Why do our friends always try to convince us to be just like them?
November 19, 2018 7:44 AM   Subscribe

My spouse and I have been pretty close friends with a couple for the last 6 years. We have kids the same age. They are constantly, constantly trying to convince us to do what they do, travel where they travel, buy what they buy. I have been trying to figure out this behavior for as long as I've known them and I need to get closer to understanding it or my head will explode.

I am looking for insights into why people might behave this way because I want to save this friendship but it's starting to feel toxic. This weekend we had a ridiculous, very prolonged argument about why my spouse and I should be taking our child skiing and learning to ski and then coming on ski trips with them. Apparently, not skiing is wrong and bad? And also, apparently "I'm not interested in skiing" is not an acceptable response to their attempts to persuade us? They were really pushy and obnoxious about it. And it's always been like this - when they bought a minivan, we were supposed to do the same. When they bought a second car - same thing. When they go to Mexico, we should go with them. We should stop buying Christmas and birthday presents so that we can afford to travel more. Spouse should take a different job. Getting vaccinations when you visit a less developed country - we're dupes for doing that and we should skip it like they do. We should shop more at Costco, instead of our regular grocery store. We should buy the same (better) brands as them. Our kids should do the extracurriculars their kids do. It goes on and on and on. Sometimes my spouse and I just laugh about this, and sometimes we get really exasperated.

I have been on this earth nearly 40 years and I have never, ever encountered this. I am usually able to come up with a theory for a lot of human behavior, or just rely on conventional wisdom, but I'm just baffled here. If you can provide any insight into this behavior, it would help me have more empathy. Honestly, if they weren't so opinionated it wouldn't be as much fun to be their friends, but this is too much. I really can't see it stemming from insecurity, which I think would be the quick and easy answer. and is probably right most of the time. But I really have a hard time seeing insecurity in them. I see arrogance. I'm the one who's insecure, because this is bothering me and making me doubt our life decisions as a family (until I give my head a shake and say to myself - 'yes, I like my life'). And yes, I realize I could just ask them myself. I'm getting there. We've already sent an email saying if they can't accept us the way we are then unfortunately we won't be friendship-ing anymore. That would really suck, though.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Two theories, neither of which are mutually exclusive with being dicks:

1) They love you and want you to experience the joy they get from their purchases/trips/tropical diseases.
2) They admire you and want you to validate their p/t/td by following suit.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:46 AM on November 19, 2018 [49 favorites]

For some people, doing things differently than they do is an implicit criticism of the way they do those things. People often experience their preferences as reflective of objective criteria, so doing it this way is better than doing it that way, not just the way they like to do it. Driving from city A to Z? You should drive through city F, like I do, it's a better/safer route. You drive through city R? But that's worse! That must mean you disagree with me, you think I'm dumb, what's wrong with you? I went through all the trouble of figuring out the best way to do it!
posted by skewed at 7:52 AM on November 19, 2018 [42 favorites]

Some "friends" always want to be alpha in their friend groups because they're fundamentally insecure about their consumer and life choices and can only feel validated when others do the same.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 7:53 AM on November 19, 2018 [17 favorites]

Do they want to share those things with you? We've talked to friends about traveling and doing other activities together, in part because we think that the kids will amuse each other better than we can on our own. But talking through budgetary details is way outside of the level of investment I make in those comments.

Might they feel judged and defensive about their parenting choices? (Not that you are necessarily feeling/acting judgey but sometimes even pretty minor things give me the Bad Parent Willies, and I could imagine overselling things if I didn't recognize that the whole thing is happening inside me, not from the person who did flashcards with their toddlers or the person who drops everything and travels the world with their family.)

How do you react when they do this? Have you talked to them about how it makes you feel? Are you being wishy washy in a way that makes them think that you're tentatively interested, and so are trying to sell you on something they value?
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:57 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'd go with chesty_a_arthur's #2, tbh. Seems to me they want to know that they're awesome. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, they're trying to get you to imitate. Not evil, but to me not particularly appealing.
posted by wellred at 7:58 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

To explore their reasons - my husband comes from a family where they had what I (unkindly) think of as an extreme herd mentality - everyone. does. everything. together. world. without. end. (My husband has developed the opposite tendency as a defense mechanism, I should note.) When we are with them, it is like joining a blob and when you try to deviate from the blob, it's treated like you are cutting a part of the blob off. Even if the blob is not doing anything at the moment. I cannot actually understand this but maybe your friends come from a similar background?

The other reason I can come up with is codependence.

In any case, I'm not sure the reasons matter or that you need to develop more empathy. It really sounds like this is a boundary you need to set and maintain and it may end the friendship. I would say "Hey friends, I love hearing about the things you do! But when you say we should do them, I feel disrespected and unseen in turn for the things we do or don't do. I really need you to hear me when I say no or make difference choices and respect them. Is that something you can do?"
posted by warriorqueen at 8:07 AM on November 19, 2018 [9 favorites]

If I don't pay attention I can get like this, a friend said to me once, 'stop you are bullying me' and it really did a lot to wake me up. I just get excited about the things I like.
posted by InkaLomax at 8:09 AM on November 19, 2018 [29 favorites]

We have friends like this, a couple. I don’t think they are super insecure, they are just the kind of people who live for and thrive on “finding the best” and don’t understand why everyone else wouldn’t want the same all the time. It is how they interface with their loved ones - recommending, urging, comparing, looking for better all the time. And they see it as being good friends to share w their friends what they’ve learned.

I’ve decided they are “maximizers” and we are “satisficers” - “good enough” / “works well enough” are our guiding principles so we thank them for their recs and move on and sometimes it’s even helpful when we ARE looking for the best farm to table restaurant in Denver or the best mileage plan for retirees etc. Turns out they always know and are thrilled to share and be helpful that way. They like being useful mavens. People don’t come to me for that stuff, they come to me to mess around talking crap.

In the end my friends started an online product recommendation company because that is how their orient their life and it makes that much more sense to me now. They see life from the lens of consumers who are overwhelmed by choices and their hard mission as winnowing out the best so they don’t have regrets. I would prefer to define myself less as a consumer and am mostly fine with whatever I’ve chosen and don’t spend much time regretting much or longing for better. Just different ways of seeing the world I think.
posted by sestaaak at 8:09 AM on November 19, 2018 [63 favorites]

The suggestions that are about activities that they want to do together (skiing, travel) seems like they want to do those things with you and have a different sense of boundaries than you do. Some people are just steamrollers. (I can be this person.)

For everything else--things that don't affect them--yeah, they found the "perfect" thing and want to share it. I have friends like this, and the answer is to accept the advice and not do anything about it. "Yeah, it's great that you love your minivan! Yeah, we should totally get one someday." And then just never do anything about it. Don't agree in a real way, agree in an "mhm" kind of way.
posted by gideonfrog at 8:12 AM on November 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

Ever see the fake SNL ad "Me-Harmony"? It's a dating site ad where the person is looking for a mate EXACTLY like them--they like the exact same things, do the exact same things, even look exactly the same--their ideal mate was the same actor, in drag.

My human behavior theory is that we need to justify our existence and love ourselves and our choices. And it is, indeed, difficult in our diverse and complex world when we're surrounded by people who just don't like the same things we like, down to the little details. (Very, very few of my friends love classical music the way I do, and I wish I could share that love more, because it makes me so happy). Perhaps one neighbor loves dogs the way you do, but the other hates them and has the most beautiful car in the world--aagh! Why can't we just all like the same things?? It can be overwhelming.

So yeah, the other people are pushy and obnoxious because they want to be validated. And perhaps you're an easy target, because you're so nice. You can set good boundaries: if they persist after you've said no, just say "I already said no. Don't be pushy." If they escalate it even when you've made it clear you don't like it, it's fine to step away.

On preview: good advice from InkaLomax.
posted by Melismata at 8:12 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

My mom is like this, though to a lesser degree. I think she just gets really enthusiastic about whatever new thing she's discovered and her enthusiasm needs an outlet. When you're bursting with enthusiasm about your discovery of a new diet theory/religion/Feldenkrais/etc., what else can you do with that enthusiasm but share it with someone else? Also she loves me and wants to improve my life, and since these things have improved hers she's sure they'll improve mine. I try to treat it with respect with a side of affectionate, teasing eye rolling for her attempts to proselytize. Can you find a way to joke about it?
posted by HotToddy at 8:19 AM on November 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

I think this is a sort of slightly dysfunctional way of showing love / affection. Kind of like sharing their secrets to living the best life. But you haven't asked, so it feels kind of patronising and sometimes even insulting.

If I were you I'd maybe jokily and light heartedly bring it up with one of them privately (whoever you are closest to) and maybe say that you really appreciate it but you sometimes find it a little much, if that's not going to offend them. Maybe say you welome the initial recommendations but not the pressure after you've listened the first time. Try and be jokey as possible and frame it in terms of 'I know you want the best for us'.

The vaccination thing is irresponsible. You are totally within your rights to get more firm when things like that arise and say you'll agree to disagree and would like to change the subject.

Better to confront than lose the friendship entirely when it probably comes from a well-meaning place.
posted by starstarstar at 8:19 AM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is my MIL. I love her dearly but not doing what she does or eating, wearing or going where she does is taken as a direct criticism & judgement on her choices when it is neither off those things. Only she is Midwestern & instead off coming out & saying why she was upset she'd just go passive aggressive & try to push us into buying the same things she has or giving to them as gifts. It took me years to realize it was about her & not judgments on us.
posted by wwax at 8:33 AM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

IMO it's the fervor of a new convert. It has to do with our (1) identity getting bound up with something (2) new. Both those pieces have to be there: if it's an integrated part of someone's identity, or if it's something new that's not bound up with one's identity, the urge to convert others is neither common nor fervent.

I think you've found friends who define themselves by their cars and their vacations, which I'm tempted to judge as being sad, but really, I used to be like that back when I first discovered "organized"/"new" atheism in my late teens... There but for hard-won self-awareness in recent years go I.
posted by MiraK at 8:38 AM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm tempted to say "because they're jerks?" Like there may be some underlying impulse involving the confusion of enthusiasm with evangelism, but if it gets to the point where there are heated arguments, I'm going to stick with the DSM diagnosis of "they're jerks." I'm not sure there's something more complicated than that going on.
posted by Smearcase at 8:39 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Are they in general controlling people with their kids and others? I kinda read this as a need to control all the things and seeing that as a way to keep your friendship close.

Whatever it is, its them and not you and you are handling it way kinder than i think i would have at this point.
posted by domino at 8:41 AM on November 19, 2018

I have a relative who is like this. The way they would do something - fix the car, buy the shoes, go on vacation - is the "best" way and they cannot fathom that there might be another way of doing something that would work just as well. They make their suggestions out of love because they want to help. That helps me understand the behavior, but doesn't really lessen its annoyance factor.

The main thing to consider here is that this behavior is almost impossible to change. It's so deeply ingrained that there would have to be a constant, intentional effort to change. A single email won't change the behavior that bothers you so much. If you want this friendship to continue you'll have to accept that you will need to become a broken record saying, "Thanks, but we're happy with our choices." You'll have to be willing to say that over and over and over again.

If you're cool with that go forward. If the thought of doing that is exhausting, then you'll have to cut back on the amount of time you spend with this couple.
posted by brookeb at 8:47 AM on November 19, 2018

One thing to remember that arrogance DOES stem from insecurity. But it’s so layered by then, and has become such a social survival mechanism, that it would take years to uncover. I see arrogant people as damaged and feel pity for them.

I think you just need to straight up tell them that they need to cut it out.
posted by MountainDaisy at 9:14 AM on November 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

I am looking for insights into why people might behave this way because I want to save this friendship but it's starting to feel toxic.

Are you thinking that you have to understand why they do this before you can get them to change? Discussion of their supposed deep inner motivations is probably just going to give them an opportunity to make excuses and indulge in special pleading about how this is just the way they are. Consider eliminating this step, and simply tell them that you are ending the friendship if they don't change their behavior.
posted by thelonius at 9:15 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is hard. I have a very close friend who does something like this. It feels bad to me because a) I don't want to have to debate whether I should do some thing that isn't important to me and b) it feels like this friend isn't that interested in what is important to me.

I guess your three choices are 1) live with it, 2) say something or 3) break up with these friends.

Is there a gentle but direct way you can say, "I know you're sharing this kind of advice with love, but I have to tell you honestly that you give me a lot of advice and it's starting to hurt our friendship. Skiing just isn't important to us. I need to ask you to let me do things my own way and find a way to give less advice. "
posted by latkes at 9:21 AM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

This is a certain type of person. I've always thought of them as "life evangelists." I cannot abide them (but some people can).

This is how I think of them: this evangelism is not an inherently bad trait. It comes from a place of enthusiasm and wanting to share. It comes off as domineering depending on the recipient. It totally comes of as domineering when I am the recipient. But--for example--my husband is much more open to this type of person than I am, possibly because he's more tolerant of people in general and cares a lot about people's motives when judging whether they are annoying. He's also the type to think "hey, maybe I SHOULD give skiing another chance, since these friends of mine seem to like it so much." I'm not! I'm with you! If I hate skiing once, skiing is over, especially if people are pressuring me to do it.

My mom, also, seems to attract this type of friend. I'm always aghast at how bossy some of my mom's friends are to her, constantly "you should" this and that--but they're her friends, and she doesn't mind it. I pointed it out once, with one friend in particular, and said that I wouldn't put up with that behavior from a friend, and she replied that that's because they put up with it from me! (though I don't think I do the evangelism thing! I think that was her witty comeback! But maybe every relationship has an ass!)

TL;DR: I don't think your friends are bad people or have bad intentions, but this does seem to be a trait that bothers you and is incompatible with you, which is completely fair.
posted by millipede at 9:27 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

The only people who can tell you why they do this is them. The rest of us can only speculate. They're your friends; can't you ask them?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:44 AM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Some of what you’re describing such as them wanting you all to learn to ski so you can go in ski trips with them, go to Mexico with them, and have your kids do the same extracurricular activities with them, is about trying to build a close friendship that’s as close as family. That’s something that many dream of, “another couple with kids the same age that we get along with? Let’s be friends and do everything together!” I think a lot of what you described is coming from this angle. If you all like them, this could be great.

But I don’t know what’s up with the other stuff though.
posted by vivzan at 10:26 AM on November 19, 2018 [7 favorites]

They’re pushy. Tell them to cut it out when they do it.

Friends don’t grow on trees. This doesn’t seem close to friendship ending at all, IMO. Like, say no and tell them to cut it out, and talk about something else.

(I sympathize because I personally love it when people try to convince me to do stuff. They can’t make me so it’s either good advice or a fun way to play-argue. Idk. It doesn’t strike me as obviously mean at all.)
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:09 AM on November 19, 2018

You've buried the lede here: " We've already sent an email saying if they can't accept us the way we are then unfortunately we won't be friendship-ing anymore. That would really suck, though."

You're already at the point of emailing them directly about this?!

If that's already here, then the part about asking them yourself: "And yes, I realize I could just ask them myself. I'm getting there" has already happened.

You might not be friends with these people anymore.
That's ok.
posted by msamye at 11:13 AM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Let’s be charitable and assume they just want to spend time doing things with another family. Hypothetically what would happen if you told them they should change to be compatible with something you want? i.e. you don’t ski, but maybe you go camping in the summer; if you mirrored that behavior at them and told them it was time to gear up and go camping, would that actually be fun for them? Or would they flip out about how skiing is so much better than camping and they are right and you are wrong?

I'm kind of assuming the uncharitable case: they want you to be like them, because it's more convenient for them if they don't have to accommodate someone else's preferences and/or because they like/need to be told that they're "right" and making the right choices for their kids. And in that case, you really do not have to put up with their BS - I am a strong believer that there is no single "right way", and perhaps it would be a helpful conversation to lay that bare: "Why is it so important to you that I agree about this? I think it's really great that FriendJunior is learning to ski, I'm sure they'll get a lot out of that. But I don't see why you want us to start skiing. There's no one right way to raise a kid or to teach physical coordination or to take a winter vacation. Or (give raised eyebrow) do you disagree?"
posted by aimedwander at 11:17 AM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

When we are with them, it is like joining a blob and when you try to deviate from the blob, it's treated like you are cutting a part of the blob off. Even if the blob is not doing anything at the moment. I cannot actually understand this but maybe your friends come from a similar background?

My ex's family was like that and it was a bit of a chore for me "Hey now we're all sitting around reading" "Hey now is the time we all start drinking" "OK let's all go out for a walk" and the issue wasn't that I didn't like htose things, it was that I never got to choose the thing and so I was always expected to do someone e;se's thing and I didn't always want to.

I think you should look at this friendship and think... if they love the things they do so much, why aren't they doing it with people who like the same things? Sometimes people like ebing with people who are different from them because they enjoy the contrast. Sometimes people enjoy being with people who are different because they enjoy the conquest. Maybe they see you and your partner as malleable and want to make you "better"?

I could see why you would not like this. You may want to make sure you've been rebuffing them in active, not passive, ways (on AskMe sometimes we see people saying "I said no" when what they meant was the implied they didn't want to do something, make sure you're being assertive and using specific words when you ask them to stop). But honestly I'd just have a conversation about this "Hey I'm happy you like what you like but I'm finding that we spend a lot of our time together with you telling us to do things differently. We like our lives. We're not really looking to make major changes. Can we move forward with that understanding?" and see how they respond. Maybe it will be a wake up call? Maybe they are just not great people and this is why they spend time with you, because other people have told them to take a hike because of this weird behavior.
posted by jessamyn at 11:25 AM on November 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

my in laws are a little like that. Everythingthey discover is always Teh Amazings and they need to push it on us.

I like to wind them up by smiling and saying, „eh, I don‘t think so.“
„oh, I‘m quite happy without...“
„Haha!“ (shrug!)

It drives them up the wall. On the plus side, they‘ve given up on me!
posted by Omnomnom at 11:36 AM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Apparently, not skiing is wrong and bad?
That's a heck of a jump. Unless they actually said that.

Might you be overreacting to normal conversation? We weren't there, but the suggestion that Junior could learn to ski so you could all do some fun thing together shouldn't result in an argument. Either way, you seem to dislike them, so dump them and don't look back:

If they really are just nagging harpies who want a definitive 'yes' right this second and won't shut up until you give it, yep, dump them.

If you're auto-rejecting everything they say just on principle (with the exception of the vaccine thing, nothing you mentioned is miles out of bounds, Costco is not controversial afaik), dump. Why bother talking to them at all?
posted by sageleaf at 11:57 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Came here to also say you buried the lede, like msamye said. What did your email say? We might get a better idea of exactly where you're at, then, and how to potentially approach the next step.
posted by knownassociate at 2:10 PM on November 19, 2018

It’s because they’re assholes.
posted by a strong female character at 3:44 PM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yeah, buried lead.

I enthusiastically share with people the stuff I’m doing, but it’s generally framed as like “this is how this works for me and it’s awesome!” It’s about sharing. There ARE times when it’s clear (to me) that a friend could benefit from something I’ve just done or learned about or whatever, and I’ll broach that -/ but if they say no, they’ve...said no? Like that is perplexing to me, because it’s such a clear boundary, and if you cross that you’re being an asshole.

THAT SAID. Are there differences in conversational style here? Like are they Ask Culture interrupters from New York, and you’re the opposite of that? Because what you think of as a clear boundary — or, frankly, what you experience as an argument — might not even register to them unless you’ve said it directly.

Other than that...how’s their relationship? If they’re looking to another couple for a bunch of emotional validation of their life choices they, uh, might not be doing great.
posted by schadenfrau at 3:48 PM on November 19, 2018

Do you express insecurities about your choices? Do you express wavering thoughts with decisions that you are making? Do you express a lot of (friendly, supportive) enthusiasm for they things they bring up or do, so much so that you may be accidentally signaling a desire to do the same thing?

How are you with expressing boundaries? Are you able to say "thanks, we'll give that some thought", or do you say some version "oh, we could never do that because...", which invites debate and maybe a challenge to get out of your comfort zone and try something new?

This may come down to a difference in communication styles, or they may be jerks. We don't know. Ultimately, it will probably come down to you being clearer about your boundaries, and how much you are willing to entertain what is either their love for you, or their disdain for you.
posted by vignettist at 4:19 PM on November 19, 2018

I’m a “life evangelist” type about the things I get excited about, but I try to stay firmly on the line of, “I tried this thing and it was totally awesome, and I think you might like it because Reasons that you’ve mentioned before”.

Personally, even coming from me and knowing I can sell something pretty hard sometimes, I would never go so far as to start an argument where I tell someone to change their kids’ extracurriculars, where they shop for groceries, where they should travel and where they should work, holy shit! That’s insane. Their nose is way too far in your business. I’m assuming these topics come up through a normal level of detail (“We thought about going to Jamaica for spring break, but it was out of our price range”), and it is pretty crazy for them to run away with those tidbits of info and start dictating to you about what your spending priorities should be.

If saying something like, “Your trip looked great, I enjoyed the photos on Facebook,” or “We’re not into skiing, but looking into a family activity isn’t a bad idea” doesn’t cool their jets—and on re-read, I note where you sent the email already—then I would quietly exit. The last thing you need is friends who act like they’re your (extremely controlling) parents. But if they are responsive to the email, and promise to overhaul their conversational tactics, then I would recommend putting them on an information diet so that they don’t know how much you make or spend, or on what. Maybe you already don’t give them that information, and they’re seriously just that intrusive.

Either way, yes, this is way past the line even for someone who gets really excited about things, and you are not wrong to feel exasperated and interrogated about your own life choices. What they’re doing is not healthy friend-level dialogue.

Costco’s awesome though.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:57 PM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, as a “life evangelist” who can give people a hard sell if I’m not careful, I’ve worked on breaking the conversational pattern by sticking to the reasons why I really loved XYZ, saying, “I thought you’d be interested because you’ve mentioned wanting to get into something similar,” and ending with, “If you ever want to check it out sometime, let me know!” then stop. I’ve found people are more tolerant of (and open to) my interest as long as it is framed as an endorsement and not a directive.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:11 PM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Did they reply to your email? What did you say? I'm confused that you say you didn't bring it up directly when you have...maybe cutting these friends off already?
posted by agregoli at 5:35 AM on November 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

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