How do I deal with a toxic "friend"?
March 9, 2013 6:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to figure out what to do about an acquaintance now, who used to be a good friend, but is now just manipulative, lying, and spiteful.

So, I met this guy, Andrew, about 5 years ago. He was actually one of the first people I met when I moved to a city. We met when we joined a soccer team together and he has been a friend ever since. This guy can be loud, obnoxious, has to be right, has to win, etc. etc.... BUT he can also be very sweet. I know he has self-esteem issues... he confided in me that he didn't have many friends in high school and was extremely lonely.

I dated a guy a couple of years ago who I thought was the love of my life. He coldly broke up with me without any closure and I was devastated. I confided in Andrew, and I admit, I definitely talked crap about my ex to him at my lowest and most angry point (about a week after my ex broke up with me). Andrew told me that he never liked my ex and I together, and was a good listener throughout that hard time.

While this was all going on, a lot of Andrew's guy friends were moving away or getting married (we're all in our late 20's). He began hanging out with my ex and his best friend a lot. I eventually found out months later that Andrew went back and told my ex everything I had said. I was shocked and hurt! Especially because it was the only time I spoke badly of my ex. I was trying to avoid drama and he made it so much worse.

Andrew, my ex and I share a lot of mutual friends so I see them somewhat regularly, although I no longer speak to either of them. Andrew tries to be my friend when my ex isn't around, but if he is, he's rude to me or tries to embarrass me. He loves making fun of others to try and fit in (including making fun of me). If I'm around, he'll say things about my ex hooking up with other women loud enough for me to hear... It's childish! I can't figure out where this came from except that he tried to flirt and ask me out (out of the blue) when my ex broke up with me and I turned him down.

I realize now, that Andrew just wants to fit in and be cool with them at my expense. They're all extremely immature. I know I should just ignore him, but he's lied to other friends at my expense. I would love to stay away from them, but unfortunately that's not an option with this many mutual friends and the fact that we still play soccer (so I see him regularly). We were such good friends at one time, now I just feel as betrayed as when my ex left me out of the blue. I'm too old for this high school drama, but I hate the way he used me. Any advice how to approach this situation? I feel like I'm too involved in it to think rationally.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Life is too short for toxic nonsense. Walk away from this clown and make some new friends.
posted by jquinby at 6:45 AM on March 9, 2013 [15 favorites]

This is a bad friend situation all around. Too many people, who all seem to take sides on a breakup that happened ages ago. Even if you had been dramatic about it at the time, surely other stuff has happened in the interim that is more interesting to talk about now.
Time for a new soccer team, in the interest of making new friends. Or maybe a new hobby altogether.
posted by pickypicky at 6:56 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think Andrew likes you and is doing it wrong.

If you want to salvage the friendship, sit down and tell him that what he's doing is hurtful. Gauge his reaction from there -- if there's really a sweet lonely guy in there, you'll probably see that this is how he's dealing with the rejection. Then if he wants to keep being an asshole about it, find a new soccer team.
posted by mibo at 7:00 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

It does seem like Andrew has a thing for you--or at least, has a thing for anyone who accepts him and that includes your ex and his friends. It seems like your best bet is to rise above it. You might run into this crowd, but you can tell yourself to completely ignore the BS, not react, not even acknowledge it. I think your reaction is part of what is fueling Andrew. He's miserable and just trying to get attention, even at the expense of your friendship. I think if you think about it, you'll see that you are far too mature for a guy like Andrew, and while it may have offered solace and some fun when you were hanging out with him, you really are not missing out on much by not being close to him. Ignoring him and avoiding situations where you have to interact directly will probably defang him.
posted by annabellee at 7:10 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

When asymmetry happens in relationships—your boyfriend is finished with you before you're finished with him, you want Andrew to be your friend but Andrew wants you to be his squeeze—toxicity is sure to follow. All you can do is draw firm boundaries between you and both men. Give them the cold shoulder. And hope for better luck in the future.
posted by markcmyers at 7:13 AM on March 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Life is short and resources are limited and we come to resemble the people around us, so why waste time on people who will influence you for the worse rather than for the better?

As bakadesuyo writes, "manipulating context is the most powerful method of change and who we spend time with — who influences us on a daily basis — may be the most powerful form of manipulating context."

Take a step back and give yourself some distance from the lying dude. You don't need his bullshit in your context.
posted by 168 at 7:16 AM on March 9, 2013 [25 favorites]

It'll take a long time to readjust to a world without this person, so I would begin that process now.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:18 AM on March 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

I can't figure out where this came from except that he tried to flirt and ask me out (out of the blue) when my ex broke up with me and I turned him down.

Well, that's more than enough for a lying manipulating nasty little putz like Andrew.

You actually don't have to mix with these people because you don't have to play soccer. I realize it's a wrench to give up your main hobby, but bad company corrupts and there are lots more sports you can play. You may not relish the thought but you will probably really enjoy doing almost anything else - Morris dancing, dominoes, playing the spoons, saving string - if it's done in the company of people who aren't awful.

Think witness protection program, and proceed accordingly.
posted by tel3path at 7:56 AM on March 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

This guy can be loud, obnoxious, has to be right, has to win, etc. etc.... BUT he can also be very sweet.

Yes, because that is how assholes have to be, or else they end up ostracized from polite society. Assholes spend their adolescence learning how to camouflage themselves as normal functioning human beings just enough to get by. The "very sweet" part is not Andrew -- it is the disguise that Andrew wears so people will ever talk to him.

DTMFA. If that means dropping the activities that bring you into contact with him, then do it. Or, if you can, just walk up to him at a game some time and say, "You and me, we're through. Don't ever fucking talk to me again." Then walk away. If he tries to engage, ignore him.
posted by Etrigan at 8:03 AM on March 9, 2013 [15 favorites]

Find another soccer team, or another hobby altogether.

This guy is a jerk, and he's not going to change. Yes, he's a jerk because he's sad and desperate and insecure, but that should have no impact on your decision.
posted by bunderful at 8:24 AM on March 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Been there! "There are other fish in the sea" is doubly true for potential friends in your twenties. There's no excuse for what he's doing, and you need to get away from that drama.

Case in point: He's keeping your breakup drama alive. You had your moment to cry and curse, and it was your right to curse your ex, in private, to your friends. It's allowed. He basically took that and turned it for you into an eternal hell.

YOU DON'T NEED THAT. Life's too short. Find better friends.
posted by ipsative at 8:27 AM on March 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Find a new team and make new friends. You can and should still keep in touch with anyone who is an actual friend/acquaintance and be above the drama by being polite (yet keep it moving otherwise). I know that it's easier said and done, but please believe that this behavior is only going to continue and escalate. What do you think will happen when you start dating someone else?
posted by sm1tten at 8:30 AM on March 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

If Andrew was a girl, would you have tolerated what he's done?
posted by discopolo at 8:30 AM on March 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Totally agree with etrigan and tel3path -- this guy is manipulative and bad news. He sounds like a class A jerk. Yes, I would totally just get out of that circle altogether. Surely there are other soccer teams. The mutual friends you have in common will still be your friends (if they are in fact friends). When you do see them around, I would just interact as little as possible. When it's absolutely necessary to see or talk to them, be cordial and brief. Don't give them any fuel and the drama will die.
posted by loveyallaround at 8:40 AM on March 9, 2013

You can also DTMFA with a sort of polite inconsistency - just become less available all of a sudden, and have excuses ready if you ever meet and he questions you about it in person. "I really meant to call you! Sorry, I'm just so busy". You would essentially be downgrading your relationship from "friend" (=person you trust) to "acquaintance" (=person you make small talk with, no more).

If you have to talk to him at events, politely avoid discussing your private life or any conflicts. Keep it light, don't confide in him (ever again! you should never do this again!), and if it ever gets "private", disengage: make it all about him, become invisible and... move on. It doesn't need to explode and he doesn't need to feel your anger. He doesn't even have to understand the message. This is about you protecting yourself.

It's one of the most passive aggressive things you can do (and I think you should only do it with people you seriously want to stop being friends with) but it can really minimize drama during a transition from friend to acquaintance, especially when you have so many friends in common and would like to remain a part of your soccer team.
posted by ipsative at 8:41 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

He doesn't have a lot of friends because he's a jerk. He has people who tolerate him because the soccer team exists. It doesn't matter if he likes you. What matters is that in three decades rambling on earth he hasn't figured out how to behave toward people. You aren't going to fix that.

Walk away from this guy. If you want to play soccer, then find another team. Or you can play but not socialize with this one.

Don't worry about punishing the guy for using you. Being an asshole is his punishment.
posted by 26.2 at 8:48 AM on March 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Get on a new soccer team/league, hang more with friends who don't overlap the old group. See friends from the group individually. If anyone asks what's going on, just say, "I'm distancing myself from drama and negativity."

Life is too short to mess around with bad people. The sooner you broaden your a acquaintance, the better.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:01 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

DO NOT quit your soccer team or quit soccer. Women get driven out of enough spaces by men they've rejected romantically, do not let this happen to you!!! and yes I would bet $100 that the root of all this is that you rejected him romantically. In his mind he was a "nice guy" and listened to you when you were upset and acted "caring" so now you owe him. The fact that you rejected him romantically makes you a "bitch" in his mind and he's punishing you. Because he's kind of fucked up in his thinking about men and women hes' doing this by attacking your romantic life and sexuality. The fact that it's the same old shit 5 years later just shows that he lacks creativity. Of course you can get him on your side again and make everything ok! By sleeping with him. If you don't do that he's going to continue to be a stupid ass.

But don't quit soccer. Fuck that. Make friends with other people there and ignore both your ex and Andrew. When he says something clearly designed to get a rise out of you respond, consistently, with disdain and irritation. "Andrew, don't be such a stupid fuck" said in an even tone of voice always works well. so does an exasperated "Andrew, I've told you a million times I don't want your dick. Go back to fourth grade". Be funny and rude and confrontational. Make it clear he's bothering you. People will notice. Once he learns that annoying you only leads to him being laughed at and seen as a creeper he'll drop it.

He will probably continue to talk shit about you behind your back but, as a woman, this is going to happen to you your whole entire life when you reject insecure men so it's best to learn to shrug it off. While also making your disdain for those men publicly, if subtly, clear.
posted by fshgrl at 11:06 AM on March 9, 2013 [9 favorites]

I don't think it's worth it to tell Andrew he's hurting you because hurting you is so obviously what he is trying to do.

I have had to do this twice in life: When someone is getting pleasure from hurting you, you need to stay away from that person until they find someone else to hurt. That often doesn't take long because people with this trait crave having someone to target in that way. You need to stay away from this person long enough until they are much more invested in hurting this other person than in hurting you. I'm sorry that people like that exist.
posted by cairdeas at 12:10 PM on March 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I wrote that, I wasn't thinking about how you should not be driven away from your soccer team by this bullshit. That's true.

This is also another case of giving Andrew enough rope to hang himself. As immature as all these guys are... lots of this behavior is hilarious to them when targeted to other people, but suddenly it's soooo fucked up when it's targeted to them. None of these guys are going to sympathize with what he is doing towards you, but if he gets in enough positions where the behavior is targeted towards *them,* you will see their opinions change with a quickness.
posted by cairdeas at 12:20 PM on March 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

I suppose it would be bad Karma, but if I were you I wouldn't be above needling Andrew and your ex a bit.

Something like, when you see ex and Andrew acting especially chummy, saying 'huh, you two sure have gotten to be good buddies!' then, turning to Andrew, 'when you tried to get me to have sex with you after ex and I broke up, I didn't realize it was ex you really had a crush on!-- then turning and walking away.
posted by jamjam at 12:22 PM on March 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm so sorry this is happening to you. This guy has caused nothing but trouble, and when you though he was being your friend he was actually collecting data to hurt you even more and draw people away from you. Don't underestimate people who will consciously and deliberatly make your life miserable. They are crafty beyond imagination.
this guy is in no way a "friend". He's plain toxic and he's toying with you. You describe his behavior as childish, petty drama and immature. But this is adulthood and he might not be nearly as unaware of his behavior as he would like you to keep believing.

"he's rude to me or tries to embarrass me","he's lied to other friends at my expense","I can't figure out where this came from except that he tried to flirt and ask me out (out of the blue) when my ex broke up with me and I turned him down." You have the right to turn him down without going through any hardship afterwards. It's in no way your fault it came from him.

If trouble escalates or as you find yourself isolated, fearful or what he would go for next, humiliated in front of your peers, insulted, walking on eggshells about the whole situation, have your reputation demolished or any of those things, please do not hesitate to call your local women's help line. They are used to dealing with these kind of situations and take psychological harm and manipulation seriously. They will be able to give you pointers, help you sort out your feelings and see your options clearly.
It's about you and how you feel. Don't drag this any longer. Get your head straight, your focus back on you and stand behind your decisions. Get all the help you need in dealing with this and you will be fine again.
posted by proximacentauri at 1:03 PM on March 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Thank you all so much for the responses. I don't really want to quit soccer, because we've been playing together for so long and I really have good friends on the team, but I'm going to start avoiding social situations where I know they'll both be at. And you're right- life's too short to deal with this behavior.
posted by Butterflye1010 at 2:10 PM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

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