How to move forward after seeing a close friend have a bad moment?
February 8, 2024 10:49 AM   Subscribe

I have a close friend I'll call Xavier here. Xavier and I have been friends for many years, including high school (so around 20-25 years). He has been under a lot of stress lately, but he's been a kind and very considerate friend. Lately, though, things seem to be changing, and he had a really bad moment last night (not directed at me), which is affecting how I feel.

Brief backstory: Xavier used to bully me back in middle school and early high school. He has since then apologized for his actions and I have forgiven him. We've been close friends for the last ~10 years, but have known each other for around 25 years. He shared a lot of personal information with me, and I did the same. Xavier is very sweet and has a good heart, having grown a lot since his high school years; he can be businesslike sometimes, though.

Lately, Xavier has been swamped with a huge project (flipping a home). This has been intensely stressful for him, as some things has gone wrong with the project. We were supposed to get together, both one-on-one and with our shared friend group, but Xavier kept postponing because of issues with his project. His texts have also became more cold, crude, snappish, and brief. We were able to finally settle on a time this week to have some one-on-one time.

When we went to a restaurant to catch up, Xavier ran into some trouble with a staff member at the restaurant, and it ended up escalating to the point where Xavier was shouting/gesturing angrily at the staff member, and even gave her the finger. It made me feel extremely uncomfortable, and the other staff member seemed to feel bad. Eventually, Xavier and the staff member worked things out, but Xavier was pretty mad, saying she had an awful attitude. To be fair, I could tell that particular staff member didn't seem interested in her job. The "freakout" Xavier had kind of reminded me of some reddit/r/publicfreakout videos I watched. It was really weird, and somewhat triggering, for me to see Xavier acting like this—it reminded me of when he bullied me and how he treated people in high school. He said the woman was so rude and he had to speak up, so it seems like he acknowledged he was "harsh", but didn't seem remorseful about it.

Xavier also made some remarks that rubbed me the wrong way—not about me, but about other people. He just didn't seem like himself, and he even confessed as such—he explained that he was under so much stress. He was also arguing with his wife quite often during our outing.

During the whole time, he was perfectly nice to me, with no negative comments in any way, but the whole thing just kind of rubbed me the wrong way, especially seeing him get so angry at that staff member. I do acknowledge we all have bad moments, especially when we're stressed, but it was just honestly disorienting to see Xavier a bit out of character, especially as there are high school bullying triggers from him that were ignited. I'm worried about him, frankly, but sometimes Xavier can be a bit defensive/not too self aware at times (especially when he's stressed) so I don't want to say anything that will make him double down or become even more defensive.

He's usually very sweet, understanding, and mellow. When I was wearing my ankle boot after my sprain, he was very careful and helped support me when we were walking up stairs, for example.

How would you recommend I handle this? I hope I don't sound judgmental—I really am not trying to be, I do get it, but I'm just worried and was a bit put off. I'm not trying to change him or control how he acts—just how I can react to it or how I can best help him.

posted by dubious_dude to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
DD, if I understand what you've posted, you're terminally ill. Please, please conserve your energy for yourself and what you really care about instead of getting caught up in serial instances of other people's bad behavior. If ever there was a time to let things that aren't absolutely essential go, this is it.
posted by praemunire at 10:55 AM on February 8 [54 favorites]

Everyone has a bad day once in a while. You say he patched it up with the staff member. He recognized he done wrong. Until this becomes a pattern, there really is nothing to do about it other than get past it until or unless he does it again.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:56 AM on February 8 [3 favorites]

I recommend you don’t handle this situation. As in, it’s not your job to police Xavier or help him not be an asshole.

What I do recommend is that you take a bit of time to really get in touch with your feelings about this. They might include:
- I don’t actually like Xavier because he seems to be a bully still when he can get away with it.
- I like Xavier but I’m embarrassed to be with him in public
- I like Xavier and I think he must be under a lot of stress
- I’m really no longer sure I know who Xavier is
- I want Xavier in my life because I’m going through shit and this was unusual

Then you take the actions that go with what you feel and believe about this relationship. It’s not your job to monitor his actions with the world.

For me - I can’t be friends with people who act this way. This is a lot about me. I can’t handle people taking their frustrations out on other random people. But I wouldn’t be dramatic about it. I’d just slow fade.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:58 AM on February 8 [54 favorites]

I don't maintain acquaintance with men who are rude about or to their wives/girlfriends.

It's a call I'm comfortable making for myself, other people's experiences may vary, simply sharing one personal boundary call that I have made for myself to simplify my own life.
posted by phunniemee at 11:00 AM on February 8 [12 favorites]

Mod note: Two comments deleted. Let's stick to answering the OPs questions.
posted by loup (staff) at 12:08 PM on February 8

I don't know if there is a way for you to handle it. Perhaps just not seeing him in person until his stress levels are at a more manageable level?

If his stress induced behavior brings up past issues for you, then I would just not spend time with him one-on-one until they are feeling better.
posted by Julnyes at 12:17 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]

During the whole time, he was perfectly nice to me, with no negative comments in any way, but the whole thing just kind of rubbed me the wrong way, especially seeing him get so angry at that staff member.

In my opinion it is actually not being nice to your dining companion to have a freakout at a restaurant and abuse the waitstaff. Xavier might be going through some stuff, sure, but it might make sense to give him some space and also tell him "Yo man, not cool." I've had friends who acted like your friend and were contrite afterwards and also friends who have acted in similar ways who did not think they did anything wrong. So, once a little time has passed I think I might approach Xavier, tell him you felt that outburst was not okay with you, see how he responds and go from there.
posted by jessamyn at 12:23 PM on February 8 [20 favorites]

He already knows he’s stressed out and not acting like his best self; there’s no need to talk to him about it when he’s told you he’s aware. If you sincerely want to offer to help, you could check in next time you talk and say that you were sorry to hear how stressful things have been and you’re wondering if you can do anything to lighten the load - but only offer if you mean it, and genuinely have the time and energy and resources to try to help this guy.

What I would absolutely not do in your shoes is go out anywhere public with this guy again anytime soon. His behavior was unacceptable and you don’t need to facilitate his being in a position to be an asshole to waitstaff again. If you like him enough to keep seeing him, I’d stick to home visits or walks in the park or whatever will NOT put you in the position if having to decide whether to intervene in your friend abusing waitstaff or his spouse.
posted by Stacey at 12:44 PM on February 8 [5 favorites]

I was under a huge amount of stress a few years ago - my partner had a heart attack and my work situation was unmanageable. When those things were at their worst, I was rude to an elderly man in a way I would never have been in normal circumstances and I had an almost-yelling argument at work with a co-worker, also wildly, bizarrely out of character for me. I really, really wasn't myself and even though I knew that I was behaving in ways that were out of character and against my values, I couldn't seem to head those behaviors off before they started. It was awful. I definitely feel embarrassed about my behavior and often think about how I never want to act that way again.

I guess I'd say that if you feel that this is genuinely out of character for Xavier, try lower stress ways of communicating and hanging out right now.
posted by Frowner at 1:13 PM on February 8 [9 favorites]

I think the advice to sit with and see how you feel is really good.

I don't think you need to do anything specific in relation to this if you don't want to. Maybe next time you're communicating with Xavier and he suggests meeting up (or you think of suggesting it), reflect on whether you do actually want to meet up with him at that specific point in time before agreeing to do so. If Xavier is still very stressed, or you just feel you're going to be on edge then there's no harm in deferring meeting up again.

Do you have another, less dramatic friend who you can hang out with sometimes?
posted by plonkee at 1:34 PM on February 8 [2 favorites]

I have a friend who tells a story about walking out of a first date (after paying) when his date was rude to the wait staff. This is absolutely a deal breaker for many people and is considered a proxy for how well people treat those in service situations.

As you and others have noted, Xavier has a lot of stress right now. However, yelling like this, at a service worker, just isn't okay, regardless of how he is treating you. It's okay to take some space from Xavier, and it's okay to not want to spend time with someone who treats other people this way.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:15 PM on February 8 [3 favorites]

I found myself being short with a waiter the other night. I was bugged by other things, and the waiter was on top of us, and I wanted her to back off. I waited tables for many years, I'm a really nice person, my "getting short" was momentary and hardly noticeable. But it happened and I noticed it, and I think the waiter did too. None of us is perfect. Xavier acknowledged he's under a lot of stress. Cut the guy some slack. I like how you've phrased this -- having a bad moment. If people severed friendships because of a bad moment, or even a few bad moments, yeesh. If he turns into a thoroughgoing asshole, that's another story, but here, just chalk it up to the temporary stress he's going through.
posted by swheatie at 2:43 PM on February 8 [2 favorites]

I dunno, I feel like “having a bad moment” is being unnecessarily brusque or rolling your eyes, not shouting and gesturing angrily!

Did Xavier and the staff person actually work things out, or did she successfully de-escalate a potentially physically dangerous and job-threatening situation by pretending to be ok? Has Xavier considered that maybe the staff person’s attitude is shit because men feel entitled to yell at her with no social repercussions, and their friends will chalk it up to the stress they’re under?

It sounds like Xavier is used to taking his frustrations out on other people, particularly women or those he feels like he can bully. He wasn’t even remorseful afterwards, in your own words, and seemed to be trying to justify his behavior! Witnessing his abusive behavior and his attendant lack of remorse and introspection about it would make me feel extremely unsettled and I’d probably take a step back from the relationship.
posted by stellaluna at 3:54 PM on February 8 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: A bit of clarification: we were at a fast food, line-up style place (think the likes of CAVA or Chipotle), and from the get go, the employee had a surly attitude and was unwelcoming. We all noticed it, and Xavier was initially nice and tried to be patient with her. As we are all Deaf, there were some communication barriers, and the employee ignored Xavier and put food items on his meal without making sure first it was okay with him. That's when Xavier lost his temper. Not making excuses for him, just explaining a bit more in-depth what happened.

But yes, swearing at her and gesturing angrily was probably a bit over the top. I can understand where he's coming from, because as Deaf people, we experience a lot of communication barriers that we have to deal with, on top of surly service that everyone gets. So, it can be quite exhausting and frustrating, and I can understand that perhaps a situation like that might set somebody off, who is already exhausted, stressed, and hungry. However, it was pretty disorienting to see, and made me feel uncomfortable to see him being so angry. It reminded me of when he used to be a bully.

I really do believe Xavier is a good person with a good heart. He can be a bit pushy sometimes, like mentioned in the OP business-like, and the kind who's always in a rush and always busy. He was wonderfully supportive during my cancer reveal (his mom had cancer and passed away from it, actually) and during the treatments, and he does mean well. From what I see (and I don't see everything), he treats his wife well—they both argue and bicker sometimes, but nothing intense or bad.

Because Xavier is considered a close friend, more of like I'll maintain a teeny bit of space between us for the time being, and once his project finishes soon (hopefully in 2-3 weeks), things should lighten up and hopefully he'll be back to his normal self. If he does this kind of thing (loses his temper) again, I might try to check in or ask him if there's anything I can do to help.

Hope this gives a bit more context.
posted by dubious_dude at 7:32 PM on February 8 [4 favorites]

It sounds with your update like you have a good plan. As I was reading your description of the incident, I was thinking that in your position I would ask him if anything in particular had happened-- in addition to stress over the project-- to precipitate that outburst. Health, relationship, that sort of thing. It's a complicated situation though; it sounds like you already knew he had this propensity, it's just been under better control since he's been an adult. And it could actually be triggering for you because you have seen him at his worst when it was aimed at you.

It's so awful being with people who have rage incidents in restaurants. I have a vivid memory of leaving a restaurant and telling a family member that if there was one more repeat of that behavior, I was permanently done traveling or dining with them. It was like your situation in that I had felt this person's wrath in the past, directed at me. So being a bystander in the present gave me an actual "fight or flight" response. I suspect a lot of people who engage in this kind of public meltdown don't understand what it's like being the friend or family member who's with them. It's not just that they are showcasing unattractive or embarrassing features; it can feel like you are in some way being targeted too, because you kind of trapped in that situation.

On the other hand, some people are not too fazed by it and can handle it gracefully or with humor. I was working in a bookstore and a lady was flipping her shit at me about some really silly thing. Her companion rolled his eyes as if to say, "Here we go again," and asked her to go stand a few steps away. She proceeded to do that. It was almost like it was a routine they had. In her shoes, I would have been so fucking humiliated, being put in that kind of time out like a child, but whatever works for them I guess.

Anyway, that is such a stressful thing and you can absolutely put him on notice that it's not OK with you.
posted by BibiRose at 4:10 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]

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