Posts Tagged ‘friends


setting the ex up with someone new

Reader N.G. writes:

I casually dated a guy for a while, and things didn’t work out. It wasn’t a bad break up and we’re still technically friends, although we don’t hang out alone together or anything — we just spend time in the same social circles. A few weeks ago, I brought a new friend to a party, and she was asking me questions about him. I think she’s kind of interested in him, which is great, because he hasn’t been dating anyone in a long time. I would be totally happy if he started dating a new girl, and I’m not jealous at all, but I don’t know if he’s her type. Still, I think she has a right to figure that out on her own. Of course: she doesn’t know we ever dated. So, should I tell her we dated, or tell her I don’t think he’s her type, or encourage her to try things out with him anyway, or what?

Dear N.G.:

It’s very kind of you to think of the happiness of both your new friends and past exes. It’s also great that you’re capable of moving on, especially since you only casually dated this guy and you still hang out in the same social circles. Good job on keeping things from getting awkward. Hopefully he feels the same way.

I tend to believe total honesty is the best route in all things relationship. However, given the casual nature of your relationship with both of these people, I don’t think it’s necessary to divulge that you dated the guy in question to your new friend.  Unless you know something really damning about him (like, he’s abusive or he has an STD), let her get to know him on her own time. Some relationships should just take their course.Who knows? They may be perfect for each other.

Unify and conquer! Photo by stockimages,

Unify and conquer! Photo by stockimages,

Telling her straight up that 1. you used to date him and 2. you don’t think he’s her type can make you look like a jealous, territorial girl, even if you’re not at all jealous and actually want them to date. If she gets really deep into asking you questions about him, you might mention it for full disclosure, but I would not lead with it. Wait until she’s pretty close to having her own ideas about him before you plant that in her head. The fact that he’s casually dated you may taint her impressions of him, obviously.

On the flip side, I would not go overboard in trying to set them up, either. Pushing her on him could be just as disastrous to the unawkward vibe in your current setting as warning her off him would be, especially if he really isn’t her type. He will probably hear of it and figure it out as well, and it can be somewhat insulting for an ex to set you up with someone new; it could be seen as a “you can’t do this yourself and I need to get you out of my hair” gesture, depending on the guy and your relationship with him.

To sum up: my best advice is to play this cool. Don’t offer more information than necessary; keep the past info to yourself until it’s relevant; ask more questions than you offer details. Let this blossom as organically as you’d let any relationship between acquaintances or casual friends. Save the real matchmaking for your besties.


going away party with a bang

Reader C. F. writes:

I am having a going-away party soon, and a significant number of my friends literally can’t be in the same room with each other. How do I handle this in a manner that will piss off the fewest people?

Dear C.F.:

This is reminiscent of that post I wrote about which half of a newly-split couple you invite to a party. But a bit more complicated.

The most important thing to remember about this is that it’s your party, not theirs, so what you say goes. If you have to kick people out, do. If you have to uninvite people, do. Who cares if it pisses them off?

Furthermore, why do you have friends who hate each other? This is too much drama for a Friday afternoon. Maybe you need new friends. Blood feuds are soooo 19th century.

But, okay, maybe you like these friends for reasons other than their silly dramas. Or maybe you’re totally overdramatic yourself (which is my suspicion). So you’ve got to throw this party whether they’re hatin’ on each other or not, and you care about their feelings. Okay okay okay.

I have a few ideas:

good party?

Good party? Or awesome party? Image: Piyaphon /

Give your feuding friends notice. If there are blood feuds between people, tell them that if they want to come to your party, they have to lay down the swords for one night and get over it. Remind them that their love for you should be stronger than their hatred of whoever. Consider hiring security, should a fight break out.

Make it a very public invitation and they can decide who’s not coming on their own. I’ve got at least one ex-friend who makes a point of responding “NOT ATTENDING” to any event that I have responded “ATTENDING” to, so that we all know that he’s absolutely not going to make it specifically because I’m there. In fact, he won’t even attend an event I’m just invited to. If your friends hate each other that much, they’ll probably work things out on their own. (Interestingly, I don’t hold this blood feud against this guy. I really don’t care if he’s going to be somewhere or not.)

Draw names out of a hat. Or have them draw straws. Or compete in feats of strength to prove they deserve to be at your party. If one of them is less of a friend to you than the other, you can crop them off the list. Or if one of them is more fun at parties than the other, you can invite that one.

Don’t invite the haters. Any of them. When they ask why they weren’t invited, you can tell them it’s because you didn’t think they could be civil. They’ll probably go ape shit, but that’s not your problem. This is what they get for acting like children.

Have someone else make up the invitation list. In fact, have someone else plan the whole damn party. It’d be like having a maid of honor, someone who’s supposed to keep your champagne glass full and hand you a handkerchief at the altar while handling all the petty nonsense you shouldn’t have to worry about. Only this is a going away party, not a wedding.

Buy extra popcorn and sit back to enjoy the fireworks. Just invite everyone and let them duke it out on their own. This works better if you’re having the party at a bar rather than, say, your house, btw. And if you can be laid back about it and not get involved in their drama yourself.

Don’t have a party at all. If your friends are really that incapable of handling human emotions and acting like grown ups, they don’t deserve the party you would throw anyway. Just grab a bottle of wine and watch episodes of Friends on Netflix or whatever. You’ll probably feel 10 times better going this route than than spending time with your “real” friends.


office strife

Reader T. M. writes:

The other day I went over to a coworker’s cubicle to ask him a question. He wasn’t there, but he’d left his computer on and unlocked, and I noticed an IM on his screen to another coworker had my name in it. I couldn’t help but read it while I was standing there. Let’s just say the  IM conversation wasn’t particularly flattering to me and I was insulted and hurt. Both of these coworkers are supposed to be friends of mine — we’ve even gone out to happy hour a few times and I went to one of their birthday parties a few weeks ago. Now I’m not sure what to do. Should I confront them about the conversation and what they said, even though I’m not supposed to know about it in the first place? Should I just cut ties with them both? I’m really hurt and confused.

Dear T. M.:

I’m sorry you had to come across that kind of back-handed nastiness. If your coworkers had a problem with you, they should have said so to your face. But obviously it’s a rare bird who is willing to own up to his or her actual feelings, particularly when they’re negative and about someone else. It’s too late now and you can’t un-see that IM. So I say be proactive.

watch out!

Loose fingers sink friendships. Image: br3akthru /

First things first: you should remember that IM conversations are different beasts than face-to-face conversation. What I mean is, you may have seen something out of context that was part of a longer, harmless joke. Or you may not have understood the sentiment of the conversation — there could have been sarcasm or tones you weren’t party to by just seeing that part of the convo.

The problem with lots of modern communication like texts and IMs, beyond the fact that they’re easy to misinterpret, is the fact that they are actual reproducible records of what we say. We can joke around with our voices and never have to worry about what we’ve said being shown word-for-word to someone who wasn’t part of the original conversation (unless we’re being followed by a camera crew for a reality show or a budding linguist who records conversations for research). Unfortunately, this same devil-may-care attitude doesn’t necessarily translate well to the written forms. While we as a culture (or a generation, perhaps) take IMs or texts about as seriously as we take regular voice conversations (i.e. not seriously at all), textual convos can be used as incriminating evidence later on. Just ask any number of government officials who have been caught sending naughty texts to interns or supposed protegés. We don’t take what we write very seriously, and it can certainly come back to haunt us.

Basically, what I meant by that last paragraph was “let us all take this as a lesson”. I’m sure you’ve got a few IM conversations in your closet you’d rather not have seen in the light of day. But probably Google has a record of them somewhere. Imagine what offenses you could have caused to curious eyes, even if you didn’t mean them. It’s possible (and probable) your coworkers said things in this IM that they didn’t mean. In fact, I would argue that IMs can be taken even less seriously than real conversations, in spite of their reproducibility. I know it’s no comfort to you, but there are things we’re willing to type that we’d never say out loud to anyone, because it would just be too much.

In any case, you should probably figure out what the IM actually meant. You’re going to be stewing over it anyway. You might as well know if they really meant to insult you. If they did, you can tell them you don’t appreciate it and end the friendship in a whirl of flaming glory. Piece of cake. If they meant something else, you’ll at least have a clear mind over it and you can feel better, although I doubt you’ll be willing to be as close with them as you were before. Unless you’re a masochist, hanging out with people who belittle you isn’t usually fun. The trust is broken.

I hate to do victim blaming, but you kind of brought this on yourself, too. I would also warn you not to read private IM conversations, but first off, you already know that, and secondly, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop that kind of curiosity. And it may be better that you found out how these people feel about you, even if it had to be in this manner.

I think the one thing we can all take away from this is that we should try to think before we send our own IMs. And who’s actually going to do that?


soul mates

Reader W. J. writes:

Sometimes I will meet someone for the first time and feel a very deep connection with them.  It’s not romantic, per se, but it is definitely almost other-worldly, if you know what I mean.  I feel like either I have known them all my life or somewhere before.  I also feel a deep need to get to know them a lot better.  Like soul mates, but not necessarily someone you have to marry and be with forever. I don’t know.  It’s hard to explain.  It’s like a crush, but for a different reason.  I wanted to know what your take on this was.  Do you ever feel it too?

Dear W.J.:

Not to be a total buzz kill, but as a fancy pants atheist (as opposed to a regular atheist or an agnostic), I don’t actually believe in souls. Therefore, I don’t actually believe in soul mates.


Yes but are you SOLE mates? Image: Simon Howden /

But I do believe that human brains are really good at seeing patterns, even when there aren’t patterns, and at interpreting coincidences and chemicals as signs and making meaning out of it. So to that extent, I believe in the idea of soul mates, or at least I believe that human beings can interpret the things they feel for someone else as being “destiny” or “fate”. And who am I to tell them they’re wrong?

I’m no biologist, but there are certain chemicals we all have racing through our bodies. These hormones control our sleep patterns, our hunger patterns, and to some extent, our emotional patterns. Sometimes when you meet someone, you have a chemical reaction to them that could be lust, or love, or just kinship. It could be due to the fact that the person is fun, and in a good mood, and standing in just the right light. Or it could be due to pheromones. You’ll probably never know what it is that makes someone attractive or lovely to you, but it’ll happen, and your brain will interpret it. After a while of laughing and enjoying yourself and building up oxytocin and bonding chemicals in your body from all this enjoyment you’re having, you’re probably going to feel drawn to this person. And if you have enough in common, you’re going to feel like soul mates.

And that is, I think, a very fun feeling. (Atheists have feelings too.) (Men don’t, though, as we all know.)

So yes, I’ve felt the soul mates phenomenon. It’s the people you find yourself talking to until well past your bedtime or the bar has closed, and when you wake up the next morning you can’t even remember what you were talking about anyway. It’s due to a mixture of things — similar outlooks on life, similar upbringings, and aforementioned good lighting and hormones.

But it doesn’t matter what it’s based on. It’s there, and you feel it, and it’s fun, and yeah you should definitely pursue friendship with someone like that.

Also, it’s totally natural to have a crush on someone. The thing about crushes is that they’re completely innocent, and totally honest. You just genuinely like someone, whether it’s sexual or otherwise. You don’t care how they feel back. You’ve got a crush. It’s almost all-consuming, even if it’s just friendly. I think crushes get rarer and rarer as we get older, but they never quite lose their awesome powers.

I have this funny thing I discovered with some of my girlfriends. We all have a single freckle on the bottoms of one of our feet. The coincidence has increased our bond as friends. We all know it doesn’t mean anything. But it makes us feel like we belong together. And sometimes that feeling is all that matters.

Even as an atheist, I know that feelings and rationality are two completely different things and don’t always inform each other. But they should be equally important in your life. Feelings matter.

So yes, I think you should definitely pursue spending time with people who make you feel like you’ve known them for a long time, even if it is just chemicals and coincidence. Who cares? It’s how you feel. If they make you feel good and right and loved and stimulated… well, what else could you ask for?


dunning-kruger, your friends, and you

Reader C. B. writes:

pour some sugar on me

This is how I feel many people write. Image: Pixomar /

My best friend thinks he’s a good writer. He’s not. Regardless of the spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors, his writing is unclear, unfounded, and boring. He writes political essays and posts them online, and then asks us all to read them and comment on them, and when any of us gets over our fear of offending him and offers constructive criticism, he brushes it off and says we don’t know what we’re talking about. He’s trying to get these articles published in magazines like The Economist, and he’s trying to get jobs as a writer at local newspapers. How can we break the news to him that he’s just not good enough?

Dear C.B.:

Unfortunately, my answer to this question is: “You can’t.”

However, I can give you insight into a lovely human psychological phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger effect. You have probably already noticed beyond just your friend’s inflated ego that many people who are actually not very smart tend to think that they are. It’s actually a psychological problem that nearly all of us face. The more incompetent you are at something, the less likely you are to realize you are incompetent, and furthermore, you’re not going to be capable of seeing actual competence in others.

This is why people who really can’t sing show up at the auditions for American Idol. They think they can sing, and maybe even compared to their small group of friends they can, but they don’t realize how grossly untrained they actually are, and the reason they don’t realize this is because they are, in fact, untrained.

The Dunning-Kruger effect makes me question my every move. “Am I good at this? Or do I just think I’m good at this?” But you know what’s magical? The fact that I question myself and my abilities in these areas means that I’m more competent than incompetent, and that’s a good sign. As you progress in learning your craft, you come to discover just how incompetent you really are. Magical!

Your friend probably needs to be schooled in writing. I mean, he needs to go to the university and get a few degrees in it, not just sign up for a continuing ed writing class, although that would probably help, too. The fact is, unless he is totally schooled in the matter, he’s just never going to see the truth.

You will probably not be able to convince him he’s crap at writing, especially since he’s too incompetent to realize what good writing is.

However, you might be able to help some by getting him to actually read the articles in the political magazines he’s interested in writing for, and going over what’s good about them as articles (if you’re competent enough to do that yourself). Maybe recommend he send his work to an editor who can give him tips on how to improve his writing for publication. That way, you don’t have to insinuate that he’s a bad writer; it’s the publications that are the problem, which is probably what he thinks anyway.

And actually, you don’t have to tell your friend that he’s crap at writing, because if that’s really the case, he’ll just be rejected continually.

Why not be a supportive friend and try to help him improve or hold his hand a little when he’s turned down by yet another institution? Eventually he’ll either decide he needs to learn more and that he should solicit criticism from real experts, or he’ll move on to some other hobby or life calling. Like singing. Imagine how fun that’ll be.

There’s a great article in the New York Times about Dunning-Kruger here. It’s long, so make sure you make time to read the whole thing.


friend break ups

Reader F. C. writes:

I feel like I’m having some serious friend drama without ever having done something to cause it. Recently a girlfriend of mine has stopped answering the phone when I call. She doesn’t call me back. She takes hours to respond to my text messages. She doesn’t seem to have the time to do anything with me anymore. In fact, we were going to take a road trip together but eventually I just told her to go without me because of how weird she’s been acting. I don’t know what’s going on.  Should I just stop calling her or what?

Dear F.C.:

I thought I’d written a post about this a few months ago, but apparently I hadn’t, so I’ll write it now.

Break-ups with friends happen, and they need to happen. Just because a relationship isn’t romantic doesn’t mean it doesn’t follow similar rules of give and take, honesty, and, yes, proper ending when it’s over.

It sounds to me like your friend feels that your friendship is over, for whatever reason, and just hasn’t had the courage to tell you the news.


"Bitch." "Slut." Image: djcodrin /

Your friend can’t totally be faulted for not extending you the courtesy of breaking up with you. It’s a nasty business when girls quit being friends, and most of us don’t ever take the time to officially end something when it’s over, even if both parties know it. Girls have a standard of “niceness” that we’re supposed to hold onto, or we get to carry the term “bitch” around like a cross. Confrontation, direct speech, and ending friendships are all part of the bitch cross that few girls are willing to bear.

It may be possible your friend is going through a tough time right now and isn’t responding to anyone’s texts, phone calls, or whatever. Or she could just be incredibly flaky, although you seem to have indicated that at one point she did respond to texts and phone calls, and this is a new development.

But in this situation, I think you should take the initiative and tell her that you want to end the relationship.

That’s right: I don’t think you should just stop calling her like she’s some sort of booty call. I think you should woman-up, sack up them ovaries, and tell her you’re ending things.

Since she’s not responding to your phone calls, chances are she’s probably not meeting you for coffee or drinks anytime soon, either. So a letter, a text, or an email will have to suffice.

Keep it short and sweet. Don’t blame her for anything. Don’t tell her you think she’s the queen bitch mother of the world.

Try saying something like: “I’ve been sensing lately that our relationship has cooled, and I have decided it would be best for me if we quit being friends.” Simple, direct, yet not bitchy.

I’m guessing that she will be surprised by your directness, but given her cavalier attitude about your relationship already, she may not be worried about the message.

If she does come back with a declaration concerning how unfair it is that you are ending the relationship, you can disclose to her the fact that you thought she was already doing so, but that she was keeping you hanging on by not ending it herself. I wouldn’t try to reconcile things right now, either, even if she wants to. Even if this is just a phase, if she’s at a point in her life where she can’t be bothered with you, you don’t need that kind of friend.

As women, I think we need to be less afraid of ending any relationship that isn’t doing us any good. While the lines may be a bit blurrier in friendships, sometimes you have to treat them like you would a dating relationship. If you’re not getting what you need out of the friendship, you should not be afraid to end it.


breaking your own rules

Reader S. D. asks:

I have this friend who says she really doesn’t like being in a committed relationship. She always says she would prefer to just be free, especially sexually, and not tied down so much.  Recently she started seeing one guy, and now she’s calling him her boyfriend, and some of us are a little weirded out by it.  She isn’t really interested in getting married or having kids, so I don’t see why (and I think she sees it this way too) she even needs to be in an exclusive relationship.  I don’t want her to be in a relationship just because he thinks she should be, which I think may be the case. Should I confront her about this?

Dear S.D.:

I’m gonna’ use something from my degree in sociolinguistics to explain my opinion on this. It’s going to be a bit of an analogy, and it explains a lot about my world view as a whole, so hold on to your hats for a bit.

sometimes a BF isn't a bad thing

C'mon, how could she say no? Image: graur razvan ionut /

In language, there are two types of grammar: the one made of prescriptive rules, taught to you by your kindergarten teacher, and the one made of descriptive rules, which you actually speak. When most people hear the word “grammar”, they think of the the prescriptive rules: “You may not end a sentence with a preposition.” etc. Sociolinguists are far more interested in the descriptive rules: “People who speak English often end sentences with prepositions.” “Pre” means “before”; “de” means “after”. In this sense, prescriptive rules prescribe an ideal world and give an outline on how to get there; descriptive rules describe a natural process.

I apply these terms to life, as well. We have prescriptive rules, usually given to us by society (marriage is good; lying is bad; stealing is bad; exercise is good; etc), but if you look at the lives we actually lead, the descriptive rules sometimes say things very different (marriage isn’t always good; sometimes lying is necessary; sometimes stealing happens; sometimes cheeseburgers trump exercise). The natural flow of our lives doesn’t always fit with the rules we have for an ideal. And this doesn’t mean one is bad and the other is good.

So it sounds to me like what your friend has is a prescriptive set of rules about relationships, or maybe you have a prescriptive set of rules for her. “Free” and “unhitched” are what she’s said she wants, so that’s what you want for her, too.

However, maybe life has worked out differently than her prescribed rules (or your prescribed rules) have stated for her. It’s quite possible she’s come to the conclusion that she and this guy are already in an exclusive relationship, so calling it by its name isn’t really so terrible. Maybe having a boyfriend is a good thing for her right now.

Marriage and children aren’t the only things people get out of exclusive relationships, either. This is another set of prescribed rules I think we accept because society says so, but doesn’t really work all the time. The end goal of a relationship with another person is not necessarily producing offspring or standing in front of a priest and reciting vows. Sometimes it’s just enjoying that person’s company.

So, no, I don’t necessarily think you need to confront your friend about her being in a relationship even if she has sworn up and down in the past that she doesn’t want to be in one. (Didn’t you see “500 Days of Summer”?)

If she starts complaining about this relationship specifically, then that is when you need to talk with her about it. You apparently don’t know for certain that he’s the one pressuring your friend to be different than she wants to be. Her caving in to his pressures about the seriousness of the relationship is a touchy subject, and personally, I wouldn’t touch it unless she brings it up, first. Of course, I don’t think “confront” is the right word for how to react in that case; the word I’d look for here is “support”. Also, the old fashioned “I told you so” isn’t really the best idea, either. If she starts complaining about him, then by all means, encourage her to break the thing off. But only if she starts the convo.

But if she’s enjoying herself with this new fellow, and he’s not cramping her style, and maybe she’s actually happy, no. Let descriptive rules trump prescriptive rules (which they always will, btw), and go with it.

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