I’m hoping you can help me figure out how to manage my good friend Faigie better. Faigie is one of my best friends. We get along well and we like to do the same things. We both like to take the same classes at the gym, we both like getting up early and getting things done early in the day, and we both like walking around the mall. Our children are friendly with each other, too. Often we will spearhead events for our schools and shuls, and we work well together. We’re fast, efficient, and organized. So that’s a big plus between us.
The problem is that Faigie does not know how to accept “no” for an answer. And I can be easily persuaded (or perhaps a better word is manipulated) to do what I really don’t want to do. I’ll give you a few examples to give you a better understanding of how things work between us. One morning, Faigie calls me to go to a class with her. I was up late the night before, I felt a little sluggish, and I was really not in the mood to push myself in any way. Also, I had a long list of errands to take care of that morning. This is how our conversation sounded.
Faigie: “Hi, it’s a beautiful day. Let’s go for a walk on the boardwalk.”
Me: “It is beautiful, but I have a really busy day and don’t have time.”
Faigie: “What are you so busy with?”
Me: “Well, I have to go to the post office, the cleaners, and I have other errands that really need to be taken care of this morning.”
Faigie: “No problem. Rather than the boardwalk, we’ll walk locally so we’ll pass the post office and cleaners and you’ll get to take care of your errands and still have a nice walk.”
Me: [Feeling off kilter and wanting to please] “OK.”
I felt draggy and not thrilled to be walking with Faigie, but she had managed to figure out a way to get me to do what she wants to do.
This is typical with Faigie. As another example, she might invite my family for Shabbos lunch, but I am already invited to a beautiful Kiddush that I don’t want to rush out of. I tell Faigie that it’s not a good Shabbos for us to come, but she manages to convince me that it’s fine and they’ll be happy to wait for us to start lunch. I agree. Of course, I’m feeling agitated at the Kiddush, guilty for holding up Faigie and her other guests, and I wind up rushing and not enjoying the Kiddush the way I should have, and I’m not happy about it.
Somehow Faigie just can’t seem to accept my answer of “no,” and it’s upsetting to me. I need to learn the right skills to be strong and hold firm and to teach Faigie to back off and just accept an answer at face value. Also, just as an aside, I happen to know of a few mutual friends who are backing away from their friendships with Faigie because they don’t want to deal with her aggressive edge. I don’t want to give up my friendship, but I do want to change Faigie’s behavior in this way. And while I’m at it, should I mention to Faigie that her off-putting behavior is costing her some friendships?
One of the facts of life that so often comes up in this column is that we are not able to change other people. As much as we think we can or try to or fantasize about it, it’s just not something that we can bank on ever having the power to succeed at. That doesn’t mean that sometimes we can’t have a positive effect on the people we are close to and that they, after observing our behaviors, might independently decide on their own that they would like to take a few pages out of our playbooks and emulate some of our behaviors.
But let me be very clear that if your goal is to change Faigie, forget about it. It’s not your job, nor is it your responsibility. You can, however, work on changing yourself. The real question is: “Why do you let Faigie decide for you what you should be doing, particularly when it goes against your own desires?” And digging a little deeper, do you find a pattern exists, maybe to a lesser degree, within other relationships that you have? Basically, are you a people-pleaser?
There is nothing wrong with trying to please others. There is a lot right about it. It’s great when we can put our own needs on the back burner in order to help out others. However, based on the examples you gave regarding the ways in which you interact with Faigie, you’re not doing her any favors by allowing her to manipulate you. Rather, you are actually teaching or confirming to her that with enough “nudging,” she can get exactly what she wants, despite what the other person wants. By feeding into her belief that this is a good way to go through life, you are actually doing her an injustice. That is confirmed by the fact that some of Faigie’s other friends are backing away from her because they recognize that Faigie’s persistence in never letting up is annoying and they’re not interested in engaging in the back-and-forth that Faigie brings to the table.
Back to you. You need to build some backbone. It’s OK to say no and you don’t need to give Faigie any explanation (which only gives her specifics to rebut.) Using your first example, when she asked you to go for a walk with her on the boardwalk, your answer could have been, “No thanks, I’m not in the mood.”
OK, we both know that Faigie would not just leave it at that and would probably say something like “why not?” At that point, your task is to keep repeating, as many times as necessary, that you’re “just not in the mood.” When she asked you over for a Shabbos lunch when you had a Kiddush, you could have said simply, “It’s not a good week for us. Raincheck?” And that’s that. Again, no explanations necessary. The more details you give Faigie, the more she will try to shoot them down. I know that at first this will feel extremely uncomfortable for you, but you’ll get used to it and eventually get really good at it! And besides this being a good learning opportunity for you, hopefully Faigie will take something positive from her interactions with you.
Regarding whether you should say something to Faigie about her other friends who have backed off, I would stay clear of that conversation unless Faigie outright asks you for advice as to why these friends have been backing away. At that point, feel free to share — but, again, only if she asks!
There is so much in life that we cannot control, but when it comes to stuff like this, we’re in charge!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.