Should I try to be friends with people I don’t like (yet)?
August 10, 2019 1:34 AM   Subscribe

I know that sounds like a silly question. But I’m wondering when you’re trying to make friends, how hard should you try with those who you don’t really click with yet?

Context: my partner and I (late 20s) moved across the country so he could start grad school 9 months ago. I wanted to be with him, and also try living on this side of the country, so I found a “better” job and followed. The better job, while it gives me more experience and pay, makes me miserable. I dread every single day I go in. I wish that I get into a car accident or get hit by a bus just so I won’t have to go in. I like the work itself but the culture is so toxic. I’ve been looking for a new job.

It may be a combination of my job, but I also don’t like the new town we are living in. I miss my old city on the east coast (where I lived for two ish years) and my friends and coworkers and therapist. I feel alone here in more ways than one. It’s a smaller town and as a woman of color, I feel other a lot of the time.

I remember that I felt similar when I first moved to east coast city (not othered, just lonely.) So I knew I had to find a therapist and get involved in activities in this new town. I’ve been going to therapy (but still haven’t really found a good fit, so that’s a WIP) and doing all the extracurriculars I can find, joined meetups, volunteered for my favorite causes, even drove down to meetups in the bigger city where there’s more diversity. So I’m definitely trying to fit in to the town and find some community I can belong to. I’ve made a lot of acquaintances on the way, and a casual friend here and there.

I still miss my friends dearly in the east coast and often wonder what’s wrong with me here, that I haven’t found my people yet, when I made such deep connections within my first year on the east coast. My partner is doing great here, and I’m happy for him, although he says he will want to move back east too after his PhD program. I feel like a shell of myself here, and I can’t seem to connect like I used to.

This brings me to my question—a group of my neighbors became friends because my partner initiated a gathering with them. On paper, they sounded like people I would really like. My partner likes them too. But every time we hang out, I feel more miserable. The neighbors are three gay men, and they’re fun. One night, a friend of theirs came along and in a story he mentioned he was bi. I perked up because I identify as bi. When that friend left, it immediately went into a “Wow, he needs to pick a damn side. You know that bisexual shit is just lying to yourself.” I immediately shrank in. A new neighbor joined, a woman, and it’s become a strange comparison game between her and I for the group. I guess because we are the only two women there, but they like to compare our bodies or our personalities and ask us to fight it out. I don’t really care for that. My partner is happy go lucky and such a laid back person that he finds the group super fun. One of the guys told me that he’d like to fuck my partner, which was a little weird since it was out of the blue and my partner is straight, but you know, I am sure the group likes him too. Again, I just feel like a shell when I hang out with them.

Even though we haven’t clicked, I feel like it would make sense to try and be friends. And when you’re trying to make friends, you *really* have to try right? I haven’t connected with anyone yet, so maybe it’s me. I’m just not trying hard enough. These people live next to me, we like the same things, we’re queer, my partner likes being friends with them, I should be friends with them, right? How do I become friends with them even though I don’t really like them...yet? Why am I not clicking with them, or really anyone here? WTF IS WRONG WITH ME UGH. I read anyone can be happy where they’re planted if they try, or something. I am a shitty plant.

I’m most frustrated with myself. I feel off. I feel like myself when I visit my east coast city and I feel like I bloom. Part of me wants to move back after trying this town, but that feels like giving up. Some days giving up sounds like a wonderful relief.

throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Wtf? Who the heck ARE these people? Who openly tells you they want to fuck your partner (assuming you two are monogamous) I don’t care if he’s gay, straight, or an orange, that’s totally out of line. Who pits two women against each other based on their bodies? Who slams someone’s sexual orientation? To their face, no less? The reason you don’t like these people isn’t because you’re not trying hard enough, it’s because they’re assholes. I don’t care if you all identify as queer. Unless you identify as asshole as well, you don’t have enough in common with these people to make this work. Keep looking, you’ll find your tribe.
posted by Jubey at 2:51 AM on August 10, 2019 [68 favorites]

Wow hey, I was going to leave a comment that was all "making friends when you're out of your teens and early twenties is impossible, you should try hard to be cordial and let small positive interactions grow into solid friendships, you just need time!" but then I read the parts about these guys objectifying you, denying your identity (and mine! bi-fives) and being creepy about your partner. These are not guys you should force yourself to be kind to. It makes total sense that you're having trouble clicking with them, because they sound like total jerks.

I think you've given these guys more than a fair shake. They're making you feel bad about yourself in ways that are lastingly damaging. Look for other people! What about that woman, the new neighbor? Could you spend time with her separately and see if you get along without those other guys pushing you to be weirdly competitive?

You mention that you've got some other casual friends. Here is where I'd suggest my first line of thought is relevant. It becomes increasingly difficult to make close friends the older you get. I am willing to bet that at least a couple of these casual friends would love some closer friendships. You have to build them up over time if you don't have a strong base of shared experiences. This is why making school friends is so easy - you're stuck together in a thing for days, years. But every moment of friendship when you're an adult is one of active choice. So keep trying with other people. But not those jerks who make you feel bad.
posted by Mizu at 2:54 AM on August 10, 2019 [18 favorites]

Can you try be friends with that bi person who the group was apparently horrible about? Because they sound a better bet that this group of people, who to me sound unpleasant to be around and I wouldn't want to be friends with them either.

I have sometimes found that hanging out with people I didn't initially click with is worthwhile, because it takes me time to warm to them. I have never, however, warmed to someone who was actively annoying me/ pissing me off. You have permission to ignore these people and try to find another group, because they sound like dicks.
posted by stillnocturnal at 2:56 AM on August 10, 2019 [7 favorites]

Noooo. You don't have to be friends with them. And I'd honestly have a hard time with my partner being close with them.

Would you be asking this if they were straight men? You have this internet stranger's permission to leave the next time they say something rude and be cooly polite in public.
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:39 AM on August 10, 2019 [5 favorites]

The generally terrible "giving up" narrative is equivalent to sunk cost fallacy, and it's a good way to continue to be stuck in an awful situation. You're not stuck.

You have this old person's permission, nay, recommendation, to move back to the east coast with all deliberate speed. It sounds like this move is slowly draining the life out of you on all counts. All counts. I really wonder about your partner's affinity with these people.

It's OK to make a move, realize it's not right for you after gathering some information (which you have done), and head on back (or off to somewhere else if you like). I'm doing that right now for myself, for the first time in my life, and it's awesome.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 3:59 AM on August 10, 2019 [9 favorites]

What others said about your weird and creepy neighbors. A whole lot of YIKES in this story.

Also, you mentioned suicidal ideation. I hope you are treating these thoughts and feelings with the care they deserve. Does your partner know you are feeling this bad? I think you should tell him.
posted by eirias at 4:18 AM on August 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

I always thought lasting friendships were based on common interests and TRUST. I could never develop a level of trust with people who said such things and did such things to me and others. Move on from them.

I moved from a lifetime on the east coast and midwest to Marin County. I lasted one year. Sometimes places are just not for you. How much longer until your partner's phd program is finished? Make an agreement to go back east when they graduate.
posted by AugustWest at 5:08 AM on August 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ignore all the talk about it becoming harder to make friends when you get older. I'm fifty and have more and closer friends now than I ever did as a teen or in my twenties. You have as many friends as you are willing to put in the effort for. Having said that, these guys are while not potential friends, they are not worth your effort. Life is short, go thing some people you click with. Go do something you enjoy, in an environment where there are other people, make yourself a regular at some local places, say hi to everyone you see regularly at those places. Having moved across clueless and the world several times in my life, it's ok to go fuck it and go home again if you got like a place, but make site you fully committed and tried in the new place first. If you are there with one foot or the door ready to hate it from the get go, is not reasonable to then complain it doesn't feel like home. I know I've done it myself.
posted by wwax at 6:04 AM on August 10, 2019 [5 favorites]

I am sorry you're going through this. First off I want to say that for many people (maybe you too?) everything in the entire world that would have felt like simply a private struggle or personal anxiety is harder now because it's compounded by living in a terribly anxious, distressing time in the world in general. For many of us, the dark time we're in adds to the feeling of stress. This is not at all to discount the reality of what you're experiencing in your own life but for example feeling out of place as a POC in a new town which would always have been very hard could be now compounded even more by the atmosphere we're in. I am not trying to speak as a POC which I am not, but reflecting on my friends who are POC saying they feel even less safe in our largely white town now than they did before. So give yourself an extra cup of tea and an extra reminder that "nothing is wrong with me, this is truly a stressful way to live" on both personal and public fronts. Second, I've had times when I moved from one region to another where I didn't think I could make good friends and it took a long time to build casual friends into intimate friends. During those times I relied for my true emotionally deepest connections on phone calls. I literally talked on the phone every single day to my best friends across the country while having pleasant but shallow social interactions in my new town. It took a few years but a few of those social connections slowly and delicately deepened. And yet I still call my east coast friends when I need to talk about the deepest things, literally decades later. One place to try to make friends, though, is with your partner's cohort and their own partners. Sometimes grad cohorts form a kind of kinship network and you might find there are other partners who need connection in that group. Just an idea.
posted by nantucket at 6:19 AM on August 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yeah, look, ok, these people sound like shitheads. Ditch them.

I think on the general point, it's something you have to answer by looking at yourself and your own history. Some people have a pattern of disliking a person initially and then growing into a real friendship. Some people don't have that pattern. Knowing which is more common for you is going to give you the answer — which might be different than what's more common for us.

But in this specific case? Yeah, no, fuck these assholes.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:25 AM on August 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Those guys are being jerks! But...

Sometimes I observe this kind of behaviour from people who were bullied a lot as kids/teenagers (presumably these guys had that experience because so many young men do when they don't fit into straight masculine expectations in highschool). When they finally find a group where they fit in, they overcompensate for the new feeling of popularity by acting like mean teenagers for a while before they can kinda relax and normalize.

So those guys are totally being terrible now, but they might not be terrible forever, it might just be kind of a weird whiplash revenge from highschool misdirected at you, a new person who's in a hetero monog relationship which might be making them subconsciously kinda nervous that you're judgey of them. (Which is shitty and unfair to you! But you know, trauma resurfaces in weird places, so maybe there's space for compassion as well as annoyance).

The good thing is that they sound like direct, blunt communicators which can be great because it means you can give feedback and be heard.

I would try snapping back in funny ways and see if you can communicate boundaries that way:

"Whose butt is better, Jane's or Lisa's?"
"Neither is better because they're both amazing, don't compare perfection to perfection!"

"Bisexuality is a lie!"
"Well then hook me up to a polygraph because I lie.... down with whatever gender I damn well want!"

"I wanna sleep with your husband!"
"If I wake up and find you in my bedroom, I'm gonna be VERY upset, you've been warned! Like I open a dresser drawer and you pop up going hiiiiii.... BOUNDARIES JONATHAN"

You may have to rehearse these ahead of time.

Usually I'm all for communicating clear direct boundaries, but with new acquaintances, I think that would chill the water too much. If you wanna try staying friends with these guys, I'd try stating boundaries in a fun way that kind of fits in with the group vibe. They'll probably yell "MEOW LOOK AT LISA GO" and it'll feel uncomfortable that day, but just stand your ground and keep joking around and they'll probably respect you for it-- and treat you with a lot more respect going forward.

Or, just drop them, that's valid too! But it sounds like there are some good reasons to keep them around, so I'd personally try to ask for the kind of treatment you want (albeit in a jokey way) before just totally vanishing.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:27 AM on August 10, 2019 [6 favorites]

I'd try something like psuedostrabismus's recommendations because pushing back is important whether you try to be friends with these guys or not. If those exact scripts don't feel true to yourself, there are tons of other options. I am really anxious about setting boundaries and have spent my whole life trying to find funny, friendly, effective ways to let people know "hey, that's not cool." An ask on that subject would likely get some interesting, helpful ideas.

Generally speaking:

My experience has been that it does get harder to make friends as I've gotten older, and I've had to try harder - BUT - I've needed to try harder at getting out there, showing up to stuff, talking to new people, inviting potential friends to things, accepting rejection gracefully, being patient with other folks' schedules and priorities, and cultivating friendships. Not at tolerating people I dislike.

I've become more picky, too, and that's another reason I have to try harder - because I won't settle for just anyone who's willing to spend time with me. But for those people who are going to be in my life anyway, I use gentle ways to let them know I'm not cool with certain kinds of behavior. Most folks get the message
posted by bunderful at 7:31 AM on August 10, 2019 [5 favorites]

No, you do not need to be friends with these horrible people. There is a subset of gay men that think cattiness and misogyny is a personality. Stay away from them. (I’m a gay man and I would not be friends with these people.)
posted by Automocar at 7:46 AM on August 10, 2019 [10 favorites]

Yes, but not these people.
posted by escabeche at 9:33 AM on August 10, 2019 [5 favorites]

What a weird and creepy interaction! No, you should not try to be friends with people that objectify you and deny your identity. It sounds like you would be much happier moving back to the east coast, and your happiness is worth it. You've put a lot of time and effort into making this situation work if your partner is nine months into grad school.

You should consider moving back to the east coast to pursue your own interests. Your partner can join you when grad school is finished if it all works out.
posted by Ostara at 9:38 AM on August 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I guess because we are the only two women there, but they like to compare our bodies or our personalities and ask us to fight it out.

look I know how the first time someone says something shocking it's more normal than not to just freeze b/c maybe it's not real / maybe they'll go away. maybe the second time, too, if you convinced yourself the first time couldn't have been what it sounded like. but you say "they like to" like it's a habitual action?

do not treat this with more accommodation and cowering and cringing than you would some unknown man in the street hollering at you about what he thinks of your breasts (I don't know what you do in situations like that - let's say there's personal variation but the average is to yell back FUCK YOU and get the hell away real fast). the difference between that and this is, this is worse. and there is something really wrong with your partner if he hears this or the biphobic remarks and doesn't say something. You're only even there as a sacrifice for him, and this is your reward. this is the level of social support he thinks he owes you. do you think it's enough?

You're already in the minority as a woman, as a bisexual person; I don't know if you're also the only person of color in these gatherings, but either way I understand it's hard and dangerous to fight back when everyone is together against you. but you are being regularly belittled and insulted. whether or not you decide to lean in to the humiliation and try to be their friend, these guys don't want you to be their friend. they are not being friends to you.

Speak directly to this other woman the next time these absolute pricks start sizing up your respective asses. ditch these guys; confront your partner; expect better. Keep thinking seriously about moving back to a place where you like the people and they treat you with respect. Acting out of self-love is not giving up. "Giving up" is forcing yourself to embrace this shitty town and this social abuse because it makes your partner happy.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:58 AM on August 10, 2019 [8 favorites]

I have made friends with a few people very far outside my typical - these friendships developed over time and physical proximity (eg at work) where I had the opportunity to talk with them over years and see their amazing good qualities despite my initial neutral take on them.

Neutral - That’s the key. These people you’ve met are “fun-bitchy” which is exhausting over the long term. Be open to different people for sure! It really expands your life. But Be cautious around critical, drama prone energy-sinks like these people.

Love St Peeps
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:15 PM on August 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

There's an area of the US I lived in for four years--because I followed a partner--and I left without one single phone number I wanted to call. Four years! Can you imagine? And I've made many terrific friends everywhere else I've lived, so I know it wasn't all me. Some people and some places just don't get along.

I hope your stretch goes better than mine, and that you don't throw four years at the problem like I did. A wise woman once said to me, "Quitting is good for the soul."
posted by Superfrankenstein at 8:18 PM on August 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

It's them, not you. And don't underestimate how a toxic workplace can seep in and poison other aspects of your life. At the risk of not actually answering your question, have you considered moving back to your east coast city and having a long-distance relationship while your partner is in grad school? Because my heart aches for how miserable you sound.
posted by emd3737 at 9:39 PM on August 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

I feel like I am writing to you from the future because I resonated so strongly with your question. At the same age as you, I followed a partner to their city, got a miserable job (because the people were miserable) and didn’t make any friends the entire four years I lived there. My partner also seemed totally happy to hang around with people who treated me badly. I can’t tell you that your relationship is the same as mine was but I can tell you that it sounds very similar. It really hurt me and I could never get over how they could be content with friends who I kept trying to bond with but couldn’t.

It’s not you. It’s them. It’s very real to feel like certain places just don’t have a place for you in them. I’ve moved from the Midwest to Pacific Northwest to the Southwest and back and forth a few times. It is incredible how just the general feeling of a single city or entire region can be off for my personality. Many people in my life urged me to just keep trying, surely there’s no way that an entire region (for me, the SW) didn’t have a single person who didn’t make me feel like an alien when I tried to get to know them, but that’s how it went for me. Years of trying to be social and feeling like an outsider. I really want to urge you not to waste time doing that. Trust your feelings about back East being a better fit and get the hell out of the place that doesn’t feel like home.

I found my soulmate city and I made so many friends so quickly that some days I feel like I don’t have time for more. It hit me one day when I was grocery shopping and someone looked me in the eye and smiled at me. I immediately teared up (with happiness). To feel seen, to be recognized as someone who belongs, comes in those small moments. When I travel back to the places I used to live it is so clear that the people there are not my people based on many microaggressions that others dismiss. You sound lovely and thoughtful, you tried hard enough. You’re not giving up! You found the place where you bloom.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 10:13 AM on August 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

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