Should I tell them I don’t like this gift?

My best friend and roommate got me a gift that is “the best thing she’s ever gotten me because she knows I’ll love it so much”, but I hate it and now she wants it displayed in our living room. Should I tell her that I really don’t like it?


The German word for “poison” is “Gift.”

04-07-13-44-55 / 33


Happy holidays Diner. To eliminate misunderstanding and hurt feelings, Fortune Cookies prefer communicating with our batchmates via psychic link, but humans are usually made and sent out into the world in batches of one. That option isn’t available to the great majority of you—identical siblings excepted (a secret they protect fiercely).

You typically pick friends for their similar personalities. [1] But sometimes that connection just doesn’t sync, and you end up with bad gifts from your besties. You appreciate the gesture, but quite simply, you hate it. What to do? Other columns with a more fast-food approach to advice would tell you to simply talk to your friends. “Just be honest,” they’d say, but they’d neglect telling you “how.”

Chinese cuisine understands the delicate interplay between sweet, conflict-free cohabiting and sour honesty. Seeing you placed an Order with us, you surely appreciate this subtle balance—or understand no other establishments are open today.

Either way, tense living arrangements are traditional ingredients in Chinese households, and as such, we’ll serve up something as palatable as possible.

First and foremost, smile. We discussed in the last Fortune that your mood directly flavors your very understanding of what happiness is. Accept it with grace and understand what your friend saw in the present that reminded them of you. Remember that someone spent time and energy making it. At a more global scale, it contributed to salaries. If you understand the deeper story, it will give you another level to enjoy it.

Then display your gift. In other Fortunes we talk about the psychological effect where familiarity builds appreciation. The more you see this gift, the more it will grow on you.

If you still don’t like the present after all, it’s time for some beginning of the year cleaning—just in time for Chinese New Year. Put it away or donate it, depending on how much grief you will get. Someone will enjoy the gift much more than you, especially at a markdown. You’ll be surprised how quickly your friend forgets about the gift, as they have lives and stresses of their own taking up their attention. If they end up asking about it, be gentle but honest, but chances are, they would feel as awkward talking to you about it as you are now.

Over the year, be more helpful guiding your friend on exactly what you want. Alternatively, suggest a new tradition of donating to your favorite charity. The best gift is giving to others—regardless of season or culture.

Bon appetit. With grace and appreciation, you can end the year with a peaceful household, hungry to start a brand new year. Let everyone here at the Bakery—the Baker, Science Adviser, and all the Cookies—wish you good luck, Diner, good luck.

Reference:

[1] Dryer, D. C., & Horowitz, L. M. (1997). When do opposites attract? Interpersonal complementarity versus similarity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72(3), 592.

How do I get out of this potential roommate situation?

Help me Fortune Cookie! I’m currently apartment hunting with two other people for a three bedroom place. But I’m having second thoughts. You see, one of those friends has a minimum wage part time job, and school is making it very hard for them to find more work. I’m afraid they won’t make enough to keep up with the rent and utilities. They’re both good friends, and I don’t want to make anyone feel bad, but I really want to start looking for two-bedroom places with my other friend. What do I do?


You can’t sit with us.

04-08-13-41-59 / 31


Hello Diner. You’re preparing a bitter recipe for hurt feelings, which is probably why you placed this Order. Your original plan makes sense. It’s very easy to get together and think about all the great times you’ll share as roommates. But then the stagnant stench of reality fills the room, and soon you’re choking to get out. That’s why promising flirtations become unanswered messages. That’s why idealistic policies become comic strip fodder.

Your friend’s feelings are going to be hurt–especially if you keep your other friend as a roommate. You humans are so averse to being left out that it doesn’t matter who’s doing the rejecting. Researchers found that even when members of the KKK excluded someone in a game, that person was just as distressed when someone they liked acted this way. [1] Keep in mind, these are all adults.

I can’t say how long people stay mad, or whether they fully forgive everyone, but your new living situation will be a constant reminder that you two once left them out. That would be hard to get over.

“That’s fine, Fortune Cookie,” you might say. “Thanks for the guilt trip. Now what do I do?”

Of course, Diner. We couldn’t leave it at that. There would be no repeat customers! The simplistic solution would be to just tell the truth and have them be mad at you–possibly even ending the friendship, but you specifically said in your Order: “no hurt feelings.”

Avoiding hurt feelings is a little more challenging–like making gluten-free fortune cookies: harder to chew and a little off. Apologies, Diner, we’ll try our best to cater to what you can stomach.

If it’s about finances, you can help your friend make the same conclusion you did–that they just can’t afford it in the long run without major changes. Put together a budget and show them what’s the long term financial expectation. You don’t have to start with, “I don’t think you can afford it.” Instead, start fresh with all three of you seeing what apartments you can afford with everything split evenly, limiting costs to what your low-earning friend can pay long-term. The available choices may surprise all three of you. Your friend may realize their expectations are a little high, or the places you all can afford aren’t really that bad.

But if the apartments really are that bad, and it came down to safety or just wanting a better standard of living, you would just have to be honest. At best your friend would understand and voluntarily remove themselves from the arrangement. At worst, it would seem less personal or unreasonable.

Ask yourself again why you want out. If it’s because you don’t like the person enough, telling them that truth would reset your relationship to a more honest one. In the long run, you’ll save yourself the tiring effort of having to deal with someone incompatible with you.

To be the most fair and least offensive to this friend, you will have to turn down both friends.

Part of your human experience is to go through uncomfortable situations and learn how to negotiate them with more finesse and nuance next time. Whatever happens, you’ll come out better in the end–hurt feelings or otherwise. Good luck, Diner.

References:

[1] Gonsalkorale, K., & Williams, K. D. (2007). The KKK won’t let me play: Ostracism even by a despised outgroup hurts. European Journal of Social Psychology, 37(6), 1176-1186.

 

How do I reach out for support without feeling like a burden?

I haven’t been doing well for quite a while now and I feel like people are getting fed up with me. How do I get rid of this feeling that people are impatient with me when I reach out for support?


Many need very little more than to be heard.

06-13-23-28-43 / 06


Dear Diner,

You may have seen the famous, and perhaps slightly over-lauded film, Forrest Gump. There is a highly quoted part of the film in which the protagonist claims, in his Southern drawl, that “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” I’d like to begin my guest fortune by taking issue with this quote. Because, yes, life may be like a box of chocolates, but that means that more often than not, you’re going to land on ones filled with some strange bitter liquor that you’d rather have avoided. Firstly, then, I’m sorry you’ve landed on more than your fair share of less-than-nice chocolates, but please be assured that you’re not alone. I can promise that there’ll be a sweet one eventually. Such is, after all, the nature of random assortments.

Your question, however, is a little more specific than that, and I’m going to attempt to address it systematically and simply. Right now, Diner, you might be regretting sharing your problems and feelings with those around you, and I’m here to reassure you that there is, generally, absolutely nothing wrong with doing so. Indeed, psychologists the whole world over unanimously highlight the key nature of sharing, communicating, and talking about problems during the process of therapeutic recuperation. We all know what they say about a problem shared, and it’s not wrong. Reaching out for support is more than what most people have the courage and determination to do, so you need not feel badly about requiring a listening ear. I think, as long as you know that you would do the same for them in their time of need, you can rest in the knowledge that your true friends will love you, support you, distract you, and, maybe most importantly, tell you when they think it would benefit you to talk about something else.

With that being said, I have an important reminder for you. My allusion to the box of chocolates at the beginning is indicative of the fact that everyone has their own sadnesses. Everyone has one or two or twenty-five really, really bad chocolates in the box. The truth is that the human condition is such that we’re all just fumbling for a way to deal with our own problems before dealing with those of others, and very few of us really know what we’re doing. So, yes, in all honesty, sometimes it’s possible that people might not know how to help you anymore, depending on what’s going on in their lives - but that’s not your fault, and there’s no shortage of ways around it.

Therapy, for one, dearest anonymous diner, does absolute wonders. The impartiality of the therapist is crucial to being able to shed a new and different light on the problems which may be present in your life. It is the safest of spaces, free of biases or personal implications, and I recommend it highly. It is, quite literally, impossible for you to burden your therapist, since the clinician-patient relationship requires them to help and listen to you until you are done talking. And, let me tell you, they are very much willing and interested in doing so. Consider using the therapist’s space to your advantage, in the knowledge that it is there to help and nothing else.

Secondly, I think it’s important to be selective in the information you choose to share with your friends and family, with which of these people you choose to share it, and at what point in time. You might know that you have some friends in whom you can confide with more ease than others, and incidentally, those are likely your closer friends, who I would hope have huge reserves of patience and love when it comes to helping one that they love. Talk to them, share with them, by all means. But, so too, foster a two-way caring, honest and safe relationship with those people, and make sure to cultivate the aspects of your friendship with them that are not connected to what you are going through. A reminder that life goes on despite the horrors going on in your head might just be what the doctor ordered, and it is these friendships which can help to put that all in perspective.

Remember dear diner, that you are loved. As long as you show your love and gratitude to the people who are helping you through this time of need, I am sure they will happily continue to extend their hand to you, and pick you up from the ground. Just know that one day, you’ll likely have to extend your hand too. As long as they know that, then I would think that you can rest easy in the knowledge that they are simply helping you find the sweetest chocolates, as you will do for them one day soon.

All my love,

Vix

The wonderful, talented, and published Vix Jensen once again lends her voice to help answer an Order. You can read her other Fortune about having tough conversations with kids here.

Will I ever stop feeling lame for not having many friends?

Even online I have a hard time meeting people and becoming friends with them.


Friends can stand with you, but not for you.

25-33-38-45-53 / 13


Hello Diner. I will respond to your question with a question. If “not having many friends” makes you feel lame, how many friends will be enough? Ten more? A hundred more?

Satisfaction is naturally impossible to achieve so long as you’re unsatisfied. I think there is another question in there, which I’ll address later, but to answer your original Order, you will stop feeling lame when you stop feeling lame. “When” depends on how long you continue to criticize yourself for not meeting your own expectations.

But you eventually will. The more life you experience, the more people you will meet. Some of those people will have compatible personalities and will gladly be your friends. Furthermore, having more years of practice living in your own skin, you will be more comfortable in it. You will stop worrying about whether you belong, and simply belong.

It is very much like the time you realized you were an adult. I don’t mean being old enough to drink and vote, but when you simply were an adult. One day, you realized you’ve been meeting your responsibilities and living as you chose for some time now. You just didn’t notice when it happened.

That’s how being comfortable in your social group feels. You just become content. If that’s all you were wondering, great, but I’m guessing that’s only part of your question. If that’s true, your question is probably, “how do I stop feeling lame, faster?” or “how do I feel like I belong?” or maybe even “how do I belong?”

Again, the question of “how much?” comes into play.

So let’s ask the question this way, Diner: How do I be universally liked and accepted? Let’s assume “how much?” is “everyone,” OK?

We explored in this Fortune that groups, when first encountering an outsider, naturally reacts coldly toward that person. In that last Fortune, the “outsider” was a student dressed in a black bag as a political statement, not knowing at the time he will be the classic example of a scientific theory.

This is probably the reaction that discourages you. You then go into a cycle of feeling like an outsider and withdraw before the group has a chance to know you–making you feel more ostracized. What’s worse, you might even go looking for signs that people dislike you. Good old confirmation bias. But remember that things got better for the student in the black bag. The other students started protecting and defending him, without ever finding out who he was.

So show up and be present. Participate. As always, never be afraid to discuss this with a counselor. It will be scary at first, but without noticing the change, you will get better, find your equals, and simply belong. Science has proven this. Good luck, Diner.

Why can’t I make new friends?

I talk with college friends, but they live in other states. I’ve moved around in the last few years and now that I’m settled, I can’t connect with anyone new. I make sure to participate in group activities (gym, etc) where I can interact with people of similar hobbies. I have a significant other, which is fantastic, but I need a local friend. My coworkers are kind but do not include me in socializing. I’m sad I haven’t made new friends but don’t know how to fix it.


Sailors look to the North Star because it is exactly where they would find it.

06-13-45-56-58 / 03


Hello Diner. The closest things we Fortune Cookies have to what humans consider friends are you Diners. But seeing as you crush and eat us after our first meeting, Fortune Cookies have a unique and short-lived view of what friendship is. I say this with no malice. You are our purpose, and our life’s work is to help you. You, Diner, are truly my friend. Making friends is easy for Fortune Cookies; we come with your bill. You found us. But with your existence spanning decades and cities, your friendships become orbits through so many dimensions that we marvel at the complexity of your long, unmasticated lives.

So how do you make friends, you ask?

Just show up.

Since the 1960s, social scientists have been studying the mere-exposure effect. In his study, Dr. Zajonc cited this very interesting story about how an Oregon State student showed up every day to class covered in a black bag as a political statement. The act serendipitously became a famous psychological case study. At first the other 20 students were hostile toward this student. But just by showing up, the Black Bag received warmer and warmer reception from the class. By the time the press started coming to class as the Black Bag’s story became more widespread, the class even protected him from excessive harassment. Zajonc’s study scientifically validated this effect.

You’ve mentioned you participated in a few group hobbies, but you’re still having difficulty finding a local friend. Please understand that I’m not saying you’re harder to befriend than a guy in a black bag. Remember the students in the Black Bag’s class were hostile toward him in the beginning. He had personal reasons for keeping it up, but imagine how hard it would be for anyone to face that hostility, let alone someone who is shy and self-conscious? What we can learn from the Black Bag is that if you’re present and true to your values, your equals will find you.

What you need to remember is that friendship is a relationship just like romances are relationships. We mention in this Fortune that finding people who click with you is largely a matter of working on self-doubt and simply having enough people to choose from. Read that Fortune. The same advice applies here. Keep looking and keep showing up. Your situation will get better. After all, you found me, and that’s not a bad start at all. Good luck, Diner.

References:

Zajonc, R. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9 (2, Pt.2), pp. 1-27 DOI: 10.1037/h0025848

Vleugels, A. (2012). Ten unusual experiments in the name of science – The black bag experiment. Retrieved August 8, 2014 from http://www.united-academics.org/magazine/badscience/ten-unusual-experiments-in-the-name-of-science-the-black-bag-experiment/

Why do I care so much for those who don’t seem to care about me?

I’m always the one that is there for everyone. I’m always the one checking up on everyone. But who checks up on me? Who is there for me when I need someone to ask me how I’m doing? Not a single person. Am I that horrible? I’m the one picking up the pieces for everyone else. I’m the one trying to help whenever and however I can. But nobody seems to be willing to return the favor. Why? How do I deal with this?


What you have and what you hold are rarely the same.

02-13-25-31-33 / 02


Hello Diner. It seems now would be one of those times you need help. How are you? I’m happy you asked us Fortune Cookies for guidance, but it seems you have trouble asking those close to you. Being made of the same dough, we Fortune Cookies constantly feel the emotional support of our batch-mates. For humans, their path of finding that support is a lot more labyrinthine.

People sometimes lavish care when they need it themselves. Asking for it is hard because they don’t want to seem needy or attention seeking. Maybe they feel undeserving. They just hope friends will get the idea. If friends miss these hints, it leaves these caregivers feeling abandoned and cheated out of recognition.

What’s worse is that the friends aren’t aware of this emotional economy, with good reason: they believe that the caregiver (you) is helping out of kindness and not as an exchange of services. Since they are busy with their own trouble, asking about you isn’t first in their minds. They assume you are fine since you haven’t asked for help and you have the capacity to help them. Your friends probably: 1) don’t know to return the favor, 2) don’t see what you did as a “favor” that needs repayment, 3) are busy with their own problem, and 4) assume you don’t need any help.

Therefore, you are certainly not a horrible person who isn’t valued. They wouldn’t trust you with their intimate problems otherwise. You’re looking for more balanced friendships. Here’s how you can develop them:

1. Understand asking for help doesn’t make you a bad person. If it does, you just labeled all of the friends you helped bad people.

2. Realize you already know how to ask for help. Ask your friends what you need the same way they ask you.

3. Stop if you just doubted these previous two recommendations. Do you honestly not trust your friends? Do you believe you’re not worth help? Work all those doubts out.

4. Expect nothing in return. I’m not suggesting that you continue suffering in silence. I’m recommending that you throw away the ledger. Help your friends. Ask for help. These are two different things, and neither one is emotional currency.

Change is hard, but if any of these recommendations are non-starters, ask yourself why. Trust that your friends want to help. Trust that they can. There are toxic people out there, but for all of your friends to be this way, you would have had to painstakingly seek out people who would systematically exploit you and discard you when you need them. You can find these toxic people if they would repeatedly deflect your needs while they still asked for help. Trust your friends. Give them a chance to respond to you instead of expecting them to know. You will soon notice you no longer have to “deal with” one sided friendships. It’s going to take work, but it’s not impossible. Trust me on that, Diner.

How do I tell a very old friend that she is selfish and self involved?

How do I tell a very old friend that she is selfish and self involved? She thinks she is a wonderful person who her friends adore, but she drives us all nuts and it’s a very one sided relationship.


In a universe of stars, it is rarely all about you.

02-13-15-20-29 / 02


Hello Diner. In another Fortune, I advised that one-sided romances should be ended early and directly. A friendship should be no different. But sometimes it is not that easy. A very old friend in your case may be a sister or brother in another Diner’s situation. Either way breaking things off would be hard. Therefore, I can help you understand possible reasons for her behavior, and you decide from there what would be best for you.

It sounds like your friend has narcissistic tendencies. I cannot diagnose her, but for simplicity I will use the word “narcissist.” Drs. Morf and Rhodewalt point out that a narcissist is very entitled and self-important, but he/she also seeks admiration from others to keep up this grandiose view. A narcissist finds it hard to feel for others; they often use their social circles as comparisons instead of as intimate, give-and-take friendships. The authors also note that the narcissist’s personality is usually off-putting, and that may lead to driving away the one thing he/she craves: admiration from others. It is a very vulnerable kind of personality, and you may have noticed your friend lashing out when she feels a real or imagined threat to her standing.

This type of personality comes from a very deep and old place in your friend’s life. Remember these important things:

You are not her therapist. Narcissists seek out complementary personalities that help them maintain their sense of superiority–people who will go out of their way to help make the narcissist feel important. Without training, helping will make the behavior worse.

Chastising her will not help. Narcissists have developed defenses that help them turn off threats to their fragile sense of importance. Tough love will fall on deaf ears.

It is not your fault. Your friend is in a constant state of survival since her self image is very fragile. She is effectively using you as fuel to keep herself going, and in survival conditions people look out for themselves.

She cannot see what is wrong. Since this is her personality, she does not have any other way of viewing the world. This kind of personality makes it hard to imagine what it is like in other people’s heads and to understand how her behavior is affecting other people.

The Internet has the full spectrum of ways to deal with someone who may be a narcissist. Advice range from accommodating that person’s behavior to confronting the person and forcing an inevitable separation. Be careful in your research.

I advise that you do not put yourself in a position to be used for someone else’s fragile sense of importance. Because this is your Fortune, you are the one who matters to me. That said, only you know of the intricacies of your relationship with your friend. She means no ill will, but she also cannot help herself. Remember to protect yourself. Remember to be fair to yourself. Good luck searching your soul, Diner.

 

Reference:

 

Morf, Carolyn C., Rhodewalt, Frederick (2001). Unraveling the paradoxes of narcissism: A dynamic self-regulatory processing model. Psychological Inquiry, Vol 12(4), 177-196. doi:10.1207/S15327965PLI1204_1