DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: How do you handle a mutual acquaintance that is just too mutual? I met many friends through my local frisbee club two years ago. The club friendships blossomed into separate gatherings for parties, trivia, and movie watching. These are my main group of people who I love to hang out with……and Tiffany.
Tiffany is a long-standing group member who has known many of my close friends for much longer than I have. She even lives down the street from one of them and works with another. Most group events involve Tiffany in some fashion since she’s close to everybody in the group besides me.
I find it difficult to hang out with her, since she is my total personality opposite. Tiffany is an anxious extrovert, while I am a decisive introvert. I could throw a frisbee around for hours, while she mainly plays frisbee as an excuse to talk to people. Tiffany hates competition and I love trash talk and close games.
Every time I see she’s attending a group event I’m at, I let out a huge sigh. Events with her have been marked by people missing amazing frisbee throws, since she had to show the crowd a video right this second. I was bantering back and forth with a friend in the middle of a course, and Tiffany has to chastise me for being “too mean”. She’s super chatty and has known most of these people 5 years longer than I have. This leads to me feeling left out of conversations, since I don’t know enough to keep up with what’s being discussed.
I know I have no right to kick Tiffany out of the friend group, since she’s not an awful person. I just need a better way to accept we will never be best friends and deal with the fact Tiffany will be at most group events in the foreseeable future.
DEAR OVERLAPPING CIRCLES: Ah yes, the dreaded ONE person. I think most people have experienced this at one point or another: somebody in your social circle who you — for whatever reason — just can’t get along with. Sometimes it’s somebody who’s just objectively awful and you can’t wrap your head around why they’re still around. It’s even worse when that one person is a classic Missing Stair — someone who’s an active danger to others that your social circle has learned how to avoid, but not excise. Other times, it’s someone who has, for whatever reason, decided you are their nemesis and treats you like shit. And then there’s the person you just don’t like, but they’re embedded in the group like a tick.
The way you resolve things depends on precisely what the issue is. Often, when there’s one person who’s demonstrably awful, the problem is that the group overall is afraid of confrontation. Sometimes it’s the classic Geek Social Fallacy that Ostracizers are Evil and it’s sub-fallacy The Person Who Points Out The Drama Is The Problem. Groups with a Missing Stair — or just That One Asshole — often don’t like to face up to the fact that they’ve abdicated the responsibility of making sure a space is welcoming or safe and would rather ignore the problem. Or worse, they feel like they can’t excise them because… reasons. So they just let them stay and decide that it’s easier to kick out the people who point out the problem. So that often ends up falling to the person who’s willing to make the fuss, break that group’s social contract and, hopefully, pull enough people together who felt the same way but couldn’t speak up.
In your case though, it doesn’t sound like Tiffany is a bad person… just someone who you don’t click with. And hey, that’s legit; Geek Social Fallacy #4 — that Friendship Is Transitive — ain’t any more real than Ostracizers are Evil. Just because you all have friends in common doesn’t mean that you and they are going to be close; the Venn diagrams of your friendships don’t overlap that far. There’s no reason you need to be friends with her. It’s good if you can be friendly, or at the very least, polite, but you don’t need to like ’em.
Now the key is how to handle things in ways that let you keep things cordial with Tiffany but without letting her existence kill your ability to have fun with your friends.
The trick, in this case, is to compartmentalize as best you can. There will be times when you can get by without needing to interact with her much. At more social gatherings — parties, trivia events and so on — you can more or less minimize how much direct contact you have. You can, for example, have separate conversations with friends that don’t involve her. You can even use the 3:2 rule in group conversations where Tiffany is involved. Since people can only really pay attention to so many people at once, conversations can really only sustain about four active participants. When a fifth person gets involved, the conversation tends to split in a 3 to 2 ratio, with two people branching off into a side-conversation. You can use that to your advantage and use something as a springboard to a new topic; you just need a brief transition like “oh that reminds me…”
Also: beyond the fact that just listening is a perfectly valid way of contributing to a conversation — especially until you get more context — you can also ask questions about the discussion. Often, people are happy to fill newcomers in, especially if it means a new person to hear some of the stories that everyone else already knows.
Now when it comes to games of frisbee… well, that’s a point where you may have to recalibrate your expectations. You may be looking for competition, but if most of the club is expecting a social event with occasional tossing of the frisbee, then you may just have to adapt to that mindset. If you’re looking for a group that plays the game with deadly seriousness, then you may have to look at a different group to meet that particular need.
(Though if you and your buds are enjoying the in-game chirping back and forth and Tiffany doesn’t, then she doesn’t have to participate and you and the others can leave her out of it. If she’s objecting to it happening at ALL… that’s a her problem, not a you problem and she can deal with it on her own.)
Don’t forget, however, that you’re options aren’t limited “put up with Tiffany’s presence” or “never see your friends”. You can set up events and get-togethers with your friends in the group that don’t involve Tiffany. Now, this may or may not run into Geek Social Fallacy #5: Friends Do Everything Together, where folks feel like if you’re getting the gang together that has to include Tiffany. If that’s the case, then you may have to organize events with different sets of people at different times. Having smaller, slightly more intimate get-togethers means you may not get the full “yay, I’m seeing my whole squad” experience, but it’s less likely to trip the feeling that you’re being rude by leaving Tiffany out.
That having been said: don’t feel like you have to pretend that you and Tiffany are buds, even to the others. There’s nothing wrong with saying “hey, she’s perfectly fine. She and I just don’t click, that’s all.” Make it clear that this isn’t a problem that needs solving, just that you and she have personalities that don’t mesh well and it’s easier to just keep things polite but distant than to try to mix this particular blend of oil and water.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org