I think I may have to have a serious talk with my frie
March 26, 2013 5:34 PM   Subscribe

Frienship-filter: L. and I have been friends for more than 15 years. The first couple of years, we spent a lot of time together. We were both in a relationship, so it was one of those couples relationship which also became very much about the two of us. After cca 2 years, I moved away to be with the other half of the couple, and stayed away for about 10 years. We have now been in the same place for 5 years (move-away relationship went bust), and I am having trouble with our friendship.

Long (possibly irrelevant- I cannot quite judge) background story first, then questions. Posted from sockpuppet account, cause L. knows the other one.

During our years apart, we would see each other fairly intensely one month per year. I’ve always seen our relationship as one of shared joy and fun, mutual support, general enchantment at the other person’s existence, despite occasional hiccups, as is the case with all of my close relationships. Historically, L. has been an incredible influence for the good in my life: the person I am today is with no doubt indebted to her.

When I moved back, L. was suffering in many ways from various big stressors: she was finishing a very demanding PhD under very difficult and challenging conditions, she had taken on a teenage girl from a highly abusive household, which had led to various problems in her marriage.

I’d returned with some big issues of my own, but one thing was clear straight away: L. was in major crisis. From where I stood, this manifested in various ways: frequent conversations lasting between 2-4 hours which continued or started late at night, frequent break-downs involving tears, shouting, vulgarity (L. is a person who normally would never have countenanced certain words and expressions, in fact, she is rather on the prudish end in this regard), threats of self-violence, absolute self-absorption (either by not hearing or disregarding other people’s problems/input, or else by not allowing it any weight when compared to her problems, regardless of comparative gravity), etc. This was, to me, completely new, and I decided it was clearly a major existential crisis for her and she needed full support regardless of how welcome her appeals were or not. I mean, she was completely different to the L. I had known, who was generous, fun, inspirational. Clearly, something was up – she was (in my own pseudo-psychologizing interpretation of people) depressed.

Long story short: the problems never disappeared. I have also continued to be the go-to person for all sorts of problems, regardless of the hour of the day and night.

About one and a half year ago, I decided that I can no longer make myself available for late-night discussions. I was developing some sort of weird secondary PTSD (if that even exists) and couldn’t sleep for days/nights all agitated about her problems (for some reason, my mind really latches on to stuff like that and keeps going on overdrive about it).

I came close to shut-down mode, and decided things need to change.

So I sent out an email to everybody (she wasn't the only late-night caller) saying that I have trouble sleeping (true) and therefore I would be muting my phone after 10pm (it does usually take me 2-3 hours to wind down after an average day – I know this is unusual). Most people just stopped calling after that time. In L.’s case, this didn’t even register. She did her usual calling routines, and now that I wasn't answering, that was up to 20 times a night. Each time, I’d follow up the next day with a phone call, asking what was up (mostly, L. would be all surprised – “Oh, nothing, I didn’t call you. – Oh, did I? It was nothing, I had just discovered this one thing which is remotely connected to something which you were interested in 6th grade) and re-iterating how I decided to mute my phone after 10 pm – so I wasn’t going to pick it up.

It is now almost two years after that decision. She isn't calling that often any more. We had a couple of big falling outs during this time which I think are due to L. feeling aggrieved by my decision (I cannot otherwise explain them). During the last few months, late-night calls seemed to peter out. After a new (and ignored) surge, a couple of weeks ago my phone went off again at 1 pm. I didn’t answer. Minutes later, my front door bell went. Stupidly, I answered. It was L., coming to rehash an unhappiness which we had already spent many hours talking about that day (same arguments, same questions over and over again for 5 hours). She’d come to go over them again. I sat in my kitchen like an idiot, both angry with her and feeling like I wanted to give her a hug (she was crying with total abandon). As per usual, she was hugely apologetic and pleasant-making the day after. Then she left for a week. Two nights ago she returned. Last night, I got 6 phone calls on my mobile at 11 pm. I could hear them, but didn’t answer. Immediately after, I started to get an avalanche of skype messages. Today, when I opened Skype, I discovered the last message, sent after midnight: “Are you angry with me”?

At this point, I have said to her upwards of 50 times that I won’t pick up my phone after 10pm. Explained upwards of 20 times why not (for whatever reason, if I discuss troublesome things after a certain hour, either my own or someone else’s, I don’t sleep. At all. Like, I go 36 hours or more without sleeping). She has agreed with me that people who call about all sorts of random shit after a certain time should not call and should be ignored. Hints and allusions don’t cut it any more. How do I say to her “Please don’t call after 10 pm unless you have a life-or-death emergency (she has a little girl, and shit happens, so I do want to be available for life-and-death issues at any point in time, but not for anything less)? Keeping in mind that she seems to be in the frame of mind where saying something like this is likely to come across as passive-aggressive (she has already cut off two people for similar things), and also that she is (in my estimate at least) not recovered from all the stuff she had to go through for a while. Plus a number of the other things going on are really atrociously unfair and tough to bear like in all our lives, it seems. So, how can I say, kindly “back off, though I still love you and you are/were one of the amazing people in my life”? Added difficulty: there are quite a few other things which I am not mentioning here but which I am semi-bitter about – how do I keep my mind off those?
posted by laceysocks to Human Relations (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Wait, who's being passive-aggressive? Oh wait, the prize goes to: It's her! She's the one being passive-aggressive by blatantly ignoring everything you ever say. "L., I am sorry, but I can't have you in my life any more. Best of luck and thanks for all the great times." You send this to her in an EMAIL so it is there in writing and also you won't have to deal with her insane fallout. She doesn't listen to any words from your mouth, obviously, so you send the email, block all her numbers, cut internet-ties with her, and don't let her in the house if she turns up on your doorstep.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 5:42 PM on March 26, 2013

Best answer: It sounds like she's been in sustained crisis for years. That's not good and I hope that she's getting professional help. You are not her therapist and it's not fair for her to use you as one, especially for problems that are so persistent and dramatic.

But, to answer your question - would it help to set your phone voicemail and Skype to auto respond with a message that includes, "If it's after 10PM whateverstandardtime, I have this device turned off. I will return your call/message tomorrow"? This will only work if she truly has no memory of being told you're not going to be available, which is frankly, unlikely.

For her own good, her energies have to be redirected toward someone who can help her at the level she needs (yet another MeFi therapy suggestion). You cannot and should not be that person and there's nothing wrong with sending her that message in a compassionate, but consistent way.
posted by quince at 5:51 PM on March 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Does L stay up late drinking by any chance? This sounds exactly like an ex friend of mine who did that (with added xanax and/or Ambien most nights) particularly the part where she pretends it didn't happen/ doesn't remember it happening the next day.
posted by fshgrl at 5:52 PM on March 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Hints and allusions don’t cut it any more. How do I say to her “Please don’t call after 10 pm unless you have a life-or-death emergency?

hints and allusions will get you nowhere. you can just say exactly what you said here in the quotes followed up by "I still love you and you are/were one of the amazing people in my life". you've sent an email telling people you won't answer your phone after 10pm when what i think you needed to do is the above because she is the one driving you nuts. be direct and talk to the person who is driving you nuts rather than making it general and emailing everyone. your friend is clueless and probably needs to be hit over the head with a hammer (a metaphorical one that is).

honestly though, i'm not sure i'd want to be in a friendship with someone like this. she is using you as a therapist for all her drama and is acting like an emotional vampire. it's not surprising she has cut others out of her life once they set some strong boundaries with her, which doesn't sound passive-aggressive but rather quite direct, and are no longer feeding her drama and self-absorption.
posted by wildflower at 6:02 PM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Boundaries, now.

Last night, I got 6 phone calls on my mobile at 11 pm.

a couple of weeks ago my phone went off again at 1 pm. I didn’t answer. Minutes later, my front door bell went... It was L.

This sort of behavior is crazy stalky and seriously not okay. And it's messing with your own mental health and most likely your physical health too if the lost sleep is any indication.

How do I say to her "Please don’t call after 10 pm unless you have a life-or-death emergency"?

You say: "L, Please don’t call after 10 pm unless you have a life-or-death emergency. You are messing with my life by doing this, and it needs to stop."

Your friend almost certainly needs professional help; help which you are not qualified to give. You being her personal dumping ground isn't doing her any favours at this point, as evidenced by her dumping her stuff on you over and over again but never actually getting past it. I don't know if she's seeing a therapist or not but the best thing you can do is steer her in that direction.

In the mean time, boundaries, like, yesterday.

IANAPsychiatrist, but your post suggests a lot of codependent behavior. This is bad for you and ultimately doesn't help her either. Take it from someone who has been in a similar situation: she needs more help than you can give.

I'm sorry; I know how much this sucks. I'm not suggesting you flat out dump her, but she needs to go and get her stuff sorted before you can re-establish anything like a healthy friendship.
posted by Broseph at 6:09 PM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: With thanks to unremembered user + cortex...

fshgirl - yes, she does. Though I am hard pressed to say if she drinks
to allay her problems, or if (some) of her problems are due to the
drinking, or if there is a a vicious circle there...

quince: Could you tell me how to do this? (or some pointers, where to
look for instructions?) This is a really great idea, don't know why it
hadn't occurd to me. "If it's after 10PM whateverstandardtime, I have
this device turned off. I will return your call/message tomorrow"?

Turgid dahlia - one of the problems with that: first, I do really love
this person, who is more like a sister to me (despite of what my
posting makes her sound like). She is also excellent in many ways - my
feeling is just that she is one of the lovely ones made difficult by
circumstances we could all fall prey to (like I have, too, for years),
but never managed to pull herself out of this. I don't know, I just
feel we live in a tough world which makes it easy for any/ all of us
to put our worst foot forward... I must admit though, a part of me
feels like you have taken the words right out of my mouth.

So just to counter that part: one of my aims is to be firm and kind...
firm enough so that stuff stops and I don't go crazy, without being so
rough on her that she goes crazy... whilst kind enough to at the same
time preserve some future "isn't it strange how life led us down a
path which made us not be friends" line... I really do love this
person, and could see myself easily a doddering old lady rushing down
to her house in 40 years' time...

Thank you very much for your answers.
posted by laceysocks at 6:31 PM on March 26, 2013

Best answer: [The exclamation points that follow aren't intended as me being angry and loud, just a little exasperated. Picture me shaking my head and rolling my eyes while saying it.]

You're angry! You should be angry! You're afraid of setting her off, but you should just tell her that this makes her angry.

If, deep down, she doesn't really feel like she knows how you feel, it will just make her a tiny bit crazier. Telling her you're angry might not be the easiest thing, but I think it was time a long time ago for you to let her know. You have feelings too! If she knows you also sometimes have strong feelings, it might make her feel less alone, even!

Then, after telling her you're angry, make sure she knows you are still her friend and you love her. Tell her you see yourself coming over to visit even 40 years from now.

One idea: Maybe schedule times the two of you can talk, and give her a lovely little notebook with attached pen to collect her thoughts until that time.
posted by amtho at 6:45 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have my phone off every night between 11 p.m. and when I get out of work. Mostly this is because I work in a basement and have no cell reception, but also it's because my mother would insist on calling me around 7 a.m. when I am getting ready for work and don't need the distraction. I told her and told her not to and dragged her to my therapist to hash this out in mediation...but by god, SHE WILL CALL WHEN SHE WANTS TO, no matter what I say be damned. And "emergency" is whenever she wants to call.

I do not leave it on "in event of emergency." If an emergency happens, then too bad, I won't get the message until it's too late*. But odds are a lot higher that she'll call and throw off my trying to get ready for work than an emergency is going to happen, so....I'm playing the odds. Making sure she CAN'T call is the only thing that's worked.

* my voicemail does say "call work number if it's between 8 and 5" anyway.

But...there are a lot more problems with L and this friendship than just her total inability to take no for an answer here. Whatever drama is going on with her, (a) it sounds like she's turned into a person you don't like very much, and (b) the drama is not improving whether or not you put tons of energy into being there for her.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:02 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm really torn about even giving this advice, because it could backfire terribly, due to the nuances of her personality and your relationship with her that aren't apparent from the outside.
But here goes...
The most loving thing you've said about her is that she could be and was much better than this, not too long ago. This implies that you still hold an ideal of her, that she could still regain if circumstances and her will allowed. That is very very powerful stuff, and speaks to your generosity of spirit, that you're not allowing the immediate past to color your long term perception of her.
If, gracefully as you can, you could tell her that:
a. you hate to see the excellent, generous glorious her get dragged down so interminably.
b. you know that that person is still in there.
c. getting those qualities back out on top could go a long way to regaining her self-value and self-love.
Because, if your armchair psychologist diagnosis is correct, she's depressed and also stuck. The entrenched behavior of calling when you've said in so many ways, and so many times, says she's still in the place she was when the crises started. That may be why she's taken so long to heed your requests/proscribing. If I'm allowed my own armchair psychologizing, i'd suggest looking into PTSD, primarily the last symptom:
* an expectation that one's future will be somehow constrained in ways not normal to other people.
This is what can get you really stuck, after you've somehow survived massive upset/emotional trauma, into a non-productive stasis of abiding, rather than thriving. Because your brain tells you that nothing will ever go right, in the future, it is better not to try to change anything in the extremely dysfunctional status quo.

From what you've described, you've done all you can to enforce the phone rules. If you have any generosity left for her, I'd try to help wedge her out of the traumatic rut.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 7:32 PM on March 26, 2013

Best answer: Are you seeing anyone (a medical professional, that is) about your own problems? This line: ...my mind really latches on to stuff like that and keeps going on overdrive about it sounds very familiar to me. It's possible you have anxiety issues of your own, and I really encourage you to at least look into therapy.
posted by orrnyereg at 7:49 PM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It really sounds like she has a drinking problem. It's kind of you to try to give her the benefit of the doubt as to why she is drinking, but at this point, it doesn't matter anymore. If she can call you 20 times in a night, and then deny it the next day, then she's having a pretty serious break from reality. Whatever her problems were beforehand, drinking is her problem now, and none of the other issues will go away until she sorts that one out. It's very likely that she is in denial about how much it effects her life as well - she has no evidence that she's made 20 inappropriate calls, so it's easy for her to pretend that they just didn't happen. If you can show her what she's doing, and convince her to get treatment for this, that would be about the best thing you can do.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:55 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You are not her therapist or her safety value. Stop feeding her attention/drama/bad behaviors/whatever she's got going.

- Turn off the phone and don't return her calls after your established time. You are rewarding the wrong behavior. If she genuinely needs to speak to you, then she'll call during the times you answer the phone.

- Stop explaining it. She already knows. She doesn't care. Stop wasting your time.

And if she cuts you off? Well so be it. You can't make people into the friends (or spouse or family) you want. If she can't be the kind of supportive friend you need, then it's okay to let her go her own way.
posted by 26.2 at 11:03 PM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Agree that she likely has a substance abuse problem, if it wasn't her primary problem it sounds like it is becoming so. Drinking to the point of blacking out on a regular basis is totally abnormal and bad. If she is acting poorly while under the influence then just pretending it never happened? also a problem. She's probably already lost a bunch of friends over it. Sit her down, show her the call records of the 20 calls and in a loving way say "the way you act when you're drunk at night is a problem. I know you don't really remember but here is what is happening. This happens a lot and you deny it and that is the same thing as calling me a liar. I love you but I don't want you to call me 100 times a night and I will not tolerate being called a liar. Can you see that? How can we deal with this?"

Unfortunately this will most likely end in her cutting you out of her life, ironically, but you have to try to leave the door open to being friends again in the future when she's sober. And yeah, none of the problems are going to improve until she stops drinking.

Either way she'll stop calling you all night long.

Also if she's seeing a doctor consider that she's using prescription drugs (sleeping pills, tranquilizers etc) in addition to alcohol and that many of the other falling outs and disagreement you've had were because she was off her face on something. A Xanax and red wine cocktail on an empty stomach could make a nun curse up a blue streak.
posted by fshgrl at 11:11 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you don't want to talk to her on the phone, don't answer the phone. You don't have to have specific times of day that you are locked into because this one person won't respect your boundaries, just turn your phone off.

If she comes to your house and you don't want to see her, say "this isn't a good time. I will call you when I have some time to talk."

If she starts rehashing something you've already talked about, then say "we have already talked about X and I don't want to talk about it anymore."

She sounds awful, regardless of what her issues might be, she's treating you horribly. However, since you say you want to keep her in your life, and she has zero self-control, you have to be the absolute boss of the relationship if you don't want it to keep dragging you down. Don't get drawn in. It's hard, but that's what you have to do. You're not her therapist. When she tries to draw you in to her drama, say "I've already talked with you about this and it hasn't helped. Consider talking to a professional about it."

People walk all over you when you let them. People ignore your boundaries when you don't defend them. And if you're constantly defending them, then those people are toxic and need to not be in your life.
posted by headnsouth at 4:24 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you very much for your answers - I marked some as best, these resonated particularly for one reason or the other (for instance, I never thought about the drinking issue, but now you mentioned it, it makes sense - she spends many nights, I think, just sitting in a fairly miserable and dingy smoking room, drinking, smoking, playing games on her phone. It breaks my heart). All comments though are really appreciated and have given me something to thinking about.

One thing - I absolutely agree that therapy (for both of us!) would be a good idea, but it is a bit of a non-starter where we live (not US, and therapy is almost unheard of around here). I have, in fact, recommended she look for a therapist years ago (it was clear fairly quickly that I was way out of my depth with her problems and her extreme reactions to them), and she did, but came up empty-handed after a few abortive attempts (a couple of really funny therapy-fail stories are the only result). So probably the way to go would be some books /internet resources, just to maybe learn a few techniques of emotion-management (for instance, so she can sit with her internal upheaval until the next day, by which time it is frequently gone) and some self-soothing. Do you have any recommendations which I could sort of transmit to her (plus maybe for me)? We do exchange books and resources.

Again, thank you all.
posted by laceysocks at 9:25 AM on March 27, 2013

Journaling is a classic, but it sounds like it wouldn't be enough in this case. Still, it might be a good place to start.
posted by amtho at 10:09 AM on March 27, 2013

To follow-up, for the phone, I'd just make my outgoing voicemail message mention that I do not answer the phone after 10pm. For Skype, I think putting in an autoresponder requires some programming know-how, so I don't have good suggestions for that (out of my depth). Good luck!
posted by quince at 2:28 PM on March 27, 2013

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