Q: I am lucky enough to have a small group of very dear queer friends in my life. We’re all in our late 20s to mid 30s. We are, generally speaking, drama free — except for one individual around whom all the drama seems to happen. She’s been on the receiving and giving end of unrequited affection amongst our group. Actually, several people have (of course; it’s a dozen queer women), but she’s the only one who has ever acted out when rejecting and being rejected romantically. She also has the propensity to lash out occasionally. We’re all annoying in our own ways because we’re humans and humans are annoying to the people they’re not having sex with (and sometimes the ones that they are having sex with), but she seems to take other people’s annoying habits personally.
She has an ego that makes her feel like the smartest person in the room coupled with crippling self-doubt. She always wants an extra special invitation to hang out, extra reassurance that she’s valued. The thing is, I’m starting to think my other friends don’t want her in our space. If I don’t invite her, no one does, and I spend an exhausting amount of time begging her to come out and participate. Sometimes she comes out and acts totally normal and fun. Sometimes she comes out and acts aloof and sullen. Sometimes she comes out and hurts people’s feelings. She’s very moody and can go from Jolly Good Fun to rushing out the door in a funk in under a minute. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy in some ways because she’s worried people don’t want her around and then she acts like a jerk and people don’t want her around. I’m sort of at my wit’s end with her too. Should I just start asking her once to do a thing and then leaving it alone? Or should I just stop asking her since she seems to make everyone else uncomfortable? Should I tell her she needs to seriously get into therapy? Should *I* double up on therapy?
Oh you sweet babe. I’m going to call you Opal, because the story you share is a tale that goes back to at least the decades in which Opal was a very common name for a young woman. In every iteration of every friend group in the history of friendship, there has been This Friend. This Friend’s face is obscured by the chip on her shoulder made up of every romantic rejection and perceived slight. This Friend sucks all the air out of the room with their insecurity, only feels included if someone rolls out a gold-fringed welcome mat, and has unpredictable moods that make walking into a gathering feel like tornado season — no matter where you are, you have to know where there’s a windowless room in which you can hide.
And Opal, I’m always you in these scenarios. I am compassionate to a fault, and I will go above and beyond to make someone feel included. But like you, I always come to a breaking point eventually. I think there are a few different ways this could go, but they all have the same first step: Talk to your friends. It seems like you are all tip-toeing around the idea that This Friend (who I will now call Chris) makes you uncomfortable, but what’s the use of having a serious crew of gal pals if you cannot talk about your feelings, anxieties and emotional needs at length?
So check in with your friends and see how they feel about Chris. Maybe they’re fine with sharing space with her and have developed their own mechanisms for tuning her out when she starts to try to manipulate a situation to her benefit. Maybe they enjoy having her along for an activity like a movie or game night but can’t keep up with her at intimate potlucks. Maybe they are completely over her childish behavior and wish you would quit making her come to things. Regardless, instead of projecting your own feelings onto the rest of your pals, ask them what they’re thinking.
That, Opal, is the easy part. Presumably, you feel safe talking with these other friends because you have a relationship based on trust, respect, and a shared love of vegan cupcakes. But figuring out what to do about Chris, no matter how it goes with your other friends, is another kettle of fish. Because regardless of what the rest have to say, it’s clear from your letter that you are uncomfortable and just this side of fed up with her. And since it seems like you have been the most willing to engage with her in the past, you may be able to leverage that for the greater good. So I think it’s time for that old standard: a one-on-one coffee date. Go to a comfortable spot, get a warm drink, and have a real conversation with her. Ask her how she’s feeling about work, life, health and your group of friends. As you get into it, be honest: “Chris, it feels like you haven’t been comfortable with our friends lately. I always have to go above and beyond to even get you to come, and it seems like you don’t have a great time with everyone anymore. Can you tell me what you’ve been thinking and feeling?” This wording doesn’t have to be exact, but the key is to make sure you speak from your perspective and experience and give her plenty of room to do the same.
Now, from everything you’ve said, it sounds like Chris isn’t one to be particularly genuine or open. But it also doesn’t sound like she’s abusive or causing serious harm to anyone in your crew. If you get the sense that Chris will use a one-on-one meeting to be spiteful or cruel to you or manipulate you into seeing her as the victim at the expense of your own true feelings, then a lot of this advice doesn’t apply, and step one (Talk To Your Friends) will be much more important. But if Chris is a garden-variety ego queen who lacks self-awareness but genuinely wants to have friends, this method is the best way to eliminate drama and maybe get closer to a livable situation. Even if she doesn’t engage or care about your effort, you have done your due diligence. And I can tell, dear Opal, that it is important to you to be kind. This is the kindest possible way to engage with Chris. It’s ultimately much kinder than ignoring the problem, dragging Chris out to events where she hates being with people who don’t like being with her, and letting yourself get so frustrated that you can never look Chris in the face again.
Once you try to communicate honestly with all your friends (including Chris), you get to decide how much you want to engage with Chris going forward. I think your instinct to extend her the exact same invitation everyone else gets is a good one. I’m sure your extra effort feeds her ego, but it’s not fair to you and obviously hasn’t fixed the problem. And if after all this Chris stays part of your group, I hope y’all can be honest with her about her behavior on a case by case basis. Call her out for meanness, drama or inappropriate and manipulative mood swings when they happen just as you would any other friend. Tip-toeing around her gives her more power, and it’s not fair to the group. If this makes her want to leave or makes her less likely to show up, that’s her choice and it’s not your responsibility.
And if your genuine effort to smooth things over and make the group space more comfortable for Chris and the rest of your friends blows up and Chris stops being friends with you, that says way more about her than about you. Chris may not even be willing to meet with you, or she may throw your effort in your face when you do meet. That in itself is a kind of answer.
One last thing — Chris probably should be in therapy! Honestly, everyone should be in therapy. It should be free and we should get a tax deduction for being in therapy. But it doesn’t sound like your friendship with her is in a place where she would be able to hear you if you started suggesting she make that kind of change to her life. All the Chrises of the world reading this: Go to therapy and drink more water.
Best of luck, Opal, and happy gal pal-ing.