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June 8, 2006 4:12 PM   Subscribe

What to do with a friend that completely lacks social skills?

A friend of mine and former roommate has really burned some bridges with all of our friends, including me, over the last few weeks before graduation from college. With this last situation, which I will explain, I would like to know what to do here, an appropriate response and an analysis of what is going on with this dude.

Let's call him Hank. I lived with Hank my junior year of college. He portrays himself as a quiet, sensitive type. He really didn't have any friends in high school, or any he keeps in contact with, and had a group of friends in college in the same major. I got along with him pretty well, but he was going through a depression basically the whole school year over this girl who was not reciprocating his feelings towards her. For me as a roommate, it got to be a bit much, when he would never ask me anything, or ask how I was doing, he would just immediately dive into talking about his problems with me. His depression led to him becoming passive-aggressive and super-annoyed with me over who-knows-what, and talking behind my back to my girlfriend and such. Just stuff that was like "what're you thinking buddy?"

Fast forward to senior year. He still can not get over this girl, and would bring her up constantly. Naturally it was getting exhausting and ridiculous. Friends were leaving him behind left and right because he would only ever talk about his problems and this girl. In all honesty, his obsession with the girl was definitely unhealthy, it was about 2 years that he had had expressed feelings for her, and he was still emailing her asking why she wouldn't date him, etc. I was the one out of our friends who would tell him that he needs to SERIOUSLY move forward past her, as I had recently gone through a breakup and could help him dealing with this. Well, it wasn't what he wanted to hear, so he lashed out at me, writing some quite hurtful, nasty emails to me and talking about me to our friends, saying some pretty mean things. It was hurtful since i had listened to his problems for TWO YEARS.

Anyways, this pattern continued with two of my guy friends and a girl-friend. Finally another former roommate of mine, sat Hank down and basically said, "we've been there for you for so long, we've listened to all your problems, this is just too much to be treating us like you are."

Hank had talked about hurting himself, so we were constantly checking to see how he was doing, and encouraging him to get help. My friend who had talked with him tried calling him the other day to see how he was doing and check up on him. Today he gets an email saying "Read between the lines, I never want to talk to you, I never want to hear from you, don't ever call me again."

I'd say part of his problem is that he never developed socially throughout his youth, but I would have thought college and especially our group of friends, good-hearted easy-going art students, would have let him grow up. Also, I think he has some issues with his sexuality and some confusion with it. I really don't know if this last incident has anything to do with it, but my friend who received that email is gay, and it seems that Hank has treated him the most harshly. I really have no idea if that has anything to do with this reaction.

I guess I'm asking this for my whole group who he's burned bridges with, what would be a response to such an unnecessary and mean letter. If he didn't want to speak with him, just don't call him back. It seems he's looking for a response or attention in sending out this email. I never responded when he would write me these mean, critiques of me as a person, and that kind of annoyed him.

I know the general reaction would be to say, screw him, don't talk to him anymore. And this last email was really that straw. It really hurt my friend who got it, and that really bothers me because we saw one by one as this kid just lashed out at each of us, only to later apologize, then lash out again.

What gives here? Should my friend even respond? Should Hank know that this is not the way to treat people? Why do people lash out at the only people who are there for them and who are there to help him through his tough times? Thoughts?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
IANAD, but I think it's depression. Can you get him to see a doctor or school counsellor? A friend of mine went through this (including the obsession with the unreciprocated declaration of feelings toward someone two years prior) and improved dramatically after she got help. Some people will tell you to tell him to get lost, but I really think you should at least help him get help. Maybe you could even go to the doctor/counsellor with him, if it helps him go.
posted by acoutu at 4:22 PM on June 8, 2006

Write the kook off.
posted by xmutex at 4:24 PM on June 8, 2006

It sounds like depression + possible a personality disorder. You can't help him. He needs medical and psychological help. Leave him alone. Don't look back. He needs to work this out himself.
posted by RussHy at 4:33 PM on June 8, 2006

Sounds like me. I'd like to hear how I could develop socially because just like your friend I feel that I've never developed and I'm in my mid 20s for god's sake. I have lashed out at my friends at one time or another, but quickly realized that my problems are not with them, but with myself. I've also gone through incredibly long breakup periods. Sounds like you guys are good friends. I'd sit him down and tell him what you posted here. Perhaps not today, maybe next week when he cools off. If he doesn't understand, drop him like it's hot and move on. For some people (me and him) it takes a while to develop but this a sink or swim world and you can hold his hand only for so long.
posted by aeighty at 4:40 PM on June 8, 2006

I've been in a similar boat as 'Hank.' Dated a girl, broke up with her and for close to two years I couldn't get past her.

I was definently suffering from depression, and I suspect 'Hank' is also. I will say from personal experience that while a lot of things helped me move on, one was definitely my circle of friends. I'm sure I was getting tiresome to be around, constantly talking about my ex, but they stood by me and, as friends should, picked me up when I was down.

I will also say that while friends helped, ultimately for me it was a personal decision to move on that got me out of my funk. I decided that being depressed and mopey over a girl was no longer a way to live and so I sought out alternative means of getting myself happy. I did a lot of meditation, which helped. It wasn't easy, or quick, but I got happy again. I also stopped looking for someone else to complete me... and the moment did I found my current girlfriend, whom I love deeply, have been with for almost 1.5 years, and with whom I can definitely see bigger things happening with.

So my advice, in short, is stick by him, support him wherever you can, and let him know that only his conscious decisions will help him move on.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:42 PM on June 8, 2006

...upon review: depression is a very real thing. If my friends abandoned me at my lowest,... well who knows what could've happened. I owe a lot to my friends. Don't abandom your friends without trying.
posted by aeighty at 4:42 PM on June 8, 2006

I agree with Russ about the personality disorder... he seriously needs help. Bless you if you think you can hang in there and be a friend to him while he's in therapy, but if you can't, you just have to lay down some boundaries. (Trust me, it may hurt him like hell if you set boundaries, but in the long run, it's good for him. Speaking from personal experience.)

It may need to get worse before it can get better, for this guy, though, even if he agrees to begin therapy. A therapist relationship functions differently from other relationships, and it took me a while to get used to that... to realize that I could trust my therapist even though she wasn't going to play along with any of my troublesome behaviors.
posted by IndigoRain at 4:46 PM on June 8, 2006

If you do burn your bridges, it might not be as bad for him as you think. It's not very hard for me to put myself in "Hank's" position - I went through a horrible depressive period in college and it wasn't until my friends started saying "Look, we just don't want to be around you anymore because you used to be awesome but now you're just miserable and mean." that I started to realize that I needed to get the situation under control.

I got help. I went to therapy for years and started a course of medication and now, years later, I've repaired some of those friendships and I'm grateful for being kicked in the ass when I needed it. I regret losing the friends who I haven't felt comfortable calling up and saying "Look, I'm sorry I was an asshole," but that's how life goes. I'm doing well and the best I can do is not to let it happen again.

You're graduating - let him go. Tell him that you're sorry about it and tell him that it hurts your feelings to do it, but you've tried and you've reached the end of your rope. Don't beat yourself up about it.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:55 PM on June 8, 2006

Your friend has some growing up to do.

My freshman friends listened to me bitch for hours about various things, and gradually, through these long discussions, my outlook on life changed for the positive. I came to understand that certain kinds of complaining are constructive, certain kinds are not, certain problems are tractable, and certain problems can't be solved. Those wise, wonderful folks are still my good friends 15 years later and I'll never forget any of them.

So that's who you've been trying to be for your friend. It sounds like he's not in a place where he's ready to do the growing you need him to do. Give him the space he's asked for.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:58 PM on June 8, 2006

Why be friends with him?
posted by k8t at 4:59 PM on June 8, 2006

If there was any way you could help him end up in a position where he could have casual, meaningless sex with someone, I imagine that would drastically change his outlook on life.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 5:11 PM on June 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

Your friend's response will not help Hank understand how his actions are wrong. Unfortunately, help has to be taken as well as given. It sounds like you and your friends are doing all you can to help this person through a hard time (and an underlying mental instability). However, it may not be necessary to completely cut this person off - maybe create ground rules, that when they are acting or behaving in this way, you (or your friends) won't be around/communicate with them?
posted by Vantech at 5:14 PM on June 8, 2006

Cut him off. Never speak to him or of him again. Life is too short to waste on such people.
posted by nixerman at 5:21 PM on June 8, 2006

First of all, Hank did not "date" this girl that he is obsessed with. He became obsessed because she didn't "reciprocate his feelings." Breaking up and feeling torn up for 2 years is annoying but bearable. Never dating someone and remaining obsessed to the point of alienating everyone is a mental illness. He has a serious personality disorder.

I am going to save you 30 years of painful experience: Most people will never change. Threat of loss of friendship, or social ostracization almost never works. Confronting them about being an asshole also never works. There will be a few people in your life who will be able to change if they are made aware that their behavior is hurtful to you. These people are gems. And they will end up being your lifelong friends. Everyone else should take a flying leap.

You do not ever have to speak to this crazy asshole again. You're young, you have a good heart, you all gave him many chances. He is not salvageable. There is nothing you can do. The problem is inside him. And he has just the kind of personality disorder that deflects genuine self-evaluation. If you want to, you could confront him about the way he treated your friend. You could give him a piece of your mind, with the understanding that this is for you, not him. Expect no positive response from him. Have your say and hang up , or block all his emails. However, he sounds Ted Kazinsky crazy. Such a confrontation could push him into moving to a cabin in the Montana wilderness where he makes bombs and writes manifestos. That's why I think you should just never have anything to do with him again. If he calls, hang up. If he emails, delete it. Be done, mourn a little that such a person exists, and will never find peace, but go your separate ways.
posted by joaniemcchicken at 5:54 PM on June 8, 2006

We learn by making mistakes and dealing with the consequences. Allow your friend to learn from the consequences of his actions. Move on.
posted by SPrintF at 6:34 PM on June 8, 2006

I urge you not to listen to all the people here telling you to lose this guy as a friend. Being a friend means being there. It does not mean being there until it gets too difficult for me.
posted by Effigy2000 at 6:46 PM on June 8, 2006

maybe he has a high functioning autism spectrum thing going on, and doesn't know how to figure life out socially.
posted by maloon at 7:19 PM on June 8, 2006

It's not really clear; was this person ever really a friend of yours? I suspect not. Cut him off and move on with your life.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 8:10 PM on June 8, 2006

Ditch him. Ditch him a lot. You'll be graduating soon, presumably moving on with your life, so... move on! His issues are not your issues. You have no responsibility to fix him; only he can do that, and he's obviously not doing it.

Don't let people guilt you into being a supportive, caring doormat. One of the important parts of becoming a socialized person is learning that your actions have consequences; obviously he's never learned that. Whether he has mental health problems or not isn't and shouldn't be a concern to you. You're not his caregiver.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with removing people from your life. If you come to the conclusion that you should do that, don't be afraid to. You'll save yourself a lot of grief in the long run.
posted by billybunny at 8:12 PM on June 8, 2006

Back in college, I was like your friend in some ways, but not in others.

I was totally obsessed with this non-reciprocitive girl. I don't even know why I was so obsessed with her. She wasn't very pretty, and was really quite mean to me. We dated twice, and she cheated on me both times. After the second time we dated, I stopped hanging out with our mutual friends, which pretty much killed my social life. So, like your friend, I lost friends because of my inexplicable obsession.

The worst part is that this was actually sort of a pattern for me in my college years. I actually did this with three different girls and three different groups of friends. It was quite pathetic.

However, it sounds like your friend is being abusive towards you and your other friends, which is something I never did. I just stopped hanging out with people and took all the anger out on myself. Oh yeah, and drugs. I did a lot of drugs.

Anyway, back to your friend. You need to tell him, first and foremost, that he's being abusive and that shit is *not* cool. Tell him that if he wants to have his fucked-up obsessions, that's fine, but he needs to leave you out of it. You care about him as a human being, but there is only so much one human being can do for another, and if he wants to be abusive, you need to let him chill out on his own for a while.

If you truly think he's going to kill himself, call his family or someone who could take resposibility for him. Chances are he won't do it, but you never know. Follow your gut on this one.

Does he do drugs? Like, a lot of them? He needs to quit that shit. Even if its just pot. He needs to give it a breather for a while. I think back to the girls I was obsessed with, and I think now that there's *no way* I could have been so obsessed with a bunch of, lets face it, really losery girls, had I not been seriously stuffed to the gills with some very powerful drugs. Really, I was. Drugs don't help.

As for therapy - probably a good idea. However, a bad psychologist can do more harm then good. Choice is crucial.

Anyway, the point is, you need to tell him that you care, but that he's crossing some serious fucking boundaries. There are rules to human conduct, and limits to what friends will take from each other before they cease to be such.
posted by Jake Apathy at 9:03 PM on June 8, 2006

Like a lot of people, I was Hank once. You and your circle have already gone above and beyond, and it hasn't really helped him. He's going to mature at his own rate, and there's little (nothing?) you can do to help that process.
posted by Leon at 1:17 AM on June 9, 2006

There is a middle road. You and your friends seem to be in a position where you cannot do anything for Hank without getting hurt yourselves.

But that doesn't mean abandoning him. Frankly, if he has talked about hurting himself, that's grounds to talk your university mental health centre or equivalant. He needs professional help.

The only thing I can see you doing as a friend is trying to get him to the steps of the mental health centre.
posted by jb at 1:23 AM on June 9, 2006

Effigy: it's one thing to be a friend when the times get rough. It's another thing to constantly try to help your friend, only to have them lash out at you hurtfully over and over and over again. "Hank" needs help, therapy at the very least (since it sounds like he is getting dangrously close to stalking this girl), and it seems as though any attempts his friends make at helping him are rebuffed pretty consistently. I say, if he *won't* be helped, you can't force him, and it's stupid to stick around and take his abuse just because he has issues.

My solution would be this:

Tell him that you don't want to ditch him as a friend, but he needs help, and if he won't GET help then you can't continue to be his friend when he's like this. My guess is that he'll just respond with a "Well fuck you then, I don't want you as my friend any way", but you can't really do much more than that. You could maybe try contacting his family, to see if they can help, but that really is an extra step above and beyond, and probably wouldn't even help, at that. It's not like he's been your best friend for 20 years - you met him less than 2 years ago, right? Sometimes it's just best to cut your losses. As the Simpsons so famously put it - some people are just jerks. Stop that, Mr Simpson.
posted by antifuse at 3:15 AM on June 9, 2006

Well the thing is, if "Hank" is very abusive to your circle of friends, you can't help feeling like he is not a friend. Friendship is not fakeable. All good intensions aside, if Hank is incredibly frustrating to the group, they'll be able to tolerate him for only so long.

That said, it may be possible to have some kind of a constrained relationship. Something less than a friendship. Maybe your group of friends would occasionally invite Hank to accompany them somewhere. Or perhaps check up on him occasionally to see how he is doing.

That's the best that can be done in the situation. A real friendship with lots of time spent together is just not possible.
posted by gregb1007 at 5:16 AM on June 9, 2006

Hank may have labeled you (and others) friends, and you and others may have labeled him a friend — but the sad truth is that he never considered you or any of the others friends. All he sought from you all were merely a positive sounding board — as were most of the "friends [who] were leaving him left and right." If they were friendships, he would have had genuine warmth towards you. Instead, when you ceased being a positive sounding board to him, he rejected you, as you say. And as he did with this last friend, the one to whom he sent the penultimate message. (I think it would be useful if you could e-mail Jessamyn, one of the MeFi admins, to tell us what you mean by "him becoming passive-aggressive and super-annoyed with me over who-knows-what, and talking behind my back to my girlfriend and such.") If you've described the situation accurately, with unvarnished truth, then I daresay you and your friends exhibited saintly qualities, if each time you interacted with him he merely began ranting about his unrequited love.

I have experienced a situation quite similar to Hank. Beginning when I met her shortly before my freshman year of college, and ending about two or three years after graduation, I loved a girl who I was very close to as a friend. She never reciprocated love, but she did reciprocate very deep friendship, and I mistook one for the other. Now, my situation differs from him: I realized she didn't love me back, I realized I couldn't handle a friendship, and I ended the friendship. I still hurt for a very long time, and looking back at that time, I think the healing process made me a little obsessional (not manifested in action, but merely in emotion) — but now, I no longer think of her as my one true love, which was a meme I was stuck with for a very long time. I've healed from her. Like Hank, I was not immensely social in my youth, and I'm still not. But I'm fairly socialable at work, and despite having been hurt — unfortunately, multiple times — by people whom I trust, I still at least try to muster the bravery to make myself vulnerable each time I'm hurt and to try again. I share this with you to convey that someone who shares a history somewhat analagous to Hank's can heal — with the appropriate work and willingness to change.

That last part is the key. This is a journey that Hank himself needs to be willing to make. At this point, solely from what you described, it sounds as if he has a scary level of obsession with this woman.

You may be right when you say that he does this because he desires involvement. You've all denied him the attention he is used to — the attention of being listened to. If you're interested in trying to help him, I think, basically, you need to touch base with the others in your group and then, for that portion of you who want to preserve something with him, you need to speak to him as one (doing it in written form may be less of a confrontation and will also prevent him from interrupting you), quietly assert what you will and will not accept with him. Include the stick and the carrot. Something like, "Each of us very much want to remain friends with you, and want to help you. We've had good times. But each of us have also decided we simply can't take you outright abusing our friendships. So, you have a choice." And then tell him what has to change in his behavior. Suggest alternatives, but don't mandate them — in other words, it sounds like therapy might help him, and you can suggest that, certainly — but demand the end, not the means.

I suggest this because you've got what he wants. You've got the attention — positive or negative, you all, functioning as one unit, are the supplier of what he wants. If you cut off his supply, you may find it's enough to force a change.

But, at the same time, I'm concerned about your friend's potential for suicide. By all means, open a dialogue with someone — his parents, local police, and/or neighbors — with regards to your concern.

And keep in mind this is all my amateur psychology thoughts. I'm not a mental health professional, or an expert in any field, and I'd defer to their thoughts.
posted by WCityMike at 12:25 PM on June 9, 2006

A story, to preface my actual answer: While in college, my roommate and I made friends with a guy who ended up being with us up until we graduated. He went through some pretty crazy stuff, and came with some pretty crazy baggage, but he was very loyal and became one of our best friends. One year out of college, my friends started asking me if I'd heard from my friend "Gene." I sometimes got email from him, but we didn't talk on the phone too often -- we weren't phone people. I could tell something was up. As it turned out, he was bad-mouthing me to our mutual friends, and as I later learned, doing a bunch of drugs and drinking. He was also attempting to hide from me that he was gay, and wanted to think that I would actually care (care here meaning, having a bad reaction and hating him for it), and so talked shit about me to people who he knew, in his self-destructive state, would tell me he was bombed constantly, driving drunk, and talking shit about me. When he finally came clean to me about it all about six months before he was supposed to be in my wedding, I told him I didn't care about anything he'd said, and that things were the same between us as they'd always been, because I was there to help him get better, and being mad about it wasn't going to do that. He is still one of my dearest friends, and other than the fact that we both remember all of that stuff, it may as well have never happened.

If you really, truly consider this person to be your friend, then stick with him, even if that means telling him that you will give him the space he's asked for, but if and when he's ready to talk again, you'll be there. He may never call or see you again, but he may well show up on your doorstep tomorrow. That's his choice, and he has to make it. You can only choose your own behavior. Like others, I would be concerned about his potential for suicidal behavior -- if you know his parents, you might want to tell them your suspicions (based on his statements, I would imagine, no?) just to get someone in on it who could possibly do something about it. But I really would just withdraw everything except for the fact that you consider him to be your friend. Don't enable him. Don't belittle him or lecture him. It will be a damn near Zen maneuver, but do it.
posted by Medieval Maven at 3:36 PM on June 9, 2006

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