How to Handle an Invasive Friend?

First off, big thanks to the sender of this thread’s topic for the kind words in your message! I am humbled.

This Dead Reckoning is in response to the following audience question:

How does one handle an invasive friend the type of person who doesn’t understand social boundaries and is very sensitive without damaging the friendship?

My assumptions for dead reckoning on this is that the friend in question is a non-romantic friend, and that’s the way the sender wants it. However, I think my advice here will work just the same if I’m wrong on that in some way because I won’t assume that some kind of possible romantic machinations may not be at play here somehow.

My first advice is don’t assume that your friend doesn’t have extra wants from you in some sort of romantic way, or some other needs YOU haven’t considered. I don’t care what gender or sexuality they or you may be or convey to be.

I’m not saying assume your friend DOES want you…

… I’m just saying don’t put it off the table as you unpeel how to best solve the friction you are having with your friend.

I once had a friend I found to be oddly invasive like you’ve described when I was in the Army, who was my close friend for years. One night when he and I were at the club looking for women he revealed to me that he was gay and actually had been holding on to a crush on me for a long time.

It made alot of sense (over the years he NEVER picked up women, for example), and I was flattered, and told him “that’s totally cool, dude!” (I was like 20 back then), but that he was barking up the wrong tree, unfortunately.

In that case, it unfolded that my former friend could no longer uphold a respectful platonic relationship with me the way I expected, and I eventually had to end the friendship. I think he was embarrassed, and maybe heartbroken or something, I don’t know… but that’s one way things can go, just the same as any kind of “traditional” hetero male-female friendship when romantic feelings get involved.

Me being only in to women was too much for him to handle, so be it. He wasn’t REALLY my friend after all.

Even if your friend doesn’t have some romantic hang up on you, it is important to frame your thinking that they may have some unforeseen wants or needs from you that could come up in due course. Just sayin.

And therein lies my second advice:

Set your boundaries and expectations clearly for yourself before you engage your friend.

You provided in your question that this relationship is important to you, and so you want to salvage it and improve the friendship… ok… but, at what cost?

A piece of advice I give over and over is something my daddy taught me: You can’t MAKE anybody do ANYTHING. People will always do what THEY want to do.

Sometimes people are motivated to do what we want them to do. However, ultimately people choose the behaviors they carry out for their own reasons, always.

In this case, what I mean is that you need to accept that you can’t control your friend. They are who they are and they are going to do whatever they are going to do. What you need to do is be objective because perhaps you are not seeing who they are clearly. Do they treat others the same way? Or just you?

If they are someone whose behavior is also a problem with others, perhaps you addressing the things you need to with them will actually help them in a bigger way in their life than you may realize now.

Analogy: If you have a friend who’s smoking crack, you don’t say “hey its cool” to be nice. That’s not being a good friend. You punch them in the face and take the crack pipe from them, and give your best effort to help them be their best. That’s being a good friend.

So, in this case your wake up call may be just what your friend needs and could yield the ideal results.

However, if they are someone who simply CANNOT uphold the boundaries and respect you expect in the friendship, are you prepared to end it to be rid of aggravation it’s causing? What level of their invasiveness is acceptable to you?

Whatever your thresholds and boundaries are, have them figured out. This is a very important step in the process because ultimately my advice to clear up this situation is:

Have the conversation if you actually want anything to change.

Consider time and place: Understanding that your friend is sensitive, and that you want to tread lightly, and mindfully, I recommend setting it up to have the conversation at the right time and place. Meaning, if it can be woven into a moment that is most conducive to productive conversation, that’s the way to do it.

Maybe its a good conversation to invite them to lunch about. Maybe it’s something you can bring up during a time when you’re just kickin it and everything is cool. You should have a better sense of their personality and when and where are “right” than I do… I’m just saying time and place is important so be smart about it.

Warning: if you’re holding on to strong feelings of frustration about the problems you see, try to avoid having the conversation in a moment triggered by the offending behavior, if that’s reasonably possible. Having the conversation coming up in the heat of an angry moment may really set it up for poor outcomes depending on how well you and the friend are able to handle it. Again, time and place are important!

Communicate your needs and feelings nonviolently: If you’re not aware of this general philosophy I recommend learning more about “nonviolent communication.” It’s sounds really snowflaky, I know, but there is great merit in approaching communication with people in this way in certain situations.

Basically, focus on expressing your “facts” not “opinions”. Focus on how their behavior makes you feel and doesn’t meet your needs and express it, rather than your judgement on them because of your feelings.

Instead of: “You’re a psycho for looking at my phone and I’m not sure if I wanna be your friend anymore”

Try: “When you went in my phone it made feel disrespected, and angry. I’m not comfortable with that and I hope as my friend you will respect my need for that boundary.”

If your friend is “sensitive,” approaching the conversation communicating nonviolently is a tactic to help facilitate productive discussion, hopefully.

Another technique I like to use is the “compliment sandwich.” In starting the topic, begin on a positive note:

For example “You’re so cool, we have so much fun, you’re a friend I really care about”…

Before trying to tackle the uncomfortable parts:

“One thing I wanna talk to you about that’s bothering me is…”

but then closing on a good note:

“The reason I brought this up is because i really want our friendship to get better and better.”

Obviously, that’s a very watered down example of the compliment sandwich, but I’ve found it to be an effective technique to address all kinds of very intense and sensitive types of conversations throughout my adult life.

The final thing I’ll say is that whatever the specific issues are that need to change for your happiness in the relationship, address them with your friend. If they ARE a true friend that you SHOULD invest in, they will be willing to offer you the respect you communicate you need.

If they won’t honor you on your terms it will never be the type of friendship you seem to want. If it’s bothering you enough to have the conversation, be clear on what you will accept or not, set the conversation up for success, and it will work out for the best.

Although, beware, what may be best is that you don’t have that friend in your life, whether you want to accept that or not. In any case, don’t expect any change until you step up and communicate.

And that’s my Dead Reckoning on that.

Best of luck! Hope to find out how it goes!

Here’s some mood music:

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