Advice: Outside the Box

Dear Dr. Fred:

A life-long friend of mine (40+ years) retired a year ago when he was offered a buy-out by his company. He got a nice sum, a pension and has a well-off family so while he occasionally complains he “needs the money” he has not worked in a year and would never need to again financially. He does occupy some of his free time doing great volunteer work, writing some magazine pieces and tending his garden, etc. But there’s a problem I am having.

My friend, I’ll call him Jordan, has almost every waking hour free and he texts, calls and instant messages me incessantly, often getting disgusted when I am busy or otherwise occupied. I have not retired, own a small business and have the day-to-day things / always have had to attend to — especially during the business day.

I have tried explaining calmly and he always apologizes, but two days later he’s back with 35 texts and asking why I am not replying when I am in a business lunch or at a meeting which I’ve told him about earlier and put on my online calendar for him to see.

I have yelled, screamed, texted “NOT NOW IAM WORKING!!!” in caps all to little avail. Jordan has bothered me at work, at the license branch and even during sex! Jordan always says he’s sorry’ after I remind him I work, and he always says he’s my friend forever, but lately I wish I could tell him loudly he won’t be if he doesn’t get a grip on the fact I am still working and need to actually have some peace to make money and live with my partners since I do not get a pension and that I enjoy my job so have few plans to call it quits this year or next.

I have tried literally every tactic — from rude to sweet and in person, in texts and by phone — but he never “gets it” for more than 48 hours. Short of changing my phone number, putting his texts and messages on ignore and leaving Facebook or really being a butt, do you have any suggestions?

I love him as a beastie and in some ways am envious and wish I could retire, but I like what I do, don’t have his financial security and all my other friends seem to understand. I need help or else a 40+ year relationship is gonna be kaput!

Signed,

Hung up

Dear Hung Up:

I’m reminded of an old saving. “Don’t worry about your enemies. May God protect you from family and friends.” Another one that comes to mind is, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” And yet another is, “We only hurt the ones we love.”

Why all this talk of old sayings? I think the importance of these axioms is that they represent some traditional folk wisdom about the down side of friendships. Normally we think of having friends as a good thing. Considerable research supports the idea that people who have close friends live longer, have fewer stress-related disorders, and function more productively in society.

But other statistics indicate just the opposite can also be true. Most murders, rapes and other violent crimes are perpetrated by family members or friends. Similarly, the crimes of child abuse, elder abuse and other forms of domestic violence are usually committed by a family member or friend.

Clearly, friends and family are usually good for us . . . except when they’re not! And that’s the case now with Jordan.

Jordan obviously likes you tremendously and wants to be close to you; so much so, in fact, that he seems to have lost perspective on how different your lives are. The most salient aspect of this situation is that Jordan is retired and you’re not. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this story either. I often hear clients’ complain about retired friends or family becoming “pests” in this way.

We might call this “selective amnesia.” Anyone who works for a living knows how hard it can be to juggle job and social schedules. But for some reason, some people, as soon as they retire, lapse into this “amnesia,” forgetting what it was like when they worked to find time to socialize, or even just talk and text.

You have several options, as I see it. You can continue as is, ignore him when you have to, and just let him be ticked off. He’ll get over it. When you do have time to process things with him, just matter-of-factly remind him, “I’ve made this clear to you countless times before.”

Or you can have a firm “Come to Jesus” talk, almost like an alcohol or drug intervention. Tell him how much value his friendship. Then make clear things can’t go on as is, and you need him to change his behavior or you won’t be able to continue the friendship. And follow through on the latter step. If he challenges your boundaries again, give him some distance for a while. Let him see that you mean business.

Finally, you can let the friendship go kaput, as you say above. I hope it doesn’t come to that. But if he can’t respect your wishes and feelings, he’s not really a true friend, no matter how long you’ve known each other.

Fred Schloemer, Ed.D., LCSW is a gay therapist. Send him your questions at FredSchloemer@aol.com

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