It's like having an obnoxious in-law, but not.
January 14, 2013 5:47 PM   Subscribe

My friend and his wife are visiting later this year. I enjoy my friend's company very much, but being around his wife for more than a day or two drives me nuts. Help me find some way to mitigate this without damaging our friendship in the process.

M is one of my oldest and closest friends - we've known each other for around 18 years. M married B about 5 years ago and dated her for 4-5 years before that. I have been with my long-term girlfriend (who I live with) for around the same length of time, 9-10 years. M and B moved out of town a few years back and now live about 7 hours away from us. These days, we usually get to see each other about once or twice a year.

M and I get on very well and have never had any serious conflicts. B is essentially a decent person - she's honest and caring and I have never known her to be deliberately nasty or malicious. Unfortunately she also tends to be incredibly obnoxious and overbearing in social settings, and it has been getting worse, not better, as time goes by. I do believe her behavior is more clueless than mean, and I have tried very hard to be mindful of this - but still, it's starting to drive me a little bit more crazy every time B comes to stay. I'm at the point where I've come to dread their next visit, especially as they usually like to stay for 5-7 days at a time - and knowing this makes me sad, because I do care about them both and I really enjoy and value M's company, especially now that we don't see each other as often.

B's conversational habits include constantly interrupting and derailing conversations in order to talk about herself, giving frequent unasked-for opinions and advice, criticizing other people's living space/work habits/general life choices (usually done with an "Aren't-I-cute" smile on her face), and just generally being very demanding of other people's attention - to the point of acting out in minor ways if that's what it takes to get it. As an introvert I find it very draining - and by the time she's been here a few days it's exhausting. The interrupting, overbearing stuff I accept as annoying but ultimately inconsequential - I have called B on it occasionally, and she usually simmers down for a while, although never for very long. However, the stream of advice she has no business giving, the thinly-veiled criticisms and her general superior attitude have reached the point of being straight-up disrespectful and not okay, especially when all this is taking place in my home.

Looking at similar questions on Mefi, one answer that has come up for difficult-but-unavoidable guests has been to place a limit on how long they can stay. While I could do this, an unfortunate consequence is that M would be left wondering why. We have always had a "Me Casa, Su Casa" type of arrangement where each is always welcome in the other's home at any time. I realise that changing this is my prerogative, but then I'm left with the option of either stonewalling M as to why (which sucks, especially since none of this is his fault), or telling him straight (which sucks even more, for obvious reasons). So as far as I can see, that's not really a viable option here.

So, what to do? Broadly speaking it seems to come down to either a) suck it up and do my best to ignore or at least tolerate B's behavior, or b) confront/set boundaries with B from here on out. Neither seems like a particularly easy option. My concern is that if I call B on her antics she will likely be hurt/offended and fallout will follow. To be honest, I'm past the point of caring much about hurting B's feelings, but any drama that ensues is going to wind up dragging M in as well, and I know how easily this sort of thing can sour a friendship. When I discussed the issue with my girlfriend she asked me, "Is it worth potentially hurting one of your oldest friendships over the actions of a stupid little girl?" and on one hand, she does have a point. But then I think about the last time M and B came to visit, and how fucking wearing it was being subjected to her for five days straight, and how it's not like that with any of our other friends. And it sucks, because something that used to be easy - spending time with my friend - is now becoming more and more like hard work because his wife always wants to be there too (which is a whole other thing, but this question is long enough already).

Any insight (especially from those who might have dealt with similar problems) would be appreciated.
posted by Broseph to Human Relations (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
To be honest, I'm past the point of caring much about hurting B's feelings

Ok, you really cannot have these people in your house for a week, then. Perhaps you could put it to M like this: "We're so excited to see you, but we've gotten to the point in our lives where we just don't have the energy to have people stay in our home. I hope you wouldn't mind staying in a nearby hotel?"
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:55 PM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

I don't think you can ask M to say in a hotel without explaining why. I think you may just have to have a talk with M about how you don't enjoy being around his wife. Don't trash her, don't go on about length about all the reasons you don't like her, just put it in a few sentences and make them as mild as you can. I bet he has at least some idea of her effect on people already. Once he's aware of the problem you and he can figure out some sort of solution.
posted by orange swan at 5:59 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this kind of shit really sucks. You're really just going to have to suck it up if you want to hold on to the friendship. Maybe instead of having them both come visit, next time they say they want to through, say 'That particular time won't work, but I was thinking about doing a boys weekend just you and me at such-and-such-location-where-we-can-share-common-hobbies at another time, whatcha think? It's been a long time since it was just you and me' or whatever. That way it's fair in that you don't have to deal with B, but you aren't including your GF either so it doesn't seem unbalanced or unfair.

If you want to continue having them in your home, I think it's totally reasonable to say that a whole week is too much for you and your GF to handle at this point (especially since they aren't traveling internationally or anything), and to suggest that maybe they come through for a long-weekend instead. You can handle the wife for three days.

But if this is the kind of couple that must be with each other at all times, then that's a whole other can of worms and can't be dealt with other than to scale back the friendship.
posted by greta simone at 6:01 PM on January 14, 2013 [8 favorites]

B's conversational habits include constantly interrupting and derailing conversations in order to talk about herself, giving frequent unasked-for opinions and advice, criticizing other people's living space/work habits/general life choices (usually done with an "Aren't-I-cute" smile on her face), and just generally being very demanding of other people's attention - to the point of acting out in minor ways if that's what it takes to get it.

This might actually be a pretty easy solve.

So it sounds like what B is after, at the bottom of all of this, is attention. It sounds like she starts with the "conversational habits" that she normally uses to get attention, but if those don't work, she moves on to other things like acting out.

It's not surprising at all that she uses criticism and snark to get attention. Those are really easy, cheap and effective ways to get a rise out of people.

But it sounds like if it didn't work, she'd readily move on to another tactic. So even though all of this is annoying, if the criticism and snark is really what's pissing you off, I bet you could train her away from it.

Just give her NO attention at all when she does that. Don't reply, don't get mad, don't look at her, just let her statement fade into the wind unresponded-to and talk about something else interesting. Don't OVERTLY ignore her either because that's just as bad as giving her direct attention. Just have a kind of "oh okay, anyway as I was saying" reaction.

The flip side of this is that you will have to reward her by giving her the attention she is seeking when she behaves in a way that doesn't bother you as much. I'm sure that would also be irritating but maybe it would not be as bad.

Another thing you can do is give her a task to keep her busy, maybe something that will give her the chance to be ooh'd and ahh'd over at the end, like cooking dinner one of the nights? Does she have anything useful that she can DO in order to get the attention she wants? Often, in cases like this, people are all too happy to do the thing for you that will get them the attention they want.
posted by cairdeas at 6:13 PM on January 14, 2013 [17 favorites]

Instead of the usual weeklong visit to your house deal you've got going on, tell M that you have the travel bug and you want to plan a getaway to someplace really awesome. Two options on the getaway - you can try to make it a guys' getaway with just you and M, if you think that would fly, or if you must concede to a couples' getaway, at least ensure that you and your partner are not staying in the same confined space with M and B. Even if you end up on vacation with a person you're not very fond of, at least this gets rid of the additional offense of having her be a jerk to you in your own home.

(your girlfriend is right about B)
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:19 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

How well does your girlfriend get along with B? Can they schedule some "girl type" things together as well so that you're getting some one on one time with your friend?
posted by infini at 6:22 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh also, some people get snarky and critical just because they are self-conscious in social settings. Like they can't always come up with something to talk about, or they just don't feel like they have anything to add, or that they are not very interesting. So just being critical is something really easy to fall back on. And it can just turn into this habit, out of laziness. I wonder if it would help if you took some time with her to have a conversation where she knew a lot about the topic and had a lot of interesting things to say.
posted by cairdeas at 6:29 PM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

This isn't just a problem for the next visit, it really impacts any future visits. I agree with creating a new annual tradition where you and M go on a buddy trip, just the two of you and forego the stay at your home. No need to discuss your feelings about his wife - it would just hurt him and hurt your relationship. A fishing trip, whitewater rafting, baseball hall of fame, whatever. Make it about you, not your spouses/SO's.
posted by cecic at 6:48 PM on January 14, 2013 [10 favorites]

You know who is a lot happier than you? People who have found ways to disallow people like your friend's wife from fucking up their day.

I say this as someone who knows how you feel, and worse, and as someone who has not attained the level of compassion (for self and others) as the people mentioned above.

But I know what I need to do about it, and I am clawing my way there because I am sick of letting harmless things completely derail my life for any period of time.

You will die before people stop being annoying, I'm gonna try another way.
posted by TheRedArmy at 7:06 PM on January 14, 2013 [15 favorites]

Do you have another friend (or acquaintance, or even enemy) who is similar to B in energy and/or obnoxious acting out? Often B's type will gravitate toward the other person in the crowd who will put up with (or share) their disposition, and they'll happily yap away with their new friend. Invite this "fifth wheel" along, introduce him/her to B, keep them both comfortable and just out of earshot, and you might find some relief.

And definitely consider shortening that weeklong visit to just a few days.
posted by Rykey at 8:00 PM on January 14, 2013

Cecic's suggestion to change your annual tradition to a boys-only outing is not only an excellent way of averting more irritation with B, but probably your only hope of maintaining your friendship with M for much longer.

You really cannot tell M that his wife is annoying. She is his wife; he has to side with her. It will end, or at least significantly impact, your friendship if you come to him and say anything like what you've told us here.

The other option is to get reaaaaallly Zen about her and practice feeling compassion instead of irritation when she does her thing. (If you succeed in this please post a follow up explaining how you did it; I can manage this for minutes at a time, but probably not days.)

I'm sorry, I know it sucks.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:36 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a close relative like B. Not long ago B's sister mentioned to me that B had a flaw, and I realized that it's akin to someone having lost a leg, or some other disability. There's nothing you can do about B, you simply have to change the way you live to accommodate their disability. That change can be in the way you relate, or in the way you manage your time together.

M cannot solve the problem for you, and telling him you find B difficult is going to damage your relationship with M. You have to reframe the ways you get to spend time together.
posted by anadem at 9:09 PM on January 14, 2013

Yeah, I think a boys' weekend is your best bet here.
posted by windykites at 3:01 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I definitely wouldn't farm B out to your wife; man, would I resent that if I were your wife.

Boys' weekend at your place or some other place where you won't have to deal with B at all. She's his wife, not yours, and he's a friend, not family.
posted by Currer Belfry at 5:13 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I came in here hoping to find some alternative ways of setting boundaries -- I knew the MeFites would have some great ideas!

I think part of it comes down to your philosophy on 'family'. Is the wife of your best friend part of your family, or just the person your best friend married? If your philosophy is to adopt these people into your inner circle, then cairdeas suggestions are appropriate to continuing relationships, and to participating in each other's quest of growing happy & healthy. Beyond that, cairdeas suggestions are very kind -- and as someone who feels uncomfortably similar to the descriptions of this woman, I really like the idea of being kind.
posted by MeiraV at 6:43 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, the OP's girlfriend is quoted as referring to B as a "stupid little girl", so I'm guessing she wouldn't be wild about extended sessions of B-management. I'm also guessing she'd be thoroughly on board with strategies for limiting both your exposure to B.

Although perhaps B would be easier company with no men around? I'm thinking of a similarly attention-seeking (female, hetero) friend of mine who is easy to talk to one-on-one or in a small group of women, but around men there is no unfortunate thing she won't do or say in order to be thought the prettiest and wittiest. So, does B have to have everyone's attention, or just men's? And if men's, is it specifically her husband's attention she wants, or yours too? Does she need to know her husband prefers her to you, or does she just need to feel like the most gosh-darned-adorable person in the room? Knowing what sort of attention she seeks will help with cairdeas's suggested rewards-and-discouragement system, if you decide to adopt it.

A person whose behaviour causes tension staying in your home means you can't relax in your home, which often means you can't relax at all. As a fellow-introvert, I share your pain. I'd say "grab moments of solitude and tranquility away from home," but no matter what peace you find over a cup of herbal tea in a quiet corner of your favourite coffee shop, you'd still have to go home to the same mess, feeling the same dread.

Here's the best idea I have: do you belong to a gym? "Gotta go work out" is a solid excuse for grabbing some you-time and channeling that frustration into some productive violence. Make it a morning routine while they're there, if it isn't already. Punch the hell out of that punchbag; stomp that stairmaster; physically exhaust yourself; murmur under your breath the things it isn't socially acceptable to say to this annoying person, or your friend who unthinkingly inflicts her on you. Then go home with a secretive smile.
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:56 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I might be alone here, but I actually would talk to M about B's behavior. Not about how you find her personality fundamentally annoying, but I don't think it would be out of line with a very close friend to say, "We love having you here, but it's stressful because we feel like B criticizes us and frankly, is sometimes disrespectful." [Give an example or two, but say you're not dwelling on that one thing, it's a pattern.] Maybe M has noticed it too and doesn't like it, and would be willing to talk to her about it. Of course, if you feel like any conversation about this would poison your relationship with M, probably not a good idea... but if M is close enough that he'll come visit for a week, maybe you can get through it.
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:35 AM on January 15, 2013

Thank you all for your responses. Whatever else I decide, it's been great to get some outside perspective on the problem.

To quickly address a couple of things:

- The "stupid little girl" comment my girlfriend made was more about helping me find some perspective on the issue - GF is actually waaay more zen about B's behavior than I am. And when I talked to her last night, GF also expressed a willingness to drag B off for some girl time, because she's awesome like that. :-)

- Regarding training B away from her behavior/giving her something to do: We have tried this, to some extent. It has helped, to a point, although not as much as I'd hoped. The first problem is a basic personality difference - B is the classic extrovert, and can take far more socializing and attention than I can give before exhaustion and crankiness start to set in on my part (seriously, the girl is a machine!). The second problem (which is entirely mine) is that I just don't want to put that kind of effort in any more, to be honest. If I'd done this more earlier in the piece, before I already felt disrespected in my own home, then... yeah. I know, I know - ego. I'll try to work on it. That aside, cairdeas, I do think your observations about B's needs and motivations are very much on point, and worth keeping in mind.

- I think one of the reasons B's behavior gets under my skin so much is that, despite my frustrations with her, she is someone I care about, someone in my circle - if it was some random acquaintance it would be much easier to just shrug off. I normally have a pretty high tolerance for clueless (as opposed to meanness), and I understand that I need to try to hold to that here. I do take on board the comments from many of you that I need to try to be kind.

- TheRedArmy, that was an awesome response. Seriously.

Thanks again, guys. You've given me lots to think about.
posted by Broseph at 2:43 PM on January 15, 2013

I have had lots of luck framing things just like you just did: "B is the classic extrovert, and can take far more socializing and attention than I can give before exhaustion and crankiness start to set in on my part (seriously, the girl is a machine!)."

That's perfect. It's not judgemental, not insulting, etc... Just a straight up "We're different in this way. Can we compromise?" Once I say this, the vast majority of people are able to tone it down, and are more than happy to schedule in some "other" activities so I can have some alone time. If you're an introvert, you may find benefit in actually having some time ALONE (not with just your friend) to reboot and increase patience. I need a break, even from people I like! Maybe your friend and his wife could go out to dinner on their own and/or to a movie a couple times during their stay, so that you and GF have the house to yourselves for a few hours... this works wonders for me. There is an excellent Ted Talk about introversion... maybe you could ask them to watch it in conjunction with the negotiation, or all watch it together when they arrive? In general, it's a pretty interesting topic anyway!

Also, Western culture is pretty inherently extroverted, so often I find it's introverts who are more versed on the topic. It may not have even occurred to her that people are introverts; so providing the framework for articulating varying needs t it in this way may help a lot...for both of you.
posted by jrobin276 at 5:27 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

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