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Background

I have a friend, we'll call her A, who I have known for nearly 20 years now. We are both in our early 20s now. Due to transitions we have both experienced over the last several years, other people have grown close to me and I have also had the opportunity to do some traveling. A has not reacted well to this and has become increasingly more obsessive and possessive of me. (This in itself is an issue to discuss in another question.) This possessiveness manifests in a number of ways, such as telling other people that are just as important to me that she (A) is the most important person in my life and that they (my other friends) "do not matter as much". She is also putting expectations on me to consult or consider her before making any important decisions. Regardless of this, A continues to be a good friend and is an important part of my life (although I do not accept or encourage this behavior).

The Issue

I have recently graduated university and, after much consideration, A has decided that the ideal gift will be to pay for a "best friends tattoo" for the both of us. Now, I do not think this is a good idea for a number of reasons. For one, I just do not like the tattoo ideas that she is suggesting. We seem to have very different tastes in that way. Primarily though, my concern is that if I get a "best friends tattoo" with A, it will further cement in her mind that she is the most important person in my life and that I have given her carte blanche to continue acting the way she has been towards the other people in my life. I would like to simply tell A that I do not want to get the tattoo, but history has proven that turning down a perceived gift (or even telling her no in general) is likely to be taken very personally and cause an argument. I would like to avoid this.

The Question

How can I communicate to A that I do not want to get a tattoo, without upsetting her or causing an argument?

Possible Solutions

I think it may be a good idea to suggest an alternative. Perhaps a gift that is a visible recognition of our friendship without being exclusive to her and me so as not to exacerbate the obsessive and possessive tendencies that she has. If such a gift exists, I am not aware of it however, and I am also unsure how to word a request that she change the gift she wants to give to something else without offending her.

Notes

I currently have 1 tattoo, and I am interested in getting others in the relatively near future, so just claiming that I don't like tattoos or don't want another one will not work.

I am positive that this behavior is not due to romantic interest. We are both in relationships that we are happy with.

Most likely, the reason A specifically wants a tattoo is that I got a matching tattoo with my brother and now she feels jealous about that. Although if I confronted her about that, she would just claim it is because she knows I like tattoos.

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    Aside from its permanence, is there a particular reason why your friend insists the symbol of your friendship be a tattoo? One could guess she is effectively trying to 'brand' you as her own, but would not want to jump to that conclusion. – user8671 Jun 14 '18 at 14:12
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    @Kozaky most likely because a few months ago I got a tattoo with my brother, and A now feels jealous. I will add that to my question. – Link0352 Jun 14 '18 at 14:14
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    Do you have an example of a previous situation where you refused a gift/request and she responded negatively? I am just curious to see where the threshold is for her taking offense to any refusal. – The_Bird Jun 14 '18 at 16:07
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    Can you explain to her (in an acceptable way) why you're willing to get a tattoo with your brother but not with her? Doing that is perhaps the only way to avoid causing offence. – NotThatGuy Jun 14 '18 at 21:00
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    @UKMonkey I think I stated n the question, although maybe it was not clear, that this possessiveness is relatively recent behavior. I am not totally sure how to react to it 100% of the time. this issue is especially sensitive because this is a gift she is very excited about and I don't want to hurt her feelings, and I also don't want to deal with the argument her hurt feelings would cause. – Link0352 Jun 15 '18 at 15:23
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Pro-tip: Never get matching designs, names, or any other tattoos that will forever be a reminder of someone.

With the exception of your own children, or perhaps mother, these kinds of tattoos are nearly always a bad idea. If/when you have a falling out, you're forever stuck with the tattoo. Good cover-up work is difficult to pull off, and laser removal is expensive and painful. Well, both options are expensive and painful.

I made this mistake with a former partner. For an anniversary present, we each got tattoos to commemorate the relationship. Different designs, but they both incorporated the same little heart. Mine used an awful lot of black, so a cover-up is pretty much a non-option, unless I want to get one of those blackout tattoos.

Relationships just aren't as permanent as tattoos. Regardless of whether it's a friend, lover, or family member, these tattoos have a nasty way of outlasting the relationships they're intended to remind you of.

So...

I think this may be one of those cases where it's probably going to be better to bite the bullet, accept that she's going to be upset with you and complain about it, and tell her the truth.

This approach would also have the benefit of shedding a little light on the overly possessive tendency in this friendship that seems to be the real underlying problem. It sounds like this whole tattoo idea is a symptom, not the disease. Curing the disease will probably require some uncomfortable, honest conversation with A about how she treats you and the other people in your life. Possessiveness isn't a great quality, but loyalty is. She may not recognize the distinction, so you may need to explain it to her.

Hey, we've been best friends for forever. I really value your loyalty, you've always been there for me when I needed a friend, but this possessive stuff is wearing a little thin...

The wording is of course optional. Just honestly communicate about what you're seeing and the problems it's causing, while being clear that you still value the friendship.


Then again... I suppose it has a bit to do with your philosophy surrounding tattooing. Is it a rite of passage? is it a diary? a remembrance of things that you've lived through or conquered? a collage of things you've found meaningful over the years? purely artistic expression? a catalog of poor choices? ... People get tattoos for a lot of reasons. But if you're the sort of person who is going to look at a particular tattoo with regrets many years from now, probably best to be cautious.

Personally, I have some tragic tattoos. I don't regret any of them, not even the anniversary tattoo. I don't want to die without any scars. I know that's pithy and trite, but it's how I get by. Our scars remind us who we are and where we've been, and I find a lot of value in that.

And — before someone comes along and points out the contradiction in this answer — I'm clearly not a role model. I'm painfully aware that I tend to view things a bit differently than the average pedant. The average pedant probably has very few tattoos, if any, and probably no tragic tattoos. Embracing your mistakes is a skill learned by those that have the courage to make mistakes, but please make fewer mistakes than I tend to ;)

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Just say NO!

You have the right over your own body. Just because someone wants you to do something, you don't need to do it.

Tell her clearly that her behaviour is borderline obsessive (in mild undertones). Also since she is your best friend, she should take your opinion seriously and try to stop doing things that are causing problems in your personal life.

If she is truly your friend, she will understand and you guys will be okay again.

It is okay to fight for what you believe is for your own good. Otherwise this won't be a friendship, it would just be that you do whatever someone is telling you to do, and you would be letting this person dominate and dictate your life, which is wrong. (And don't be scared of her; she is your friend, not your boss.)

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How can I communicate to A that I do not want to get a tattoo, without upsetting her or causing an argument.

From what you told us about her character and behaviour, I do not believe that you can do that; you'll have to anticipate some upsetting and argument, and be prepared to handle it.

I think it may be a good idea to suggest an alternative.

I do not.

Your problem is not the tattoo, your problem is that you are being heavily abused by another person. Make no mistake, you are. In my experience, there is no solution for this except stopping being the "nice guy".

This does not mean that you never see her again, or that you get into a big fight, or that you turn full-on macho. You can stay as you are. I have been the chronical "nice guy" in the past as well, and still am, often (in cases where it's not to my detriment), but I have found that when I do not wish (or cannot be) "nice", then simply(sic) saying "no" is a great solution.

And this is not meant tongue-in-cheek nor sarcastical. I know full well how hard that is; especially when you are still in the claws of another person (be it a private relationship, or some hierarchical business relation). But often, when you finally just do it (saying "no"), you find that it does work, with less problems than anticipated.

So, how does it work? The first step is that you set firmly, in your mind, the decision that you do not want this. Do not weaken your resolve by looking for an alternative to suggest to your friend. This only opens up venues for discussion. You wish to not do it; this should be your main and only focus. Since your body is wholly under your own control, you have the final and only say in what happens with it. This is not a case of shared responsibility; no other human has any rights in this regard.

Then, how to say it. This is much more easy: say "no" with as few words as possible. When she asks you next time, just say "no, I do not want to get such a tattoo". No more, and if you can, less. Don't say that you are sorry (you are not), don't offer another kind of semi-shared tattoo (you don't want any), don't offer gifts which signify your friendship (which is nonsense), don't say "not now" (because you won't want it later, either). Simply say "no", and stick with it.

If she asks "why", say "I have decided not to" or something like that. If she asks if you are still her friend, tell her that this has nothing to do with it. If she starts to fight, don't partake. And so on, and so forth.

In other cases, you might be more open to some give-and-take dialog, but in this particular case, you have made clear that you actually, positively are not interested in anything that enforces her control over you. So while at other times you could make a counter-offer (especially in businesses, or when you have to make a shared decision, e.g. which color your new sofa should be), right now you need to be firm, to send a signal beyond the tattoo issue.

I would also strongly suggest not to bring up her clinging behaviour while doing so. This is not something you can really talk about with her, I believe, after your description. You have to fix this problem by your (verbal) behaviour; i.e., whenever she does something that you do not like, firmly resist.

The plan is to act firmly whenever she really crosses the line (we are talking about ignoring your ingrained values, not some trivial problem). The results are, in my experience, varying by person:

  1. Either they adapt to your changed behaviour, and the problem dissolves.
  2. Or they continue their behaviour, whatever it may be, but you do not care so much anymore because you know that you have tools to deflect it (the "saying no" tool).
  3. Or it continues to escalate, at some point leading to some kind of event, which could be "the talk", or an outright breakup, depending on the individual situation, of course.

For me, it usually ends up with a combo of 1. and 2. which usually turns out just fine with me.

  • This is the best answer imho. – KPM Jun 19 '18 at 7:31
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I don't think you need an excuse to not get a tattoo though straight out refusal will be bad.

My suggestion is to divert.

Suggest going on a camping trip together, or relive some childhood memory. Something that would celebrate your friendship without inking your bodies permanently. I can't really tell you what exactly but I am sure you have a lot of important memories together that you can relive in one way or another and I think 'A' wouldn't disagree to something like that because I presume those moments are important to her as well.

  • I doubt the requests and pressure to get a tattoo will stop if you reward them like that. Quite the opposite - if A is "increasingly more obsessive and possessive", she will quickly catch on - the more you demand, the more you get. – Kobi Jun 18 '18 at 12:52
8

Don't make up an excuse, it'll just lead to problems down the road if you ever do anything that contradicts your excuse. Weaving a web of lies is the surest way to tie yourself up. Just tell her that you aren't interested in getting a tattoo like that. The idea of giving an alternative is good though. Easy recommendations that will still give the same kind of vibe would be some kind of jewelry - earrings, a necklace, or a bracelet would probably be good suggestions (other piercings could work too if you do that kind of thing, as would an anklet or even toe ring). With jewelry, you could find something that looks good even without its relevance to the best friends thing; and if you get something nice (valuable) it will likely help her to acquiesce since it'll still seem important. Just make sure that it's something you would wear regardless, otherwise you start getting into the problem of having to make excuses about how you're not wearing it whenever she sees you (like when a family member gets you that scratchy sweater that you never wear).

Be straight to the point, and offer the alternative right away. You don't need to give a reason for why you don't want a tattoo like that, just that you don't. By giving the alternative right away, it shows that you still are interested in something with her, and will distract from the issue which will help prevent follow up questions. If she insists on asking why you don't want it, be honest but not brutal.

I don't really want to get a tattoo like that, but how about matching earrings?

What's wrong with tattoos? Why don't you want a matching tattoo with me?

Our tastes in tattoos just don't match up and I don't want to permanently ink myself unless it's a design I really like.

If she pushes to suggest that she'll let you pick the design, it can be whatever you want, then you can make the choice of agreeing (though the concerns about validating her possessiveness are valid) or standing your ground and insisting that 'No, I really just don't want a tattoo like that.' And stick to it. Don't give any more fuel to the fire, don't try to make up excuses or anything, just say No, you're not interested.

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    OP mentioned both of them are in (different) relationships. Starting to wear a 'friendship bracelet/necklace/etc' next to your wedding ring is not really sending the message of "please stop being so possessive over me". – Hans Janssen Jun 15 '18 at 12:25
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    @Geliormth OP said they were in relationships, not married. That said, I can see your point. I feel like a friendship bracelet (or w/e) isn't anywhere near the same level as a universally recognized piece of jewelry like a wedding ring; but I can see the concern. – Doc Jun 15 '18 at 18:29
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It sounds like you are overdue for a conversation with A about her role in your life. It seems like you are growing and she is clinging to an older model of your friendship.

If she is inserting herself between you and your other friends, in the long run this abusive pattern will likely drive people away and leave you more dependent on her; it's most charitable to assume that A is doing this unconsciously but you can't rule out some level of deliberate intent. If it is hard for A to make friends and you are the only real friend she has ever had, she is probably terrified of you "getting away" from her.

But all that is merely speculation. Another answer suggested a diversion, and I can offer one from personal experience: a friendship bracelet. I have an anklet around my right ankle that has been there for 18 years. It's a simple "trick braid" of polyester satin rat tail cord woven 9 times around my ankle. It means... Well, let's just say it doesn't mean what it did when I made it.

A more long lasting version of the same thing would be a pretty chain that is sealed with a lock that is either unbreakable, or that the two of you exchange keys to. (Some friends of mine did this instead of wedding rings; they had a goldsmith make padlocks with one-way mechanisms.) "Permanent" right up until the day you decide that your friend has crossed the line from loyal and devoted to creepy controlling gaslighting stalker and you get rid of it with a snip of a bolt cutter.

(Note though that in a medical emergency the anklet might need to be sacrificed.)

It would be much healthier for you to be able to explain to your friend why you don't want a friendship tattoo permanently on your skin, but if you can't bring yourself to do that, an anklet might buy you some peace.

And like me, you might even decide to keep the anklet longer than the friendship.

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    A jeweler could probably repair an anklet that has been removed in a medical emergency. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jun 15 '18 at 11:31

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