Help me have a better friendship with a self-centered person
April 26, 2012 10:47 AM   Subscribe

Suggestions for handling an uneven friendship?

I have a friend -- or friendly acquaintance, let's say -- with whom I've had a pretty frustrating relationship. She's friends with several of my friends, and dating pretty seriously in my community, too, so where in many situations, I'd simply ease the relationship out of my life, I don't feel like that's an option here.

In the last 3 years, I can count the number of times she's asked me about myself or my life (beyond "How are you?", which she only asks about half the times we see each other): 1.

When we get together one-on-one, the conversation entirely revolves around her. In order to avoid awkward silences, I ask her questions, and then she goes on and on about herself and her life. After a while, I wondered if she was worried about being intrusive with her questions, so I started bringing up my own stories in response to hers. Her response to this was always to steer the conversation back to herself as soon as she could.

So, I decided that the answer was not to get together one-on-one, which is a little awkward to do, because it means dodging her occasional suggestions to get together and socialize, but it's been ok.

But she still IMs me occasionally to "chat", which usually means for her to talk about what's happening in her life. I sometimes ignore these, but it feels awfully pointed to ignore her ALL the time. And we still see each other at parties and social gatherings (where at least she has to share the floor more often with others simply by virtue of the way group interactions work).

My goals here are to minimize vexing interactions in my life, to be kind to her, and to have happy, easy interactions on IM and when we see each other at larger social events. How can I best do this?
posted by rosa to Human Relations (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Remove her from your IM list.

You don't like her, so it's not kind to be friends with her. Nobody needs friends who don't like them.
posted by tel3path at 10:49 AM on April 26, 2012 [11 favorites]

block her on chat
posted by Neekee at 10:49 AM on April 26, 2012

If you're planning on blocking her anyway, maybe try teasing her about it. If you're worried about it blowing up horribly, maybe not. But I've seen it work before. (Depends on her/your personality.)
posted by stoneandstar at 10:54 AM on April 26, 2012

If you can dodge her in person, you can certainly block her in IM. With most IM services, it'll just look like you never sign on. The person you describe seems to be self-involved enough to not notice a conspicuous absence of someone with whom they chat occasionally.
posted by griphus at 10:54 AM on April 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't see why you think it's so awful to ignore her. She'd probably go right on to the next available person. In my experience, people like this aren't very aware of how others see them.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:02 AM on April 26, 2012 [8 favorites]

What Ideefixe and griphus said - she is bored and simply going down her contact list until she finds somebody willing to listen to her plight. If you're never online that won't be you. If you don't want to block her just tell her you' can't chat right now. Repeat as necessary.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:06 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thanks for all the comments on the chat side! I'm also interested in ideas folks might have about in-person interactions at parties and other social gatherings -- this is definitely the trickier part for me.
posted by rosa at 11:23 AM on April 26, 2012

In person: don't be afraid of the awkward silence. If you need to fill the awkward silence, ask questions that aren't about her life - ask "seen any good movies/read good books/eaten at a good restaurant/how do you feel about the election/have you met mutual friends' new friend/what's up with the library funding/insert whatever you have in common here."

Or just ignore her. It's okay. You don't have to like everyone.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:43 AM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

"Hey, it's great to see you again!"
"Yeah! So today I..."
[One Mississippi, two Mississippi ... sixty Mississippi]
"Oh, hey, I see Tim over there. I gotta ask him something. I'll catch you later!"
posted by griphus at 11:45 AM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

At social situations I would just not engage with her. Like, sure, if she comes up and starts talking to you, whatever, but if you don't like her, you don't need to go up to her. During those awkward silences, you can just let them hang, or you can volunteer information about yourself, or you can just leave the conversation and talk to someone else (or go to the restroom, get another drink, suddenly remember you left your phone in the car, whatever). Asking her questions about herself is not the only way out.
posted by mskyle at 12:14 PM on April 26, 2012

Just stop asking questions. If there is silence, you then have the opportunity to go talk to someone else. Eventually she will get the hint, or she will start asking you questions.
posted by markblasco at 12:34 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you could ask one of your mutual friends? Either they're not bothered by her behavior, they have specific strategies for dealing with it, or her behavior is unique to you. Any of those possibilities may inform your further choices regarding your interactions.

Random suggestion: perhaps she has a crush on you, is intimidated by you, or in some other way herself perceives your relationship to be asymmetric, such that the normal give-and-take of friendship becomes obscured for her. I can be awfully self-involved when I'm afraid of not measuring up.
posted by endless_forms at 12:45 PM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Some people are just self involved. I have a very close friend like this. She's a lot of my social contact, but not much of my support network. I accept her how she is, roll my eyes when she treats me poorly, and don't let it be a reflection on me. on one hilarious occasion when we hadn't seen each other for several weeks and I had gone through significant life events, she bragged about how good of a listener she was.... But never asked me about the recent developments in my life. True fact.

In your position, I'd casually point out "you know, the past four times I've tried to tell you about my life today, you've change the subject before I could finish two sentences?" Key is to do it casually and matter of fact-ly, not in an accusatory or judgmental way. If you're emotional about it with a casual friend/acquaintance, you give away too much power.

But, really, she might need some friendly feedback about how she treats you, and probably other people. Especially if you can honestly temper it with things you do like about her.

It's my style to be a good sport and let people have some of my time even if they're not the perfect kind of friend, so I roll with some kinds of insecure behavior pretty easily. Might not work for you, though.
posted by itesser at 1:18 PM on April 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Since it seems like there's not a real friendship there to risk at present, it might be worthwhile to just bring this issue up in a nonthreatening but unequivocal way. "When we chat, it feels as though you only want to talk about what's happening with you, and you don't have any real interest in me at all. Is there someone else you'd rather be chatting with?"
It's possible she has zero clue what she's doing, and the clue might be very welcome.
posted by browse at 2:13 PM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Although she seems like a very self-centered person, your behavior seems very passive-aggressive. Dodging invitations, avoidance behavior... have you ever considered simply telling her there's a problem? As some other posters pointed out, there are plenty of non-aggressive ways to present this (E.G. "When we get together, you never seem interested in me, and it makes me feel a little sad, like I'm a boring person to you") and until you bring this to her attention, it's a little unfair to blame the problem on her. Some people mean well but are simply less sensitive to social cues.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 4:13 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

You do realize you don't need her permission to end a conversation or an IM? (I'm pointing this out because it took me the longest time to realize it.) You can just say "Okay, gotta go. bye." and close the IM window. Or at a party "Well, I'm going to go check out the beer/wine/veggies. See you later!".
posted by benito.strauss at 4:40 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Like StoneandStar said, if she's not actually a bad person, maybe you could point out the problem by lightly teasing her when she does it, rather than avoiding her?
posted by Fairisle at 3:50 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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