Help me navigate this slightly tricky friendship-moment
June 22, 2022 10:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm currently in the process of trying to buy a house with my spouse. I mentioned this to my best friend, and he drew a boundary: he can't support me in this, though he's happy to support me in other things in my life and lend an ear on any other subject. How do I navigate this?

My spouse (they/them) and I have been looking to buy for the last year, but have only recently started to ramp up the process because of rising interest rates, etc. So far, so normal. There were some stressors because my spouse can be very pessimistic, so at times I've felt like I was carrying the burden of being the pragmatic one in the relationship.

My best friend and I talk on most days and discuss most things together, and we've supported each other through a great deal over the years. But when I mentioned that my spouse and I were thinking of buying a house he suddenly became quite distant before saying "I'm going to have to draw a boundary here: I can't support you with this, and I need you to not talk to me about it."

I told him that I would, of course, respect that boundary, but I asked if he could help me understand why he felt the need to draw it, to which he replied "I think you're making a mistake, and if I start talking about that with you I'm going to say something I'll regret."

We left it at that, and on the surface at least everything has been largely fine since. I don't think he's thinking about it at all, really, but from time to time I find it starts eating away at me: What did he mean "making a mistake"? Is he saying that buying a house is a mistake? That buying a house with my spouse is a mistake? Have I done something to hurt him somehow that he's not telling me about?

Moreover, I'm now finding myself deflecting his questions from time to time: if I'm stressed because of the house-buying process, then "how's your day going?" has to be responded to with something bland: "oh, you know" or "could be worse" before turning the question back on him. I feel like I'm having to lie to him from time to time.

Ultimately I'll continue to respect his boundary, because he's important to me, and he deserves that respect. But I find myself wondering: what am I not being told? Does he want me to never mention where I live, if we do buy somewhere? If we buy somewhere and move then do I let him know?

How can I navigate this whilst (a) being respectful of his boundaries and (b) not driving myself crazy with these thoughts?

I know the world won't end if I don't talk to my best friend about all this; it's just that my support circle is a little smaller. And that sounds very entitled, now I come to write it.
posted by six sided sock to Human Relations (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Unless you are the type of person who is abysmally bad with money, I am 90% sure it is buying a house with your spouse.
posted by Melismata at 10:38 AM on June 22 [25 favorites]

Honestly, I'd ask him why he thinks you're making a mistake. That cat is well out of that particular bag.

I think this is a less than great use of boundaries, personally.

On one hand, of course, technically one should not press people about things they don't want to talk about, but on the other, look, it's just not a good plan to be like "I can't support you - never ask me why". To your best friend, no less!

I think that like a lot of social justice interpersonal stuff, the social rules around "boundaries" have hardened and gotten weird until they can supersede "read the room, how are people likely to feel" even when they really should not.

So I'd ask. "I know you said you did not want to talk about it, but because you told me that you felt I was making a mistake, I have been pretty anxious both about our communication and about what you meant. Would you be able to talk about this to sort things out, with the understanding that there won't be any more house talk?"
posted by Frowner at 10:41 AM on June 22 [46 favorites]

I admit that I am not fond of being blindsided. It is a bias.

And I would have probably have pushed a bit more to find out what is the deal out of self interest.

But I am also interested to learn if OP has mentioned this to the spouse or not ?

Because from my bitter little solo boat it reads like there might be some blind-siding going on.
posted by NoThisIsPatrick at 10:47 AM on June 22

Best answer: It's about your spouse. (I also took a look at your ask history and - yes, it definitely is.)

You don't have to lie, just say the odd time it's related, "house stuff, let's talk about [other thing instead.]"
posted by warriorqueen at 10:48 AM on June 22 [30 favorites]

I agree with Melismata that unless your best friend holds some very extreme beliefs about property or something, this is about your spouse. That's what I'd assume, if it were me. So I think the question is: would you rather think that your best friend has some issue with your spouse, or have that confirmed? Which would be easier to live with?

Also this situation sounds crappy and would make me feel very bad, so don't worry about sounding entitled.
posted by missrachael at 10:48 AM on June 22

"I want to respect your boundary, but it difficult to not touch this topic and related feelings in our interactions which I think is affecting our communication. Would you be open to discussing this boundary and your reasons behind it more?"

Also, you're asking us, but I think it's likely you have some educated guesses here regarding what this is about. Is your friend against home ownership? Does your friend like your spouse? Do you often vent about issues with your spouse to your friend? Has your friend given input on this topic before? I think that answers to these would likely give you some direction as far as your friend's reasoning for this boundary.
posted by bearette at 10:49 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]

How much have you talked to your friend about your spouse's anxiety around this? It could be that he literally just does not want to hear about this anymore.

Also, have you considered whether he is correct, that this is not a good idea? I think this is a ... not great way to express it, but I remember one of your posts from earlier this year about your spouse and I could see where it might seem concerning to throw a giant change into this mix. It sounds like he thinks you would not be open to his feedback/or be hurt by it, but I agree that I would just ask him even if it's just to clarify what topics are off the table.
posted by sm1tten at 10:49 AM on June 22 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I suspect your friend is having a very hard time dealing with your spouses's behavior towards you. While I agree that sometimes boundaries can be a bit weird, it's very very hard to be someone who is friends with someone whose spouse treats them badly. You don't want to exclude them or stop talking to them, because you don't want them to be isolated by their spouse's behavior. There's also a limit to how much you can tell someone that you don't agree with their spouse's behavior -- they will get defensive and upset, and it doesn't necessarily help. At the same time, it can be incredibly painful and stressful to see someone you care about deeply make decisions that seem (to you) to obviously make the situation much worse. Drawing a boundary around certain issues seems very reasonable in that situation.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:49 AM on June 22 [43 favorites]

I would like to make it a thousand percent clear here that your best friend has completely made a mistake.

You are an adult human fully capable of making a decision of whether to buy a house with your partner. Your best friend does not get a vote on this, and your best friend, by inserting himself into your decision process and then being weirdly cryptic about it, has wildly overstepped, forcing you into a position where you're scrambling to attend to the psychological needs of someone who has ZERO skin in this particular game.

Please tell your friend that this is your decision to make and that he should be happy for you. If it's a mistake, it's yours to make without having to consider inputs of a friend who is not willing to be forthcoming with you.
posted by mochapickle at 10:49 AM on June 22 [3 favorites]

If you can make some sort of legal agreement with your spouse about percentage ownership, what happens if the relationship dissolves, etc., that might help your friend feel better about it?
posted by amtho at 10:53 AM on June 22

Best answer: Yeah, I remember your question history as well and I think that it's most likely that it's the idea of getting yourself even more legally enmeshed with an unwell and unstable partner who was deeply in crisis very recently, and whose behavior was isolating you. Unless you have some reason to suspect your friend has a vehement philosophical objection in home buying in general, I don't think you need to go looking for a mysterious explanation here when there's a very straightforward one before you. Your friend quite likely does not think your relationship is healthy for you, and can't fake enthusiasm for anything that's going to make it even harder for you to leave the relationship if you ever decide to do so.

They didn't handle this particularly well and I think you absolutely could follow up with a "this is sitting badly with me, I can respect your boundary moving forward but I need us to have one conversation about why" discussion. But I think you should be prepared to hear some things you may not want to hear, and don't ask the question if you're not willing to hear those things.
posted by Stacey at 10:59 AM on June 22 [42 favorites]

Best answer: Agree, i would assume this is about spouse.

In a situation somewhat similar - not about house but wedding - i told my best friend he was about to marry the wrong person. He had asked me what i honestly felt, and so i replied that she was the wrong person for him to marry. He told his future wife, who promptly forbade him any further contact with me. This was some 15 yrs ago.
After several years of no contact, eventually she agreed to let him be friends again with me but never the same as before.

So, anyway, from my experience at least, don't press him. What would you do if he said it was because of your spouse? Tell them? At what cost?
Best leave it at this ambigous point.
posted by 15L06 at 11:07 AM on June 22 [5 favorites]

I agree. If you'd get upset at the answer being "your spouse," then don't ask, don't poke this with a stick, leave it alone.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:11 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]

> I think this is a less than great use of boundaries, personally.

QFT. But this is what comes of constantly telling people that "no is a complete sentence" and "you don't owe anybody a justification for your boundaries" etc. These statements might be true when it comes to dealing with complete strangers it is NOT the right way to behave in friendships or romantic relationships or other ongoing relationships that you would like to continue. Within relationships, we do owe explanations to each other.

Your friend thinks he did some ~excellent boundary setting~ by expressing a rather alarming preference that is directly about you, and has the consequence of significantly changing the relationship between you both, but refuses to provide any explanation whatsoever. His behavior is straight from the TikTok/Instagram self-help influences pages. It's frequently encouraged by popular forums like Captain Awkward, family-focused subreddits, and even on occasion here on MeFi.

Meanwhile, YOU are supposed to accept this "boundary" cheerfully, never ask questions, never express disappointment or even curiosity because that would be "pressuring" or "violating boundaries". You're supposed to act like this is all normal and okay, that nothing could be more natural than your best friend telling them "I don't want you talking to me about your huge life event and don't you dare ask me why I am saying this!" It's cruelty and poisonous hostility but you're expected to act like it's normal and respectful.

Here is a masterful example of passive aggression being normalized and encouraged.

OP, here's my advice: when you feel this way? All twisted up in knots, confused and hurt and bewildered and FORBIDDEN TO TALK ABOUT IT WITH THE PERSON WHO CAUSED YOU TO FEEL THIS WAY? Pay attention to this feeling. It is telling you something important: the other person is attacking you and manipulating you using passive aggressive techniques. You feel hurt because you have been attacked. You feel confused and bewildered because they expect you to pretend that their attack is actually respectful behavior. You feel twisted up in knots because they have made it impossible for you to resolve your hurt and confusion by making this topic off limits for all conversation.

You can call him out on this as directly as you can manage. "Excuse me? You don't get to run away and stop communicating after saying a thing like that! You clearly have something to say, so fucking SAY IT. Are you my friend or not? Friends don't treat each other this way. This is bullshit." Because fuck this noise. Anyone who thinks "boundaries" is a Get Out Of Uncomfortable Conversations Free card is incapable of participating in healthy relationships.
posted by MiraK at 11:16 AM on June 22 [24 favorites]

"Excuse me? You don't get to run away and stop communicating after saying a thing like that! You clearly have something to say, so fucking SAY IT. Are you my friend or not? Friends don't treat each other this way. This is bullshit."

i'd recommend against this approach tbh
posted by buntastic at 11:20 AM on June 22 [28 favorites]

(Yeah OP I didn't intend that as a script for you to follow while talking to your friend. It's just the sentiment I feel on reading your post. You might want to use fewer swear words.)
posted by MiraK at 11:26 AM on June 22 [4 favorites]

It's not a clean boundary.
That's why it's continuing to trouble you.
It's secrecy hiding behind a boundary label.

You can go along with it by saying some version of "house stuff -- hey, how about [other topic]" or you can have the more difficult conversation of trying to repair this relationship rupture with this friend. Either way it's going to continue to affect the relationship.
posted by dancing leaves at 11:30 AM on June 22 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think that saying "this is a mistake" and "if I tell you more, it'll be a mistake" is all that secretive, frankly. A bunch of internet strangers managed to figure it out and I'm sure your friend assumed you'd figure it out as well, without him having to say it all explicitly.

Generally, I think we're not entitled to have our friends tell us all their opinions, thoughts, etc. even those that are to do with us. I think it's weird to consider this as an aggressive move from your friend (even passive-aggressive) when it seems likely to me to be a decent balance between honesty and preserving the friendship. There's no truly good move here for your friend, and it's not because of your friend.

I get why you would be curious, but if you trust the friend -- and it seems like you do -- I'd believe them when they say that going into it in more depth is likely to harm the relationship or make them say something they'll later regret.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:37 AM on June 22 [38 favorites]

I'm not sure what your friend could have done to earn the approval of the crowd, here.

Given your posting history, the likeliest scenario is that your friend thinks your marriage isn't good for you, and that buying property with your spouse is a bad idea.

If you want to hear them tell you so straight out, without punishing them for this observation, then tell them you won't punish them and ask them for their truth. If you don't want to hear it, then leave this alone.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:40 AM on June 22 [11 favorites]

Also, there is likely some cultural context here that is important. Generalizing very broadly, but a lot of British people would say that the uncomfortable conversation already happened and wasn't really shrouded in secrecy at all. It was a relatively high context method of communication which is typical for a culture that values the avoidance of direct conflict given that everyone is crammed on a tiny island together. (There are a gazillion different "British" cultures, this is a very broad generalization, etc., but it's a factor.) And I don't want to overstate how high context the communication actually was. I mean, again, we all picked up on what was being put down, even as internet strangers.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:41 AM on June 22 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, this one gathered some steam…

Thanks for all your input. Admitting the truth to myself here: I know what my friend is saying; I know this is about my spouse. I've taken care not to vent too much about marriage-related issues to him — because honestly I'd rather not, most of the time — but he's seen the effect that some of the harder times have had, and he's good at deducing what's going on without me saying very much.

My friend is very direct, and wears his mind on his face, so I can understand him basically trying to head off doing what he believes would be catastrophic damage to our friendship.

I guess, ultimately, this isn't a bear I want to poke. I love my friend dearly and I want that friendship to continue; I guess I'm just feeling a little… I don't know… let down, almost? As though our friendship ran up against a wall that I wasn't expecting. I think I was doing mental gymnastics because I didn't want to admit that to myself.
posted by six sided sock at 11:54 AM on June 22 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Honestly, I've been in your friends position, and it's a delicate line to walk: being supportive without also contributing to a normalization of someone's poor treatment of a friend. Hell, I had a friend ice me out after I agreed with them that SO's behavior was uncalled for. That was it. I didn't say their partner was a horrible human being, or that they had to leave their partner. I just said "Yeah, you're right, that is crappy." I think they were embarrassed that they stayed with their partner.

So I think you're right: your friend may be trying to figure out how they can stay your friend and be supportive of you generally without you shutting down after hearing something (he thinks) you don't want to hear.

Is it a bummer that he disagrees with your chosen course of action? Yes. But that's life. Reasonable people disagree. I'd reframe your focus on the why he's drawn this boundary: he's actively taking steps that allows him to stay your supportive friend rather than the guy you're too embarrassed to call because something blew up* in your face like he said it would. Or the guy who can't stand being around your spouse because of how the difficulty they perceive the spouse has put you through that one time.

* Not that this will blow up in your face, just that's what he's worried about.
posted by ghost phoneme at 12:07 PM on June 22 [8 favorites]

Best answer: > basically trying to head off doing what he believes would be catastrophic damage to our friendship.

You don't have to answer here, but something to think about: why would it cause catastrophic damage to your friendship? Why would your friend's honesty and his concern for you cause your friendship to end? That's a bit counterintuitive, right, because usually honesty and mutual concern are a way to strengthen relationships.

When you find yourself in these weird positions where good things cause relationships to blow up (or even, as I said before, confusion and hurt are expected to be treated as normal in relationships), it's always worthwhile to slow and wonder what the heck is going on. The solution for dealing with normalized confusion and hurt in your relationship was easy: you just call it out directly. Turning your relationship right side up, such that honesty and concern brings you closer to the other person, may not be quite so easy, but that's okay. The path to a solution begins with curiosity. Don't run away from the fact that your relationship with your friend is upside-down.
posted by MiraK at 12:13 PM on June 22 [6 favorites]

Right, the friendship probably wouldn't last if he was honest with you about this topic, so he's trying to shut it down as well as he can without poking the bear.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:13 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As though our friendship ran up against a wall that I wasn't expecting.

You know, another way to look at this, if it helps, is that this is a sign of the strength of your friendship, and that could be a beautiful thing.

When my ex of 6 years and I broke up, SO MANY of our friends were like, "oh my goodness, you guys? what? but you're so perfect together". They had no idea that the cracks had been there for years. Some of them reassured me through the worst times that "things will be ok" when I knew that they would not deep down, even though that was what I wanted to hear. The real gift was when people knew me well enough to say, well shit. I'm sorry this is happening but I'm here for you. Because they knew from knowing me so well, that it needed to happen, and was right even though it sucked.

I know this isn't the same as your situation, but friends who know you well enough to know the shit that's going down in your relationship, even if to the general observer you're happily married and considering buying a place together - those are sometimes the best ones. Even when they don't tell you the easy answer to things.

Your friendship might have run up against a wall, but what I'm saying is that valuable things are hard to get, and to keep, so don't drop it just because it's hard right now.
posted by greenish at 12:43 PM on June 22 [10 favorites]

Response by poster:
Your friendship might have run up against a wall, but what I'm saying is that valuable things are hard to get, and to keep, so don't drop it just because it's hard right now.
Thank you for this perspective. That helps.
posted by six sided sock at 1:01 PM on June 22 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You are correct to feel let down because your friend definitely let you down. As you say, maybe not a dealbreaker for the friendship, but they made a misstep by not having an honest, open conversation about their concerns with your spouse. They are probably scared about what 'full honesty' would do to your friendship; that being said, they shouldn't have poked this bear - either say nothing or rip that band-aid off. Nobody is being helped - not them, not you, not your spouse - by this passive-aggressive approach.
posted by dngrangl at 1:03 PM on June 22 [4 favorites]

"I think you're making a mistake, and if I start talking about that with you I'm going to say something I'll regret."

I think he's best-attempting this boundary in an effort to be supportive to you. "Don't judge/don't criticize" is common advice given to worried people whose friends are in difficult spots with significant others. It's a lousy needle to thread.

Speaking frankly and at length about *why* he feels you're making a mistake could result in you being angry with him and/or very self-conscious, and you might delay, or decide against, seeking his help in the future. Your friend is sympathetic to you, and wants you to feel safe going to them if the situation worsens in any way. He'd very much regret what he said, if a too-candid conversation caused hesitation.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:15 PM on June 22 [9 favorites]

I'm trying to put myself in your friend's shoes and imagine a situation where I absolutely could not support a friend buying a home, so much so that I needed to set a boundary asking them to not to even bring up the topic and refusing to explain further.* The only way it makes sense to me is if "talking about buying a house" would really mean "hearing what's so hard about buying a house with your spouse." Is it possible you've been relying on this friendship to process your relationship frustrations and your friend is feeling burnt out? If he hadn't set that boundary, would your response to "how's your day going?" be, "Not great! Trying to find the right house is soooo stressful! We just saw this fantastic house but it's kind of a fixer upper, and I don't know if I want to deal with that..." or, "Not great! We just looked at this amazing house but Spouse immediately went into doom-and-gloom mode about the gas furnace--brand new, mind you!--being a carbon monoxide death trap!"

*Things I could imagine explaining further: "I feel really jealous of your financial stability and wish I could buy a house," or, "I just spent the last year listening to my parents complain about shopping for their new home and I'm sick to death of real estate talk," or, "I think really differently about money than you do, and although I understand you have every right to manage your finances your way, it stresses me out to hear you talk through your plans because your approach is so different from mine." Basically, there are plenty of uncomfortable or potentially awkward reasons to have this boundary that wouldn't prevent him giving some small amount of context to help you understand.
posted by theotherdurassister at 2:35 PM on June 22 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If I was in your friend's position, I imagine my thought process might be something like: "I'm scared to death for sixsidedsock and the choices she is making are worrying me considerably. I'm also aware I have no power to change anything about anyone's relationship. I'm also aware that *my* feelings are not important when trying to support her. I'm also aware that the cognitive dissonance between all this means that I *can't* be supportive without bringing my fear and anxiety in to play. And I'm aware that this doesn't help at all. So I'm going to just have to withdraw from this and try my best to be supportive about other areas of her life. Which is very difficult as buying a house is all consuming.

It is really really hard when you feel a friend's parter is not good for them. The people saying it is on the friend to have that open honest chat... I get where that is coming from, but I absolutely have compassion and understanding if someone is not able to actually do that.
posted by Balthamos at 2:41 PM on June 22 [16 favorites]

Dear AskMe,

My friend is in what I think is a toxic relationship but has been extremely clear that they want to stay the course, so I avoid the topic and try to be as supportive as I can in other areas. Recently they told me that they plan to buy a house together, which I fear is going to make an already bad situation worse. What should I say when the topic of the house comes up?

... my answer to that question sounds a lot like your friend's approach.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:50 PM on June 22 [52 favorites]

It’s because your spouse is toxic and your marriage is harmful to you.

Your friend is being a good friend. They’re not being a GREAT friend though, because they should be SCREAMING at you not to do this. (Although maybe in an indirect culture this IS screaming).

Please listen to what they’re saying (and everyone on here too) and don’t legally hitch yourself to this person.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 5:22 AM on June 23 [7 favorites]

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