Dear Auntie Sparknotes,
I used to be friends with this guy (let's name him Joe): Joe had a crush on me. Like, a creepy-I-must-text-you-every-second-of-every-day-or-else-I-will-have-an-overly-dramatic-emtional-breakdown crush. Eventually, he asked me why I didn't like him—he is extremely sensitive, emotionally depressed, unconfident, has separation issues and family issues, and must ALWAYS be right, and I don't flow like that—so I sugar-coated it, saying that he was not what I was looking for, and I believed that he may need more help than I could provide, and that he should tell an adult about the issues that he has been having. In return, he flipped out.
Fast forward a few months: he has a girlfriend and we can now be considered friends. I mean, Joe is a great guy when he isn't being overly dramatic, and we are forced to hang out around each other due to common friend circles. I have tried to be the bigger person and make amends with him, but I have been pushed to the edge. All he ever does is belittle me and be hateful and make extremely rude posts about me on facebook. (He never mentions my name but he makes sure to go out of his way to tell me to check facebook.) He constantly pinches me and pulls my hair, it seriously feels like I'm in kindergarten.
Whenever I confront him about these posts and the pinching, and how he calls me ugly, and how he reads PRIVATE messages that I send to my friends about how I am tired of his sweaty hands being in my face (they are extremely sweaty and I hate having hands in my face in general) OVER my shoulder, he pulls the OH-me?-I'm-just-oh-so-innocent ploy and makes ME look like I'm the BAD GUY and I'm the one being HURTFUL. Yes, I will admit that there are times that I am hurtful towards him, but I am done. DONE. But we share a lot of friends and I know that if a massive feud came up between us they would all pick him over me, because he has gotten them to believe that I am an absolutely horrible human being and a liar. I know that my true friends believe me and I have asked them what I should do and they suggest that I ask you. So any advice to help me end this without losing my friends or being blacklisted as a horrible human being? And most importantly HOW DO I GET HIM TO LEAVE ME ALONE?!
Welllllll. Just off the top of my head, you could start by leaving him alone.
Because as awful and frustrating as this situation is, you do realize that it's one you're actively contributing to by taking the bait, picking fights, and rising to every provocation, right? I mean, can you imagine for a second what might happen if you just stopped participating? Imagine if you simply removed yourself beyond the reach of his pinching and hair-pulling. Imagine if, when he insulted you, you just said, "Please don't talk to me like that"—and if he wouldn't stop, you left. Imagine if you stopped responding in kind, like an indignant automaton, to every single one of his blatant, hamfisted attempts to get a rise out of you.
The point being: situations like this don't survive with the input of just one party. This is a monster you're both feeding. And the reason you're feeding it, much as I hate to point it out, is that something about this constant conflict must be really doing it for you.
What that something is, I don't know. Maybe you like the attention, or maybe you thrive on drama, or maybe there's some satisfaction for you in feeling outraged at every available opportunity. But whatever it is, you must realize: you're basically spending your days hanging around this guy, hoping that he'll do something obnoxious so that you can be angry about it.
...Not to mention that when he doesn't, you apparently aren't above instigating some shizz yourself. (If you don't want to fight with this guy, have you considered that it might be smart not to complain via text about his sweaty hands when he's standing right next to you?)
So, if what you really want is to stop this nonsense, you're going to have to be ready to lose... well, whatever you're getting out of it. And you'll also have to accept that there will be no closure for you. No cataclysmic feud, no final showdown, no moment of validation in which your friends declare you the superior human while Joe cries and gets pelted with rotten tomatoes. You're not going to get the satisfaction of being right; you have to settle for the quiet contentment of being free.
And once you're ready for that, then here's what you do: return to paragraph number one, and look at all the ways you can simply choose to not play this stupid game. You can't make Joe stop, or shape up; you can only change how you act, and react, around him. So when he touches you, say, mildly, "Please stop, I don't like that." If he gets grabby, move out of reach. When he tells you to check Facebook, just say, "Okay," and then never mention it again; if he asks if you saw his post, say, "Yep," and say absolutely nothing else. Do these things, and I promise, you'll get the distance you need without a single fighting word or friend alienated. Because that is the immense, amazing power of total disengagement. It's impossible to scrap with someone who refuses to enter the ring; it's impossible to volley with someone who doesn't return your serve. And when people see that you don't give a s**t about the s**t they're giving you? That's when the s**t stops.
Have you ever had a friend who wouldn't stop pushing your buttons? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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