Barrelhouse is always here to help. To that end, we're thrilled to present another episode of our regular advice column, FOUNTAINE OF ADVICE, with Jaime Fountaine!
There's a girl I knew in high school — let's call her Lisa. We were friends, but we weren't especially emotionally intimate; she wasn't a "best" friend. We lost touch when we went away to different colleges, and that suited me. I don't hang out with any of the people I was close to in high school. I keep connected on Facebook, but that's it: liking the occasional status update on her end. I have a different life now, and I prefer to invest my energy in the people I see in person on a regular basis in my own city.
Now, 16 years later, Lisa's suddenly making it clear that she wants a relationship again. I don't know what precipitated this, and it seems to be accelerating. It's all well and good to be like, "Hey, I was thinking of you last week; remember when we ditched class to walk on the beach? Good times, hope you're well!" But she's being a bit more aggressive: "I miss you so much," "I think about you a lot," "I love you," every day or two. Lisa doesn't seem to notice or care that I don't really say anything similar back, but either way it's making me uncomfortable. She's becoming my own personal reply guy. How do I handle this gracefully? Do I block her, or put her in a different level of "friend" access on social media? Do I have to have a talk with her? If so, what do I say?
RE: Reply Guy
I feel for the Lisas of the world, I really do. For people like me, who can approach anyone and ask, “What’s your deal?” or someone like you, RE:RG, who has made a point of prioritizing their friendships, making and keeping friends isn't as complicated anymore. But for people like Lisa, who have found themselves somewhere in their 30s without the kind of support they wish they had, it must seem impossible.
As we get older, we lose access to the volume of new, potential friends that school provides us. I think a lot of people take that for granted until it’s too late.
A lot of things happen between high school and one’s early-mid-30s. People get married and divorced. People have children. People start careers and go back to school and change jobs and move to follow the work. The people in your life change — both as a group, and as individuals. For as much as I’ve always been the same, I’m a very different person than I was as a teenager. And whether they realize it or not, the Lisas of the world are too.
When you’re longing for something more meaningful, imagining a closeness might look like the first step in building one. She remembers you fondly, and social media makes it so easy to project things onto the people you barely know, to imagine deeper connections than exist with people you once did.
I could go on, but Lisa isn’t the one asking me for advice. You are, RE:RG.
It’s kind of you to want to let her down gently. It’s a good instinct! But you don’t have to neglect your own boundaries to make someone else feel comfortable.
Friendship is, by definition, reciprocal. One can’t force it.
Knock her down to whatever “friend” level you’re comfortable with her seeing. Feel free to post a broad “I never check Messenger,” even if you do ALL THE TIME, if appearing more unavailable would alleviate some guilt.
While I’m not generally an advocate for ghosting people, I’m not sure what you could say to Lisa that wouldn’t hurt more than just leaving her messages unread. There isn’t a nice way to tell someone that you aren’t really friends friends. If you can manage the anxiety of still occasionally receiving them, and they aren’t threatening, you have my blessing to ignore her messages.
I wouldn’t unfriend her, unless, things take an unsettling sort of turn. Unfriending is a little harsh for minor infractions (unfriending is always a great idea when it comes to people that are racist, sexist, transphobic, and/or abusers) now that you can just hide everyone that pops up until your algorithm only shows you posts from last Thursday.
(Nothing in your letter leads me to believe Lisa is actually a threat to you or herself, but there is an entire category of movie about seemingly innocuous women for whom friendship is the first step to...MURDER, and I want to cover all my bases here.)
Hopefully, the subtle retreat will give Lisa the hint that her energy could be better directed elsewhere and you some breathing room on social media.
Jaime Fountaine writes and tells stories. Her novella, Manhunt, is forthcoming from Mason Jar Press. She lives in Philadelphia, where she co-hosts the Tire Fire reading series with Mike Ingram.