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Author Topic: Drawing the line in a classmate friendship? (Update OP Page 2)  (Read 14487 times)

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I could use some input, as I'm not sure if I'm handling this right.
(It turned out seriously long, so sorry about that!)

A little background: I started taking an evening class to add a specialty to one of my degrees.
I work as a freelancer, meaning I go from project to project. This means no steady income, and always on the lookout for new projects, but up until now I have always been able to pay the bills.
I've always wanted to add the specialty, and I figured since I am going to become a mom come October, it's now or way later. So I sign up for the course.

We ended up with only 6 pupils, all from various backgrounds. One of them, lets go with John, is 80 years old. He used to be a specialist in one field, but due to his body not being able to keep up anymore, he had to quit his business. He eventually got tired of sitting around at home, and is now taking this specialty because it is less demanding on the body, but still in line with what he used to do.
Class got along great, and we all get along fine with John. Sure, he talks a little slow, and a lot, but we chalk it up to him being the senior of the group. It's not getting on our nerves. We actually are impressed that he is still trying to do this.

John finds out that a few of his classmates, including me, live close by him. So he asks a phone number so we can maybe practice together. Sure, why not. All in all I think I ended up three times at his house over the duration of the course.
He started talking about his dreams for a new business. He was going to set it up at his house: he has the room, and he can change his old equipment around. He has a colleague who would provide him with customers. Fine, great idea.
He then asks me if I would be willing to maybe help him out once he has started up, as in take over a Monday here or there when he has too many customers, or he is having an off day. I say sure, why not.
John gets increasingly excited about his new business during the course, and starts doing more research. He tells me about his plans from time to time, all of which seem doable, over the long run. 

All in all, John sometimes came over a little pushy, but nothing I couldn't handle. For instance he'd insist on picking me up at the station, while I'd rather walk. I've driven in his car once, and he is all over the road. Of course I don't tell him that, I just go with 'walking is healthy for my pregnancy.' He hems a bit about me being pregnant and he just wants to take care of me. I resolve the issue by not letting him know how I will be getting to his house, just when. He does take no for an answer, he can just be pushy until you give him that firm no.

Another point is that he tried to get it so we would drive to class together all the time. With that one I went with 'I rather take the bus, parking is such a chore in that city, and the bus stops in my street.' He hems a bit about it, but accepts. Then a week later, he tries to get me to take a different connection so we can ride the bus together. I explain that this would add to my commute. He seems disappointed, but doesn't push.

Then John calls me up one day: he has to go to the hospital, and it may be his cancer all over again. I spend a good hour with him over the phone, trying to calm him down. He calls a few days later; good news, not cancer, but it has to be taken out. He goes on and on about how his Doctor friend is going to bump him to the top of the line, he'll get surgery done next week.
Please note that I'm not a big fan of people using favors to jump the line, but that's not what John really needs to hear right now, so I just keep it at 'I'm happy you'll get helped so soon, please let me know how it goes.'

John takes the final along with the rest of the class. Teacher sends us all out to a little coffee shop so she can correct our scores and she will join us in half an hour (tiny classes rock  ;) )
I'm not sure if my hormones were playing up that evening, but I felt absolutely terrible after the final, and for some reason John was really rubbing me the wrong way.

- He kept going on and on about how the doctors at the hospital were all his friends, and how the nurses all knew him. He then told us all where and when he would be staying. Now, I was honestly planning on visiting him in the hospital, I really was. But he then claimed that 'visiting hours did not apply to him, don't worry about it, just wait until the head nurse is gone, nobody is going to stop you because you'll be visiting me.' That just completely rubbed me the wrong way, but I kept silent about it, simply repeated 'I always follow visiting hours.'
- He then ordered a beer. And wanted me to taste it. I politely reminded him of my pregnancy (people still tend to forget, it happens). He gets upset, claims beer is good for pregnant women, and practically orders me to taste it. I go with a polite firm 'No.' He huffs, but drops it.

The day after the final, John goes in for surgery.
He calls me after the surgery, all upset: doctor has told him he needs a month of complete rest, so no taking the follow up course with the rest of us. I symphatise, but at this point red flags are flying all over.

- 'I called my wife first but she didn't pick up, so I decided to call you.'
(Err.. don't you have a son and friends? When did I get bumped up the list so high?)

- I'm going to follow the course anyway, doctor says it's ok as long as I just sit there and watch, but not do the exercises.' He then calls a different classmate and tells her he only needs 3 weeks of rest. He told me one month. He told our teacher something else.

- 'I want to start this business already with you and I told my partner so much about you and he's so excited that there will be someone there after I'm gone to take over the business.'
(err... so now I'm a solid partner in this? And I'm supposed to be your partner's backup? What?)

I try to be nice to him when he calls, but at this point, I'm more than a little wary. While I did say that I would be willing to help him out if and when he ended up with too many customers (and lets be honest, he still has to start up, so that won't be right away), and that I did agree that we would have to make sure I did the procedures exactly how he did it, so that would mean him looking over my shoulder for the first few times, I am now quite sure that he expects more than I promised.

He also calls me about every two days now. He would call more, but at this point I am not picking up every time; his calls are at least half an hour long, and are sometimes at the oddest hours (8 in the morning, seriously??)
Problem is that he is in and out of the hospital all the time, and picking up phones wherever he is to call, so I don't recognize all the calls. And I don't want to miss out on work related calls just because I don't want him to wake me up.

Anyway.. first class of the second advance course started. John can't be there, because he is still in the hospital. He promised to be there the next class.
I enter the classroom, we all sit down... and literally everybody starts to vent about John's behavior. Like a big, collective sigh of relief that he is, just once, not there.

Apparently he calls up everyone. Every day. He is dragging student x besides me into his business, and he calls her up at 7(!!) in the morning. Note that this student just lost her mom two weeks ago, got into a car accident last week, her dad slipped into a depression, and she is juggling two kids in college as a single mom. In my humble opinion, John should know better then to call her up every day. Oh, and she has no intention of stepping into his business. While he told me that she was very enthusiastic.
He tried to call up students to give them their grades even though teacher said she'd do that herself.
Luckily teacher got to them first. He calls up teacher every other day with his business plans. He told teacher me and student x are totally on board with his business. He's going to make cards with all of our names on them. 

He also told teacher 'Just give my syllabus to Syrse or student x. They'll drop it off at my house.'
Teacher was not amused that he didn't ask us this beforehand, he just assumes we will do this.
Again, nobody can screen his calls, because he seems to pick up phones left and right in the hospital.
He also seems to call one student, then when she doesn't pick up, he'll call the next. And the next. And the next. We're all baffled at how many people he is calling, and how often.

Now the class has been feeling bad for him, as operations can be a bit scary at 80 years old. And yes, it's a bummer that he missed this one class. We fear that he may be lonely and upset, but at the same time... doesn't he have friends and family?

We're also concerned about how the information he gives out conflicts: first he wasn't allowed to follow the class. Then he was, as long as he just watched. But how will he get here without doing anything? Doesn't rest include not driving to and from the class?
So we're all a bit torn: we do feel bad for him, but exactly what can some classmates do for him? And why does he seem to think we will all step into this business?

This was yesterday evening. He actually called student x during that class. She didn't pick up.

He called me up this morning at 8:30. I picked up, because it was another number again. This time I told him flat out 'John, why are you calling me this early? I was still sleeping.'
John: '(surprised) Oh... I'm at the reception, waiting for my doctor...'
me: 'I was still sleeping. Call me later.'
John: 'Oh, ok. Bye!'

So yeah... I'm a bit at a loss on how to handle this. It seems that he has elevated our friendship way above the level that I apparently see it.

Looking back, I am also starting to notice these little puzzle pieces about my pregnancy:
- He has a son, who went through a divorce. He complains to me about how hard it is to see a son go through that, and that it is painful that he will never have grandchildren.
- He wants to drive me all over because I really shouldn't be walking in my condition.
- He tries to touch my stomach.
- When I come in to work at his business, I should just bring the baby along. (I cut that one off immediately, I don't plan on taking my child into work related territory, ever. Seriously? What would the customers think?)
- He has asked me flat out who my Gynecologist is.
- He knows I am scheduled to give birth at 'his' clinic.
- He has made it perfectly clear that all the doctors and nurses there are his friends, and visiting hours don't apply to him.

Yeah... I'm more than a little wary at this point. Or am I seeing ghosts?

So here's my dilemma. Old, scared lonely guy who I really don't mind talking to once in a while, but I fear that he has put it into his head that this friendship is more than it is. I don't want to kick him in the chins, but I do feel the need for some firm, polite boundaries.


« Last Edit: June 30, 2012, 11:58:50 AM by Syrse »


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Re: Drawing the line in a classmate friendship?
« Reply #1 on: June 26, 2012, 11:29:30 AM »
Wow, this is rough. Keep in mind that you can only really control how you interact with him - your classmates need to set their own boundaries, so do what's best for you.

First, I would start by deciding how much time you are comfortable giving him, then call him and tell him exactly that. "John, it's great chatting with you, but things are getting really busy as I prepare for Baby. You can call me between 3-4 on Wednesdays and Fridays if you want to chat, but that's really the only free time I have." If he calls you outside of his "scheduled" time, simply say "Sorry, John, but this isn't a good time. Try me on Wednesday, okay? Bye!"

Then make firm boundaries on your role in the business. "John, I've been meaning to talk to you about your business. I can commit to five hours a week, and only Mondays or Fridays. I'm not comfortable having my name or contact info on the cards, because I won't be available except when it's really necessary and I don't want clients calling me."

Finally, if you're concerned about him coming to visit you when you're in the hospital after giving birth, you need to give him that kick in the shins. "John, I don't want you to come see me. I will call you when I'm ready to have visitors, so if I don't call you, that means I don't want a visit." Be absolutely clear to the nurses that you expect visiting hours to be enforced and that means no exceptions for John. Name him personally to them.


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Re: Drawing the line in a classmate friendship?
« Reply #2 on: June 26, 2012, 11:37:08 AM »
I'd pull back hard on the reins. I wouldn't enter a business relationship with this person at all. He's contradictory, demanding and doesn't sound very business minded.

I'd also radically scale down the friendship.

I think the kindest and firmest way is to call him at a convenient time and say "John, there's something I want to talk to you about. I've really enjoyed studying with you and benefiting from your huge experience in
  • field. However, I've realised that I can't commit to helping you with your business or to being available for conversations at the current level. I know this is a difficult time for you and I wish you all the best for a smooth recovery but I also need to concentrate on my other commitments for the foreseeable future. I hope you can understand and I look forward to seeing you in class again."

He may be resentful or not understand, he may keep ringing you. Then repeat. "John, I'm sorry but I'm not available to talk right now. If you still want to preserve some friendship you could call him every now and again.

I wouldn't worry about him trying to see you in hospital. I bet the rules do apply to him just as they do to everyone else. You might want to have a word with the hospital and staff to say "close family only" when you give birth. But otherwise I think he's just a lonely old guy with ambitions that outstrip his abilities and who's having a hard time accepting that.


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Re: Drawing the line in a classmate friendship?
« Reply #3 on: June 26, 2012, 11:48:51 AM »
There's a whole lot of BS going on with this guy, so I'd quit taking his calls.
Words mean things.


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Re: Drawing the line in a classmate friendship?
« Reply #4 on: June 26, 2012, 12:01:33 PM »
There's a whole lot of BS going on with this guy, so I'd quit taking his calls.
IMO, you've invested more than enough time and energy in him, his interests, his idiosyncrasies, his feelings, etc. etc. 
The first time someone shows you who they really are, pay attention.


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Re: Drawing the line in a classmate friendship?
« Reply #5 on: June 26, 2012, 01:42:40 PM »
Since he's bothering everyone else in the class, it may be time for a group come-to-Jesus intervention. Maybe even with the instructor's help. Together, you can establish and reinforce boundaries. "John, please do not call classmembers or share personal/medical information. It is disruptive and making it difficult for the rest of us to get the most out of this class." If he's lonely, there are plenty of social resources for seniors, and perhaps you can point him to the local Community Center. But after that, ignore, ignore, ignore, ignore.


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Re: Drawing the line in a classmate friendship?
« Reply #6 on: June 26, 2012, 02:06:48 PM »
Could the instructor do a special lecture on business ethics and professionalism as soon as he returns to class? >:D

Otherwise, POD Sleepykitty. Spell out, explicitly, when you are willing and able to talk to him and then enforce it.


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Re: Drawing the line in a classmate friendship?
« Reply #7 on: June 26, 2012, 02:09:41 PM »
I think the baby is your perfect 'out' in this friendship.

You can be too tired even if you aren't at that moment. You'll have appointments to see to and later when baby is here, you'll be too wrapped up in baby and too tired to think of anything else.
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Re: Drawing the line in a classmate friendship?
« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2012, 02:19:48 PM »

But otherwise I think he's just a lonely old guy with ambitions that outstrip his abilities and who's having a hard time accepting that.

Couldn't have put it better, that's exactly how it feels, thanks for molding that into words.
And I do feel for him, because he's led a really full life and doesn't want to give it up.

About not going into business; totally agreed. I saw myself maybe filling in for a day or two if he needed it, but now I don't know about even that.
For now, I'm not going to say anything else about the business: for one, he's on rest, and after that he has tons of work before the business can even start. Might be he never goes through with it. If he does, I'll deal with it then. I never made any solid commitments, I always pointed to the baby, and how unpredictable my life is at this point, and that we'll see how things pan out.
Fair enough, I was enthusiastic about the possibility of filling in here and there, but I am definitely not inclined to become his replacement. That one might cause some headbutting... especially if student x isn't as interested as he seems to think (she has her own practice, and is trying to go fully independent).

As for the class: we only have two more days to go, as it's more of a follow up, we already had our finals. We are now going over certain particular problems and how to solve them.
So I don't think an intervention is needed. I do worry about him following his doctors orders, but aside from making sure he only sits and writes, I'm not sure what else we can do?

It just feels like sticky and egoistical timing on my part on one side, and 'I really don't need this at this point' on the other... using baby as an excuse feels like the easy way out  :(

He didn't call me back all day though. Here's hoping he didn't call student x  ::)


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Re: Drawing the line in a classmate friendship?
« Reply #9 on: June 26, 2012, 02:32:40 PM »
This man sounds like he may be facing his own mortality and fighting with all his might to avoid it.  You mention he doesn't have much contact with his son and his bemoaning the fact that he has no grandchildren.  He is planning to latch onto you and your baby to consider you "his".  You may have to use some tough love with him (and in the process, probably, hurt his feelings).

John, I am not comfortable with the type of relationship you want with me.  I will not be able to assist you in your business and I do not want you coming to the hospital.  You cannot call me.  I will see you only in the classroom.

Let the other students deal with him as they see fit.


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Re: Drawing the line in a classmate friendship?
« Reply #10 on: June 26, 2012, 02:34:16 PM »
Screen his calls. If the number is not familiar, don't pick up. Seriously. This guy could not be waving more warning signs if he was wearing a t-shirt that said, "I am ANTI-BOUNDARY MAN!  No mere boundary can defeat me!  I DO WHAT I WANT!" 

Do not go into business with this guy.  Do not work for him.  Can you imagine how entitled he feel to your time if you are his employee?  Tell him, first-stop, no more touching you.  You're not comfortable with that. And then, tell him that his calls need to be during certain hours (10am-3pm, or similar) and they should be related to your coursework.

I would make it clear to your health care provider that even if this guy contacts their office, that he is not a friend or relative and you do not want any information about your pregnancy released to him. Also, I would consider moving your birth plan away from "his clinic."  And I would request to be a private patient when you check in for your labor.


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Re: Drawing the line in a classmate friendship?
« Reply #11 on: June 26, 2012, 02:50:25 PM »
I'd start screening ALL my calls, or letting them ALL go to voicemail. And then just never call him back.

If you do get into a conversation, set a timer--physically or mentally--and give yourself 10 minutes, be as vague as possible (Ummm hmm, etc.), and ever answer a direct question from him or volunteer info, and then say, "gotta go" and hang up.


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Re: Drawing the line in a classmate friendship?
« Reply #12 on: June 26, 2012, 03:13:55 PM »
Would it be possible to add paragraph breaks to your post?  It is a bit difficult to read with some breaks and some new paragraphs starting directly beneath.  Not an issue for a shorter post, but for a long one, it is hard on the eyes for some of us. 


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Re: Drawing the line in a classmate friendship?
« Reply #13 on: June 26, 2012, 03:21:33 PM »
People tend to have pity for elderly people who are alone. But sometimes, they're alone because they were not very nice middle aged or young people, and there's a good reason why they don't have doting family as a support system.
I learned this from one of my clients. He was telling me about how his exwife had divorced him while he was in the hospital with a devastating illness, and his children never came to visit. I started to say something about how awful that was, and he interrupted me. 'You didn't know me in those days. I was a bad man then.' He went on to tell me that he'd been an alcoholic who would spend much of his pay drinking, and would beat his wife if she objected; when his sons got old enough to defend their mother, he'd beat them, too.  Now that he was sober, he'd accepted that he had thrown away those relationships away with both hands, and he bore no resentment against them for running when they could and staying far, far away. 


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Re: Drawing the line in a classmate friendship?
« Reply #14 on: June 26, 2012, 03:46:01 PM »
Added a few paragraphs, is that better? Sorry, paragraphing is not my strong point.

As for not picking up any unfamiliar numbers; that would really be shooting myself in the foot. Any call could be a potential client looking to book me for a project. I simply can't afford to miss job opportunities. Work is slow as it is.

Moving away from the clinic that he frequents is kind of a no-go: my gynecologist is connected to that one clinic. And it's an awesome maternity ward, with not very great stories about the other clinics around.
That said, I honestly think the nurses wouldn't divulge any information. I never even told him my due date, so unless he plans to call the hospital every day for info, I don't see how he could figure it out. Even then, hospital is not allowed to give out this kind of information. And the maternity ward here is very firm on their visitors.

He does go on and on about how many connections he has, and how everybody is always so helpful to him, but now that I heard from student x that a lot of things he told me about her were greatly exaggerated, I'm taking his 'connections' with a grain of salt. Pretty sure he can't just waltz into the hospital whenever he wants. He doesn't work there anymore, period.

Should he still be pushy by the end of my pregnancy, I'll drop his name with the nurses, just in case.
And if he does show up, DH will kindly show him the door  >:D

I know a classmate of mine actually used her boyfriend as the perfect excuse. She told John flat out that contact with another man was simply not done in this volume, no matter what his age, so why was he calling her outside of class, why did he need to know her home address?
And that was the end of that, apparently. But I'd rather not have DH sort out my mess.

@Jocelyn: he really does seem like he was a nice guy, but for some reason he is latching onto us as a 'new start', if that makes sense. I have no idea why his son is nowhere to be found though... maybe because John keeps pushing him towards finding a new girl. He does have a lovely wife.

But I still feel like a jerk for wanting my distance  :-[ Right now I just want to finish this course, relax with my husband in those last months with just the two of us, get some work in while I still can... I feel horrible about it, but I just don't feel like I should be the one carrying this guy.

I think I won't call him back, and see what happens. Next class day is on the 5th, last day is the 6th. If he calls me before that about class, at a decent hour, no problem. But I won't be going over there.
I'll be starting a project in two weeks time that will not allow me cellphone contact for two weeks straight, so hopefully that will help.