how you grow

FWIW I used to correct everybody's gammer ('Sam, it's wEnt, not wInt...' or 'Its called Star TrEck, not Star TrAck- they are on a journey not following a path...) and it had caused people to avoid me. So I became more aware and grew for the better
posted by Frosted Cactus at 9:26 AM on July 15, 2011

I think your friend is overly sensitive. You don't critique your friends behaviors after the fact on a regular basis. Being close friends should allow a person to bring up problems but not continually air petty grievances.

The problem I think is that these seem to be individual events your friend is picking up on not trends and this combined with her choosing multiple things is a problem and falls outside the normal etiquette of friendship.

For what its worth the first example doesn't sound like your fault as much as your friends to me unless you happen to ask people if they are ok all the time. I have a good friend who will stop talking and sulk at events she doesn't enjoy and its crazy making.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 9:29 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure what's happening with you and your friend, but will say that almost NOTHING is more annoying than someone who says "are you OK?" "are you mad?" "why are you so quiet?" etc.

Even extroverts occasionally have a headache or a few minutes of silence. and there's no better way to put someone in a bad mood than to badger them about their mood.
posted by cyndigo at 9:43 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's wonderful to find a kindred spirit, but don't ignore red flags if they pop up. Constant criticism about a wide variety of things is one of them.

As to the accuracy of the criticisms, and whether they are positive or negative: watch yourself with an observant eye, rather than a fearful or defensive one. Then evaluate whether the criticisms are firmly based in reality or whether they seem to come from frequent misunderstanding or a negatively-biased perception on her part. Listen also to the phrasing. Is this person criticizing your actions, or your character?

Yes, many people suck at offering criticism, so it's fair to give leeway. If it is relentless, not based in reality, and constantly attacks your character, though, it's time to reconsider whether friendship with this person, even if you have many similarities, is worth constant self-doubt and eggshell-walking.
posted by moira at 9:55 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you just existing bothers her SO MUCH, maybe you just aren't as kindred of spirits as you thought. It sounds like hanging out with her makes you feel like shit because you have to be on guard all the time, and in her definition, you keep fucking up. (And frankly, I don't think your crimes are soooooooo bad as far as I can tell.) And hanging out with you just seems to annoy her. Once everything you do annoys somebody, you really might as well cut the ties now, because it's probably not gonna get better.

I second the young rope-rider.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:27 AM on July 15, 2011

You can save yourself years of misery by quietly distancing yourself from this person now. I was in a situation like this with a friend for way too long. We were working in the same field, had similar tastes in music, politics, similar experiences when young, even had a lot of the same funky jewelry. Everything was fine, except when I dared disagree with her, or my life and hers started to take different paths. She was great on telling me things "for my own good" and prided herself on her "honesty". When she left her husband she strongly urged me to do likewise, although our situations were very different, and when she got involved in a Co-Dependent group, she pestered me endlessly with emails and brochures to do likewise. In face, she was anything but co-dependent, being very aggressive, loud, and domineering.

Her advice and observations got meaner and more off-base the more I finally stood up to her, but because she knew me so well, she really knew where to stick the knife so it hurt the most.
She was a master manipulator and it took me several attempts to get her out of my life. Even now something hits her and a nasty email comes my way. I ignore it.

It took finally getting out of this "friendship" to see what a one-way street it was, me constantly placating her and giving in, she "rewarding" me for seeing things her way every time. I am glad it is over and wish I had ended it sooner. I took her criticisms to heart for too many years, being sensitive and easily led. No more.

You may or may not see yourself and friend in my story. Give it some thought though, and if you see some similarities, do think about how much this friendship is costing you.
posted by mermayd at 11:31 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think a good rule of thumb (and etiquette) is to offer something to someone no more than twice.

But that isn't because asking a crabby person if they're OK 3 times in 5 hours is "nagging".

It's because, by asking twice, you:
- improve the signal/noise ratio compared to asking only once
- no reasonable person can accuse you of being pushy
- toxic drama-queen sulky-pants types, who might want to make you doubt yourself and wish you were somehow other than who you are, get left to deal with the problem themselves, either maturely ("actually, tbh, I have a really bad tension headache from work, it would help if we listened to pan pipes instead of thrash metal? Would that be OK?") or else by being left to stew in a hell of their own making.

No it does not sound like you are being difficult, and even if you are misjudging how you come across, your friend's criticism is not coming across as constructive at all. So even if there is a real problem here (which I don't think there is) your friend's poor communication negates her position.

It sounds as though she's not very nice and is trying to make you not like yourself. I see why you may not want to do this, but oh, if I could tell my younger self to step away from people like this, my life would have been so much easier.
posted by tel3path at 2:30 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just as a note: the first example is why I now walk out of parties and gatherings (occasionally without saying goodbye) rather than simply staying around. My families can't stand me doing it, but the only other option is some pain in the butt, well meaning but irritating concern mongering. three times over a night is really really annoying if the first time was met with "I'm fine" because it not only repeatedly makes me self conscious about not having a great time, but also hammers home the point that I am a jerk and awkward and a pain to be around. At which point the choices are: leave and get the follow up drama, or stay and 'ruin' the party.

Ask once, check in afterwards if you must, but don't ask more than once because it shows a total lack of trust/respect. Even if you are right, and I am hating it, how drama-riffic is it to have this conversation in a party? Or go off in a huddle of two so people ask you when you go back?

(I have recently had this argument with my partner - he is utterly bewildered and astonished that there are people acting like you at parties; he wants me to stick around silently doing my thing, or say my goodbyes. He doesn't understand how densely irritating and painful it is when people not only take it upon themselves to try nag you into extroverted compliance but generally will also follow you out and nag you into confession as well.)
posted by geek anachronism at 2:30 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wow, I wouldn't call you a nag Or pushy, but I would say that you sound a little insecure in both the question and follow-ups. Maybe I'm projecting, but you know that you're not responsible for your friend having fun, right? They're a grown-up. And you know that it would totally ok to ask for different music if your friend is playing something you don't care for, right? You know it's ok for your friend to be annoyed with you sometimes, even, right?

You are still the cool person you hoped you were before. In fact, I'm guessing you could stop being so sensitive about other people, their fun, and their homes, and be an even cooler person. What your friend meant is that they don't want to blow up at you in the future when they find you annoying again - so, sure, don't ask how they are all the time or worry about them so much. But also allow yourself to not worry about them much at all. Maybe if they find you - you, who are cool and trying hard to a be a good friend - annoying, then that's their problem, not yours.
posted by ldthomps at 5:52 PM on July 15, 2011

Are you sure your friend doesn’t have a crush on you? Like jbenben, I was struck by the romantic vibe so much that I re-read the question to make sure it wasn’t about a boyfriend. And yes, it seems like the feelings are coming mostly from her, especially because the criticism could be a sort of concealed frustration that you aren’t picking up her feelings or “reading her mind” like in the first example…”is something wrong?” “…yes, I have a crush on you but you don’t see it.” Also the description of you as “cute at first.” Caveat: I’m aware I could be TOTALLY projecting her as a woman who’s had friendships go a little weird because of crushes. But it’s something to start with and rule out.

Other than that, in my imagination your friend is sort of the strong silent type, maybe a little bit of a control freak. She wants to “avoid drama” and “nip it in the bud” and she doesn’t like talking about her feelings. I’m painting the picture of you as more bubbly, more emotional, because she uses words with a theme to criticize you, “nag” and “pushy” which is definitely sort of a character-type description more than a specific action. I also think maybe you’re insecure, because your reaction is to immediately question your entire life and relationships with everyone. (!) Also, the “nagging” was really just insecurity: you wanted her to be having a good time and were afraid she wasn’t, so you were trying to sooth those fears for yourself. Maybe you think of yourself as a “people person” so this was hard to hear?

I think this is about your friend more than you. I think her criticism was meant to be about your relationship with her and had little application outside of that. She is giving these broad strokes character-descriptor criticisms because that’s how she sees you in relation to herself. She was probably not very motivated to help you come across well to others, but merely to make her happier in your future relationship with you, IE “nip drama in the bud.” So, if I were you I would immediately stop freaking out in a general sense of like, “Existential crisis time!” Who am I? Should I criticize other friends? Is this a huge pattern everyone notices except me?? No. Very likely not. Except maybe that you’re insecure enough to ask that.

Instead I would focus on what your goals are for your future relationship with your friend. What roles are the two of you taking on, where do you see the friendship going, try to really get at and understand her motivations and who she is.
posted by Nixy at 6:42 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Was there some reason they couldn't just point out this behavior at the time, rather than preparing a presentation on all the things they think you did wrong last week?

Certainly there are good reasons to put off criticism of irritating behavior. In a group with others, where it would be humiliating. If inebriation is involved. An offense so egregious and offensive that a cooling-off period would be wise before confrontation.

But for these sort of pet-peeve/misunderstanding things, perhaps you could suggest that all of you agree to take responsibility for keeping communication healthy in the moment.
posted by desuetude at 8:03 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older Help me recall a particular photographer in/around...   |   Livret A? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.