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17 year-old male living in the U.S. here.

I have a "friend" (Let's call him X) who I've known for 4 years and known well for 2 years. He is probably the most pretentious and manipulative person I know. Sometimes it is genuinely fun to hang out with him - we have a similar sense of humor and our interests are roughly in the same area (Math & CS). I am definitely smarter than him in the traditional sense, better respected, and I can deal with issues in a more civil manner, however he is more "practical" and can read people quite well.

I'll give an example. I have another friend (Y) who I'd known well for 5 years and he had only met a few months ago. One day, us three ended up together and X started being pretentious and degrading making inside jokes/comments with Y in front of me. Y, in turn was being responsive - although she kept saying that A was being mean, she was ultimately laughing and enjoying. Y is usually very kind and does not like jokes/comments that insult. X is 5'4, 90 pounds, and ugly so no chance she could have been attracted. I ended up confused and thus did not say much during the encounter.

Another example - a few days ago I told a few friends (X was there too) I was taking a web. dev. course and working on building a online multiplayer game like pictionary. Few days later, he told me he was working with a mutual friend to do the same thing.

Few respect X, but some feel they can get an advantage if they become X's friend. This is because he has a way of getting information that others can't (or that's what he makes it seem like, even if its wrong).

Being apathetic towards him seemed to be the best solution but one can only do that for so long, especially since our parents are good friends (his parents are actually very kind people).

EDIT: Here are some things that I have tried:

  • Trying to be close to him while avoiding manipulation and negativity - Again, it works until he says something that I don't agree with, which turns into an argument sucking away time and energy from me. If I am talking to a third person in private environment (e.g. alone) and he sees us, he later tries to pry the conversation topic from said third person, getting information about me (whether or not it is private). Also, if I say anything that can paint me in a negative light - (e.g. "Oh that test? Haha I forgot showing work so I got an 85.") he says that later to someone else in a matter-of-fact way (usually in front of me).

  • Being apathetic - this works initially but eventually he starts to get unreasonably close to my friends which forces interaction between us. I expect that he would go his way and not try to interact with me, but he seems to become that much more eager to get me to start talking to him again by making me feel oblivious.

  • Using his tools against him - I tell him just enough about something unimportant to leave him guessing and thinking, thus he becomes more paranoid and does not act rude towards me until he figures out that he was wasting time. This works the first few times, but then he catches on and it also take more effort from my part than I care to use.

How can I

1) Diffuse arguments with X?

2) Stop wasting time dealing with trivial issues with X?

3) Possible maintain a relationship with him enough that I get all the "good stuff" from it (information, opportunities, new people) while not accepting the negativity.

  • Looking good to me, thank you! – Tinkeringbell Apr 13 at 16:59
  • Why did you give the weight, height and 'ugliness' of the only woman in your story? What kind of person thinks that information is relevant? (Hint, not a kind one) – swbarnes2 Apr 27 at 23:52
  • I note you said Few respect X, but some feel they can get an advantage if they become X's friend, then you said How can I ... Possible maintain a relationship with him enough that I get all the "good stuff" from it. How would you suppose a third party perceives your character on the back of these comments? – Caius Jard Apr 28 at 9:15
  • @swbarnes2 X is male, OP is assuming the only woman in the story isn't interested in X based on those characteristics. Still a pointless assumption, but hey. – Theik Apr 28 at 14:22
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Sounds like you have done an excellent job in trying to understand and get along with X. I've been there myself and will draw mainly from personal experience for this answer.

The one constant I see is that he undermines all of your efforts to get close to him and be respectful of each other. You have to resort to trickery, and that only works until he figures out your latest trick. This is not a friendship at all but a very competitive relationship of some sort.

I'm not sure what he wants from you but you are clear what you want from him:

  • information,
  • opportunities,
  • new people

When I found myself listing the benefits of a bad relationship rather than giving up on it, later I discovered that all the benefits I had wanted were also available through other venues. I did not have to hold onto a manipulative and pretentious person to get a few nuggets of gold. In fact, the gold is very tarnished by the time one wrests it from such a person. But before you make a decision, let's look at your questions.

1) How can I diffuse arguments with X?

I hate to break it to you, but you can diffuse arguments only if he is willing to have them be diffused. From what you describe, it appears that he takes pleasure in aggravating you. He seems to realize that not allowing arguments to be diffused is one of the best ways to aggravate you. You may have to decide whether the benefits of his acquaintance are worth the hassle.

2) How can I stop wasting time dealing with trivial issues with X?

The best method I know is to turn a deaf ear, tune him out, cut him out. Pay attention to him only when and if he acts his age and talks about things that truly interest you and are worth your time. Unfortunately, based on your descriptions of him, my guess is he may not take kindly to this and demand your attention so that you have to "lay down the law," and "draw the line" regarding what kind of behaviour you will accept from him.

3) How can I possibly maintain a relationship with him enough that I get all the "good stuff" from it (information, opportunities, new people) while not accepting the negativity?

Like I said above, you may have to decide whether the benefits of his acquaintance are worth the hassle. If you stand up for yourself as I suggest above, you are forcing him to choose whether or not he wants to remain in relationship with you. In other words, you risk losing him. Is this what you want?

Or would you rather be in control of this? If so, you may have to put up with his manipulations and pretentiousness, since being manipulative and pretentious may be more important to him than being in a relationship with you. You decide.

Side Note: What he will do when he realizes you will actually carry through with your warnings is unpredictable. The behaviour you describe sounds a great deal like I have been reading online about narcissistic personality disorder. Such people "hoover" or "suck" their victims back when they seem to be getting away. You have already described that kind of behaviour, i.e. he appears to be nice until you are back in his grips again.

Consider Your Options

As stated above, the benefits you are currently getting from him are also available through others. In fact, when he is no longer hanging around you, other more desirable people may befriend you. You say X is not a nice person. Others who might be good friends for you possibly keep their distance so long as you are hanging out with X, since they don't care for his pretentious and manipulative personality. Most likely they can't be quite sure if you are the same as X or if you are a decent person they would like to be with if it weren't for X.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, how you deal with X is your personal decision, based on what is important to you in your own life. X must take responsibility for himself and his life. You are not responsible for him. You are responsible only for yourself. And I assure you, you can get the benefits you are seeking through other friends than him. And at a much lower cost.

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Before I actually address your question, I think it's important to acknowledge some other facets to the problem.

Firstly, you might be misinterpreting Y's feelings toward X. Did you talk to her? I know from personal experience that many women (not all, but many) will laugh or smile out of politeness. It's possible she, like you, is conflict-averse and is trying to diffuse the situation by going along with it rather than showing her frustration at his antagonistic sense of humor.

Secondly, "manipulation" generally implies some kind of cunning. Can he really extract information from people by being manipulative, or does he just hound them until they tell him something? I'm inclined to think there's a difference between telling someone something because you think they're a nuisance and telling them because they deceived or convinced you. Are people hanging out with him because they were pressured to, or because they actually have something to gain?

Thirdly, everything you described makes it seem like he's very insecure. If he's "people-smart" and can pick up on what others feel, it's very likely that he knows people are using him for the social advantages. For that reason, he could be very paranoid about keeping people around and therefore tries to coerce "friendships" by finding gossip as a deterrent to leave him behind. He might ask people about you thinking that you're talking about him behind his back, rather than to find gossip (a perk rather than a goal).

So not to be that person, but I'm going to add an option that you might want to consider if and only if you trust him and have a good gut feeling about this: an honest conversation when you two are alone. For example, in the case of the grades, you could wait until you're out of earshot. Then, just tell him how this action makes you feel. Be straightforward and matter-of-fact, but honest. There's no point in asking why he did it (he did it because he's insecure and wants to make himself look better), and there's no point in accusing him of any ill will (because he'll likely take offense regardless of personality or intention). If you say: "X, it embarrasses me when you tell people that I got a low grade. It makes me think that I cannot trust you with personal information." And if he does it again, you can remind him of what you said the last time. (If you're feeling lucky you can also give him an ultimatum: "don't tell other people my grades without my permission or I won't tell you what I got.")

If you're around other people, you might be able to diffuse this negativity by redirecting attention to other people. So in the case of X and Y, if X makes an inside joke, explain what the joke means so Y feels included. If X has something highly negative to say about the topic at hand, ask for his opinion on something tangentially related to which he would definitely respond positively. This one I have tried before on new acquaintances when music came up. One person started ranting about K-Pop (knowing that others in the group like it), so I told him that he's entitled to his opinion and asked him music he actually likes then. And then I led by example and didn't make fun of his taste when he started listing bands. I don't know if he understood that I was making a point, but maybe your friend will.

And to address your last point: I may be echoing other users here, but I do think there's something important to be said. If he is truly a toxic person, you might want to distance yourself from him without exacerbating the situation. I assume you're in high school - could you just ghost him when you go to college, and play nice until then? At that point, you would only see him or hear from him occasionally, I would think, when your families have get-togethers. (And, depending on your relationship with your parents, they may be willing to cover for you so you can avoid talking to him more than necessary. Or maybe they can keep your information more private to avoid having it all get back to X.)

If you want him to be a connection or acquaintance, treat him like one. Stay on good terms with him, but don't sacrifice your morals. Hang out with other friends. Make some new friends that wouldn't know him. You don't need him for social advantages; you can make friends who are kind and compassionate and still offer the same "benefits" as him. Ultimately, we make friends because we care about them, not because we want to use them. If that's the only thing keeping you with him, you need to put some space between you. But if you genuinely worry that this will backfire and that he'll retaliate or harass you, make sure that you stay friendly like before but also guarded.

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I think you ought to evaluation just how much actual benefit you will get from being close to this person, especially in the long term.

This sort of person eventually gets on other people's bad sides by making fun of them, being too pretentious, or just by being irritating. When people begin to dislike him, they will likely associate that dislike to his close friends. If you are one of those people, you could lose a lot of friends or social status. Is the short term benefit of his knowledge and connections worth the risk? In my life the answer with similar people has been no.

Practically here is how I would handle things if you choose to stop being close to him.

  • Let him know that you aren't interested in making fun of people and excuse yourself anytime he starts doing that. That will show the people around you that you aren't complicit in his bad behavior.
  • Be polite to him in the way you would like him to respect other people.
  • Try not to let it disrupt your parent's friendship with his parents. Let them know how you feel about X and his behavior, but try to be willing and understanding when there are times that you're forced to spend time around him.

I assume that you are still in High School due to your age, so remember that when you graduate and move on to bigger and better things you won't have to deal with him anymore if you don't want to.

I know this can be a tricky situation, so best of luck to you!

p.s. You say that there is no chance that a girl is attracted to him because he is fairly short, skinny, and (according to you) ugly, I think you underestimate how much people's tastes vary. Girls may like him either romantically or as a friend for the same reason you like being his friend, he is a source of knowledge and connections. Some people care more about that than traditional attractiveness

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