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Home » Editorials, Featured, Geek Advice

Geek Advice – How to End an Awkward Friendship

Submitted by on March 29, 2012 – 2:21 PM4 Comments | 1,217 views

Dear Pink Hair Girl,

I’m stuck in a rut, and I really feel bad because I’m pretty much the only one to blame. I met someone through a friend of a friend when some of us got together to try out a new board game. And, ok, this sounds awful but this guy is kind of the person you only invite to a party by accident, or because you feel really bad for him. I happen to be an easy-going person, I don’t like confrontation, so despite this person being kind of awkward around me, I was nice to him. He took this as a sign of deeper friendship somehow. And now when he sees me on campus he runs over to hang out with me, and I can’t shake him off no matter how many excuses I make. Once he saw me eating at the student center and asked if he could eat with me, and I let him, because what was I supposed to say? It’s painfully awkward since then, because he shows up at the student center at the same time every week now. I hate having to hurt someone’s feelings, especially since I was just trying to be nice in the first place, but it’s gone all wrong. What do I do?

Sincerely,

Mr. Too-Nice Guy

Dear Mr. TNG,

UGGGH. I’m sorry. That sounds like the most awkwardly painful thing ever. Allow me to wallow in awkward pity with you for a while, because I have SO been there. I’m actually having trouble coming up with words for this. How do I even begin to describe the position you’re in?  The only good thing about this situation is that when you get this ‘friendship’ over with, you won’t have any problem just forgetting about this guy and never thinking about it again. Which will probably just make you feel like a douche bag. Because you’re a nice person.  *SIGH*

I’m going break this down and explain, step by step, how to get through this issue. And I’m afraid it’s not one of those “This hurts me more than it hurts you” scenarios. It’s definitely going to hurt this guy WAY more than it hurts you, and I’m sorry. But unfortunately, you have to break things off.

  • Do NOT grin and bear it. It’s going to be very tempting to just allow this guy to keep coming up and pushing his company on you. Yes, as awkward and unhappy you feel when he’s around you, you know that the painful moment when you turn him away is going to be a concentrated version of the unpleasantness, for both of you.  But truly, the best thing for the both of you is to sever ties with this person. You are not his friend, you don’t feel friendly with him, and the more he hangs out with you, the more he will expect you to do buddy-buddy things.  You don’t have the slightest intention of doing this, so by allowing him to believe you’re friends, you’re essentially leading him on. You must resist the urge to hope it will go away, and actually follow through with a ‘break up.’ Now, if you’re graduating and/or plan to move far, far away in a couple months, then MAYBE you can get away with just never having to run into this person again, thereby completely avoiding the whole thing. But, if you plan to be there for any longer than that, you have to resolve to get this over with. The hardest part is working up the courage to actually go through with it. That, you have to do on your own.
  • Don’t wait. Make plans to end things soon.  Like today, or tomorrow. Not next week. And don’t break things off in a spur-of-the-moment manner. If he approaches you before you’ve figured out how to let him down, excuse yourself–or, better yet, tell him you have to get going but make plans to meet up with him the next day. This will give you time to prepare as well as setting aside a time to do it. That may seem harsh, but the point is that your decision to not be friends has to be very clearly deliberate.  The reason your current tactics aren’t working (giving him excuses for why you can’t hang out, avoiding eye contact, etc) is because they leave room for denial. He’s latching on to any reason to believe that you guys are really friends, so as long as there’s any room for doubt, denial will kick in.  If you decide to drop the bomb on what appears to be a whim, you’ll run the risk of having him think that he just did something wrong at that moment. He’ll assume that an apology will fix things, rather than that you’re ACTUALLY serious when you say you don’t want to be friends.  Set aside a time to talk to him, ask him to meet you in a public place that’s easy to talk in, and have the conversation.
  • NO ambiguity. When you finally figure out what you want to say and set aside time to say it, make sure that it’s perfectly clear that you never plann to hang out with him again. This is the only way to make sure he understands. Like I said in my last point, it’s obvious from his behavior that he’s looking for any reason to believe that you guys will be good friends–so he will latch on to any hope you give him and run with it. That’s why it’s important to be clear.  As for the reasons you give, you have to just be honest, and it’s important to make sure he understands why you’re not interested in being his friend. Try not to point out his flaws, but focus instead on how you feel. “I don’t really feel comfortable when we hang out,” or “I don’t have a good time when we’re hanging out,” are effective at explaining why you’re doing this. And make sure to finish the conversation by letting him know you don’t want to hang out again.
Of course it feels awkward. He’s doing it wrong.
  • The Aftermath: Living with Yourself. This is kind of the hardest part of this scenario. The reason you’re in this position is because you were just trying to be nice. And now you have to act like a cold, heartless asshole just to clear the air. The most important thing to remember is that you did NOTHING wrong. It might sound jerk-like, but the fact of the matter is that this guy is breaking a lot of social rules and making things uncomfortable for the people around him. I don’t mean to say that it’s his fault, either–just that his inability to grasp the social etiquette of the situation is at the core of the problem. You can’t help him with that, and you are not responsible for his happiness. Even if you pretended to be his friend, you wouldn’t be doing him any favors.  Keep reminding yourself that letting him down, cleanly and absolutely, is better than leading him on.

Yes, he will be hurt by this. And yes, he will likely be very lonely. He might even suddenly think of you as a bad person, and tell you so. But try to realize that a moment ago, he wanted to be your best friend. Any ill will he bears towards you as a result of you breaking ties is because he’s in pain and using it as a defense to cope. A more likely scenario, though, is that he’s used to being turned down like this, and it may not really surprise him. Again, this will make you feel like a douche-monster, because it’ll make you feel like you’re another bad person who’s let him down.  Try to remember that he finds himself in this position because HE’s the one who’s breaking social etiquette, and you have done nothing wrong by being honest.

The Good News (Sort Of). In most of these situations, it happens that a few days will pass by, maybe a week or two, and all thoughts of this person will completely leave your head. You won’t be thinking about it, and you likely won’t feel bad anymore. This might make you feel like a jerk all over again. But don’t let it.  The relief of not having to see this person will take the place of your anxiety. When you realize how toxic it felt to constantly look over your shoulder and worry about having to accommodate this guy and pretend to be nice to him, you’ll stop feeling so guilty about your decision to cut him off.  The hard part is knowing you can’t help him, or perhaps that there’s someone out there who thinks less of you even though you’ve done squat to deserve it.

But hey, if you still feel crummy, try watching this live stream of awkward penguins. It’s kind of impossible to feel sad while watching it.

Sincerely,
Pink Hair Girl

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4 Comments »

  • malfunct says:

    What you say is right. If you aren’t friendly it does not favors to the guy to act friendly. Early honesty hurts less than finding out through other channels much later what the situation is.

    I guess what raised my curiousity in this whole situation is what social etiquitte was broken? If you are a person trying to meet new friends, you meet a person at an event of some sort through friends and it seems that there might be a connection there, what is the next step? I may be wrong myself but saying hi when you see them next, if its not an interruption, seems right to me. Granted the original poster did say he tried to “shake the guy” but honestly if these attempts “tried to be nice” there is plenty of room for misinterpretation. Granted if I say hi to someone on a couple of occasions and things seem lukewarm at best I tend to sit back and let the other person make a move.

    I also tend to sit back and wait for the other person way too often and miss out on opportunities. More than once someone I had met expressed disappointment that I hadn’t contacted them again at some point after the intial meeting when I had just assumed they probably wouldn’t be interested and left things at that.

    I guess like I said I just wonder what the right move is after the initial meeting.

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  • malfunct says:

    Another question that just came to me is how do you avoid giving other people the incorrect impression that there is a friendship? Some people are clueless, but I have a feeling that there are behaviors that are more likely to give people an incorrect impression of what you think.

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    • jessotron says:

      Malfunct- I think in this case, the social etiquette being violated here is subtle, and therefore somewhat tricky to explain. Those who are socially adept can quickly estimate the approximate level of connection they have with another person after a social interaction. Those less adept have more difficulty picking up on the social cues (such as tone, body language, etc) that would allow them to accurately gauge how others feel about them. Few people have a perfectly-calibrated “social-o-meter,” which is why (as you pointed out) we sometimes misread others and either miss out on friendship opportunities or get rejected. This is normal, and it’s only really an issue if these things happen to you ALL THE TIME.

      So, to answer your question, I guess I’d say this: When you meet new people, it’s sort of your mutual responsibility to gauge how they feel about you and respond accordingly. You won’t be able to pinpoint it exactly; but, you should be able to at least determine some range of acceptable behavior (the boundaries of which will become clearer–or expand–with continued interaction). When someone’s behavior falls wildly outside these subtly-established boundaries, that’s when social etiquette is broken. The problem is that those boundaries are different for each set of two people. For example, some couples declare their love for one other after 5 days of being together, and that works for them. For others, an “I love you” after just 5 days would set off alarm bells and be creepy.

      Because it’s so personal, there’s really no simple answer the question of what social etiquette, in particular, was broken. Really, it’s more that the rules of social etiquette in general have not been adhered to.

      That said, I think it’s worth noting that PHG is not accusing Awkward Guy of intentionally violating social rules. Rather, she is reassuring the Writer that he did not do anything wrong and thus is not the cause of problem here.

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  • Drakmarth says:

    Why do I have the feeling of someone walking on my grave?

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