The Vine: March 28, 2012
A few years ago, my best friend, W, met L. I had recently moved away and W was feeling lonely (she's pretty shy and has a hard time meeting new people), so she was really happy when L "adopted" her into her social circle.
I'll admit: at first I was a little jealous. W kept telling me how great L was, and how much she thought we would get along, and I was afraid that proximity would triumph and I would lose W. Silly, I know. I would visit W every so often (I only live an hour away, so I would drive into the city every other week and visit with friends and family). I was introduced to L as well and also welcomed into the friend group. Although I couldn't participate in group outings or activities often, due to my commute, I tried to keep in touch with the friends I made through Facebook and to hang out when I could.
When W and L met, L was recently married to H. L and H starting having problems and separated after about a year of marriage. I felt bad for both of them, because they were both my friends, but I had to sympathize more with H because he was completely blindsided by L's unhappiness and request for a divorce.
During the separation, L started sleeping with a friend of mine, C, whom I had recently introduced to the rest of the group. I felt this was a terrible idea at the time because 1) she was still getting out of and over her last relationship and 2) she was looking to jump back into a serious relationship, while C was under the impression he was acting as her rebound fling. It all hit the fan one weekend when L saw C flirting with another girl at a bar and flew off the handle, accusing him of misleading her and making her believe that he cared about her as much as she cared about him. He confided in me that he found her behavior ridiculous because at no point had he intimated that he wanted a relationship with her and he immediately stopped returning her calls and refused to see her anymore.
I was torn because I pitied L for being dumped so harshly, but I also felt like both of them should've known better. A few months after this all came to a head, W and I started planning my birthday party. I invited L, but she informed me that she had a family event out of town that weekend and wouldn't be able to attend. With that in mind, I invited C, knowing that he wouldn't come unless he knew for sure L wouldn't be there. He agreed and even helped out with planning and organizing, which was great.
A few days before the party, L mentioned to W that she was thinking about cancelling her family plans so that she could come to the party after all. W called me in a panic, wanting to know what she should say. I told her just to wait and see what actually happened. The day before the party, L herself called me to say that she would be coming after all, and to ask what she could do to help. As tactfully as I could, I explained the situation with C and told her that I really didn't think he would be comfortable (meaning, he would leave) if she were there, that he had already helped out so much, and that I would essentially be uninviting him if she showed up.
L didn't talk to me for a week after that. Part of me felt bad, but another part of me was pissed that she put me in that situation to begin with. I was later told by another friend that she had cancelled her family plans because she wanted to see C at the party, believing that if she could get him to talk to her they could get back together. That was the first time I remember thinking that she was deluded (for convincing herself that he cared about her and wanted to date her) and selfish (for having the gall to try to confront him at my party, pretty much guaranteeing drama). We managed to patch things up, but ever since then I've been wary.
Over the past year or so, I've grown increasingly tired of L and her antics. I don't have to see her too often, since we don't live in the same town, but I keep up with my city friends on Facebook and through group e-mails. After the party incident, she started an annoying habit of trying to one-up me at everything. I started volunteering with Girl Scouts; she decided to lead a troop. I joined a track club and began training for a marathon; she started running in 5Ks. I began taking dance classes at the community center; she took professional classes and cajoled our friends to come watch her recitals. I didn't even notice this competition until W pointed it out to me, but after a while it got frustrating. I felt like I couldn't have anything that was just mine, because L had to do it too (and better, faster, or more, if possible). I frequently found myself cringing at L's attempts to make herself the center of attention. People who didn't know her well would sometimes enable and encourage this behavior by finding it amusing or endearing, but W and I (and a few others) just found it obnoxious.
This past summer, L invited me to a book club meeting, telling me that there was a guy (J) she wanted me to meet. Intrigued, I agreed. I talked briefly with J at the meeting, and he seemed friendly, but not really my type. He suggested that a group of us go out for dinner after the meeting and, wanting to talk to him more, I accepted. L came, along with some others. When we got to the restaurant, L made a fuss about the seating arrangement and finagled it so that J and I were at opposite ends of the table, with L in between us. I thought this was bizarre, because it limited our conversation and I had thought that L wanted to encourage us to talk, not prevent us from doing so.
You can probably see where this is going. L spent almost the entire dinner talking to J, making sure that she had his undivided attention. I ended up talking to another man at the table, K, with whom I really hit it off. K and I began talking online and then seeing each other. I invited him to join our group at a bar one night, and was unsurprised (but nonetheless annoyed) to watch as L repeatedly tried to flirt with him. I confronted her about it (as nicely as I could), but she insisted that she was just being friendly. She then invited herself to stay at K's apartment on a flimsy pretense (she was attending a conference at a hotel near his place, and it would save her all of 20 minutes to stay with him). I felt this was incredibly over the line, and it made K uncomfortable as well, especially considering she barely knew him.
To make a long story somewhat shorter, the bottom line is this: I've gotten sick of L and her selfish, deluded, and completely inappropriate behavior. I can't tell you how many times W and I have griped to each other about something she's done to annoy or anger us. We've discussed distancing ourselves from her, but she's so ingrained in our friendships now that it's almost impossible. I don't have to see her as often as W, but I'm starting to resent her planning things with mutual friends when she knows I'll be in town, because I either have to put up with her or not see anyone.
We aren't the only ones who feel this way, but we're the ones who have suffered in silence the longest and at this point I just want out. I'm tired of L treating me like crap and I'm tired of feeling like a bad person every time I vent about her to other people (all of whom are in agreement: I need to stop being friends with her). My dilemma is, how do I extricate myself from L without alienating the rest of the people in my social circle? I can't exactly say, "Hey, I want to hang out with you guys, but please don't invite L." I've tried to arrange activities when I know she's working or otherwise unavailable, but she pitches a fit and guilt-trips the others into waiting until she can participate, too. (She has no qualms about planning things when either W or I can't attend, however.) Is there anything I can do, short of finding a totally new group of friends?
Please, Just Help Me Get Out
If you want out, get out. Yes, it might suck for a month or two, but if L's behavior is as exhausting and inappropriate as you say, everyone else in the circle is over it too — it's just that everyone else in the circle is waiting for someone, anyone to draw the line, at which time they will all file onto your side of it to buy you a pitcher of Relief Ale. You see it all the time: the whole group is capital-D Done with one member, but it seems easier to just go along, make nice, pretend everything's fine and the same as old times. So you grit your teeth; you text each other eye-roll emoticons under the table; you pray for someone's out-of-town cousin, famed for his bluntness, to visit and tell her some shit. And nothing changes.
Enough already. You don't like her. She doesn't really like you, either; she's obsessed with you, but that isn't the same thing at all. Maybe a handful of people in the cohort do genuinely like L, or at least don't find her actively irritating, but how those people handle the both of you in their social lives is up to those people. You need to egg up* and set — and enforce — some boundaries here.
And I don't mean announcing, to her or to the world at large, that You Have Had It. You can, if you want to, but you…don't want to. It's exactly the kind of adversarial theater she gets off on, which I think you can sense. I mean make yourself unavailable to her. Hide her Facebook updates from your feed; go into your own feed and Aunt Ethel* her. Don't tell her when you plan to come to town, and if others keep blowing up your spot, don't tell them anymore, either, until you get there. At times, you can let her intrusions go, but at other times, you should repel them: "I'm sorry, I wanted to spend some alone time with [whomever] just the two of us. Let's you and I reschedule." And then don't. "I'm sorry, I really can't change the time for [meal you purposely timed during her commute], but you guys go on ahead." If she pushes in on a meal or hangout she wasn't invited to, call her on it and hold the line; if she's flirting with your boyfriend or making some other kind of scene, call her on it and hold the line. When she comes into a room, you walk out of it.
"But she's not going to get the hint!" Agreed. But it's not her you're trying to hint at; it's everyone else. If you don't want to spend time with her, act like it. Don't spend time with her. Avoid attempts to make you. Excuse yourself from parties you know she's going to.
If others take notice and ask you about it, you can say you need some (permanent) space from L and her shenanigans. If she takes notice and asks you about it, give it to her sugar-free: you don't need a shadow, and she can back it up or you will do it for her.
Unfortunately, though, this problem isn't going to fix itself, unless she gets transferred to Bahrain. That's the bad news. The good news is, the bad news isn't that bad, and won't last anyway. Start putting room between yourself and L. Trust that your real friends in that group will understand, and remain your friends; trust that, even if not everyone agrees with your stance, things will have settled down by Labor Day.
But y'all need to stop letting L run you. She does this shit because it works and nobody calls her on it. That'll do.
* "Nut up," but for ladies. Anyone got a gender-neutral verzh? "Grownup up" is kind of fun but also kind of awk.
** Lots of variations on that theme — "mom feed"; "the Disney" — but it's all the same idea: restricted access for older relatives, stalkers, over-likers, etc.