Is this friendship worth saving?
February 21, 2013 9:38 AM   Subscribe

I have a problem. I have a friend. They're mutually inclusive. Let's call him Greg.

Greg and I went to college together, we were pretty tight, part of the same larger social group. Greg's a big dreamer, a hard worker, and that's the kind of person I love to surround myself with. After school he started his own traveling theatre company. I thought it was such a cool idea that I offered to help him get it off the ground. I had a lot of skills that he didn't have, and was willing to do a ton of "grunt" work--making budgets and forms and schedules, as well as physical labor like driving from state to state, hunting down props, building and hauling the set... Really anything that needed doing, I was his right hand woman. I easily spent upwards of one thousand hours over the past two years making his dream a reality. I was sooo happy that his big dream was finally coming true.

Then...something along the way got seriously out of whack. I noticed that he never talked to me about anything other than our shared work. When we relaxed at the end of the day with a cold beer, he would be agitated and unable to relax, still fretting about the next day, the next task, even the next show or the next season. Simultaneously, his attitude towards me was becoming brusque, dismissive, even a little mean. I would show up at an appointed time to work on one of my assignments only to find he'd been there for the past three hours, doing it alone. He seemed defensive of his position as artistic director, snapped at me if I gave instructions to others--even things as small as "guys, don't forget to wear closed-toed shoes tomorrow" or "can everyone get me their schedules for next week?" Things that were, you know, my job.

I was startled and hurt in these situations. We would talk it over at the time, reach an agreement, then he'd wander back into the "barking orders at me" mentality. So I backed off, only came when I was called, avoided even the appearance of wanting to usurp his authority. And when he noticed my enthusiasm level had dipped, he more-or-less accused me of not working hard enough, took many of my duties away from me, and gave me mindless drudge work for the rest of the season: namely, I became queen of the laundry.

Now I should say that I'm one of the most confident, self-respecting women I know. In the workplace I have no problem with setting firm boundaries, pushing back against oppressive behavior, asking for raises when I've earned them--all the stuff that women are supposed to struggle with. Point is, I'm nobody's pushover.

...Except for my friends. I will go to the ends of the earth and back if you're my friend, just to keep you company, give you boosties up the obstacles in your way, congratulate you when you reach the top.

After the last season wrapped, I decided I needed to take a lot of time away from our working relationship to rebuild and focus on the friendship. He must've felt a similar need for a break, because he stopped contacting me for a few months, including canceling a meeting we had to air our professional grievances. So we entered a mutually cool period, and I found that the less time I spent with Greg, the happier I felt. I have a boyfriend who's just the coolest cat in the universe, like literally nicer than Goku. We adopted a dog together and love nothing more than lying around doing nothing together. The rest of my friends are all so supportive and thoughtful...we watch movies and play board games and embark on failed cooking experiments together. I have a new job with a huge salary hike and a breezy commute. My mom survived stage 3 cancer, my little brother's graduating high school next year...

...Basically everything in my life is coming up Milhouse! I'm so happy, I go to bed every day with a smile and wake up the same way. Except the days where I have to interact with Greg. He's like a high-maintenance raincloud that won't take a hint. When we're at social functions, he dominates the conversation towards theatre, specifically his theatre, or acting in general, or plays in general...and many of my friends are, as I said, art school kids, they get sucked in even if they're tired of talking about it. If we're watching a movie, he opens up his laptop and works or falls asleep on my couch. I've tried walking our dogs together but it somehow becomes a therapy session that's focused on him-him-him. I'm basically exasperated that I let myself get suckered in by a guy who is clearly a serial taker.

At this point you must be thinking: why? Why bother? Piratesriding, you should just ease him out of your life and never look back. And the truth is I'd like to, but here's the catch: he has responded to my general coolness by involving the rest of our friends. I had a movie night planned with a half dozen friends, and one of them didn't show up despite RSVPing. Turns out Greg found out there was a gathering he wasn't invited to and basically guilted her into taking him out instead. I felt awful and couldn't apologize enough for putting her in that position, even if it wasn't intended as a snub--I just didn't want to hang out with him, as should be pretty understandable at this point.

(I should say that all his friends would agree with my assessment of his character: high-maintenance, needy, self-involved, fickle, generally ambitious and interesting and occasionally really fun, but all-in-all a total handful. Honestly many of them have confided to me that they're very exasperated with him, but almost all of them have some degree of a working relationship with him and his company, and they can stomach him as long as they keep him at arm's length.)

Fast forward to this morning. He's asked for a meeting. It's in a local coffee shop, our designated sit-down-and-work-things-out area. He's going to ask my why I've been cold to him, why I haven't been inviting him to 100% of my get-togethers among friends, why I haven't volunteered to work more hours. And the truth is, at this point, I don't care to go over the hurts and angers of six months ago that he hasn't made himself available to talk about until just now. They're old, healed wounds for me, provided he leaves them alone and just doesn't pick at them. I will never do work for him again, because he was such an asshole to me, and as Dubya so wisely said, "fool me twice, can't--can't get fooled again." I'd like to tell him that I just don't see the value in trying to repair a really broken friendship that with someone that doesn't offer me much in return.

But we are neighbors. His friends are my friends, and their industry is his industry. He will still come over all the time, to talk with or hang out with my roommates. I don't want it to be a pick-sides event, nor a they-can't-be-in-the-same-room-together outcome. There are tons of birthdays and weddings and house parties that we'll both be in attendance at, and I'd rather just greet each other politely, chat about the weather, and move on to greener pastures. But I don't see a way that can happen now that he's finally forced the issues.

I feel that if I refuse to tell him why I was upset so long ago, the mutual chilliness will continue because he'll feel I'm being evasive and unfair, and he'll badger my friends (even my boyfriend) for clues.

I feel that if I do tell him why I was upset so long ago, he's going to get incredibly defensive and upset, as he always has when he perceives that I'm criticizing him.

Somebody help me. I just want Greg to chill out and let our once-close friendship wither into acquaintanceship. I don't want to excite his defensiveness, but I also refuse to let him take one more step over the boundary that was drawn between us when he was too self-absorbed to look down at my feet. What would you do, random strangers of the internet? We're meeting tomorrow at 6PM, so I need guidance.
posted by piratesriding to Human Relations (32 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
"Greg: we've just grown apart and need different things now. I wish you all the best."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:42 AM on February 21, 2013 [32 favorites]

Empress, as usual, has the answer. Make it simple and claim your life back .
posted by HuronBob at 9:46 AM on February 21, 2013

"I tried to talk to you about this months ago without success. At this point, I have moved on professionally and I don't see the value in rehashing things that occurred so long ago. I hope we can remain friendly when we see each other socially."
posted by amro at 9:58 AM on February 21, 2013 [10 favorites]

Empress has it.

Don't worry about your friends; they will settle their grievances with Greg on their own. The lady who got guilted into hanging out with him? Her problem.

You sound lovely, and I'm betting your friend will understand if you cut ties with this (self-centered, insecure, selfish) dude.
posted by Specklet at 10:05 AM on February 21, 2013

Yup, cool and short statement, such as the ones above.

As for your friend not showing up, that's on her. Once she gets tired of the selfish-ego-train, she'll aovid him too.

No point in rehashing your reasons for avoiding him, no point in even discussing it. I wouldn't meet him, I'd text him. But I'm a bitch.

"I've got a lot going on in my life and I'm really happy. I wish you the same."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:05 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Turns out Greg found out there was a gathering he wasn't invited to and basically guilted her into taking him out instead. I felt awful and couldn't apologize enough for putting her in that position...

Boundary check: you didn't put her in that position, Greg did. There is no need for you to apologize for not inviting everyone to every single social function. See Geek Social Fallacy #5.

I'd like to tell him that I just don't see the value in trying to repair a really broken friendship that with someone that doesn't offer me much in return.

It's hard to imagine that a F2F to deliver this message will create anything other than more drama. I would strongly consider bowing out of the meeting via an email that combines the messages from EmpressCallipygos and amro.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:05 AM on February 21, 2013 [18 favorites]

Turns out Greg found out there was a gathering he wasn't invited to and basically guilted her into taking him out instead. I felt awful and couldn't apologize enough for putting her in that position,

You didn't put anyone in any position, you invited some friends over for a movie. Why would you apologize for something that another person did?

I will go to the ends of the earth and back if you're my friend, just to keep you company, give you boosties up the obstacles in your way, congratulate you when you reach the top.

Grand gestures are overrated. Be kind to your friends, be steady, but don't go to the ends of the earth; it's your job as a friend to say "have a great trip!" to your friends whose own journey takes them there.

This guy took advantage of you but you let him. I don't see what this follow-up meeting will accomplish. Just walk away.

Next time someone has a project that you think you can help out with, think about how you can fit helping them out into your life and offer that. "I can set up a spreadsheet for your budget" rather than "I'll be on call 24/7 for an open-ended period of time for whatever you need me to do."
posted by headnsouth at 10:06 AM on February 21, 2013 [12 favorites]

"I found that I let the theatre work really take over my life, and I pulled back to try to get some balance again. When I did that, I found that I was happier staying out of it. I sometimes have trouble talking to you because you tend to focus so much on the theatre that I feel myself getting sucked back in, which isn't good for me. I don't have any ill will against you, I just need to protect myself by distancing myself from you a bit, and I think the theatre, especially, will be better off without my input."

It's a bunch of white lies and selective truths, but I think an underlying message of "You are just so intense and driven and focused and I'm just not strong enough to handle it, so I don't want to hold you back" is probably one that will get you what you want -- a reason that someone as self-obsessed as he is will accept without questioning it or getting defensive.
posted by jaguar at 10:21 AM on February 21, 2013 [11 favorites]

Greg: So what's the deal?

You: I have a boyfriend who's just the coolest cat in the universe, like literally nicer than Goku. We adopted a dog together and love nothing more than lying around doing nothing together. The rest of my friends are all so supportive and thoughtful...we watch movies and play board games and embark on failed cooking experiments together. I have a new job with a huge salary hike and a breezy commute. My mom survived stage 3 cancer, my little brother's graduating high school next year...

aaaaaand scene.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:24 AM on February 21, 2013 [14 favorites]

I'd have the meeting and I'd say this, "Greg, I was really hurt months ago and I wanted to work things out then. I did a lot of good work for you and, whether you intended it or not, I felt not appreciated and beat down. I wish you all the luck in the world with your theater company. But I can't put myself in a situation where my feelings and work aren't valued."

When and if he denies that this is the case, stop him and say "Greg, I've said my piece. That's where I leave it. I'm sorry you can't see that you hurt me."

But who knows? Maybe he'll surprise you. I do think it would be good to just get it all out there. He could be completely clueless as to why you're hurt.
posted by inturnaround at 10:31 AM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Even though Greg isn't "my kind of person", I am going to kind-of explain his side. There's a story of how the FBI was interviewing Steve Jobs' friends as part of a background check when he was being considered for a government appointment. One of his friends said something along the lines that Steve Jobs is a user, dishonest, disloyal, and difficult to deal with, and that he was a great candidate for the job he was under consideration for. Greg has huge ambitious in a tough field that has no room for "second place." Everything he thinks about is about his theater company, and all the people in his life are going to be evaluated in terms of how they can serve his theater company. And he needs to keep potential volunteers and colleagues in his orbit to ensure that they keep helping out.

As to what you should tell Greg when he asks, Rock Steady has a great answer-- just explain that you have lots of great and interesting stuff going on in your life, with the implication that you don't have room for activities and interests that revolve primarily around Greg. He will simply move on to find other people who will serve his needs.
posted by deanc at 10:39 AM on February 21, 2013 [10 favorites]

Now I should say that I'm one of the most confident, self-respecting women I know.

Not if you give so much work away for free!

...Except for my friends. I will go to the ends of the earth and back if you're my friend

It seems like you're rethinking that policy, and that's a good thing. I used to be an addicted serial giver, and I had to curtail it. It's easy to mistake people needing you for people loving and being friends with you. It's much cleaner if you don't mix the chocolate and peanut butter of professional projects and friendship. Get paid (or some other compensation that is valuable to you) for your work.
posted by Miko at 10:39 AM on February 21, 2013 [6 favorites]

I like inturnaround's script. Greg may or may not hear you, but you have a right to say it.

Do keep it brief, don't get sucked into an argument. If he tries to drag you into an argument go to Rock Steady's script.

Plus, Greg wasn't getting paid while you were working for free, was he?
posted by tel3path at 10:56 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing that struck me when I was reading through this is that you talk a lot about the way Greg treated you, specifically - how he yelled at you, took you for granted, demanded unreasonable things of you - and while that's all true, you should keep in mind that in no way was it about you at all. It's just who Greg is, and that's how he treats people if he thinks he can get away with it, and for that reason I think trying to get into the details of how he made you feel are not that important. You aren't going to get a favorable response if you try to get specific about how he treated you during that period of your life.

So, that said, I agree with everyone above who suggested keeping it vague and simple: you're busy, you have other priorities, you've just grown apart, and you look forward to seeing how his career progresses because you think he does great work, but that level of commitment is just not for you.
posted by something something at 11:04 AM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You need to be ok with Greg -and some of your friends - having a bad opinion of you. The only thing holding you back from dumping him is your fear of what will be said about you if you do.

He won't understand. He'll construe the worst motives for what you are going to do. He will complain about you. No matter how well you explain, so don't bother arguing, justifying or defendIng. You have to be ok with that. Because in return you will be free.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:07 AM on February 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

This is the clearest case ever of giving Greg enough rope to hang himself. Nobody wants to hang out with a selfish, self-centered, whiny, needy, bossy, manipulative, sabotaging emotional vampire no matter what other legitimately wonderful qualities they have. Your friends will get sick of him, I promise. Your friends will get sick of him even faster if they find themselves in positions where he acts out directly towards them. If you think Greg will try to sabotage you socially, you can protect yourself easily by taking the high road. NEVAR EVAR say anything even slightly negative or bad about him to any of your friends. NEVAR EVAR tell him any criticisms you have about him or say anything negative to him about his behaviors (I feel like you don't owe him that because it doesn't seem like he actually cares that he has hurt or upset you, it seems like he just cares that his source of attention and free labor is being cut off). Avoid and deflect if he or anyone else asks you what is wrong, cancel this meeting. If Greg starts hounding your boyfriend or friends they will get really sick of him. If Greg starts talking shit about you, it will look like the crazy, unreasonable, one-sided grudge that it is. And people will just add the shit-talking to the list of his other unpleasant traits. He is going to alienate everyone else too. When that happens, then if you want to, you can all address his behaviors as a group. That way you won't be singled out as the bad guy.

If you really want to give your friendship one last hurrah and try to talk to him, I really like inturnaround's suggestion and think that is exactly the way to do it.

The other thing you can do is just leave out all talk of the theater work stuff (you can just flatly tell him you are done with it and don't have time for it) and only address the minor social annoyances, like how he works during movies and turns dog walks into his therapy sessions. Then the next time you are watching a movie and he brings out his laptop, you can stop the movie and say, "You're obviously too busy for this; we'll have to do it another time." Then he won't be able to ask you what's wrong anymore because you will have already talked about it.
posted by cairdeas at 11:47 AM on February 21, 2013 [10 favorites]

"Working together really did a number on our friendship but we are still part of the same social group so I hope we can put that aside and not get our mutual friends embroiled in drama."
posted by BibiRose at 12:13 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

You know, people like this LOVE the drama and having big scenes where they can make a grand exit and be the injured party, etc., etc., etc. Don't even do it. I would send him a cool e-mail with something like what Empress said and leave it at that. He's never in a million years going to apologize to you and you say you've moved on, anyway. Keep it cool and professional and don't give him any fodder that he can use in the victimhood fairy tale he's going to tell everyone. He's going to be bitchy about it, I guarantee it, so let him be bitchy without you. (Oy, I have to say this is bringing back some bad memories of high school drama club.)
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 1:06 PM on February 21, 2013 [7 favorites]

Oy, I have to say this is bringing back some bad memories of high school drama club.

Hell, I actually am the piratesriding to a friend who is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay cooler than Greg, and reading this makes me want to randomly track him down at the show he's lighting now and hug him for not letting our working partnership interfere with our friendship.

Piratesriding: in fact, is there a way you can get out of meeting with Greg in person just by telling him this? Or are you pretty much committed to going? If you are definitely committed, keep it short for your own sake. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:26 PM on February 21, 2013

Response by poster: Wow guys--I am floored by the consistency and wisdom of your collective advice! I kinda thought I was just beaming this out into space, not really expecting anyone to read such a long post or give such a thoughtful response in return. I am SO GRATEFUL!! An outside set of perspectives has already given me so much clarity.

Here's what I know right now:

1. I will go ahead and meet with him, but I am NOT going to let it turn into a fight, nor even a long conversation--what needs to be said should not take longer than the time it takes the barrista to make our drinks.

2. I will NOT drudge up any dirt from six months ago. If he insist he wants to know where he went wrong as a professional, I will offer to sit down with him at a much later date to go over only the issues that are (1) fixable and (2) stemmed from workflow, communication, or organization issues--nothing related to feelings or perceptions or anything of that nature.

3. Finally, I know now that there is NO WAY in HELL going to make excuses or apologize for not inviting him to movie night! We have totally separate lives, despite mostly overlapping circles of friends--I'm not obliged to include him every single time, nor is he owed any kind of explanation for a lack of invitation. I have a suspicion that part of his outrage at not being invited comes from a paranoid fear that we're all talking about him behind his back--because that's just the kind of thought a really self-focused person would have. We just want to watch a movie! Placating those insecurities should be filed under "N" for "Not My Job" and possibly "F" for "F U."

I will continue to read any more comments added here, and I'm going to consider my exact approach VERY carefully. My heart is telling me that I'm happy when he's not around, and to one degree or another, I will listen and obey. Expect a report back everyone--and again, thank you for the sage advice!
posted by piratesriding at 1:43 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

This is totally off the wall and probably not valid, but is there any chance that his bad behavior started at about the same time as you started going out with your boyfriend? Is it possible that he thought you and he were going to be getting together and is now reacting to the obvious answer that no, that's not going to happen?
posted by CathyG at 1:53 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I say go into it with an open mind. Who knows? Maybe he is going to apologize for being such a tool before.

I also think it's reasonable for you to say that the work part of your relationship started to take over the friendship part of your relationship -- to the extent that it seemed the two of you were unable to spend time together just as friends and not as people who worked together on his theater projects -- and that you have started to be less than satisfied with the work part, feel that you don't really want to do it any more, and felt like you needed a break in order to shake that off. This offers you the ability, if you like, to say that you still want to be his friend, but that this has to be the foundation of your relationship and you hope you can do it without the work stuff creeping back into your conversations, etc. These things happen. People experience burnout. Especially if one of them is a high maintenance and/or micromanaging "boss" in the work relationship. It's one of the reasons that friends who become coworkers in a venture usually either end up not friends or not coworkers. If he's as hard-driving as you suggest, it's likely that he's aware of this and it's likely that you are not the first person to get burned out. But, if he's okay with the idea of being friends without having you involved in the theater projects, and you still feel like being his friend, why not?
posted by slkinsey at 2:28 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

It sounds like he was happy enough to have your help when he was getting his company off the ground, but that at a certain point he saw some of the things you did as a challenge to his authority or helmsmanship. The fact that you were putting so much of your own money into the company may even have suggested to him that you saw yourself as more of a partner in the endeavor than a supportive friend. It sounds like maybe this was your main job at the time, and that only relatively recently did you get a different job with a better salary?

I don't mean for this to sound like I'm not on your side, because you sound like a lovely and supportive friend, but I wonder if Greg sort of misunderstood your motives and got dramatic and paranoid. And possibly also, even if you didn't mean to, you may have started feeling like the company was almost as much yours as his because of all the time and work and money you put in, or at least that your profound level of volunteerism had given you more of a stake in the company, going forward, than maybe Greg had intended.

I guess I'm saying that although I think you were being supportive and going above and beyond, it is possible to imagine how Greg might have started feeling like all along this had been his dream and not yours and that if he didn't DO something (like start taking over some of your work, make it clear with people that HE was in charge, not you, etc -- exactly the things he started doing) then before he knew it you might be a partner for the long haul and not just a well meaning friend, and he wouldn't get his dream after all.

Now that he got what he wanted, he may actually miss you and your involvement, or also doesn't want you to bad mouth him or win over the friends you share.

So I guess if I were going to meet with Greg to smooth things over with him, I would ask him what he thought went wrong, with all this in mind, and just respond to what he says, holding back a bit but mostly being honest. I would also say, as others here have suggested, that it was never YOUR dream to have a theatre company and that while you wanted to help him out when he was starting so he could live his dream, you found that you were much happier when you'd had some distance from it and weren't so involved, and that you preferred to keep it that way. I think you could also say that it hurt your feelings that you did so much work to support him and he didn't seem to appreciate or thank you for it, but that's just me, and it could open a can of worms. Anyway, good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 4:12 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Related for the future: A human cognitive error is that we assigned value to things according to what we pay for them, more than according to their actual value imparted to us.
When a resource is free, you have no incentive to conserve it. In fact it's often easier to waste it (and in the process, often inadvertently destroy it)
You've done your time with being that resource.
When professionals are donating expensive time, they often end up finding that they have to charge for it - perhaps charging at vastly reduced rates, but giving it away free just creates endless trouble. As soon as the recipient of the charity is on the hook for something, even if it's just 10% market value, they immediately take your time far more seriously and stop wasting it out of lack of consequences.

The recipient of generosity has to have some skin in the game.
posted by anonymisc at 4:34 PM on February 21, 2013 [9 favorites]

I have had to overtly part ways with two friends in my lifetime, and it sucked both times. I'd like to offer you advice for the After - the Epilogue, if you will. People will ask. Do your best to deflect.

"Hey, what happened with you and Greg?"
"Oh, I just found that we were moving in different directions. Hey, did I tell you about the cute thing Dog did yesterday?"

"Wow, it's so sad that you and Greg had that falling out!"
"Sometimes people change in different ways, but I wish him and the theater company all the best".

The situation where I took the high road and didn't explain and didn't go into details has been so, so, so much easier for me over time. We still have several mutual friends, and sometimes we're still invited to the same parties. We basically ignore one another, everyone expects us to ignore one another, and it's no odder and no more commented upon than the fact that the party host bought a new ficus plant.

The situation where I didn't take the high road and tried to explain, or went into details, or basically told anyone my reasons is still a fricking thorn in my side today. People still want to talk about it. A few mutual friends have asked why I can't just let it go, because the reasons aren't "enough" in their mind. (Hint: if people don't know what your reasons are, they can't argue with you about the validity). When we're both invited to a party, the host usually makes a big deal about it: "Well, I really wanted to invite you and invite so-and-so, but I know you're uncomfortable around him, so I thought I'd let you make your own decision, but I'm hoping there won't be too much drama...." It's just become A Thing at this point, and I really wish I'd never opened my mouth. I usually try to deflect ("It's fine, I'm looking forward to your party, and we're capable of being civil to one another in the same room. I was thinking about bringing a small dessert - do you like chocolate chip cookies?") and am hoping that the non-drama from me means that it will stop eventually.

For reference, both of these things happened about 10 years ago. So, yeah. If you can, just let it be a parting of the ways, and let your friends find their own path with him. As I said, I still share mutual friends with both of the people I had to remove from my life, and I don't resent those mutual friends. Sometimes people aren't meant to be long term companions, but I don't resent my friends' decisions to remain close to those two.
posted by RogueTech at 6:13 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I feel that if I do tell him why I was upset so long ago, he's going to get incredibly defensive and upset, as he always has when he perceives that I'm criticizing him.

You: (how it is)

Him: (barrage of defensive dramarama)

You maintain eye contact and active-listen while waiting for the tirade to finish, then:

You: Are you done?

Him: No! (further barrage of defensive dramarama)

You: Are you done?

Him: No! (further barrage of defensive dramarama)


You: Are you done?

Him: Yes.

You: Good. Me too. Thanks for your time. All the best. Bye now. (exit stage left)
posted by flabdablet at 7:17 PM on February 21, 2013

By all means follow flabdablet's "are you done" script if you want to feel superior for 90 seconds and make a permanent enemy of Greg.
posted by slkinsey at 7:05 AM on February 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Whether this conversation goes good or bad, you're still going to have this guy in your life to a certain extent. Because of that, I would advise racking your brain and figuring out some things that he might like to chat about other than the theater. Talking about that is just going to bring all this mess right up again. Also, the subject feeds into his narcissitic obsession. But if you take the initiative in conversation and steer it towards more neutral topics, then I think one of two things will probably happend: 1) He'll start acting more like a human being, at least with you, or 2) He'll get very bored of you and stop seeing you as relevent to his life.
posted by MrOlenCanter at 11:15 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Mission accomplished, reporting back:

He was already seated and camped out in the back room, so I had to sit down and meet him, but I didn't take off my coat, signaling I was not in for a long discussion. All in all, it lasted half and hour from greeting to departure, including a lot of tying up of loose logistics.

He basically started out by trying to tell me that he'd noticed the bloom was off the rose on our friendship, and he wanted to give me the chance to explain why I was mad at him. I agreed that we weren't really friends at all anymore, and that it was rooted in events that happened in our working relationship from several months ago, and that the time to discuss such old things had passed. He agreed, and we didn't talk about them.

Instead, we agreed that we had both hurt each other--him by mistreating my in the past, and me by treating him with indifference ever since. (He had interpreted my indifference as deliberate coldness, by the way, so evidently thought I intended a lot more venom behind it.) We agreed that we could never work together again, under any circumstances, and we decided to place our friendship first--though I told him point-blank that I found it unlikely I could rediscover his good points again after being so mishandled by him.

Overall he tried to tell me that I'd hurt him, which I don't doubt I did by avoiding him. It even tugged at my heartstrings a little, and I was tempted to give more of an apologetic statement just to appease him, but I ignored that urge and stuck to my guns. "Serial taker, serial taker, serial taker" was all that was running through my head while he talked, because everything was still about him. Ohhh how I had hurt him in the past few months by being generally indifferent! It was actually very soothing to hear him failing to empathize with me, because it reenforced I was making the right choice for myself.

See, if I sense a friend is mad at me and I'm not sure why, my approach is to sit them down and immediately apologize up-front if I've said something without thinking, or put my foot in my mouth in some way, or forgotten something important. I don't do this because I'm a serial apologizer--I do it because it has been the right thing to say 100% of the time. They immediately relax a little and admit, well yes, you forgot my birthday, or: yes, you were going on and on about your new job even though you know I'm still looking, or...whatever. And I bring my hand to my forehead and cringe as they describe the dumb shit I did. Then we laugh about my occasional obliviousness, hug it out, and move on.

The reason that works for me is that I trust and empathize with my good friends, and they do the same for me. I trust them not to get mad at me for no reason, they trust me not to do anything maliciously for no reason, we empathize with each other to figure it out. Greg isn't someone who trusts me, and he consistently demonstrates an unwillingness or inability to empathize with others. That means Greg isn't a good friend candidate for me, because even if we work at it, we will chronically misunderstand each other.

The one juicy portion of the meeting was when he repeatedly tried to give me life advice? And I was like, whaaaat?

GREG: "Soooo yeah, in the future, you should really think about working on your communication so that this doesn't happen with other people."

ME: (looks around for hidden camera)

GREG: "Yep, if there's anything to take away from this, it's that you need to be up-front with people and--"

ME: "Yeah, I'm gonna stop you right there, because you're not in a position to offer me advice, and I'm not interested in hearing that from you."

GREG: "...And that's why we're not friends."

ME: (...Wow. Did you just imply that my recent unwillingness to be controlled by you is the reason we're not friends anymore?? Because I think the fact that you suck is probably the more central issue here, but they're probably both relevant!)

(Seriously, I'm very touchy with men my own age giving me life advice, unless we're in an explicit mentoring relationship. I mean, what is that? It really rubs me the wrong way, gets my feminist hackles up. This is a guy who is younger than me, makes less money than me, relies on his parents for everything, and is a twenty-four year-old virgin. How the fuck are you gonna give me life advice again!? Ugh, so obnoxious.)

Anyway I walked away feeling...a little blase, actually! I went home and had put it out of my mind about it almost immediately, because I'd already pushed him far enough away from me that he couldn't reach me to hurt me anymore, and what he had to say to me wasn't that important to me. That felt GREAT. So I cracked open a victory Blue Moon and spent the rest of the weekend going for a run, taking the dog to the dog park, reading a new book, replaying a beloved old video game, baking cookies, and watching the West Wing with my super-awesome sweetie-pie. What did Greg spend his weekend doing, I wonder? I dunno...probably working, probably being stressed and unhappy. I guess he had more to lose than I did in the dissolution of our friendship than I did, which is something I never really thought about... Maybe this experience will teach him to try to hold on to people and make them feel valued while he can? If so, good for him. If not, hey--he's not my problem anymore.

Thank you ALL for the great answers and thoughtful questions. Knowing the consensus of the internet was behind me was the nice little kick in the pants I needed. And just some ADVICE, y'know, FOR THE FUTURE...(lol)...dump that Negative Nancy in your life and go have fun! Life's way way waaaaay too short to agonize over these people. Now that the cord is cut, "my heart is wonderous light." (Which, for all you theatre geeks out there, tells you exactly what the last show we worked on was.) So go get it in twenty-dirt!
posted by piratesriding at 9:09 AM on February 25, 2013 [8 favorites]

Great way to stick up for yourself! I'm happy for you! Thanks for the update!
posted by inturnaround at 9:56 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well done you!

This is a guy who is younger than me, makes less money than me, relies on his parents for everything, and is a twenty-four year-old virgin. How the fuck are you gonna give me life advice again!? Ugh, so obnoxious.

Was he done?

Like a fucking dinner.
posted by flabdablet at 5:32 PM on February 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is a guy who is younger than me, makes less money than me, relies on his parents for everything, and is a twenty-four year-old virgin. How the fuck are you gonna give me life advice again!?

If only there was a word for that. So happy you flat-out told him to can it.
posted by cairdeas at 1:01 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

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