Don't call it a breakup: Friendship Edition
November 29, 2012 1:47 AM   Subscribe

Why do I feel like I'm in a relationship with my friend? Not in the way that's fun, but more the trainwreck variety: "How come I didn't know about...?" "Why aren't you letting me in?" "No one knows you like I do." "How dare you betray me. You're just like all the others." Some of my other friends have also noticed possessiveness on her part, and more than one person has asked me or wondered if we were dating.

Background info: We're both female. I'm straight, and as far as I know, so is she. We met through some geeky meetup group. She's an almost 40 year old, new-to-town somewhat intense, shy introvert. Despite our age difference, we bonded over mutual interests and became good friends. I didn't think too much of the fact that she didn't have any female friends (and only a few long distance guy friends). Now I'm wondering if that was a red flag.

Everything appeared fine for the first year or so. Then came the passive aggressive comments like "Oh, you do care" and (apparently asked of other friends) "Why isn't she more like this?" Eventually there's slight guilt because I'm involved with other friends or forgot to tell her about something that happened to me, which she notices. I'm suddenly breaking her (unknown to me) Real Friend™ rules. There was one emotional explosion over how I was a horrible friend for not meeting her emotional needs plus betrayal, heartache, disgust, Was I really ever her friend? All because she threw a temper tantrum and I didn't rush to console her afterwards. (I wish I could say I was joking). She seemed most perturbed when I didn't act the way she would, and that I must be doing so out of malice.

We managed to patch things up after that, but it was like scotch tape over a crumbling edifice, because something set her off and now I'm a bad person who will never be emotionally close to anyone. I did (nicely) tell her to back off, no more attacks, and gently suggested we had different friendship needs/wants. Suffice to say, she was not receptive, but I did get a handy list of everything I've ever done wrong along with some great psychoanalysis of my relationships with family/friends. For my part, I guess I can now call it a breakup.

I'm currently still reeling over it all. Has anyone dealt with this kind of "friendship"? How did it end? Or were you able to set appropriate boundaries? Or is there a better way of establishing friend expectations?
posted by smock smock smock to Human Relations (31 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Or is there a better way of establishing friend expectations?

Based on what you wrote: NO.
I think it's time to say goodbye.
posted by Prof Iterole at 2:07 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was just puzzling over a some somewhat similar weirdness that occurred between me and a friend over the past year. Did you have good intentions? You did! Then screw the mixed messages and pettiness!!

Sometimes people you vibe with and like turn out to be strange and immature. That is not on you for judging them to be their Best Self when you first became friends.

Walk away. It will only get worse if you try to mitigate. Memail if you do not believe me.

There is no fixing this because the other person holds a different world view than you do that is less cozy than the world you experience.

Let this person go so they can find others who believe the world is more competetive and black and white then you do.

posted by jbenben at 2:24 AM on November 29, 2012 [8 favorites]

Yes, I have been in a somewhat similar scenario. It ended when I said (well, emailed) "I've had enough of this. We're supposed to be friends. I'm too old to be getting this kind of drama from a friend. We're not in high schoool anymore. I don't want to hear from you again".

We were both about 38 when it came to that point. Haven't heard boo from him in the three years since.
posted by Diag at 2:45 AM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've had a couple of these weird friend things in the past, and now I'm just very, very proactive about cutting these relationships right off before they go silly.

Various warning signs I don't ignore are:

* Odd presumed intimacy that feels early or otherwise inappropriate/unexpected

* Hearing many tales of how others have mistreated them, neglected them, been insensitive, etc.

* Awkward (to me) oversharing (from them)

* Little comments that suggest they expect more from me than I am comfortable with

* Many disasters, hurt feelings, emotional meltdowns, accidents that require my repeated consolation/attention

* Me feeling a bit suffocated by them being around too much

* Inserting themselves into my personal/private affairs

* Behavior that reads as "jealous" of my other friends

* Unwanted, gratuitous advice or urging me to do/not do X

* Too many / too expensive / unexpected gifts that make me feel indebted

(It's usually some combination of behaviors mentioned above; any single one of them is not necessarily a red flag... though it could be.)

I'm now very aware of and responsive to such signs and don't allow these kinds of friendships to develop. I become firmly unavailable, and when necessary, I'm very blunt about it.

The last time it threatened to become a thing, it was a neighbor – which complicated matters a bit since they would just come to my door whenever they felt like it, despite what I felt were screamingly loud body language signals from me that I was uninterested (plus I wouldn't invite them inside after the first few times). I emailed them to say not to come to my door any more, please, unless it was an emergency (or they needed to borrow something), and that I wasn't really comfortable with a lot of conversation, etc. because I was busy and just preferred to be on my own. It was weird at first, but they left me alone, and it became the new normal. That's fine.
posted by taz at 2:59 AM on November 29, 2012 [48 favorites]

I'm a bad person who will never be emotionally close to anyone.

I suspect that this is true of someone in this friendship, but it is not you.

She has made it clear that when you try to set boundaries she will punish you. She has made it clear that she thinks you're a bad friend. What would anyone gain from you participating in this friendship?

In my experience, the next thing you'll have to deal with is a bunch of wild, nasty rumors spread about how you're cruel to her and bullying her. There's not much else she can do. When something similar happened to me, I took the high road, which I regret, and now suggest telling as many of your friends as possible about her horrid behavior. Either way, time will go on, people will see her pattern of manipulation for what it is.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:44 AM on November 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

I used to have a friend like this. She would invite herself on my romantic dates and send me snotty texts if I didn't answer her messages right away. "You're hurting my feelings," that sort of thing, when I would not be answering because I was in class all day. There were some other bigger, crazier things, too. I didn't DTMF, per se, but we had a few meltdown talks, and I eventually just stopped spending any significant amount of time with her because it was too much. We both moved to different places, and I don't talk to her at all now, even though she tries to contact me sometimes. I miss her great qualities now and then. We are both single, too, and love a good whiskey. thanks. The agitation was too much. Don't worry. I would really suggest not getting back in touch with her, or trying to patch things up. Let it go. What's a friendship if it isn't fun? Like taz, I now too shut people down real quick if they start going into weird territory, and I think taz's list is great.
posted by amodelcitizen at 3:46 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

So, I think this is an excellent place to link to the Geek Social Fallacies. Sounds like your ex-friend hits more than one of these.
posted by Betelgeuse at 3:47 AM on November 29, 2012 [14 favorites]

My friends bring me joy, not drama. This is so not worth your time.
posted by futureisunwritten at 3:59 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you behaved very appropriately. You didn't do anything wrong here, and you couldn't have prevented this by managing her more effectively. After all, crazy is crazy, and you can't reason with it.

You're correct that this friendship is over. It needs to be, for your sake, so if she apologizes don't let that change your actions.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:29 AM on November 29, 2012

Has anyone dealt with this kind of "friendship"? How did it end? Or were you able to set appropriate boundaries?

I have a some (two) friendships with some of the warning signs taz mentions. This can happen when a friend is more into you than you're into them. One girl came right out and said she had a friend crush on me. Items that applied:

* Odd presumed intimacy that feels early or otherwise inappropriate/unexpected
* Little comments that suggest they expect more from me than I am comfortable with
* [A few] disasters, hurt feelings, emotional meltdowns, accidents that require my [occasional] consolation/attention
* Me feeling a bit suffocated by them being around too much
* Too many / too expensive / unexpected gifts that make me feel indebted

I kept both of these friends and we've been friends for 14 years and 8 years, respectively. When I needed help on something big earlier this year, I called friend #2 and she spent hours and hours with me. I could sleep at either of these friends' houses anytime I was homeless (not that I will be anytime soon, hopefully). I'm also super comfortable around both of them, in the way you can be when you know you are both sort of fucked up and accept it, so there is no pretense of having to be perfect. It's just dysfunctional enough to be comfortable.

So, I found that having two slightly clingy friends has been a good thing. I love them both at this point. Lots. However, dealbreakers would be:

* Name calling
* Lots of negativity (putting me down, etc)
* Handy list of everything I've ever done wrong your crackpot "friend" would not make the cut.

Stuff that wouldn't happen is:
* Inserting themselves into my personal/private affairs

...because with that, you can just be like, "Back off." This happened to me with Friend #2 mentioned above. I told her that I was upset I hadn't been invited out with some colleagues, and she took it upon herself to have a talk with them about it. Gah, embarrassing. There were probably 3 events like that in 8 years, and after we talked them over, they didn't happen again. Like I said, I do love that girl and it worked out well.
posted by kellybird at 4:46 AM on November 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Nthing the "you're fine, she's weird".

Your friend has Centrifuge Complex: everything revolves around her. If you talk to this person long enough, she can make every event in history relate back to her and her feelings and her experiences. Therefore, in her mind, you aren't a person with your own life . . . you are a mirror that reflects back to her.

I once watched a woman at a funeral (wearing more black that anyone else there - she didn't have a black veiled hat but you got the feeling there was one in her closet) spend the whole graveside service sobbing and wailing and then try to jump in the grave. I found out later that she was the coworker of one of the deceased's second cousins or something and had never even met the deceased. She also showed up at the very private viewing for the late woman's children/siblings prior to the church service and then stayed after the burial service and tried to take one of the large floral sprays from the grave. Because "they'd just go to waste now"

(Ah, sometimes I miss working at a cemetery)
posted by jaimystery at 5:03 AM on November 29, 2012 [8 favorites]

I would say it would be perfectly appropriate to cut her off. Don't reply to phone calls, emails, texts, etc. Just shut her down.
posted by DWRoelands at 5:37 AM on November 29, 2012

taz has nailed it. you are lucky to have her out of your life!
posted by pointystick at 5:40 AM on November 29, 2012

This is a odd, though common, mix of self-absorption and Aspergers-ish inability / unwillingness to read social cues. You are not this person's therapist, the relationship was very unlikely to improve and you did the right thing.
posted by epo at 5:55 AM on November 29, 2012

I had a friend like this.
We had met in univeristy and then kept in very frequent contant online after that with occasional in person visits. I was her "best friend" and "the only person she could trust" but really she was just buckets of crazy and I was too nice to back off from her because she didn't have any other friends.
I friendship divorced her after five years of crap like you're experiencing.

Best decision of my life.

Friends should be a positive in your life, not a negative. If they are crossing lines, making you feel uncomfortable, and holding unspoken and unrealistic expectations of you and then losing their minds at you when you don't meet those secret expectations... well, they aren't a friend.

And yes, in the future, if when you meet someone they tell you about how ALLLLL these people were so mean to them and if they have hardly any friends and if their reasons are always how everyone else is wrong and the world is against them and that they are so misunderstood... yeah. Red Flag.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:03 AM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Don't you feel relieved?

In the nineties I was VERY close friends with someone I met at work. She was married with kids and they kind of adopted me. I was their project. I'd say that we were together about 70% of the time. I had my own apartment, but I'd eat dinner with them (we would take turns cooking--although it was at her house), go on outings with them, we even went on vacation together. I was Auntie Ruthie and it was very nice. Except.

She didn't like my boyfriend (admittedly he wasn't worth my time, but it's my call, not hers). She would get upset if I went out with other single people after work. She got REALLY upset when I went back to school for my MBA and then got promoted out of the department.

I was pretty good about boundaries, but everything really broke loose when she got lung cancer. THEN I was expected to be with her 100% of the time.

I had no problem hanging with the kids, cooking dinner for the family, and helping out in whatever way I could, but she was even trying to tell me who I could have as friends, and the gay guys with AIDS I was hanging with were verbotten.

I chalked it up to her being sensitive due to her illness. So I went on a cruise with the boys. When I returned she coldly told me never to call her again, or speak to her.

I found out that she died, from a co-worker about a year later.

I often wonder what she told the family, her husband, etc about it. But I was exhausted from all the dramaz and frankly relieved that I didn't have to deal with her anymore. (I know, it makes me a bad person, but there it is.)

Sometimes people are all out of proportion, and it's okay to let them go.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:05 AM on November 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

Based on this description, obviously all the advice you're getting is correct.

I do think you should also give some thought to how you wound up in this situation, because what you're describing here is a relationship in which you behaved well and kindly all the time and she behaved horribly all the time. So either there's more to this story than meets the eye or you wound up becoming friends with someone who had essentially no redeeming qualities. Which is kind of its own problem.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 6:19 AM on November 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

During the time you knew her, did she talk about other ex-friends? My husband had a 1-year intense bromance with a guy who'd - to her him tell it - had terrible luck and been stood up, betrayed, insulted, and otherwise treated crappily by all sorts of interesting but ultimately incredibly dysfunctional people he'd befriended and tried to help. And whaddaya know, after a year or so, they had a falling out because my husband didn't play by dude's very stringent rules, and now is proud to add his name to the list of dysfunctional awful people that this martyr dude was sadly unable to help. But it was a really really rough couple of months there, where he really believed it was somehow his fault.

In short, there are people like this, and that's not your fault at all. Somehow the intense shitstorm ending often seems to correlate with really intense friendships that start out as a big emotional positive, which makes it even harder to deal with.

You're asking about how to set friend boundaries, as if you're going to patch things back together. I may be going too far in classifying her as a "type", but I really don't think she's going to be into reconciliation. You tried; you started a conversation about what you (and she) want out of a friendship, but it didn't work. Cut your losses and run.

On the other hand, I argue that there are people "like that" in the world; your goal now is to be able to recognize them. You've just had some examples of what you like and don't like in friendships. You asked about setting expectations and boundaries, and yes, you can absolutely do that, it is definitely helpful, and you can put your recently-increased relationship skills into effect when you meet someone else. This woman, however, should be history.
posted by aimedwander at 6:47 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are some people who project their fantasies of the ideal friendship/relationship onto others. They'll be your best friend/relationship for as long as the fantasy lasts - but eventually it crumbles. The interesting thing is that from their perspective, you were lying and projecting an image of yourself that wasn't accurate. To such people, realizing the truth feels like you betrayed them.

My approach is usually to be friendly but distant when they veer into Crazytown. Some of them eventually realize that they can be happy with the real you, instead of the fantasy that they built up in their heads, and they will "forgive you" for "your betrayal" and go back to being decent friends. Just roll your eyes and take it in stride. Others will never get over it, and these are the ones you eventually have to kick to the curb. If it's any comfort, these people are much more unhappy than you - they live in an inner world where it seems like everybody is constantly betraying and abandoning them, so ultimately they hurt themselves far more than anybody else.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:52 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Agreeing with the other posters - this is about her not you.

You might consider writing a little summary of the weird things she's done/said. This is not to share with anyone, but I know I "broke up" with a very toxic friend about 8 years ago and after a couple of years I started to miss her good qualities and almost convinced myself that I should seek her out to see if she'd gotten over her issues. Fortunately for me I ran into her ex-husband around that time and got a refresher/reminder about her crazy before I got sucked back in. It might be helpful to provide that service to your future self now, while you still remember clearly how bad she made you feel.
posted by dadici at 6:59 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Has anyone dealt with this kind of "friendship"? How did it end? Or were you able to set appropriate boundaries? Or is there a better way of establishing friend expectations?

Yeah I am sort of a softie who doesn't always notice when people I am friends with are either more/less into me than I am into them. However I am pretty good at drawing a line between "We are dating" and "we are friends" situations, the former of which are appropriate with a significant other and not appropriate with a friend, even a good one, in my pantheon of friendships. Obviously, everyone's situation differs but for me I would just let people know (in the tantrum situation, for example) that they were treating me like a partner, not as a friend and I was not prepared to be in that level of relationship.

Of course everyone has bad days and good days and part of friendship is being there for someone during bad days. However it doesn't need to mean getting folded into the drama as part of the problem, and that was where I would draw the line. Someone's not happy about a way we interact? Great, let's talk about it and maybe we can find a compromise. However the hurled accusations and histrionics just don't work for me personally and I concur with others that you are lucky to be rid of her.

That said, it might be a decent idea to look at and assess what you are looking for in a friendship just to see if there is some sort of availability or interest that you are signalling that may wind up getting you in proximity with folks who love teh dramaz so you can notice the signs more the next time. I know some people who aren't really comfy unless they have some sort of friend-drama going on with someone in their lives and then a lot of other people who find that all quite weird. I spend more time with the latter group.
posted by jessamyn at 7:14 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you were dating this behavior would be even more frightening, by the way. I say frightening because it's controlling and she was verbally abusive when you asserted a reasonable boundary. She's not acting like a girlfriend, she's acting like an abusive partner. It's not okay to give you shit for having other friends. It's not okay for her to track your life and require that you disclose everything on her arbitrary timeline. It's not okay for her to tell you you'll never be close to anyone just because you won't do what she wants. Romantic or platonic is irrelevant.

You don't deserve this. No one does.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:31 AM on November 29, 2012 [9 favorites]

Has anyone dealt with this kind of "friendship"? How did it end? Or were you able to set appropriate boundaries? Or is there a better way of establishing friend expectations?

I've experienced this a couple of times. One friendship didn't end for a very long time because I was actually quite afraid of her. I did a very slow 'fade' sort of thing and just became less involved with her over the course of a few years (we had been friends since high school) until I knew she no longer knew where I worked or lived. The other person came into my life when I already had healthier boundaries. She overstepped and did some ugly things for a second time and I just stopped engaging with her in any way.

With both people (and one of the reasons I was so afraid of the first person in particular) I dealt with repercussions that I knew were coming because I had seen how they treated other people in the past (emotional blackmail, creating a fake fb account under my name, publishing my phone number online, gossip/rumors, drunken late night texts/calls, threats/guilt trips etc).

It was weak boundaries on my part that let such friendships (and relationships) happen in the first place. These days I don't encounter or attract dramatic friendships like that. I think because of past experiences and because I fostered a sense of my own rules and expectations, I finally developed healthy boundaries and it's clear from the get-go. (I don't believe healthy boundaries would have been possible with the two people I mentioned here, though).
posted by marimeko at 8:01 AM on November 29, 2012

Rule #1 of Life: Never befriend someone who has no other friends. You'll become like their everything.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 9:19 AM on November 29, 2012 [9 favorites]

posted by Felicity Rilke at 9:34 AM on November 29, 2012

There was one emotional explosion over how I was a horrible friend for not meeting her emotional needs plus betrayal, heartache, disgust, Was I really ever her friend?

If a friend went off on me like that, I would just point out that friends don't treat each other the way she's treating you, and that you're only friends; if she wants something more than that, that's not what this is about.
posted by Doohickie at 10:50 AM on November 29, 2012

I am still being referred to as "My Ex-Friend Catlet" by someone I cut off in 2006 for similar reasons.

Six years later, I just feel kind of sad for her, but I am SO much happier. I learned a lot about setting boundaries with explicit consequences, and then holding to them.
posted by catlet at 11:06 AM on November 29, 2012

Has anyone dealt with this kind of "friendship"?
Yes. And oddly enough, I felt guilty about all the things she said for a while, like I was a horrible person for hurting her, etc... Pretty silly of me to have drank her KoolAid.

Once I let it go and life went on without her*: wow, did it feel good! This huge weight that I hadn't noticed had lifted.
Run for the hills, trust me. Don't let guilt and concern drag you down. This relationship is toxic, and you'll only realize how much once you are out of it.

*I'm certain she fully expected me to come back asking for forgiveness or something. As if I were at fault for failing to be ____ (god only know what).

lhude sing cuccu: Rule #1 of Life: Never befriend someone who has no other friends. You'll become like their everything. and you'll find out why no one else is in the picture. It's never the reasons that they lead you to believe it was. Considering her age, it's unlikely that you're not the first nor the last with whom she will have this kind of relationship.

How did I let it go? By realizing that this person is not whom I thought she was. You've done nothing wrong here, she's the looney one.
Good luck!
posted by Neekee at 11:23 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, I have been in this exact situation. It was so weird, like having an abusive boyfriend. Once I decided I'd had enough, I just did a quick fade. I was friendly when I ran into her but turned down all invitations to do anything. We got along so very well in the beginning that sometimes I look back and wonder if I could have handled things differently, or if maybe she's different now--and then I start remembering her horrible behavior and think that if she actually were a boyfriend, no one in their right mind would go back to him, no matter how much time had passed.

I'm glad I handled it the way I did, though--we live in a small town and very close to each other, and it's fine when we do run into each other. Out of respect for the friendship we once had, I've never talked shit about her to anyone else. I feel I handled it as gracefully as possible under the circumstances.
posted by HotToddy at 1:38 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

This happened to me once. Our relationship evolved into something that began to make me uncomfortable because it felt like there was a lot of over-sharing that would take the place of more mundane, laid back interactions. I started to feel like a therapist or something.

Then out of the blue she got really upset with me and got in touch with me two months later to tell me that "strike one" was a comment that I could barely remember (I think I had suggested that she invite her mother to her wedding, but not in a pressing way as I was not invested in the situation). She wrote me this kind of perturbed email, and when I replied that I had always tried to be supportive of her, she said that "strike two" was how defensive I was being. She wanted to talk things out which I reluctantly agreed to and when she got together she reiterated the strike one and two business and told me that she thought our conflict resulted from unresolved issues in my childhood and speculated on some of the possibilities, which is one of the few times in my life that I've done the literal jaw-drop thing. She told me that she'd accept my apology for my misdeeds at any time in the future.

Anyway, I didn't make an effort to keep in touch after that and that was pretty much that.

It sounds like you have fairly healthy boundaries, so keep doing what you're doing. In retrospect, I think I let things get way too fuzzy and I had a lot of responsibility for that. Just reiterate what you won't put up with.
posted by mermily at 1:47 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone, your responses are really great. Especially knowing that it's not just me, that I'm not crazy. I marked the best answers the ones that had good rules to live by, even though you all had good things to say. And taz, I probably could have checked nearly every one of those.

It's funny because for a long time it seemed great. I would never say that she had no redeeming qualities, she was really sweet, very generous, and fun to hang around with. It's only the past year that the major drama started. Even the weird comments and my feelings of uncomfortableness weren't constant nor things I had noticed consciously at the time. For me, there's an element of cognitive dissonance, where to make sense, I must have done something bad, but I know that's not true. I don't think that I never made mistakes, but nothing to deserve the level of vitriol I've received.

It also just came to me that whenever there was any hint of criticism against her, she reacted in this defensive/distressed manner where you felt like you had to console her. One time, someone didn't react well to her being 1 1/2 hours late and left angrily. We ended up trying to make her feel better, because she seemed so hurt, which is ridiculous. Now I'm imagining that other people have enabled her too, and the temper tantrum incident makes sense because I hadn't focus on making her feel better.

Part of me is relieved, actually. The really creepy psychoanalysis is new, but it makes it easier to cut her out of my life. It has also led to a lot of introspection, which helps.
posted by smock smock smock at 1:50 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older What happened to the prisoners in Miami's Mega...   |   What do you do in the evenings? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.