Choosing friends

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.
realsocialskills said:
Yes, it’s ok. Because your consent also matters. You do not have to spend time with people who make you miserable, even if it’s not their fault that they make you miserable.
That said, sometimes people who are far too stressful to interact with regularly are great if you limit it some.
Are there boundaries that you could draw that would make interacting with them enjoyable again?
Like, maybe only seeing them occasionally? Maybe only at activities they suggest? Maybe only online?

You can’t fix someone’s perspective

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.
realsocialskills said:
It’s hard for me to tell from your message how your sister sees herself. You’re saying that she sees herself as ugly, and you see her as beautiful. You also say that she has low self esteem, and you want her to see how great she is. I’m wondering if maybe you’re conflating issues that seem the same to you, but which seem very different to your sister.
Sometimes people who have tremendous respect for themselves as people feel ugly. Sometimes amazing, wonderful people really *are* very unattractive by conventional standards. And for some people, it’s really powerful to come to the conclusion that don’t need to be beautiful to be ok. I don’t know how the world looks to your sister, and I don’t know what she’s struggling with. But it may well be that trying to see herself as beautiful is not what’s right for your sister at this point. And really, she’s the only one who know that; you can’t tell from the outside; you can only guess.
Your sister may be struggling tremendously with her self esteem, she may be struggling to feel worthy. But it’s her struggle – you can’t do it for her, and you can’t make her do it faster. This is something she has to figure out for herself.
It’s hard to see someone you love struggle, particularly when you think you know what would solve things, if only they would listen to you. Taking over really doesn’t help though, particularly when someone’s main problem is that they don’t respect themself enough. You can’t give someone self-respect by trying to force them to override their own judgment in favor of yours, as tempting as it might seem.
You can’t take over or direct your sister’s path to self-acceptance and self-respect, but you can support her in powerful ways. The best thing you can do for your sister is to respect the way she feels about herself now and stop trying change her.
You can’t make your sister think that she’s great. You can’t make her think that she’s beautiful.
What you can do is acknowledge that she feels ugly, and show her respect and love as she feels this way. What you can do is be with her anyway, and show her that feeling ugly will not make you abandon her.
Don’t get angry or upset at her for not feeling good about herself. That is counterproductive. If you express exasperation with her over this, it ends up sounding like “I want you to like yourself NOW NOW NOW you’re beautiful”, which on the receiving end can be heard as “I hate you for not loving yourself more”. That is the opposite of the message you’re trying to send.
I think the best thing you can do for your sister right now is accept that, right now, she doesn’t feel great about herself. Your sister’s poor self image is not an inditement of you. It’s not your job to fix it – but you can be there for her while she figures things out, on her own timeline.
You can’t try to change your sister’s self-image without hurting her. What you can do is show her the love and respect that you wish she’d show herself.

Something my blog can’t do

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.
realsocialskills said:
What would you be trying to do by showing your sorta-friend my blog?
I kind of get the sense that you’re thinking that, maybe if you showed it to her, she’d learn that the things that annoy you are bad and stop doing them. It doesn’t actually work that way, though. You can’t just point someone at instructions that will make them better. Friendship is something you work on together.
The point of friendship is that you figure out ways you like interacting, then do those things together. My blog posts can’t replace that.
If someone’s doing stuff you don’t like in a friendship, you have to work that out with them, either by talking it through or by redrawing the boundaries of the relationship so that it doesn’t cause you intolerable problems.
Some specific stuff: your friend is allowed to only want to talk about certain things. You’re allowed to want to limit how much you talk about those things. But this is a negotiating the boundaries of friendship thing, not a getting your friend to change so you’ll like her more.
Figure out what you like doing together, do that, and draw boundaries around the things you don’t want to do.

Friends annoy friends

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.
Most friends annoy each other if they spend too much time together. That in itself doesn’t mean that you dislike each other. Sometimes it just means that you’re spending way more time together than is good for the friendship.
The best thing to do might be to take a step back and spend some time figuring out how much time you actually want to spend with that friend, and what kind of things you want to do together – as well as what kind of things you’d rather do separately.
For instance, it might be that you like hanging out with your friend once a week, but that you don’t want to have long conversations with them every day. Or that you like to spend a lot of time with them, but you don’t want them with you when you go to bars. Or that you want to hang out with them, but not some of their other friends who you find tiresome.
Friends need boundaries and adequate time apart in order to have the friendship stay good.
There’s a great piece, Five Geek Social Fallacies, that describes some related dynamics that complicate friendship.

Boundaries with people who combine racist/sexist/etc statements with a subject change

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?
realsocialskills said:
I think it depends a lot on the situation, and the particular relationship you’re talking about.
Relationships and obligations are complicated, and so is the question of what is and is not an ok boundary.
One thing I’d say is that if you’re calling someone out a lot in a friendship, there’s probably something going wrong. Calling people on things is generally a somewhat hostile act. I don’t mean that pejoratively, sometimes it’s absolutely vital to be hostile. But if you’re finding that you’re frequently angry with a friend because of their attitudes towards marginalized groups, and that you usually strongly want to address this forcefully, it might be worth reconsidering whether you actually like them enough to have that kind of relationship. Particularly if this has been going on for a long time and things haven’t gotten better. It might be time to create some distance; you might be realizing that you don’t actually want to be that close to them.
If most of your interactions with someone end up being attempts to correct their worldview, you probably don’t actually like them that much. And close friendships need to be between people who like and respect one another in a deep way.
Friends can and do criticize one another and point out ways we’re going wrong. Everyone is wrong about something important that hurts people, and friends can really help one another to figure this out and be right about more things. But this is a respectful and mutual process between equals, not something that happens where one person transforms another. It’s also something that needs to happen consensually.
It also might be worth naming it explicitly, even if it isn’t a close relationship. For instance:
  • 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.

Identifying bad friends

How to weed out bad friends?
realsocialskills said:
Here are some rules of thumb:
Good friends are people you like. If you’re trying to figure out whether you like someone, here are things to keep in mind:
  • 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
Good friends are people who like you:
  • 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
Good friends don’t creep on each other:
  • 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
Good friends understand that you have a life outside them:
  • 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.)
Pay attention to your feelings:
  • 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

What happens when others say no to you?

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.
realsocialskills said:
I don’t know you, so I can’t say with any real confidence what is going on. But I do know one thing that I’ve seen happen over and over with a number of people, so I’m going to describe it in case it is applicable.
I think it might be worth taking a look at what happens when people say no to you, and seeing if maybe the way you react is creating relationship problems.
Here’s a thing that might be happening (I don’t know you, so I can’t be sure, but I’ve seen this happen with other people):
  • 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
This might not be you. But, if you think it might be, here’s some things to look at:
When your friends say no, can it be ok, or does it always upset you?
  • 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
When your friends say no, does it ever stick, or do they almost always end up doing what you wanted anyway?
  • 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.)
What happens when your friends don’t want to do things for you?
  • 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.

Sometimes abstract discussions are not appropriate

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.

For instance:

  • 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.

For instance:

  • 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”.)