Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve been friends with the same core group of people since freshman year of college. Over the years, certain people have moved away, gotten married, had children, lost jobs and loved ones, but we’ve always been there for each other no matter what. Recently, a new woman has managed her way into our group and I’m not sure what to do about it.
Real talk: I (really) don’t like her. But for some reason, everyone else in the group thinks she’s great. She’s my friend’s co-worker — she came out to drinks one night and never went away. They’ve even extended an invitation to her to join us on our annual camping trip this summer. She’s abrasive, talks over me, has to be the center of attention, makes everything way too dramatic, and flirts with all the men in the group despite their relationship status. Every time I try to talk about her to someone else, they tell me I’ve overreacting, or that I should give her another chance because she’s really “sweet.” But I just don’t think I have it in me.
I don’t want to let this woman ruin my relationships with my dearest friends, but I’m not on board with pretending to like her either. What should I do?
Really Don’t Like Her
Dear Really Don’t Like Her,
Real talk: It doesn’t matter that you don’t like her. It doesn’t matter to your friends, who clearly disagree with you, and it doesn’t matter to this new woman. And this is how it should be. Your personal feelings about this woman really should not affect the lives of a single other person, including yourself. You may be right and she may be the complete worst, or you may be wrong and she may be the total best, but either way you stewing in your dislike of her isn’t helping anyone.
I’ve been told before that I’m the disliked one – back in high school, I remember sitting at the large, metal table in ceramics class and being told that a mutual friend was asking everyone else in our group, “Why do you guys hang out with Dana? She’s so annoying.” Now, I definitely was annoying back then, but in the way most 15-year olds are annoying: self-conscious and always trying way too hard. Nevertheless, I was devastated — I cried and then hid from the girl who didn’t like me. But, also, I have to admit that I’ve also been the mean girl before. When a new acquaintance and I had a falling out, I began to tell people who maybe hadn’t yet made up their minds about her that ugh she was the total worst she tries too hard and is immature and they shouldn’t even waste their time getting to know her. In my defense, she carried a gnome around with her and was always trying to get people to take selfies with it, but still, it was mean. I took my problem and waged a campaign to make it everyone else’s problem. It was selfish and immature and I regret it.
Maybe you’re right and this new woman is the worst and has somehow enthralled your group of friends and you’re the only one who can see the truth. But really, probably, what’s happening is just that you have a personality conflict with this woman. I have friends who can’t stand other friends of mine for various reasons: she’s too blunt, she’s too flaky, she’s too quiet, she’s too boring, she’s too loud, I just don’t like her. But this isn’t high school, it’s real ass adult grown woman world, and not liking someone isn’t all that big of a deal. This woman hasn’t done anything to you – she hasn’t injured or insulted you in any way.
Your complaints about her are both valid and petty. You don’t like the way that she expresses herself. You wish that she was more like you. Let’s take your critiques one-by-one:
1) She’s abrasive and she talks over you. Literally, just call it out when it happens and, in the moment, ask her to stop. You can do it in a light, easy-going way. Like, “Hey, one second, I’m not quite done talking, so anyway…”
2) She has to be the center of attention. Understand that people react differently to being the new kid in the group. Many people take time to hang back, be quiet, and wait for the group to slowly invite them in. Others, though, can’t stand the wait and instead they deal with the natural anxiety of being new by trying to demonstrate their worthiness by being, frankly, the most. She may be a loud person, or she may be auditioning. What’s her situation? How many friends does she have outside of this group? Is she new to town? Did she just go through some sort of upheaval such as a break up that caused her to need new friends? A lot of people aren’t lucky enough to maintain the same close group of friends for decades. I recently went through a period of being a new kid. New state, new office, very few friends in the area. I spent most of my time trying to appear relaxed and breezy while beating back the rising anxiety that no one I was meeting actually wanted to hang out with me. I had to fake it. Some people fake it by appearing extra relaxed, and some people fake it by talking too much and trying to be the most fun person in the room. Have some compassion.
3) She makes everything way too dramatic. See above re: trying to fit in and appear interesting.
4) She flirts with all the men in the group despite their relationship status. This, here, is a bullshit critique. She’s allowed to talk to dudes. I encourage you to chill the fuck out about this, because dudes are fully formed humans who are able to opt to not cheat on their significant others on a regular basis. Please interrogate why you don’t trust your male friends and/or why you think that this woman is capable of undoing someone else’s relationship. I think that you’ll find that it has nothing to do with her, or the men, and everything to do with your feeling threatened by her arrival in your social circle.
Real talk: You do feel threatened by this woman. You spent years developing these relationships that she now has access to after just showing up. The fact that your friends aren’t co-signing your feelings is likely causing your insecurity to grow, and behind all of your dislike is the fear that maybe this group is moving on without you. Really, your attempts to turn the group against her have failed, and that should be a flag. Either all of your friends are blind or, more likely, you’re deliberately only seeing the worst in her.
You don’t have to like her, but you do have to be a grown up about it. You have two choices – find something to like about her or stop hanging out with the group when she’s around. I know that you don’t want to stop hanging out with the group, so that leaves “find something to like about her.”
Your homework is to 1) calm down, and 2) invite her out for coffee. Talk to her one-on-one and make an honest attempt to get to know her. Maybe you’ll walk away even more convinced that she’s everything that’s wrong with the world, but I doubt it. It’s really hard to actively dislike someone that you’re having a one-on-one conversation with. Because doing that, really spending time with a person, makes you understand them on a more personal level. She can’t be a boogey-man who represents your greatest fears when you’re both sharing a cookie. Now, I’m not saying to make her your best girlfriend, but I am saying to find a way to unwind from the idea that she’s your enemy. Because she’s not. She’s just another woman who likes the same people that you do. Find a way to coexist peacefully with her because, truly, the only person suffering as a result of your dislike of her is you.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.