Toxic friends: how to mediate bad experiences with someone you were once close to
October 20, 2011 8:35 PM   Subscribe

An old friend recently stayed and behaved appallingly towards my partner and me. How would you deal with constant criticism/cynicism/mercenary behaviour? As someone recovering from depression, I'm finding it hard to process in a way that allows me to claw some positivity out of the experience.

Five weeks ago, an old friend from the UK came to stay (from my uni days over a decade ago). I'd only been here myself for a month and was still adjusting, my partner and I had just found a flat the week before and moved all our stuff from the hotel. I was really looking forward to seeing her - having a friend to explore, laugh and have some fun with. But she had different plans.

Within 5 hours it became apparent that she was annoyed at having to buy her own food (she'd arranged to stay for 2 months, and I'm waiting for a visa to process so can't work. We weren't charging her rent as our guest. My partner has a good job, but can't support us both). I explained that food is expensive here and I have no money, but this lead to lots of passive agressive digs. I shared the little knowledge I'd gleaned about the restaurants, areas, culture, activities etc - to be told she'd read the opposite of all of it on the internet and was sure she'd be able to find all this stuff 'properly'. It got worse from there. There's way too much to go into but some highlights are:

- Shaking plates and dishes around in the sink if I'm in another room and she feels I'm not paying attention to her. The boyfriend's actually witnessed this from the hall mirror.
- Refusing to tip anywhere we go because 'it's expensive enough' (we're in North America and there's no minimum wage) and loudly complaining about staff, which has now lead to trouble in our local cafe
- If she's bored when we're out (e.g. in a shop) she talks loudly to herself and will sometimes dance, which has led to a few embarrassing scenes in smaller stationery shops while I was buying postcards, as an example
- I can't shower, go to the toilet, or dry my hair without her talking through the door while I'm doing so
- Picking fault with everything everywhere we go, it isn't done to enjoy anything or have a good time
- Be argumentative/contrary/insulting about my food, my music, our films, my choices about how to spend my time (cooking, painting, concerts, art galleries) i.e. (me) " oh Davide's going to have some of the chocolate-sponge peanut butter cheesecake I made for my birthday, do you want some?' (her) 'Ughhh! That sounds absolutely disgusting!'
Other example: (watching something I'm doing) 'I'd never waste my time doing that.'
-Coming in from a day of rock climbing/whatever and asking what I've been doing, then following my reply with '.......Is that ALL...?!'
-Checking for any new facebook friends I make and looking through thier profiles making comments, asking me how exactly I know them and who they are etc. This one really upset me actually and now I've changed my privacy settings.

Long story short, my old friend is gone. The persona she's developed since is incredibly annoying, and unfortunately also vicious and mercenary. We eventually cracked and she's out, amicably (thanks to our landlady making a scene. Yay!) Before she left she did shove a load of cutlery in the waste disposal and scratch up our kitchen table ('accidentally'), but I'm just relieved she's gone. She's now staying with a guy she recently started seeing in his parent's place - she doesn't pay for food and all her cleaning and washing is done for her. She's pretty open with me about the fact that she doesn't really like him but is getting what she can out of the situation.

I haven't pulled her up on most of this (she has met some resistance), because she was part of our small, tight-knit group at uni and I LOVE those guys with all my heart. I don't see them much anymore and don't want her going home and spouting a lot of horribleness about me I can't rebutt. The other thing is that she was recently diagnosed with clinical depression but is refusing meds and therapy, and so I've tried to be understanding (my little sis suffers from chronic depression and had a nervous breakdown a few years ago so I've seen how hard it can be). And I'm recovering from depression myself - I stopped my meds 2 months ago and was feeling much better after moving. But now I feel... I don't know. Like I was just getting happy and sorted, I was starting to look forward to the future and feel good about myself and now I have a bad feeling in my stomach pretty much all the time. There's just so much shit to work through here. I mostly feel 'There was no need for the last 5 weeks to have passed as awfully as they did. Why did they?'. How do you process the experience of meeting someone who thinks they should take what they can get from anyone any way they like and that's fine? That has no desire to be a decent person, doesn't see the point? I know I'm at fault here, but I just can't see a starting point. Any advice/opinions welcome.
posted by everydayanewday to Human Relations (39 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Life is full of people in bad places, who act badly. Some of those people are just inherently mean, but not very many, in my experience.

You move on my focusing on the things you have to be grateful for, every day. Literally.
posted by ellF at 8:38 PM on October 20, 2011 [12 favorites]

So sorry about your bad experience. That sounded really disappointing. I feel glad for you that she is gone.

Just one thought:

I don't see them much anymore and don't want her going home and spouting a lot of horribleness about me I can't rebutt.

If these other friends of yours are decent people, you can expect that they have probably already discovered about her what you just discovered. If they taker her seriously, I'd wonder about their intuitions. If they are as perceptive and gracious as you seem to be, her behavior is going to be pretty transparent to them, as well, and they'll likely take it with a grain (or more) of salt.

It's tough not to be able to defend your own reputation at times, which is why it is good to be able to trust good friends to do what friends are supposed to do do; namely, defend your reputation for you when you are not there to do so. If they have been good friends to you, try and trust them to do that.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:47 PM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

She wasn't a good guest, friend, or human being-- be glad she has moved on.
Don't try to figure out how to "teach her" anything, how she might portray the situation, or "resolve" anything.

Sometimes you just have to walk away and rebuild your own little world. I suspect that some of your Uni friends will probably see through whatever crap story she tells them.
[or they will once she's sponged off of them for a few weeks!]
posted by calgirl at 8:51 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Friendship can be transitory. People can grow apart. Just because you were friends with her years ago, doesn't mean that you have to be friends with her now.

That she was terrible to you doesn't invalidate the good times that you had with her in the past. But in the end, life is too short to have toxic people in your life. Cut her out of it. Draw the line under this experience, chalk it up to bad luck and ce la vie, and decide to not speak to her again.

She's not a decent person. Fine, she made that choice. You are. Plus, you have nice friends who are decent people. The sun is out, and the world is filled with puppies and rainbows and chocolate cake. You don't need to think about her.

She ruined the last five weeks. Make the decision to not let her take up any more of your time and energy. When you start to think about her, change the subject in your mind. Eventually, you will forget about it.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:54 PM on October 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Some of her behavior (the dancing, for example, and the shoving cutlery down the disposal) sounds a bit odd - could it be that she's not entirely well? She must be in her late twenties, and that seems like extraordinary behavior at that age.

Certainly, I wouldn't worry about it except perhaps to ask your other old friends if she's been herself lately.
posted by Frowner at 9:01 PM on October 20, 2011 [12 favorites]

I wonder if you need to conduct some sort of symbolic exorcism. Even though this person has left your home, her spirit is lingering, leaving that bad feeling in your stomach. Include a goodbye to the friend from uni who had been your friend, back in the day, before she changed into this new person. Then tell this new person that you hope that they find healing in their life but their spirit needs to leave your home. then do something symbolic, like waving burning sage in all the corners. Make up whatever feels right to you. Once you do this whenever you start to think about her, remind yourself that you already said good bye to that and make a conscious effort to think of something else.
posted by metahawk at 9:02 PM on October 20, 2011 [19 favorites]

Even if she was fantastic, the circumstances you describe basically made you destined for trouble:

- you're unemployed
- you're new to not only the area, but the country (?)
- you just moved to your apartment

- it appears that you didn't have a specific limit to how long she could stay

Seriously, staying for 5 weeks? Who stays for 5 weeks? Is she trying to move to your city or something?

Don't worry about all the other stuff - this is very simple:

"Darling, we've loved having you here, but we're wondering about your next steps. Now that you've been here for over a month, we're a little concerned about OUR LIVING ROOM/GUEST ROOM space and more importantly, I've got to refocus on my employment options. Is it possible for you to consider staying at a hotel or finding a sublet in the coming week?"
posted by k8t at 9:12 PM on October 20, 2011

Response by poster: Frowner, yeah I did find the behaviour odd - I was thinking it was a manifestation of her depression (not one I'm particularly familiar with, but my experience is admittedly limited...) or otherwise the somewhat immature behaviour of someone who has a small, stable/ unchanging friendship group that has never pulled her up on it (that's just what she does!), plus to 'indie girls' (which we were) weirdness can be looked upon positively (she's so kooky!) It does remind me off stuff we would've done at 16. But no one else I know would do it now....hmmm. I'll ask my other friends.
posted by everydayanewday at 9:13 PM on October 20, 2011

Response by poster: K8t, we threw her out after 5 weeks, before she left she told us she thought she'd be staying with us for 3 months. !! I don't think I could have survived that.
posted by everydayanewday at 9:16 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

How do you process the experience of meeting someone who thinks they should take what they can get from anyone any way they like and that's fine? That has no desire to be a decent person, doesn't see the point?

There are selfish people everywhere. There is no special way to process them, nor can you hope to diagnose every behavior. My advice is to continue being a decent person yourself, and focus on other important things in your life. You have a lot on your plate already, it seems.

Keep calm and carry on.
posted by vidur at 9:24 PM on October 20, 2011

Best answer: That doesn't just sound like depression--it sounds like borderline personality disorder. Perhaps she has always been this way, but because you interacted with her in the context of your circle of friends rather than one-on-one, her toxicity wasn't particularly obvious. Or perhaps this is something new. In any case, your friends are probably starting to experience her in the same way.

You could get in contact with them and compare notes. ("Have you spoken to -------- lately? What's up with her?") It might help make the whole experience seem a lot less ghastly, knowing that other people have seen her dark side as well.
posted by tully_monster at 9:27 PM on October 20, 2011 [14 favorites]

Depression isn't a license to be rude, which is what she was. It sounds like you did as well as you could with it and got rid of her, which is great. You had every right to push back earlier and more often. Don't feel bad if you have to discourage her from returning.
posted by zompist at 9:27 PM on October 20, 2011

My reaction was/is the same as Metahawk: It was insensitive for her to ask to visit you when you were still getting settled in your new flat AND it was not a good idea for you to accept a two month visit then, if ever.

I'd also add that you should be able to make sense of what happened in retrospect because she has phychological issues that led to her outrageous behavior.

I think you did the right thing by letting this end as positively as you could. Don't worry about your other friends. My bet is that if she is in contact with them, they too will see that she needs to get treatment and they will discount whatever she says.

Sorry this happened to you. It sounds awful. Live and learn.
posted by Sonrisa at 9:38 PM on October 20, 2011

She may or may not be mentally ill but she is still culpable for her own outrageous, horrible behavior. I fail to see how this is your fault. You invited a dear friend to stay with you, but that person doesn't exist anymore. You bent over backwards to be kind and she took advantage of you, something that appears to be a pattern with her. Your only mistake was in putting you with it too long, but I'm actually really impressed you finally gave her the boot. That takes guts! And I bet it was a learning experience.

Stop being so hard on yourself. Lose the guilt and that might help you feel better about what happened.
posted by Lieber Frau at 9:39 PM on October 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: How would frame it to myself so that I might process the events quickly and move on?

I would meditate on this statement: " Happy People don't do Bad Things."

You had an intimate brush with an Unhappy Person. Their behavior is not about and your partner. It's not personal, so there is no need to dwell if you'd rather let this all go.


Your friend sounds like she is suffering from much more than depression. I'm sorry.

On the other hand, I don't believe you must worry about her slander. Likely everyone knows not to take her words as truth.
posted by jbenben at 9:44 PM on October 20, 2011 [16 favorites]

Ah, one more thing.

That pit in your stomach might be some kind of shock. I'm sure some deeper part of you must be horrified by what your old friend's current experience of the world must be. Putting aside all the mean and crazy actions and statements, I bet a part of you is deeply grieved to see an old beloved friend so low.

So that pit in your stomach might be grief and concern, not guilt. Unless its some type of "survivor's guilt." you've thrived since uni, she has decidedly not done as well. That's hard, for her and for you or anyone else who loves/d her.
posted by jbenben at 9:56 PM on October 20, 2011 [8 favorites]

A long time ago I was taking a nice walk with my brother and some random person on the street made it shitty for a moment and I got mad and my brother kind of grimaced, and was thoughtful for a moment, and said "well, there's probably a lot going on there that we don't know about."

My brother is very wise at times and I think about that little moment a lot. When someone perplexes me with their awfulness I find myself thinking "there's probably a lot going on there that I don't know about."

The classic paradigm is a train wreck. At the end of the day maybe a driver was drunk or some tired worker passed a bad piece of equipment but none of this really explains or mitigates or excuses the scale of massive tons of metal just going wrong. It might be more healthful for those affected by it to just see that it is shitty bad luck and randomness and you gotta just pick up the pieces and make the best.

My eternal and always mantra when things that are not actually impacting me in a meaningful way in the moment impugn on my consciousness is "that's not happening now." Be it terrible visions of future possibility or (God help me, this is the person I am) engaging in a heated argument (entirely imagined, internal) with some boss I haven't worked for in ten years - whoa, hold up, step back. That isn't happening now. What's happening now? Hey, that odious person is gone! Hooray.

Traumatic experiences stay with us. This is the fundamental reality that lands us in therapy and suchlike. We remember the discomfort, anxiety, pain. But that isn't happening, anymore, now. We want to rationalize it. We want to understand! Of course we do! Ach, well, there was probably a lot going on there that we didn't know about.

Your friends already know that your friend is in trouble and refusing to deal with it and it is making her behave in a way that is unfortunate. Don't worry about them. You can't help a person that has decided that everything is fucked but her and her only recourse is to kick and thrash against it all. Feel compassion for that unenviable state but it is not your state, you must refuse to own it. You got a gift: a cautionary note, a sad reminder of the alternative to dealing with your shit and choosing right over the grim and momentary satisfaction of shitting on everything life throws your way. Don't let this derail your progress. You had a brief sojourn in someone else's hell but thank God, you don't have to live there. If she figures it out she'll come back apologizing. If she can't get there you can't fit her in your life. Focus on the now, on the you and your partner, on what's happening, here, now, this moment. It's not your fault. And you're going to be okay.
posted by nanojath at 10:47 PM on October 20, 2011 [88 favorites]

Best answer: First, the only thing that is your "fault" is that you were nice enough and polite enough and good friend enough to let her stay for 5 weeks. You did nothing wrong. Your friends from uni know about this person already! What can she say? That she is angry because you stopped letting her take advantage of you? Then, what keeps on going through my head is why is this person able to take a 3 month holiday? No friends to miss or miss her, no boss because she likely doesnt get along, no one and nothing back home.

Forget her. Enjoy your new home. Cheers.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:23 PM on October 20, 2011

You were more than generous and have nothing to feel bad about. I'd try to move on and consider this a lesson learned:
1. Do not invite someone to stay with you for long periods of time- 5 days is a long time for a houseguest, let alone 5 weeks. 5 weeks is pretty over the top unless it's family or a very close friend or someone renting out a room while they look for their own place.

Personally, I don't think it's worth the time or mental effort to dwell on this and try to come up for explanations for her rude behavior. Just be glad she's gone. Her problems are not your problems, and you should focus on yourself, your happiness, and setting up your new life in your new home.
posted by emd3737 at 11:48 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know I'm at fault here, but I just can't see a starting point.

The starting point is that you're not even remotely at fault for anything here. Whether her behaviour was from untreated depression or just being a crappy person, you didn't cause either of those things. You were a gracious host who opened her home for a significant amount of time, and you didn't even get a small amount of niceness back.

You said it yourself, your old friend is gone. Cut this new person out of your life and move on. One of the sad things about depression is that it can make people push others away, but that doesn't mean you need to tolerate the drama and bullshit while she gets herself sorted out. Otherwise she's going to drag you down with her. You can either make a specific clean break or let her just fade out of your life, either way lose her and focus on the good things you have going on instead.
posted by shelleycat at 12:27 AM on October 21, 2011 [7 favorites]

I know I'm at fault here...
Um, no, you are not at fault. You offered to let her stay, while (I assume), letting her know upfront about your financial challenges. Even if you didn't let her know, since she had plans to stay for 2 months, she should have also planned to be unobtrusive and trouble-free as your guest, which does not describe the emotionally needy, critical, and destructive behaviors that she has displayed towards you two.

You sound like a generous person who a user has taken advantage of. As SpacemanStix noted, I'm sure your old uni friends are well aware of this.

I'm sorry she set you back in terms of your goals. That must be difficult to deal with.
posted by SillyShepherd at 1:14 AM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

The whole thing sounds awful, but I have to admit I laughed a lot at your descriptions of her behaviour. She sounds terrible!

If I were you, I'd just be glad to be rid of her, and feel compensated by having some funny tales to tell about the visitor from hell. Seriously, you've got some good material there. Not every worthwhile experience has to be a positive one.

Some people are just horrible and there's nothing we can do about it. You can be sure that the friends you have in the UK will be aware of how she is, so they'll be able to read between the lines if she goes back and badmouths you. Just have as little to with her as you can from now on, and relax knowing that your future will be less chaotic than hers.
posted by cincinnatus c at 2:43 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I am not sure why you think you are at fault. It is certainly challenging to invite someone to stay for a long period of time, but I'm sure you knew that and you had a reasonable expectation that it would be a positive experience overall. I mean, one of the things that helps people build strength in life is having strong relationships and you probably thought that her visit was going to contribute to that. I'm sure you expected to be wrung out by the end of it, but not for it to have been as absolutely horrible as it was.

I can understand why people are telling you to put it out of your mind, be glad she's gone, look at it as a gift and all that, but I've never been able to do that myself. The kind of situation you describe, where a supposed friend just acts so horribly for so long that you no longer recognize them, has always upset me profoundly and for a very long time - a very long time. The only way I can explain it is that it's like grieving: the person you once knew, or thought you knew, is dead, and you can't get them back. But it's made worse by seeing this entity walking and talking and looking like your friend, but it's not your friend, so you have this toxic hope that maybe your friend will come back someday, and at the same time you know they really won't.

This is over and above the awfulness of having a long series of nasty interactions with them over a period of weeks, of course, which is bad enough all by itself, even if the person were some horrible stranger you had to put up with for a few weeks in a temp job or something.

I can also think of some other possible reasons why this feels so terrible. Here is a video about how to tell if somebody is a narcissist. I am not in any way suggesting that your friend is a narcissist, this is just an example of what I'm driving at. The guy explains that if you are going through cycles of feeling really special, really envious/jealous, and then really devalued when relating to this person, especially when those feelings are out of character for you, then that person is probably a narcissist, because the ruling characteristics of narcissist are grandiosity, envy, and worthlessness. People who have empathy get those feelings around narcissists because they're picking up on the narcissists' emotional state. In other words, you end up feeling what they're feeling. There is a lot of speculation about whether these people really suffer from their own disorders or whether they go around feeling pretty great most of the time and it's everyone around them that suffers from their disorders. Well, the exceptional and extraordinary feeling of shittiness that I get from interacting with narcissists, in which I experience emotions such as grandiosity and envy which the rest of the time are quite foreign to me - it's one of the worst emotional states I ever experience. Now, maybe grandiosity, envy, and worthlessness don't actually feel as bad to them as they do to us. It's possible, since in addition to being ruled by those emotions, they also don't have the same emotional range as the rest of us, so for all I know they could go around feeling those feelings all the time and yet not be having a particularly unhappy experience themselves; who can say. But it does lend weight to the idea that "happy people don't do bad things," as jbenben put it.

But for you, no matter what kind of person your friend is - depressed, borderline, whatever - and what drove her to treat you that way, she got you to feel what she was feeling, which is horrible. Horrible on top of the stress of having a houseguest, horrible on top of being treated badly for weeks on end, and horrible on top of falling out with a friend.

So I hope you won't blame yourself for feeling bad about this, as it's actually an even nastier experience than it might appear at first glance. If it's a "gift", it's the same kind of gift as finding lemons in your Christmas stocking. When you're allergic to citrus. It's not your fault.
posted by tel3path at 2:43 AM on October 21, 2011 [8 favorites]

Here's an alternate take: In a few months to a year or so, this visit is going to seem hilarious. You got visited by the weirdest, most awful guest one can imagine, and you'll be able to milk her bad behavior for the rest of your life at cocktail parties and have something to commiserate with your partner about forever. ("Oh, this is bad, but not as bad as when Creepy Passive-Aggressive Scary Houseguest was here!")

I'm sorry you're feeling shaken now, but as someone who actually shared an apartment with a certified (by the court and everything!) stalker (not of me, but of a friend of mine) who used to bring motorcycle gang members home for drunken hook-ups she wouldn't remember the next morning (even though Mr. Harley Longbeard would be standing naked in the kitchen making toast in front of the both of us) and broke her part of the lease by moving out in the middle of the day, leaving a $1,000 Psychic Friends Hotline bill for me to pay the next month, I can tell you that having the story about "THAT One" is more valuable than gold.
posted by xingcat at 4:25 AM on October 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

In a few months to a year or so, this visit is going to seem hilarious.

So true. The bigger the fiasco, the better the story.
posted by lathrop at 4:49 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: That doesn't just sound like depression--it sounds like borderline personality disorder.

It rang that way to me, too, though we on MeFi are in no position to make that diagnosis. What's certain is that it's unusually provoking and out of control behavior.

In addition to the other good advice, the way to salvage a bad event is to chalk up what specific lessons were learned and use that to grow. Here, you could look at your expectations - having an old friend stay with you for two months would be wonderful. In some cases it could, but as an adult, you come to treat your personal space differently and require different things from it than when you're younger. And your friend had made some assumptions about the living arrangements, things you (understandably) didn't think to stipulate because you assumed you would never need to. So in future, take some of the assuming out of it. If someone asks to stay, you can say "about how long were you thinking? We'd be happy to host you for a week," and as conversations progress, it's perfectly all right to say things like "I'll have coffee and cereal in the morning and you're welcome to join us for dinner on Saturday and Wednesday, and we'll all go out Friday, and you can do the rest of the meals on your own" or "Because of my work/studies/projects I need a couple hours of quiet time in the living room in the evening, so I'll check in with you after 7," etc. It's totally reasonable to set the parameters of the visit, and discuss them ahead of time.

You're doing her the favor! It's OK to set the boundaries. You don't have to throw the gates open - you'll drain yourself completely if you don't feel confident enough to set boundaries. You've developed a good life which works for you and has nice, peaceful things in it. You deserve to protect those things, and even the loveliest, nicest guest can be a drain. So you have to figure out what you need as your household rules, and then lay them out next time you offer someone a place to stay. Believe me, it usually makes people feel more comfortable as a guest to know the 'rules' of the house so they can feel like they're not doing the wrong things.

All that said, she was a terrible guest. There's an art to being a good guest, and it includes things like bringing, or offering to buy, some food for the house, offering to cook a meal or two or take everybody out to eat, offering to help with chores, picking up after yourself, taking care of the place, making sure you have permission to delve into cupboards and things, keeping clear of your host when you can see they are busy or just wanting quiet time, maybe offering some money to offset your grocery cost or buying flowers or contributing to a project, expressing gratitude and sending a thank-you email or note after. Please note, your guest did none of these things - she pretty much assumed she could act like a nineteen-year-old and no one would care. You've matured, and she is stuck - maybe for mental health reasons, or maybe because she simply hasn't grown up yet (her willingness to be so terribly dependent is evidence of this, too. Grownups don't go out on limbs like that, depending only on the kindness of others for their basic needs). So no matter how good you get at setting boundaries, hosting a houseguest is a two-way street, and she didn't do her part at all. You can head some of this off in future by being clear about what you're willing to do as host, but you can still expect a normal guest not to do most of what she's been doing.

The important thing is not to catastrophize this. We've all been there. Live and learn. It's not a reflection on you, your friendships, or your mental health or anything. It's a reflection that you've got a bit of a toxic person around you, and that makes everybody feel nutso. You're well clear of her and maybe she'll get her act together one day and apologize, or maybe not, but ultimately it doesn't affect who you are, and I agree with others that if she carries on this way at home, your other friends are sick of her sh*t too.

Brush it off, move on, live your nice life. Things are going well for you. Don't let her derail them.
posted by Miko at 4:52 AM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm going be very specific about this - the fact that she won't tip is absolutely appalling to me. Anyone who works as a server can tell you that's the only money we make - the typical $2.83 an hour is basically enough to cover taxes. This reinforces for me that she is just a nasty person who wants everything for nothing. She needs her own help, but the best thing you can do is recognize that the vast majority of people are not like her. I think this experience has shaken your faith in humanity - realize that this girl has no trace of humanity in her.

Also, why are you still in contact with her? She is going to keep making your life hell. Cut her off. She will be just fine, and so will you.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:03 AM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Look you're getting a lot of positive reinforcement here and that's great, but just in case it isn't crystal clear to you, the following is important:

1) People can change drastically in 10 years, and no more so than in the 10 years from 20 - 30. The expectation that the friendship or indeed the friend you had 10 years ago would be one you could enjoy now was not a reasonable expectation. Unfortunately, you need 10 years to go by before you know this, which you now do.

2) House guests are like fish: they begin to smell after 3 days. I wouldn't let my own mother stay more than a week, and I can already tell you that as fabulous as she is and as much a I love her, I'd be clenching my jaw after 48 hours.

3) The fact that your university friend grew up to be a hypercritical catastrophe is not your fault and not your responsibility. And it isn't something you should let colour your feelings about anything but her.

She sucked and now it's over. Yay! And now you know more about being a grownup and the intricacies of old friendships and guest hosting. Also yay!
posted by DarlingBri at 5:29 AM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

There's just so much shit to work through here.

There's nothing to be gained by working through shit. One doesn't work through shit: one flushes it, or shovels it, and disposes of it. Not that I can't relate. Your horrible house guest reminds me a lot of a former roommate I had, and even though I haven't spoken to her in many years it still pisses me off no end to think about her and her behaviour towards me. Manipulative, demanding people can do a number on you and make you feel like you have to keep fighting the battle against them in your own mind even when they aren't around any more, but try not to do that. If she comes to mind, tell yourself there's nothing to be gained by thinking about her and think about something else.
posted by orange swan at 6:14 AM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

The other thing is that she was recently diagnosed with clinical depression but is refusing meds and therapy, and so I've tried to be understanding . . .

What you need to understand is that she is choosing to behave this way, which makes her a jerk, which is sad and not your problem.
posted by General Tonic at 6:48 AM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

This book, Zen Shorts, is one of our favourites. (Here it is being read - the story I'm referring to is at 7:16.) I think, that like the older monk, you need to "set the woman down".

You're not at fault, and you can remind yourself you can just move on - you don't have to process it, with or without her, as orange swan put it so well.
posted by peagood at 7:14 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

This person is a grotesque boor. She should not be your friend.

You should cut her right out of your life. The only reason individuals like this get away with their vile behaviour is that well-meaning friends tolerate it. The biggest favour such friends can do for them is to stop tolerating it. How else are they going to learn that their behaviour is unacceptable?
posted by Decani at 7:20 AM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

She's now staying with a guy she recently started seeing in his parent's place - she doesn't pay for food and all her cleaning and washing is done for her. She's pretty open with me about the fact that she doesn't really like him but is getting what she can out of the situation.

I wonder if she was expecting the same -- to get what she could out of the situation -- by staying with you.
posted by kdar at 9:03 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Echoing what others have said above, this is *not* your fault. You can't control other people. You can only try to use this as a learning experience for future interactions with her and other people. I wouldn't worry about her badmouthing you to other friends - I guarantee that either they know or will soon know how unstable she is.

I agree that you need some kind of symbolic "exorcism" ritual to "rid" the house of her. Also I think once you spend some more time in the place with your partner it will feel more like home again. Moving is a bitch and very very stressful. I just moved less than a week ago and I feel so unsettled! I can't imagine having even the best of houseguests right now, let alone the worst. Shit I haven't even had a friend over yet!
posted by radioamy at 9:33 AM on October 21, 2011

It's important for you to be strong and set firm boundaries now; when (not if) her current relationship breaks up due to her shenanigans or her boyfriend realizing that "she doesn't really like him but is getting what she can out of the situation" you don't want her coming back to you and expecting you to take her in. (If she's that open about using her partner for what he can give her, he probably knows it on some level, and unless he's an extreme doormat and/or the sex is absolutely mind-blowing, he's going to wise up and dump her.)

If this happens, and she comes to you for housing and/or sustenance, the most you should do is give her a plane ticket home. She didn't treat you like a friend.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:02 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There's just so much shit to work through here.

I popped in to say what orange swan said: you don't have to work through all this. You don't have to figure out what's going on with her or her behavior. Wash your hands of her, let go of the friendship. And as someone upthread said: don't worry about her badmouthing you to your mutual friends; they are probably as horrified by who she has become as you are and will write off any shit she talks.
posted by Specklet at 10:05 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't EVER let anyone stay in your house for more than a week who isn't your best friend or a blood relation.

This is true, and a great rule of thumb for the future.

However, it's important to remember that this conflict was not caused by the length of the stay.
posted by tel3path at 10:13 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is a good experience to have learned a few things - and hopefully, because of it, you'll never put yourself in a position to be so mistreated, especially in your own home. I expect your tolerance for such behavior has dropped significantly, and that's a very good thing. Now you will be sensitive to what the little flags look like before the big ones get a chance to pop open.

You do seem a great deal tied up with how you remember your friend from university days, versus the recent visit. The dramatic personality shift is distressing and I hope you eventually get a proper apology and explanation that could set your heart at ease. I don't know how likely that is, though. It's offensive that she treated you so poorly, and in a way more offensive that she polluted your home, which is supposed to be your sanctum of peace and comfort - no toxic manipulation allowed to pass that threshold. It's like she stomped all over the plants in your garden, you know? Next time, if you let someone in and they start tearing up flowers? Throw them out. Life is hard enough without hostility following you into your haven.

You went above and beyond friendship for this girl. I don't know what's going to need to happen in order for her to sort her shit out, but I don't think anyone who tolerates her behavior is doing her or themselves any favors. Hopefully doors slamming in her face in quick succession will bring her to her senses. But that ball's in her court.

Go back to your cafe and apologize to them for that awful person who mortified you and commiserate a bit about horrible guests and how happy you are that she will never accompany you there again. Splurge on dessert and a ridiculously generous tip. They'll be glad to have you back, and your stomping grounds will be yours again.
posted by Lou Stuells at 11:03 AM on October 21, 2011 [8 favorites]

I skimmed several of the responses, so apologies if I've repeated something ...

You are not to blame for her boorish and insensitive behaviour. This is over-the-top by even closest relative/absolute bestest friend status, much less a uni friend you haven't seen in a decade.

All you can do at this point is learn from the experience. In the future, be sure you know what ground rules you want your visitors to adhere to and communicate those to them. Duration of stay, expectations of amenities and expenses, etc. Stating it nicely and up front, i.e. "It's so great that you're coming to stay with us, we're so busy we can handle a guest for about X days, but unfortunately because of rent/economy/school we'll need you to share food expenses", and so forth.

Once upon a time it may have been the case that guests stayed weeks on end and were utterly catered to (yes, I just read "Jane Eyre"), but now this is much less the rule than the exception, and in my experience one generally needs to expect that as a guest, one will be treated to a place to sleep and basic amenities, perhaps a meal out, but anything beyond that is a nice surprise.

(If you need help getting an idea of guidelines on this and what is a good baseline for hospitality, CouchSurfing is a good place to look. You can tweak to your preferences. Some may say there should be different rules for friends than for strangers, but a lot of the stuff specified there is also simply basic etiquette.)

And also, whomever said this will be a GREAT story in the future was absolutely right. Could even be useful as an introductory story with new houseguests, over a glass of wine: "I'm so glad *you're* here. Why, once we had this guest ..."
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 1:24 PM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

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