Communication Skills/Difficult friend / FOLLOWUP
QUESTION: Hello EMS,
I hope you can give me some insight, your Expertise description is the only one on AllExperts that even comes close to what I am going through. I'm a 59 yr old male, single, an Introvert, a HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), and I need some advice. This is a very complex situation but I will try my best to keep it as short as I can.
I have a friend that I have known since the late 70s, and we always got along very well, that is until he got married. His wife was very domineering, argumentative, very possessive, and even though I never witnessed it I think she was physically abusive toward my friend. He was what you'd call submissive, passive, a little backward, and this is why I think he was a candidate for being abused by such a woman. He and I got along very well before his marriage to this woman.
The longer they were together I started seeing changes in my friend. He became argumentative, disagreeing with everything I would say, and wanted to debate everything from the weather to football and baseball games we used to watch together. From being around them over the years I could see how this change in him came about because they fought all the time. Their marriage lasted about 20 years, as she left him for a woman. It turns out she was a lesbian.
So as time went on, we would occasionally get together to watch sports, and his tendency to argue got worse. When 'Smart Phones" came out he got one and every subject we talked about he would have to Google or WikiPedia it trying to prove I was wrong. It got to be very irritating, and I am normally a very patient person. But this wasn't the worst of it.
A few years ago his sister, who used to live in Virginia Beach, Va, moved back to our home town and moved in with my friend. It wasn't long that I noticed he was taking on characteristics of her as well. She was a know-it-all, and I think that because she worked for a Doctor somehow that made her think she was smarter than everyone else. But whatever the reason, my friend became even harder to tolerate. His tendency to always be right got worse. He joined a gym, started working out and running, and I could tell that testosterone was slowly making him narcissistic on top of everything else. I didn't think it was possible for him to get worse, but he did.
So one day last summer I had finally had enough. Over the years, he would come to my house to watch sports on a regular basis, but I put a stop to it. He finally asked why and even though it took me awhile to have the courage to tell him, I finally did. I am very non-confrontational, and I knew he would argue with me about it, no matter what I would say. And I was right. I finally told him why I didn't want to be around him any more, and he argued it was MY fault and refused to take responsibility for anything. I told him my theory about how his wife and his sister had influenced him and he denied it all the way, which I knew he would. He went so far as to say that he knew he had changed, but it was HIS decision, and the he wanted to change. This made sense, as he always has to disagree, so he couldn't admit I was right. His first reaction is always to disagree. I told him I still wanted to remain friends, but that we couldn't get together because I no longer want the stress of a possible confrontation. I have had a cardiac bypass and I am very sensitive to stressful situations.
He has yet to admit any wrong doing, which I'm not sure if this is a right-or-wrong situation. I just know it has destroyed a 40+ year friendship. He still asks from time to time if I want to get together, and it is like I have to start all over again explaining why I do not. I would rather have no friends than to have someone who constantly wants to argue and stress me out.
I apologize for this being so long. But do you think there is any hope that he could change back to his easy going self? From what I know about human nature I am very doubtful, but what is your assessment? I really would like to be friends with him but can't take the drama.
Any thoughts you have is much appreciated.
ANSWER: Hello Gary,
Firstly, let me say I'm sorry for the situation you're in. It's never easy trying to navigate a friendship when things change and it's not working.
It sounds like your friend has a lot of personal issues to deal with that are not being addressed. His desire to negate all responsibility for his actions and behavior tells me that, at this point in his life, in his relationship with you, he's not willing work on making your friendship healthy and comfortable for the both of you. Any kind of relationship takes two people working together to see where they can improve, foster respect, closeness, and trust. A good friend that is willing to work with you towards the common goal of keeping the friendship together is what we all hope for. When we come to a friend saying "this isn't working for me and what can WE do about because I'd like to stay friends" you hope their response would be "yes, lets work on this because I value you and our friendship."
I'm not sure how you approached your friend with your concerns, but he probably felt attacked. If you came to him with a compassionate heart and disposition, he *might* not have blown up (or he might have). If you said "I'm concerned about you. I feel like things between us are contentious and being around you is worrying me and stressing me out. I want to feel a close connection and get along like we used to. What can we do to fix this?" might have been a better route then telling him all the reasons why he was making it unbearable to be around.
HOWEVER, this still might have yielded the same results on his part-- Deflection, negation of responsibility, and being argumentative.
But what really stands out to me in your question is that he blatantly told you that he's made the choice to be the person he is right now and that he wanted to change into the guy who's standing before you. When you're hit with that reality, all you have to do is then ask yourself "Am I willing to love, accept, and be around this person AS IS?" You can't continue to be his friend all the while feeling stressed out and dissatisfied and hoping that some time down the road he will turn back into who he was. You have to choose to take him as he is at this point in time OR you have to walk away.
To me, it's unfair to tell someone that you can't be around them because of the way they're acting and then tell them you'll still be friends. I see that as an impossible situation. It makes sense why he keeps coming back asking to hang out and why you keep having to explain yourself all over again.
It seems that what you really want is that you'll be his friend IF he stops acting the way he is and possibly turns back into who he was. That's unfair and unrealistic. All it's going to do is create anger, tension, and more misunderstandings between you two.
I completely understand feeling stuck. You have a friend who isn't the friend you "fell in love" with. He's not the same guy. But you hope that guy is somewhere in there and that person will come back around. That's what keeps us stuck hanging onto people that we've outgrown or no longer have things in common with. It's unfair to him and you. He deserves to have someone around him that enjoys his company and you deserve to surround yourself with friends that don't act like jerks and stress you out.
I can tell you from experience (I've gone through this) that the best thing to do is walk away and end the friendship. It's what's best for the both of you. And you never know if some time down the line you two might reconnect and things will be different.
I would suggest ending things in a compassionate way so that when you walk away from each other there will not be bitterness. It will hurt, I'm sure. This is a long-term friendship ending. That is painful no matter what. Sometimes though, all we need is some space away from one another. Maybe you two not being friends might shock him into doing some self-assessment and seeing where there's room for improvement.
I ended things with a friend and 2 years later they came back around willing to try again (and it was successful--we're still friends).
But as of right now, you two just don't seem compatible. I would walk away before any more damage is done and there are more hurt feelings.
If you have any further questions or need more help, please let me know.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Hi EMS,
I greatly appreciate your quick response and your honesty, also for your very detailed answer. Everything you said makes perfect sense.
I have already walked away, so to speak. My last communication with him was a text message and again he wanted to get together. You may be right about my wanting to continue being friends is sending mixed signals. I understand how it would. His last message basically indicated that he wasn't willing to cooperate or change. I have come to the conclusion that he is not very compassionate of others. He doesn't seem to have the ability to feel empathy, or to realize that his words or actions impact other's feelings. In other words, it appears he is not very far along the evolutionary ladder, if that makes sense. Over the time I have known him he comes across as being a so-called "man's man", or macho in his thinking. Whether or not that means he is a neanderthal or his soul is not old enough to be fully developed, I don't know. But his attitude seems to indicate this, at least to me.
Your comment about how he may have felt he was being "attacked" when I finally told him the truth, doesn't actually fit according to his reaction at that time. I told him beforehand that what I was about to say would come across as being mean spirited, but that I didn't intend for it to be that way. I also told him that it was how I had been feeling for a very long time because of how he had been acting and treating me, and that I had held it inside as long as I could. If he had not been so insistent upon me telling him I probably would not have. But I am, by nature, very non-confrontational, and it took a great deal of energy and worry on my part. And the entire time I was explaining to him how I felt, he was laughing it off and denying everything. He even attempted to turn it all back on me, saying that I have been depressed (which is true) and that I don't have very many friends (also true), but neither of these things apply to this situation. But reflecting blame back at you is a characteristic of a narcissist, is it not?
I tried my best to be and to sound compassionate as possible. I am not a vindictive, mean, or violent person at all. I am very easy going, soft spoken, and gentle by nature. I am very giving and very loyal to my friends. This is why people who are aggressive, confrontational, and difficult to deal with stress me out.
So I have walked away, and maybe one day he may finally digest all that I said and understand what it means. Knowing him as well as I do, I seriously doubt he'll ever "get it". But I took his behavior for a very long time before finally standing up for myself. And over the years I made comments occasionally that things he was saying were hurtful or insulting, but he continued without considering my feelings. So I think I gave him more than enough chances.
I regret that it had to come down to this. More than 40 years of friendship, gone. But as you said, maybe one day he'll do a self-assessment, but honestly, knowing how he always thinks he is right about everything, I kind of doubt he will will come around. But miracles do happen. :)
Thanks again for your help.
Yes, I wasn't sure how you had originally approached him. It was either compassionately or it wasn't, but I wasn't clear on that.
After hearing more detail from you, it sounds like he's very cut off from his emotions and it also sounds like he doesn't have a lot of self-love and compassion for himself. We can't have that for others (or know how to give it to others) if we can't do it for ourselves. It really does start from the inside and work its way outward.
The fact that he was laughing it off is a good indicator (to me) that he's REALLY not willing to turn the mirror on himself and take a good look at what's broken inside of him. I'm sure he's scared to death. It's a hard thing to turn that magnifying glass onto yourself and really see what's going on. It sounds like he's coming from a place of extreme fear, and therefore, really detached from his emotions, and subsequently he's hurting others in the process and doesn't see it or doesn't want to see it.
That's a shame. And unfortunately, no amount of you being his friend will change that in him. That's something he has to want to look at and change. When you're able to detach your ego from the situation (ie--He's hurting ME!) and really look at it, his behavior towards you only mirrors how he feels about himself. And you can actually see how badly he must be hurting. However, that doesn't mean you should stay and put up with it.
You've made your feelings known and he has no desire to work on anything, so your decision to remove this toxic person from your life is a good choice for both of you-- a sad choice, but a good one.
You're very welcome for the help and I am sorry things couldn't work out between you two.