This is originally from the comments section of this post. A. recently followed up with me, so I thought I’d share my note to her in a more public place. Her original letter is [in abridged format] below.
Thank you for writing this post. I am in a situation where I am trying my hardest not to be the acquaintance in Part 1, and I was hoping you could offer some extra advice to me.
I have a “friend” from high school…….. she initiated a one-on-one friendship with me, which I was all for at the time because I sincerely enjoy fostering close friendships. However, it has become very clear to me……she only likes hanging out with me so that she can vent about her life or gossip about our mutual friends. She very rarely asks me about my life and shows little interest in hearing me talk for extended periods of time, even though I will listen to her when she goes on 15 minute rants about a guy she’s seeing. I’m at the point now where I want to bail out of our one-on-one “friendship” because I am tired of feeling used……She often says how she wants people to be “real” with her and not lead her on if they don’t like her. However….. It is obvious that she cannot handle the honesty that she asks for.
……..I am sick of being her therapist and sick of feeling used just because I am a patient listener…….. We have been hanging out one-on-one for too long for me to just start ignoring her, and she is persistent in asking me to hang out (I never initiate it.) ……I appreciate any advice you can give me! I am at my wits end with this.
First off, you sound like a very reflective person. I respect that you do not want to come across as flaky, or evasive. I support you in approaching this honestly, instead of making things up.
For growth’s sake, I ask you: What do you think you might have been able to do differently? I ask because I’ve also been in the same position MANY times. Over time, I have realized I accidentally encourage this type of “friendship” by asking too many questions of others, and not making space for myself.
Now, here are my concrete thoughts:
1. When you make plans, invite others along on your outings.
If you have mutual friends you like, maybe this is the opportunity to spend time with them, too.
2. When you hang out 1-on-1, learn to “Name” the situation as it happens.
~ “So we talked about your life for awhile. I have talked about mine for 2 minutes and you are changing the subject. Can I finish my story first?”
~ “I’m starting to feel a little uncomfortable talking about __________ behind their back, so I’d like to change the subject.”
Or, a good-old “When you…. I feel” statement:
~ “When you interrupt me like that, I feel like you don’t care about hearing my life.”
What you are doing is bringing attention to the situation without being accusing. This will do two things: (a) help her be more self-aware, which could possibly lead to her changing; (b) help you learn to make space for your own needs in situations like this.
3. See if you can gradually release the bonds.
Instead of calling her back right away, call her back after 2-3 days.
Instead of being available the next day, make plans for the weekend.
4. If all else fails, I say suck it up and just tell her why you don’t want to hang out. HOWEVER, only do this after you’ve “named” the situation several times, otherwise she won’t get it at all. When you break-up with someone, you want them to have warning. You don’t want to just spring it on them, because when people don’t see it coming, they grow very hurt and bitter.
Her mutual friends, if they are REALLY as cool as you think, will be able to tell the difference between her opinion of you and THEIR opinion of you…. and will stand by your side even if she does trash-talk.
I hope this helps you in your position. It doesn’t matter how old you are – life always presents challenges!
Good luck to you,
PS: By the way, A — I recently had to follow my own advice and walk away from a friendship in which I felt used. I implemented all of the steps I wrote about first…… naming the issue, etc……. and eventually had to be straight-up with this person. These things happen! The most important thing is that we can do it kindly, and with self-awareness. 🙂
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