Struggling with a Friend

Dear Sensible Midwesterner,

I have a problem with a friend. Normally I don’t have problems with boundaries, but boundaries have been crossed and I don’t know how to politely correct the situation. I don’t want to cut the relationship totally, but I find myself worrying and thinking of ways to lie about what I am doing to avoid too much contact.

We have known each other for many years. My friend has been good to my daughter and been interested in her life and mine. Additionally, she was very kind to my mother who has now passed away from ALS. The friend never, ever forgets a birthday or holiday and often smothers us with gifts and cards. Sometimes these gifts arrive weeks before the holiday and I have felt somewhat forced to reciprocate over the years, even though I do not send holiday gifts even to my closest friends and family.

To complicate matters, my friend has struggled with a debilitating disease which she has managed to keep at bay with treatments. I, as a friend, have tried to do my part with meal preparation and assisting with driving to medical appointments and trying to drop by to visit and to take her out for some fun now and then. She is in a remission state, but I believe that she likes the attention that she receives from being sick, and she never is positive or optimistic about her status even when she receives good news.

Most irritating is that she can be very negative about people, and she likes to diss and talk about people. If I share something with her, like the struggles someone is having with a bad boyfriend, she always want to know all the dirt and talk about it over and over.

Recently, I had some health struggles. Nothing significant or debilitating. I broke my foot and I had a cold. However, she descended on me with unwanted food (I can cook), and when she stops by my house and I am not home she calls and leaves messages wondering where could I be. She often says “I just don’t know where you are. I have food, but I did not leave it because I don’t know where you are!”  She calls me almost daily and she expects to be called daily. I don’t even call my sister or daughter that often.

I don’t really know how to handle the situation. It has developed over time and her negativity has increased. I don’t really want to exchange gifts anymore. I am trying to declutter and simplify my life and lifestyle. I also do not want to call daily, or even weekly. And above all, I want to be positive and try to create positivity in my life. I don’t want to feel like it is a labor to talk or see someone and I want privacy.

Please let me know what you think.

Signed,

Struggling with a friend

I think you need to set some boundaries. While you say you’re usually good with them, my guess is that you’re good at doing it as long as the other person picks up on your cues. It is much trickier to set them in cases where the other person is willing fully ignoring common social signs to back the hell off.

So let’s go through the various boundaries you’d like to set.

First off, about the gifts. You need to tell her directly that you no longer want to exchange gifts. Explain that you’re trying, as you say, to simplify and de-clutter your life, both of physical possessions and errands, that you don’t exchange gifts even with your family, and you’re not going to be doing so with her anymore either. Then don’t get her gifts. If she continues to give you gifts, thank her but remind her that you really prefer not to exchange gifts. Repeat as necessary.

In terms of how often you call and how much time you spend with her, you need to toughen up a bit. Don’t answer her calls unless you want to. If she leaves crazy voicemails demanding to know where you are, don’t answer them. Call back when you’re ready and in a calm and reasonable tone. If she pushes the point, you may need to say that you just don’t like to spend so much time on the phone.

Sadly, there is pretty much exactly nothing anyone can do about anyone else’s negative attitude. We can point out the bright side and be positive ourselves, but that’s about it.

It sounds like you feel a sense of guilt and obligation towards this person, and I can see how that developed. There is a big difference, however, between being kind and having some relationship with someone who has been kind to you and yours and being bullied into having more of a friendship than you want.

You are entirely within your right to pull back from this friendship, and I encourage you do to so calmly, firmly, and as kindly as is possible. You are going to have to accept, however, that kind as you may be about it, her feelings are almost guaranteed to be hurt.

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