How to confront someone who loves you but snubs you...
November 16, 2012 8:14 PM   Subscribe

Childhood friend does not realize there is more to life than Ivy league. I am not in the Ivy league thus she does not support my career or accomplishments and criticizes them constantly. How to have an honest and non hurtful discussion about this.

This is a question where I'm not sure there is a right answer. I have a friend who is competative with regard to social status. I hate to say that but it's true, but in a specific way. She is an ivory tower person, parents from the ivory tower, very much gogogogo about getting an academic career, only really values money making or business pursuits. We have been friends for 14 years. For the last five years she has been nagging me to join her in the ivory tower and dismissing my own pursuits.

The problem is, I have been making excuses for this behavior, but I'm getting tired of it too. It's a form of supposed flattery ("you're sooo mich smarter than me") but also a form of judgment. I also get annoyed by how she refers to people by their status and awards. We are close enough friends that she wants to share with me about her love life but can never seem to understand why these cold and often unlikable men, selected on the basis of fellowship funding and size of social network, do not make adequate partners. I get frustrated because when we get together despite potentially having many things including a long shared history in common we have these long conversations mostly about men. This is a red flag to me that the friendship has become more about one sided confidences.

I almost wish we worked together because it seems she would be enjoyable and produtive to work with but at some level I am really discomfited by the above. I know she is judging me (and perhaps herself) harshly only because the life above is primarily what she knows, but I want my life to be about more than status and titles and unless we manage to improve the conversation around these things I see us seriously growing apart.

I want to get us back on track but don't want to be hurtful... What do I say, Metafilter?
posted by kettleoffish to Human Relations (39 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe you have outgrown your friend. It happens.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:26 PM on November 16, 2012 [38 favorites]

It's okay that you have different values. My best friend believes in collecting letters after her name. She's brilliant and loves learning but is mostly interested in pursuing learning so she can get more letters after her name. I don't get it but that's okay - I love her for who she is and think it would be boring if we had the same interests exclusively. Why are you friends with this person? It sounds like those things are important to her. If baseball was important to my best friend, I wouldn't completely understand but I'd ask her about it and check out a game with her if she wanted.

Likewise, you should stand up for yourself and your interests. It's totally reasonable for you to say, this is important to me so even if it's not important to you, you should care about it at least a little because it's one of my interests.
posted by kat518 at 8:30 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had a bunch of friends like this, who spend a lot of time talking about what they're into without expecting me to to say anything from my own life or showing any interest in me at all. Boring and frustrating.

What happens when you try to change the subject and talk about something that interests you? Does she make an effort to contribute to the conversations you want to have? If she does, I think there's hope. If she makes little or no effort to have a 2-sided conversation, I would say you two may have outgrown the friendship.
posted by bleep at 8:34 PM on November 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

One day when she's being especially self-centered, just say witheringly at one point "Hey, just out of curiousity, were you planning to show any interest at all in my life, or are we just going to talk about you all the time?"

My experience suggests she will be crushed, embarrassed, and shamed. Then she will apologize and start making more of an effort to value you.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:38 PM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

... I see us seriously growing apart.

And, there is nothing wrong with that.

Friendship works when there is mutual respect or at least the unspoken understanding that the two parties disagree on an issue passionately but are allowed to be i.e. you either dont bring up such topics or you tread very carefully.

I don't know how old you guys are but you two really sound like very different people, a difference which usually tends to increase with age/life experience. A fundamental difference in thinking regarding life choices like those you mention is hard to bridge without understanding and effort from both parties. While you don't have to explain the reasons behind your choices to her, you also don't need to put up with whatever distresses you either.
posted by xm at 8:42 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't quite see how an obsession with Ivy League leads to 'conversations mostly about men'. Are you conflating two different things here, like you think her obsession with Ivy League is responsible for her failing love life and you are sick of hearing about her failing love life? Which part of these conversations involve her telling you to join the Ivy League, is that her suggestion for how to improve your own love life?
posted by jacalata at 8:44 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you actually want to remain friends, rather than part ways, ask her to honestly, deeply consider how much titles and status don't mean to you. Ask her to accept that you'll never see them as important, and that her interest in these things is something you totally don't share.

If there's a friendship to salvage in there, it might emerge in a different form once she realizes that you're different.
posted by ead at 8:44 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

About the only thing I can think of that has any chance of getting her to see your way of thinking is after she does her complaining to tell her "You're so unhappy about seemingly everything in your life. Why do you keep doing the same things over and over when you know this is how it will make you feel"? If she doesn't push back against that, you might have a chance at getting her to realize her way isn't the only way to live life. But if 14 years of friendship wasn't enough of an argument for her then I don't think there's anything you can say to resolve your issues.
posted by Green With You at 8:51 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

very much gogogogo about getting an academic career, only really values money making or business pursuits

An "academic career" (ie, going into "academia") and "money making or business pursuits" are polar opposites. In general, your question is all over the place, with your problems with your friend being somewhere at the intersection of academic achievement, money, men, and an obsessive self-focus to the exclusion of you. It doesn't sound like any one thing, but rather a gestalt of incompatibility.

That said, IIRC, you live in the NYC area, which is brutally competitive, and the only way to survive and maintain and upper-middle-class lifestyle is to have a single-minded focus on achievement.

But, honestly, people grow apart. You grew into different value systems. I suspect she will mellow out as she gets older, but for now she is focusing on one specific thing, and you guys are clearly in different places in life. You need to figure your life out, she needs to figure her life out, and it doesn't look like you're going to do that together, right now.
posted by deanc at 8:52 PM on November 16, 2012 [15 favorites]

Just chill out, maybe she'll come around, maybe she won't. You can't necessarily force it to get back on track, and maybe the thing to do is to simply stop hanging out with her. Come up with dumb excuses (is it ever her idea to get together?), or be otherwise busy. It may be in a few years she'll learn that that world isn't the be-all end-all, or she'll suffer a setback or early divorce, and her worldview and yours might start to mesh again. There's no reason that I can see to draw a line in the sand that might get in the way later on. Part of being friends with someone is allowing them to live their lives even when they don't revolve around us.
posted by rhizome at 8:55 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: She lives in New Haven, CT. She visits several times a year and I feel bad refusing to see her without an explanation. Given the length of our friendship and the high esteem she seems to hold it in ("her best friend") I think it's really worth a shot trying to discuss this once. She's coming in next week.
posted by kettleoffish at 9:20 PM on November 16, 2012

about getting an academic career, only really values money making or business pursuits

Someone's in for a rude awakening... Academic careers are not very good routes to making money.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:23 PM on November 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

The elements of the question are connected: caring about titles and status does often go hand in hand with liking people for the wrong reasons. And one-sided confidences do go hand in hand with the idea that she's judging you.

If you actually want to remain friends, rather than part ways, ask her to honestly, deeply consider how much titles and status don't mean to you. Ask her to accept that you'll never see them as important, and that her interest in these things is something you totally don't share.

If there's a friendship to salvage in there, it might emerge in a different form once she realizes that you're different.

I second this advice and suggest that you also articulate what you do value, and why, without judging her. When she next asks you about when you're going to apply for Harvard Business School, if it's a good time to talk, you might take a deep breath and say something like, "Lisa, you ask me that a lot. I want to share something with you that I may not have explained clearly before. I actually do not value those things -- what school someone went to, what title they have at their job, how much they earn. Those are NOT what I'm seeking in my own life. I don't care if other people think I'm a success, and I'm not going to measure my own success that way. What *I* want is to create a strong community of friends, health and peace of mind, and time to experience life. Watching my dad die of a heart attack shortly before his retirement really made me consider what is important to me."

You might also (at another time) share your concerns and observations about her choice in men: "From what you're saying, it seems like he's not very ... likable? Are you sure you're not just trying to date him because he has that degree?" or "Wait, do you even like him? I want you to find someone you really click with, not the guy with the best resume."

Last thing: don't expect her to understand any of this right away. Values like this are deep-seated, and it takes quite some time to be able to name your own values, particularly when they're as rewarded by society as this one is. Be prepared to repeatedly answer her questions about your grad school plans (or whatever) with "Well, since I'm not going to spend my life trying to get [to the executive suite / tenure], I think I'm actually going to ..."
posted by salvia at 9:38 PM on November 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

It's entirely fine for friends who've known each other fourteen years to say, "Hey, I'd like my personal life to pass the Bechdel test--can we not talk about guys?"

It should also be fine to say, "We've been friends for so long, I know you don't mean to judge, but I'm really happy with my life choices, and your encouragement to do differently only makes me feel misunderstood."

If this is really a friendship, I don't see why these things can't be said plainly with a sort of even-tempered earnestness that makes it clear you're serious but not upset.

Just be ready to supply good topics as follow-ups--something other than guys and something great about the non-ivory tower life--to help move away from the stuff that sort of bugs you.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:41 PM on November 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

She sounds insecure and unsure of her choices. Her insecurities demand she needs a lot of external validation about the people in her life. For her maybe it's easier to outsource the screening of companions to ivy league schools, McKinsey and Goldman Sachs.

You can't change her or her need to value people through their prestige. Accept her as is or accept that your friendship has reached its term limit.
posted by 26.2 at 10:22 PM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: There is no way to be compatible with someone who insists on making things a competition. I brought up romantic relationships to illustrate the failure of this logic. My friend is at the stage where she won't settle for any guy who is not "a cut above" and while that's a great strategy to get promoted, it is also a great way to date guys who are "holding out for somehing better." If I actually were like my friend, our friendship would just collapse because nobody would actually just be willing to not be awesome. I am ok just being a regular person if my friend is (she has to try too). I will talk with my friend and I hope things will work out.
posted by kettleoffish at 12:37 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't really see the connection between who your friend is willing to date, and your friendship's health. I mean... if dating assholes meant you were NECESSARILY a shitty friend, no one in their early twenties would be able to join a book club.

I'm still not clear why you even want to be friends with her. You don't seem to like her, or her life choices at all.
posted by spunweb at 12:40 AM on November 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

So, there's a few things you can do here. First of all, OK, she wants to hang out. Consider that she might call everybody who hangs out with her to be her "best friend." That happens. Does she have anybody else in town to hang out with anymore? Might be two and two to put together there.

If you do hang out and she starts talking about guys, you have spelled out easy pathways for yourself there, and they take the form of, "why do you keep dating douches who act like that toward you," and "is [guy who has not yet proven himself a jackass] like any of the other dickheads who have treated you badly?" You've seen both sides, all you have to do is try and speak in terms of the continuity she exhibits. "Hey, that guy sounds like he's doing the same thing as Winter '10 guy did to you. Do you actually look for that in a man?" How does she even know what terms to judge "a cut above?" She may blanch if you boil it down to a guy from a rich/famous family.

If she calls you smart, connect that to reasons not to go to Yale, or why she dismisses your pursuits. Also: George W. Bush went there, is that really the kind of guy she wants to date/get knocked up by? But of course she's gogogo about it, these are places where zero-sum winning-minded team-players congregate and move to the next stages of their lives.

So yeah, you can simply be passive, waiting for her to try to make plans, or you can banter on her terms, questioning what's so great about liking people based on superficial traits as much as she dismisses you by the same token.
posted by rhizome at 12:59 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you can say "I want my life to be about more than status and titles" as part of a larger conversation about what you both want from your lives. It doesn't have to be as a response to her, and it sounds like there's plenty of opportunity to bring it up the next time she wants you to 'join her in the ivory tower'. Tell her you don't want to live in an echo chamber. You can assert your values without by definition having to denigrate hers even if she hasn't managed to define her values without denigrating yours.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:20 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

...or if you do want to be more direct about it, you could simply say what you told us, you've observed that your values are different, and you feel the relationship growing apart. Then you can have another talk about values. You can also say, "We rarely talk about my life, and I feel sometimes you don't value my decisions." That would be the more head-on approach.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:24 AM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is no way to be compatible with someone who insists on making things a competition.

i think you just answered your own question.

I had a friend like this one, made more complicated by the fact that we worked together - so her/our "competition" affected my career as well as my psyche. I cut her loose and it was quite messy for a while, but I would rather have friends who don't see life as a zero-sum game.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:31 AM on November 17, 2012

How often do you guys talk? It sounds like you maybe have dinner a couple of times a year when she's in town (she has other family/friends/things to do there, right? or does she come just to see you?)... Do you talk on the phone in between visits or anything?

If you don't really talk too much, honestly I would just suck it up--you have already drifted apart and are now just maintaining a casual "old friend" relationship/keeping the door open to drift back together if things work out that way. She gives you a bit of a monologue on what's going on in her life, you give her a little monologue on what's going on in yours, and you reminisce a bit about old times, then you go your separate ways.

If she's constantly calling and wants to have long talks then that's a different problem.
posted by anaelith at 3:51 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

She maintains the "friendship" because she can feel smugly superior to you as she corrects all your silly life choices and mistaken assumptions. As soon as you start sticking up for yourself she'll abandon you as a lost cause, because it won't be fun any more.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:09 AM on November 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

A basketball player and a football player have different games to play at differing paces, but that doesn't mean one is automatically a loser for playing a different sport. Tell your pal that being supportive in a positive way will enhance your friendship far better than being torn down every time you're together. If she doesn't pay attention, then allocate less time to her & more to enjoying yourself.
posted by dragonplayer at 4:10 AM on November 17, 2012

I think the "academic career" kettoloffish mentioned is not an actual career in academia, but a career-like pursuit of academic titles that her friend believes will lead to success and money in the business world.

In any event, I think the friendship has run its course.
posted by Dolley at 5:11 AM on November 17, 2012

Keep in mind when you talk to her that this might be the first time she's hearing that you are uncomfortable - I'm not sure but it sounds like you've been shrugging this off and not letting her know you don't like it. So she might get defensive, which is kinda understandable. No one likes to realize that the behavior they thought was "awesome radical honesty" or "edgy advice" is actually just annoying ... and has been for a long time.

Honestly she sounds a tad insecure. Secure people don't need everyone else to ride along on their choices. Lots of us are insecure at times, it might help you when confronting her to keep this in mind. Compassion is always a good place to come from.

The important thing is if she's able to change her behavior toward you in the long run. She can think whatever she wants about your choices, she just needs to keep it to herself and accept that you have the right to make your own choices.
posted by bunderful at 5:33 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

You articulate very clearly what you don't value about her life. You haven't articulated at all what you value about yours. If that's true in your interactions with her, then she will, by default, fall back on what she knows and values. If you make clear what you value, and engage with her about your successes and failures against that metric, then you can have that conversation with her AND hear about her successes and failures.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:46 AM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'll say two things. One is that there have been a bunch of people like this in my life at various points, and my life is much more pleasant when there are none.

The other is that it turned out my one very close long-term friend, now ex-friend, who was like this only stayed friends with me so she could come visit amd stay in my NY apartment. Someone above said that you might live in NY, so I thought that worth mentioning. I wonder, if you moved ti someplace that had no status, would this friend come from NHV to see you?

Oh, third thing. You said you wanted to have an honest and not hurtful discussion about it. With my ex-friend, I thought about that a lot and concluded it would never work. It would have made it worse and dragged it out longer and potentially created a big fight out of what was really just mutual disrespect. In that case the kindest thing to do was just fade, as if we had grown apart. Which I guess we had.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 6:20 AM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is no way to be compatible with someone who insists on making things a competition.

Sounds pretty bad, doesn't it? Try this:

"Hey, Great that you want to come say hi. Shall we just hang out and have a great time and not talk careers this time? I'm in such a holiday mood!"

Let it happen. Evaluate. It it didn't work out, tell her that you've grown up to have too divergent interests for enjoying some fun time together, sorry.
posted by Namlit at 7:12 AM on November 17, 2012

This is a phase. You're in college, right? You're going through a period of self-definition and part of this is bumping up against other people's images/expectations, forming your ideas in opposition to other people. I wouldn't take it too seriously. In a few years she may be writing to you from her organic farm where she just had her second kid through home birth.
posted by BibiRose at 7:56 AM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

+1 to bunderful. If you've never raised this with her, you need to raise it with her in a calm and non-judgmental way.
posted by adamrice at 10:02 AM on November 17, 2012

It's not like you are without judgment here. In your view what she values is shallow, she is clueless about men and love, she's even wrong to confide in you about what's most important to her because you don't confide in her.

If you want to stay friends, you probably want to both loosen up in your own judgments about her and at the same time share your concerns about what you think she's doing that's not good for, e.g. dating the wrong kind of men for her.

It is also ok to tell people things like, "I do appreciate you telling me all this, but it's all we ever seem to talk about. Maybe we can do something different this time?" Or even: "I'm flattered that you think of me as your best friend, and you're great, but really I have a full life down here, and it doesn't work for me to spend so much time with you."

Inasmuch as you think she "can't handle the truth", you're probably being patronizing and superior in your own way.
posted by philipy at 10:46 AM on November 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

In any event, I think the friendship has run its course.

This comes up in a lot of threads and I really don't agree with this mindset. Friendships can fade in and out, especially during a tumultuous transition such as "to adulthood" and "in college." I never see the reason for building a wall, saying "Well that's it, the friendship ends here." Just let it lay fallow and focus elsewhere. People can change themselves in response to a sense of someone drifting away from them, you don't have to chop the boat up into little pieces to force the issue.

It's OK not to have time for someone who stresses you out or whatever, but you don't have to say "I AM NEVER GOING TO WANT TO HANG OUT WITH YOU, NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE IN THE FUTURE, EVER." It just multiplies the drama unnecessarily, with no possibility of resolution or redemption.
posted by rhizome at 11:56 AM on November 17, 2012 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Philipy, I am not snubbing her. I have been her wingman and duenna for date after date with these dudes. They rarely include me in the conversation but she wants me to come and observe them and I always defer to this need and lie about it because I know she thinks they're cool. That's not a judgment, that's just how it is.

And I am not seethingly keeping her out of my life. I asked her to read a chapter of a book I'm writing and she said "man that sucked. You used to be so smart, being out of school is drying out your brain." I told her I am applying to school and she asked if it was at Yale and I said the department there isn't a fit, and she said then couldn't you study something else?

If it were just being tolerant fine, but at a certain point you have to be honest too

Thanks for the perspective and mini scripts above guys. Hopefully we can work this one out. After all we've always seen things differently and our friendship has lasted this long. In a way I think my life and her life will probably converge again at some point.
posted by kettleoffish at 5:17 PM on November 17, 2012

I have been her wingman and duenna for date after date with these dudes. They rarely include me in the conversation but she wants me to come and observe them and I always defer...

This strikes me as a peculiar and uncomfortable role for you to take on. Perhaps it would be in your best interest to decline these types of third-wheel invites from now on?

but at a certain point you have to be honest too

Yes, you do. And that requires speaking up on your own behalf, and speaking your truth, and letting the chips fall where they may:

Ex: "Friend, thanks for the invite, but I really don't enjoy going along on your dates."
posted by nacho fries at 7:30 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

That line about "couldn't you study something else?" to go to Yale sounds to me like she just wants you nearby. If she were pushing for any top school - how about MIT? Have you considered MIT? Harvard? - I'd think it's about Ivy League Elitism. But that bit you quoted sounds like California-girl-me telling my NYC-dwelling bestie from college that he needs to move out here, and if his career doesn't have openings out here he should change careers. But I'm joking when I say that - maybe your friend is serious.

Either way I'd recommend, next time she says something like "being out of school is drying up your brain", express your own values of why you've chosen your path. "I needed to get out of the echo chamber and into the real world" or "I wanted there to be more to my life than the obsessive pursuit of status I saw in academia" or whatever it is.
posted by Lady Li at 7:40 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I always defer to this need and lie about it because I know she thinks they're cool

Oh, well there's your problem! Stop lying. Seriously. You can tell the truth without being "mean."
posted by salvia at 10:45 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Philipy, I am not snubbing her.

I didn't say you were snubbing her. Not sure how you got that out of what I said.

... lie about it because I know she thinks they're cool.... at a certain point you have to be honest

I also recommended you to share your concerns with her, and also suggested some ways of telling her how you'd like the friendship to change, including see her less or doing different stuff together if that's what you'd prefer.

Generally I don't answer a lot of human relations questions because people mostly hear what they want to hear, and have a hard time taking in anything that doesn't fit their existing picture of the situation.

What you might want to consider is:

1) You, like everyone else, have perceptions and views about people. These perceptions and views are not necessarily the absolute truth, and pretty much never the whole truth about anyone. Given that fact...

2) Who is this person in your eyes that you feel unable to be frank with her about something that is in your opinion very bad for her, but instead go so far as to keep telling her that these guys are cool?

That is not a rhetorical question, I don't know exactly how you view her. But there are some views of people that would fit that behavior and others that don't. If she were in your eyes a dear friend, a grown up, a well-balanced human being etc, it wouldn't seem unsayable.

What you want to get is that you did your friend a disservice. You didn't let them know that you didn't enjoy the kind of things you used to do together, or suggest something else that might have been fun for both of you. And you let them waste a bunch of their life and go through all kinds of heartache because you wouldn't say "Actually I don't think he's the guy for you".

None of this makes you a bad person. This is the normal way of human relations, but it's also why a lot of normal human relations suck.

One more suggestion... when something has gone unsaid for a long time it's then very hard to say it. A good way to approach finally saying it is something like this...

"There's something I need to say to you about that... I should have told you a long time ago probably, and I'm sorry I didn't... I was (insert heartfelt reason why you held back, which reason is on you, not them)... (say what you need to say)..."
posted by philipy at 9:47 AM on November 18, 2012

For the chapter you had her read, "Jeez, Yale sure has made you bitchy and judgemental. Is that how your professors critique your work? Does it help?"
posted by rhizome at 11:42 AM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

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