Self-Centered and Insensitive Friend

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Dear Robin:

I became good friends with a woman about 8 years ago who I met at work (neither of us work at that company anymore).  I really enjoy her company: she is witty, funny and knows how to have a good time.  Our husbands get along very well and when I complained about my problem to my husband he told me to get over it.  Then he suggested I write to you and include a question from both of us.

OK, here is my problem: my friend is very self-centered and insensitive.  She can be rude and brusque and when my was child was hospitalized a few months ago she never visited or even called to see how he was doing. When we are together it seems like the conversation always has to focus on her or her kids and she rarely seems interested in my life.  Finally, I started my own business (a boutique) 18 months ago and she has never been to my store.

I would like to cut her out of my life because I feel hurt and not respected in this relationship most of the time.  Should I do that?  Before you ask: yes I have told her how I feel.  I haven’t been super direct but I’ve dropped some hints here and there.

My husband’s question is: should my wife lighten up, take what she can get from this woman and keep things cool so we can all still be friends?  I really enjoy her husband’s company and the good times when the four of us get together.

-Harry and Sally

Dear Harry and Sally:

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Sally, I appreciate the opportunity to address this issue.  Again.  For the eleventyfuckieth time.

Since Sally took the time to write the letter, I’ll address her question first.

Sally, you are not alone.  We all have these people in our lives and the degree to which you can stomach them and enjoy the crumbs they throw from time to time depends upon your personal SATL (Selfish Asshole Toleration Level).  I had an experience recently with someone I suspect of either being the most self-centered and insensitive person in the world OR falling somewhere on the Aspergers’ Spectrum.

Yes, I am turning the conversation back to me.  Get your own blog if you don’t like it.

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My friend was having a party and I was letting him know I probably wouldn’t be there, although I was still on the fence.  Here’s how it went via text:

Me: Really hoping to make it tomorrow but tom has a bad cold. If we do I’ll definitely bring a sweet treat!

Host: Too bad for the cold, of course. But if Tom doesn’t need a nursemaid…

Me: I’m not one to attend a party on my own. Makes me feel lonely and intimidated. Lame, I know.

Host: I’m a firm believer that we make our own fun in this life.  But that’s just me!

Me: It’s a little deeper than that. There will be people there I “consciously uncoupled” from and I just don’t want to go it alone. Basically, I’m a coward.

Host: Ah. Yes, I suppose I don’t know all of those nuances and dynamics. Though I always subscribe to the elegant gesture and genuine civilities in polite society.

Me: So do I. I’ve learned a lot about you this morning. Have a fun party.

Host: Will do!

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How likely do you think it is that I attended the party?  Do you see how I made myself totally vulnerable there and was honest about something pretty painful and embarrassing, and the host simply prattled on about himself and made me feel even smaller than I clearly already did?  He completely missed the meaning of my comment “I’ve learned a lot about you this morning,” or if he caught the meaning he didn’t bother to reflect upon the conversation and apologize.

My  point is this: there are many people in the world who are either can’t or won’t focus on anything other than themselves.  For them, empathy and supportive behavior are concepts, not characteristics.

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These people don’t make very good friends, but they can be lovely acquaintances if you enjoy other aspects of their personality outside their arrogance, self-centeredness and general “I don’t give a fuck about you” attitude.  What’s the difference between a friend and an acquaintance, you ask?  Acquaintances won’t let you do something stupid or dangerous – good friends won’t let you do something stupid or dangerous without them.

Before you go ahead and take this woman off your Christmas card list, I urge you to be more direct with her.  “Dropping hints here and there” is both cowardly and ineffectual: the Neville Chamberlin approach to friendship.  You need to be more direct like Winston Churchill, who once noted “I wish Stanley Baldwin no ill, but it would have been much better if he had never lived.”

Good old Churchill.  A fella always knew where he stood (or was being instructed to sit) with that guy.

Friendship

My advice to you, Sally, is to sit down with your friend and tell her exactly how you feel about all the things you told me and whatever else is bothering you.  Give her a chance or two to turn things around and then just stop calling.  Stop trying.  If you disappear and she doesn’t notice, you weren’t really there in the first place.

It’s possible she could be a wonderful and caring friend to other people, but you may not rank very high in her pecking order.  That hurts to hear but we can’t all feel the same way about each other and sometimes we have to admit that a friend just isn’t that into us.

As for you, Harry, I’m curious how many of these couple events you have planned.  I’m betting good old Sally does most of the social calendaring in your house.  Regardless, if you want to see Mr. Insensitive Bitch you can certainly continue to do that.

Men have profoundly different expectations from friendships than women do, and that’s OK.  But don’t expect your wife to accept an unsatisfying relationship with this woman simply because you like hanging out as a group.  That’s selfish and doesn’t take into account just how crazy we are.

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Best of luck to you both and let me know what happens!  As you can see from the text exchange I shared, I have been through the same situation and sometimes you just need to do a friendship flush if the people you want to rely on and be close to are shitty friends.  And good luck with your store!

-Robin