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 email@example.com.
I have a problem with a friend that I’m not sure how to address. We met a few months ago and we are both new to our city. When we first started hanging out, it seemed like we had a lot in common: music, TV shows, books, etc. But around the same time we met, she developed a crush on Some Guy. I’ve met him a couple times, he seems great, but I don’t have much to say about him beyond that.
She, however, has LOTS to say about him, and doesn’t stop talking about him…ever. I get the excitement of a crush. I love having crushes—I have a different one each week, in fact! And in her case, it sure does sound like they’re about to hook up. Great! But I wish every conversation I have with my friend didn’t lead to her telling me something he said or did. These stories are very boring to me because I don’t have a crush on this dude, and I can only re-hash text conversations so many times. I try to change the subject after a bit, but it always comes back to Some Guy. She never asks me about myself or my life, so it’s a good thing I have other friends who do.
I kind of don’t want to hang out with this friend anymore. She has picked up on my irritation to a small extent, but seems to believe hooking me up with a dude will make me more inclined to listen to her talk about Some Guy. Sadly for us both, it will not.
Should I back off from this friendship or just tell her she needs to ease up on the Some Guy talk? Both of these sound deeply uncomfortable but I have to do something.
Sincerely, Less Boy Crazy
Dear Less Boy Crazy:
Here is something I learned from years of online dating: music, TV shows, and books are not points of connection. We may both adore the movie Gosford Park, but that really doesn’t matter when the other person farts constantly and unapologetically in public. We may both be obsessed with Fun Home, but who cares about that when the other person is chronically 20 minutes late and thinks that parents are well within their rights to opt out of vaccines?
Liking the same cultural artifacts doesn’t make a friendship—many of my closest friends hate the movies/books/TV shows that I love. This includes my husband. He can’t understand why I want to watch any Real Housewives shows and I can’t explain it to him because I watch them because all of the woman on the show are so rich but they get yelled at all of the time and I love to analyze each show through a women’s studies lens and also their shoes are pretty and their false eyelashes are so soft I want to touch them. Shared interest in a TV show doesn’t make a friendship—how you feel about each other does.
Friendship is love. When you’re spending time with a potential new friend, you’re investigating whether or not you two are going to fall in love with each other. It’s just like dating, except better because neither of you is expecting orgasms so there’s less disappointment.
Friendship is an amazing resource. It allows you to spend time with humans that you aren’t related to, or infatuated with, or romantically tied to. There’s something so pure about it—you spend time with that person only because they make you feel better. You like them. You want to know more about them. You like the way they approach the world. They amuse you, tickle you, delight you, inspire you. And they think you’re totally terrific, which is always nice to be around as well.
Making new friends is incredibly awkward. Because when you’re asking them for coffee dates or drinks or dinner or a long walk so you guys can just talk, you aren’t asking them to just spend time with you. You’re really asking: Can we see if we want to fall in love? Like, that long-lasting platonic love where every time you see my picture happy chemicals are set off in your brain and if something good happens to you it makes my life better and I can call you if my house catches on fire at 3am and you won’t be annoyed with me even 1% love. Someone who is interested in you and supports you and, this here is the ultimate goal, makes you feel that life is actually OK. That you’re going to be OK and your best is more than good enough and maybe you should stop worrying if your house it too dusty and sit down and help me catch up on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Friends are great, but talking about some dude is the worst. Because it doesn’t matter what anyone says. Her bringing him up with you all the time isn’t because she’s looking for new information from you. It’s way more selfish and boring than that. She brings him up all the time because talking about him prolongs the excited pitter-pat heartbeat of the early stage of a relationship. She wants to talk about him because when she talks about him she feels him more—for her, obsessing prolongs the pleasure. For you, it’s boring as hell because dwelling on anyone else’s shit is incredibly mind-numbingly tedious. You aren’t going to unlock any deep secret meaning in his texts—he’s not texting her with an Enigma Machine. He likes her and wants to marry her and be together forever. Or: not that. You, a person who gives zero shits about the whole thing, definitely does not have the key to unlocking this mystery.
It bothers me that this woman doesn’t ask you anything about yourself. That bothers me even more than the constant talk about some dude. Why doesn’t she ask you about yourself? That’s one of the basic tenants of friendship: Be curious about the other person. Because most folks don’t volunteer key points of their lives—they want to feel safe first. They want to feel like you actually care, you really want to know, and you’re not just putting up with them. We all fear that those around us are just putting up with us, nodding and not really listening while they wait for their turn to talk. In your case, that appears to be true.
If you don’t want to hang out with this friend anymore, don’t. The point of exploring a friendship is to see if you two are going to hit it off and make each other’s lives better. You being exasperated with her on the regular doesn’t make her life any better and I don’t see how she improves your life.
When you move to a new city you feel alone and worried. This can lead you to find the nearest human who understands Sherlock references and cling on for dear life. But we’re adults now, and friendship is composed of more than proximity. If she was some dude herself, some dude that you were dating, would you keep dating him and his boring ass? Nope. You’d find a way to stop dating him. You’d tell him that it isn’t working out, you’d frame it in a way that was kind and allowed him to still feel like he was a good guy, and you’d walk.
This is what you should do now. Don’t pursue her. Allow her to drift away. If she pursues you, tell her that you’re busy and don’t offer to meet up another time. The early stages of friendship are like the early stages of dating—you aren’t committed to each other, so you don’t have to formally break up. If she wants a reason why you aren’t hanging out anymore, feel free to tell her that you think that she needs a friend who shares more of the same interests, and so do you. Tell her that you guys were there for each other when you were brand new to town but now you’re more established and would benefit from spending time with friends who are captivated by the same topics.
But it likely won’t come to that. Likely, you’ll stop calling and so will she. And then it will be over. She’ll spend her evenings deciphering texts with new girlfriends who wear decoder rings, and you can go to new places, and find new friends to love.
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.