Is it ok to stop being friends with someone because the steps necessary to ensure their consent stress you out to the point of making you miserable? On one hand, that seems like a shitty thing to do to someone you otherwise like. On the other hand, trying to figure out what this person wants to do or wants me to do sometimes stresses me out to the point that I actually end up cutting myself to calm down. I don’t know what the right thing to do is anymore.
Hey there. So, I’m wondering how I can help my sister with her self esteem. She’s very beautiful, and it’s been made clear to her by many that she is, but at the end of the day she thinks herself ugly.I get really frustrated and angry with her sometimes when she does this– it’s so clear that she’s lovely, everyone knows, and it’s obvious she is. I just don’t know what to do. I want her to see how great she is, without hurting her.
I have a sorta-friend who’s aspergers. My other friends and I try to be understanding about stuff (she wears earplugs so sometimes we have to remind her she’s getting loud) and has a few things she really likes, but she isn’t interested in talking about other stuff than what she likes, and interrupts a lot. I’ve been debating about showing her this blog for a while but I don’t know if that would offend her. I don’t know how to tell her she’s annoying because I’m bad at confrontation stuff.
How do you make friends you actually like and who like you back? Most people end up annoying me if I spend too much time around them, and the few who don’t usually end up annoyed at me themselves.
So, I keep running across this, and don’t know how to handle it: person a talks about subject x, and then gets sick of talking about it and sets boundary of ‘stop talking to me about this’. which is fine, except often this is right after person A said something racist or ableist or sexist or fatphobic while discussing said topic. Is it okay to call them out on this, even though they set a boundary that they’re done with the topic?
- Bob: Cars cars cars cars. Long rant about cars. And also trucks.
- James: Cars! Cars cars trucks cars. Wheels.
- Bob: Wheels. And also axels. Women who think they can drive big trucks are such r@$%@$%s. Argh, sick of cars now. Let’s talk about something else.
- James: Ok, we don’t have to talk about cars anymore, but that comment was really sexist and ableist and I’d appreciate it if you stopped saying things like that around me.
In this case, James is respecting the Bill’s decision to drop the subject, but still addressing the offensive comment.
- James explicitly says that he’s willing to stop talking about cars
- And then he does, in fact, stop talking about cars.
- But he doesn’t let the hateful comments go, either
- But he also doesn’t start an argument about the content or continue an argument about cars
- Eg, James doesn’t say anything like “Bob, why do you have to be so sexist about that? My sister’s way better at driving than you’ll ever be. That’s why she wins the truck races and you totaled your car last month.”
James also isn’t necessarily trying to fix Bob or to make him see the error of his ways. He’s objecting, and asserting a boundary.
If it’s a closer relationship, the conversation might be more like:
- Bob: Wheels. And also axels. Women who think they can drive big trucks are such r@$%@$%s. Argh, sick of cars now. Let’s talk about something else.
- James: It really bothers me when you say things like that. Those comments are sexist and ableist, and I know things like that hurt people.
- Bob: What’s the big deal? Isn’t it just an expression?
- James then attempts to explain why it’s a big deal
When people are open to this kind of conversation, explaining things can be really good. If they’re not open to this kind of conversation, trying to force them to have it is likely to hurt you and unlikely to change them. If they’re not willing to engage these issues, all you can really do is set a boundary about how they behave around you.
How to weed out bad friends?
- Do you like being around them? Is interaction with them usually pleasant?
- How do you talk about them when they’re not there? If most of what you say is a complaint of some sort, you probably don’t actually like them very much
- It’s ok not to like people
- But if you don’t like someone, it’s probably better not to try to be their close friend or spend lots of time with them
- Does this person enjoy your company?
- Do they respect you when you’re there? If most of what they say is insulting, they probably don’t like you.
- If they make a lot of jokes at your expense that hurt you, and mock you if you tell them to knock it off, they probably don’t like you very much
- If they act like they’re doing you a favor by being your friend, they probably don’t like you very much
- Life is a lot better when you surround yourself with folks who like you, and minimize entanglements with people who don’t
- People who insist on touching you in ways you don’t like probably aren’t very good friends
- People who won’t stop hitting on you or making sexual comments probably aren’t very good friends
- People who insist on talking to you about explicit sexual topics you aren’t comfortable hearing about probably aren’t very good friends.
- People who make a lot of explicit comments about your sex life or sexual desires without caring whether you want to discuss that with them aren’t good friends
- In some social circles, you might come under tremendous pressure to laugh this kind of thing off
- But it’s not ok, and life is better when you don’t tolerate it, and when you are able to create a social circle of people who don’t tolerate it
- Friends aren’t always available when friends want them to be, because they have a life and other things that matter
- Good friends understand that you spend time with other people, and have emotionally significant relationships that they aren’t part of
- They also understand that you have other things you need to attend to, such as work, school, taking care of your health, etc
- And they don’t treat it as an offense against them when you spend money on yourself, even when you’re buying something they wish they could afford but can’t
- Friends who expect to always unconditionally come first in your life are not good friends. (Even if they think they put you first. Even if it’s true, but it usually isn’t.)
- If you feel horrible about yourself every time you see someone, it’s probably not a good friendship
- If how you feel about someone changes a lot, there’s probably something really wrong. It might be fixable, it might be possible to work around it, but it’s important to figure out what it is
- If how you feel about someone is dramatically different when you’re with them than when you’re not, something is wrong and it’s important to figure out what it is
- For instance, if you consistently dread hanging out with someone, but enjoy it when you do, something is wrong (it might not be a problem with them, it might be social anxiety or something else. But it’s important to figure out what’s going on)
- And when you swear up and down that you like someone, but you also avoid them and don’t feel good when you spend time with them, you probably don’t actually like them as much as you think you do. Even if they have really great qualities.
Sometimes it’s not a bad friend. Sometimes it’s a bad friendship that can be improved by renegotiating boundaries:
- For instance, some people are good to spend time with, but not good to spend tons of time with. Captain Awkward has a good post on small doses friends
- Some people act dramatically different in public than in private. Spending time with them mostly or entirely in the setting you like them in can make the friendship a lot better
- Some people are nice to interact with in person, but not online, or vice versa. Being someone’s friend doesn’t mean you have to discuss politics with them on facebook, or that you have to engage with their derailing comments on everything you post. Similarly, talking to someone online doesn’t mean you have to go to their noisy parties
- Some friendships aren’t really personal relationships so much as alliances in which you trade favors. That’s an ok kind of relationship to have, so long as it’s actually equal and not exploitation. Trying to convert an alliance into a close friendship tends to end poorly though, especially if only one person wants that
A lot of us like things really intensely and want to talk about them all the time.
But not everyone wants to hear everything we know about trains, hats, elephants, Pokemon, or the Dead Sea Scrolls. Constant monologues tend to drive people away.
In childhood, a lot of us are taught that our interests are the problem. We’re taught that we shouldn’t like things as much as we do, that our interest in them is annoying, that no one will ever want to listen, and that we need to talk about normal things. That doesn’t help.
It’s ok to like things. Liking things is *good*. Spending a lot of time thinking about, doing, and talking about things you care about is a good thing, not a bad thing. And it’s possible to do that and still treat other people well.
Part of that involves respecting other people’s boundaries. Most people aren’t interested in the Most Awesome Thing you like, and lecturing them about it when they don’t want to hear it isn’t going to make them *more* interested. When you’re having a conversation with someone, it’s important to identify things you *both* want to talk about. And if there aren’t things you both want to talk about, it’s important to find someone else to talk to rather than trying to push someone into it against their will.
(A caveat: I am talking about peer relationships here. I think that parents and teachers have a significant degree of responsibility to take an interest in things their kids are into. I will probably address that in more detail at some points.)
Some people will have contempt for you for having interests, and for the particular things you care about. Those people are wrong, and interacting with them quickly becomes toxic. People who don’t want you to like things, or who have a problem with the thing you like, aren’t going to suddenly start respecting you. It gets a lot better when you find people who actually like you.
It’s also important to find people who like the thing you like. People who share your interests exist, and you can interact with them on a level that’s not possible with anyone else. Now that we have the internet, it’s much easier than it’s ever been to find people to discuss the things with.
But it’s also possible to be friends with people whose interest in your favorite topics is limited. Some people like people who like things, even when they like different things. Those people can be really great friends.
In conversations with that kind of friend, sometimes they will need to say “ok, new topic?” It’s important to be able to hear that, and to tell the difference between someone saying, “You’re pathetic for caring about that boring thing, stop being so weird”, and someone saying “I am bored with this right now, and would like to talk about something we’re both interested in.”
Given the way most of us are treated from early childhood, it can be very difficult to learn to tell the difference between someone expressing a boundary and someone expressing contempt. It’s important and possible to learn how to do this, though.
It helps to keep in mind that not everyone who would rather not hear about train wheels right now is trying to take things away from you, though. Your friends aren’t going to make a behavior chart and make you earn train things by talking about other topics and keeping silent about the things you care about. (If they do anything remotely like that, they’re not friends and you need to find other friends who actually respect you.)
It also helps to keep in mind that, no matter how polite they are about it, someone who regularly has active contempt for you and your interests is not your friend.
This is hard to navigate. But it’s worth it.
I know this is silly, but I’m seriously depressed about not having friends. Some other aspies online have advised me to act more neurotypical and less trans. Do you think this would work?
Sometimes, people that I think of as close friends because of how long I’ve known them and the things they’ve helped me with decide to totally cut me out of their lives without warning and without explaining why they’ve done it. I can’t become a better friend or person if they don’t tell me what’s wrong, so what am I supposed to do in situations like this? It hurts and leaves me distrustful of everyone for a long time whenever it happens.
- It’s really hard for people to say no to you because of the way you react when other people don’t want what you want
- But you have a lot of really good qualities, and people like you a lot
- So, in the medium term, people put up with not being allowed to have appropriate boundaries so they can be around you
- But, eventually, this becomes intolerable
- And when people reach the point of not being willing to put up with it anymore, they’re not inclined to discuss it with you
- Because it would involve having the kind of confrontation they’ve spent your whole relationship carefully avoiding
- For instance, if you want a friend to go to a movie with you, and they say they don’t want to see that one, can you see that as ok, or does it always feel like a betrayal?
- When you invite your friends to so something, and they’re busy or have conflicting plans, can you see that as ok, or does it always feel like a betrayal?
- Friends don’t always want to do the same things, and it’s normal for friends to say no to suggestions for getting together. If it *always* upsets you, there’s a problem.
- There are legitimate reasons to be upset when friends don’t want to do something, (or especially when friends cancel plans without a good reason.) But if you’re *always* upset when friends say no to things you suggest, there’s probably a problem with your expectations.
Can you think of recent examples in which a long-term friend said no to you, and you didn’t get upset?
- If not, it’s likely that you have problems accepting no for an answer
- Because friends say no to each other all the time for all kinds of good and even important reasons
- And that’s part of what maintains good relationships and allows people to try new things
- In good friendships, people can and do say no to each other regularly.
- If when your friends say no, they almost always apologize, back down, and do what you wanted, something is wrong
- Friends need to be able to say no. Friends need to be able to hear no.
- It’s ok if sometimes it turns out that something was more important to you than your friend initially realized, and your friend changed their mind once they realized.
- But if that happens all or most of the time, it’s an indication that you probably should work on learning to take no for an answer
- If this is happening with all or most of your friends, you’re probably making it difficult for people to say no to you, and that’s probably making it hard for you to maintain relationships.
- (Not an absolute indication, because it’s also possible that a lot of people in your life have trouble saying no for reasons that have nothing to do with you. But if you notice this pattern, it’s worth seeing if there’s something you can do about it.)
- If you ask for a lot of favors and almost no one you consider to be a friend ever says no, that’s a sign that something might be wrong
- Because there are a lot of things that it’s ok to ask but not ok to assume the answer will be yes
- And if your friends don’t ever say no, it’s very likely that it’s because they feel like they can’t
- If people who do say no tend to end up crying, apologizing, and doing the thing you asked them to do anyway, that’s a serious red flag
- It might be that your friends are manipulative and like to make you feel bad about asking for things, and don’t like to say no – that’s a thing that happens, and a possibility that it’s important to take seriously
- But it also might be that you’ve made it really difficult to say no, and that it’s causing relationship problems, and it’s also important to take that possibility seriously
How do you react when your friends don’t want to share some aspects of their life? For instance:
- Do you expect to meet your friend’s coworkers and get hurt and offended if this doesn’t happen?
- Do you get upset if your friends don’t want to answer intimate questions about their sex life?
- Do you get angry if your friends don’t want your advice about their personal life?
- Do you expect your friends to listen to your theories about their medical condition and follow your plan of treatment?
- If you’re having these kinds of reactions, something is wrong.
- Friends don’t share everything with friends, and people have the right to keep their private life private, even if their friends want to be part of it.
- Friends also have the right to have other social relationships that not all of their friends are included in (There’s a good article on Geek Social Fallacies that explains why).
When you apologize, does it usually result in you getting your way?
- A real apology means acknowledging that you have done something wrong, that you’ve stopped doing that thing, and that you will try your best not to do it again in the future
- There are other kinds of apologies that are more about either manipulating others or submitting to someone’s power over you
- There are all kinds of situations in which using those are legitimate, but not between close friends. Apologies between close friends should be genuine.
- Some kinds of apologies are really about making it hard for people to tell you when you’re hurting them
- I wrote about that some before
- If when you apologize in your personal life, people tend to feel guilty for making you feel bad, and then do what you wanted anyway, something is wrong
If any of this sounds like you, it’s probably really important that you work on learning to take no for an answer. Other people, even friends who care about you very much, have all kinds of legitimate reasons to say no to you. If you can accept that as an inevitable part of a relationship, it will make it a lot easier to have and keep mutually good relationships going.
As I said, I don’t know you, and it may well be that this isn’t the problem, or that it isn’t the main problem. But this is a very common problem, and it might be worth considering.
If someone is telling you about a bad situation they’re in, or something they’re upset about, it’s probably not a good time to launch into an abstract discussion of something tangentially related.
- Jane: My coworkers keep hitting on me. It’s really getting to be a problem.
- Bill: Well, hitting on people can be very important.
Likewise, when someone wants support for a bad thing that happened, that is probably not a good time to have an abstract conversation with them about the nature of the words they’re using.
- Bruce: This is such an awful work schedule. My boss keeps telling me it doesn’t matter because we’re doing such awesome things. He’s so freaking invested in his privilege.
- Leo: I don’t know that I’d call that privilege. I mean, obnoxiousness sure, but I’m not seeing the privilege. Doesn’t privilege mean being part of a privileged group? How’s your boss privileged?
Bill and Leo might be right, but what they’re saying isn’t appropriate in context. They’re changing the subject to make it about something else they want to discuss in an abstract way, rather than listening to the problem the person is actually talking about.
That’s obnoxious. (And it’s different from calling people on bad things they do, which can be important too. This subject-change to an abstract topic rather than the problem at hand is a different thing than saying “hey, you’re saying something messed up here”.)