It’s Polite Spine Day On Ehell! A Triple Whammy of Spinelessness!

by admin on April 24, 2013

Story #1 Uninvited Dorm Room Guests

Oh, E-Hell, I need advice on how to deal with a perpetually rude “friend”.

My roommate Sarah and I are in our first year of college and live in the dorms. During the very first week we were here, we met Kayla, who lived in our building. We got along okay and ended up frequently sitting in the dining hall together by default, since we didn’t know many other people. About a month or so in, we started noticing certain habits of Kayla’s that made us a little irritated and uncomfortable.

Kayla is from a very big city thousands of miles away. Now, the town we go to school in isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis, but it’s an extremely diverse, good-sized college town in the mid-west, and it’s never boring. Apparently, this isn’t what Kayla expected. “This city doesn’t have a train system? Wow. Are there really farms outside of town? Gross. You guys call it pop? Uh, it’s definitely called soda.” Constant bashing! Having lived most of my life in this area, some of her comments really strike a nerve.

Kayla also takes it upon herself to be the social chair of our group of friends. Sarah and I are more homebody, keep-to-ourselves types, and in the fall Kayla decided she was going to change that and have a dinner party. At Sarah’s house (about 30 minutes away). Using Sarah’s kitchen. Sarah and I, along with about 5 of Kayla’s friends (who we have met, but aren’t particularly close to) received a text telling us we were invited to this party and we each needed to contribute $20 or so to cover the cost of food. I’m not sure if this is reasonable or not, but because I come from a poor family and can only afford college on a lick and a promise, I told Kayla that I wasn’t able to attend because I could not afford it. She made fun of me, telling me that I was using that as an excuse to not have to socialize.

Although Sarah and I have been dealing with Kayla inviting herself into our room unannounced for hours at a time all year, the kicker came last night. Kayla, along with her roommate and a friend, came into our room (which we still haven’t figured out how to politely deal with!) and announced that we were all ordering pizza. Sarah and I already had some leftover Chinese and weren’t really in the mood for company, so we politely declined. Kayla said, “Oh, okay, we’ll just get one for us, then!” and ordered a pizza for the three of them, which they ate in our room after spilling a glass of water on our carpet (which Kayla did not offer to help clean up, but her friend and roommate did).

She stayed and chatted with her friend for the next two hours or so, while Sarah and I were quite obviously studying. At one point, Kayla seemed to notice and said, “Oh, you guys are studying, maybe we should get out of your hair” to which we agreed, but she still did not leave! Her friend and roommate even started lounging on Sarah’s bed!

Our room smells like pizza, Sarah’s sheets have a light coating of shoe dirt, our carpet is damp, and we’re very confused. Unfortunately, this is not the first time something like this has happened! Should Sarah and I confront Kayla about her presumptuous behavior? How do we deal with her constant unwanted comments and “parties”? 0422-13

I can imagine a plethora of Ehell readers crying in unison, “GROW A POLITE SPINE!”   You and Sarah might as well have “Doormat” tattooed across your foreheads and a sign on your dorm room door that says, “Spineless Doormats Live Here”.

First, who cares what Kayla thinks about your home town?   Confident people who are secure in their beliefs are not going to be bothered one iota with someone who disagrees with them.   “Hitting a nerve” only exposes the fact that you have a nerve that can be manipulated and tweaked by people who take pleasure in getting a rise from others.   I do my darnedest to make sure no one places me in that kind of vulnerable position of reacting emotionally to their opinions.

Second,  if you and Sarah are studying, close your dorm room door.   Lock it.   An open door is an open invitation to enter and socialize whereas a closed door sends the message that you are serious about studying with no distractions.    If you choose to answer a knock on the door, promptly tell your guests that you are in the midst of studying and can only take a short break to socialize and then you will have to get back to work.     Chit chat for 10 minutes and then look at the clock and say, “I’m sorry, I have to get back to studying for this exam.  I enjoyed this brief break with you.  Perhaps we can meet at the dining hall at 7 for dinner?”

Story #2 The Frazzled, Spineless Secretary

Our company secretary, “Janie,” was late to work today. Why? Because her late husband’s brother’s ex-wife (got all that?), “Dolly,” had phoned her at 9:00 last night and did not hang up until 11:30, after a conversation so emotionally toxic that Janie was unable to get to sleep until after 3 a.m.
Janie told me the story during our coffee break.
It seems that three years ago, Dolly’s husband, “Rick,” cheated on Dolly and Dolly asked him to leave. Rick promptly went to his elderly and ill parents’ house and has been sleeping there ever since.
“Sleeping” is the correct description, because even though Dolly and Rick are “separated,” Rick still drops by:
*Whenever he wants to see the grandchildren;
*Whenever he wants a home-cooked dinner;
*Whenever he wants to pick up some clothing, most of which is still stored there;
*Whenever he wants Dolly to update the books for his business.
In other words, Dolly is still providing access to their grandkids, feeding him, keeping his clothes and mementos stored, and doing his books. But they’re “separated.” And Dolly wonders (seriously!) why Rick won’t leave Her and come back home.
That’s not the issue.
The issue is that Dolly, who grew up in foster care, is 60 years old and unable or unwilling to take responsibility for her own actions and their consequences. She has a well-used lineup of blame dolls all standing in a row behind her and she will stick a pin into whichever doll suits.
It’s Rick’s fault that Dolly is a wreck.
It’s Rick’s fault that Dolly’s finances are a mess.
It’s Janie’s fault that she stayed up talking on the phone for 2 1/2 hours.
It’s their 30-year-old daughter’s fault that she had five children and criticized Dolly for not being available for free 24/7 child care and made Dolly feel guilty.
It’s Rick’s parents’ fault that they are giving aid and comfort to their son.
It’s Rick’s fault that he won’t file for divorce.
Etc.
Janie, our secretary, is tired, sick, and worn-out after approximately the six thousandth time of being put through the emotional wringer. Why is Janie always the sounding board? Because neither Rick nor their two grown children are willing to put up with Dolly’s insecurity, need for control, fear, and manipulation. Dolly seems to be afraid that if she ever made a decision, she would have to live with the consequences.
Janie asked for my advice.
I advised her to grow a Polite Spine. I even gave her a little script.
“Dolly, how nice to hear from you. I’m sorry, this isn’t a good time to talk. It’s getting late and I have a few chores to do before I go to bed. I’ll talk to you later. Bye!” And hang up. Repeat as needed, even if that means 30 or 40 repetitions.
I advised Janie to interrupt Dolly or talk over her … simply talk while Dolly is talking … because Dolly sounded to me like one of those very experienced kvetchers who is capable of talking in such a way that she never pauses for breath, never comes to the end of a sentence, and never lets a word in edgewise.
“Do you object to hanging up on or interrupting telemarketers?” I asked. No, Janie didn’t.
“This is like that,” I said. “Dolly is taking your time to bend your ear about something you have been over with her many times before, and you’re not interested in buying. She won’t take your advice and she won’t change her behavior. Just like you feel OK with hanging up on a telemarketer, it’s OK to hang up on Dolly.”
Janie said: “Then she’ll bad-mouth me to (other relatives).”
Who are they going to believe, I asked, you or Dolly?
Janie was grateful for a sympathetic ear, but I’m not sure she’ll quite be able to grow that Polite Spine.
Tell me, fellow E-hellions, was my advice on target? Is there anything more I can do, short of possessing Janie during these phone calls and cutting Dolly off myself?  0417-13
You cannot change nor save people from their habits.    Janie may want to change but she’ll have to hear the “script” maybe dozens of times in order to gird up her courage to actually do it.   On the other hand, she may be a drama queen facilitator and actually enjoys, in a sick way, being victimized so that she can whine and get sympathy.

Story # 3 Doubting The Polite Spine

I’m wondering what the admin and the fellow Ehellions would have done in this situation.
My mother-in-law is someone who is known for requesting odd things. She and her siblings were throwing together a huge birthday bash for her father’s 80th birthday who lives over 1500 miles away. The weeks leading up to the party she had asked my husband a couple times if she could have some pictures of me and my husband as they were planning on putting framed pictures up at the party of her father’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren etc.
About a week or two before she left, I e-mailed MIL a couple different pictures of myself and her son. Despite this, one day before she left to fly across the country she asks me, “Can I borrow the wedding picture of yours already framed in the living room?” I proceeded to ask “in my living room?” I knew she had her own framed wedding picture of me and her son because we had given her one after our wedding, so for some reason I thought maybe she was asking permission to take that. She said, “Yes, the one sitting on your end table.”
I basically proceeded to tell her that I was sorry, but could not accommodate her request. I felt a little bad about it, but I also told myself (and her) that the frame our wedding picture was in was an expensive one from a family member and I wouldn’t want anything to happen to it during extensive travel. It is also one of my home decorations. The fact that she requested to borrow a displayed, framed wedding picture, fly it across the country and give it back to me who-knows-when, seemed odd.
I later asked my husband if it was rude that I told her no, but he reminded me that I already sent her pictures of the two of us a week or two before and that her lack of planning did not justify her traveling across the country with one of my favorite home decorations!
Should I have just given it to her?
Why are you second guessing your polite spine?

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Marozia April 24, 2013 at 5:21 am

Story #1 – Tell Kayla that you’re not interested in her opinions of your hometown, of yours and Sarah’s personalities and neither do you appreciate her ‘inviting’ herself and others over when you and Sarah are busy. Sow the seeds to grow a spine. Believe me, it’s easy.
Story #2 – Use the script that Admin gave you, Janie. Or make up one of your own. Do not allow Dolly to blast your ears over the whole hoo-haa that you’ve probably heard a million times. Also get a Caller ID, and when the phone rings and it’s Dolly……well, the rest is up to you!
Story #3 – I agree with Admin. Why are you 2nd guessing your politeness spine? Don’t send your treasured photo to MIL. What you did and said was correct.
Love these stories. Thanks for sharing them.

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Auryn Grigori April 24, 2013 at 6:29 am

For story number three, I think the reason she is second guessing her polite spine is that when a person is used to saying yes to requests all the time, no sounds awfully rude, no matter how politely it is framed.

I should know. I am a former yesoholic.

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The Sojourner April 24, 2013 at 6:41 am

The students in story #1 could also apply to an authority figure to help them in having a polite spine. When I was in college (just a couple years ago) there were “Resident Assistants” living throughout the dorm. These were upperclassmen who were given a small amount of authority and a large ring of keys. Students were supposed to go to them when they locked themselves out of their room, had a dispute with their roommate, etc. If the OP asks Kayla to leave and Kayla doesn’t do so in a timely manner, I’d think that would be the sort of thing that the nearest minor authority figure could handle speedily.

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Lo April 24, 2013 at 6:44 am

Story 1

Kayla is a jerk. Her “city girl” attitude is a front for a serious lack of social graces. Drop that one like a hot potato.

Story 2

I feel bad for Janie. I don’t think I could ever bring myself to hang up on a family member, even a toxic one. But I don’t really have a polite spine, my modus operandi is avoid, avoid, avoid.

Hopefully Janie will grow angry enough with Dolly to tell her how she feels about being put through the wringer emotionally all the time. Until then I forsee a lot of late night phone calls. Or else don’t pick up the phone when Dolly calls, honestly, I’d just pretend to be out.

Story 3

You did just the right thing. Don’t feel bad. You have to protect those precious possessions with everything you have. That’s an extremely unreasonable request. Even mother-in-laws and mothers shouldn’t make it.

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Miriam April 24, 2013 at 7:28 am

I work from home sometimes, so am frequently available to answer the door during the hours cold-callers/religious proselytizers like to call. As I used to live in a less-than-salubrious inner city neighbourhood, I started calling out through the door [even though I had a spyhole] to find out what the caller wanted – it is amazing how much more easily someone “hears” that I’m not interested/busy working when I don’t open the door. If they still don’t understand on the second time of explaining that I’m not interested, I walk into another room and audibly close the door [not slam, but so it can be heard through the front door].

I’ve moved to a house now with glazed doors, and it still works! I’ve only had one person get angry with me for refusing to listen to a spiel about insulation, but as I explained I am a renter (and have no right to alter the building) and he wouldn’t “get” it, I just repeated I’m not interested and walked away.

It works for me, I’m perfectly polite [made so much easier by feeling much more in control of the situation], and I do not *allow* anyone to waste my time, so I’m now hoping that Miss Jeanne doesn’t brand me rude…

Re: phone calls – caller ID and/or a kitchen timer left by the phone [set it for as long as you are willing to listen to the caller; then say "I've got to go" when it goes off].

I have a spare doorbell push (a battery-operated bell and two pushes; our house has no bell/knocker, and as before I’m not allowed to alter the building), so I can set the chimes off when I need an excuse (I don’t have the kitchen time; that’s an idea I suggested to my mum) – “got to dash, that’s my doorbell”.

My other “defence” mechanism requires practise: I have a relative who criticises me freely and repeatedly. Now I will talk to them for as long as they are not criticizing/judging, but the moment they start to pull me to pieces, I say “I’ve got to go” and say goodbye. I will repeat it once and then hang up if they carry on talking. It took four years, but now that person can phone me without having a go at me, so my perseverance finally paid off.

Apologies for letting this become so long, but it’s taken me years to learn to protect myself, and if one person out there can take a tip that helps them I would smile like a loon for the rest of the day!

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Margo April 24, 2013 at 7:57 am

#1 – Admin’s advice is good. However, it’s hard to get rid of someone as apparently pushy as Kayla, so I would not let her in for 10 minutes. I would stand in the doorway when I opened the door, so she could’t just walk in, and say “Sorry, I’m busy right now. See you later!”
If she is there are plans to order pizza ten “We’ve already eaten. I’m sure you can get delivery to your room. Give us a call if you still want to hang out after you’ve had your meal”

In relation to her comments about the town you live in, I ould be invclined to turn them back on her. – ratehr than treating it as criticism (which is is obviously intended to be!) react as if she has *only just learned* something really obvious, and you’re a bit surprised it took so long for the penny to drop, or as if she is complimenting the place:

K “Wow, are there really farms just ouof town?”
You “Yes, it’s really great that we have all the benefits of living in the city, but we have all the benefits of the country close to hand as well.”
K “but it’s gross”
You ” That’s an odd thing to say. I guess living in a city you’ve been a bit isolated from certain realities. Never mind, (cheerful, encouraging tone of voice) I’m sure you’ll learn!!”

k “Pop? it’s definitely called soda”
You ” Not in [your state]. But don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll settle in and learn the local terms in no time. I always find it fascinating how there can be so many different terms for things”

The dinner party – pooling resources is fine, if you’re all on tight budgets, and assuming that you all agteee that it ‘s a jointly funded get-together, not a party you are hosting, but it should be on a budget and with other people you are all happy with. I’m glad you had the spine to say no!

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Sansa April 24, 2013 at 8:23 am

Story #1- Take admin’s advice. CLOSE and LOCK the door. Kayla is the type of person who need to be hit with a clue by four.

Story #2- Janie needs to make it clear to Dolly that she can not and will not be her sympathetic ear any longer. Until Janie says “no” on a consistent basis, Dolly will continue to complain and unload her problems on her.

Story #3- You did the right thing and do *not* feel bad about it. You emailed her pictures and she has a copy of the picture she wanted to take. I think she was coveting your frame and Murphy’s law says that something, such as damage, getting lost or forgotten, would have happened to your picture & frame.

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Kimberly April 24, 2013 at 8:38 am

First scenario….who says you have to let Kayla into your room all the time? Why are you letting her call the shots on your lives? Next time she comes to room, “Sorry, Kayla, this is not a good time. You and your friends will have to go back to your room”. Planning a party at someone else’s house? “Kayla, sorry, that will not be possible. You will need to find your own venue for your dinner”. Don’t worry about hurt feelings because really? Is Kayla someone you see being friends with after college? I don’t think so.

Second scenario…I think your advice was fine, if your co-worker listens to it. You are right. Your co-worker is enabling Dolly’s behavior. Each time she calls, I might let her speak for so long, but after a while, I might have to tell Dolly that you have given her five minutes and you are done. She has had time to vent, but since she will not listen to any advice, that is all you are giving her any longer of your own free time. She has choices, it is up to her to take those choices or not. But, you have a job to go tomorrow and you cannot keep going into work tired and exhausted because of Dolly’s poor choices.

Third scenario…you were not rude. You did everything possible to accomodate MIL.

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Anonymous April 24, 2013 at 8:40 am

The first story, I can kind of understand, because when you’re 17 or 18 or 19 years old, and in college or university for the first time, in a new situation, you tend to want to be seen as friendly and accommodating, in order to make friends. The lesson of “making the right kind of friends” usually comes with life experience, like the “life experience” that OP and Sarah had with Kayla repeatedly visiting their room unannounced, and bullying everyone into ponying up $20 for a dinner party that some of them couldn’t afford. For the record, OP, how long ago did this story take place? Even if it was recent, $20 per person is ridiculous–why couldn’t Kayla have just made spaghetti or something? Anyway, it’s easy to say “grow a polite spine,” but the line between “polite” and “spine” isn’t always so clear, especially when you’re in the “first time at college” situation I described, and especially when the boundary-stomper starts small, and gradually imposes more and more. It’s like the old “frog in a pot” analogy–if you try to put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it’ll jump out. However, if you put the frog in lukewarm water, and heat it up slowly, the frog won’t notice, and it’ll stay there and be cooked to death. Disgusting image, but that’s what happens, to a lot of people, in a lot of different ways. Many of them are older and wiser than first-time college students, so we shouldn’t judge the OP too harshly. Also, Kayla was just “starting out” as well, and maybe her boundary-stomping wasn’t malicious on her part–maybe she thought she was being “outgoing,” maybe she thought her presence was desired in the OP and Sarah’s room, maybe she thought that throwing a dinner party was just what the group needed, and it was her duty to make it happen as de facto “social co-ordinator.” Heck, maybe if the OP hadn’t posted that story, Kayla herself might have come on here, seen the error of her ways, and told the story herself, admitting that she was in the wrong. That’s the thing with life experience–sometimes you have to make mistakes in order to learn.

As for the other two stories, I agree with Jeanne–”Sorry, Dolly, I can’t talk now, I’m going to bed” would have sufficed, and for the third story, the OP was right not to lend her MIL her wedding picture. Even if it had been in a cheap frame from Dollar Tree, it had sentimental value. However, sentimental value + expensive and fragile frame + extensive travel + unspecified return date = all kinds of “no.” Why would she even ask? Nowadays, with digital photos, it’s so easy to just print another copy of a photo you want, but even before that, I remember that people saved negatives of photos that they wanted extra copies of. So, surely there would have been a way for MIL to get the photo she wanted without imposing on the OP like that.

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clairedelune April 24, 2013 at 9:31 am

In the third story, I agree that the LW was well within her rights to say no. I don’t think it would have been so strange for the MIL to simply *ask* to borrow the photo, and politely accepted whatever answer she got–except it sounds like she has a copy of her own!! So weird.

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Yet Another Laura April 24, 2013 at 9:35 am

#1: Agree with Anonymous. A polite spine takes time to grow, especially when you haven’t yet got the life experience and the confidence to say no to pushy people. As a 20 year old, I was erroneously thinking my being accommodating was being friendly and saying no to socializing was a Very Bad Thing. It also didn’t help that I had years of misguided therapists in grade school trying to “fix” my introversion. It took until my late 20s to realize that it’s OK to be an introvert and saying no isn’t rude.

#2: If Dolly can’t bring herself to use the scripts, the answering machine is her friend. Never pick up the phone unless the voice leaving a message is one you want to talk to. It’s OK if you let the answering machine take the full message and then call back if you want to talk to them. If the person you want to talk to questions you, simply mention that you were in the middle of something and couldn’t get to the phone in time. I used to work tech support and was burnt out by anything having to do with telephones after I quit the job and the above strategy was how I got through those post-tech support years.

#3: You did the right thing. Refusing a request is not rude. You don’t mention how she reacted, so I’m freely assuming that she didn’t raise a fuss about not getting the picture. Well done!

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Kay L April 24, 2013 at 9:38 am

In the first story those girls are whiners.

i wouldn’t mind having a friend like Kayla. She sounds like a fin person who likes to do things! Setting up a dinner party? Why not?

The fact the the two girls let her run roughshod over them is their problem.

As far as her saying that its soda and not pop: I had plenty of little petty arugements like that when I went to college. I went from living on the east coast to going to school in the Great Pacific Northwest. Met people from all over there who not only had different words for things but different accents. We all teased each about stuff like that all the time.

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Goldie April 24, 2013 at 9:45 am

Re story #2:

“Janie said: “Then she’ll bad-mouth me to (other relatives).”

What Janie needs to realize is that, she can bend over backwards, do everything Dolly wants, put her own life on hold to accommodate Dolly’s every request, and Dolly will STILL badmouth Janie to other relatives if the urge strikes her. So… let her.

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Rap April 24, 2013 at 9:51 am

I do wonder if the folks in the first situation realize that they can indeed close the door. Kayla sounds like she’s a bit entitled but really, yes, if you and Sarah are sharing the room, its ok, reasonable, and not rude in the slightest to tell Kayla to go eat pizza with her friends in her own room. (My suspicion based on the description of Kayla is that she’s probably homesick and basically surrounding herself with people to take her mind off it)

As for the city vs country? I’ve done both, and I have had aquaintenences who cheerfully dumped on how horrible place X is in comparison to place Y. Here’s the reality – these people are never ever going to go away. There is always going to be someone who thinks New York City (for example) is the be all and end all and any place that isn’t exactly like it is garbage. My own comment to roommates and dorm mates who pulled the “This town is so small and not like where I come from at all” is this.

“Why didn’t you go to school in the city you’re from if you don’t like it here? Its pretty obvious from the cows and cornfield in the brochure that this isn’t the city. You picked it. Go home if you don’t like it.”

But then I am rude ;)

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Wendy B. April 24, 2013 at 9:54 am

1. “Please leave, we need to study.” “I’m sorry you feel that way about this area, but I like it.” “My finances are none of your business.” “I’m sorry, I’m too busy.”

2. Janie needs to either invest in caller ID or an answering machine so she can screen calls. Just because the phone is ringing doesn’t mean you’re required to pick up the receiver.

3. “What’s wrong with your framed photo of our wedding? Really? That’s too bad. Have fun at the party!”

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Kristin April 24, 2013 at 10:06 am

Why do people feel they MUST answer the phone (or the door) just because a bell rings? Who doesn’t have caller ID or an answering machine that will let them screen their calls? I can go to a front bedroom in my house and see who’s at the door–from behind. It’s YOUR house/time/life. You don’t have to jump up every time someone rings your phone. The caller doesn’t know if you’re there or not, so what are you worried about? Just think of the ring as a request to speak to you. Your picking up the phone grants that request. Deny it!

I agree with Sansa above: Kayla won’t easily take a hint. You may have to knock her over the head with it a few times to get the point across. I can’t stand people like that.

I do have to agree with Kayla on the “pop” thing, though. :-)

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Michelle C Young April 24, 2013 at 10:21 am

Waitaminute. Kayla “invited” Sarah to a dinner party at Sarah’s house, using Sarah’s kitchen, and then had the gall to demand PAYMENT for it?

What part of “hosting” does Kayla not understand? ALL of it. Good grief.

I haven’t even read the rest of the entry, because I am that boggled by this part, alone.

The correct response to such an invitation is, “I’m sorry I cannot accommodate your request. You will NOT be using my kitchen to serve dinner.” If she tries to do it, anyway, she is trespassing, and you can call the cops, if necessary.

Yeah, POLITE SPINE.

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Mary April 24, 2013 at 10:23 am

#1- I would love to know where the OP went to school. I grew up in Wisconsin, went to college in Minnesota and now live in Minnesota. The arguing over soda versus pop was epic. Plus the argument over Duck, Duck Goose versus Duck, Duck, Grey Duck never ended. By the way, the correct version is Duck, Duck Goose. :)

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BMS April 24, 2013 at 10:29 am

My husband’s now-deceased uncle used to call to chat. And chat. And chat. And if he had been drinking, you could be there for hours once he got going. We used to joke that you could put the phone down, go read War and Peace, come back, and he’d still be talking.

Sometimes if Spouseman was working on something tedious on the computer, he would just let Uncle talk with a few “Yeah, right, uh huh’s” thrown in here and there. If either of us didn’t feel like talking to him, the best way was to wait for him to catch his breath, start to respond, then hang up while we were talking. He would always assume it was his crappy cell phone cutting out. Sometimes he wouldn’t call back. If he did, we would be able to cut him off easily with “Well, it’s time for us to go to bed anyway, good talking to you, good night” before he got in full cry again. We indulged him a bit – he was a widower with no children, and really alone in the world – but we found a way to cut him off when needed. And sometimes, if he came up on caller ID and we didn’t have time to deal, we just ignored the call. He never knew the difference.

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Michelle C Young April 24, 2013 at 10:33 am

Story #2 – There is no law, either civil or etiquette-wise, that says you must answer a ringing telephone. Get caller ID, and ignore her calls. When you want to talk to her, you call her, at a time that is right for you.

Also, set a timer, and let her know that you can only talk for just so long. When the timer goes off, say “There’s the bell. Gotta go now,” say goodbye and hang up. Yes, even if she’s still talking.

Also, introduce Dolly to email. It’s a wonderful thing and a great means of controlling just how much of this vitriol you have to listen to. If she sends you a same-old same-old email, just delete it and move on.

Story #3 – BRAVA! You were absolutely correct. Don’t doubt yourself. It is not rude to say “no.” You have the right to say no. Now please stick to your guns, and if you have children, teach them to do the same thing.

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Michelle C Young April 24, 2013 at 10:36 am

Miram – good for you! Your polite spine helped you turn a toxic relationship into a positive one.

This is what good manners are all about – not “making everyone comfortable,” but making everyone behave themselves in a civil way, and the “everyone comfortable” part will follow from that.

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Stacey Frith-Smith April 24, 2013 at 11:18 am

1. What Admin said.
2. What Admin said.
3. What Admin said.
You can only be controlled by people if you allow yourself to be manipulated. If you do, then either there is something in it for you (whether you admit it or not) or you need to (all together now) “grow a polite spine”.

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Vicky April 24, 2013 at 11:23 am

I had a situation similar to the first story when I was in college. My friends and I lived on the 3rd floor of a co-ed dorm (3rd floor female, 1st/2nd floor males). There was a great sense of friendship among all the residents and the guys really did look out for us girls, even taking on an abusive boyfriend at one point. At any rate, there was one guy who was a bit socially awkward, slightly nerdy and battling a bit of depression. My friends and I were there for him as friends, initially offering him a sounding board and advice. Except that for all our sensible advice (and it was not out of line, much of it we followed ourselves), he found every excuse in the world. For example, he would complain about having no money – we suggested a part time job (I had one). But no – he had to study or he couldn’t find one that suited him, etc. It finally got very draining to listen to him go on about the same things night after night to the point that despite being social people when not studying, we did exactly what the administrator suggested – closed the door (and even pretended we were not home). We still would allow him in but just not as frequently. One night he knocked on my door rather late. I was already in bed but not yet asleep. I yelled out that I was in bed and I would talk to him tomorrow as I have an early morning. I found out later that he went to my friends across the hall and was quite angry with me for not getting up and letting him in so he could talk. Frankly, having him mad at me was the best thing to happen as he avoided me for the rest of the semester.

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Allison April 24, 2013 at 11:43 am

Janie thinks that a phone call justifies showing up for work late and the LW seems to agree? Really??

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Cat April 24, 2013 at 11:50 am

Story #1, the joys of dorm life. You need a note on your door, ” We are studying. No visitors/interruptions, please.” She knocks and continues knocking, “Oh, you must not have seen the sign. We’re busy. See you later.” and the door closes. Rude comments: ” I find your comment offensive. You have no right to say anything criticial about me, my town, or the terminology we use. Please don’t do it again.” Second offense, “I have already told you how offensive I find this to be. Why are continuing to do it?” Third offense, “I have spoken to you twice about this. Your rude comments have made me decide that I would rather not continue having you as a friend.”
Story #2, the ex-relative who annoys your co-worker . Ah yes, I have a half-sister like this that I did not meet until later (much, much later) in life. She loved to call me, contradict anything I said, or to minimize anything I felt strongly about. Example, “My parents died when I was in my early twenties. I am used to being an orphan.” Sister, screaming, “You’re not an orphan! You don’t live in an orphanage!” Well, no, I was 55 years old-they would have kicked Little Orphan Annie out by then.
So you say, ” I am sorry you are having so many problems, but I cannot help you. I suggest you hire a professional counselor to help you deal with your difficulties. ” Get the phone service that tells you when she is calling, don’t answer the phone, and call her back when you wish. Limit your calls to 15 minutes and then say, “Sorry I have to go now. Nice speaking with you. Bye.” and hang up.
Third story, Don’t be silly. She can send her photo or she can have a duplicate made so she doesn’t have to ask for it back. It’s not your job to give her something you have on display in an expensive frame.

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Missy April 24, 2013 at 12:22 pm

I find it ironic that both Janie and Dolly in #2 sound about the same. They both have “drama queens” in their life and like to let people know put-upon they are to maintain said drama. Is it just me or is there some irony in that a co-worker complains about being victimized (to the extent of unloading about a distant relative’s drama at work) and then complains that Dolly should stop complaining about being victimized. I sense a pattern here and wonder if Janie really, really wants to grow a spine or if she (like Dolly) thrives on her victim hood.

Though that story is a great illustration that the application of the word “spine” can be misused.

It also sort of reminds me of a time when I had a family member who would call me up for the sole purpose of abusing me about some life choices I had made. Now I don’t deny I’ve done my share of stupid, but I have owned that and tried to learn from it. These conversations really had no constructive outcome. They were mostly aimed at trying to get me to agree that I had failed at adulthood and ought to cede decision-making over to the family member. I finally grew the spine to derail such conversations by saying, “Oh, is this how I should have done X and Y? When we discuss this it solves nothing and it just hurts our relationship and stresses me out. Goodbye.”

Of course that turned into: “She is blaming me for our poor relationship and for all the stress in her life. She likes to blame me! Why won’t she grow a spine and take responsibility for her life?”

So when I hear a story such as Janie and Dolly, I start to wonder who really doesn’t have the spine and what really happened.

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--Lia April 24, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I won’t repeat what others have said. Here’s what I can think of that’s new.

1st letter– There’s a reason she’s in your dorm room all the time: She has no other friends. No wonder she’s lonely. No one can stand her and the way she puts down local speech, customs, and the things they hold most dear. If she waited for people to socialize in her room, no one would ever show up.

2nd letter– Here’s something that has worked for me. When someone is complaining in real time saying variations on the same thing over and over, I ask them to write it down: “I can’t listen right now, but send me an email.”

When you get it, and at your convenience, skim over it, and write back “Wow! What a long sad story. You have my sympathy.”

The next time she calls, you listen for 2 minutes and repeat: “Send me an email.” Your answer is: “Yes, I remember your telling me about this. Wow! What a long sad story!”

The 3rd time, your email says “Yes, I remember your telling me about this. Wow! What a long sad story! This certainly sounds like you have a lot of troubles. May I recommend this agency/ therapist/ support group to talk to?”

After that, keep repeating what you said the 3rd time.

3rd letter– I understand that you were on the spot, but if you could rewind, I’d suggest not giving the excuse that the frame was expensive. You do that, and she’ll only ask for something less expensive next time or offer to pay for it. The point is that your answer was no.

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Bibianne April 24, 2013 at 1:11 pm

For story 2: CALLER ID. It has saved DH”s and my sanity when dealing with SIL. Every time SHE rings, we check the phone number. and let it go to voice mail. If we do NOT know the phone number but it from that area code, we let it go to voice mail. Then when we do want to listen to VM, we can delete when we recognize the voice.

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Bibianne April 24, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Oops: make that: every time the phone rings, we check the Caller ID. She has been known to call in the middle of the night. so yes, ringer to a minimum. 8-)

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Jay April 24, 2013 at 2:00 pm

When I was a college freshman, our room was a social center of sorts, which was fine.. people would hang out there at night, etc. The guy across the hall did NOT pick up any social cues about when it was time to go. We progressed to the level of “Well, we really need to go to bed now,” and still no dice. Finally we had to be “rude” (blunt, anyway) with something like “You need to leave so we can go to bed,” in order to make any progress in getting him to move on.

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gramma dishes April 24, 2013 at 3:05 pm

I find Story #1 to be a little confusing. Yes, in college there are always going to be people who tend to gather in certain rooms, but you don’t have to let it be YOUR room all the time. Close (and lock, if necessary) the door. If they knock, tell them you’re busy studying and you don’t have time to socialize now.

But the thing that has me so puzzled was how Kayla could arrange a dinner party at Sarah’s house! Did Sarah agree to this? Did Sarah’s family agree to it? (Since Sarah was your campus roommate, I presume the “house” was her family’s.) Was Sarah in fact rather excited about co-hosting a party in her parent’s home for her college friends? Did the party in fact happen with everyone there except the OP?

That one still kind of has be scratching my head because the parts don’t seem to all fit together there.

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OP #1 April 24, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Author of letter 1, here! Thanks for all the advice. Sarah and I are both extremely introverted and shy, and I was bullied a lot as a kid, so the road to Polite Spine-ness is kind of long and winding. We’re getting there little by little, but we still get flustered sometimes.

The dinner was probably in October or November – when Sarah and Kayla were still pretty close. She had decided she was going to make a full roast, handmade mashed potatoes, and that kind of stuff. I totally agree that $20 is insane, but she seemed to think it was actually too low!

We always have our door closed (the doors here are on hydraulics and don’t stay open easily), but Kayla just comes up and tries our doorknob, even if it’s locked. She’s done it while we’re in bed and I think it’s creepy! Due to her and another person inviting themselves in all the time, Sarah and I are trying to make it a habit to lock our door for the rest of the semester.

To the couple of people that asked, we go to school in Kansas.

@Michelle C Young: That is EXACTLY how I felt!! None of the other “invitees” seemed to see it that way, though!!

@Lia and Rap: I think she’s very homesick. She came this far away to spite her brother (long story that makes NO sense to me) and she has a boyfriend here that she’s attached at the hip to. When they’re not together, she goes a little crazy and tries to cling to Sarah and I. I understand what she’s going through, but she really needs to find a better way to handle it.

Thanks everyone :) Sarah and I will be testing out our newly-growing Polite Spines this weekend, I’m sure!

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schnickelfritz April 24, 2013 at 5:50 pm

I agree with Missy and Allison. So, LW, is wrapped up in what the secretary, Janie, is wrapped up in, Dolly’s cray cray. And, the secretary, Janie, is late to work, arrives, and relates Dolly’s late night drama phone calls, to her coworkers… involving more un-warrranted energy to this cray cray.

Seriously? LW, as a third party of this drama (you), I would shut Janie down, and get back to work. I feel like a fourth party to this drama. Why does the LW, even care enough, to spread this third-party nonsense, to a forum. Your marathon post, on a stranger’s drama, is so weird. I wonder if you really are “Janie” justifying you are late to work, doing charity therapy into the wee hours. Something isn’t right about this; although maybe I am not connecting these relationships correctly.

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Kendo_Bunny April 24, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Kay L, that’s a perception thing. I would find Kayla a monstrous inconvenience at best, and a boorish lout at worst. There is nothing “gross” about farms – where does she think her food comes from? I personally find big cities the most hateful places in the world, and I do not spend time in them if I don’t have to. Give me the country any day of the week. But my parents taught me good enough manners to know that that is my opinion, and other people are entitled to other opinions.

It can be difficult for introverted people to deal with exuberant extroverts. They can be very draining, especially since society tends to label any form of introversion as “wrong”. You want to stay in and quietly study without talking to anybody instead of having a bunch of people eating pizza on your floor and talking loudly? What’s wrong with you? Where’s the fun? The best summary is that an extrovert gets their energy from social situations, while an introvert gets theirs from quiet and privacy. Even if Kayla wasn’t so rude as to invite people to their own houses for dinner and demand payment(?!?), insult people’s home states before that sort of rapport is built, and barge, uninvited, into other people’s room and order dinner that she does not offer to share, she would still sound like a very draining person to be around. Someone who needs that constant level of social interaction will have trouble understanding someone who needs there NOT to be a constant level of social interaction, but they can at least try.

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Doryna April 24, 2013 at 10:42 pm

To OP#1: Kayla sounds exactly like one of my old college roommates. More interested in socializing than studying. Clingy to friends and boyfriend to a terrifying extreme. Full of drama and arguments. Always having “great ideas” that cost me and others (but never her) time, money, or both. In short, not the kind of friend you really want around, unless she grows up a lot. I’m glad you can at least close the door and keep her out when you need a breath of air!

In my case, roommate ended up flunking all of her classes since she never went to them and was dropped out of the school. I honestly hope it doesn’t come to that extreme for your friend; she might still figure things out, after all. But there are a fair number of freshman who don’t make it to a second year of school because of habits and behaviors like hers.

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delislice April 25, 2013 at 7:03 am

Hi, I am the LW in story #2.

First, yes, it mattered that Janie was late, and the people responsible dealt with that, but it’s not the point of the story.

Second, we were on our coffee break. I don’t always let Janie unload like that — sometimes I grab my coffee, smile, and say, “I’ve got to get back to my desk” — but that day I had a few minutes.

Third, I agree that Janie herself is seriously lacking in a spine. She’s also a champion talker. Fortunately, she does end her sentences on occasion, so, as I’ve said, if I don’t have time or am not in the mood for hearing it, I take my coffee and leave.

I agree with other posters that my advice isn’t likely to do Janie much good, because she’s more concerned about “being nice to other people” than about self-care. But she asked “What would you do?” and I told her. I’m under no illusions that Janie will actually follow the advice.

I also know that, unlike Dolly, Janie will be satisfied with having told me the story once. She’s not going to keep complaining to me about Dolly.

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Snarkastic April 25, 2013 at 10:33 am

The first story was hard for me to read: on one hand, I understand that Kayla is a difficult and pushy person who lack boundaries. On the other hand, the OP and her roomie seem to be missing the point of college. Going away to school is not just about studying: it is, in fact, a great social experiment. Since OP responded and said that she and her friend are super introverts, I think it’s great that they are becoming the social center of the dorm.

On the flip side, Kayla needs to stop treating you guys like an a party lounge: you are not open at all hours for her convenience. Socializing, pizza eating, etc. is great, but at some point you will need some friggin’ quiet time.

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Enna April 26, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Story 1: Kayla needs to be told firmly “no” and to stop being so rude.

Story 2: Janie wants to be careful of Dolly – maybe talk to other family members? Or get caller ID and ignore Dolly’s calls.

Story 3: OP has got the polite spine just right.

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WildIrishRose April 26, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Story #1: Go to your RA and ask him or her to help with this. Kayla is not only rude and obnoxious, but she’s clearly interfering with the reason you’re at school in the first place–to get an education, which means you need to study, which means she needs to leave. If the RA can’t help, go to the student dean or your dorm mother or some other authority figure and get this addressed.

Story #2: This is your late husband’s brother’s ex? Why is Janie even letting someone so removed as a “family” member take up so much space in her head? Dolly needs to see a therapist. Perhaps Janie should suggest that.

Story #3: You did exactly the right thing. Some people!

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LadyPhoenix April 26, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Do I find it unsettling that Kayla tries to break through your door, especially whenever it is locked and/or you gusy are asleep?

Yeah, that sets off a lot of red flags. I say you drop her right now before she can continue this and resort to worse things, like STEALING.

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Angel April 26, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Story #1, a locked door is your friend. Keep the door locked at all times. At my college we had a code to get into our rooms. We didn’t share the code with anyone. Kayla is a parasite and the OP and her roommate are the hosts. Time to get rid of the parasite.

Story #2, call screening/answering machine/caller ID. I don’t understand it–we have the technology to avoid unwanted calls yet we keep taking unwanted calls. In this day and age you don’t have to talk to anyone you don’t want to–take advantage of the technology, people!

Story #3, are you freaking kidding me? The OP was much nicer than I would have been. I have a nice framed 11×14 of my DH and I on our wedding day. We had it matted and framed and while I don’t remember the exact cost, it was probably in the neighborhood of $200. If my MIL asked me to take it on a airplane with me to be used as party décor, I would probably ask her if she had lost her ever loving mind lol. No way!!

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