Handling an irresponsible friend
July 13, 2014 4:10 PM   Subscribe

Things have come to a head with a friend, and I want to figure out if I'm right in wanting to cut and run, or if there is something else I should instead be doing. While the friend has her virtues (she's kind, a social butterfly, fun to hang out with), I've come to the conclusion that she is also very irresponsible, and my experiences dealing with this irresponsibility have become a point of stress and frustration in my life.

For a long time, I've overlooked the little things - showing up to places late, spending beyond her budget (and then asking for loans that she only pays back a small portion of), failing to call when she says she will (and then not offering an explanation or apologizing for the missed call until days later),asking for last minute favors (e.g. taking care of her kid with only a few hours of anticipation) - because I've known her for a number if years and she's been supportive during times of personal tragedy. I have tried to similarly be supportive, but feel like I've been giving a lot more than I get (my tragedies have been pretty isolated, while hers are pretty constant).

Following two incidents, however, I feel like things have gotten to the point of being abusive.

Incident 1: She calls late at night very upset but won't discuss what wrong, and asks me to go over to her place. When I get there, I find she has left her child (who is too young for this) alone. I can't get through to her by phone, and am panicking, worried she might harm herself and about what I should do with the child. She finally comes back, and is grateful for my help, but doesn't want to talk right then about what happened, so I go home. I then ask her to call me numerous times that week so we can talk; she'll agree to, but fails to follow through. Eventually, I decide to drop it, as it seems clear she's avoiding the discussion and will never talk about the incident. At the time, I felt like the incident should have been a breaking point, but decided to give her another chance as she had been so distraught.

Incident 2: After not contacting me in any form for a couple of weeks, she calls me to ask if she and her kid can temporarily move in with me at the end of the week. I ask her why the short notice, and the explanation she gives makes it seem she's trying to act more responsibly, so I agree even though I have some misgivings. I get mail addressed to her two days later from a place not nearby, which bothers me as it implies she changed her address to mine before I said yes, so I decide I need to have a conversation with her and set ground rules, etc. before she moves in. The day before the move, I ask her to come to my home within a certain time range so we can talk about everything, and she agrees. She fails to come. She also fails to contact me with an explanation until a few minutes before the end of the (hours-long) timeframe I originally gave, stating that she's been busy all day and needs to rest, and if it won't be a problem for her to call me later.

This was my breaking point. I revoked my acceptance of her moving in, and explained that her failure to contact me was unacceptable given that she was requesting a large favor on short notice. She apologized, and accepted the revocation; we have not communicated since.

I now feel guilty for having revoked an offer of assistance when she is in a time of need, but I also feel like she has been abusing my goodwill, and that she doesn't have a slightest respect for me (not even giving me a phone call to explain she couldn't make the meeting). I personally feel like dropping this relationship - I don't like confronting people close to me, and feel like I'll have to do that repeatedly with her if I wish to keep the friendship and not be abused. On the flip side, if I drop her I'll lose the only friends I currently have (I met all of them through her, and they've know her much longer than me, so I'd expect they'd stick with her).

So - did I handle the moving in situation correctly? Should I continue this relationship or not? And if I do continue the relationship, how should I deal with her going forward (contact her first vs. wait for her to contact me, corner her into a conversation about responsibility vs. just hang out for fun and don't get involved at all with the messy parts of her life, etc.)?

Thanks for any help!
posted by Sakura3210 to Human Relations (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
First, I'd start telling her no. Sounds like you already started that, which is good.

Stop answering in the middle of the night. Don't loan her money. You get the picture. You don't have to cut her off forever in order to stop saying yes to these requests.

Also, next time you see her kid alone without any kind of supervision like that, call the cops.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:22 PM on July 13, 2014 [25 favorites]

You are right to be frustrated. I would not tolerate any more. Also: 2nding call the cops when her child is alone.
posted by harrietthespy at 4:28 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You were wise not to put her up in your home. Poor planning on her part does not constitute an emergency on yours. If finding a place to stay was mission-critical to her, she would've made damn sure to meet you halfway (or more) to make it happen.

She's not holding up her side of the social contract. I think you'll feel much better when you are no longer associating with her.
posted by nacho fries at 4:29 PM on July 13, 2014

Best answer: Nope. You did the right thing. She's an immature narcissist and taking advantage of you. You dodged a serious bullet by not having her live with you. Your part is thinking that showing up for people in that way is healthy and productive and a sign of a deep friendship, and you're seeing that it's not. Try not being her emergency pillow. Don't be vindictive about it. Sounds like there's a lot you can't see and this has piqued your interest. Mind your own damned business. Try not saving the world today.

You can continue the relationship and not help her. Let things be a mess. Not your problem. I pick up on the fact that you must be very easy to reach on the phone. Let her calls go to voicemail. She leaves a crazy message needing your help? Call her back a day later. Her insanity compels you to really deliver as a friend. It's disingenuous, and you're noticing it.
posted by phaedon at 4:31 PM on July 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

And the weird late-night calls, and her mysteriously leaving the kid unattended at that hour, give me a strong vibe of possible substance abuse issues.
posted by nacho fries at 4:32 PM on July 13, 2014 [43 favorites]

If you're worried that your friends would side with her, then strengthen your friendship with them. Maybe meet some of their friends, too. Then, stick to the just hanging out for fun, part. If you can manage that, then I don't see a need to cut her off.

One thing you will need to do is lower your expectations. If she's a known flake, then expect her to be flaky. Don't invite her to things and expect her to turn up on time. If you're having a party, invite her, but don't meet up somewhere else one on one. Don't lend her anything that you can't afford to lose. As others have said, call the police if she leaves her child alone to go off, but also don't offer to babysit or say yes if she asks.

If she's as un-adult as you say, I think it's likely that she will contact you before too long with her latest emergency. To which you can reply, yes, that is such a shame, whatever is she going to do. When she asks for help, say "I'm afraid that won't be possible". I wouldn't bother trying to pin her down about her behaviour. People rarely change, they just change who they treat badly.

Downgrade her to what I'd call "acquaintance" - someone who you know who is fun to see from time to time, but also someone you wouldn't trust in a pinch. Of course, if you can't handle her flakiness and such, it's completely OK to just not deal with it any more. You don't have to keep being friends with someone, ever.
posted by Solomon at 4:48 PM on July 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

the friend has her virtues (she's kind, a social butterfly, fun to hang out with),

Then just hang out with her. Be part of her circle but scale back your calls/texts/expectations in a huge way.

she is also very irresponsible, and my experiences dealing with this irresponsibility have become a point of stress and frustration in my life.

You don't have to take on her crises to be a friend. Offer counsel, offer a glass of wine, offer a noncommittal "that sucks, good luck with it." But don't answer late-night calls or pursue drama.
posted by headnsouth at 4:51 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you know if she has a substance abuse problem? Because she is acting in a similar way to people I have known who do.

I'm worried about her kid, though. Do you know any trustworthy family members of hers that can check in on them? Because what you saw is undoubtedly part of a larger pattern. She might actually hurt herself or the kid; it might be a good idea to call someone if you know where she is now.
posted by emjaybee at 4:52 PM on July 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

Drama and trauma, drama and trauma. Some people live on it. Wave her goodbye.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:56 PM on July 13, 2014

Another voice here saying you did nothing wrong; indeed, you've put up with her emotional blackmail FAR longer than the vast majority of people would or could.

•stop accepting any phone calls or texts from her late at night: empathy does NOT require you to jump out of bed in the middle of the night to be at her beck and call.
•stop lending her money: not another cent, starting right now. Her financial irresponsibility isn't YOUR responsibility.
•stop babysitting, especially stop babysitting on no notice or because she wants to run out somewhere in the middle of the night. And yeah, if she leaves the kid alone call child protective services --- her embarrassment is NOTHING compared to his safety.

And if doing all this means she drops this so-called friendship, consider yourself lucky to be free of this user.
posted by easily confused at 4:57 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I realize you feel some indebtedness to her because she was there for you when you were having some troubles. It seems that your question here is really "have I repaid her kindness enough?", not "should I back away from her as a friend?"

And to answer the first question: It certainly seems, from your telling, that you've given much more than you've received. It's quite possible that she was there for you when you were experiencing drama in your life because she's a drama junkie. In which case, she got at least as much as you did from her kindness when you were having troubles.

If you decide to distance yourself from her, it's going to be difficult. She's going to continue to up the ante - for example, show up on your doortstep with all her worldly belongings instead of giving you a few day's notice she's moving in with you. It will be difficult, but it can be done. Your tongue will be sore from where you bite it.

I would suggest deciding where you want the boundaries to be, tell her those boundaries, and then stick to them. No matter what.
posted by DrGail at 4:58 PM on July 13, 2014

I agree with the above advice, but one thing that wasn't clear to me is why the friend needs to move out. I only wonder if she is trying to leave a partner and that was why she needed a place to stay. While I assume you would have mentioned if that was the case I wanted to assure you that even if she is trying to leave a partner, even if that partner is abusive, you do not have to be her fallback for everything. You can help her with shelter options if that is something necessary. Again, I think you would have said, but I just wanted to encourage you that in general that you do not have to be someone's everything, you can set boundaries to what you are willing to give - phone numbers of shelters, help moving to a new location, or whatever it is that you are okay with, including no contact at all.
posted by dawg-proud at 5:04 PM on July 13, 2014

This sounds really frustrating, not to mention a little unsettling. A few thoughts...

1. You mentioned that you and she share a network of friends. Something tells me they are also at the receiving end of her midnight calls and last minute flake-outs. What about getting in touch with some of those mutual friends to see if they know what's really going on with her?

2. And I say "what's really going on" with her because her erratic behavior makes me think she might be into drugs and is just hiding it decently well most of the time. Leaving your child alone in your house is not normal parental behavior. Avoiding important discussions when entering into agreements that concern the well-being of her child is not normal adult behavior. Do you know if she has any extended family that might be willing to help her out instead of you?

3. Setting boundaries does not make you a bad person. I promise. If she acts like it does, she's not a friend. Period.
posted by Hermione Granger at 5:15 PM on July 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Here's a little test. Just say no to her requests. See if she's still your friend.

Call to talk, or offer to cook her dinner or whatever, but just say no whenever she asks you for anything, especially wackadoodle favors at the last minute.

I suspect that this will sort itself out by petering out. Hopefully, I'm proved wrong.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:41 PM on July 13, 2014

Best answer: Saying no is hard. It can be easier (with practice) if you truly believe that you have a valid reason for refusing. Start by thinking about one type of thing you need to start saying no to...for example, phone calls at night. (It's fine to make a list, but one is a good way to start.) Think of the reasons why: it's stressful, you need rest, you want to be given more notice, you don't like to go out at night, and so on. They don't have to be "good" reasons by anyone else's measure -- just yours. The reasons are for you, not for the friend.

Instead of waiting for your friend to call at night and then declining to do what she asks, tell her now: "I've realized that urgent phone calls at night is not good for me. (Giving a reason is optional.) I won't be taking any more phone calls at night. If you call, it's better for me not to answer." You're telling her what you plan to do; you're not telling her what to do or not do. If she calls before you have a chance to tell her your new boundary, still say no, if you feel able to. You might say, "I can't," and when she asks why not, say "I can't."

You can also talk about things that have already happened, for example, "I felt shocked, worried, and panicky last week when you ________. I don't want to go through that again." Again, just talk about one thing. Later, you can lay out a series of things you won't be doing anymore, if you want to do that.

Here are some other things that I've found helpful when I feel guilty about saying no. 1. I pause a few seconds before even taking a breath to speak. 3-5 seconds feels like a very long time at first, but it's a good way to let them know that I'm not immediately willing. 2. Say um, hmm, or let's see. Pause. Serves the same purpose at #1, and gives me a moment to gather myself. 3. Say, "I'm not sure if that works for me/not sure if I can/not sure (period). Indicates that you're thinking it over. Follow with silence or um, if need be.

Instead of saying a flat no, think of phrases that sound less harsh. "It would be better for me if I didn't," for example. Or, "That won't work for me." Or, I'm sorry, I can't."

When you want to help someone, ask yourself what help they need. Your friend isn't actually being helped when you bail her out. What she needs is to prevent emergencies. I don't know if you can give her that help.
posted by wryly at 5:49 PM on July 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Ugh. My entire old-enough-to-remember childhood, and my teen years were spent with my mom constantly having a stupid ass useless "friend" like this. I mean sorry for the harsh language, but this all sounds straight out of the playbook of several of those people.

They always helped her out in some minor to moderate way, but then they had a guilt-hook and would perpetually do shit like this until one party got fed up and they drifted away.

Whether or not she thinks you "owe" her, or if that's just a guilt thing internal to you because she helped you is irrelevant. this situation will continue on at essentially this same low level burble of drama and tiresome life bullshit until you cut her off. It will never actually get better.

All the problems are pretty much tempests in teapots, and she either lacks the skills or true motivation(and my cynical asshole brain always points to #2 with these types) to actually move forward and solve the problem in more than a duct tape "Fixed it!" kind of way. The only real skill she has is displaying minor problems that are always rolling around somehow as a serious crisis. And from what i've seen, there is never the sort of true crisis in which nothing can truly be fixed because it's flying at you faster than you can shovel... but just a general unwillingness or incapability to deal with the doldrums of day to day life.

You had a moment of clarity when you decided she was irresponsible. That is exactly the case here. Carelessness, and a lack of any actual will or motivation to actually take concrete steps to dig out.

You will never actually help her, because she isn't asking you for help in a way that actually solves a problem. As was said above, if she really needed a place to stay she would have either provided a better explanation than "i was busy" or stopped by to chat or something that's more of a show of good faith than what she did. There's truly being in a crisis or being scatterbrained/ADD and trying to deal with life, and then there's just being a woe is me apathetic water-treader.

Everything solomon said is good advice, but honestly i would just stop talking to this person. If you keep talking to her, you WILL get pulled into her drama web. It always happens, every time. And you will end up painted in to a corner where you have to say no to something in a "rude" way or go along with something you're not ok with, or where she paints something you declined as some horrible not pissing on her when she's on fire sort of thing, or...

And yea, i realize i'm projecting here, but as i said if my mom told me this story i would assume it was about someone from a decade ago. There was a slideshow of faces in my head as i wrote this.
posted by emptythought at 8:06 PM on July 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

The child thing would be an absolute deal breaker for me. I know (oh, how I know) how tough it is to find child care at the last minute in an emergency. That's why parents line up a bunch of people who could take the call - grandparents, neighbors, friends, aunts, uncles. You don't ever leave your kid and hope someone shows up.

I'd walk away from this person without a backward glance. The only possible thing is if you feel she is endangering her child. Then I'd call CPS, and walk away.
posted by 26.2 at 9:07 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Substance abuse and/or borderline personality disorder. (Check out BPDCentral.com). Stop enabling, set boundaries. If the "friends"you are scared of losing are really "friends" (to you AND to her) , they will follow suit or have already chosen to do that which is perhaps why she keeps coming to YOU. Consider going to an Alanon meeting if you suspect substance abuse, you will learn a lot and get a lot of insight and support. If you suspect Borderline personality Disorder (great checklist to determine this on aforementioned BPDcentral.com) buy and read "Stop walking on egg Shells" and stick to firm boundaries. But think hard about if you really wnt or needed this chaos in your life, Good luck!
posted by Lylo at 9:45 PM on July 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. Just to answer a few questions: I'm 98% sure she's not abusing any substances (she'll drink during social events and smokes, but I'm fairly sure that's it). My understanding is her family situation is not great, so she'll turn to her friends for assistance all the time instead. She's also very sweet (so the talking behind my back things seems unlikely).

As I said, I felt terrible at the time of the first incident, and thought about calling the cops, but ended up focusing on trying to track her first out of concern she might do something drastic. I was able to at least get an answer from her on why the kid was alone - per her, she was home when she called, and left when I said I was coming over. Obviously that still unacceptable, but it did give me pause re:calling the cops (in addition to the fact that she does seem to care about had kid very much, had never done this before, etc). Still, I've been left with a bad taste over the whole thing.

I honestly don't think she's malicious, just very irresponsible and self-centered. And while I still feel sorry for her, I agree that my involvement has been unhealthy for us both, so I believe it will best for me to step back.
posted by Sakura3210 at 5:33 AM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I came here to say exactly what Lylo said. A lot of her behaviour sounds depressingly familiar to me (diagnosed with BPD). I think if it were a substance abuse problem and she were decompensating in her ability to hide it, you'd see increasingly erratic behaviour. From what you've said, it seems like the pattern hasn't really become worse; it's the same thing over and over.

I'll echo the worry over the kid though. Untreated BPD sucks to have (if that's what she has, IANAP, etc), but it sucks a whole lot more for the people around them. Especially a young child.

So, yeah, stop engaging in/enabling her stuff, but talk with your friends about whether they're getting these calls too; I somehow doubt that's the only time she's left her child alone like that. Interventions sometimes work. Really all depends on whether you want to go through with that kind of intense situation or not; no judgement attaches whichever way you choose.

That being said, if you think her child is being mistreated/left alone/etc then please call whatever the appropriate service in your area is.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:17 AM on July 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

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