How can I gently encourage a new friend to give me space?
March 28, 2014 1:18 PM   Subscribe

I recently relocated, and then recently met someone else who had recently moved to town as well. We became friends. I really like her, but she has been continually asking to do things together to the point where that it feels clingy. Even after I turn down multiple invitations because I'm busy, etc., the invites just keep coming without waiting for me to reciprocate. Hints about how busy I am, etc., haven't helped.

For those familiar with attachment styles, I think I'm both avoidant and anxious. In this case, her clinginess is making me want to pull back or even end the friendship. Even though I enjoy spending time with her, the sense of her neediness is making me want to decline invitations now even when I'm free. Is there something I could say to help her take a step back without hurting her feelings? Is there a way I can better deal with my own desire to push her away?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Next time she asks you to do something, you need to say that while you appreciate the invitation, like you said, you're very busy right now, and maybe it would be easier for you to just let her know the next time you have some free calendar space.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:24 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Invite her to something when it's convenient for you. I recommend grocery shopping. "I'm absolutely swamped with work and family and all sorts of crazy, but I miss getting together with you. I know it sounds nuts, but I need to grab a few things at Target, want to meet up there for a bit? We can get a coffee and I can pick up what I need."

This way you kill two birds with one stone, you preserve your fresh friendship and you're not trying to cram too much into an already full schedule.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:35 PM on March 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

Captain Awkward has a phenomenal thread about this.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 1:38 PM on March 28, 2014 [14 favorites]

For those familiar with attachment styles, I think I'm both avoidant and anxious.
Is there something I could say to help her take a step back without hurting her feelings?

Given this set up - no.
If giving her a face saving way out would work, you wouldn't have this problem anymore. You gave ample hints.

She needs your friendship too much and therefore ignores hints, hoping they don't mean anything.

If you want her to take a step back, you need to draw your boundaries very clearly. "Friend, I am a bit overwhelmed by your frequent invites and very busy. It would help me if you let me contact you first. I know that sounds weird but this is how my friendships work best."

And even if you did that, you would have to regularly re-draw your boundaries. But seriously, does that sound fun? To have to constantly keep your guard up?

As someone with a similar mental make up to yours, I want friends who behave more or less naturally within my comfort zone. Providing Teaching moments stresses me out.

Anyway, let this friendship die by continuing to be too busy.

Caveat: Are you sure she is not just an extroverted energetic person who keeps inviting you and others just in case, and the more the merrier, without expectations?
posted by Omnomnom at 1:48 PM on March 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you want to continue being friends and hanging out, then you could try arranging something with her, on your terms, perhaps a couple of weeks out.

Then whenever she invites you somewhere else, you say "I'm busy that night but I'm really looking forward to seeing you for the whateveritis next week".

This reassures her that you still like her and want to see her, and hopefully that reassurance will make her feel less clingy and thus reduce the frequency of the invitations.
posted by emilyw at 1:54 PM on March 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

Are you sure it's neediness? Perhaps she's responding to your "I am too busy but still interested" message by making multiple offers thinking that she'll hit on a slot that works for you, and doesn't recognize that declining makes you uncomfortable.

I'm well in your camp, not hers, when it comes to activities and things. But part of my coping mechanism has been to just decline things and not sweat if it's going to chafe someone. I'm never going to want to go to many things with the same person every week. So if they're going to get bent out of shape about it then it may as well just happen.

So really, I think if you want -gently- you're going about it the only way you can. The best you could add, IMHO, would be a "I am not going to be free for the next week and it makes me feel bad to constantly be saying no to your invitations." Then perhaps you can have a conversation about it - I would be surprised if she WANTS to make you feel crappy by asking you to things.
posted by phearlez at 3:01 PM on March 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was going to add something like emilyw's suggestion - it rebalances your dynamic a bit and instead of just saying no to her invites you are taking action and being clear about when you are available and interested in getting together.

Alternatively, from the Captain Awkward post:

“I am feeling a little over-scheduled right now and need to take a break from making social plans. Can I call you in a couple of weeks when I am more in a hanging-out mood?“
posted by bunderful at 4:00 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I find this tends to occur with new friends a lot. They're getting to know you so they're just proceeding along according whatever is normal for them and sometimes that means they end up testing your boundaries without meaning to. I certainly found this happening with some of my closest friends back when we had just met and we weren't actually close yet. Now of course, they know me well enough to know that I occasionally go a few days before responding to an email and don't always wish to hang out but that doesn't mean I don't care about them.

Firstly, don't panic. I reckon she's really excited about meeting a new nice person after relocating, and as she finds more people and gets more settled she will become less focused on reaching out to you. And just in general I find that with many friendships there is an initial flurry of hanging out before you settle into a less frequent, more comfortable and sustainable rhythm.

Secondly, respond to her as is normal for you. So feel free to decline invitations and accept invitations as feels right to you. She will soon understand that this is how you roll. None of us should have to change our relationship styles in order to fit other people's expectations - adults learn to work with other people's individual relationship styles.
posted by Ziggy500 at 6:31 AM on March 29, 2014

It's quite possible she expects you to say no to most invites. In the same way there is Ask Culture and Guess Culture, there are Ask and Guess Invitations. Some people extend every possible offer, figuring that when you are free and amiable you will accept one. It may not hurt her feelings to be declined at all.

I would tell her exactly what you said here -- don't "hint." Say that you like her, you want to continue to see her, but you are sensitive to imbalances of reciprocity. Reframe this from being about her clinginess to the story of your mutual dynamic. You know you are sensitive to the signals she's sending, and you know she's new in town. You can moderate this by negotiating new protocols with her!

Perhaps you can agree to take turns with invitations, so she knows to only extend a new offer after you've returned the favor. Or she can wait for your cue like bunderful said.
posted by fritillary at 4:10 PM on March 29, 2014

How I have dealt with this:
Schedule something for 2, or 3, or 4 weeks away with her (whatever frequency you would prefer). If she mentions some other event, just say no or redirect, but mention you'll see her 'Thursday week, for coffee, right?'.
And as soon as you have that catchup, again, arrange to meet up with her at the next interval that you feel comfortable with.

Turn it around so that you are the one inviting her to things, but at the frequency you feel comfortable with. If she knows she has scheduled time with you, that will reassure her that she is still important to you.

If she is inviting you to a lot of things, that may just be a way of trying to be friendly and introduce someone new to a town to things. It's easier to be introduced to things while you're new to town.
posted by Elysum at 12:22 AM on March 30, 2014

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