Since then, she’s texted me to ask if I wanted to come over for dinner with her and her husband sometime, texted me in the middle of the night (fortunately, I set my phone to Do Not Disturb overnight) because she had just read something about one of our mutual interests that she thought I should know about, and invited me to her church. All in the last week!
I realize her eagerness probably means she’s lonely, and I have a lot of compassion for that. And I like her, I’m open to friendship, I don’t want to hurt her feelings or completely brush her off. But I’m also not ready to treat her like she’s my new best friend when I’ve only met her once and I already have close friends who fill that role in my life! How can I get her to give the friendship a little room to grow without being forced?
Not So Fast Friend: I personally wouldn’t consider three reach-outs in a week to be excessive, but adding in the “new best friend” comment I can understand how one might feel a little freaked out. My suggestions to slow her roll: Respond to the dinner invitation by suggesting a date several weeks in the future. The middle-of-the-night text would be acknowledged during normal waking hours (hint!) with the classic text conversation ender — the “thumbs up” emoji.
I would decline the invitation to church at this point because it could turn into a recurring commitment that might be awkward to get out of going forward — and you don’t need to give her a reason, religion and spirituality are no one’s business but your own. More generally speaking, space out your encounters on a schedule that feels comfortable for you while you determine if you want her as a friend or an acquaintance.
Not So Fast Friend: You ask her to give the friendship a little room to grow. Tell her what you just told us. You are interested in friendship, you like her, and you have a lot to talk about. The rate of developing the friendship you are each comfortable with seems different. Then ask if it is okay with her if you do this a bit slower. If it is not okay with her, she may say that, or if she doesn’t say it, you will know it because she won’t change her behavior.
If it is okay with her, you may develop a friendship you were both interested in. And, because you have had this initial conversation, you can always remind her — as in, “I know you have texted me six times since yesterday and I have not responded, I am not ignoring you but remember I tend to take more time for these things.” Then proceed at your own pace.
Telling people what works for you and what does not really simplifies a lot of interactions.
Not So Fast Friend: I think you just found out what kind of friend she would be, and that you don’t like it. You don’t need to make any excuses, like she’s lonely and maybe you should consider that. Are the shared interests worth the red flags you are already feeling? I doubt it.
If it helps, think of this as a potential romantic interest. You had one date with him/her — and they declared you the love of their life and then promptly started including you in multiple future plans. Wouldn’t you be totally creeped out, and run for the hills? I would. I really don’t think you owe her much of an explanation — you are in the very beginning stages of the relationship. You can call her, or even text her, and say you don’t think that you and she are on the same page for a friendship and wish her well. It’s not mean, it’s honest and has integrity.
Not So Fast Friend: Decades ago, I was something like this new friend … emotionally codependent and unable to “read the tea leaves” of how to see what someone else was truly offering and accept it without needing it to be more. The longer I sustained these “friendship fantasies” the harder it was when reality hit. I am not talking about finding out someone wasn’t a friend at all, just not the close friend I thought they were.
The best thing you can do in my view is set clear expectations in as gentle a manner as you can (e.g. “I really enjoy spending time with you doing “x” and prefer to keep it there for the time being, but thank you for the offer”) and keep affirming that boundary while being open to seeing whether it can grow as time and shared experiences reveal how you best “fit” as friends. Hit the eject button only if this friend is just not getting a clue. We all have different types of friends from our past and present shared contexts … some grow beyond that context and some die on the vine if we leave that context. Just enjoy her in that context and don’t respond to overtures to extend beyond it if you aren’t or ever comfortable doing so.
Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.