The fact is dating, sex, love, basic human connection is hard. But we’ve got just the little snack to help. Ask An Alfawhore, the sex and love advice column from the tell-it-to-ya-straight, sex-positive, uber feminist older sister you always wanted is back. This week: navigating possessive friendships.
I feel like the relationship with one of my best friends has become slightly possessive. I promised them I’d do something a while back and when the moment came, I was able to do it but in a slightly different way, and all hell broke lose. She was angry I couldn’t fulfill my promise in the exact way I said I would, and I felt asphyxiated for her lack of flexibility. In addition, every time we talk about our friendship she goes on and on about how I’m one of her very few friends, one of the few people she really trusts, how her circle of close relationships is very small, etc. I’m starting to feel trapped – but in a friendship – and it’s making me want to run the other way.
Dear Slightly Strangled,
Friends are the best. They help us move every time we switch apartments. They set up our birthday party decorations. They sit with us as we dissect the details of a situation. Friendships can be the backbone of our support systems, and as such, these relationships need nourishment like any other. They require time, understanding, and just like everything else in life, strong communication. It sounds like what is happening here is twofold: a lack of prior communication with a twist of friendship toxicity.
I am the queen of overcommitting. I say yes to a million plans because in the moment they all sound doable and then when the time comes I remember I am merely mortal. We just can’t do all the things, all the time. Something I’m working on, and I suggest you do as well, is trying to be really clear about how I say yes to things, or commit.
Think of this as a continuation of your limit-setting studies. Staying true to your personal boundaries not only helps you to stay sane, but it leaves little room for the other party involved to misinterpret expectations. Instead of saying sure to whatever favor your friend is asking of you, really think about the reality of you accomplishing that favor. Try to be clear about how and in what ways you’ll be able to deliver on whatever they are asking. That way your friend will have a clear understanding of whether or not you’re the right person for the job. Just like in our romantic relationships, a lot of hurt can come from miscommunications that result in disappointed expectations. But this of course leads us to the second part of this problem: the unrealistic expectations friends sometimes have of us.
While it’s great that this person feels they can trust you and considers you a close friend, generally speaking when you ask someone some sort of favor it’s nice to remember that this person is doing just that for you: a favor. It is something they are explicitly taking their own time to do for you, therefore a bit of grace in the delivery may be required.
You said her lack of flexibility felt asphyxiating, but it sounds like her attitude towards you in general is making you a bit stuffy. When she explains that you are one of the few people she feels close to, try and examine what is really behind these statements. Perhaps you are interpreting them as manipulative, a sort of guilt trip: “As one of my only close friends, you must do this and this and this for me.” But what if this friend who has a hard time connecting just genuinely feels grateful to have made this bond with you? Does she only say this to you after she’s asking something from you? Or is this a consistent thought she expresses in other moments as well?
While it’s great to trust your gut feelings, it’s even better to directly communicate. Try talking it through by saying something like, “Listen, when you say I am one of the few people you trust, though I am grateful, I also feel a lot of pressure to fulfill a role. I love that I am your close friend, but that does not mean I am available at all times to enact the favors in the exact way you need. Here is what I can offer and if that works for both of us mutually, great.”
You’re probably a pretty badass friend and that’s why you’ve made your way into this person’s little circle. That being said, her lack of ability to connect is not your burden to hold. You must make sure that you can exist in that relationship in a way that feels healthy for you. Limit-setting is the secret code to all healthy and happy relationships, and as the old saying goes: communication is the great sex of any friendship.
Live long and prosper my dear friend and remember we’re all just doing the best we can.