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Woe Is Me! “How Do I Deal With My Defensive Best Friend?”

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Dec 27, 2020

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Image Credit: Sagina Mahato (1970)

Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.


My guy best friend keeps forgetting about things he’s said before and then says that I’m obsessed with being right when I correct him. How do I deal with this?

Say What Again?


RD: Hello, kindred spirit. As someone who also likes to be right all the time, I’d say maybe lay off for a while. The thing is — when someone is being defensive, there’s not much you can say or do to make them see your perspective. As long as he feels attacked, he’s not listening to you. And if you can’t stop for a while to repair this part of your relationship for now, then simply pick your battles. Is the topic you’re disagreeing about really that important for you to then have to deal with antagonistic comments from him? Sometimes, letting things go for a friend maybe more important than being right — as long as you value the friendship. (Again, it really depends on what you’re disagreeing about — if it’s something serious, like his values or ideals, or how he sees people who are different than him, it might be worth pressing. But maybe it’s how you approach the discussion that needs changing?)

KB: Having a great memory can be a curse — you remember every stupid thing everyone has ever said or done. How long ago did this fellow say these things? Was it 10 years ago? If so, he gets a pass. Was it last week? Well, then maybe you should take him to a doctor. Jokes, aside, context is important here. If these conversations are spiraling in front of other people, it’s possible he feels attacked or undermined when he thinks you should have his back.

However, if this is happening when you’re alone, and the conversation is not remotely antagonistic, I wonder why he feels so sensitive about this. I hate to ask, but are you a know-it-all? Is he the only one who has ever given you this feedback, or have others told you they have a hard time disagreeing with you? You may want to introspect — it’s possible there’s something about your style of pointing out his memory lapses that makes him feel sensitive. And one other thing to consider: if this friend is really important to you, you may want to consider dropping some of these arguments. Sometimes people change their minds, forget things, or reconsider an old position, and sometimes, the kindest thing a friend can do is let it go.

ADT: Okay, so I’m a terribly forgetful person and I also often get defensive when I forget things — that’s normal! You’re bound to resent the implication that you cause irritation to other people’s perfectly normal lives. Now, I think there are two ways to go about this silly predicament you find yourself in — you either are patient enough to sit with your friend and let him know that he’s loved but he’s also being an oaf because these things simply do not matter enough to get worked up over. Or, you just stop reminding him that you’d said these things before because again, it doesn’t really matter! It truly sucks to be told this (trust me, I know) but sometimes, you do have to chill a bit and not care.

DR: I hate it when that happens. Here’s an idea for you: next time you’re hanging out with him, why don’t you make a note of, say ten things, he says — along with a rough timestamp? Bring those things up a month later, and if he denies having said any of it, show him your notes. I know it might not help his belief that you’re “obsessed with being right,” but it’ll show him that his own memory cannot be relied upon, and that you are, in fact, quite right a lot of times.

In addition, if he has this tendency to forget about things he has said, he probably has similar arguments with others too. So, you could speak to a few common friends that the two of you share, and stage a pseudo-intervention — letting him know his memory isn’t the most trustworthy. Good luck!

LG: Hmmm, this is a tough one. On the one hand, I have an objectively and documented-ly terrible memory. (I often forget having had conversations — like, entire conversations, just … poof! Up in smoke.) and my partner, with his near-perfect recall, frequently sighs in disbelieving exasperation at my gobsmacked face over something he says he’s already told me three times. So, I can relate to your friend’s tendency not only to forget, but also to get annoyed at someone constantly having a more accurate recollection of events. (Which doesn’t excuse his defensiveness and projections on your intent!) It’s frustrating when someone knows your words and actions better than you do yourself. Maybe, like mine, your friend’s memory is more a compilation of gists, impressions, and emotions, whereas yours is more specific and detail-oriented. If that seems to be the case, then maybe pick and choose the times you offer up the photographic recall to only the times it’s absolutely necessary.

On the other hand, I notice you only say he forgets about things he has said before. If he’s only forgetting about some things he’s said, and this isn’t part of a larger forgetful tendency (does he forget things you’ve told him? his parents have told him? other friends have told him? does he forget important dates? etc) then it becomes more suspect. If this is the case, it sounds like he doesn’t want to take responsibility for what he says and is choosing to gaslight you by reframing your attempts to hold him accountable to his words as an obsessive need to be right. It’s not the same thing at all! And don’t let him confuse you. If this is the case, he doesn’t sound like much of a good friend, let alone a best friend. You can either confront him and ask him why he’s gaslighting you and why he’s so uncomfortable acknowledging what he said, or you can do a friend breakup. Or you may end up doing both. Good luck to you, you big-brained beauty.

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Written By The Swaddle Team

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