Help with a potentially toxic relationship

I could use some help on how to talk with someone who seems like a nice person but is extremely self-centered. Let’s call her Marcia. We met through a mutual friend and hit it off. We have daughters the same age, similar political beliefs, and same sense of humor. But whenever we make plans, it always has to be a place of Marcia’s choosing. We started hiking together and there is a nice trail about 5 minutes from her house, 15 minutes from mine. I like the trail and like having a friend to hike with. But when I have occasionally asked if we could go to another trail that is right in the middle of our houses, she’s acted very put out, saying it was confusing trying to figure out how to get there. (It’s not – it’s a well-known spot very easy to find). We tried jogging too, and she has a favorite place she always likes to go, so we went there several times. After jogging there numerous times I asked if we could switch things up and try some new spots. (I’m new to the area and want to explore, also it feels confining to always go to the same place.) She took this like an affront. In my experience, friends ask each other “What do YOU want to do?” and they compromise. On good days I feel like she must just be unaware of how she’s coming off (though I don’t know how you could be unaware of this!) On bad days I feel like she’s selfish and controlling. Is it worth trying to change things or is this a toxic relationship I should leave? Since our daughters are friends I don’t want to lose this family from our lives, but it’s now really bothering me.

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This relationship is neither toxic nor controlling. She just wants one thing, you want another, and she is clear about her preference. You could plan a jog at a new spot for a change of scene, invite her and jog alone if she doesn't show. She may have physical problem, anxiety, or something else that makes her choices easier for her.  Or she may just be self-centered. But in the end I think you have to decide whether you like jogging with her more, or a change of scene more. And then just let her know your choice. Maybe you want to change it up, and jogging with her in the spots she likes works for you only once a month. Given the similar values and that your daughters are friends, I think a change of scene is of little importance. 

You’re correct that a healthy friendship includes the give and take and taking turns to decide where to meet. Same goes for taking turns doing pick up/drop for play dates  (when covid no longer an issue) etc.

To me, there a few things you could do:

just accept that meeting at those two places is all this workout buddy has to offer you and view it as a limited option and put it in rotation occasionally.

invite her to meet you at a location you’d like again and if she continues to refuse or make it difficult you could ask her why and go from there 

I don’t think discussing location options needs to be some sort of confrontational issue and if she makes it one, it could be you feel she is not that much fun to hang out with 

last option is just keep it to the kids relationship, but if they’re super young, that might not be possible. 

This would bug me too, and I personally would continue to invite her to other options and go from there to determine if it’s a good fit. It ultimately depends on how much you genuinely enjoy her overall and how much you’re willing to invest to continue the friendship. Good luck! 

There is a trend towards labeling flawed people as "toxic" and cutting them out of your lives. There are a lot more lonely people as a result. Maybe she suffers from anxiety or is neurodiverse. I don't see why her preference for going to familiar places means she shouldn't have friends.

Hi, maybe try inviting her on a jog/hike at a place you want to explore. Say something like, “I’m going here on Saturday at 10, do you want to join me?” 

If your friend's selfishness is limited to choice-making and plans, it could simply be a sign that she has anxiety.  New activities and new places can really be hard for some people.  On top of that, some people with anxieties feel shame and defensive about their feelings, which could explain her reaction.  This could be a way to move to a deeper level of friendship if you offer to talk about it in a nonjudgmental way.  Otherwise, it sounds as though you've done what you could to change the situation.  You spoke up in a kind way.  You suggested solutions.  She remains resistant and offered no solutions of her own, so from here on out finding a balance that feels workable to your heart is up to you.  Since the problem seems isolated to plans, I would think she can safely be one of your friends but that spending too much time with her or putting her too high in your life makes it too uncomfortable to be worth it.  Balance doing things with others, solo, and with Marcia until you hit your comfort level.  Maybe it wouldn't be so frustrating if it was a monthly hike or jog that you know in advance going to be in the same spot.  If you decide to offer that, then it is a gift and you no longer have to negotiate it.  If, however, the selfishness begins to be evident in many other areas of your friendship, quietly letting the friendship go may be smart.  I juggled a difficult friendship for 40 years with my childhood best friend and kept wondering why it was so hard.  She was later diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and wasn't able to make much headway with relationships even with counseling and medication.  I feel for her and will always care about her, but am utterly relieved to no longer have the drama in my life.  (Your friend acting like your request was an affront was something that got my attention.  Someone acting wounded and angry regularly even though you are doing your best to be thoughtful and kind is a sign that you're either not communicating well or there is a deeper issue on her part.)  I quietly let my friendship go because I didn't want my child to think that's what an adult friendship should look like.  With particularly troublesome people, you have to think about how it affects you and your family, how much you are willing to give, and then respect/defend your own boundaries.  Every friendship doesn't have to be perfect, but it should be worthwhile enough that you don't resent giving.

I would never risk losing a good friend over whether we hike 5 mins or 15 mins from my house. No way. Jog on your own where you like and jog or hike with her near her place when you want to do that. She may be anxious about changing the location for reasons you don’t know about. Life is too short to make too much out of this. 

She sounds a bit controlling. If you like her otherwise, ask her to join at a specific spot sometime. "Hey, I'm hiking at blah blah trail on Tuesday at 9, if you want to come along!" See how she responds, then just do what you want to do with or without her. If *everything* has to be her way all the time, slowly dial back the relationship.

I feel like maybe I’m missing something here. I don’t see this as toxic at all. It does make le think of the behavior of someone who has a limitation they’d like to hide either consciously or unconsciously. For example I’m hard of hearing so I will steer social engagements at places I know are quieter but don’t usually tell people that’s why. Maybe your friend is anxious about driving or trying to avoid an ex in another neighborhood or has a poor sense of direction. I don’t know that confronting her will help. I think you just have to decide if you’re ok with continuing to do things “her way” or otherwise find other friends. But I see no reason why you would end a friendship over this 

I am someone who is a creature of habit, with some anxiety in the background. I feel really comforted doing the same things over and over again, so I identify with your friend who only likes to hike or jog in the same location. Does your friend only like hiking in the same area because she had some bad experiences on other trails? Did she get mugged somewhere in the past? It's hard to tell from one example whether your friend is controlling in all her interactions with you, or just when it comes to jogging, so you are probably the best judge. Try saying, "I'm going to this place on Saturday at 1pm, do you want to join?" If she says no, don't change your plans, just go without her. If she really wants to hang out with you eventually she will join you. If she insists on doing things her way then over time your relationship will just keep drifting apart and your problem is solved one way or another.