Welcome to “Ask Ada,” a weekly series in which we answer all those burning questions you’d rather not share aloud. Buckle up for some brutally honest advice! Today, we help someone navigate a friendship dilemma.
I made a friend a few months back at an event who I’m now realizing I just don’t get along with that well. She’s nice enough, but if I’m being honest with myself, I just don’t see eye-to-eye with her on a lot of things that I think are important for friends to at least be on the same page about. She’s involved in a lot of the same activities as I am (We both belong to the same membership-only group, so I see her at events a lot), and she still really seems to want to be my friend, despite the fact that we don’t really have much to talk about and I’ve sort of started distancing myself from her.
But if I’m being honest, I just don’t feel that comfortable around her, and I believe everyone deserves to have friends who want to spend time with them, including her! I feel incredibly guilty, like there’s no graceful or comfortable way to be honest with her without things being super weird when I see her in our shared friend group.
How do I navigate this friendship dilemma?
I have spent the better part of my 20’s (and some of my teens as well) moving from place to place. It was an intensely lonely time, and I spent a lot of it clinging to every friendship I made, no matter how tangential. Dudes I trained with? Bosom buds! The lady who made my coffee and remembered my name? My Starbucks Momma! It didn’t matter that we had nothing in common. They were family in a time of great uncertainty, and I needed them fiercely.
So I know where you’re coming from with this friendship dilemma, Halfhearted.
Captain Awkward has some great advice for people in blended friend groups who want some space: Hang out with the friends you like one-on-one (check out #1213 in the link). Your friend group is not a monolith. You are allowed to hang with individuals you like and only go to bigger hangouts when you have the emotional bandwidth for them.
Does that mean that you may not use your membership as much? Maybe. Will you get more peace of mind if you just let that connection go for now? Probably.
It sounds like you’re trying the slow fade on this friend, and I think that’s a valid strategy. When you have lots of friends in common and you don’t want to put them in the middle of a drifting friendship, it’s better to be bland and boring than to start a messy confrontation. Most people will sense that you are not invested in their conversations (or get sick of monosyllabic answers) and move on without further comment.
There is always the possibility that your friend will not take the hint and will try to force a confrontation. That would suck, but all it does is reflect poorly on her, not on you.
If she tries to force you into a conversation you don’t want to enter, simply say, “Hey, I hear what you’re saying, and I can tell that you’re upset. I’ve noticed that we don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, and I don’t want to argue over something that is clearly important to you. How about we agree to disagree and just give each other space from now on?”
She may agree with you. She may try to argue. If you gave her a full list and clearly explained why you disagree, she may even offer to stop mentioning the things that offend you. Resist the urge to give in because it will likely lead to more arguing. Tell her, “I appreciate the offer, but this is not a boundary I’m negotiating. Have a good evening.”
She may tell you that you don’t have to always agree with your friends. She may argue that healthy argument is good for you. That you can’t just live in an echo chamber. That you need to hear all sides, especially now, and learn to respect opinions besides your own.
I hope you won’t linger around to debate that with her, though. This is your boundary.
You have stated it, and you will follow through. If she repeatedly violates it or tries to negotiate, all she is doing is proving that she isn’t a good friend.
Let me let you in on a little secret: I have tried to be friends with people I did not agree with. I tried to redirect us to safe topics. I tried to assert myself without hurting them. We could never respect each other enough to put in a real effort though, and I always felt bullied and resentful. My life and my other relationships got a million times better when I discovered the block button and left them behind.
I hope that, in time, you are able to give yourself the gift of firm boundaries, too.
Good luck with this friendship dilemma,
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