Kindly telling someone you're not interested in a closer friendship?
March 19, 2015 2:42 PM   Subscribe

How can you politely tell an acquaintance or casual friend that you don't want to be better friends, when they apparently can't take a hint, and you know you'll continue to see them?

Occasionally, I'll meet someone who I have an initial positive interaction with, but then after hanging out a couple times, I'll realize there is no real "click"— or at least, I'll realize that the person just isn't someone I connect with well enough to invest time toward building a serious friendship. In most of these cases, the feeling has been mutual, and we've both pulled the quiet "fade away", and everything has been fine. Recently, however, I've encountered a situation where the feeling has not been mutual, and the "friend" in question is very persistent, and I'm not sure how to deal with this while still being polite. I don't want to hurt this person's feelings, and I don't want to burn bridges, since this person is in my larger friend group and I still enjoy chatting with them during parties/other group settings. How can you politely tell an acquaintance or casual friend that you don't want to be better friends, when they apparently can't take a hint, and you know you'll continue to see them?

For context, I'm a 28/F. I met this girl (let's call her "Amy") when she started dating my best guy friend. Amy is incredibly socially awkward in an extroverted sort of way— she's outgoing, warm-hearted, and clearly intelligent— but she struggles with some serious mental health issues, and she's somehow both oblivious and overly sensitive when it comes to reading social cues (for instance, oversharing/random verbal and emotional outbursts vs. being constantly worried that she's coming across wrong or that people are excluding her). She and my friend dated for just under a year, and during that time we saw each other fairly often during group get-togethers and other events. We also went out for coffee a couple times one-on-one, but it became clear pretty quickly that we didn't have much in common, and making conversation was awkward. Despite this, when she and my guy friend were having trouble in their relationship, she came to me for advice (considering I know him better than just about anyone), and I wanted to be supportive, so we met up to talk about it a few times. This quickly became way too complicated—she needed much more emotional support than I could provide, and I really didn't want to be stuck in the middle of their conflict and pressured to choose a side— so I told her this and extricated myself from the situation. They broke up (amicably) six months ago, and she's stayed in our circle of friends, so we still run into each other every so often.

Here's the thing, since then, she's contacted me several times wanting to get together one-on-one— and I have absolutely no interest in this. She's perfectly nice, but we don't communicate well, and she's just too much to handle. In the beginning, I made polite excuses ("I'm pretty busy these days, but I'll let you know if/when my schedule opens up!"), and then I gradually started taking longer and longer to respond when she'd contact me, hoping she'd take the hint. Eventually, it seemed as if this had worked— until she messaged me a few days ago asking why I don't want to hang out with her, and whether she had done something to offend me.

I don't know how to respond to this. I can't ignore it, or things will be awkward the next time we run into each other, and the chance is high that she'll just bring it up in person anyway. I can't really reassure her, since I don't think I can fake wanting to be friends with someone when I don't. I feel like my only option is to tell her the truth, but from past experience, telling someone "There's nothing wrong with you as a person, we just don't have much in common, and I don't particularly enjoy hanging out with you one-on-one"—when they clearly feel otherwise—has not gone over well.

Is there a nicer way to say this? Any other thoughts?
posted by aldebaran to Human Relations (47 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
You can be a little honest - say that you enjoy seeing her at group events (true!), you've just been really busy and realized that you needed to focus your time on X (something true - your old friends, work, relationship, learning something new), so you've been doing what you can to prioritize that for yourself. Tell her she's done nothing to offend you, this is about your needs, and you look forward to seeing her around soon.

This makes it about your needs, which are harder to argue with.
posted by ldthomps at 2:55 PM on March 19, 2015 [42 favorites]

Instead of closing with "I don't enjoy hanging out with you one on one," you can say:

"There's nothing wrong with you as a person, we just don't have much in common, and I am so busy that I don't have time to hang out with you one-on-one anymore."

She might cause a scene or whine or be upset, but that's on her and not on you. She sounds pretty tiring at best. I have an acquaintance like her and I swear looking at her wrong prompts these kind of "why do you hate me" type of emails. The slow fade worked for me - I see her in groups and truth be told everyone is annoyed by her because she is self-centered - but just being plain and straightforward is the best option.

If she bugs you about it again you can say something like, "Look, me being too busy is not personal, but you're making it personal and I don't care for that. Please drop this."

Good luck. People who don't "get" the slow fade and who constantly worry that "no one likes" them are often people who are very insecure and who like making everything about them. This doesn't have to be about her - it's about you, your time, and your boundaries.
posted by sockermom at 3:02 PM on March 19, 2015 [8 favorites]

"It's nothing personal. I'm just busy, like everyone, so I only have time for the things I have time for, and I don't have time other things. I can't offer you any more of an explanation than that."
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 3:15 PM on March 19, 2015

I would be more straightforward but also kinder -- be honest, but about yourself, not her:

"To be honest, I am not really able to add new friends to my social life these days. Work has become a lot more demanding, and with my family obligations and commitments to my existing friends, I just don't have the capacity to maintain any more one-on-one friendships. This is my shortcoming, not yours, and I hope we can still see each other at group events."
posted by DarlingBri at 3:38 PM on March 19, 2015 [13 favorites]

I've done this and had this done to me. I guess most people have. The least hurtful response with the most plausible deniability (and greatest truth) is that it's not personal...that you like her, of course, you're just busy and haven't got a lot of spare spoons. Spoon theory- but it can just be about emotional health not physical

Be a bit slow in responding and be very warm in all your text messages, just tell her it's about where you're at, not her. Otherwise it hurts and she'll obsess about it and want to ask what she's done wrong.

Ldthomps response is utterly correct and kind here.
posted by taff at 3:41 PM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Because Amy is socially awkward and may be trying to understand what's going on, including genuinely wanting to make sure she hasn't offended you, I would clarify that you're not offended in any way.

Then I would offer the explanation that your life is busy and complex right now, which is why you haven't been getting together one-on-one, but that it's nothing personal and you look forward to seeing her at the next party.

I gather that Amy is pestering you, but from my PoV I would continue with a bit more patience before telling her that her friendship doesn't hold that much interest for you.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 3:42 PM on March 19, 2015 [12 favorites]

As someone who has been on the other side of this, using the "busy" excuse or "I don't need more friends" is not kinder than just being honest. In fact to me it feels more unkind because you're not even respecting my intelligence. It's just icky. Everyone is busy, but everyone makes/finds the time for some people. People they like being around. Just be honest that she's not one of those people instead of couching it in a transparent lie. This way you're actually providing information she requested.

"You're a very nice person but I found that not having much in common made it difficult to hang out one on one. I hope I will see you at (upcoming group event)!"
posted by bleep at 3:46 PM on March 19, 2015 [35 favorites]

Oh, and if she gives you a hard time about it, which I doubt, that's on her. Write it in an email so you don't have to deal with tears and you can delete any responses. Honestly the responses in this thread are very unkind. Of course someone is going to be insecure and paranoid when everyone is always slow fading on them and they don't know why.
posted by bleep at 4:16 PM on March 19, 2015 [8 favorites]

2nd ldthomps, airing nerdy laundry and others - tell her she hasn't offended you (she hasn't, really, she's just annoyed you), and continue being consistent with your messaging - you're busy, you really don't have time for anything other than group events (more efficient, you get to see everyone at once), you're just so so busy. She'll accept it eventually.

Just because she's decided to set it up this way, laying it all out, doesn't mean you have to play along. I wouldn't want to participate in this kind of self-flagellation.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:23 PM on March 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

I agree with bleep's comments. Be nice, but be honest. The excuses that everyone keeps telling you to say, that you "don't have time"/"work got busy" etc. are not a good idea because they aren't really the truth. If you got along swimmingly with her, you would have time for her. But you don't, so you don't. It's not actually really very nice at all to lie to someone, even in this way, where you could convince yourself it's to save her feelings. Also, think of this: what if you happen to meet a new friend sometime soon, and you two become fast friends, and then Amy sees you with a new friend? She will know immediately the truth, and be hurt that you lied, undoing all of your plans to save her feelings.

If you need a script, I'd use bleep's, keeping it short and truthful. Nothing in common=difficult to hang out one-on-one=hope to see you at the next group event.

Essentially, this is using your own words ("I'll realize that the person just isn't someone I connect with well enough to invest time toward building a serious friendship.")
posted by rio at 4:29 PM on March 19, 2015 [10 favorites]

Do Not have an in person talk about this. It will be nothing but a train wreck. Continue with the slow not respond to messages. Or if you do, do it Very sparingly, weirdly, and at the most random of times, like 3 am a week and half later. "Hi wanna hang out?" (2 weeks later, 2am:) "I went to the dentist last week". See how that works? If you sit her down for a Talk, she will tell everyone and you will look like a psycho. If you just behave weirdly and noncommittal, it will be confusing/annoying, but not gossip-worthy.
posted by sexyrobot at 4:32 PM on March 19, 2015

Honestly, honesty is so far from the best policy here.
posted by sexyrobot at 4:34 PM on March 19, 2015 [8 favorites]

The slow fade is very popular and is often recommended on metafilter, but I personally don't like it much. Since the slow-fade often entails pretending; it can easily come off as dishonest and two-faced. Not only by the person being faded out, but also by those around you watching you do it. Witnesses can easily start to wonder if you're telling the truth when they themselves ask you something. I acknowledge that there are certain types of people and situations where it's truly the best option, but most of the time the other person knows exactly what you are doing anyway. So it's not like they walk away from you thinking you're a nice person who is just too busy and would just rather do other things. They usually just walk away thinking they're slowly being told to fuck off. So they end up being just as bitter towards you as if you actually had gone up to them and told them to fuck off. Only difference is instead of reacting by just telling you to fuck off in return, with the slow-fade they are more likely to keep their bitterness (and possible revenges) underhanded and out of your view while smiling to your face. A lot of serial slow-faders seem to think that when the other person gets the hint and doesn't come around anymore; that they have managed to have their cake and eat it too- ie, gotten rid of the person without suffering any consequences. But no drama and no consequences can very easily only appear that way on the surface and not be the reality of the situation.

Then there's the other slow-fade possibility- that the person being faded out actually doesn't know exactly what you are doing and they keep trying anyway. Such as you're experiencing now.

In my life I've had more success with the 'be honest, but cordial approach'. I would just shoot them an email or over the phone tell them that I feel uncomfortable with the relationship and would feel better with simply a polite hi and bye situation between us. I usually prefer email because it doesn't allow the other person to interrupt you and it also allows the person to take in all the info before reacting towards you. Often I'll give them the reasons for my decision in a way that they don't have to take it personally (if at all possible). The best method of delivery, just like the best method of breaking off a friendship, depends entirely on the types of people involved. I literally did this just a few weeks ago with someone. It lays it out on the table and you don't have to worry about coming across as a two-faced individual. I rarely get a bad reaction from this method, and usually end up being more respected for doing it this way rather than smiling to someones face and pretending 'I'd love to but I'm busy' all the time.
posted by rancher at 4:36 PM on March 19, 2015 [18 favorites]

Yes, just say so. If you think "we don't have much in common" is a bit harsh, maybe phrase as "Well, it was really only Mike that we had in common".
posted by aimedwander at 4:37 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

The op asked for kind and nice and needs to be able to see this person in many more social situations in future where it's not awkward.

The "I'm just not feeling it" when it's one sided is sure to cause hurt in someone like her. You're not her social worker or her therapist, you don't owe her counselling in order to "fix" her. Just don't do harm as you move forward. Her friends can steer her in the direction she needs if that's what she wants, it's not on you to do that. If someone spoke to me the way bleep was suggesting, I'd be devastated. It would be a shit sandwich that I couldn't ignore every time I saw them. I'd curl up and walk away with very deflated confidence that I could read people. She likes you and you're not a why not let her think she's not unlikeable. She sounds a bit fragile.
posted by taff at 4:39 PM on March 19, 2015 [9 favorites]

Honestly, given your description of this person's reaction to things and the fact that she is in your social circle, I would definitely not say the truth here, unless you want it to be awkward and dramatic. Based on your description of this person, it will crush her and she will tell everyone about how rude you were. Some of your friends will probably think you're a jerk once she tells them you told her "I don't think we click and I don't want to hang out with you" instead of just simply not making plans to hang out with her.

She asks you why you don't want to hang out with her and whether she offended you? Easy, you say you've been busy and leave it at that. Don't apologize, don't explain too much, don't make an empty promise to try to catch up with her soon. Just say, "Things have been pretty busy on my end. I'm sure I'll see you at (next group function)." If you don't want to hang out with her, all you need to do is not hang out with her.

I think she will eventually get the hint. It takes some people longer. But based on your description of the situation, I think you're better off just ignoring her one-on-one invites rather than essentially saying "I don't like you."
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:52 PM on March 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

Except that she specifically asked. Of course you don't go around telling random people you don't like them and why, but this is different. Without the information that they don't have anything in common, the imagination runs wild. Like maybe I just suck and should give up. It's really not easy to make new friends and she didn't do anything wrong by trying. She doesn't deserve to be ignored into oblivion. Ok I'll stop now.
posted by bleep at 4:56 PM on March 19, 2015 [12 favorites]

You know what? There really is no nicer option than telling someone the truth. The jerk option is to drag it out. Just tell her what you said. I am not interested in a longterm friendship with you, Amy. I understand that you dated my friend, but I am not going to be your friend now, or ever, in the future, Amy. She obviously senses that, but you won't tell her the truth. It's really painful to belong to a group of friends, where one person is obviously avoiding you, but won't just speak the truth out loud. You don't want to be her friend. There is no really kind way to put it, but there is an honest way to put it. It's too bad that she is in your friend circle, but either you or she can suffer, and why should you both suffer? Just rip off the Band-Aid and speak the truth, and then you can both go on with your lives.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:05 PM on March 19, 2015 [7 favorites]

I don't think I've ever forced someone to explain why they didn't want to be friends, but I know what that kind of insecurity is like, and I've done similar things in bad moments. If someone in my social network told me they don't want to hang out because they don't think we have much in common, I would be horrified. Because, really, who dumps a friend because they don't have much in common? You don't need to have anything in common, per se, you just have to like each other and be interested in each other's lives to be friends. I would take "we just don't have that much in common," to mean, well, you don't like me and don't find me interesting. For similar reasons I think you should avoid referencing your lack of connection or conversational compatibility. It's a good reason to friend dump someone, but a very awkward and disingenuous-seeming thing to hear from someone you thought you got along with. If I were feeling as insecure as she apparently does, I might also withdraw from our friends in common to avoid running into you. And that would be sad.

I agree in principle with the idea that you are not responsible for her reactions, but it's kind to be delicate. It's very unfortunate that she has pushed it this far. How about something like "I didn't mean to make you feel like I'm avoiding you. I've just been dealing with some other stuff that I need to focus on. My schedule is just a mess. Hopefully we'll see each other around, but because of how my life is right now I can't promise anything."
posted by wrabbit at 5:06 PM on March 19, 2015 [21 favorites]

This is a bit more than her just glomming onto you. She was for quite awhile seeing quite a lot of you if she was dating your best male friend. And you did one on one with her at least a couple of times. And finally, and most importantly, you got together to provide emotional support for her at least "a few times." No wonder it is hard for her to understand that you are calling a halt.

I think you need to let her know that she hasn't offended you, you just got in over your head when you got together with her earlier. I'd also honestly explain that you like her fine, and would like to remain friendly at group events, but you aren't up for more of a relationship than that. If this is true, you might want to add that it is because you are prioritizing your pre-existing relationship with [best male friend.]
posted by bearwife at 5:12 PM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Except that she specifically asked.

No. This person asked if she did something wrong so she could apologize or fix it. She did not ask, "Do you dislike me and not want to hang out with me ever again?" These are two very different questions and I think it would be a mistake, rude even, for OP to go into the fact that she doesn't like hanging out this person because of her question. Besides, people ask questions all the time they don't really want the answer to, because then when they get the honest answer they get upset and freak out. Given that this person is known to blow things up and is in OP's social circle, I stand by my original comment, which is that this isn't worth it and just say you're busy.

Everyone is busy, but everyone makes/finds the time for some people.

Which is exactly why the "I'm busy" excuse eventually works. Everyone understands this. They don't need to be told "Hey, I don't like you." It's not, as you say, "disrespecting someone's intelligence." It's being tactful and conveying a message without being a humiliating dick about it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:15 PM on March 19, 2015 [16 favorites]

You could consider adapting Miko's breakup advice for the friendship. You're a lot of the way there anyway, and it treads a nice line between honesty and compassion.

1. There's nothing wrong with her as a person - list positive qualities.
2. Not feeling strongly enough about this friendship.
3. She deserves someone who's really into the friendship and you can't deliver that right now.
maybe skip 4 because saying someone will find a better friend than you is a bit weird, makes it sound too much like a romantic relationship.
[5.] Struggled with decision because you didn't want to hurt her, but you feel sure it's the right decision.
[6.] Does she have any questions for you?

I'd do it in email too. Less drama, and helps her save face a bit more.

Having once had a high-drama friend who really didn't give up after all my attempts to slow fade, be busy, be visibly distant and reluctant to spend time together, etc, I can tell you that all of those less blunt options just gave her more excuses to stage more dramatic dramas. Because I am soft-hearted, her floods of tears and dramatic pronouncements would also suck me back in and it just became this huge, protracted mess. I now have no contact with her at all and steadfastly ignore mutual friends' occasional passive attempts to relay messages. I wish I'd been firm from the beginning.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:24 PM on March 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

"Hey Amy, good to hear from you! I promise you did nothing to offend me, I am not mad at you, etc. The truth is, between work, family, friends, boring stuff like chores/errands, and the ever elusive personal time, I am stretched pretty thin, so I prefer to hang out with you and everyone at group events rather than one-on-one--it lets me catch up with everyone in one place at one time and if I can't make it it doesn't mean the activity gets called off. It's one of the reasons I love having a close-knit group of friends like ours--we can all hang together at one time."
posted by sallybrown at 5:48 PM on March 19, 2015 [16 favorites]

This is a hard question. Do you think Amy would benefit from anything honest here? I feel sorry for her thinking that she's socially awkward and everyone knows it but her, and because no one wants to be the bad guy and advise her on how to improve, she will go through life wondering why everyone fades on her.

The thing is, it might be too hard for her to hear the truth and she might not believe it. I'm trying to put myself in her shoes. One thing that I can identify with is feeling rejected. People have said some pretty mean shit to me about what is "wrong" with me. But after my hurt and anger fade, I re-evaluate it and sometimes it has led to self-discovery and improvement.

But that takes a certain maturity. You are a better judge of Amy's ability to handle constructive criticism than we are. I would try to offer at least something that she can take away from this, but in the least hurtful way, if you think it won't hurt her too much.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 6:22 PM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Don't tell her that. Tell her that you're so sorry, you've just been extremely busy. Invite her to a group thing that is happening soon and do so whenever you don't want to hang out with her one-on-one.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 6:36 PM on March 19, 2015

Continue with the slow not respond to messages. Or if you do, do it Very sparingly, weirdly, and at the most random of times, like 3 am a week and half later. "Hi wanna hang out?" (2 weeks later, 2am:) "I went to the dentist last week". See how that works?

I can't tell if this is a serious suggestion or not, but I'd advise never ever doing this to someone unless you really do want to gain a reputation as a psycho, because holy crap, this kind of weird game-playing is not okay.

Someone upthread advised using a modified version of Miko's breakup advice... I'd suggest that, too.
posted by palomar at 6:39 PM on March 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

Personally, as someone (who is an introvert but also sometimes overbearing when it comes to new people I like), I would do the "I'm busy" thing and the "but there's this group event I know of that I may or may not attend." And just not respond always.

People have done this kind of thing to me and it sucks but I get it. Sometimes people don't feel as close to me as I've felt to them. That's a thing that happens. But I've never asked someone "WHY????" I've just pouted and let it go.

There is no good way to tell a friend you don't like them. I personally think you're doing the best you can here, and someone asking "Why don't you like me?" is being weird, I think. If you're older than 20, you should get the hint. I think "I have other things happening but I'll see you at [X event] maybe" is the best you can do here.
posted by darksong at 7:04 PM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

It's hard to slow-fade somebody you're going to run into with any frequency.

I think you probably are looking for a solution that doesn't exist. You want to be straightforward and not fake, you don't want to have to hang out with her, but you don't want it to be awkward. You probably can't be completely honest about the fact that you simply don't enjoy her company AND have it not be awkward.

This is somebody who has confided in you, it sounds like. And she's insecure anyway. It's going to hurt her feelings that you don't want to be her friend. After all, she's exactly right - she's done something wrong. It's her behavior. You don't like her enough to want to spend any time with her. She's right in her suspicion that you're refusing to spend time with her because you don't enjoy it.

It's a LOT to expect that you can tell her this and it won't be awkward. It will be awkward, in all likelihood. But this is what it's like dealing with other people. You may sometimes feel awkward. You may be confronted with the existence of people whose feelings you, while acting entirely within your rights, hurt. It's uncomfortable. It's awkward. But "this will hurt her" doesn't mean "this is wrong of me."

My advice? Pick between living with a white lie and living with awkwardness. The white lie is "It's nothing about you at all, Amy. I wish I had the time to socialize with people more, but I don't these days, so we'll probably have to get together at the next party at x's house." The awkwardness is "I'm not mad at you, but I do feel like it's unlikely that I'm going to want to hang out one-on-one, so I wish you the best and I'll see you when I see you."

There's no nice way to be honest about not liking someone. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. It means you have to make some choices. Sounds like she has a lot on her plate. If you're in the driver's seat and you're choosing between living with awkwardness and living with being a little indirect to spare her feelings, you're still doing okay. Sometimes, things you have a right to do don't feel great to do.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:09 PM on March 19, 2015 [15 favorites]

Huh. The way I understand her question, she doesn't at all get why you don't want to hang out; rather, she thinks you WOULD want to hang out but for some discrete, possibly fixable, issue, like that she had offended you.

I like the white lie suggested above, that reassures her she didn't offend you but tells her you don't have time to hang out and that won't be changing anytime soon. This at least can put her mind at ease that your fade isn't something she ought to be Doing Something About.

She does not sound like someone who would benefit from being told "for reasons beyond your control, I don't want to hang out with you." She sounds fragile; and drama prone; and likely to cause more awkwardness for you if she feels personally rejected.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:20 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

She does not sound like someone who would benefit from being told "for reasons beyond your control, I don't want to hang out with you."

I suspect few people are so equipped. That kind of honesty is basically an act of social violence. In fact, I've never actually seen anyone do it outside of a high school (and really wonder how many who support it here have).
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:46 PM on March 19, 2015 [9 favorites]

Despite all the rationalizations people come up with about how kind the slow fade is, it is actually cowardly and rude. You waste the rejected person's time because they are going to sit around ruminating about what might be going on. It is much kinder to just nip it in the bud, tell her you don't feel you two have enough in common to sustain a one-on-one friendship, let her stop wondering and get on with her life.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 9:59 PM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Cotton dress sock: I have done it. I have had it done to me. I far prefer it to someone stringing things out and being dishonest. If it is conveyed with the right tone of respect and phrased as being about the rejector's needs rather than the rejectee's deficiencies, it is usually a much more pleasant experience than sitting around wondering what's going on, if you have offended someone, if you have misinterpreted signs, etc.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 10:03 PM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

>>She does not sound like someone who would benefit from being told "for reasons beyond your control, I don't want to hang out with you."

>I suspect few people are so equipped.

And yet every time a romantic relationship breaks up, it boils down to one person telling the other they not only don't want to hang out anymore, they don't love the other person, they don't want to have sex with the other person, don't want to share lives with the other person. Sometimes it's for reasons that are controllable, but usually it isn't. Somehow people do survive these break-ups and go on to have more romantic relationships. Why should it be any different for non-romantic relationships?

The first time someone pulled the slow fade on me, it was to end a romantic relationship. And because no one had ever done it to me before and I was young, I didn't get it. It came down to their housemate telling me, "don't you get it? It's over." It was excruciatingly embarrassing. If they'd actually told me it was over, of course I wouldn't have kept harassing them. Because they hadn't, I felt like I had been some mad, crazy bunny-boiler without even knowing it.

If she's a similar age as you, I don't think this woman hasn't experienced the slow fade before. But if she's as socially awkward as you say, she may not have actually understood.

Does it suck to be told someone doesn't like you enough to want to hang out with you? Without a doubt. Does it suck not to know why your phone calls, emails and messages are never returned? Why the person you thought was a friend is acting all distant and removed? Whether it is something you have messed up or whether you are imagining things? Meanwhile, if you weren't already the kind of person who analyses the slightest interaction for clues as to emotions and motivations, you turn into that person in your attempt to figure out what's going on. In my opinion, that sucks much, much worse. I also think that's very immature, high-school behaviour.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:12 PM on March 19, 2015 [7 favorites]

Further thoughts: You had intimate, emotionally-charged conversations with this person about her former romantic relationship, multiple times. That's not really a casual acquaintance activity for most people. That's a close friends activity. I think it's entirely understandable that she is feeling confused and insecure. From her perspective, someone she bared her heart to more than once suddenly doesn't want anything to do with her. If you never actually liked her, it was a mistake to allow that kind of intimacy in the first place. Since you did, I think it's grounds for being kinder and more generous than might seem justified with just any random acquaintance who won't leave you alone and gets weird when you don't want to deepen the friendship.
posted by wrabbit at 10:22 PM on March 19, 2015 [9 favorites]

I don't know about social violence. I think it is difficult but mature to say to someone, "This isn't working." That is how people break up with people. Friendships don't have a rubric for breaking up, but I think that a friend breakup is similar enough that it makes sense to just say something kind and straightforward. Telling someone that you don't want to be closer to them is not violence, it is setting boundaries.

It is kind of self-centered for this woman to think that the reason you aren't socializing with her is because she did something wrong that she can fix. People who are insecure are often self-centered, because their insecurity makes them focus on themselves. A less self-centered email - "I miss you and am wondering what is going on with our friendship" - would probably elicit a different response. This is why people think she sounds fragile and drama-prone: this is all about her. She isn't listening to the slow fade message you are already sending. She is escalating, and I suspect it is because she wants you to say, "Of course not, I miss you, let's hang out!" because she wants you to play therapist for her again. Just like you did during her relationship with your friend.

I have had lots of "friends" like this, who use me for therapy and won't allow our relationship to evolve into something that isn't me feeling overextended and responsible for their emotional issues. They're the same kind of people who pretend they don't know what slow fading is. They are the same people who really just don't care what you think because they want your relationship with them to be all about them. I may sound uncharitable here, but I have met so, so, so many people like this in my life that I think I can smell them through the Internet. The best thing you can do is to firmly but nicely say, no, I don't want to see you anymore - the revised version of Miko's script above is excellent - and move on. Don't let her take up any more of your brain space. Oh, and you might want to think about helping people with relationship problems in the future. Getting too emotionally close to her without really knowing her well enough to do so definitely played a role here. I am not blaming you for what happened. Lord knows I've been in the same boat multiple times. But I do want you to know that you can prevent this from happening in the future with other people if you are more selective about whose problems you listen to.
posted by sockermom at 10:25 PM on March 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

And yet every time a romantic relationship breaks up, it boils down to one person telling the other they not only don't want to hang out anymore [...] Why should it be any different for non-romantic relationships?

But friendship isn't the same thing at all. This is apples to oranges. In a romantic relationship, you already told each other, "hey, I want to spend all my time with you" and you then hung out all the time. A casual friendship is totally different -- you see each other once in a while, not all the time, and there are times when you do and don't want to see your friend. In a romantic relationship you have literally no other choice than to have a "we don't want to hang out together" anymore talk. There is no other way to do it. With a casual friend you barely see, this is not necessary.

Plus, break-ups are difficult specifically because of the rejection involved. There is low-key no slow fade in a romantic relationship when the construct of your relationship is seeing each other everyday and talking everyday. A slow fade isn't an option for a couple -- instead you have to go through a very humiliating rejection. With friendship, why would you reject someone when a slow fade *is* an option? It's needlessly harsh. If people could "slow fade" their way out of relationships without having to have some sort of "we're breaking up" talk that leaves someone feeling like shit, they would -- but it's not actually possible.

Let's also not discount the drama that break-ups create. Tension whenever the exes are at the same function together. Friends having to choose sides. Friends having to invite one ex or the other to group functions to avoid drama. Friends turning on the dumper for being a jerk. And so on. Why would you want to replicate this if you don't need to? Rejecting a casual acquaintance who at most emails you every few weeks or months hardly seems worth all that.

You waste the rejected person's time because they are going to sit around ruminating about what might be going on.

I very much doubt this girl is sitting around worrying about their relationship or is otherwise unable to live her life just because she hasn't yet realized that she and OP aren't as good of friends as she thought. I'd rather have my "time" wasted (time being the 5 minutes I took to write an email) than have someone I like tell me I'm not likable or worthy of being their friend.

I really have to wonder how many people suggesting straight-up rejecting this casual friend have been told by someone they thought was a friend to back off. How many of these people have been told by someone they thought was a friend, "I'm just not feeling it." Come on -- people do not do this. It's shitty. People do of things under the guise of "honesty" that to me strike me as lacking tact, being inconsiderate and maybe even a little selfish. Slow fading works just fine -- and not responding at all to messages is another option. If asked in person, "Oh, I saw but I forgot to respond. Been busy!"
posted by peachpie at 11:27 PM on March 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

Sent to a woman who has a daughter the same age as mine, who we met almost a year ago, although our children did not socialize at all between then and now. The mother suddenly started contacting me frequently for play dates a few weeks ago via phone and email...and then, suddenly, an invite on Monday to her daughter's birthday party this weekend. I tried to be polite throughout the past few weeks, and not respond right away, then say that we are busy, etc. etc. It didn't work...she called, emailed, texted... I finally sent her this and blocked her emails. (Not my skill set, and I feel sympathetic toward the woman and her daughter, so I got advice on what to do.)

We’ve had a lot on our plate, and I haven’t been able to respond. Best wishes to [your daughter], but we will not be able to attend her party, nor spend time together in the future.

As a good friend called it, polite truth that (should) end the (nonexistent) relationship.
posted by miss tea at 5:02 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

"Amy is incredibly socially awkward in an extroverted sort of way— she's outgoing, warm-hearted, and clearly intelligent— ... and she's somehow both oblivious and overly sensitive when it comes to reading social cues." I hear you that you don't want your future interactions with Amy to be "awkward," but awkward's gonna awkward! How Amy interacts in the world, and what may or may not be going on with her mental health, are things that are ultimately far beyond your control. And these facets of Amy's personality that rub you the wrong way? You should stop allowing them to keep being such bad things for you, OP. This could be a personal growth opportunity for you in which to get to experience having a crucial conversation with Amy of the type you, typically a Slow Fader (which is also sometimes my ending tactic of choice as an Introvert), are certainly not using to having. Embrace the awkward! Talk this thing out. It can be a such worthwhile life skill for you to develop, and it can feel so empowering.

"she messaged me a few days ago asking why I don't want to hang out with her, and whether she had done something to offend me." I give Amy serious credit for using her words with you, and for asking for what she wants. On the bright side, a lot of similarly-situated folks would instead be gossiping about you to your social circle, casting you as a Mean ol' Meanie McMeanster, and not ever giving you the opportunity to address this. Amy has made a bid for having a crucial conversation with you, and I think you should accept (for reasons I will get to momentarily.)

"I don't know how to respond to this. I can't ignore it, or things will be awkward the next time we run into each other, and the chance is high that she'll just bring it up in person anyway." Well, you CAN keep ignoring it actually, but I hope you don't because that strategy just doesn't work on the Amys of the world. Despite the "be the unpaid emotional caretaker of others"-brand of socialization you've probably received from the larger culture during your 28-years on this planet as a woman, the truth is no, you don't need to answer every single question anyone ever asks you. Particularly after you feel you have already indicated NO, multiple times, as you hinted to Amy in your Slow Fader-way. You get to have boundaries, set your own dealbreakers, and step away from interactions that make you feel uncomfortable. That said, you DO have to ask for what you want in this life. That's on you. Especially as a "nice, polite" young woman, or folks like Amy will continue to trample your boundaries. This Ask reads like you could 100% benefit from doing more boundary work in your life. Starting right now with Amy. Take this golden opportunity to work on being more respectfully honest with yourself and others by enforcing much tighter boundaries for Amy's behavior in your presence. I suggest you either call Amy on the phone, set a meeting with her in person, or just wait to run into her in-person your social circle. Don't do this over social media. When you meet she'll likely repeat something to the effect of: "OMG! You don't wanna hang out with me anymore because I've offended you!!??!" Ask the leading, "Why do you think that, Amy?" and IF you decide this conversation is one worth having after hearing Amy's initial answer, here are a few of Pro-tips:

1. Know yourself; worry about yourself. You've listed a lot of things wrong with Amy, but mostly, I am guessing you happen to value respecting others, and Amy basically doesn't appear to value that to your standards so you're getting walked all over. Be super clear on what exactly it is that bothers you so you can really talk about it. There's a pattern to this if you look closely enough. She's crapping all over your values, whatever they are, and that annoys you, and it has gone on long enough that it might eventually really piss you off because then it will be Amy's fault you can't hang out with your mutual friends because she's always there (or whatever 'let's blame Amy' story you'll think up later). You'll blame Amy for your own choices because you didn't want to figure out what was bothering you and learn how to fix it. Again: time to worry about yourself.

2. Be realistic here. Amy is not a horrible person. She's probably not being purposely, gleefully, disrespectful and irritating. As you've described her here she sounds super anxious about social rejection and in need of shit-tonnes of interpersonal validation. So when you suddenly started taking longer and longer to respond to her and she noticed it, Amy then reacted by getting more more and anxious and craving more validation to undo the panic your sudden avoidance just caused her. You haven't given her credit for this yet, but Amy actually did read your "go away" social cue pretty darn correctly there. It's that you hated her type of direct response to your cue. Check your own big feelings or else you will say or do some other well-meaning but avoidant thing and your boundary problem will persist.

3. Know EXACTLY what you want. You don't want Amy to become a pariah who has to leave town in the middle of the night or something, no; you want her to value and respect others. You want her to TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER ALREADY!!, even when no one comes out and says it with the actual word "no." (Hint: you're maaaaybe going to need to say NO.) You want her to stay part of your larger social crew, but stop trying to contact you individually. "Amy, I don't want to meet with you 1:1 anymore, and I want you to take my NO right now for an answer and I need you to stop bringing it up. From now on, I REALLY DO want to socialize with you at Game Night along with our whole crew. That's where I need us to interact as friends." She'll want to fit in by being respectful, but the thing is, Amy probably doesn't recognize that she's disrespecting your boundaries at all because she is so eager to overshare herself with everyone due to her Extroversion.

4. Make this ALL ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS. If you accuse Amy, she'll get defensive and you've immediately lost. Share your own special snowflake feelings. Feelings are irrefutable, so use them to your advantage. When you talk about how Amy's actions trigger your awkward, irritated feelings, that may provide excellent motivation for Amy to change her behavior. Up to her if she will choose to follow through of course, but giving Amy the responsibility for doing so by sharing your honest feelings could help her:
"Well, Amy, I feel like you don't really value my space."
"What? Why? OMG! That's not true!!!"

5. When you talk about her, stick to irrefutable, undeniable, "this is the behavior I'm seeing"-level facts. You can only guess her feelings, so if you guess wrong, you'll head off on some tangent and get lost, but you can point out facts, and talk about your interpretation of Amy's actions. She will probably reveal her feelings as your conversation goes on, then you can talk about them if you feel comfortable.
"What? Why? OMG! That's not true!!!"
"Well, Amy, I feel that way because I have a difficult time hearing all the heavy emotional things you have to share. And after I kept telling you I was busy again and again and again, I felt really disrespected in my personal space when you messaged me, yet again, about even more heavy emotional concerns you're going through. I felt trapped when you asked me to respond. I felt overwhelmed by your messaging me. I don't feel heard." Be very specific. Stick to the facts and how they make you feel.
"OMG! I didn't know that at all! Sorry!"

Amy will still be awkward and could totally mess up, and may keep reaching out when you don't want her to -- If so? Rinse and repeat: "So, Amy I feel like you waste my time when you want me to help you with your personal problems and I've already told you I don't want to be one-on-one friends and hear your heavy emotional stuff. How can we fix that?"
"What? OMG! That's simply not true. I'm just being friendly and sharing myself."
"Yes, you are, but how can we fix my issue of me not wanting to feel like my time is being wasted by these personal problems you keep bringing to me?"
"Um, I guess we can't? I will leave you alone."
"Great. Thanks, Amy, see you at the bar next time." Seriously, don't worry about trying to say the perfect thing -- there is no One True Way to have this conversation, but it is absolutely one worth having. People are notoriously bad at this skill, and yet it's one worth learning, even if you muck it up. It's totally ok if your words come out wrong. Just set up a meeting with Amy and get it done. Good luck! It's a sign of great maturity that you want to handle this in a way that respects feelings and doesn't burn bridges.
posted by hush at 5:27 AM on March 20, 2015 [6 favorites]

The slow fade is very popular and is often recommended on metafilter, but I personally don't like it much. Since the slow-fade often entails pretending; it can easily come off as dishonest and two-faced.

The slow fade is often recommended, but it's important to note that not only is the slow fade pretty passive aggressive, it really fucks those of us who actually are super busy or who have difficulty following up on every friend we have, because people start wondering if we're trying to slow-fade them.

The slow fade is inherently dishonest - it's not that it comes off as dishonest, it's that it is dishonest. It's not wanting to tell someone that you don't like them that much because you don't want to see their sad face after you tell them that. It's also much crueler than a simple break, because every time you contact them and assure them that you're just busy, you are giving them crumbs of hope that make it harder for them to disengage.

The other thing it's crucial to remember is that it's just untactical, particularly for dealing with "outgoing, warm-hearted" people. Because in that situation, if you were having difficulty maintaining the friendship, it would be their job to follow up with you and not let the friendship die, because they clearly had more spoons than you.
posted by corb at 6:06 AM on March 20, 2015 [10 favorites]

This is why people think she sounds fragile and drama-prone: this is all about her.

I disagree. I think people think she sounds fragile because the OP said that she struggles with significant mental health issues. The OP called her "warm-hearted." And "perfectly nice." And the first couple times they hung out, it wasn't about therapy for anybody. It seems to have been an effort to be friendly.

I don't think Amy has to be a selfish jerk for this kind of thing to happen; in fact, to me, the most important thing for the OP to realize is that you don't need to classify Amy. Amy doesn't have to be selfish or a user or clueless or anything else. You don't have to prove that there's something wrong with her; you just have to not want to hang out with her.

The very first word in the OP's title to this question is "Kindly." It's okay to want to be kind; it's lovely to want to be kind. I don't think the only solution is to talk yourself out of your desire to be kind by somehow creating a realization that Amy has been using you. Amy probably has not been using you, particularly not intentionally. She probably likes you. She probably would like to be your friend. It's okay that you don't want that. That is 100 percent the only thing you need to conclude. This is about you, and that's a double-edged sword: keep it about you, in that you have a right to act in your own interests; keep it about you, in that you don't have to come up with things that are wrong with her or reprogram your instinct to be careful with her feelings to the extent you can.

I often wind up feeling like the invisible, unheard person in an AskMe winds up being treated like every source of every issue, in an effort to support the OP. Which is laudable, but to me, it's important to keep in mind that there's a person on the other side of a question like this with a life and feelings of her own, who doesn't exist only as a problem for the OP to solve. I'm all for people taking care of their own needs, but part of the whole point is that you have to do that whether or not you can find fault with the other person.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 6:06 AM on March 20, 2015 [9 favorites]

Oh, you know, though, actually - more specific advice - is she a Seattle native? Because I was just thinking, after I commented, "Is the OP from Seattle?" and then I checked and found that you were.

It's really, really important for people from Seattle to understand that the Seattle Freeze is not a universally understood thing all over - honestly, even within Seattle, there are cultural groups that don't follow it, but definitely in other parts of the US this is not normal behavior. I moved there after having lived all over the US, and was actually shocked to learn that "Let's get together sometime" is actually supposed to mean "I don't really want to see you" if you don't give a specific suggestion for a date and time. It appears normative to some people, but is not as wide as they think it is. What you see as oversharing may actually be normal for her cultural and regional context. I have multiple transplant friends who spent a few years in Seattle and then went screaming back to their region of origin because Seattle was too weird to deal with specifically on this score.
posted by corb at 6:12 AM on March 20, 2015

I am agreeing with the, "My life is busy enough and I don't feel like we have enough in common to hang out one on one, but I would still like to see you and catch up at group events" explanation, rather than the 'white' lie.

Another technique, for maintaining friendships with people who want to be closer friends than you would prefer:
Some people you can get along with, but only in small quantities. So, proactively arrange to see them at the frequency that is comfortable to you.

If a person suggests we go out for coffee this week?
Suggest we catch up on Wednesday, 1pm, two weeks from now, at the botanic gardens so we can walk and chat.
Limit events to the length of time that is not exhausting for you. Arrange to meet them at group events.
Make sure they always know when they will next see you, as this is quite reassuring for many people who get anxious in this area, without increasing the frequency of contact to one that feels uncomfortable to you.
This can also be adapted to essentially, a structured slow fade, but at least it doesn't leave the other person worrying that they have offended.
posted by Elysum at 7:09 AM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

The thing with extensive "How do we fix this?" boundary talks is that they're great for building intimacy -- you put your true feelings out there, you hear the other person's feelings, you both feel understood, or not, and you hash it out. So such a talk makes very little sense in the context of wanting to reduce intimacy with someone.

Stepping back from frequent contact is a perfectly valid way of maintaining boundaries, however. It's passive-aggressive if used to punish people rather than talking to them about why you're angry (which is not the case here), but it's actually a very straightforward way of achieving the stated goal of spending less time with another person, which is neither passive nor aggressive.

Unlike most romantic relationships, there's not necessarily a binary Friend/Not-Friend label required for platonic relationships, which is why explicit "I'm dropping you" speeches are not generally required. You may be super-close to some people, friendly but not-as-close to others, happy to spend time with others in a group but not one-on-one, and those people could all validly be considered "friends." The same person, over time, could move back and forth among those categories and levels of intimacy.

You didn't create her insecurity, you're not going to fix her insecurity, and she's likely to react unexpectedly to anything you say, given that she's reacted unexpectedly to your behavior so far. I think that letting her know she didn't offend you is important, but I think the rest of it depends on how much work you want to put into a dealing with her emotional neediness, and given that it sounds like her requirement for you to deal with her emotional neediness is exactly why you don't want to spend time with her, I'm not sure that doing so again would be good for either of you -- it reinforces the idea for her that she deserves that, and it puts you in a position that you're likely going to resent.

"You haven't offended me! I'm just really busy and trying to spend more time focusing on [something]. I'll see you at the next X event!" is fine. You can do more if you want, but it's ok not to cater to her needs at the expense of your own.
posted by jaguar at 7:32 AM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

Would you consider her to be a high-energy type of person? If so, perhaps something like this would work:

"You haven't offended me at all; I think you're a lovely person. It's just that you can be very high energy sometimes, and I get overwhelmed by all the intensity, especially since life is kind of hectic for me right now. I just find it a lot easier when we're in a group together, so I'm not the sole focus of attention. So while I'm happy to see you during events, I'm just not up for one-on-one time. Sorry! Take care, and I'll looking forward to seeing you at the [event] on [X]day."
posted by velvet_n_purrs at 8:23 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

The slow fade is often recommended, but it's important to note that not only is the slow fade pretty passive aggressive, it really fucks those of us who actually are super busy or who have difficulty following up on every friend we have, because people start wondering if we're trying to slow-fade them.

But that's exactly why I think the slow fade is the kinder method. It allows the person to save face because there really are so many other reasons that people constantly and consistently flake on each other. Friendships are quite different than romantic relations in that they can fade in and out with nobody getting too worked up about it. It's not a "ramp up or nothing" trajectory.

No matter how you couch it, the "I don't want to hang out with you anymore" talk is going to translate as "I don't like you" 'cuz that's basically what it is. I would only do such a thing in an extreme situation where someone was actively making my life miserable.
posted by Jess the Mess at 8:37 AM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

The thing with extensive "How do we fix this?" boundary talks is that they're great for building intimacy -- you put your true feelings out there, you hear the other person's feelings, you both feel understood, or not, and you hash it out. So such a talk makes very little sense in the context of wanting to reduce intimacy with someone.

Yes, sure, that is true in certain specific contexts, such as the context of therapy, where they very much can and do increase intimacy. But crucially: that's not what I've suggested the OP engage in here. I respectfully disagree that "extensive boundary talks" always "increase intimacy." No. They're actually ridiculously effective at enforcing boundaries, and I know this because they've been a total game-changer for me professionally, personally, and with acquaintances. Ever since I started using direct boundary talks like this more in my life, I've gotten people who used to bug me to realign their behavior, at least in my presence. This includes mean and demanding bosses, unsolicited advice-giving family members, and all other manner of boundary-crossers. I think people are notoriously bad at this skill (see: when the result of said talk is increased intimacy), and for a how-to I recommend the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.
posted by hush at 8:52 AM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

It's unfortunate that so many on here suggest telling white lies. Although the advice is well-intentioned, telling white lies in this case would only exacerbate the situation since "Amy" is clearly not reading the OP's subtle "I'm busy" rejections. In this case, by being polite and telling white lies (or even the "slow fade") is just cruel.

Here's another vote for being honest and direct. In particular, I like Athanassiel's advice. Honest but compassionate rejection is tough but it is really the most mature thing to do when you need to reject someone. Though, no matter how you reject her, things will still be awkward for a little while since she is in your larger friend group.
posted by wye naught at 3:33 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

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