Nemesis is too strong of a word, but...
December 18, 2017 7:43 PM   Subscribe

I am not in the habit of having dinner with people who I don't get along with. I try to get along with most people so I don't end up in these situations. But tomorrow, my old friend is coming into town and has organized an intimate dinner with his close friends (6 people). One of his close friends is someone who I don't like to interact with (aka my "nemesis"). I'm going. My nemesis is going. What is the best way to handle the situation?

Factors I've considered:
1) My friend who is coming in from out of town deserves to have a good time catching up with old friends.
2) The guy I don't like didn't do anything to me beyond just being obnoxious in ways that are particularly grating to me. And probably vice versa. Oil and water sort of thing.
3) My personality when I am comfortable is pretty good/funny/good listener. When I'm uncomfortable, I can easily shut down.
4) My kind friend (the one who is coming in from out of town) has offered to create separate hang outs for me and my nemesis but I would rather learn to handle the discomfort.
5) I don't want to just listen and nod and smile until it's over. My friends will catch on that I am not being myself. I'd like to have fun. Not just survive the night. Maybe I can find common ground with this guy.
posted by Buddy_Boy to Human Relations (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It's clear you don't want to go so don't! It's great that you want to grow but this is about your old friend more than it is about you, although you certainly deserve to feel comfortable and safe. Your friend deserves to be able to relax and see everyone without worrying about managing the situation. Because he offered an alternative, it sounds like he recognizes this, too. If you had more time, I'd make other suggestions but I'd just see your friend one-on-one and focus on the old friendship.
posted by smorgasbord at 7:49 PM on December 18, 2017 [6 favorites]

If possible, sit on the same side of the table as him, or on the same sofa, so you don't have to make eye contact (rather than sitting opposite him).
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:58 PM on December 18, 2017 [23 favorites]

I'd just go for a one-on-one with your friend regardless. What kind of catch-up happens with 6 people? Not a good one, IMO. If your friend offered a separate visit, just take that opportunity! I'd pick that option even if there was no nemesis involved.
posted by quince at 8:12 PM on December 18, 2017 [8 favorites]

If he is enough self aware to be aware that it's uncomfortable approach it directly with a brief "let's both try to be cool and tone things down for "joe". If he's not at that point, quietly as above, stay as far away and not in direct eye contact.
posted by sammyo at 8:20 PM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I hope this isn’t too glib, but I think you just decide to act right for your friend’s sake, and be the bigger person if your nemesis is being obnoxious. Not focusing on him will help. (Even stopping the jokes about this person being your “nemesis” will help. Downgrade the whole thing.)

Shutting down is a choice (unless you’re dealing with a disorder or something but you haven’t said so.) You know ahead of time you’re in danger of making this choice, so have a strategy. Think of your friend and how selfish you would be to bum out his party. Start a side conversation with someone else. Go to the restroom. Literally count to five in your head while breathing deeply.

I think that’s also the answer to how you can go beyond gritting your teeth to actually enjoying yourself, a fake it til you make it approach.
posted by kapers at 8:46 PM on December 18, 2017 [23 favorites]

Presumably, there is something your friend likes about this person. Try to understand what it is and maybe you can even enjoy this aspect of his personality.

Another approach that has often worked for me is assuming that things you don‘t like in others are things that really bug you about yourself. IE overconfidence in people really irritates me, because I‘m chronically underconfident and hate that about myself. Good old projection, basically.

Both approaches have you look at aspects of this person‘s character and analyzing their effect on you - basically, talking you off the ledge and downgrading you from ‚dude eating crackers‘ to ‚there‘s this one thing about guy that‘s bugging me‘.

2nding the advice that mentally filing this person as a ‚nemesis‘ is probably not helping.
posted by The Toad at 9:02 PM on December 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

Lately I've found that my journalism training kicks in in situations like this, and maybe this is a strategy you can use too. When I have to be around someone I dislike and I have no choice but to interact with them, as long as they're not outright mean or rude to me, I sometimes go into interview mode, where I can mentally hold them at arm's length and view them with the open detachment I would an interview subject for, say, a piece I'm not particularly interested in writing. I can gin up enough polite curiosity to keep a conversation going with someone like that if the situation calls for it, where the main goal is just to distractedly volley back conversationally, manufacturing enough interest that I'm not rude to them in the company of others. I can find something of interest in just about anything, and if I'm feeling up to it, that may include bantering back my polite disagreement with whatever the person I don't like (whose opinion I don't care about) has just said, in such a way that I feel satisfied with the exchange, because I'm not pretending to like them, but I am engaging with them in a socially acceptable way. This can actually be kind of a fun game, though it takes some energy and can wear on a person. You presumably only need to keep it up for however long you might be forced to interact with them over the course of this single evening, so perhaps you'll find it doable. I'm thinking of Tom Sawyer's ministrations with the pinchbug right now for some reason...
posted by limeonaire at 9:11 PM on December 18, 2017 [9 favorites]

Best answer: My trick might not work for you, but—I just take off my eyeglasses when I have to look in that person’s direction. I have pretty terrible vision, so if I can’t see the person clearly, I get along with him/her much better.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:26 PM on December 18, 2017 [13 favorites]

If I were your friend, I'd much rather hang out with my buddies in a situation where everyone is comfortable especially if I'm coming from out-of-town to spend time with people. I would probably have posed this very similarly as them, neutrally present an alternative, with the expectation that you would prefer that option over awkward potentially-unpleasant-for-multiple-people nemesis time.

Maybe I lean a bit on the side of Guessers, but I would assume they were requesting, not just blandly suggesting. Like, I understand that you have your reasons (some people are just horridly annoying) but vendettas and nemesis type drama can be exhausting and draining and frustrating for the people who know to be around those involved, even just on a background level.
Your best options are to not go, or let go. Like, every time Nemesis annoys you, just think of them as a person with anxieties and hopes and weird fears. If it seems mutual, consider it's that they sensed you found them offputting--it's the most unpleasant impression to receive. Correct that, not overwhelmingly (you don't have to fall in love) just...correct that bad impression. People aren't usually actually unusually unpleasant, they may be annoying but rarely overwhelmingly objectively so.

You can set up fake "check ins" to schedule a minor emergency with your roommate or something too, in case you need an escape pod if it's too fucking much. Everyone will breathe a silent sigh of relief if you end up needing to flee.

Or don't go, if they either are that bad or it doesn't feel like something you can really pull off.
posted by zinful at 9:51 PM on December 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

It doesn't sound like this person is setting out to annoy you, ie, they're aren't deliberately going after you, it's just a personality mismatch. I'd ask to sit away from them and when you do have to interact with them, just pretend it's the first time you've ever met and you're complete strangers putting your best foot forward. In other words, kill 'em with kindness.

Best case, this will disarm them, and yes, maybe you can find common ground. The only way this backfires is if your nemesis IS actually trying to get to you, in which case, you being sweet as pie and not rising to the bait will really infuriate them because you're not biting! So, win-win.

It's only a few hours, you'll be fine. And you never know, you may end up with one of those anecdotes can tell for the next ten years.
posted by Jubey at 10:04 PM on December 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

If it were me, I would not want to give my nemesis the satisfaction of knowing I stayed home because of them, nor the pleasure of enjoying a me-free evening with the host, nor allow them to feel smug about being the bigger man/woman who was willing to attend the dinner in spite of my potentially being there. I would also not want to give the impression to the group that I am the one who does not belong, or the one who is the less-important friend of the old friend.

I would go just to stand my ground, and take secret joy that my showing up and having a good time is potentially irritating my nemesis.

If you can score an additional hangout with old friend minus the nemesis, so much the better.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:35 PM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

There's a similar person in my friend's life, and I agree, even joking about them as a "nemesis" gives the situation too much strength. I've actually asked our friend to stop offering things like separate hangouts, because really the other person is just a human I don't get along with, and there are plenty of those out there in the world (statistically speaking).

At mutual events, I note the presence of the person I find annoying, comfort myself with your point 1, about it being nice for the mutual friend to have all of their friends, and then just kind of gloss over the other person from there on out. I don't avoid talking to them or anything, I just don't worry about who exactly they are and treat them politely but with the knowledge that they too dislike me and don't want to be over-burdened with my presence. They've settled into basically the same behavioral pattern toward me, and it's okay now. I still honestly can't see what attracts our mutual friend to them, but that's okay too. They don't invite me to things they organize but are civil if I incidentally show up, and vice versa. The only favor I've asked of our mutual friend is that they not bring the other person to my home or bring me to theirs, so if a situation is particularly grating, I remind myself that it's only temporary and I still have my comfortable place to return to.
posted by teremala at 5:23 AM on December 19, 2017

Look for redeeming qualities. You describe the person as obnoxious, so remind yourself that this is time-limited, and that you can tolerate an annoying situation for several hours.
posted by theora55 at 5:49 AM on December 19, 2017

If you DO go, bring cash. That way, if things go way off the rails, you can make a much faster exit.
posted by sexyrobot at 7:38 AM on December 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

You are a rock; he's water. Just let it splash off you. Don't reply to any of his comments, except as necessary to be polite. Do reply to your friend and others. Can you enlist your friend and/or others to exchange knowing glances and eye rolls?
posted by at at 7:51 AM on December 19, 2017

Don't be rude. It will ruin your friend's evening. Knowing glances and eye rolls aren't that subtle. If you have to resort to that, just don't go. If you do go, try to engineer sitting on the same side of the table with one person in between you. That one person shouldn't be the friend organizing; they shouldn't feel like Switzerland. I'm seconding the advice to bring cash-- when your patience wears out (but before it shows), leave.
posted by studioaudience at 8:54 AM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

It might help you if you reframe your relationship with this person from "nemesis" to something less dramatic. You say that this person hasn't done anything specific to harm you, and it's just that you don't see eye-to-eye. Just another person you meet in your life where that's simply the case.

Now you can go to the dinner knowing that your nemesis isn't going to be there. Just a bunch of people who have different views and approaches to life than you. The less you build this up into something weird the less chance it has becoming weird.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 12:19 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Thanks you guys.
posted by Buddy_Boy at 2:23 PM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

So the person you most want to hang out with is OutOfTown friend, but because this person is effectively hosting, you need to find a second-best-friend for the evening. As others have said, over-activating your expectations of disagreement with this person isn't helpful, but clearly if you ranked the 6 people you were going to be spending the evening with, OutOfTown is at the top and ThatGuy is at the bottom. Big question now: who's #2 and how can you arrange to sit next to them?
posted by aimedwander at 8:27 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

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