A college lesson in saying ‘No’ to an overbearing friend

by DGO Web Administrator

I’m a college sophomore and I am close with a group of girls from my freshman dormitory. One of them, “Allison,” relies on me too much and I can’t handle it anymore.Allison is constantly asking to borrow my car (she can afford an Uber), get my help planning her class schedule, or for support in a crisis. Recently, she texted in a panic at 2 a.m., and I arrived breathless and worried only to realize she was overwhelmed because she loved her boyfriend so much.A mutual friend, “Alex,” is equally close and yet Allison only burdens me with her problems. I’ve tried to gently explain to her that acting as her security blanket is emotionally draining for me and that she should try to reach out to Alex or others as well as me, but she acted deeply offended and was angry with me for being “selfish.”I can barely remember the girl I befriended and can hardly stand to be around her. She has yet to get the hint that she needs to back off.If I just cut off this friendship, this would cause a huge rift in my other friendships. This would also be devastating to Allison, and I still care for her. Any advice?Burned Out

Thank Allison profusely for teaching you that saying no is an essential skill, though she has no idea she’s doing it. This could be the most valuable thing you learn in college.

If you don’t want 2 a.m. crisis texts, then turn off your phone.

If you get a crisis text at a more reasonable hour, then define “crisis” before you agree to go anywhere. If you get suckered, express your frustration and say you won’t rush there again. Then don’t.

If you don’t want to lend your car anymore, then say you’re not lending your car anymore. (Really – stop.)

If you don’t want to plan Allison’s class schedule, then say you have enough to manage with your own and suggest she see her adviser.

If you’re done being suckered, pick more mature friends.

This stress you’re under isn’t a matter of Allison’s asking too much, or her failure to spread it around by asking Alex sometimes instead. Your seeing it that way makes Allison the one who is in control of this situation, and of you – since you’re just asking and waiting for her to make changes for you.

But YOU’RE in control – of you, your time, your phone, your car, your definition of crisis, and your availability to help with one real or imagined. All you.

Slide a peek over at Alex; I’m as confident as I can be about a complete stranger that Allison doesn’t badger her for anything because her hysterics don’t work on Alex.

When Allison accused you of being selfish, that was manipulation 101. Do you see it? Allison spun her neediness into your fault.

Until you do see it, you’ll be dogged by Allisons. They spot people more worried about losing their friends than about losing themselves, and latch on. The powerlessness you feel is what losing yourself feels like.

Do you have to tell someone about your past to absolve yourself?I spent my early adulthood lying constantly. The lies didn’t hurt anyone directly – except me, in hindsight – but perhaps hurt the world in an abstract way. I now realize I was just too afraid to be myself, that I was actually just trying to please people to assuage my fears about being inadequate.I’ve put a lot of effort into becoming a more authentic person and I’m still working on it, but I wonder if I have to tell someone about my lies to actually overcome this character flaw. I’m so embarrassed about my behavior. I worry I could lose long-term relationships if I come clean. Any advice?Have to Tell?

You don’t tell for absolution. That’s not something others have to give.

You do tell, though, as a necessary step in conquering your fears. You spent years making up a fake self out of fear that others would see your real self as inadequate – yes? So if you now deliberately withhold the truth about your past, then that will be, in effect, just one step up from lying: Instead of rewriting your true self, you’d just be hiding it.

Either way it’s a capitulation to your fear of not being enough.

This isn’t to say you have to tell everyone everything you did. It’s not a binary choice between blabbing or hiding. You can be authentic as a work in progress while providing no or some or full detail, as circumstances warrant.

When you want to experience intimacy, however, you will have to risk being vulnerable, and that means telling your truth. Not just with romantic partners, but with good friends and close family, too.

There’s another, more practical reason to share. If you don’t, then you will just live in a new kind of fear: the fear of discovery. You will always have some awareness in the back of your mind that your most cherished relationships hinge on your ability to keep your secret. That’s torture.

You may risk losing people when you tell, yes. But the ones who know all about you and then choose to stay? Those are worth the risk.

My boyfriend’s (of four years) parents do not like me … or rather his mom doesn’t like me and is a very controlling woman so it’s hard to tell what his dad thinks of me. They just booked tickets to visit us for the second time this year in spite of my boyfriend saying it is a bad time because he is very busy again.He is overloaded with work, so instead of confronting her when he found out, he has chosen to push the confrontation until later. Last time they claimed they would occupy themselves but of course when they arrived, the “we paid all this money to see you” guilt trip started immediately.He is younger so he still is working on the standing up to her. Any suggestions for me to help him put his foot down with her? Unwanted Hosts

No, I will not give you suggestions to help you become the next controlling person to whom your boyfriend outsources his uncomfortable decisions.

He is “younger” so he’s still “working on” it? No to that, too.

You’re clearing two different paths with that rationalization. One is toward taking over the decisions your boyfriend fails to make. This is how people wind up either exhausted and resentful for having to carry the entire mental load both for themselves and a partner – the role you’re training for – or detached and resentful for having little say in their day-to-day lives – the role he’s rapidly slipping into.

The other path leads to treating your boyfriend’s weakness not as a bad thing, but instead as a thing that will be good eventually and he just needs to fix it, yeah, no problem. This is how people find themselves mid-divorce 10 years later and marveling that the marriage-ending problem was one they’d known about all along and yet signed up for anyway.

You don’t want to be on either path. Neither does he. You’re out of balance already.

So no more rationalizations.

Instead, speak only for yourself: “When you decide not to say no to your mom, I end up in the awkward spot of having to host them while you’re busy at work. That’s not fair to me – or to your parents, for that matter.”

Then, see whether (and how) he speaks for himself in response to your concerns.

Then see whether you, he, and the power balance in this relationship are healthy enough to hold up under the pressure of forceful moms and passive dads and overloads of work. Not when he “grows up” – now. When they are, in general, I suspect you’ll find your demeanor takes care of itself.

Carolyn Hax is a syndicated advice columnist for The Washington Post. She started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. Email her at [email protected].


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