Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Friday, May 30, 2008

When You Don't Like Your Friend's Friends

Today Singletude is taking a break from the subject of online dating to address an issue that's been at the forefront of my thoughts recently: What do you do when your friend's friends are no friends of yours?

Lest any of my own friends assume they inspired this post, let me state for the record that it's not addressed to anyone in particular. Rather, this topic has recently been prominent at message boards I read as well as in conversations with acquaintances of mine who've complained about it, and their collective distress, confusion, and disenchantment prodded me in the direction of my keyboard and ultimately Singletude.

Most of us can probably remember at least one episode of contact frienditis, the emotional equivalent of contact dermatitis, that itchy rash you get when you have sand in your bathing suit, a pebble in your shoe, or other prolonged contact with an irritant. Occasionally, a friend shows up with a new boyfriend, girlfriend, or an entire clique in tow, and the newbies just rub you the wrong way. It might be something concrete that bothers you, such as a drug habit, sticky fingers at the store, reckless driving, or other behavior that makes you uncomfortable, or it might be something less tangible, perhaps an arrogant attitude, a sharp tongue, or a pessimistic mindset. Maybe you can't even put your finger on it, but something doesn't sit right with you.

At first, you probably try to keep the peace. You figure it's not your place to tell your friend who he or she should hang out with. Perhaps you talk yourself into giving the new addition another chance...and another...and another. After all, your friend must see something special in him or her, right? But the more time you spend in your friend's broadening social circle and the more disconcerting stories your friend recounts about it, the more you're convinced that your friend has picked up an issue of the Bad News Times and the new stars of his or her social life are on the front page.

It's becoming clear that you have to take a stand, but how and for what and to whom? None of your options guarantees a peaceful resolution. If you confront your friend, you risk angering and alienating him or her. If you withdraw from your friend, you'll be labeled passive-aggressive, snobby, or flaky. However, if you swallow your discomfort and pretend everything is peachy, you may fool your friend for awhile, but you'll betray yourself.

Before you rock that boat, it would be wise to chart your course with the following road map:

1. Do you truly dislike your friend's new companion(s), or are you actually jealous that your friend has less time to spend with you?

A. If the former, see 2.

B. If the latter, this situation requires some compromise. Talk to your friend about how much you miss the things you used to do together and suggest reserving a regular time for the two of you to connect. Try to be nonconfrontational and emphasize how you want to resume your formerly close friendship rather than criticizing your friend's choice of companions or accusing him or her of deserting you. Much of the time, people get caught up in new relationships or friendships, and their neglect of older acquaintances is unintentional. Once they realize how much their absence is felt, they gladly return, often with apologies. However, to uphold your end of the bargain, you'll have to learn to share your friend, acknowledging that finding new friends and lovers is part of life. If there's a gap in your social circle now that your friend is busier, it may be time for you to embark on some new relationships, as well.

2. Though you may be accused of jealousy, there are times when that has nothing to do with your genuine, deep-seated, out and out dislike of that schmuck your friend is toting around calling a boyfriend/girlfriend/BFF. In order to plan your next step, you need to clarify what irks you about the intruder. Chances are the offending party falls under one of these categories:

A. He or she is probably an okay person but doesn't get along with you.
There are all kinds of reasons why this might be the case, including differences in personality, background, lifestyle, values, and beliefs. Sometimes it's just not comfortable to hang out with someone you never see eye to eye with, especially if he or she isn't tolerant of your differences. If this best describes your situation, see 3.

B. He or she is not an okay person, and you know why.
Maybe you've seen the bruises on your friend's arms after her boyfriend slapped her around. Maybe you saw his girlfriend making out with someone else last week. It could be the new addition has a serious problem like alcohol addiction, run-ins with the law, or a penchant for the kind of risk-taking that lands someone in the hospital, or maybe he or she is just a garden variety gossip, liar, bigot, poser, whiner, user, manipulator, snob, flake...Whatever it is, you've seen the evidence of an egregious personality flaw, and you've reached a verdict--you don't want this person in your life, and you wish your friend didn't, either. See 5.

C. He or she might not be okay, but you don't know why.
Something seems off about the inductee to the inner circle, but you don't know what. Maybe you've heard rumors, or perhaps you've witnessed some questionable comments or behavior but nothing you'd condemn per se. You feel unsettled in his or her presence and can't help thinking that he or she is not a great match for your friend. You just wish your friend would pick someone more...or less...well, more or less something. See 4.

3. If you chose A. in 2., you've admitted that your friend hasn't made a bad choice as much as one that you personally have trouble handling. Therefore, complaining to your friend should be a last resort.

Before you stage a confrontation you might regret, give the newbie(s) a chance. Try to look beyond surface differences, establish some common ground, and avoid hot-button topics. This won't be the last time you're thrown together with someone who gets on your nerves, so use this opportunity to work on your people skills and practice empathy, self-control, patience, and forgiveness. Eventually, you may warm to each other, and you'll broaden your social scope by getting to know someone you might otherwise have overlooked.

At the end of the day, though, if you can't agree to disagree, it's understandable that you'd rather be elsewhere on a Friday night. If you're not often invited out with the new addition, you can conveniently be "busy" on the few occasions that you are. However, if your friend expects you to embrace the newcomer, you'll eventually have to have a serious conversation, in which case see 5.

4. If your answer in 2. was C., just breathe because you may have a long wait ahead of you. Probably you're itching to bitch and moan to your friend, but as soon as you do, he or she will want to know why you have an issue with the new companion(s), and if you can't provide concrete reasons, you'll appear petty, paranoid, judgmental, or--you guessed it--j-j-j-jealous. Proceed as in 3., and you may be pleasantly surprised to discover that you were mistaken about the newbie, who was just shy, rough around the edges, or suffering from foot-in-mouth syndrome. On the other hand, if he or she is a closet jerk, sit back and wait for the jerkiness to come out of the closet. When it does, proceed to 5.

5. Few people like confrontation, and there are particular reasons to avoid it if at all possible in this situation. Specifically, people tend to identify themselves with their friends and lovers, so if you criticize either, there's a good chance your friend will take it as a personal affront. The stronger your friend's feelings for the new addition(s), the more delicate you'll have to be, so tread lightly, especially if the source of your frustration is a boyfriend or girlfriend. Remember that a romantic partner or even a new sidekick is likely to be in your friend's life for a long time, maybe even permanently, so any bone you pick now may be picked over for years to come, and since your friend cares about this individual, he or she may be highly motivated to deny even legitimate complaints, again, especially if your issue is with a romantic partner.

Unfortunately, certain behavior is so disquieting that you can't, well, keep quiet about it! If you've reached your breaking point, broach the subject when you and your friend have some time and privacy to discuss it thoroughly.

If you're having this conversation because you saw yourself in 2.A. and can't coexist with the newbie(s) no matter how hard you try, be especially careful not to insinuate that you disapprove of your friend's companions just because they aren't the companions you would choose for yourself. You can ease some of the sting by agreeing that the newcomers have been good to your friend, acknowledging their importance to him or her, and even pointing out some of their good qualities. Then you can transition to wishing that you got along with them better. At this point, your friend may want to intervene and play peacemaker, and if you feel comfortable with this, then fine. If not, gently but firmly repeat that you know he or she means well, but you've put a lot of effort into fitting in with the newbie(s), and it just isn't going to happen. Express your support for your friend's other relationships and stress that this is about your comfort level, not something that's wrong with your friend. Then finish by reminding him or her how much you value your friendship and want it to continue, even though you don't expect to form close ties to the new acquaintance(s).

In contrast, if your position more closely resembles 2.B., you may not think the newbie(s) have been good to your friend or possess discernible "good qualities," and it's probable you don't support your friend's new social ventures. In fact, you might be deeply worried about the effect they're having on your friend. Again, though, you want to sound concerned, not accusatory, so keep the focus on yourself and your own feelings to begin with. Start off by confessing that you've been anxious about how your friend would react to your revelation so that he or she will (hopefully) not take immediate offense, then explain that you've become uncomfortable around the newbie(s). Since you've come this far, be honest about why. If you don't like his trigger temper, say so. If her backbiting bothers you, come clean about it. Admit that his, her, or their behavior makes you feel hurt, angry, worried, afraid, offended, or whatever it is that you feel. If your friend isn't too defensive by this point and is open to hearing what you have to say, you can express your concern for how the newcomer(s) treat him or her as well. Conclude by stating that you respect your friend's right to choose his or her associates but that you felt obligated to voice your concern because you care about your friend's safety/happiness/future/wellbeing as well as your own, which is why you can't continue hanging out with the newbie(s).

In either case, don't be surprised if your friend is put off by your attitude toward the new star(s) of his or her social life, no matter how tactfully you present it. He or she may accuse you of being jealous, unsupportive, dramatic, manipulative, dishonest, judgmental, anything to avoid the issue at hand. He or she may question your friendship and even withdraw for a time. If this happens, try to imagine how you would react if someone had picked apart a relationship you hold dear and reach out to your friend to let him or her know you're still around. Quite likely, if the person or persons your friend is passing time with are as shady as you think, your friend will realize it sooner or later and need you more than ever.

It's a sticky situation when your friend adopts a social circle that makes you feel out of the loop or, worse, spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E that your friend can't seem to read. Sometimes you can adapt to the new addition(s), and other times, you may be forced to back off to protect yourself, whether or not you can protect your friend, too. At the end of the day, the most you can do is be true to yourself and faithful to your friend and hope that your good faith is rewarded. If your friend is insensitive enough to dismiss your feelings, maybe he or she wasn't worthy of your friendship, but if he or she can respect that you won't always see people through the same colored lenses, then yours is a friendship with a rosy future.

Have you ever disliked someone a friend dated or befriended? Why did you dislike him or her, and how did you handle the situation with your friend?

Fun Link of the Day


Helen said...

Just wanted to say that I recently found this blog and I think it is great! Keep up the great posts!

Clever Elsie said...

Helen: Thanks so much for reading and for your encouragement! I hope you'll stop by often. :)