Offensive meddling or well-intentioned help? What would Miss Manners do?
May 2, 2007 8:08 PM   Subscribe

How should I respond to some friends who are concerned that I'm becoming too codependent, and who have written and given to me a list of things I need to do to become a more balanced person?

So the backstory:

1) Last year, I was in a pretty abysmal relationship and pretty unhappy about it. Two of my girl friends (A and B) took me out to dinner and sat me down and had what amounted to an intervention. I broke up with the guy a week later, and it was absolutely the right thing to do.

2) I've started a new relationship, with a guy in the same social circle as A and B. (In fact, they were the ones who nudged us to get together.) Things are going great, and we've decided to move in together after about eight months of talking/dating/spending loads of time together. Let me emphasize that this is a totally different kind of relationship from the previous one and is, by any objective measure, extremely healthy for both parties.

3) I've been sick a lot lately (last two months), with a weird nausea/GI tract thing that's very spotty, mostly mild, but occasionally bad enough to keep me from doing things. I also just caught a cold. (And yes, I'm following up with doctors on the GI thing.)

4) Being sick has made me miss a LOT of social events, often at the last minute (I can think of four in the last three weeks, plus a couple of standing events). However, this lends itself to the perception that I'm cancelling events to stay home with the boyfriend (and the toilet).

SO: Last night we (bf and I) had plans to attend an event with several other people in our group. We cancelled fairly late because we were both exhausted and I was coming down hard with a cold.

This morning I wake up to an email letting me know that A, B, and C (another girl in the group of friends) have started a project called "Fuzzbean Intervention II" in a task-management program we use to organize our social calendar. They're concerned that I'm getting codependent and isolated and want to see me become more balanced. They've made a list of things they think I need to do to become more balanced, with line items like "Identify career goals", "Pursue career goals" "Pursue hobbies with other people", and "Spend less time with (boyfriend)."

I'm trying to figure out how to handle this. I value their friendship and input, and they have certainly been right before. And I understand that they care about me and are concerned about me, and that that's where this is coming from. Further, it's not that they're wrong that I do, in fact, need to get out more (but situations have prevented me from getting to a lot of things I would have liked to attend).

However, I'm pretty offended at the...paternalism? micromanaging?...of my life that the list seems to represent. I'm also annoyed that they're not accepting my explanations at face value (I've spoken with them at some length about symptoms and whatnot, but it's not exactly the kind of thing you want to go into brutal detail on every single time. I also don't yet have a pat diagnosis to hand them.)

How have you handled situations like this with your friends or family members? How would you suggest that I handle it? I don't want to cut them out of my life, but I do find this pretty intrusive and feel the need to reestablish some boundaries here. Specific words and phrases to use are welcome.
posted by fuzzbean to Human Relations (63 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Tell them what you just told us.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 8:18 PM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wow, they sound totally condescending. It's one thing for friends to offer valuable advice. It's another for them to be all meddlsome about it. I think you should confront them (nicely) about how this makes you feel and suggest that if, in the future, they have tips, suggestions or advice, they offer it to you in a frank but compassionate way. Instituting an improvement plan is just so wankery of them. If they are onto something with you guys being codependent, or your illnesses being stress related and psychosomatic, or you being the kind of friend who bails when she is in a relationship, they're right to think that's lame and it's cool that they care about you enough to not just drop you. But it sounds like they are going about it in a real dick way. Again, I think you should just let them know how it makes you feel.
posted by sneakin at 8:19 PM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think you could pretty much copy exactly what you wrote into an email and send it to all of them at once and close with something like "There's nothing wrong with me or my life, guys. I love you and I want you to be my friends, but what you did isn't cool, and I'm not interested in being part of any more behavior like that. I have no desire to hash this out endlessly, but call me if you want to talk about fun things, okay?"

(My first instinct was to say "Your friends are huge jerks!" but that's not constructive, and also I imagine this is probably a case of them getting unnecessarily fretful because you just haven't been around, so they've put their heads together and decided that everything is awful.)
posted by thehmsbeagle at 8:21 PM on May 2, 2007

It sounds like you should say (or write) to them exactly what you said here:
They have done you right in the past, but in this case they are off-base. Thanks but no thanks. I appreciate the intentions but here's why you're wrong. Love, fuzzbean.

I value their friendship and input, and they have certainly been right before. And I understand that they care about me and are concerned about me, and that that's where this is coming from. Further, it's not that they're wrong that I do, in fact, need to get out more (but situations have prevented me from getting to a lot of things I would have liked to attend). ....However, I'm pretty offended at the...paternalism? micromanaging?...of my life that the list seems to represent. I'm also annoyed that they're not accepting my explanations at face value (I've spoken with them at some length about symptoms and whatnot, but it's not exactly the kind of thing you want to go into brutal detail on every single time. I also don't yet have a pat diagnosis to hand them.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:22 PM on May 2, 2007

They've made a list of things they think I need to do to become more balanced, with line items like "Identify career goals", "Pursue career goals" "Pursue hobbies with other people", and "Spend less time with (boyfriend)."

This is not what friends are for. Is it possible they're threatened by the fact that you're getting a life outside of them? You must be close; the group has a " task-management program (you) use to organize (your) social calendar", which strikes me as bizarre for any group of friends older than 13. You can talk into you're blue in the face, but I'm guessing your friends will never understand that you're growing up now, and moving on from group-think to you-think. Take yourself out of the tracking software, tell your friends you're moving all social planning in-house, and do what you want to do when you want it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:25 PM on May 2, 2007 [5 favorites]

I think it's hilarious that they're worried you're codependent - and their solution is that you should do what they say.

Anyway. I would thank them for their concern and love (since it sounds like that's where it's coming from), and then lay it out the way you have here. If that doesn't work, then you can always try the old standby: thank you for your advice; I'll consider what you've said.

And then do what you need to do.
posted by rtha at 8:27 PM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you want to continue this relationship with your friends, get back at them in a creative way that makes them show you're in control of your own life, and that they made you feel bad in a way that you're not going to stand up for. This is both in itself an explanation, an action that they probably don't believe you are a capable of, and a lesson to teach them not to doing it again. Make sure you are clear in your heart when you do this; this is not advice to get some old dirt out on them while you have the excuse.

Your friends do sound like little shits, but hey, friends can be shits sometimes, and if you're really about being good to eachother, you'll overcome it. Sometimes you have to take a stand, and there's nothing wrong with your friends expecting that from you.

Call it paternalism, micromanaging, but it's probably just boredom, at worst, snarky. I don't see how you could blame them for coming to their conclusion. You always could change your phone number, but hey, I'm older and a little wiser, and the friends i had from when i was younger, when i see them every two or three blue moons, are my best friends, no matter what.
posted by phaedon at 8:28 PM on May 2, 2007

All of that said, misguided as their insights may be, you should know that you are lucky to have friends who care so much about you. While you may not welcome this particular batch of advice, try not to react in a way that might insult your friends and push them totally away. Let them know that you appreciate their friendships (if you do) and embrace the nice fact that people care so much about you. Those kinds of friends may really come in handy sometime in the future when you really do need support.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:32 PM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Are you sure they're not joking? Reading that makes me think they're trying to be funny.

I've been on the A&B side of that before - we never did anything quite so atrocious, but we were concerned about a friend and wanted to let her know. She got upset that "all her friends" were saying hurtful things to her (turns out it wasn't just us!) and never stopped to think that if a ton of people are all telling you the same thing, maybe there's a kernel of truth to it. However, if it's just these two voicing concerns, I'd let it go.

Another tactic - fight back with funny. Schedule time/a task to "sit on toilet and feel miserable" and "take more medicine before sitting on couch and recuperating" or "have conversation with A & B about how micromanaging my life is really not cool" and maybe even "find new friends or risk becoming co-dependent on boyfriend."

Sounds like your friends were dependent on you and rather miss you/are jealous that you aren't around anymore.
posted by ml98tu at 8:36 PM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Thanks so much for your concern - it means a lot to me that you care about me so much. I don't agree with you that I'm too codependent. I think it has much more to do with how sick I've been recently. I haven't wanted to bore you with the gory details, but the times I missed X, Y, and Z events it was because I was sick. I definitely do have career goals and hobbies I want to pursue - and I want to see the three of you a lot more - but first I need to feel well. Right now, I want to ask you to give me some time to feel better. I'm just not up for carrying out the tasks on your list at the moment - it feels intrusive and pressuring, which I'm sure is now how you meant it."

Also, to me their email sounds really obnoxious. But it's so hard to tell with email: maybe making it a Project with Tasks was their way of trying to be lighthearted about it?
posted by medusa at 8:42 PM on May 2, 2007

Seconding what people have said above - tell them your feelings about this and get a two-way conversation going about it.

What they did sounds to me like a wacky movie or something out of a young adult novel. A cute idea, but in actually implementing it I don't know if they thought about how it would come off to you. To me it sounds maybe more idealized/romantic/Hollywood than outright jerky.

However, like miss lynnster said above, it sounds like they _are_ concerned for you and thinking about you.
posted by cadge at 8:46 PM on May 2, 2007

You're in a very bizarre situation.

I say again, you're in a very bizarre situation.

For friends to reach this level of interference in you life is both obsessive and disturbing.

Look, people go through rough times. Sometimes you find yourself in a bad relationship. We're all a little codependent at times - likewise sometimes we are the jerks who attract the codependant types. Its all part of the process of growing up, figuring relationships out and most importantly figuring out what you want specifically.

It's good to have friends (or family) there to check you, but your friends seem over the top meddlesome. They need to back off.

Your title gets it straight on the head: "offensive meddling"

Tell your friends you appreciate their concern but they need to lay off. You MUST figure this stuff out on your own... they can't do it for you.

Further, I would put them "on restrictions" just to make your displeasure clear.

Be firm with them... once they get the message then you can go back to being friends with them.
posted by wfrgms at 8:53 PM on May 2, 2007

If you must respond on the stupid "scheduling a task" level, I'd go with "buy me dinner at clafoutis for being such a bitch. i'll have the lobster while you explain this shit to me". seriously, if a bunch of angelino chicks are going to be intervening in your life, they better expect to pay for your time.
posted by phaedon at 8:57 PM on May 2, 2007 [4 favorites]

I'm going to play devils' advocate here and disagree somewhat with those who say to write your friends behavior off. I think that things tend not to happen in a vacuum and while your friends are going about this "intervention" in a really didactic, managerial* way, they aren't doing it because they're bored on Saturday night. It is likely that for every item on that list of goals there is an event or comment or decision that necessitated (in their eyes) inclusion on that list. Which does NOT mean that it's warranted (I think they're a bit over the top, but, pobody's nerfect). They're doing this because they care about you. Otherwise they wouldn't bother. They didn't pick the best, most tactful and compassionate method on earth, but they're forgivable, right?

They've seen you come out of a codependent relationship. This is (assumingly) the first one you've been in since then. In their eyes, they have no reason/evidence/benchmark of your change in behavior. So they are going to view every sign of potentially codependent behavior as just that, and not as extenuating circumstance. They hear hoofbeats and they assume the familiar sound of horses. You're trying to tell them "no, zebras!**" And they're going to say, "why should we believe you?"

I would give yourself a few days to think, review responses, etc. Let them know you're thinking over what they've said to you. It'll show them that you are considering their concerns and taking them seriously (and if you care about their friendship, this is a good way to reassure them of that whilst preventing everyone from doing further damage — FWIW, I'd be pretty darn pissed in your sitch).

When you feel pretty solid and consistent about your feelings, I would approach them and tell them how you feel. If you think there's some validity to their intervention, reassure them that you recognize this, that you appreciate their support, but you're handling this on your own and don't wish to transfer codependence onto them. Also, it's a journey, not a destination. You're not going to magically have figured everything out because they intervened the first time. Being in the healthy relationship you're currently in is the perfect way to practice and develop these new healthy habits. It takes time. They need to be patient.

You may find as time goes by that they are part of the problem. Or the solution. Only you can know. I'd be a little cautious moving forward. But also give them a valiant effort and the benefit of the doubt about their good intentions in their behavior with you - try to stick to plans and be a good friend. If you do that, you'll have a pretty consistent measure of whether the problem is yours or theirs.

I hope it all works out!

*By "didactic" and "managerial", I mean "shitty" and "condescending".
**Using the Occam's razor metaphor twice in one day on MetaFilter should probably be grounds for wicked punishment. Do what you must.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:00 PM on May 2, 2007

This word "codependent"... I do not think it means what they think it means.

It doesn't mean you enjoy your SO's company "too much" or that you prefer to be with him than with anybody else, given the choice, when you're sick or otherwise vulnerable. There is nothing at all wrong with a preference like that.

If your SO was a junkie, and you acted in ways that enabled the addiction because you needed the dynamics of a relationship with a junkie more than you needed your SO to get clean: then your SO would be dependent (on the junk), and you'd be codependent. This is generally held to be a Bad Thing.

It's important not to mix up a Good Thing (having a lovely SO) with a Bad Thing (feeling stuck in a dodgy relationship you don't know how to fix). Perhaps you could gently let your clearly well-meaning but somewhat over-solicitous friends know that.
posted by flabdablet at 9:01 PM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

This isn't an answer to this specific question, but is a (hopefully) relevant point.
I've found that in absolutely every case where sensitive information is being presented in written form (whether by an email, a letter, or management-software) that the person on the receiving end misses the nuance and takes the whole thing the wrong way. That's not to say you're's a fundamental flaw in written communications.
From their perspective, they (I'm guessing) put a fair bit of thought into wording the whole thing in a way that was meant to be light-hearted, thoughtful, sensitive and all kinds of other good things. But you, the reader, miss all the nuance and wind up taking the whole thing a bit more seriously than it was intended. It happens all the time, in my experience.
I have a feeling the reason this happens is as simple as a lack of body language, facial expressions, and the inherent warmth of face-to-face communications versus written.
I'm just throwing that out there as something to keep in mind as you're reading what they've written. Instead of finding little bits and pieces of what they've put down on paper (well, computer) and being offended by them, try re-reading the whole thing assuming the best at every turn. And that will probably be an interpretation closer to what they intended.
Still, maybe they're being jerks...but chances are they were trying really hard not to be, and the message was lost due to the medium.
Or maybe they all just work as Project Mangers, in which case, God help you.
posted by Ziggurat at 9:18 PM on May 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

Just out of curiosity, you mention that your being sick has made you miss a lot of social events, but your friends seem to have been more focused on your professional life in their "intervention" - is there any legitimate reason they would be concerned about the direction of your career?

Overall, I wouldn't take it too hard. You're lucky to have friends who miss you enough to be annoying about it, really. Also, as someone above said, whether you stay home because you're sick or because you actually would rather spend time with your boyfriend, is not really important. You can stay home if you want. (I realize sometimes people get stuck in situations they're miserable in, and it's nice that your friends try to make sure that's not happening, but you really can just tell them, it's cool, I'm fine, thanks for your concern...
posted by mdn at 9:25 PM on May 2, 2007

Assertive is about asserting your rights without stomping on someone else's. I would suggest you say something very simple along the lines, love you guys, but I don't need you to tell me how to run my life, thanks. And repeat. No explanations. No, but I was sick, or but you were right the first time. Nuh-uh.

What say you value your spirituality, investigage buddhism and decide to spend 12 months at a retreat. Is it reasonable for them to "intervene" to protect you from a religion that is different than theirs? No way!

And that they're doing it together - they're discussing your life, without you, behind your back. Fine for one friend to drop by and say, geez, haven't seen you around lately, is your boyfriend a dick? Not fine for two friends to say, we talk about you and have decided you are incapable of choosing your life path so we have graciously decided to take over and make you our puppet.

Of course it's culturally flexible. Maybe that's what people in yr culture do? For me, it is intolerable, and I chose to get away from people who thought they had the right to decide for me. (plus I'm also an introvert - that kind of social pace would kill me.)
posted by b33j at 9:32 PM on May 2, 2007

Wow. This almost exact same thing happened to me my first year of college. My friends thought something was wrong even though I was just sick, and actually told some of my proffessors. I was angry and upset and felt like they were just trying to create problems.

They should have just let you know, induvidually, if they felt this way and not ganged up on you. Perhaps they do have your best intrests in mind, but this is not the way to handle it AT ALL.

In my experience, one of them is most likely the ringleader, (and most likely a drama queen) and you should sit down and have a talk with her. Tell her that you appricate the concern, but that it is your life and you will handle it yourself.

Man, I am getting angry all over again.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 9:42 PM on May 2, 2007

How do you feel about the suggestions they've made as general suggestions divorced from the present context?
posted by Matt Oneiros at 10:08 PM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

It sounds like your friends are worried about you, although I question the usefulness of their methods. You're right to feel micromanaged, but having been on the other side of the equation myself, your friends are probably feeling a little miffed that you've been canceling on them so much.

You've explained your reasons to them, but you said yourself that your boyfriend is in their social circle as well and that you've both broken plans with the rest of your friends. Is there a reason why he can't still make his scheduled plans even if you're too tired to go? If you're both canceling on them on short notice to stay in, it doesn't really surprise me that they're noticing and jumping to the codependent conclusion.
posted by nerdcore at 10:21 PM on May 2, 2007

However, I'm pretty offended at the...paternalism? micromanaging?...of my life that the list seems to represent.

I can't imagine how a rational person can be offended by the actions of loving friends who're making a serious attempt to help her. You should count your lucky stars and be very grateful that you have such devoted friends. Your feelings of frustration are those of an insecure, rebellious teenager not an adult.

How have you handled situations like this with your friends or family members?

Make a decision, tell them, and then indicate it's not up for discussion anymore. Something along the lines of, "I like my life just great the way it is and I want you to immediately stop trying to change it." At the same time it'd be polite to make an effort to spend more time with them since that's likely what they really want. Perhaps something like a weekly dinner that you never miss so they don't get the feeling you've dropped off the face of the planet.
posted by nixerman at 11:07 PM on May 2, 2007

I'd love to see the task-manager program thingy they used for this - just because I can't believe people could do this to friends, even if it comes out of love. I've had friends and family members like this (granted, one in high school, which should tell you something about that behaviour). There are people who don't accept your explanations at face value, who aren't going to see your point of view and are, if anything, going to think anything you're saying is just reinforcing your 'codependence' with your significant other. Thankfully the family member who was into that kind of micromanaging came to her senses and just let people live - lucky for her, because now too she's learnt to live herself, and is much happier as a result of it.

Any chance that you could just email them this entire thread? I think the fact that a lot of people have had a strong reaction to what they did is telling. Nixerman, the original poster isn't sounding like a teenager - if anything, she's sounding like the mature one. It's one thing to have a lunch with your friends where they express their concerns in person - that would sound perfectly valid. It's another thing to get a laundry list of presumptions created 'in absentia' by The Group, delivered via email (or spreadsheet, or task management software or...whatever). Kind of...cold. The thing that's really turned me off is the friends' inability to be true, full friends regarding a health problem (the GI tract thing). I'm sure these friends mean well, but meaning well is one thing - being a friend is more than just 'meaning' well, and is also about supporting someone, not challenging them or doing the thinking for them.

Life is too short to deal with people who can't give you the support you want - and give you the support you don't need. By all means, hang with these folks if you get something out of it, but be assertive and tell them that if they whip out another Gantt chart or manual for crisis intervention they can save it for someone else else they feel they want to save. In the meantime, go have fun having a life while they're out interventionin'.
posted by rmm at 11:41 PM on May 2, 2007

"Thanks so much for your concern - it means a lot to me that you care about me so much. I don't agree with you that I'm too codependent. I think it has much more to do with how sick I've been recently. I haven't wanted to bore you with the gory details, but the times I missed X, Y, and Z events it was because I was sick. I definitely do have career goals and hobbies I want to pursue - and I want to see the three of you a lot more - but first I need to feel well. Right now, I want to ask you to give me some time to feel better. I'm just not up for carrying out the tasks on your list at the moment - it feels intrusive and pressuring, which I'm sure is now how you meant it."

medusa nailed it. thank them for their caring and concern, and then forgive them for being so intrusive while telling them (nicely) butt out.

if they don't back off after that, then it's time to re-evaluate.
posted by wayward vagabond at 12:44 AM on May 3, 2007

Some great advice here.

I just wanted to add that there's nothing wrong with wanting to spend a lot of time with your boyfriend. IF you can't manage without him, then you DO have a problem and you should seek help. But if you simply enjoy his company, there's nothing wrong with that.

I've never casually dated anyone. I've always dated (and now am married to) best friends. When I've had male buddies as best friends, and I spent hours and hours with them, no one cared. When I got into romantic relationships with female best friends, people thought I was odd or "co-dependent." Maybe I am, but such relationships have always worked for me and kept me happy.

(During my first year in NYC, I used to walk across town every day after work, so that my wife and I could ride the subway home together. It was a half-hour walk, and several people commented that my behavior was odd. "Why not just meet up with her when we both got home?" they asked? But I liked the walk. I liked the exercise. I liked meeting her. It made the subway ride fun. Sometimes we went out for dinner together, first.)

Regardless of how you or I behave -- and regardless of how healthy//un-healthy it is -- "cloistered" relationships are not the norm in America. If you're the type who gets into them, you're just going to have to deal with the fact that other people think it's weird.

Sometimes when you make a new best friend, you wind up spending less time with your former friends. They are naturally going to get upset about this, and I don't blame them. But so goes life. It doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you.

If you want to keep these friends, you should schedule some time to do things with them. YOU should invite them. That way they'll know you're being pro-active about staying friends with them. If I were you, I'd be (gently) firm about rebuffing their attempts to "help" you. At the same time, I'd actively set up dates with them, to show them I wanted to stay friends.
posted by grumblebee at 4:26 AM on May 3, 2007

Ack. Email should require a classroom course, a permit with restrictions, and then only if you consistently mind your manners and business do you get a license to hit Send.
posted by thinkpiece at 6:07 AM on May 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think rtha provides a great comment: Tell them that you think it's hilarious that they're worried you're codependent - and their solution is that you should do what they say.

Yeah, the Task Manager thing is juvenille and infuriating. But i'm guessing that if you bring that up, you're going to get the Look Of Pity from your well-meaning yet condescending friends, who will take this as another symptom of your denial and will continue their drama-infused "project." Laugh it off and tell 'em to find someone else to make-over, so they can get back to just being your friends.
posted by desuetude at 6:30 AM on May 3, 2007

Oh, please do email them this thread.

They are entitled to have opinions and concerns for you and to discuss them. They are NOT entitled to set life goals for you or to balance your life for you. That is Over The Top Controlling.

I am going to assume you are all fairly young people and that this is simply a sign of good intentions colliding with immaturity.
posted by konolia at 6:40 AM on May 3, 2007

Ew, it sounds like they were having a dish session about you and got carried away and decided this would be a fantastic idea. I hope that they are incredibly embarrassed about it in the light of day.

I'm not saying this is the right thing to do, just what my gut reaction would be: don't even dignify it with an answer. It's the career thing that really appalls me - do you work with them? For them? Do you owe them money? Is it any of their business in any way? I would not respond to it, and feel reassured that the right course of action is to focus on my health at the moment, because they can certainly wait.

What they've done is drama-queeny, cliquey, and mean. This is high school shit. I'm kind of thinking maybe you all are growing away from each other and this is one of those unpleasant last gasps that can happen during that process, or maybe it's just a glitch and a warning to you that these folks are a leetle overinvested in your life.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:05 AM on May 3, 2007

...And tell them that misuse of the word codependent is as irritating as using an apostrophe before the s in a plural noun.

But seriously, if you are having lingering GI issues, and getting sick easily, and perhaps isolating yourself with a new b/f you've become dependent on, it might behoove you to get checked out for depression, just in case.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:55 AM on May 3, 2007

I think you should cut your friends some slack. They're worried about you, and dealing with it in a way that helped before but isn't appropriate in this situation. That's just human nature - what you needed last time was your friends to express concern, it's logical (though perhaps false) for them to think that it will work again. It's also logical to think that your behavior is due to an unhealthy relationship (as it was in the past) even though its due to illness this time. Also, you should consider that your sudden cancellations might be affecting them - especially if their plans had to be rearranged to make up for your absence. Tell them how you feel, and be willing to see it from both sides. Be appreciative of them for caring about you, but make sure they know you can define your life on your own terms.
posted by fermezporte at 8:18 AM on May 3, 2007

Since they already did this once, successfully, I might go with something like, "All right, guys, this was cute and successful once. But you've used up your one Intervene in Fuzzbean's Life card, and so now this shit is just starting to sound condescending. I know you're concerned, I know you mean well, and I totally appreciate your trying to help, but this is a bad, bad way of going about it. What I need right now is rest because I am sick, and if you feel you must intervene, then get over here with some chicken soup and be nice when I kick you out because I'm not up for entertaining. Thanks."

You know your friends better than I do, obviously, but to me it does sound like they were trying to be a bit chick-lit lighthearted. Which is why I'd try to strive for a "I'm serious about this, but do see the possibility of humor here" tone.
posted by occhiblu at 8:58 AM on May 3, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, guys, for all your input. I'm still reading and hoping more people chime in, but I wanted to respond to a few points.

miss lynnster and others: I definitely do feel lucky that they care and aren't just writing me out. And I'm trying to keep that in mind as I think about responding. And I recognize that last-minute cancellations suck for the cancelled-on party (although most of these events have been larger group things where my presence wasn't going to make-or-break it.) I'm trying very hard to read their email in the gentlest, most "We-love-you" way possible. This is getting harder to do now that they're inviting other people in the circle to "watch" the project (as of this morning).

mdn (re social vs. professional development): Of the seven tasks they set out, four were dealing with social stuff, two with professional (the two on careers that I mentioned), and one "Spend less time with (boyfriend)." I didn't really provide a representative sample, so my apologies for skewing that. To answer your question, I'm currently telecommuting and working part time--not really a career as such but definitely a solid job where I'm very much appreciated (I got a substantial bonus at Christmas). And I'm working on (and have mentioned to them) going to grad school in September 08.

Matt Oneiros: Their suggestions are valid and are, in fact, things that I had identified independently as things I need to work on.

nerdcore: Most of the things I've cancelled on (definitely the things that have been in this last string that led to this) have been either events that he was not invited to or events that he was out of town for. Prior to the last two months, I'd been making a definite effort to go to hikes and whatnot even if he was not able/interested in going.

M.C. Lo-Carb!: That's a valid point, but I've experienced some pretty severe depression in the past and this, my friend, is no depression. My inability to get out and do the stuff that I want to do (including hanging out with them) is pretty frustrating and leading to some stir-craziness, but...this ain't depression.

grumblebee (re cloistered relationships): Yes, this is pretty much how I work. I've made a distinct effort this time to keep going to group events, with or without him, but the last two months I've been pretty absent. I'm sure that contributing to their concern is that I've spent most--in recent months all--of my nights at his place. (A is a roommate in the house where I (nominally) live, with three other roommates.)

Konolia: In fact, I'm the young one of the group. The rest are a minimum of six years older than I. (See also comment below.)

It might also be relevant to mention that these are relatively new, but close friends. They first met me when I was involved in the incredibly messed-up prior relationship (my ex is in this group of people, so I met them through him. I know this is an unusual situation, but it's pretty normal for this particular group for people to date within the group for a while but stay involved in the group if the relationship doesn't work out.) I've also asked both of them for advice in dealing with various situations I've found myself in in the past (so getting input from them on emotional situations isn't totally out of the norm.) It's the unsolicited and line-item aspect of this that is bugging me.

Again, thanks to everyone for your advice.
posted by fuzzbean at 9:03 AM on May 3, 2007

Eh, I think it's cute. Your friends miss you and are worried that you're in another bad relationship. And, really, "I'm not feeling well." is a common facade for "He doesn't want me to." Not saying it's an excuse this time, but what excuses did you use in the last relationship, and how could they know the difference? They miss you, want to spend time with you, and want to include you. Hell, sounds like girl-power group hug time!

Laugh it off with a big "WHAT-EVERRRR!!" and a "Hey, I'll be sure to call ya the next time I got the shits so we can hang out!" At least phone-flush them to let them know you're thinking about them.
posted by LordSludge at 9:06 AM on May 3, 2007

This is getting harder to do now that they're inviting other people in the circle to "watch" the project (as of this morning).

Un. cool. I don't think these people like you.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:14 AM on May 3, 2007

This is getting harder to do now that they're inviting other people in the circle to "watch" the project (as of this morning).

Seconding that this is uncool. What are you, a fucking reality show?
posted by desuetude at 9:27 AM on May 3, 2007

Lyn Never said: This is getting harder to do now that they're inviting other people in the circle to "watch" the project (as of this morning).

Un. cool. I don't think these people like you.

Quoted for truth. Inviting other people to watch the project moved it from "friends being silly and perhaps over the top" to full blown "Mean Girls" territory.

To suggest that your life is something that other people have *right* to control or observe is offensive on SO many levels.

I'm with the "nip this bullshit in the bud" contingent.
posted by dejah420 at 9:30 AM on May 3, 2007

I agree with the consensus above. I also believe it is quite obvious they are projecting their own co-dependence.

Girls are weird.

Girl approach to this situation: see above thread

Guy approach to this situation: "Dude, your new girlfriend is a BITCH. What the hell?"

*Please note I am generalizing for the sake of humor. I realize not all girls in the entire world are manipulative and sneaky like this, nor are all guys as direct and forthright at this. YMMV by small or great amounts. Some assembly required. Void where prohibited. May cause headache, dizziness, diarrhea, or sudden homicidal tendencies. Do not taunt Happy FunBall.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:37 AM on May 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm trying very hard to read their email in the gentlest, most "We-love-you" way possible. This is getting harder to do now that they're inviting other people in the circle to "watch" the project (as of this morning).

Ok, now that's going way too far & it's not amusing or caring in any way. These people are not right in the head. Get away, run far away from these nutters. This reminds me of the way scientologists operate.
posted by zarah at 9:45 AM on May 3, 2007

On non-preview... I agree with the disdain based on this new information.

Making you a spectacle is rude, inconsiderate, and childish.

I would give them one opportunity to make a tearful, heartfelt, grovelling apology, otherwise I would consider severing all ties with them.

This has, quite simply, crossed the line.

Rigid, immediate boundaries have to be established if there is any chance of any kind to recover from this.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:56 AM on May 3, 2007

...aaaand now, fuzzbean, feel free to add the 'batshitinsane' tag to your post here now that others have been added to 'watch' the project. I was thinking that perhaps my opinion in the thread was too harsh, that these people mean well, which they probably do. But, um, they sounds less and less like 'caring' and more like 'controlling and opinionated do-gooders'. It actually sounds like something out of a warped sitcom. You deserve good friends to support you - remember that. If they want drama, tell them to rent one from their corner video store - you're not somebody's little personal home improvement project. I think both Martha Stewart and Oprah would laugh and point at these people if they could see them.

Nutters is an excellent term, zarah. I do think the Brits have devised a stellar word there.
posted by rmm at 10:04 AM on May 3, 2007

I have some pretty strict rules with my friends about meddling in personal affairs. If I want their help, I'll ask and vice versa. Otherwise, just be a good listener and hang out and act normal. Be there for me, but don't tell me where to be.

I mean, unless I'm ready to jump off the roof or planning a mass execution of innocent bystanders, isn't that the way friendship is supposed to work?
posted by queenofthegeeks at 10:25 AM on May 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Unjoin the little task management program RIGHT NOW. You don't need to deal with this. The fact that they are six years older certainly doesn't mean they're more mature in this case. You don't need to deal with this and friends don't do this. Friends might meddle and offer advice but they'll stand by you and pick you up when you fall, not beat you down further.
posted by ml98tu at 10:30 AM on May 3, 2007

First: call the lead instigator of this "project" (probably whoever sent the email) and say, in a real small, quiet voice "Is that you A? I got your email..." then, by prearranged signal, have your boyfriend bellow "who the HELL are you talking to NOW?!" after which you immediately squeak "omigod, I have to go" and hang up.

Now, when she calls back or you call her right back (pranks like this should never be left to stew too long) put her on the speaker phone and you and the squeeze share a nice laugh at her expense.

Having defused tension with humor, say something to the effect of "you incredible dork, I can't believe you're using project management software to solve the riddle of my life. I'm fine. I've been sick a lot lately, but I'm seeing a doctor about it, I'm happy with my job where it is now and I'm working on going to graduate school next year. I have a cold right now but I promise we will go out soon."
posted by nanojath at 10:48 AM on May 3, 2007

It's time to start describing your GI systems in lurid, gory detail to your friends. I understand that you've "spoken with them at some length about symptoms and whatnot, but it's not exactly the kind of thing you want to go into brutal detail on every single time"...but it's time to stop protecting them from the facts. You'll be more convincing -- and they'll stop asking about it -- if you get gross.

So I suspect you've been saying something like this: "Sorry, A -- I'd love to see you tonight, but that tummy problem is acting up again."

Now it's time to say something like this: "Sorry, A -- I'd love to see you tonight, but I just spent 2 hours on the toilet suffering from projectile diarrhea. My left butt cheek fell asleep after 40 minutes, and now I'm spanking it to get the feeling back. Plus I have to scrub the bathroom before the next epic session. Hey, can you hear my tummy rumbling? No? Let me hold the phone up to it. Oh, sorry, the flatulence is out of my control."
posted by equipoise at 11:18 AM on May 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

Is this issue in any way related to your previous question about staying friends with a circle of friends more closely attached to your now ex-boyfriend?

If I follow this thread and the previous one correctly, you asked askmefi if you should continue to hang out with a group of people who were all much closer to someone you were planning on dumping. Askmefi chimed in and said, that was probably a bad idea, as these people might not be very happy with you. Now you're asking what to do because this group of friends is being mean to you?

At the very least, it seems helpful in getting answers to include all of this backstory in your current question to people can get an idea of the context in which this is unfolding.
posted by davidstandaford at 11:25 AM on May 3, 2007

Response by poster: davidstandaford: I wasn't the asker of that question. I just cited it as an example of how unusual this group was.
posted by fuzzbean at 11:28 AM on May 3, 2007

Big whoops, on that previous comment. I followed the link you posted higher up to a previous question, assuming you had wrote it. Turns out someone else wrote that question. I have no idea if you linked to that question because it also described your own situation, but sorry for assuming it was you who wrote that question, and please ignore my comment if that previous question doesn't actually describe your situation.
posted by davidstandaford at 11:28 AM on May 3, 2007

fuzzbean: You're quick. Too quick. You didn't even let me fix my mistake on my own. :-)
posted by davidstandaford at 11:31 AM on May 3, 2007

Response by poster: *laughs, reholsters pistol*
posted by fuzzbean at 11:32 AM on May 3, 2007

You're a person, not a project. Its all right to tell them so.

The codependent behavior would be to do or say whatever it might take to appease them, because you feared losing their friendship and support. Or to vanish and sulk, waiting for them to come grovel at you and win back your favor. Codependency is about reacting emotionally, rather than acting thoughtfully.

The mature, balanced behavior is to say or write, as firmly and gently as you can, "Thanks for your concern, but it's needless. If anyone wants to talk to me, one-on-one and in private, about any worries you might have about me, I would be happy to do that."

I'd recommend that you invite them to discuss things with you further only if it's in person, and in private. It sounds like part of the dynamic is that their social world, at present, is using you as a focus and as a rescue project. (That is very funny, because rescuing is a classic codependent behavior - they sound pretty darn enmeshed in your private life.) In your position, I'd be fairly concerned that anything I wrote in an email or left on voice mail would be shared with others in the group. Anything you say in person may also be shared, of course, but you have greater control over the conversation in person.

If anyone does pursue this, you can say everything you've said here. "Yes, I've had problems with this in the past, and you helped me become aware of them then and I'm thankful. But I've learned quite a bit since then and I'm wary of falling into old habits, so I do (a), (b), and (c) to make sure I'm leading my own life and working toward my goals. Yes, there may be some issues of goal-setting and dependency in my life, but I'm working on them, and it's something only I can do. I'll call on you if I need your help. Right now I'm experiencing your involvement as invasive, though." That kind of thing.

Whatever you do say, no matter how calmly, they are likely to have a reaction. that's because when you take control of your life, when you are firm and serious about your boundaries and you begin to assert your independence, people who have had the luxury and pleasure of yanking you in any direction they pleased tend to be unhappy that they've lost their power over you. There may be some angry or hurt repercussions, but you sound like you can handle that in a loving way.

I believe in codependency - it's real, and the term isn't being misapplied here - but it sounds to me as though it's the friends you need greater separation from right now, not the partner. If there are any problems in the relationship, or if you have more work to do on your sense of self, then you'll be better able to do it without a gaggle of friends distracting you from your self-improvement.

Good luck!
posted by Miko at 12:42 PM on May 3, 2007

Response by poster: So, an update:

Earlier today I posted this message, then immediately removed myself from the project:

Okay, guys.

Thank you for your concern. I really do appreciate that you care this much about me. And I care about you, and appreciate your input. I feel really bad that I haven't been able to participate in the various social activities that you've invited me to, and I'm sure you're frustrated that I keep cancelling.

I understand that you're acting out of love and concern, but to be honest, I'm finding this list of instructions and fiats pretty intrusive and condescending. Your concerns about codependency really aren't warranted. I've been working on figuring out long-term goals and plans independently and on how to have a healthier life. I've been attending the events that I have energy for and I've been making an especial effort to attend the events that you guys have hosted/been involved in, but I can't do everything at this point.

If you'd like to get together to talk about this, that would be great. But I'm leaving this project.

Please don't do this again.

A contacted me to apologize later in the day, and said that they should have handled their concerns differently.

B is pretty upset with me.

I've scheduled a time for us (everyone involved) to go out to dinner (again through the task-management thing) on Sunday to discuss this. I'll see what happens then.

Again, thank you all *very* much for your help and advice.
posted by fuzzbean at 9:02 AM on May 4, 2007

Right on. Please roll your eyes at B for us.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:20 AM on May 4, 2007

Metafilter: 50,000 friends strong — more than just a project. Don't worry dear, we got your back.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:12 AM on May 4, 2007

Nice response. Well said and even-toned. B sucks :)
posted by ml98tu at 10:15 AM on May 4, 2007

Well, in fairness to B, if you read the actual text, it sounds kinda like you're kicking them to the curb. "I'm leaving this project" sounds a lot like "I don't want to be friends with you people anymore", when you probably just mean, "I love you guys and wouldn't trade our friendship for *anything*, but PLEASE don't make me your pet social 'project' -- NOT COOL!" I saw a lot of the latter; very little of the former.

I hope it works out, and I wouldn't recommend "rolling eyes" at anyone, unless you want to terminate friendships. Give lots of reassurance, a light "sorry if that letter came out wrong... I love you all, but seriously you're freaking me out!!", even a group hug, awwwww...
posted by LordSludge at 10:33 AM on May 4, 2007

I'm having a hard time reading the actual text the same way LordSludge does. To me, "leaving this project" very clearly means "leaving the FuzzBean Intervention II project", especially given that you've already reassured them that you care about them. I think it's graciously said.

We're rooting for you.
posted by sculpin at 12:14 PM on May 4, 2007


You rock. Seriously.
posted by konolia at 2:36 PM on May 4, 2007

You go girl!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:38 PM on May 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Good job!
posted by dejah420 at 12:40 AM on May 5, 2007

That was beautifully worded, fuzz. Don't worry about B. Just be aware that that group dynamic might be really meaningful to her, and maybe you'll disrupt her sense of belonging by opting out of this. Don't take any anger from that direction as an indication that you're doing anything wrong. You're not - I'm guessing it's just what I said, that when you reject someone else's bid to control parts of your life, they get upset because they were drawing some part of their self-esteem or sense of value from that.

Anyway. Well done and good luck.
posted by Miko at 8:38 PM on May 5, 2007

Sorry haven't had time to read all other replies properly, but just wanted to throw in a suggestion: could it be they're being a little tongue in cheek with this 'intervention II' and the list of goals?

It may be a long shot, I don't know, you know them and know their attitudes, so they may be being completely serious instead. But in any case, whether they're pulling your leg or not, why not answer as if they were? ie. answer humorously, with a little poke at their micromanaging grandeur, to show you're not taking it that seriously and at the same time appreciate their comedy effort, intentional or not. Throw in a little self-deprecating joke too and they'll be happy.

Again depends on kind of friendship and personalities etc., but I sure wouldn't take anything like that too seriously. If they're just honestly trying to make you want to come out and play a bit more, the last thing they want to do is to make you feel like you have to keep an appointment with the doctor.

If this fails and they insist and they really really mean it, then I'd say plan B is 'start describing your GI systems in lurid, gory detail to your friends'... but then don't complain if they stop asking you out altogether!
posted by pleeker at 2:31 PM on May 8, 2007

Ooops sorry just read the update now... so erm they really meant it. In that case, I think your reply was very appropriate.
posted by pleeker at 2:33 PM on May 8, 2007

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