Need Help Navigating Friendship Difficulties
December 15, 2017 9:41 AM   Subscribe

The closest friends I've had in my life have always fallen into a similar pattern. They're direct and honest people, and that's what attracts me to them, but on occasion that bluntness will be directed toward me and I have a really hard time getting past it.

This has happened as far back as middle school, but throughout the different close friends I've had over the years, this seems to be a reoccurring pattern.

My oldest friend visited me a few years ago, and while we were drinking one night, I forget what we were talking about, but she jokingly said she thinks she only hung out with me back in school because she felt sorry for me.

A few years ago I was living with my closest friend at the time, and when I mentioned I wanted to get a pet, she made a comment jokingly about how no pet's going to fill the loneliness I was feeling.

While my current closest friend has not made any hurtful comments, I feel that she has been very difficult to disagree with and can be stubborn and sometimes abrasive in her way of talking. It's all tiny things, but they add up.

My question is how do you balance the overwhelmingly good in someone with the occasional bad? I don't react in the moment when these things happen because I'm not confrontational and tend to freeze, but the moments evidently stick around and bother me for a long time to come, even when the friendship continues. I love that my friends are honest and real people, but I just seem to have very thin skin when it's directed towards me. I'm asking this question because these feelings regarding my current friend are adding up, and I can feel it might culminate in me saying something next time, and I want to figure out how to handle this in a general sense before I direct something back at her. I also realize that everyone has good and bad, and I want to know how to accept the bad with the good.
posted by monologish to Human Relations (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
(1) the essence of a real friendship is making allowances -- that can mean taking a comment as intended rather than reading the worst into it, or giving the benefit of a doubt.

(2) on the flip side, a good friendship should be strong enough that if you are being hurt in a real way, you can bring it up later to that person and they will get it. if it's a one-time thing, that should clear the air and you can move on; if it's a pattern, maybe they can shake it because they care about you more.
posted by acm at 9:44 AM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

I tend to think of friends' annoying traits as a price I pay for their good traits and amazing friendship.

It's easy to overlook Friend A's slight tendency towards oneupsmanship when I see it as the price I happily pay for going on a decade now of being incredibly close with someone who just "gets" me.

I don't mind Friend B's slight superficiality when I remember that in exchange I get the world's best female friend who listens to me bitch about anything under the sun, and never, ever complains when I just Cannot go to one more fun place because I'm introverted and burnt out.

And so on. Once I'm close with someone, their "annoying traits" actually stop to bother me. My current BF reads all of the delivery options on Uber Eats out loud when he's craving a midnight snack, which is objectively obnoxious (I'm trying to sleep!) but it just makes me smile.

And a little unsolicited advice:

I just seem to have very thin skin when it's directed towards me

I was SO like this before I got my anxiety under control with therapy and meds. Dunno if that's maybe a thing for you, but being super-sensitive to comments from friends is something that happily went away when I got better at recognizing my own stressors and nervousness.

posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:50 AM on December 15, 2017 [13 favorites]

I think both the comments you describe are hurtful and not very thoughtful things to say. For the first one, why even bring it up? You don't need to tell people stuff from out of the past that will make them feel bad if there is nothing they can do about it and it doesn't change anything. For the second, unless you were explicitly using her as a sounding board for "will getting a pet be as great as I think", it was really uncalled for.

I have been the rude person and I have been the rude-ee. When I was younger, I would unintentionally say hurtful things to people I cared about and respected - I mean, I've sometimes done it since, but it was something I used to do fairly regularly. At one point, two of my friends actually sat me down and said, "We like you, but when you say [things in this way], it comes across as really hurtful and judgemental, and we would like you to be more careful about saying things like that". And it was very helpful, although also a little upsetting. It did not make me 100% nicer immediately, but it cleared the air and encouraged me to be a bit more thoughtful about how I phrased things. I think that if you have friends who are so frank and open that they are saying hurtful things fairly regularly, it will be helpful to them to get some response.

Last year I ended a friendship with someone who regularly said things I found very hurtful, both to me and to others. Some of them were very obviously mean and some of them were just very tactless. I had asked this person to stop and they responded by saying that it was, like, just their opinion and I should get over it. I tried, but after a while the mean things just eroded my desire to be friends. I think it was a mistake to try, honestly, because it made me feel really bad for no reason! I regret some aspects of the friendship, but it was bad for me to maintain things. Now, I ended this friendship only after several attempts to get this person to stop saying the things were directly rebuffed - it wasn't that they were trying to be a bit nicer and just having trouble doing a 180. But people who say hurtful stuff and won't try to stop are not good friends to have.
posted by Frowner at 9:51 AM on December 15, 2017 [10 favorites]

Those comments you mentioned don't seem honest in the good way, to me. They seem cruel and intended to hurt.

I'm not even sure where I'm going with this, except to say that maybe you aren't as thin-skinned as you think and you just need friends who aren't sarcastic and blunt and say hurtful things. People can be honest without being awful.
posted by cooker girl at 9:53 AM on December 15, 2017 [8 favorites]

You describe the friends as being frank and honest people, but in both the examples you gave you described their comments as being made "jokingly." I assume you mean that you think they really meant them (i.e. they weren't jokes) but that they said those things in a lighthearted no-big-deal way?

When people freeze up in uncomfortable social situations I think one of the best things they can do is have scripts ready so they don't have to rely on their brain to think of what to do or say when it feels overwhelmed in the moment. Possible good responses for the types of things your friends said:
"Wow, do you really mean that?"
"Damn, that hurts."

Your friends, if they are not bothered by such comments, might not even realize they're having a bad impact on you. The first step might just be finding a low key way to convey the impact they're having on you. How they react will give you valuable information about the quality of the friendship. If they seem sad or alarmed to have hurt your feelings, that's definitely a good sign and suggests they'll try to do better. If they roll their eyes and dismiss your feelings, or get defensive and tell you why they're right to say things the way they do, it's maybe a sign that you need to be a little more careful around them.

Friendship does mean being patient with each other's faults and quirks, but it goes both ways. If you can be patient with an occasional unkind word said without true malice, they can be patient with your feelings being a little more sensitive than theirs. If both of you are trying, that's great. But if you raise concerns and their attitude is that you need to do 100% of the accommodating and adjustment, that's a sign either that your friendship isn't as valuable to them as you think or their relationship skills are underdeveloped. Either one is a good reason to start looking for new friends.

Not sure if it matters, but I'm giving this feedback as someone who would be quite unfazed by either of the comments you gave as examples if they were made to me. Someone doesn't have to have the same standard of sensitivity/tolerance as you in order to think your feelings are valid and deserve consideration.
posted by Severine at 10:07 AM on December 15, 2017 [8 favorites]

If you're determined to change yourself instead of changing the kind of people you associate with, you have to work yourself up to responding with the same kind of breezy rudeness that they use on you. start with "how about don't be an asshole?" with a smile and proceed from there.

this will also help you discover whether these are just friendly insult people, who do exist and are fine as long as they pay enough attention to their friends to notice when it's not welcome, or whether they have a reciprocal attraction to people who will submissively accept mean treatment and get meaner when you aren't passive about it anymore. good to find out either way. you don't want to have the kind of double-standard friendship where it's friendly joking when they do it, but thin-skinned lashing out when you do it. don't accept this from them unless they can take it, too.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:11 AM on December 15, 2017 [7 favorites]

Direct and honest: "Looking back, I felt like you were a bit of a loner in school, and I am really glad we still connected. Is that how you remember it?"
A jerk: the thing they said.

Direct and honest: "I have heard pets are good for companionship. Is that why you are thinking about one? It seems you've been struggling with that."
A jerk: the thing they said.

You don't have to deal with jerk comments from friends. If they aren't willing to hear "wow, that hurts me" and back off, they aren't friends. They are just jerks.
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 11:03 AM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

At the risk of revealing myself as rude or clueless at best, if I had said the things your friends said, jokingly, I’d have said them because they’re obviously absurd, and we both know it and derive some fun from the fantasy, hyperbole, and drama in the theatrical sense. It sounds like you take them literally despite recognizing that they’re joking and in your interpretation there’s no difference between them saying something honestly and jokingly. This might or might not be true for your friends, hard to tell from your post, but I’d be horrified to find out how different our mental models were when I thought we shared a moment of absurdity but it actually turns out it’s not shared at all and I hurt you.
posted by meijusa at 11:44 AM on December 15, 2017 [15 favorites]

My question is how do you balance the overwhelmingly good in someone with the occasional bad?

Might help to recognize that literally everyone has "occasional bad", including you. You always have the right to decide what dealbreakers you want to have, but those particular comments, each made jokingly and by a different person, seem like extremely ordinary teasing to me. You're clearly someone who doesn't enjoy being teased, and that's fine, but that doesn't make your friends jerks (they may be in reality, I don't know, but teasing you mildly once in years of being close friends does not make them jerks, holy hell people...), especially if you've never told them their comments were hurtful.

Anyway if they're hurting you with their joking comments, just say so. If they're good friends, they'll be more careful about what they say to you in the future. If they're still making hurtful comments, you can decide if you'd rather spend time with other people who have different flaws instead. If you aren't enjoying hanging out with them, don't.
posted by randomnity at 12:08 PM on December 15, 2017 [7 favorites]

Seconding the idea that you should say something. I have a dear friend that stopped speaking to me for years, and when we reconnected at a funeral, she said that I'd said something that really hurt her feelings, and she just cut me out because it changed the way she felt about me. In review, I couldn't have known that I tripped a trigger, and I would have absolutely apologized had I known, and would have modified my behavior.

So, give people a heads up that they're being dickish, they may not know.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 4:41 PM on December 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

I have friends like this and I love it because to me it shows that they love, respect and understand me enough to understand my ticks, and I find those types of jokes hilarious. But I wasnt always this chill about it, in fact I used to be super sensitive like you. But now that I am, there's nothing more libérating than laughing at myself.

I'm not saying your feelings aren't valid. They are. And others have expressed that you might want to talk to your friends about it and that might be à good Idea. I have another idea that you could try, which is to come up with some good disses you can throw back at them so that both of you are laughing. I'm sure your friends are no cooler or slicker than you are and since youve known them so long, you are the perfect person to know their foibles and thus find yourself in a very advantageous position for roasting them. I think if you start dishing it, you'll feel less hurt. Sometimes you just need to give people a taste of their own medicine.
posted by winterportage at 5:00 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think you’re on the right track already: make sure that occasional-bad is really just occasional, and (as others have said) try to be as aware of your own occasional-bad as perception allows.

You sound a little bit like me — I’m absurdly thin-skinned, and I tend to get very attached to my friends. Hypocritically, I also have a real mouth on me, and a bit of a temper. Many of my friends are similar, so our natural human clumsiness can feel more malicious than it is.

Based on two key friendships that could NOT be salvaged in recent years, I offer this (also clumsy) advice:

First: If you notice the spite gradually ramping up, the friendship is due for a downgrade. If the “playful” jabs seem more like taunting than affectionate teasing, or if the “honesty” is only ever brutal and never kind? Check the frequency. You might just be babysitting a low-level jerk.
    Red flags:
  • The minute you show ANY signs of being hurt, s/he immediately orders you not to get offended because That’s obviously not what I meant. Beware the type who seems eager to tell you that you “look tired” or to embarrass you in front of other people.
  • Likewise, watch for the scene-stealer who makes cutting remarks, then preempts your reaction by immediately demanding emotional labor from you to reassure him/her “you’re still a good person and it’s no big deal”. This is the friend who hears “that was a cruel thing to say” and bursts into paranoid tears.
This is where cultivating an awareness of your own foot-in-mouth moments will be so important: neither one of you should expect more benefit-of-the-doubt than you are willing to give the other.

Second — and this is the hard part for lots of us: no secret-tests-of-character. No silent treatment, no ghosting, no blowing up at the other person and telling yourself that if they really love you, they’ll come after you and beg you to tell them what they did wrong. (It wouldn’t be satisfying anyway, trust me.) You can slow-fade, of course, if you’re tired of hearing “I had no idea (thing I keep doing) would hurt you” over and over, or being told how you SHOULD feel.

Otherwise, it’s fair to say “ouch” when you experience it, or wince out loud. It’s like when someone steps on your toes — assume good faith, but don’t just wait for them to realize it! You aren’t calling attention to it to make your friend feel bad; ideally, you let them know because you’d want them to do the same. Foot-in-the-mouth is like spinach-in-the-teeth that way.

TL;DR: you’ll BOTH know how much the friendship is worth to you by how much you strive to overcome the bumps and bruises. You can also take an inventory of bruises at any time, just to make sure they’re few and far between.
posted by armeowda at 7:25 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

As someone who's constantly putting my foot in my mouth: I think you try to call it out when you see it. That gives you a chance to find out whether their reaction is "JEEZ, it was just a JOKE, why can't you take a JOKE" or something more like "Yikes, you're right. I went too far, and that was pretty crummy of me." I think it's what someone does when they're called out that shows you what kind of person they really are.
posted by capricorn at 7:30 AM on December 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is it possible that you’ve been too blunt and direct with your friends? They may be treating you the way you have treated them.
posted by conrad53 at 8:25 AM on December 18, 2017

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