Make It Stop: “My Self-Absorbed Friend Treats Me Like Her Therapist”
My friend, who I’ll call Sophie, is driving me nuts. She’s a sweet, but also incredibly self-absorbed. I’m introverted, so I don’t mind being a sounding board, but she takes it to the next level. She spends almost every minute of every conversation talking about herself: her ex, the guys she’s dating now, her boss, her family. Whenever there’s a lull, instead of asking about me what’s up in my life, she’ll pause and say, “Hmm, what else?” and think about more things to tell me. I realize I’m partially complicit in the problem, since I should probably speak up more and not let her go on and on, but it annoys me that I have to muscle my way in to share any news about myself, instead of her having the presence of mind to say, “By the way, how’s the new job?” How can I kindly give her the hint that I don’t always want to hear a play by play of every detail of her life?
Oh dear, it sounds like you’re more of her therapist than her buddy. Maybe you should start charging her for your time. I’m just kidding, but how great would it be if you slipped her a bill for your services? I don’t even know Sophie, but I’m cracking up at the thought.
Maybe your friendship didn’t start out with you guys role-playing Dr. Melfi and Tony Soprano over mojitos, but after years of bad habits, that’s where you’ve landed. Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to break out of the roles you’ve both settled into.
I know it isn’t in your nature, but the problem isn’t going to solve itself unless you take action. Sophie is not a mindreader. For all she knows, you love the dynamic where she vents and you nod while peppering in a few, “What?”s, “No!”s and “Well, that’s just rude”s at the appropriate times. Maybe she grew up in a large family where the squeakiest wheel got the grease, which is another way of saying that the loudest kid got the attention. Maybe she got all the attention and is used to it. Maybe she never got any attention and is making up for lost time. Who knows?
But it doesn’t have to continue this way any longer.
You don’t have to confront Sophie about anything, but you do have to pay attention to the signals you send. When you guys hang out, do you usually sit down, place your purse by your side and smile politely, letting her set the tone for your time together? What signals does she send to let you know that the hangout is going to be all about her? Before she says a word, does she huff and puff a bit, looking like she’s about to unload some major drama as soon as the bartender sets the drinks in front of you?
I have an idea! Try talking before you sit down. Roll out something like this:
“Dude, I’ve had the craziest week.”
“You will not believe how insane my new job is. Where’s the waiter? I need a margarita STAT.”
“Guess what I’ve been up to? If you said, ‘checking out my new co-worker Brett’s package, you’d be right on the goddamn money.’”
“There is not enough rosé in the world to erase the hellish week I’ve had.”
Take a page from her book and beat her to the punch. Get your updates out of the way before she steals your thunder. If she doesn’t sip her cocktail with rapt attention and appear to make an effort to listen to your life, then I hate to tell you this, but your sweet friend isn’t interested in a give-and-take, it seems that she just enjoys having you as her own personal audience.
And next time she says, “What else?”, use that as a cue to speak up and direct the conversation towards you. Don’t wait for her to populate a response to her own musing.
If you try all these things and you’re still unhappy, then vote with your feet and ease off hanging out with her one-on-one. Friends like Sophie are better for group hangs, like outdoor barbecues, group dinners and pool parties, where you can still get some facetime with her, but it’s in smaller doses. And with other people around, maybe they can temper her habit of overtaking the conversation while asking you more about your life, which sounds like a win for everyone involved.
Make It Stop is a weekly column in which Anna Goldfarb — author of “Clearly, I Didn’t Think This Through” and the blogger behind the blog, Shmitten Kitten — tells you what’s up. Want a fresh take on a stinky dilemma? Email firstname.lastname@example.org