How do I deal with an oversensitive, constantly negative friend?
August 20, 2012 9:25 AM   Subscribe

How do I deal with an oversensitive, constantly negative friend? I am the only "real friend" X has, so I don't feel comfortable totally breaking off the friendship, but interacting with X frequently leaves me wanting to scream.

Note: I feel the need to be deliberately vague about details here, to avoid the person in question from recognizing themself in the question. I apologize if that makes answering difficult.

I have been friends with X for several years now. X has a combination of psychological, social, and physical issues that make it difficult to both make and retain friends, as most of the people that do connect with X either back away after being exposed to said issues, or are pushed away by X due to a perceived slight. As a result, I am the only close friendship X has been able to maintain.

X is certainly not all bad -- we have helped each other through rough patches in both of our lives, and X has been incredibly supportive during some very difficult things that I've been through. When X's issues do not take over, X is a fun, enjoyable individual. That said, X is frequently a very difficult person to deal with. Any constructive criticism, however gentle, is viewed as a personal attack. Any suggestions that don't fall in line with what X has decided needs to be done (or not done) are met with hostility.

X is very unhappy much of the time, and regularly complains about certain things. While X's circumstances are indeed difficult, and the unhappiness understandable, X is very resistant to suggestions on how to change anything for the better. X's general attitude seems to be "my life is horrible, and it is never going to get any better, and nothing I have ever tried has helped, so it's not worth trying anymore". I am not comfortable merely sitting and listening to the same litany of woes over and over, but I feel like I am beating a dead horse at this point by making suggestions that invariably get shot down for one reason or another, and result in yet another argument about why it's unreasonable to expect X to keep trying to improve their life instead of wallowing in misery.

I would prefer to avoid breaking off the friendship, both due to the fact that I AM X's support system, and the fact that I consider X a very dear friend in spite of how difficlt they are to deal with. I'm hesitant to approach X about how stressful the relationship is, because it will be percieved as me preparing to "abandon" X, and will likely be met with X preemptively pushing me away (a very similar thing happened with a former friend of X's a few years ago). Is there anything I can do to help X learn that someone giving advice or correcting socially inappropriate behavior does not constitute a personal attack? Is this friendship salvageable, or do I really have no choice but to back away to escape the negativity?

I apologize again for the vagueness here, but any and all advice would be greatly appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
are you X's professional therapist ? Does X have one ?
posted by k5.user at 9:29 AM on August 20, 2012

I'd be frank with X and tell this person "you're a dear friend and I want to remain friends for years to come. But it's hard to hang around you when you're in a negative mood. I want to support you but it seems the only thing I can do to help is listen. So forgive me for having to say this: from now on, if you seem like you're starting on a negative rant and it's getting too much for me, I'm going to tell you "ok, you have five minutes to get it out and then we switch to something more pleasant." Because I want to be able to enjoy spending time with you. You can't just unload on me alone.
posted by lizbunny at 9:32 AM on August 20, 2012 [9 favorites]

Don't criticize. If they reject everything you say, why bother saying it?

I mean, you say you're X's support system. But what does that mean? You sit there and listen to X complain a lot and come up with excuses to not do anything about it. I get why that would be a drain on you and I sincerely doubt it helps X much to have a friend who is starting to resent them.
posted by inturnaround at 9:35 AM on August 20, 2012

To buffer the harshness of the above, ask them to understand it's a personal favor to you for X to be ok with this on occasion. If X wants to keep you as a friend, it's as important for him to be considerate of your needs as it is for you to support X when he needs it.
posted by lizbunny at 9:36 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Instead of having a conversation that goes like this:

X: "My live is horrible and it is never going to get any better, and nothing I have ever tried has helped, so it's not worth trying anymore."
You: "Maybe you should [take yoga / read this great Self-Help book / keep sending out those resumes / get therapy] and see if that helps. You can do it! You're a great person! Just don't give up!"

Consider having a conversation that goes like this:

X: "My live is horrible and it is never going to get any better, and nothing I have ever tried has helped, so it's not worth trying anymore."
You: "You know, I'm sorry to hear that, but I feel like this is all we talk about and it's bumming me out. I'm here to [watch this TV show with you / play cards / help brush your cat's teeth] and I'd rather not talk about these things."

And then, a little later, when X relapses and again says, "My life is horrible." you say "let's talk about something else." And if X does it a third time, you say, "Man, look at the time! I've got to go! It's been great to see you. We'll do this again next week!"

Keep these statements as upbeat and friendly as you can make them while being firm. You're not criticizing X, you're just letting them know that you're not up for a big pity party conversation all the time. X will get the idea. Or they won't, they will ignore your stated boundaries and you will know something about how much X really values you as a person. Then you can have the next conversation, which is, "I've asked that we don't have these sad sack conversations, and you've ignored my requests. Why do you think that's a good way to treat somebody?"

I think, too, it's going to be important for you to think of your task as "how can I have a relationship with X that works for me," rather than "how can I be X's sole friend without going crazy."
posted by gauche at 9:42 AM on August 20, 2012 [8 favorites]

Decide for yourself how much time you're willing to spend "merely sitting and listening" to X's litany of woes and let them know what that limit is, because I suggest that you stop trying to do more than just listen. Stop beating the dead horse. Stop making suggestions on how to improve their life. Stop giving advice. Stop correcting socially inappropriate behavior. (Especially stop doing these things if X isn't explicitly asking for your opinion.) When someone is convinced their situation is hopeless, advice to the contrary is likely to come across as sounding like you don't believe what they're telling you (which you don't!) and only encourages them to put more effort into convincing you. I'm not suggesting that you pretend to believe them, but I am suggesting that you try suspending judgment for a while and stop challenging what they tell you. Just listen and be open-minded and I think eventually they will run out of steam. And what happens after that could be interesting....
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 9:43 AM on August 20, 2012 [7 favorites]

Oh damn I had this EXACT thing happen with a friend of mine... it drove me crazy. She'd complain about everything but any advice was met with a 'you just don't know what it's like' reaction. (Meanwhile she heaped unsolicited advice on ME all the time.) I realized I had to get away when my reaction to a CD she played for me was 'yeah it's pretty good' rather than 'omg I LOVE it', and she got offended that I wasn't sufficiently amazed by her musical taste.

My advice is to disengage. I feel a lot better about life in general now that I have this source of constant negativity out of my life.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:45 AM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Having had friends like this: Some people are just not really easy to be friends with. One of the ones I'm thinking of, we were very very close friends for several years and I watched this person cut others out of their lives due to perceived slights, many of which were wholly imaginary. When the day came that it happened to me, I thought, huh, I guess it was gonna go this way eventually.

The best you can do is maybe scale back the amount of time you spend with this person. Don't cut them off or anything, just be less available. Find other things to do with your time. Be prepared to have this taken as suspicious or an outright betrayal. It's out of your hands. As long as you're motivated by a sense of obligation to be their support system, they'll never have to do sufficient growing to look for a support system inside themselves.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:51 AM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I used to have a friend like this. Hopelessly negative about everything in her own life, and down about everything good that happened in my life. In the end I decided that I wasn't responsible for shepherding her through life, and that the psychic drain of having her around wasn't worth the brownie points I gave myself for being her one "normal" (hah!) friend.

Friendship is supposed to be about mutual support. Granted this will always be asynchronous and one person may need a shoulder or a hand up when the other one doesn't. But if you're not getting that support ever, then in my mind you are not friends.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:01 AM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have stopped being friends with a co-worker who acts this way. It seemed like the friendship wasn't doing her any good, so why bother? I used to wonder if it would help to have a "come to Jesus" talk with her. At one point I ran into a former co-worker who said she had done just that, to no effect. (She repeated what she had said, and it was much more helpful-- and less judgmental-- than anything I would have come up with.)

Now, this is in the workplace, where Ms. Negative has kind of a captive audience, which may be why I find the behavior somewhat offensive. She's got a roof over her head and a supportive family and no major illnesses: some combination of these is not the case with some of the people who have to listen to her complain daily.
posted by BibiRose at 10:04 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

No criticism, not even constructive. No suggestions, unless X asks for them.

If they have some new trouble in life, or they're talking about an old problem in a new way, you can say things like, "That must be really tough," or "You're frustrated." The most you should do is acknowledge their feelings. This alone can be really helpful, and it feels like support to the person hearing it.

As for the same old complaints you've heard over and over: X has cast you in the role of listener. You don't want to have this role in respect to complaints and negativity. It's okay to say, "I know you're unhappy about blah blah, and I know it's hard. I'd be happy to help you move forward if you can. But talking to me about these things doesn't seem to be helping you, and it's hard for me to keep listening."

X will probably get angry, hurt, etc. -- something like that is hard to hear. But X will get over it, and you two can start getting used to a new dynamic.
posted by wryly at 10:08 AM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm hesitant to approach X about how stressful the relationship is, because it will be percieved as me preparing to "abandon" X, and will likely be met with X preemptively pushing me away (a very similar thing happened with a former friend of X's a few years ago).

You can't avoid setting clear and healthy boundaries based on this fear. This is ultimately their choice. This choice is likely the result of mental illness, yes, but it is their choice.

So, what are clear and healthy boundaries? I'm not exactly sure, to be honest. Do you want them to complain less? Do you want them to criticize other people less? Are there certain topics you want to avoid? Once you figure out what your boundaries are, you can figure out what will be a good way to approach it. A "good" way to approach this DOES NOT mean the way least likely to piss this person off. It means an honest, clear, and kind statement about what you want this person to not do. Do your best, and their reaction has to be their responsibility.

For example, something like this: "Okay, look, this is really a horrible issue and it sounds like you're having a hard time, but I care about you so much that it's hard for me to listen to it right now. Can we talk about something else?"

If they take it badly, again, that is their choice. It sucks. It hurts. It is bad for them that they push people away. But you can't fix this, you know? You just have to do the right thing, and hope things work out.

Additionally, if it makes you feel better, if they do withdraw completely you might let them know that you still care for them, and send them information about dialectical behavioral therapy. It is useful for people who fear abandonment and do self-destructive things in order to avoid that abandonment.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:44 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I could have written your question.

I did a cost-benefit analysis of sorts, and realized that there were only ever bad times with this person. When she was happy, she was great, but that hardly ever happened, and then it never happened. Every encounter left me absolutely drained, and for what? What was I getting out of this friendship?

You are not anyone's support system.

I have no problem helping out friends in their time of need, and I love to be of help then, but if that's all there is to the friendship, one-way giving to someone who doesn't seem to appreciate it very much -- fuck it.

I felt a bit guilty for a while, but that passed. I miss my happy friend, but she disappeared long before I finally cut the ties.

Friends come in and out of your life like waves. That's perfectly fine. Time to let one exit.
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:54 AM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

I had a friendship that was somewhat like this and ended up saying something like: "I care about you, and I want you to be happy, but we keep having the same conversation over and over again, and it doesn't seem to be helping you at all. I'm not your therapist, I can't act as your therapist, and I really don't want to keep having these conversations this way."

I'm not going to lie: it didn't go well. Partly, I was so fed up with the pattern that I was probably a bit strident. But mostly, this person just wasn't ready or willing to hear it. I'm still glad I did it. It was unfair of me to listen to her vent for hours on end while secretly resenting the time we spent together. And, until I said I didn't want to keep having those conversations, she had no way to know that I didn't want to keep having those conversations. There wasn't a picture-perfect resolution, but I'm glad I cleared the air. She was angry at me, but she stopped expecting me to devote hours per week to listening to her vent. (In truth, the friendship didn't ever fully recover, but I attribute that to the fact that we'd spent so long in the "Friend vents for two hours, Meg listens" pattern, that I had trouble seeing her good qualities and she barely knew anything about me anymore. The pattern damaged the friendship much more than my ending the pattern did.)

So, I'd recommend you say something along the lines of stating your needs ("I am not comfortable merely sitting and listening to the same litany of woes over and over") and acknowledging X's preferences ("it's unreasonable to expect X to keep trying to improve their life"), but know that X is likely to react poorly. You could try something like, "X, I respect your right to solve your own problems your own way, and you know that I care about you very much. And also, at the same time, it's very frustrating to me to hear you talk about the same issue time and again while insisting that it can't be solved. I'd like for us to agree to talk about something else--I won't give you anymore un-asked-for advice, but I can't be the person you vent to about this thing."

If your friend says, "But who can I talk to about this? You're my only friend!" that's an opening for you to suggest therapy, or a support group, or some kind of social club/volunteering/something--once. And then you're back to, "I respect your right to solve your problems your own way, but I can't be the person you vent to."
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:57 AM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've been like X. The cost of me believing or expecting that my friend/s could or would want to help me "fix" my life was that I lost them. It was after that loss that I realized what I was doing to people.

I think you have every right to walk away from X, letting her know that your relationship has become toxic and no longer mutually beneficial, but if you still really want to hang on, you might consider compartmentalizing her and the venting - she gets Y minutes to talk about what's going on in her life when you hang out together, and then it gets set aside for the remainder of the visit. Block her selectively or completely on Facebook, and refuse to deal with long, ranting emails.

Take care of yourself first.
posted by koucha at 11:13 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had a friend like this last year that left me constantly stressed out after our interactions. At one point I even thought of posting an askmefi along the lines of yours, because I felt guilty about not wanting to be her friend anymore (I was also her only "friend"). I think I could have dealt with the constant negativity if she wasn't so passive aggressive.

After yet another particularly negative and depressing meet up with her, I came home and knew I just had to end it. It wasn't healthy and I realized that staying friends with an unpleasant person just because you're their only friend is stupid. It's not your fault this person has pushed other people away and is nearly succeeding at doing the same to you.

I don't think you'll get any awards for being a friend martyr to this person. It's ok to bow out for the sake of your sanity.
posted by side effect at 11:21 AM on August 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

I would stop making suggestions except one: see a therapist. Feel free to listen and sympathize (or not) but start trying to convince them to see a therapist.

Depressed people are by definition pessimistic and resistant to suggestions, so it will be tough, but it may be possible. Try to hammer home (but gently!) the message that it's possible to feel better and that therapy is empirically the best shot. Convince them to just give it a try even though they are sure it can't help, how could it hurt?
posted by callmejay at 11:50 AM on August 20, 2012

I too had a friend like this (in fact I wondered if you were describing my former friend, because it sounds EXACTLY like him). Even suggestions such as "see a therapist" were met with comments like, "I've seen one before and they didn't help me so why should I try again?" After a while I just couldn't take it anymore and slowly disengaged. This friend never made any effort to make plans with me anyway, but would show up whenever I initiated contact, so it was easy to kind of slip away. I realize this may be different in your situation. However, you either have to stop making suggestions and just gently try to redirect the conversation, or set some boundaries, preferably when your friend is in a good mood. Positive reinforcement when your friend is in a good mood and you're actually having fun may help as well.

I'm sorry. I know it sucks, but it's not your job to fix this person, and it's not your job to be their therapist. If it's making you crazy, you have to do what's best for yourself.
posted by bedhead at 12:09 PM on August 20, 2012

If you want to remain friends, stop trying to fix this person. Accept that, at least for now, they are burned out on it. When you cannat take anymore, set boundaries. Let them know that you have given all you can for today without pushing back and insisting they work on their crap. Let them know that at this moment, either they have to be nicely tolerant of your helpful suggetions or you need a break until you are recovered enough to be supportive in a nonjudgemental way. If they don't want to discuss solutions, politely excuse yourself for the rest of the day.

If it all becomes too much, let this person go. Some people have to hit rock bottom before they will change. It is possible your support is the only thing preventing them from hitting the bottom and deciding they have had enough and are willing to try something else.

Personally, I have little patience for people who gripe about their problems and won't act. I tend to politely distance myself. I have had a lot of very serious problems and worked my ass off to make it better. I make a really terrible shoulder to cry on. If you want real help, I am your gal. And I can be patient and understanding that big problems can take a long time to solve. But I you just want tea and sympathy, it is better to look elsewhere.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 12:33 PM on August 20, 2012

"my life is horrible, and it is never going to get any better, and nothing I have ever tried has helped, so it's not worth trying anymore"

Been there. Am there now, actually. What has worked for me quite recently is simply suggesting that they see a therapist that I have used, as that therapist would be very open to working with them without prescribing drugs (the fear of which had kept this person from returning to therapy in the past.)

It worked, and this person is in therapy now. Even thought their actual life situation is worse than before -- actually, verifiably worse -- their reaction to it and their ability to deal with it is better, much better, because they've been in therapy for just a few weeks.

You might do well, then, to sit down with this friend and say "I am your friend, and I want to support you when you're struggling, but I'm just not equipped to do it well, no matter how much I've tried. I really think you need to spend some time talking with a person who can help you through this better than I can. Have you considered therapy?"

That's where it started in my case, and while it was initially rejected for reasons noted above, ultimately I continued the suggestions and got traction, and they're better off for it. It is, however, also reasonable for you to drop it as an ultimatum ("you need to pursue professional help, because I can't keep trying to help you if you're not trying to help yourself") and walk away if they won't.
posted by davejay at 12:40 PM on August 20, 2012

oh, and I've actually been thinking of writing an AskMe about the person I mentioned myself, until I realized that helping them get into therapy was the right choice for me, and that if the person wouldn't go into therapy I was going to have to slowly disengage.
posted by davejay at 12:49 PM on August 20, 2012

I haven't read all the responses, so maybe this has been said, but as a listener, sometimes you just gotta listen. If you are thinking while you are listening "I know exactly how to fix this if I were him/her" and whether you mention your thoughts or not, you are frustrated that you can't help the other person, and up goes the stress level. Sometimes you are not meant to help, but rather just to listen. Telling myself that when I listen really helps me repel the negativity. It's still not nice to hear the same complaints over and over again, but I figure sometimes all people are looking for is "I *HEAR* that you are upset/troubled about this," and if I do that, I've done my job as a friend.
posted by molasses at 1:52 PM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Please be gentle, and please don't make ultimatums about how X should act if X wants to remain your friend. The advice about acknowledging X's feelings without giving suggestions is spot on.

Two possible conversations you could have:
1. Wait until X is in good spirits. Then have the conversation, "You know, X, it is so much fun hanging out with you today. I really wish I could see you happy more often! What do you think?" Then see what X says, and see how you can (a) find out some things that make X happy, that X will admit to, that you can bring up when X is really upset, and (b) see about what you can recommend in terms of therapy or something like that. (I just think in general, doing this when X is in a happy mood will be a lot more effective than when X is in a gloom-and-doom mood.) If you can bring up your own experience with mental health, be it personal experience or a friend's experience, or someone you've heard about, all the better. If you think X is going to take this as a critique, and get really upset, be prepared with some, "You know I think you're so great, (give examples of things you like about X, fun things you've done together, etc), this is just about how much I want to see you happy!"

2. When X is saying some really negative stuff, approach it really gently. "You know, X, you tell me a lot about how you're feeling so frustrated and upset about _________. I hate seeing you like this, and I really wish I could help. I'm wondering, though, what kind of help you'd like from me? What could I do that would help you?" Something like that, that gets at the fact that you do want to help, and give advice, but maybe that's not what X wants. And then again, maybe there's the option of recommending therapy or something like that.
posted by violetish at 4:55 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe throw a curve ball by repeating herself back to her:
    X: "My life is horrible and it is never going to get any better, and nothing I have ever tried has helped, so it's not worth trying anymore." You: "Yeah, your life is horrible. It is *never* going to get *any* better. Absolutely *nothing* you *ever* try helps at *all*. "
The point here is not to make X feel even worse, but rather to reflect her exact language back at her, emphasizing words like "never", "nothing", "ever", and "all".

Point out that *no* one's life is a constant ever-downward spiral. Ask her if she can think of *one* thing in her whole life that got better or helped. Once you do that, you have at least gotten her to realize the language she is using is incorrect.

Step 2 is getting her to understand that that incorrect language (and the incorrect beliefs behind it) are holding her back.
posted by sarah_pdx at 6:31 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

They say that the best way to deal with people like this is to listen to them. Don't give advice, just listen. Sometimes say 'Wow, that must really suck.' Agree with them. Eventually they see themselves reflected back and the shift happens.

And like everyone else said, set boundaries.
posted by inkypinky at 6:46 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

i've been in X's position. I'd say listen to them and be honest and say "idk what to tell you, but you can keep talking to me and i'll listen." if you consider just listening good enough that will help. idk, how you communicate with them. if it's online, it's easier to say "yea, ok" every once in a while, compared to in person where you can't escape and do something else.
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:01 PM on August 20, 2012

I think it's easy for people who are lonely and frustrated with their lives to fall into a pattern of ranting/rambling. I know since I started living alone I can ramble like it's my superpower. For X, this may be magnified by nervousness, particularly if as you say you're their only friend. While it's very important to validate their feelings, it may be helpful for the both of you to (a) lead the conversation into other directions, or (b) suggest you do things together that create opportunities to talk about other things. Art gallery? Documentary? Shopping?

Another way to redirect that could be helpful to you both is to ask X for their help or advice on something that's bothering you.

Also, while suggesting things to "fix" them may be off-putting, since it can sound like a criticism, you can still tell them about things that you think will really help them, if it's a realistic and thought-out suggestion. Trust me, every unwell person alive has been told to do yoga like it's a magical cure-all. Taking that example, if you could find an affordable yoga class that will accommodate X's limitations and suggest you go together, that will sound more like a concrete offer of help and less like a veiled criticism.
posted by sarahkeebs at 5:39 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

It occurs to me X might be 2xe -- "twice exceptional", in other words both very intelligent and also handicapped. Such people have very frustrating lives, huge credibility problems (thus the sensitivity yo perceived slights), and frequently find that suggestions from other people do more harm than good (thus the resistance to any criticism). I am 2xe as are both my sons. People routinely act like I have a huge ego and am a teller of tall tales, etc. In other words, I generally am treated like I can't have done things I have really done and I am often treated like I am not competent. When I do get any credit for my accomplishments, it causes big problems.

I am currently wrestling with feeling like I don't want Blah (hypothetical or potential positive turn of events in my life) because I feel like it is bound to be followed by some terrible leveling event and I would rather do without than pay the price. So I popped in to say maybe one of the things going on with X is "poor mouthing", which is a means to deflect attention from any good things going on in order to protect oneself.

Twice exceptional types tend to either fly or crash and burn. They tend to bounce from one extreme to the other, either wowing people or being slammed. One of my big goals for me and my sons has been to find more solid ground, to find a better way to handle transitions, to soldify successes so they do not dissipate like fog in the morning sun and cushion downturns so they don't cost so fucking much. A lot of people never really recognize that as the central problem in their life and never find that sweet spot I am seeking. The 2xe thing is a very hard row to hoe without finding those mechanisms.

So maybe that is the crux of the issue.
posted by Michele in California at 8:05 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I imagine having this type of friendship is stressful and think about how much energy you expend trying to keep it. Remember you are not responsible for them and how they feel and taking on another persons issues can prevent them from taking responsibility for themeselves. It is also manipulative on their part to say you are their only friend. Again, you are not responsible for them. Be supportive by talking about other pleasant things and curbing the negativity, but if you end up feeling bad from spending time with them, do disengage. If you cannot, then perhaps you have developed a codependency and need to explore that.

I've been the supportive friend and after much time and talks with my partner I realized I wasn't taking care of myself first. I needed to do that to be a better friend, a better family member and have a deeper more satisfying relationship with my partner.

Explore what motivates you to keep this "friendship" and does the positive exceed the negativity and stress it is causing you. You deserve to be happy and have healthy relationships.
posted by i_wear_boots at 10:45 AM on August 21, 2012

Seems like the situation is this: X doesn't like criticism, advice or suggestions on how to fix things. You don't like socially inappropriate behaviour or negativity.

Could you do X a deal like this:?
You listen to X moan, without criticising, offering advice or suggestions - all you do is ask X about when/where/why the problem is and let them talk. But you only do it ONCE per issue. After X has had their moan on that topic, after that you only want to hear info on how the solution is progressing (e.g. "Guess what, I ran 10km today!" instead of "Man I am soo fat!") If they don't abide by that you have the right to shut them down by saying you don't want to hear about it, or remind X you've heard this one before, and if X still goes on about it then criticise/advise/suggest away and X is not entitled to complain.
You could both put together a list of things to do where the focus would be on an activity (e.g. movies) which might help shift X away from negativity about their life, and give them something else to talk about instead.

Re the socially inappropriate behaviour this is more difficult. I wonder why you feel you need to correct X's behaviour at all - have they asked you to? Does X do this to others or to you? Because your question seems to imply that X has got it wrong and you know better, but IMHO social appropriateness is more of a judgment call/ grey zone, and so the issue might not be as clear-cut as it might seem to you. I can really understand how differing standards could grate on the friendship, but it sounds like X needs your acceptance more than they need the lesson.

I actually think the best course of action would be to engage X in a discussion about this kind of thing (maybe popular movies or TV would be a starting point?) , but if you think that is too likely to offend X then it has to be black and white - so you have to decide if X's behaviour, socially inappropriate as it is, is enough of a dealbreaker or not. If it is a dealbreaker please consider telling X that there are specific reasons why you are disappearing, and say that if they want to know more you will tell them (be honest but try to be diplomatic of course!). That way they at least have the chance to get some feedback before repeating the same mistakes with someone else. I know it kinda runs counter to the rest of my essay here but I think otherwise they have no way of knowing because most people (in my experience) would not point this stuff out even when asked directly.

If it is not a dealbreaker I would say you should put your energy into coping:
- remind yourself that others might not judge you harshly for hanging out with a socially inappropriate person - they might judge X (or not) and they might see you as tolerant/kind, realise that you have known X for ages, be dealing with someone like that themselves in their lives, or not think about you at all in the equation;
- write a journal / do art/ kickboxing to deal with your frustrations
- avoid hanging out with X outside your/X's place or mixing X with other friends
- see if you can think of ways to redirect the conversation/ subtly rescue X from social inappropriateness if there are situations which repeat themselves (hard to give suggestions without specifics but I hope you know what I mean)

Good luck and good work for sticking with a difficult person. I hope you and X can come to a good arrangement together.
posted by EatMyHat at 2:36 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

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