As a shy, socially unskilled introvert, how do I develop a relationship with my boyfriend's teenage daughter (who hates me)?
February 24, 2007 12:12 PM   Subscribe

I am very shy, quiet, introverted. I find that interactions with people take a great deal of effort and energy from me. I don’t really have any friends and I find the social interactions needed to develop them difficult – and, more importantly, I feel like I don’t know how to interact – it’s uncomfortable. That said, I’m really not upset by this. I like being alone and my relationships with my boyfriend, family, and a couple of colleagues at work are more than enough for me.

My boyfriend (who I live with) has made it very clear that he doesn’t like my introverted nature – the lack of sociability – as he finds it unusual and extreme and feels like I begrudge him his social time. (Which I don’t - he’s free to hang with his friends; I think he just feels bad). The main problem is that he has a 16 year old daughter. She’s a really nice kid that’s very bright and extremely social. See where I’m going? I don’t know how to interact with this kid and I feel like a complete dork. This is high school all over again! Moreover, she’s not that hot about me because of a couple of intense “family” arguments two months ago wherein she “told me off” for giving advice about stuff that she thinks I shouldn’t have. Typical teen stuff. But – the argument expanded to include my bf’s ex as well (long story – he was sick in the hospital, I was there 24/7 while she wasn’t and tensions rose). Teen has made it clear that she doesn’t like me – avoided the holidays with us and so on. Problem: It’s been nearly 2 months. I walk on egg shells when his 16 year old daughter is here. I keep to myself and try to let the bf have time with her. Today I learned that he’s pissy about that – accuses me of not trying to have a relationship with his daughter and hiding. I’d love a relationship with her but I’m afraid; I know she dislikes me and I know that I’m not socially skilled. I do what I can, like cook all kinds of stuff, when she’s around, but I don’t know what else to do. I’ve become so anxious about this, popping Zantac like crazy, and am just plan afraid. How do I develop a relationship with a teen who hates me?
posted by anondonna to Human Relations (29 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
OK - first thing I need to learn is how to format posts... argh.... sorry guys!
posted by anondonna at 12:23 PM on February 24, 2007

Just one thought from another painfully shy one: your words here are thoughtful, and introspective. So you might start by showing them a version of what you've written here. If you find it difficult to communicate verbally (especially when tensions flare), then sharing your thoughts and concerns this way may assure them that they shouldn't mistake your quiet non-confrontational manner for ambivalence or antipathy.
posted by scamper at 12:27 PM on February 24, 2007

Yeah, talk about this with your boyfriend. That's a first step.
Ask him advice on how to approach this with his daughter.
posted by jouke at 12:32 PM on February 24, 2007

Thank you -- though this is the challenge.

1. In an argument, I flare up and go from quiet to big mouth, saying things I don't mean. Haven't done this with the kid -- was careful, but have with my bf. Not great, I know.

2. We've "discussed" it -- he doesn't get it. Complains that I'm this way with everyone and sees it as not trying. What he doesn't get is that I am trying -- I just don't know how and it's more uncomfortable that I think he gets.

Oh no - they've just returned home.... Thanks for the advice
posted by anondonna at 12:34 PM on February 24, 2007

I'm shy and introverted like you and have an eighteen year old daughter who has driven two boyfriends of mine insane lol. She drives me insane! She's finally starting to come out of her high schoolishness, thank God.
All I can say is if you can accept her behavior (develop a very thick skin and a sense of humor), without hostility on your part (while she's sending dagger eyes your way), in a few years she'll be alot better. For now what you can do is provide a monthly or so activity for you and her to do together. She might not want to, so try and make it seem spontaneous, just spring bowling/skating/shopping on her, or take her to get you both a pedicure. I noticed that these memories, if you can create them, will get you through the rough times. I give you credit. My kids are enough trouble, I can't imagine trying to build a relationship with another man's daughter. 16 is a very.... interesting age... shudder. Just glad we made it through, you will too. Oh and teens are greedy, poor, and love stuff. Buy her (inexpensive) stuff - candy, nail polish, magazines, toys, a dvd, every once in a while.
posted by bkiddo at 12:35 PM on February 24, 2007

Maybe (along the lines of what scamper suggested) write your boyfriend a letter/email explaining how you feel, and asking for advice on how to make friends with his daughter. I tend to freeze up in "serious discussions", find it much easier to express myself in writing. Also, share this article with both of them, to help them understand you better.
posted by Koko at 12:42 PM on February 24, 2007

I have a feeling that the teen senses you're "scared" of her, and this might make her despise you or respect you less. I would be kind and open to her, but not give her the impression that you are walking on eggshells. Be assertive and nonchalant.
posted by lunchbox at 12:42 PM on February 24, 2007

Can you try to set up defined "social time" with both of them (together or separately)? I know I get drained when I have to interact for long periods of undefined time with people I don't know well; for me, it helps to have defined start and end points. Make a coffee date, make a plan to cook dinner together, set up a time to go to a movie or museum or restaurant together. Hopefully, with definite things set up for definite times, you can use the non-scheduled time to be by yourself without making them feel like you're shunning them.

Basically, it sounds like both you and your boyfriend need to get over the idea that you should *always* be social (which drains you), and find a compromise that lets you be totally focused on other people sometimes (to help him and his daughter feel like you care about them) but gives you downtime (to recharge).

I've found, in the past, that with the extroverts I know who completely dismiss the idea of introverts ("How can you possibly get energy by yourself? That's absurd! Other people give you energy!"), it's an uphill battle to make them understand. Just start setting limits -- if you give them some super-focused social time, they might not even notice the times that you sneak off to your room with a book.
posted by occhiblu at 12:52 PM on February 24, 2007

Very helpful advice everyone -- I need to add that we have her roughly every other weekend, so there isn't a great deal of time to work with (which is why I leave them to their own devices!). But I feel pretty trapped the weekends that we have here.

I guess part of what makes this more uncomfortable for me is that I don't have the time to acclimate -- we get her 2 our of every 14 days. Not sure what this means....
posted by anondonna at 1:06 PM on February 24, 2007

Alright, a couple things come to mind for me.

First off is there a big age difference between you and the boyfriend? That'll freak out the average teen girl quicker than anything.

Next, How long has the boyfriend been single? Because if this is recent kinda thing, the kid might be bitter to the point that it could be really hard to get through to her with anything.

Now for the actually advice. BE YOURSELF. Please Please Please BE YOURSELF. Teenagers kinda suck as people. If you are trying to change yourself in any way shape or form to make a teen happy... thats a long hard road that doesn't lead to anywhere. You have to just be confident in being yourself. This girl is most likely going to pick at you until one of two things happen.

Thing one: you and the boyfriend break up.
Thing two: it dawns on her that you aren't going anywhere.

Your goal is to make thing two happen, because thing two can become a foundation for yours and her relationship. IF you make the boyfriend happy, and aren't going anywhere even the most stubborn teen will start to give in. It could take a while, a long while, depending on how bratty this girl is.

Don't avoid her. Talk to her. Don't be someone your not. Look for things in common. Stick to common ground. Don't push her, don't let her push you. Make sure that the relationship with the boyfriend is solid, and that he isn't using the thing with the daughter as a sign that he is getting out of this relationship. Cause honestly, he needs to take a strong stance of supporting when the daughter is around and when she isn't. He actually should have some pull with his own kid, and needs to use it. If he is too afraid to stand up for you to her, well, he can expect you to do much of the same.
posted by magikker at 1:18 PM on February 24, 2007

My boyfriend (who I live with) has made it very clear that he doesn’t like my introverted nature – the lack of sociability – as he finds it unusual and extreme and feels like I begrudge him his social time.

This is the core of one of your problems: your boyfriend doesn't understand you, seems to dislike that part of you and wants you to change. Until he comes to a understanding and acceptance of your introvertness, then there will always be tension. So yes, make sure he reads the article koko linked to, "Caring for Your Introvert". B

As for the kid: she's not going to like you for a while, if at all. She's a teenager and that means half crazy with hormones, so don't take that nasty side of her too seriously. Keep in mind, you're probably the enemy for keeping her parents apart or robbing her of time with her dad or your clothes are in the washer when she goes to visit her dad and she just can't take that. So take her with grain of salt on some of this.

Otherwise, sit her down and ask her "Do you want to fight or do you want to have to fun? 'cause I'm here, I'm not going anywhere and I love your Dad, so I'd like to get to know you and just hang out with you, ok? So what do you like to do?" It might be as simple as going for an ice cream cone for 15 minutes or window shopping for an hour, but you guys need to find some common ground.

And don't offer ANY advice, unless she asks for it. That's just asking for trouble.

Overall though, you're just an introvert, trying to survive in a extrovert world.

oh and seconding what lunchbox said. Never forget you're the adult here. You don't have to put up with her bullshit.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:21 PM on February 24, 2007

Some of her hostility may be her own step-mom issues, stemming from the divorce/seperation/whatever. Also, if she's the very self-centered type of teen, she may be interpreting your standoffishness as coldness toward her ("she doesn't like to spend time with me, therefore she hates me, so I'll hate her back!" dealie). You and your boyfriend would know her and the situation better, so that may or may not apply... just something to think about.

Try to make your efforts at getting closer with her genuine, so they don't smack of "Oh, you're trying to buy me off" or "You're just doing this for dad" to her.
posted by CKmtl at 1:25 PM on February 24, 2007

Oh yeah, here's a few forums directed towards introverts, which might give you some more ideas:
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:26 PM on February 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

First of all, it sounds as if your boyfriend is feeling so guilty about what's happening to his daughter because he and her mother are not together he needs a scapegoat to blame it on. You are nominated for this award. You may be able to deflect that by talking to him about any guilt he may have, and trying to reassure him that he did the best anyone could have been expected to do in the circumstances, or the like.

I suspect the key to getting along with the daughter is her relationship with her mother. I believe I've noticed, paradoxically, that the worse the mother is as a person and as a mother, the more resistant a child will be to any overtures from a new woman in the father's life. It's as if it is so important for children to maintain the conviction that their mother is a good mom and loves them that they will go to any length, and spurning you utterly wouldn't even make the girl break a sweat in that endeavor, I'm afraid.

So she may prove intractable, and I think you should try to reconcile yourself to the possibility of failure with her, but you may be able to make some headway by doing whatever you can to compliment and defend her mother, and by remarking how some action or attitude of the mother just shows how much she must care about her, the daughter.
posted by jamjam at 1:34 PM on February 24, 2007

I'm also shy, and I don't know how to act around people half of the time, but I've noticed that things go well when I'm not afraid of the people I'm with not liking me. I also know some very extroverted people who manage to make everyone around like them. I have studied this with great attention! My conclusion: they act like (a) they like the people they're with, and (b) they take it for granted that they'll be liked too.

This is much easier to say than do (I can't do it) and in your case it's even harder since she's shown signs of being against you. But that can be a good thing too, because you're probably a much nicer person than she thinks, and if she gets to know you better she'll find that out and be pleasantly surprised.

So maybe spend a week or two not trying too hard, but quietly making her feel that you care about her. You can do little things like smiling at her when she walks into the room, or looking straight at her when she talks, to show that you care about what she's saying. (Don't force yourself to respond if you have nothing to say.) Be yourself, at your nicest. She might not respond well, but who cares. You're the one who's being nice here.

Then at some point try telling her something like "I've always been shy, and I'm awkward, but I do want to get to know you better. You're really nice and extremely bright and when you tell jokes they come out hilarious [or whatever]. So this is hard for me, and it's probably hard for you too, but let's try to get to know each other better."

If she responds well to that, you can try to have more conversations with her and talk about hobbies or what your favorite movies are or whatever things -you- like to talk about with people.

If she doesn't, just keep on being nice to her, and still try having real conversations with her every now and then.

Basically, try to make her feel like you're a good person, and that if she's not giving you a chance, she's wrong. But don't force it, and don't make her feel like you're trying to -make- her like you. Just be yourself at your best when you're around her, be confident that you are in fact worth knowing, and trust her to notice eventually.
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 1:43 PM on February 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also (my post being too short) - if you're a very private person, that can come across to people and sometimes they find that annoying. It's along the lines of "if you won't open up to me, why should I open up to you." When you talk with her, try doing it with the confidence that one day, in five or ten years, you'll be close friends, even if you and her father aren't together any more and regardless of your age gap. Not that that will happen, necessarily, but try to make yourself feel it anyway, and it might help you talk with her in a more 'real' way.

Anyway, good luck.
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 1:50 PM on February 24, 2007

To add:

- Bf and her mom seperated when she was an infant, so she's never seen them together.

- she was friendly for the first 7 months that we lived together; then she morphed. I think it's because she sees I'm not going anywhere.

I have to reread all of your comments; can't thank you enough as this problem has been eating at me
posted by anondonna at 2:01 PM on February 24, 2007

Hmm. If you think that's why, then maybe you should talk about that specifically. I mean, she's 16, so she probably has about 2 more years with you, which isn't a lot. And you can't act like a mother to her, really, because she's too old and is used to taking care of herself. So what you are is at worst a roommate, and at best a friend. If you see it that way, try to make her see it that way too. And tell her that if you give advice when she doesn't think it's your business, she can just ignore it; you were giving your honest opinion, like a good roommate, and not like you were trying to be her mother.
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 2:11 PM on February 24, 2007

- she was friendly for the first 7 months that we lived together; then she morphed. I think it's because she sees I'm not going anywhere.

Hmm. This is the single most interesting fact on here. During those 7 months did you guys have any sort of relationship or where you two just friendly? Because if you had a connection of sorts and lost it then you need to sit down and talk with her about it. If there wasn't a connection there to begin with then we are back to Teenagers suck as people
posted by magikker at 2:19 PM on February 24, 2007

Ask each of them to read this short article: An Introvert Stands Up for The Right to Stand Alone.
posted by Carol Anne at 3:37 PM on February 24, 2007

Start by telling her what you wrote to us: "I’d love a relationship with her but I’m afraid."
posted by kellygreen at 4:28 PM on February 24, 2007

What Brandon Blatcher said. I think the issue is your boyfriend.

2. We've "discussed" it -- he doesn't get it. Complains that I'm this way with everyone and sees it as not trying. What he doesn't get is that I am trying -- I just don't know how and it's more uncomfortable that I think he gets.

How difficult it must be for you to be in a situation where your boyfriend does not accept you as you are.

It is clear that you are trying.

What is he doing? Where is self-examination?
posted by mlis at 5:36 PM on February 24, 2007

If your boyfriend has made it very clear that he doesn't like certain aspects of your personality (as you have said), then you can be sure that daughter is picking up on that, subconsciously or not. She's not going to respect or accept this part of you until her dad does. And she may even use that to her advantage. Especially if you are not an ally to her, which you are not since she now must recognize that she no longer gets 100% of her father's affection.

I would focus on the relationship between you and your boyfriend. It really concerns me that he wants to change these aspects about you instead of accepting them or helping you grow. He knows his daughter very well, better than you could at this point. You could ask him to help you bridge the gap. And gently explain how his negativity isn't constructive and simply makes you feel bad.

If the daughter sees how happy her father is with you, she'll know she won't be able to get away with bad behavior towards you. If she does get away with bad behavior, then you have a respect problem with your boyfriend.

Good luck to you! And remember, there is nothing wrong with being introverted!
posted by iamkimiam at 5:46 PM on February 24, 2007

Your boyfriend needs to understand that you are an introvert. It's not a negative quality. It's who you are and it's not something you have to change. Seriously. If he can't understand or accept that, then the two of you need to reconsider this relationship because it's a fundamental part of who you are.

On the other hand, are you locking yourself in the bedroom when his daughter's around? It sounds as if you're at the point where you're almost avoiding her and I can see how she'd take that personally. Like occhiblu, I've found that defined periods of social interaction are easiest for me to deal with, particularly when I know about them in advance (that part's especially important to me for some reason). Lucky for you, you know that it's going to be every other weekend. Is there something you can do to mentally and emotionally prepare yourself for those times? Maybe having a quiet night to yourself the night before she comes and another night to regroup after she leaves?

I think it's really important that you talk to his daughter and let her know what you've told us - that you're shy and maybe not very social and that it's hard for you to get to know new people, but that you'd love to develop a relationship with her. Let her know why you're acting the way you are so that she knows it's not because you dislike her or resent her or anything like that. Treat her with honesty and respect, even if she doesn't show you the same (but don't let her walk all over you either - you're the adult). And I wouldn't give her any unsolicited advice. Most teenagers have a hard enough time taking advice from their own parents, much less from anyone else.
posted by curie at 5:58 PM on February 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

i might also suggest couples counseling with the boyfriend. you'll have more success if your boyfriend supports you and you present a united front to the daughter.

also, if he can't accept this very fundamental part of your personality, then perhaps this relationship doesn't have a future, i hate to say it. so start with your relationship with the man first, then the relationship with his daughter will follow.

and remember, she's 16, you're the adult. don't be afraid of her. she may be nasty--i was a nasty teenager, too--but she's just pushing your buttons because she isn't mature enough to know how to engage deeply with you on any other level yet. bitchiness is just a form of expression for girls that age, especially extroverted ones (if she takes after dad).
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:01 PM on February 24, 2007

I feel slightly (ok, really) embarrassed to be posting a link to a Ladies' Home Journal article, mainly because doing so indicates that I read a Ladies' Home Journal article, but here goes. They just had a Can This Marriage Be Saved? piece in which the circumstances are a bit different from yours, but there was a similar conflict about what "normal sociability" looked like. You might find it helpful or interesting to read -- is it possible your bf is upset less about your lack of sociability in general and more that you're no longer engaging in the social activities you used to engage in (together?).

Part of this whole conflict sounds, to me, like your boyfriend feels ignored or unsupported, and that's causing a lot of the conflict in general. As others have said, it might help to start with that, and then unravel the teenager conflict after.
posted by occhiblu at 6:33 PM on February 24, 2007

I'm an extrovert. My wife is an introvert. Rather, I am Canadian and she is Japanese. She never gelled with my social circle, and it caused a lot of problems. Mostly I missed being able to go to a house party or get together and shoot the breeze - she always felt uncomfortable, and some of my own "friends" started to resent her behavior.

So, we made new friends, usually people with some connection to Japan.

I guess my point is that I basically had to figure out how to make it work. And so should your boyfriend. When I pressured my wife to be more social, it just wasn't fair, and I regret that.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:13 PM on February 24, 2007

I think you're going to need your bf to help bridge your way into his daughter's life. If things are really as broken down as you say, then it will be moving heaven and earth for you to reach out to the daughter on your own (under the best of circumstances). You're going to need to spend more time together, the 3 of you, ideally doing something she likes.

The intro/extro thing is very hard. Good luck.
posted by scarabic at 8:58 PM on February 24, 2007

So... made it through the weekend and it was better than usual. It seems that each time we have her it gets a little better as compared to what it was around the holidays. We were never close, so I don't really know what to expect.

This weekend maybe what made it better was three fold -- we had a meal each day together and then everyone went off to do their thing; she had her boyfriend over all Sat. and we took them to the movies (so no real pressure); and then Sun. she and her father were pissy at each other over the usual stuff. Guess it directed the pissy attention from me. But - we have her again next week (2 in a row!)

I realize after reading all your comments that my instinct was to recoil and avoid interaction as I figured she wants nothing to do with me. So, hard as it is, I guess I should be there -- even saying hello is hard. I don't know why but it feels unnatural. That's crazy -- but her and her mother have criticized me for being aloof (to the bf - not sure I'm I'm supposed to know about that), so I guess I have to do something about that.

Anyhow - this is a tough situation that I never anticipated being in. Never was involved with anyone with kids -- really had no clue. Thank you
posted by anondonna at 8:18 AM on February 26, 2007

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