How do I get my friend to stop clinging?
December 31, 2014 12:37 PM   Subscribe

An old long-distance friend continues to cling to the last shreds of our friendship, but I checked out of it years ago. The slow fade hasn't worked, and I don't want to hurt her by "breaking up" - she seems too fragile and needy. I don't know what to do, and I feel stuck and guilty. Weird special details within.

This was me, in 2008, asking about the same friend.

Since that question, nearly seven years ago, not much seems to have changed with her. She still lives with her parents, she never finished that degree, she doesn't really have a career, I'm not sure if she's got much of a social life or any hobbies. We had a few serious "are you okay?" conversations between then and now, but they didn't really go anywhere and I didn't feel comfortable pushing further. At some point between then and now she was in treatment for anxiety, but I don't know to what extent.

It's strange and sad and hard to describe, how she's faded over the years. She's not the same person I was good friends with fifteen years ago, and something just doesn't seem right with her. Sometimes I wonder if she has some sort of illness that I don't know about. She often speaks with a sad, tired, tentative tone to her voice. She has a tendency to do things that seem a little out of touch, like writing the dates on emails and sending me coupons for stores that have no locations in my area. Hanging out with her feels like spending time with an elderly relative who doesn't get out much. The past few times we've gotten together, I felt like I was constantly trying to get a conversation going, while she just meekly giggled the whole time. It seems like she doesn't realize, or believe in, her own agency. I can't really figure her out.

I don't really talk to her much anymore. I tapered off the calling and writing, but we still got together when I was in town. At first, I was just naturally drifting away without realizing it; later, it became more deliberate. It just stopped feeling like a friendship to me: we weren't connecting, she didn't contribute to conversations, it felt like there was nothing really there - other than her need.

Yet she keeps clinging. I mentioned in my previous question that she wanted to spend time with me nearly every day when I was in town. That hasn't changed. I'm usually in town for Christmas, so when that time rolls around she starts calling. A lot. Multiple times a day, sometimes. She calls my phone, she calls my parents' land line, she calls my mom's cell phone, sometimes one right after the other. Typically I'll make plans to get lunch with her, but the day afterward she starts calling again. I've tried to not answer or return her calls immediately, hoping she'd realize I wasn't always available but would get in touch soon enough, but it just makes her call more. She's done this every Christmas for several years - I've stopped letting her know about my other trips, because I know she'd do the same thing.

I didn't visit my hometown this Christmas, due to other obligations. She emailed me about a week earlier, asking if we could hang out. I emailed back, saying that I wouldn't be in town, but maybe some other time? A few days later, she called and left a voicemail asking if we could get together. I didn't call back, figuring she'd check her email at some point. She then showed up at my parents' house with a gift for me (I've been telling her for years to stop giving me Christmas gifts), asking my mom if I was in town. If she weren't so meek and sad and unassuming, that would be creepy. As it is, it just pisses me off. It pisses me off that she either didn't check her email (when it was her chosen way to make contact) or ignored my response (and yes, I know there's always a chance the email didn't go through, but I doubt this was the case), and it pisses me off that she's effectively dragging my mother into it, even if that's not her intention. (My mother, for the record, thinks I should stay friends with her.)

My heart breaks for her. But pity is no basis for a friendship, and it's all I've got left. Everything I treasured about our friendship is long gone. I've had my own struggles with mental illness, so I know the value of sticking by someone who's going through hard times. However, it's been like this for years and I don't think I'll ever get my friend back.

I feel like an awful, awful person. But I'm tired of her. I don't like spending time with her. I don't like avoiding her either. I feel like I should be able to suck it up and go out to lunch with her once or twice a year, and I feel like a supreme asshole for not wanting to do even that anymore. We sit there, and it's awkward, and I feel like I'm doing community service, and I feel horrible for feeling that way and for not being the friend she thinks I am.

Because we're long-distance and were seeing each other only a couple times a year to begin with, it's sort of impossible to completely fade - there's not enough time for the message to get across. I don't want to explicitly end the friendship, because I think it'll really hurt her, and I don't want to be Not Friends. I want that sort of dormant, outgrown friendship where you're excited to see each other if you happen to be in the same place at the same time, but you both know you've moved on. I want her to move on from me.

I suppose I'm looking for advice on how to get her to dial back, to stop acting needy, to accept our friendship on my terms, but without ending the friendship. And maybe reassurance that I'm not a monster.

If it matters: we're both women in our thirties. She has Facebook but hasn't used it in over a year (and doesn't seem to have gotten the hang of it in the first place) so we can't take things there.

Thanks for your advice, as always.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Lordy, she sounds almost stalkerish in her persistence.

This may sound harsh, but: you are not required to respond to people. You have a phone for your benefit, not for other peoples' benefit: you are in no way required to answer the thing just because someone calls. You have a door & door locks for your benefit, not for other people: you are not required to open it just because somebody knocks.

Stop all contact with her. No need to tell her so, but just totally and completely stop responding to anything she does --- ignore her calls, texts, emails, anything else. Unfriend her on facebook. Block her on everything and everywhere you can. Ask your parents to send back that gift, unopened, or else they can just trash it. You aren't required to spend time with her when you go to your hometown, nor are you even required to let her know when you will be there.

You aren't responsible for her sadness, she is.
posted by easily confused at 12:48 PM on December 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

Have you made it explicitly clear that the plans you make for your time in town are the only plans you'll have time to spend with her? It sounds like you do a lot of avoidance and not-calling, but it might be better to say, "Hey, I'm so glad I'll have Tuesday morning to see you, because I'm so busy that I won't be able to fit in any more than that."
posted by xingcat at 12:50 PM on December 31, 2014 [10 favorites]

Can you just tell her you're not going to your hometown again? Every year? And if she turns up on their doorstep and you're discovered, "I'm so sorry. It's been a rough year and I just needed to be a hermit and have some alone time with my mum. When I'm feeling more social I'll give you a call. Take care." Don't call. Ever.
posted by taff at 12:51 PM on December 31, 2014

I emailed back, saying that I wouldn't be in town, but maybe some other time?

You're not an awful person because this friendship doesn't work for you. However, you need to get over your own politeness/manners approach to this because it's not serving you well and doing a bad job at setting expectations with your former friend. If you don't want to see her, you do not need to see her. Absolutely. But I think it will be more effective/useful for you to not leave doors open (especially if you think she may have a mental illness or cognitive issues) like this.

So, let's say you'd like to get together with her once on Xmas but not at other times. You can do this if you want. At the same time, if you know it's "leading on" your former friend that you might still be interested in the friendship you may need to pull the bandaid off and be unavailable. Period. I feel like what you are describing is you hoping she'll take the hint while you're actually saying you'll get together with her. This is a mixed message at best and isn't good for either of you.

I want that sort of dormant, outgrown friendship where you're excited to see each other if you happen to be in the same place at the same time, but you both know you've moved on. I want her to move on from me.

Yep, I feel you here but you can't control other people and what you seem to want is for her to be different while you stay the same and do the same things (or hint at things but don't say them outright). I also really hate conflict and would be awkward in this situation as well but I think I'd go with the "I'm going to say this once and then I'm going to act the way I said I would" approach.

So "Hey I'd love to see you for lunch but I have no other time for getting together when I am home" and then you meet her for lunch and ignore all her other (I agree, excessive) attempts at contact. Boundaries. She may not respect them but that's sort of on her. I'm sorry that things didn't go differently a long time ago, but that ship has sailed. And I think you can argue that not being more direct is actually more hurtful in the longer run than one painful exchange and then more honest future interactions.
posted by jessamyn at 12:52 PM on December 31, 2014 [18 favorites]

Be honest and tell her. And after that don't talk to her again if creepy behavior continues.

While nothing like your friend, I sometimes keep in touch with people for longer because I assume they are busy and might have forgotten about me (compounded by the fact that I am busy and often forget I ever contacted them and that this contact was ignored). While again not the same, some people need a clear black and white sign that you don't want to talk to them.

I might also think "gee they seem upset with me. Maybe if I keep showing I care, they'll tell me why so we can talk about it and hopefully move past it"

Be kind to her and make it clearer.
posted by cacao at 1:05 PM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would say that it would be a deep and very important human kindness to this person, with whom you share a history even if she doesn't give you anything in the present, to make a bit of room in your life, just as you might with an unwell relative. Complete social death is a terrible thing. If you directly "break up" with her, the benefit to you is much smaller than the potential detriment to her. Protect your boundaries while you're there by giving her specific times you can meet and put up with the annoyance of too many messages knowing you're lucky you have whatever she does not that allows you to go ahead in life. The same problems that you see in her lack of social skills with you are probably preventing her from living her life; this is a sad thing but if we aspire to be a village it's not punishable by total banishment from society. This woman sounds desperate not to let her last remaining tie to the world be severed. If you've ever wanted to do good for strangers as a volunteer, count this as your kind, good work in the world in a similar way. I'd put up with the annoyance and think of it as my contribution to karma.
posted by third rail at 1:24 PM on December 31, 2014 [88 favorites]

Anon, what you want isn't going to happen.
I don't want to explicitly end the friendship, because I think it'll really hurt her, and I don't want to be Not Friends. I want that sort of dormant, outgrown friendship where you're excited to see each other if you happen to be in the same place at the same time, but you both know you've moved on. I want her to move on from me.
I'm sorry to have to say this to you, and my advice is going to run counter to the "be kind" advice you're getting from others.

Your former friend is sick, remember? Not only that, but she has exhausted your patience with her and your affection for her. That dormant, outgrown friendship isn't possible, and you can't count on her to move on as long as she can get away with harboring any hope of reconciliation. You can't control her, and she'll continue to cling if you show any sign of tolerance toward her, because it sounds like you're the only person she has left in her life aside from parents who are probably as sick of her as you are.

That's not your problem, though, so it's up to you to tell her to fuck off. I know that sounds harsh, flippant, and contemptuous. I know it isn't what you want to do, for reasons that are none of my business. I still think you should do it, and that you'll feel better about this once you've made a clean break and burned the bridge behind you.
posted by starbreaker at 1:25 PM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

You don't have to continue to be friends with this woman if you don't want to but it would be very kind of you if you did. However, if you do remain friends then you need to set and enforce some clear boundaries so that she doesn't drive you crazy.

See her once at Christmas. Take her to see a movie instead of lunch so that you can still enjoy yourself regardless of her deteriorating conversation skills. Be firm that you aren't available to spend any more time with her than that.

Give her phone number a custom ring tone in your phone set to Silent and/or use the Mr. Number app to screen her calls.

If you don't want to go completely no-contact in between Christmases but also don't want to invest a lot of time in maintaining the friendship, just forward her an email joke or funny picture or whatever every couple of months.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:34 PM on December 31, 2014 [13 favorites]

so it's up to you to tell her to fuck off

The friend is not well and the advice given above is just plain cruel. Third rail has the right idea.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 1:41 PM on December 31, 2014 [32 favorites]

Pity is an under-rated virtue. So once a year, arrange for lunch and a movie. Smile, come prepared to narrate your doings for a rapt audience.

The script is pretty easy, "I'd love to see you, I'm super-busy and I can see you for lunch an a movie on X date." Then you don't answer the calls, or reply to texts or emails, etc.

When she calls, chat for a few minutes, then say, "It was great talking to you, I won't keep you, have a great day!"

You control this 100%, it's not so hard to be kind.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:48 PM on December 31, 2014 [13 favorites]

I don't think it would be kind to tell her to just fuck off, but I think it would be fine to keep her as a distant friend - see her once a year and occasionally touch base by email the rest of the time. She sounds lonely, and she also sounds draining. I think you can be kind while at the same time taking care of yourself.

Jacqueline's advice to socialize with your friend at a movie is a good one. When you come home for Christmas, go out with your friend to a movie, or a play, or a museum, or anyplace else where she can enjoy your company but you do not have to carry on a conversation. I know a couple of people that I will do this kind of structured activity with mostly so that there is no obligation to provide good conversation (or be socially "on") on anyone's part.

It would be good karma to maintain the friendship, but it's fine to set firm boundaries on the friendship and scale back your interactions to once a year in structured activities and the occasional email. You can't really help anyone unless they also want to help themselves, and it sounds like you really did try. Your friend might well pull herself out of whatever rut she's in, eventually, but no-one else can do it for her.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:52 PM on December 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

Your friend sounds exactly like someone (friend of my best friend) I knew in college. She dropped out, lives with her parents, and doesn't really have any friends. She is timid and out of touch and clingy. She is also heavily medicated for schizophrenia that manifested in a bad way in college around the time my friend met her.

Have you spoken to her parents? You could let them know you moved on in your life years ago, and ask them what's going on so you can decide how to proceed with ending the relationship.
posted by zennie at 1:52 PM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

You need to ask her directly for what you want. Call or email her and tell her the following:
Hi Friend,

I've never mentioned this before, but I find your constant attempts at communication really exhausting. I'm happy to spend an afternoon with you when I am in town and free, and I will let you know when I am available.

Please do not call or email me if you haven't heard from me first. Do not call my mother at either of her phone numbers and do not appear at her house uninvited.

It's important to me that my friends are able to respect my boundaries. If you cannot abide by my requests I'm afraid that I will be unable to see you in the future.

I wish you all the best, Anon.
It's not as protectively kind as some of the suggestions above, but it's also not as harsh as starbreaker's advice. If it works, it will use your friend's issues to your advantage to get what you want. A properly socially-adjusted person would take an email/conversation like this as a slap-in-the-face frienddumping and never talk to you again. But, your friend is not properly socially-adjusted and is likely desperate for her time with you and therefore will do whatever you ask in order to be able to continue to spend time with you.

Yes, using your company as a kind of currency is a little Machiavellian, but she is not being respectful to you at all.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:03 PM on December 31, 2014 [9 favorites]

This sounds similar to a relationship, and if we've learned one thing from The Love Affairs Of Nathaniel P., it's that the "Slow Fade" doesn't work, it just makes the other person try harder. Her need for you in her life makes it more like an end-stage failing love affair than a two-sided friendship. People are always looking for that magical technique that will let a relationship come to a mutual end, so that the other person will "get the message," or just painlessly lose interest. I think you need to accept that she's never going to do so, and just like in a relationship you can't let it go forever for fear of hurting her feelings. (I think that ship has sailed, TBH.)
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:10 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I suppose I'm looking for advice on how to get her to dial back, to stop acting needy, to accept our friendship on my terms, but without ending the friendship. And maybe reassurance that I'm not a monster.

You're not a monster, but you can't make anyone on this earth do anything at all, much less something they very obviously do not at all want to do, and may not even be capable of.

I recently had an awkward, stilted, totally "off" visit with someone who used to be the very closest of my friends, and the unpleasantness was due in part to my being quite ill at the time and not fully admitting the extent of it to myself. I thought I was totally going to rally, and frankly I just couldn't. I was rotten company.

Now in my case the situation was temporary, and our friendship will be fine. But your friend sounds like someone suffering from some level of ongoing illness, given the behavior you describe as well as the apparently abrupt change in her personality however many years ago. She also sounds like someone who might not totally understand how she's coming across or what her limitations are.

You are right to draw boundaries wherever you need them; however, it's worth reminding yourself that your friend literally may not be physically or mentally capable of being more social or more entertaining. She isn't being this way to spite you. She likely has some idea of how she's coming across, and how the friendship is foundering, but keeps hoping that more time and effort will fix it. Sparklemotion's letter is a good idea; she needs to know how you're feeling and that her efforts are NOT doing what she'd hoped. But she deserves compassion, not a "fuck off." Jesus.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:13 PM on December 31, 2014 [8 favorites]

I think you have two choices:
1) Continue as you have been, without closing any final doors on this friendship, but still worrying about it/her. This involves you continuing to tolerate some unwanted behaviors that are coming from a place of caring on her part.
2) Be honest with her and move on. "Jane, I'm sorry to say it, but I'm not feeling our friendship anymore. We have grown apart and I don't see us reconciling." Then remove her from your phone, filter her email to trash, do what you need to do to stop thinking about her. Like you said, pity is not friendship.

Speaking as someone who's been silently abandoned and held out hope of reconciliation/been confused if it's maybe something I did and need to make amends about, please strongly consider option 2). Then time can begin its healing process.

Honestly, I don't think your hope of seeing her once a year and being on friendly terms is going to pan out.
posted by xiaolongbao at 2:36 PM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I learned a long time ago that not liking everyone does not make me a bad or awful person. I used to be so overly nice to people who I didn't much like that I found myself often times being used and abused by these people. I came to terms that even if someone wasn't a bad person and just in fact annoying to me for some reason it was ok for me not to want them in my life or to go out of my way to be their friend.

If you saw this person on a regular basis I would tell you it is ok to cut contact with her and feel unashamed in doing so. Remember you don't have to be friends with people you don't like or care about. It doesn't make you a bad person as long as you still treat people with respect and kindness. That being said, you seem to care about this person to some degree and you see her what, once or twice a year? That hardly seems like a major inconvenience in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps keeping things cordial but distant in your dealings with her is an option. As others have suggested prior to meeting with her be clear that you have x amount of time to hang out with her but the remaining time you are in town you will not be available by phone or for additional meet ups. Then if she calls, don't answer the phone. Reply with a simple text message, I can't talk now. I will try to give you a call when I am less busy. Have a great day/week/holiday.
posted by teamnap at 2:48 PM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think it would be really harsh to tell your friend that her attempts at contacting you are "exhausting", as suggested above. I'm relatively healthy mental health wise compared to the woman described, and if someone told me something like that, it would trigger some anxiety. I would feel embarrassed and guilty that I had unknowingly frustrated someone so much.

OP, you have been trying to be polite and in doing so, you have given signals to this woman that suggest that all is well. I think that third rail's advice is great. How hard is it to set aside three hours a year to meet up for coffee?

In the meantime, you could send her an email like,
"Hi Daphne,
sorry that we couldn't meet up at Christmas time. I'll get in touch with you when I am back in [hometown] and we can get coffee. For now, could we please keep our contact to email only? I'm finding it hard to stay on top of all the phone calls etc. Email is the best way to contact me.

Happy New Year!"
posted by kinddieserzeit at 2:56 PM on December 31, 2014 [16 favorites]

Wow, I'm not generally a softie but I think some of the advice above is way harsh. You've been communicating with this girl for years and your attempts to passively fade the friendship have been ignored. If you now tell her some variation of "Your constant attempts at communication are exhausting," I think she would be seriously hurt.

I know this is not your problem but I'm assuming you once held her in your heart, so I think you should make one last attempt to urge her to seek professional help. Here's a script -
"Friend -
I've known you and cared about you for a long time. Over the last decade I've become increasingly worried about your mental health. You are a kind and wonderful person but you seem to have difficulty connecting with other people and I feel pressure because you seem to place an exorbitant amount of value in our friendship. This is sad to me because when I spend time with you I feel like you aren't the same person I was once so close with. I want you to be happy. As your friend I'm urging you to see a psychiatrist. I can no longer be your only social outlet because it is not healthy for either of us. Please don't contact me unless I contact you first. I wish you all the best, and if you do seek help please let me know because I will be rooting for you.
[if you are willing to help her make the calls - offer to here]

And by the way - from what you describe it sounds like she may have borderline personality disorder or some other severely debilitating mental illness. Good luck.
posted by pintapicasso at 3:25 PM on December 31, 2014 [18 favorites]

The thing that is exhausting for me is when I don't clarify my own limits of what I will and won't do. And then, it is completely impossible for me to know what my limits actually are. I would begin by tackling all your beliefs and guilt about the situation: that you need to figure out what is wrong with her, that you need to help her, that you are the only person she has in her life (impossible to know), that she has dragged your mother into it (sounds like this is not a problem for your mom), that you are required to visit with her, take her calls, answer her emails, be her saviour in any way.

None of this is your problem or is your power to fix. Once you get that straight, you can see what is left. Maybe a short visit using any of the strategies above, being clear about what you can't do in advance. Maybe you can't do that. Just do what feels right after you have cleared the decks, so to speak.

I speak from personal experience, I have had a number of challenging friendships with folks that many other people have dropped due to their difficulty level. One strategy is to introduce other activities that are not based on heavy-duty sharing, which can be draining. I have a friend that I when I go home, we go thrifting, go to a concert or play boardgames, it is fun for me, and less draining than an intimate conversation.
posted by nanook at 4:33 PM on December 31, 2014 [10 favorites]

Gosh, I think I'd want to be kind of there for someone...maybe just talk to her.

I can see myself sadly and awkwardly ruining a friendship accidentally out of social dumbassery. I dunno, maybe give her a break. Or ask her what's up. Am I wrong?
posted by Punctual at 5:58 PM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Why is talking to her about what's going on not a option? I mean, this is a fifteen year friendship we are talking about, does it not at least deserve a gentle conversation about how is she is, how she's acting and if she needs help? Tell her you're worried about her and you miss the old her. (Depending on how it goes, she might says she depressed which is your opening to put her in contact with resources who can help her - explain that you can't be her only form of support, it's not good for either of you.)

Then you can continue on about your boundaries and how as much as you want to be there for her, it's not fair of her to call constantly and that she is effectively killing the friendship and you need her to stop, immediately. Tell her that the most you can manage while you're in town is x number of meet ups and phone calls, beyond that you don't have the time to constantly respond and you know she will understand because she's your friend. Then follow through.

But please, give her a chance to fix it before you blast her out of your life. It might be the wake up call she needs. Then at least if she persists, you can then tell her that you simply can't do this any more and you wish her the best but you need some space. And take it. But kindness first, a conversation about where she's at will cost you nothing and could really help her.
posted by Jubey at 7:55 PM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

And I've just realised, it's pretty much exactly what pintapicasso said. So yeah, that.
posted by Jubey at 7:57 PM on December 31, 2014

The fact that she's meek and giggly in person, yet has the capacity to ignore explicit messages such as "don't send me gifts" or "I won't be in town", stands out to me. I think she might be a little more capable than she's making out, or perhaps more than you're realising.

In my experience, with people who can't/won't 'get it', you need to be a little more forceful. You can't unilaterally decide how the friendship is going to work because there are two people in that dance, both with ideas of how to lead and how that friendship should work. What you can control is whether you continue dancing or not. She won't move on from you until she has to, I don't think. If she were going to do it without impetus, she would have done it already. I can't help but wonder how the answers would be different if it was a guy who was constantly badgering you for contact, ignoring your messages about when you were available and turning up at your parent's house with gifts.

You've tried level one behaviours - slow fading, waiting a while to return calls, etc. I think you need to step up to level two now - being more clear about the state of the friendship, communicating your boundaries explicitly, etc. You're not a monster for having had enough. Perhaps there's a reason this person has few friends. You are not obligated to be someone's social experience because they've glummoned onto you. If you want, you could have a conversation about how she's not helping herself, but that's somewhat patronising - she might be happy with the way she is and with the way her life has turned out. If she isn't, it's on her to do something about that.

For what it's worth, my mom engaged in a lot of guilt tripping about how I should be friends with someone who lives in our street. I've spent a bit of time with this person and we don't gel, and I'm not exactly the world's friendliest people person to begin with. What cured my mom of doing that was to keep suggesting that my mom befriend this person, and indeed suggest to this person that my mom would be up for X activity with them. Oddly, my mom has no interest whatsoever in being friends with this person, but does seem to feel really justified in telling me that I should be friends with this person, which is somewhat hypocritical. Have your mom befriend your friend, if she's that concerned about her. Your mom lives closer and presumably will actually meet this woman in town, or be able to specify a time every month for coffee, etc, which will be of far more use to this woman. It's easy to say to someone else that they should be compassionate, but rather more difficult and awkward to actually engage in the compassionate behaviour.
posted by Solomon at 2:45 AM on January 1, 2015 [6 favorites]

I think the three hour visit once a year is not what's stressing you. It's the weight of her expectations, the constant calling etc. that is causing you stress.

For some of us with not so good boundaries, every unsolicited contact leaves us worrying about how the other person obviously needs something from us and how maybe we ought to be kind and reciprocate, but actually it's not fair, we don't want to give them what they want, but maybe we should, but maybe we can make it short and less painful by imposing our own terms but will that lead to unpleasantness? and we start to hate that person more and more every time for taking up so much brain space with negativity.

I decided some time ago that maybe it would be healthy for me to learn to be strict but kind - enforce boundaries and not worry about the guilt I would feel. But even if so, with my friend I was simply not capable of acting that way. I tried for years.. She was not the friend I deserved, and I was not the strong friend she deserved. And that's okay. By that time it was too late anyway - i hated hearing from her so much already. I tore the band aid off and ended it.

Maybe you are not able to be as kind and at the same time boundary enforcing as people here are advising you to be. That's okay. Life is too short for this. Recognize it and move on.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:57 AM on January 1, 2015 [12 favorites]

I'm sort of in third rails' camp as well, although I totally get where you are coming from. If you are inclined to remain friends out of kindness, set up some ironclad boundaries - first, continue to only admit that you are in town for the holidays, no other time of year. Next, tell her you are available to see her on the last day of your visit (maybe make your visit sound shorter than it is) and then make it some sort of group event - "several of us are going to dinner" or "we're all going for a walk to see the Christmas lights" or "my mom and I are going to a Christmas craft fair" and ask if she wants to tag along. That way there is less pressure on you to be her sole entertainment for 3 solid hours. Best of luck.
posted by vignettist at 6:47 AM on January 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

You are totally giving this poor woman mixed messages. You have not done any kind of "slow fade" that she's ignoring. The closest you've come to that is "I won't be in town then, but let's get together another time." That's not a fade at all. That's a reciprocation.

Figure out your boundaries, communicate them, and stick to them.

Don't blame other people for not reading your mind.
posted by headnsouth at 7:25 AM on January 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

As I read your question, and tried to imagine myself as you, I increasingly felt like I did when I was dating an alcoholic. The resentment, the guilt, the wish that things could be different but the sad realization that they won't be.

There is one and only one thing to do here: cut off all contact with her. You're not helping her by being in contact, and she is harming you. Yes, there will be an additional pang of guilt when you make the clean break, but then you'll feel much better, your life will go on, and you will realize you truly are not and CANnot be responsible for another adult.

Tell her you don't want to be friends anymore. Don't rationalize that the slow fade is kinder. It's not working. This really is a situation where you need to be cruel to be kind. Rip that bandaid off.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 8:32 AM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

"I love all of the years we've had together, and I want nothing but the best for you. But I cannot be your lifeline or support system. I'm sorry, but I am not your best friend, I'm your aquaintence, and this behavior isn't ok. I'm happy to get lunch with you once or twice a year and catch up, but I'm not able or willing to devote all of my spare time to you."

Stop leading her on, she is never ever going to get your hints. Honestly, it's been seven years; if you still think you can hint your way out if this, you're as confused about life as she is.
posted by windykites at 2:48 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

If I were that sad, avoiding me would be worse. Just write a heartfelt email about wanting to end the relationship. That's the best, least-hurtful way to do it. A fade is so open to interpretation and more hurtful. You were friends for years, just ignoring her (even if the reasons may be justified) just seem like a cop out. Think of it from her perspective.
posted by eq21 at 11:00 AM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I read this question, I was fearing the worst. I thought that everyone would say, "Leave this poor woman out in the cold! It's not your business that she is the way she is! Move on!". I thought that compassion would be dead from this thread. I thought the overwhelming advice would be to leave a woman with no other social contacts out in the cold to bear the world alone. I then read third rail's comment (and the number of favorites) and my faith in humanity was restored.

What is a few hour of your time a year? To you, it's maybe missing a Netflix marathon or an afternoon at the mall- to her it's something so much more. It's actual human connection! Isn't that what humanity is about? Compassionate connection? If you break her off, it could send this women into a tailspin of bleakness I wouldn't wish on anyone.
posted by eq21 at 11:27 AM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

The question wasn't about compassion or its lack. It's not just a few hours of the OP's time; it's the fact that the gift of those few hours is met with a huge barrage of emotional demands for more, more, more.

Not wanting this person in your life doesn't make you an awful person, OP. None of the people pleading that you accede to this woman's demands in the name of "compassion" have stood in your shoes. You do not have to bear the weight of this woman's imagined relationship with you.

She probably senses you're trying to disengage from her; that's why she keeps checking up on you through your various phone lines, tries to use your mother to corral you into seeing her, and didn't believe you were really out of town when you said you were.

As others have said more elegantly above, the solution is to set a boundary and hold to it, with politeness and sympathy but without apology. I would do the boundary-setting by email or letter to give her space to react in her own time. Setting the boundary will unavoidably hurt the "friend"'s feelings, no matter how gentle you are; believe me when I say that ANY apologetic vibes on your part will be used as currency to guilt you into seeing her again. So if you feel bad about it, make sure you have a real friend at hand to talk to afterwards.

If she doesn't or can't respect the boundary, then your last resort is to send her another gently-worded email cutting contact.

Solomon and Omnomnom have excellent points above; Solomon's advice about your mother and her opinions is spot on.

I am a little older than you, in my early forties. I have found enormous freedom and relief in abandoning onerous former "friendships" from which all common ground is lost and only difficulties and drama remain. Life is WAY too short. Focus on your real friends.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:10 PM on January 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

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