Question: I'm a college sophomore and I am close with a group of girls from my freshman dormitory. One of them, "Allison," relies on me too much, and I can't handle it anymore.
Allison is constantly asking to borrow my car (she can afford an Uber), get my help planning her class schedule, or asking for support in a crisis. Recently, she texted in a panic at 2 a.m., and I arrived breathless and worried only to realize she was overwhelmed because she loved her boyfriend so much.
A mutual friend, "Alex," is equally close, yet Allison burdens only me with her problems. I've tried to gently explain to her that acting as her security blanket is emotionally draining for me and that she should try to reach out to Alex or others as well as me, but she acted deeply offended and was angry with me for being "selfish."
I can barely remember the girl I befriended and can hardly stand to be around her. She has yet to get the hint that she needs to back off.
If I just cut off this friendship, that would cause a huge rift in my other friendships. It would also be devastating to Allison, and I still care for her. Any advice?
Answer: Thank Allison profusely for teaching you that saying no is an essential skill, though she has no idea she's doing it. This could be the most valuable thing you learn in college.
If you don't want 2 a.m. crisis texts, turn off your phone.
If you get a crisis text at a more reasonable hour, define "crisis" before you agree to go anywhere. If you get suckered, express your frustration and say you won't rush there again. Then don't.
If you don't want to lend your car anymore, say you're not lending your car anymore. (Really - stop.)
If you don't want to plan Allison's class schedule, say you have enough to manage with your own and suggest she see her adviser.
If you're done being suckered, pick more mature friends.
This stress you're under isn't a matter of Allison's asking too much, or her failure to spread it around by asking Alex sometimes instead. Your seeing it that way makes Allison the one who is in control of this situation, and of you - since you're just asking and waiting for her to make changes for you.
But you're in control - of you, your time, your phone, your car, your definition of crisis and your availability to help with one real or imagined. All you.
Slide a peek over at Alex; I'm as confident as I can be about a complete stranger that Allison doesn't badger her for anything because her hysterics don't work on Alex.
When Allison accused you of being selfish, that was manipulation 101. Do you see it? Allison spun her neediness into your fault.
Until you do see it, you'll be dogged by Allisons. They spot people more worried about losing their friends than about losing themselves, and they latch on. The powerlessness you feel is what losing yourself feels like.
It's not uncommon, but fix it now, please - with a counselor at school if need be - while your Allison is just Allison and not your boss, child, or spouse.
Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.