If a friend is never happy for me, does that make her my frenemy?
November 29, 2016 2:05 AM   Subscribe

I feel like my friend keeps sizing me and others up. I feel uneasy about this. I'm not sure if this is enough reason to cut off the friendship. She's an otherwise nice person. Should I just accept this as a quirk of hers?

When something good happens to me, she doesn't reliably express happiness for me and instead seems to try and assess exactly "how good" said event is. For example, she asked me if my full-tuition scholarship was "need-based" (no, it wasn't) and asked me why my program wasn't more highly desirable if it was supposedly a top program. She also often asks me if the programs that other classmates have been accepted to in my field "are good," and she spends a lot of time googling the accomplishments of other classmates-- for example, she asked me if I knew of a scholarship that was given out at my undergrad that one of her colleagues been awarded. When I won a contest, she asked me how many winners there were. When I got good news about a health issue, she was also kind of ho-hum about it and asked me what I did differently to resolve it, while everyone else I shared this news with responded, "YAY! CONGRATS!"

It's just kind of always been like this. I don't know if she's like this with everyone, since we don't have that many mutual friends and live in different cities. She hasn't done anything specifically wrong or backstabbing or dishonest, but the vibe I get from her feels a little uncomfortable. There was a time in the past when I decided that I didn't feel comfortable with the way she seemed to rank people in her mind, so I cut her off-- but I later told myself that maybe it was because I was feeling insecure about my own accomplishments and had maybe projected it onto her, and rekindled the friendship. But several years later, we aren't even in the same field, I don't give nearly as many shits as I used to about "accomplishments," and I still feel lukewarm about her because of the above. Literally none of my other friends would ever respond to my own good news the way she does.

Sometimes I think I could cut the friendship and not be too sad about it, but I also get that friends only get harder to come by as people get busier and busier in their lives. Good parts of our friendship include her generally trusting me a lot with my assessments of other people and the fact that we share a very specific immigration history and language, so in a way she knows about my life in ways that others probably will have a much more difficult time understanding. This is probably a big reason for why I am still friends with her.

Is this a personality quirk? Is this something I could reasonably reframe and tolerate, or is this a big enough red flag to let the friendship go?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
My eldest daughter behaves like this. She us on the spectrum. In her case she asks all these questions because she can't tell how happy the speaker is so she tries to use surrounding facts to assess how happy they would rationally be. She also seems perpetually lukewarm because she expresses poorly too. And in some ways she really IS ranking people according to some weird scale in her head because she is incredibly unsure of interpersonal relationships and has to find some way of feeling in control of her understanding of people. It sucks, people don't like it.

I have noticed her longest lasting friendships (still don't last that long) are with others who are very verbally specific about their own feelings, "i won a rosette on Sunday and I am so so happy and proud about it! It was so exciting realising I'd won!", and can ignore her questions, "was your pony the tallest in the class?" "Oh yes, but I was still so thrilled because even though he isn't jumping as high, he has to turn much tighter than the little guys, he looked proud too when they pinned his ribbon on!".

This may be totally irrelevant, it might not be a spectrum thing (though her trust in your assessment of others also seems pertinent here), and you might already be effusive and verbally specific, but I have also noticed that the friendships which falter go through a stage of the other person giving less and less information on their feelings, because they are, quite naturally, hurt by the apparent quizzing and ranking.

You don't owe anyone friendship and if it's too tiring or hurtful for you having to deal with the comments/questions then you should absolutely distance yourself. I just wanted to offer my perspective because even though my daughter might say out loud in earshot of Betsy that "Betsy isn't the best rider at the yard" she actually absolutely LOVES Betsy and thinks she's fantastic. She just doesn't"get" the friendship filter that makes most of us amplify our friends successes and diminish their flaws in order to be supportive friends.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 3:02 AM on November 29, 2016 [38 favorites]


Good parts of our friendship include her generally trusting me a lot with my assessments of other people and the fact that we share a very specific immigration history and language,

This is a pretty slim list of reasons why a person is a good friend, especially when only one of them has anything to do with their behaviour or personality. Do you have a good time with her? Do you share great jokes? Have interesting conversations? Help each other out? Participate in activities you both enjoy? Commiserate about bad times?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:11 AM on November 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't think its a red flag, it could be that she's deeply insecure or maybe its just her way of showing interest rather than just give a superficial "yay, grats" response.

There are aspects of her friendship you enjoy, can you just accept that you'll never get that particular thing from her? Sounds like you have plenty of friends to share happy news with who will give you the validation you want.

Sounds like whatever the reason, she's a little odd (possibly on the spectrum, possibly some other reason why her responses are a-typical), can you accept that its jut how she is? Share the parts of your life with her that you want to share and keep your happy news for your other friends or if we're talking general FB post type stuff here, just ignore her weird reactions
posted by missmagenta at 3:15 AM on November 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


the fact that we share a very specific immigration history and language

Is there a cultural center or civic or even meetup group on campus or in your town or a neighboring one you can seek out (that doesn't involve religious beliefs you don't necessarily subscribe to if that's not comfortable, etc.) you could join that would provide some of this and take off some of the pressure of "this woman is my main tangible, peer to peer connection to my past/home/life history"? That might make it easier to assess where you're really at with this and help you to draw (and maintain) boundaries that work for you.
posted by blue suede stockings at 4:02 AM on November 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


When I got good news about a health issue, she was also kind of ho-hum about it and asked me what I did differently to resolve it

When she asks you something like this, does it feel judgemental or does it feel more like 'this is a very odd response'? I agree with EndsofInvention's questions - do you enjoy her company? That's the most important thing.

I personally wouldn't let go of this friendship without first asking her why she does it (when she does it again, as opposed to just randomly asking her anytime). I would just say 'these are very odd questions'. She might not be aware that it's odd, maybe she does only care about hierarchy/status or maybe she is trying to work out where she 'should be' in life. Is she young?

I don't mean to sound like a twat but can you downgrade her to 'acquaintance' so you speak less and your expectations of her are lower?
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 5:00 AM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


My parents do this. It's super frustraring but they literally are doing their best to show support. They don't know how to be any other way.

If you can deal with this, I'd keep her as a friend. I don't see it as an attack but as a mental quirk/cultural difference.
posted by Kalmya at 5:16 AM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Is this a personality quirk? Is this something I could reasonably reframe and tolerate, or is this a big enough red flag to let the friendship go?


All my friends are flawed! And I know that, so I change my expectations based on their personality.
- I have competitive friends who are really fun to have lunch with (provided that nothing comparable comes up - we can talk all day about impersonal topics. But I make a mental note to steer clear from discussing my grades/achievements).
- On the other end of the spectrum, I have really kind nice friends who would hold back from giving truthful hard-edged criticism because they are too forgiving, I think. I wouldn't ask them for feedback on my work, because sometimes you want someone critical and tough.

I think I would drop her if she was toxic and wanted (subconsciously or not) to sabotage your goals. But if she is easily envious in an otherwise harmless way, I would maybe keep her as a monthly-meetup friend and stick to 'safe' topics in my conversations with her.

It depends on whether you value quantity or quality in your friendships. My sister for example, has very high standards for loyalty in her friends, so she has a tight-knit squad of us-against-the-world, ride-or-die friends. I don't think she would be able to tolerate your 'friend' in this situation.

I on the other hand enjoy my privacy and prefer to have friendships with people from all different walks of life. So I have a big second-tier of friends but a very small core group. Which do you prefer? It's really a personal decision.

Hope that this analysis helped! :)
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 5:27 AM on November 29, 2016 [10 favorites]


> we share a very specific immigration history and language

Speaking as a POC in North America, this is valuable. I would say maybe let the friendship grow a little more distant if you need space from her- but having access to any people or community who understand and share your origin story has a value that to me is worth being tolerant of annoying habits.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:01 AM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


She's a measurer, that's just her way. She does it with others, so it's not like she's singling you out.
Some people simply have to know how they stand compared to others.
I would maintain the friendship. You don't live in the same city, after all, and friends are valuable no matter what the quirk (assuming the quirk isn't a major pain in the ass.)
posted by BostonTerrier at 8:54 AM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


>She hasn't done anything specifically wrong or backstabbing or dishonest, but the vibe I get from her feels a little uncomfortable.

A consistently bad vibe is definitely reason to fade out. I wouldn't spend time with anyone who *basically* felt wrong to be around.

I did have one friend like that, who could be incredibly entertaining at times but had an underlying "knives out" vibe that would come out in odd comments now and then. For a while I just kept her at arm's length other than at parties and group events (where she really did offer good value, funwise), and expressed nothing of any personal importance to her. But that got tiring (and annoying, who wants to feel like they have to watch their back), and eventually we drifted apart.

Anyway, your Spidey sense is powerful and worth listening to.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:02 AM on November 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


Since you mention school, I have to say this right out of the gate.

YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED TO BE FRIENDS WITH PEOPLE YOU KNOW FROM SCHOOL.

There are soooooooooo many people from college who I gradually dropped over the years because they were jerks. As kids we are raised that you have to invite everyone to your birthday party and bring enough cupcakes for the whole class. This isn't actually how life works. Just because someone sits in the same room for a few hours a week doesn't mean you need to have them in your life, socially.

This includes people who you "ought" to get to know better because you have something important in common. You tried. You find her off-putting. That's really the limits of your obligation here.
posted by Sara C. at 10:54 AM on November 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't know her, of course, but it reminds me of people who are so insecure themselves that they are always judging others. I know I felt like that for quite a while, and have been both on the giving and receiving end of this. I'm pretty sure there is one friend in college who was put off by the fact that, for a while while I wanted to lose weight, I looked at all people through a weight lens.

I'm sure there's a technical word for that but IANAPsych. It's a very debilitating vibe to be receiving on a constant basis. And I doubt it's personal against you, but until she realizes she does that and changes that "mental filter" that makes her look at herself and other people's accomplishments from that only perspective --basically, how it relates to herself in her mental ranking of human achievements-- she's unlikely to be much fun to be around!
posted by ipsative at 12:24 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am now worried I might do this a little. I don't know that I do, but it felt very recognisable.

Iiiiffff I did it it would be because I am an optimiser and a solver and I would be concerned that you had gotten what you deserved, the best available to you, etc. Basically that the problem is now solved, it's a given that I am glad for you, and let's do an evaluation to see what can be good takeaways or optimised for next time. I do forget that people often don't want me to fix things, just to squee. I think, if I beanplate right here, that I assume people have other folks to just be w00ting with and part of the reason they hang out with me is cos I am like this. I may be tragically wrong.

Don't hang out with her if you don't enjoy it, of course, but your perosn could just be an unbubbly control freak who is looking out for you.

- she asked me if my full-tuition scholarship was "need-based"
= do you have financial constraints I should be aware of when suggesting activites

- why my program wasn't more highly desirable if it was supposedly a top program
= if you're going to spend 4 years on this and there's a better one that's worth looking into

- asked me if I knew of a scholarship that was given out at my undergrad
= keeping you appraised of opportunities

- asked me what I did differently to resolve [health problem]
= pure debugging, how is this problem solved in the future for you or others
posted by Iteki at 1:19 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


If she is unaware of how she comes across to other people, this might be an opportunity to clue her in. This can be a great kindness from you as her friend.

If you haven't already, and if you feel up to it, give her some feedback. Next time she does that, say with a warm chuckle - "No, silly, you're supposed to just say CONGRATS -- not all that other stuff." Or - "Aww, now I'm sad. Just tell me CONGRATS ok?" This tells her directly what you would like from her as a friend. If she argues or snaps back, then at least you will have tried.

You asked about reframing and tolerating some of her questions and responses:
* if my full-tuition scholarship was "need-based"
* why my program wasn't more highly desirable if it was supposedly a top program.
* if the programs that other classmates have been accepted to in my field "are good,"
* if I knew of a scholarship that was given out at my undergrad that one of her colleagues been awarded.
* When I won a contest, she asked me how many winners there were.
* When I got good news about a health issue, she was also kind of ho-hum about it and asked me what I did differently to resolve it

While these are admittedly odd, the positive reframing would be that :
- she's trying to help you by keeping track of your progress and providing honest appraisals, so that she can tell you to aim your sights higher, or work harder and not rest on your laurels
- she's trying to help you by keeping track of what works with your health issues, so she can remind you next time
- she is scanning the competitive environment vigilantly and constantly so that she can provide useful information to her family and friends on how best to navigate it
posted by metaseeker at 1:24 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


I also get that friends only get harder to come by as people get busier and busier in their lives.

This is true but not necessarily a bad thing. Many people begin to value quality over quantity as they get older. You may end up with fewer "friend-friends" but you start to develop "work friends" and "parent friends" and "running friends" and "band friends" and "skateboarding friends" and etc.

So reframe this relationship as one with an "expat friend" and don't share so much personal news. Not because she's terrible or wrong, but because you've grown apart and you are not in sync with her.
posted by headnsouth at 1:41 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


So, friendship isn't a court of law -- you don't have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is a bad friend in order to stop being friends with them. "This person makes me feel bad/uncomfortable" is enough!

That said, from what you've written here I'd see if you might not be able to reorient this friendship a bit. For example, when she starts asking you to rate other people's accomplishments or presses for uncomfortable details, say so and let it be a little awkward and see how she responds. So for example:

She starts quizzing you about your medical issues: "Hey, I know you mean well, but actually I don't want to get into the details of my medical condition! The important thing is, I'm feeling much better now."

She asks the financial details of your scholarship: "Um...why are you asking me that? It sort of feels like you're questioning whether I could win this award on merit, and that's not a great feeling from a friend."

She quizzes you about a friend's award: "Er, why don't we just be happy for Sally? I don't want to get in the business of rating her accomplishments versus other people -- she's just a cool, accomplished person, period!"

Basically -- name what is making you uncomfortable about the conversation rather than just letting it sit there. I think how your friend responds will give you a good sense of whether this is coming from cluelessness or malice, and thus whether it makes sense to continue the relationship.
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:05 PM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


You've gotten lots of valuable suggestions here, but I'm chiming in to be devil's advocate -- my own (once very close) cousin does this to me: undercuts my ambitions and questions every accomplishment or talks about her own when I excitedly tell her about one of mine, passive-aggressively insults those of my S.O., etc. The cumulative effect is toxic. It took twelve years for me to fully cut her out of my life because she was family, she deserved the benefit of the doubt, I've never cut anybody off, blah blah blah. I do not regret the choice.

If you're looking for other people with your background, seconding blue suede stockings' suggestion of joining some sort of group.

That being said, it might be worth asking her why she does what she does. Maybe the answer will surprise you.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 2:43 PM on November 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


I have a friend who's a lot like this, and I keep them as close as I do for the very same reasons you're close with your friend. This person's probably insecure some things in their life, and they also spend a lot of time in a community of practice that encourages a lot of status anxiety. They also have few close friendships (their social life is like what cotton dress sock describes upthread), and I think that this behaviour is a big part of it. They can come across as stuck-up rather than helpful, which is worrisome because I know they pride themselves on being in the know. I spend a lot of time questioning whether this person looks down on everyone else's life choices - I don't want to believe that a friend of mine does this, but this kind of talk is suggestive of that. My friend defends their behaviour, seeing it not as a value judgement and instead as a statement of...fact?

While you could reframe her behaviour, I think it's fair for you to acknowledge that this isn't a person who responds to your bids for attention in a way that makes you feel heard. Perhaps this is a bit of an ableist statement, but I like spending time with people who are good at relating to others, and a big part of that is about maintaining a healthy balance between sharing in my happiness and giving me tough love when needed. Some of the people I've kept closest to me either don't want to do this sort of thing or, due to being somewhere on the spectrum, are incapable of it. One of the long-run effects of that is that I have a lot of trouble owning my successes anymore. One of the ways I'm dealing with this is to "upgrade" my relationships with people who can be both praiseful and critical. It helps a lot.

Please do MefiMail me if you want to chat about this - I really do get the position you're in and the compromises you feel compelled to make.
posted by blerghamot at 5:38 PM on November 29, 2016


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