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A little background:

  • I'm attending a large university in an English-speaking western country
  • I live at an international campus residence which has about a hundred international resident students living there
  • I befriended an Asian girl who was always eating alone during dinner time. She could not even speak a word of English but because I spoke her native language we could communicate and got along just fine.
  • We talked for up to 2 hours every day during dinner time
  • We hung out from time to time, watching movies, going on short trips, playing games, etc. either the two of us, or with my other friends

Lately, I've become discontent with the state of our friendship. From reflection and looking at our chat history, she has never asked me to do something with her (i.e. hang out); it's always been me asking her to do something. She also never messages me first. In the rare instances she does message me first, it's only because she needs help with something like her computer, English, etc.

I stopped messaging her for about a month thinking maybe I was always asking her to hang out and not giving her a chance to ask me, but no contact from her.

Today, I was at the library eating and looking down. I looked up, and there she was. No "hello", No "how are you?", just "Can you help me with this? Just 1 question". I helped her and then tried to make small talk with her but she said she had to go back to studying and went off.

She has other friends apart from me and she does hang out with them (concerts, BBQ, etc.) but I'm not sure if her friends are always the ones initiating events as well.

The problem: I feel like I am being used. She never initiates conversations or asks me to hang out. If she does initiate a conversation, which is very rare, it's because she needs help. When we are at dinner, we typically have great conversations and she's always smiling and fun to be around with. I'd like her to be the same way outside dinner.

What I would like: I'd like her to ask me to hang out and do things together or at least not always be asking me for help. Note that I'm NOT interested in a romantic relationship. I would like to be (good) friends and leave it at that.

How can I communicate what I would like to her gently and without being rude?

  • 17
    Would you mind narrowing down which part of Asia? e.g. SE Asia, East Asia etc. Since moving to East Asia and dating/being friends with East Asian girls (not talking about ones that grew up in a "western" country), that culturally they will never ask you to do something with them and that goes for initiating conversation by text. Depending on this it really could just be a cultural thing. – Y12K Nov 21 '17 at 9:37
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    @SupremeGrandRuler Specific country would be helpful context - Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultural norms are very different as regards this type of relationship and circumstance. Even China vs HK or Taiwan would be a significant factor (or big-city China vs small-city China, even). It would also be helpful to know whether you are also from the same country or whether you simply happen to speak the language. – J... Nov 22 '17 at 12:25
  • Update: I ended up talking to her about it today. She said it was basically because 1) she's a loner, 2) she's only free on weekends and hangs out with her classmates then. – user3178 Dec 2 '17 at 7:18
1

I have been in the both sides of this kind of relationships.

On the side of him/her, I was feeling needy, like if I was bothering him/her, as if I had no value and as if he was doing it due to pity or charity. Asking you something is just finding an excuse to get in touch with you (creating herself a need for doing this, she might find the strength to overcome her issues).

On your side, if you want to change the state of your relationship, since you've take all the initiatives since then, you can do it one last time. I did it when I was in your situation, I have asked to see the other one in a quiet place. First I told how I find him/her (smart, entertaining, interesting, full of wisdom, whatever), what was my feeling about the current state of the relationship (it's important to keep your comments subjective, 'I think'/'I feel'/'To me') and lastly tell what you expect from this relationship. It might be hard for both of you, but it will straighten the things but if you think it worth it, go for it.

74

The devil's advocate.

Note:

My answer relies on a few inferences between what you've told us. Tell me if I'm wrong and I'll adjust/delete my answer.

I used to be like her, and part of me still is like that. You're inferring negative things about her actions. While you're of course allowed to have an opinion about the state of your friendship, there are explanations for her behavior that can be mitigating:

  • I used to be incredibly socially anxious, to a point where I assumed that talking to someone or asking to meet up came across (to myself) as being presumptuous.
  • Often, I would end up hoping a friend talked to me, because it'd be rude if I initiated the conversation (they might be busy and I'd be interrupting them.
  • The same was true of meeting up. I tended to wait for my friend to invite me. It wasn't laziness, it was fear of rejection (even if they had prior plans, it was still a rejection I wasn't ready for).

No "hello", No "how are you?", just "Can you help me with this? Just 1 question".

  • Though I'm not one to ask for help in fields I'm familiar with, asking people for help with fields I'm unfamiliar with (e.g. plumbing or general maintenance), I still feel like sinking into the ground rather than ask it. The fact that she asks you for help may be her way of tricking her anxiety into talking to people.
  • Part of not wanting to interrupt people manifests itself as being short in order to take up less of their time; and you don't realize that you come across as short (i.e. rude, not casual).
  • The worst part about social anxiety is that the fear of annoying people causes you to behave a certain way (defending against that possibility), which can ironically turn out to be the cause of why people get annoyed.

She has other friends apart from me and she does hang out with them (concerts, BBQ, etc.) but I'm not sure if her friends are always the ones initiating events as well.

  • Even though I suffered from anxiety with everyone (even family), there were a few childhood friends that I'd grown familiar with and felt at ease being myself with.
  • To you, this can come across as proof of rudeness. She relies on you to engage in the friendship, but then does not require the same of her other friends?
  • In reality, it's possible that they have been friends for long enough that it precludes her anxiety. A longstanding historical rapport with someone can give you confidence that this person will not be offended if you make a mistake. How longstanding it has to be, depends on the person and their anxiety, I'd guess.

The problem: I feel like I am being used. She never initiates conversations or asks me to hang out. If she does initiate a conversation, which is very rare, it's because she needs help. When we are at dinner, we typically have great conversations and she's always smiling and fun to be around with. I'd like her to be the same way outside dinner.

  • It's likely that she doesn't register it as being rude, because she's trying to work around her anxiety. E.g. a burning man will care little about "ladies first" when running through a door, because he is on fire. Similarly, your friend may be dealing with a severe anxiety that surpasses minor impolite actions. Her actions (which you consider rude) may simply be the lesser of two evils.
  • Once my friend engaged me in conversation, I would lose that anxiety. Since you say she's much more open during dinner, that suggests her case is very similar.

But your problem needs to be addressed too.

The problem: I feel like I am being used. She never initiates conversations or asks me to hang out. If she does initiate a conversation, which is very rare, it's because she needs help. When we are at dinner, we typically have great conversations and she's always smiling and fun to be around with. I'd like her to be the same way outside dinner.

Regardless of defending her, that doesn't mean that you just have to sit there and take it. She is your friend, she is causing some friction, she needs to address it.

Coming from personal experience, I wouldn't want to talk about my issues, since that would be presumptuous and impolite. But sometimes I was dying to have someone ask me about them, so it'd be "okay" for me to talk about it.

Before you address the real issue, you'll need to make her feel at ease.

  • Don't be upset when you initiate the conversation, because that triggers her anxiety. It suggests that her worst fears have come true, and that's going to cause instinctive behavior (likely putting a wall between you and her).
  • Ask her if she's an anxious person, if she ever feels shy, etc... More often than not, socially anxious people are unable to talk about their social anxiety. Make it clear that it's safe for her to talk about it.
  • After she explains it, acknowledge her situation. Sympathize without offering options. If she's looking particularly uncomfortable, maybe admit to sometimes feeling something similar.

At that point, you can address the behavior. This is just an example approach, it depends on what behavior your wants to address. For example, I'll focus on having you setting up social occasions and never her.

  • Mention that you brought up the questions about anxiety, because you've noticed that she doesn't often initiate a social event.
  • She might become apologetic, which suggests that she's aware of it, but likely unable to find another solution.
  • Explain to her that you're not upset, because you understand. But stress the fact that her actions can cause the exact thing she's trying to avoid.
  • If she's still openly talking to you, suggest helping her over her anxiety by making her initiate the next social event (or a few). Tell her that you won't get upset in any way when she does, and that the purpose of the exercise is for her to get comfortable with doing so.

Just to make sure: Put the stress on helping her over her anxiety, not on making her stop with her problematic behavior that annoys you. Technically, you're doing both; but the latter will likely trigger her anxiety because she needs to think about having upset you, which in turn is likely to upset her.

I would hope she agrees with that. I would've. It's exactly what I needed, and what one friend did indeed provide for me. That small boost in confidence made me repeat the behavior with his friends; and within months I went from 2 friends to 30, and suddenly had a social life.

If she shuts you down or refuses to try and initiate, then the ball is in your court.

It's fair for you to not want this kind of friendship. Regardless of mitigating circumstances, you're still the one dealing with the issue and you have the freedom to sidestep it.

If you have the patience for it, I'd suggest you let it go and try again at a later stage. If you don't have the patience for it, then don't do it. If you try it anyway, lose your cool, and get upset with her; you're going to make her fears come true (which reinforces that "her anxiety was correct all along" in her head).

If you want to dial back the friendship, but give her the chance to recover; kindly state that you need her to be more proactive, and tell her that you want her to take the lead for a while. It's in her best interest (gaining confidence), and it solves a problem that you were dealing with (having to be the one to initiate).

If she gets over it, you'll hear from her. If she doesn't, then you won't. You still have to the option of engaging her if you feel regret later, but if you truly can't deal with it anymore, you have the option of not engaging her.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – HDE 226868 Nov 27 '17 at 1:58
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First off, what you would like might not be possible. There can be a number of reasons why she doesn't initiate contact with you on her own, including but not limited to:

  • She's not the type of person to usually make plans and has been used to that for a while
  • She's socially awkward or has a misplaced sense of not wanting to annoy you even more then she already is with asking for help
  • She's romantically interested in you but fears you aren't
  • She thinks you are romantically interested in her but isn't
  • She doesn't like to be your friend but is too polite to tell you that to your face

All of these can be reasons for someone to not make plans with you of their own accord. For notice, #1 applies to me personally. It's not because I don't like my friends, it's that I never find the motivation to make plans myself, although I do want to hang out. I'm not sure if someone telling me that could change it, but you can try.

Some key points to look out for when talking to her about it:

  • Don't be accusatory ("You never make plans with me and just use me for help"). This is important
  • Make clear that you want to be friends (this alleviates #4 but if #3 is true, this might backfire. In any case, it's better to have shared expectations)
  • Don't bring up her asking for help. She either notices herself or doesn't, in any case, bringing that up in this conversation unavoidably carries an air of accusation

Ultimately, there's nothing you can say that guarantees success here, and you might have to accept that she's not the kind of person to make plans firsthand, but you might be able to pull it off.

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    I prefer your answer to the most highly voted, because it doesn't assume a single motivation. However, what do you suggest to do (as opposed to what do you suggest to not do)? – user510 Nov 21 '17 at 16:24
  • @henning You seem to have not noticed that it's explicitly mentioned that the "do nots" are for talking to her about it. Obviously, this means Magisch is suggesting that the OP discuss it with her in some fashion. – jpmc26 Nov 22 '17 at 5:27
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It seems to me as though the primary concern is that the relationship between you two is unbalanced. You being more enthusiastic to talk and hang out, and her mostly just asking for help. Before mentioning how to communicate what you want her to do, it is worth noting that she may not have noticed and there are some things you could do yourself that might satisfy the worry about imbalance and may change her attitude too, but that obviously depends on her.

I feel like I am being used. She never initiates conversations or ask me to hang out. If she does initiate a conversation (very rare), it's because she needs help.

Rather than limiting the friendly interactions (like you tried) I would match the assistance she asks of you. This is much more productive towards your goal of being friends for a few reasons:

  1. If this is simply what she expects of friends then she will be more than happy to help and will consider you a closer friend because of it.
  2. If it turns out she was using you, but just unaware then this would make her reflect on how she treats you without needing to be told.
  3. If she was using you and aware of it, then it forces her to make a decision (meet your requests, mutually lower the amount of requests or end the friendship) In the last case, it is probably for the better and would have happened however you decided to handle this.

Now in the case that you try to communicate what you are thinking to her. I think this is quite a good way to handle it and would not come across as rude as you seem to be worrying. So long as you are not demanding and make an effort to be considerate (it seems obvious already that will do this) then I think it is highly unlikely that you will come off as rude. Wanting someone to be more friendly is hardly a bad thing.

I really like hanging out with you but I worry that I'm the only one that ever makes plans

This is nice and simple, feel free to change how you like but the idea is that talking about what you like, and how you feel helps stray away from the risk that you will come across as blaming her for not hanging out with you. It is also a good idea to assume the best when talking about this. That way you are never accusing her but still bringing attention to your concerns.

4

While I agree with other answers that she might be socially anxious and too shy to initiate conversations, there's still a possibility that she is using you. Third variant would be, she is romantically interested in you and knows you're not, so she's trying to cut it while being polite.

It's quite hard to find out what it really is. Most of Asian cultures are built around hiding your real feelings and intentions. Overall "strategy" would depend on her exact origins, i.e. if she's from China you should just confront her and ask everything directly, but if she's from Japan it could hurt her in some cases, etc. (If you tell me her exact background, I'll come up with an acceptable strategy for that culture).

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The simple truth about friendships is that a friendship isn't a contract. Nobody in a friendship is obliged to do anything for the friendship. If a friendship works, it's because both people are doing as much as they want to do and are happy with that. A friendship can work when one person is initiating all of the contact and the other is merely accepting, if both people are happy with that. You can't demand a friend to have a certain level of commitment or to increase their level of commitment. If you're not happy with the friendship, the onus is not on the other person to step up. The friendship will go where it is naturally destined to go.

Lately, I've become discontent with the state of our friendship. From reflection and looking at our chat history, she has never asked me to do something with her (i.e. hang out); it's always been me asking her to do something. She also never messages me first.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but the fact that you don't like this indicates you expect more. You may have to adjust your expectations. You can't force someone to be more of a friend than they are comfortable with.

The problem: I feel like I am being used. She never initiates conversations or asks me to hang out. If she does initiate a conversation, which is very rare, it's because she needs help.

There is nothing inherently wrong with asking someone for help with things, if you are not close friends with them. There is no obligation on the person asking for help to agree to initiate more contact with you or spend time with you in return for getting help. If you are not comfortable giving help to her on the basis that she doesn't seem to want to do these things for you in return, then you are not obliged to help. But if you want to be her friend, I don't see why you wouldn't help her unconditionally.

You claim that you are being "used" - this mentality seems to come from the idea that she owes you something in return. She doesn't.

What I would like: I'd like her to ask me to hang out and do things together or at least not always be asking me for help. Note that I'm NOT interested in a romantic relationship. I would like to be (good) friends and leave it at that.

If she doesn't want to do that, she's not obliged to. We don't always get what we would like.

How can I communicate what I would like to her gently and without being rude?

You're going to have to be careful with this because just from the way you write your post, it seems you are assuming that you are entitled to various levels of commitment from her, which you aren't. Consider that she simply isn't interested in the level of friendship from you which you think she should be. You may ask her why she never seems to ask to hang out. Remember the rule: if you ask, you have to be prepared to listen to the answer, even if it's not one you would like to hear.

Many others are talking about the possibility she has social anxiety. I used to have this to a crippling degree, so I am not ignorant of this. A person with severe social anxiety is still able to communicate that they really like talking to you and hanging out with you. They may not initiate contact so much (or at all), but it should be clear from their body language / reaction that they do indeed enjoy spending time with you. And if directly asked if they like spending time with you, they are capable of saying yes (they may also be incapable of saying no if they really don't, but that's another story). So yes I do acknowledge this, but it makes the rest of the answer, about level of expectation, no less true. Be very careful of developing the idea that if they have social anxiety, you are going to help fix them. If you receive any resistance to this, don't push it. You can't force people into the role of accepting your advice, and they could well still want to do something about it, just not with your help. Anyway, we haven't established if the social anxiety theory is anything more than a theory at this stage.

  • As a person on the same boat of social anxiety, I'd love it if someone actually talked to me about that at that age, and I'd absolutely love it if people explained to me how to be a good friend for them. Even in contract form. – Ivan Skalauh Nov 22 '17 at 9:09
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I have a couple of suggestions of extra things to consider:

It's possible she avoids social events because she doesn't like one of your other friends, for some reason. That would be a difficult thing to bring up and would encourage her to want a bit of distance (from friend to school mate).

I am a do-er. I really don't like 'hanging out' - I would much rather spend time with people working on a project (or working on separate projects together). At the same time, I have friends who aren't like that - so we end up seeing movies or whatever. That's what they want to do so it's what we do - although it feels like a bit of a compromise to me. It's possible that asking for help is seen by her as a reason to hang out for a bit. If this is case, you asking for help in return (as was suggested by Jesse), would be seen as an act of friendship greater than mere movies or 'hanging out'. Mimicry builds rapport - it subconsciously says: "We're alike".

It's possible she's uncomfortable with the friendship for some other reason, and is just creating distance in general. She still sees you around, treats you like a class mate, but if you didn't cross paths naturally, she'd be fine with that. You can try to talk to her about it, but if she doesn't like confrontation and her mind is made up, you should be prepared to walk away from that friendship - and not let it tear you up too much. Sometimes people just don't click.

0

Quite a few answers have already addressed whether or not you should feel the way that you do. That isn't specifically what you asked, but I agree that it is significant.

Perhaps because of the rise of social media we now have more 'friends' than ever before, but they aren't all at the same level so many people do put boundaries in place, both online and in real life. You have your lifelong friends, your acquaintances, work mates, college mates etc... Perhaps this girl sees you as a college mate and not (yet?) a real life friend?

Another possibility is that she does actually view you as a friend but likes to keep groups of friends separate. Many people do. When all your friends are in one group it can lead to disappointment if you don't get invited to something. It is nice to have another group to turn to. If her usual friends have known each other longer or are very active socially then it could just be they have kept her busy, not that she prefers them over you.

To answer your question directly ('How can I tell my friend I don't like the state of our friendship?') - perhaps you don't need to? If she doesn't contact you of her own volition then there isn't really any friendship to address. I personally feel that asking for help from a college mate is a fairly reasonable thing to do - perhaps you just need to view her the way she views you?

If on the other hand you really want this to be a friendship and need to address it, I suggest you say something like:

I notice that we haven't hung out in a while. Why do you think that is?

See what she says. Whatever her answer, you could follow this up with:

You know, I noticed that I was the only one ever asking to hang out, and I started to wonder if you actually wanted to, seeing as you never suggest it.

Again, see what she says.

You stated that you aren't happy with the current state of the friendship. See what her evaluation of your relationship is first. If her replies make it clear that she doesn't want anything more than a chat at lunch and the occasional bit of help with work then you make your choice. Personally, I would be happy with a friendship like that, in addition to my real friends. I have a good friend at work who I don't see outside of work, except perhaps occasionally.

I don't view him as an inferior friend, rather I'm glad that I have someone to talk with when I'm at work. When I get out of work I have a few groups of friends that I can call on / hang out with. I don't feel the need to put them all in one group. I would think about that before you cut off what could be a perfectly good and useful relationship.

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