When you are someone's imaginary friend









Friendships require two consenting people. Someone can’t be your friend unless you also want to be their friend. Friendship is a relationship and it has to be mutual.

Some people do not understand this. Some people want to think of themselves as your friends, and don’t care what you want.

In effect, people who do this are treating you as an imaginary friend. They don’t want *you*. They want an imaginary different person who wants to be their close friend. (And, they probably want a number of other differences, too.)

If they wanted you, if they were interested in friendship with the person you actually are, they’d respect it when you said no.

You can’t usually stop someone from perceiving you as an imaginary friend, but you don’t owe them your cooperation, either. It’s ok to ignore them. It’s ok to refuse to listen to lectures on why you’re being a bad friend. You don’t have to give them a chance and you don’t have to convince them that you’re right to distance yourself. You don’t owe it to anyone to help them pretend you’re their friend.

You can’t stop them from thinking whatever they want to think about you. If they send you lots of email. Or letters. Just don’t read them. Because they’re interacting with an imaginary person. Not you. And the real you doesn’t have to play along.

Ouch. I have to admit I’ve done the “imaginary friend” thing to other people, though mostly when I was younger and a lot more clueless. I have to say, it’s something that happens when a person doesn’t have any idea how to actually make friends and doesn’t understand why a person doesn’t want to be friends with them. Also, I think it comes out of being blamed for not being able to make friends easily, and being told that you have to “make an effort” and “put yourself out there” and not understanding what any of that means.

I’m not really against anything this post is saying, but I would like to point out that most people never have to think about how to make friends at all. It comes beautifully and naturally to them and most people have never experienced wanting to be friends with someone with the other person not wanting to be friends back. That just doesn’t happen to normal people.

It’s hard to learn good boundaries when you have a disability that makes it hard to initiate friendships. This is especially true if lots of people in your life have power over you and pressure you really hard to socialize. Especially if they then praise every interaction or connection you have, without regard to whether it’s actually a good thing to be doing.

Some people who do the imaginary friend thing really do deserve sympathy. It’s just that they aren’t entitled to anyone’s friendship, and people who are their targets don’t owe them cooperation or friendship or attention.

That said - rejection is something everyone experiences. Everyone has experienced wanting to be someone’s friend who isn’t interested. Everyone has experienced wanting to be closer to someone than that person is interested in being. These are normal experiences, not something that only happens to people with disabilities that complicate social interactions.

It’s harder to deal with this when you’re lonely and isolated and no one seems to want to be your friend. It’s especially harder to deal with when you’re isolated because most people are prejudiced against people like you.

But.. Everyone has to learn to deal with experiencing unrequited feelings for someone. Everyone needs to learn to respect boundaries they wish the other person didn’t have.

This is harder for some people than others, but it’s not optional for anyone.

I dont’ think “everyone” has experienced being the target of being an imaginary friend.  I don’t think that’s universal experience at all. And I think you’re ascribing agression to this behavior when it’s an innocent misunderstanding. I think think it’s worth having an angry reaction at someone who’s trying to be nice. If there’s something wrong with how that person is treating you, that’s a different story, but you’re conflating two issues — an abusive, manipulative person, and a unrequired friendship.

If you’re finding yourself frequently at the target of people who are treating you as friendship tofu, despite your wishes, then there’s something else going on. I think you may need to work on your own ability to clearly indicate your ‘no.’ 

I don’t think that everyone’s been the target of imaginary friending. That happens to some people and not others.

Everyone experiences an unrequited desire to be someone’s friend, at some point or other. That is not imaginary friending.

Imaginary friending is when someone insists that someone is their friend regardless of that person’s feelings or consent or desire for interaction.

For instance:

  • Albert thinks Brian is really cool and wants to be his friend
  • Brian isn’t especially interested
  • Albert acts like Brian is his best friend anyway
  • And expects Brian to act like a best friend back, and gets really angry when he doesn’t

This can continue to the point where Brian asks Albert to stop contacting him, and Albert *still* insists that they are best friends and that Brian is doing something horrible.

Friendship is a relationship, and relationships require consent. Unilaterally declaring someone to be a friend, and considering their opinion on the matter irrelevant, isn’t an innocent attempt to be friendly.

I see what you’re saying. That’s a twiggy situation. 

Albert sounds like a stalker, frankly, and I wonder why he keeps persisting if Brian has stopped taking his calls, stopped responding to his emails, not made any plans with him. It’s been my experience that it’s hard to make and maintain relationships, at least past schooling. Both parties have to make an effort or theyfizzle out.

So I wonder if Brian is encouraging Albert by being too polite, responding to emails, returning texts, taking calls, and agreeing to meet Albert places. For the reasons you said above, Brian has been told that he must respond favorably to all social overtures. He’s sending a mixed message to Albert, who sounds very lonely or very confused or perhaps has a crush on Brian. If Brian had been a bit more honest from the start, by never giving Albert his contact information, he wouldn’t have his creepy shadow.

Wow this is a lot of victim blaming.

First of all, we don’t need to call Brian a victim yet. He hasn’t been assaulted and in this scenario, Albert hasn’t really upped his creepiness to stalking.

Second, I didn’t say that Albert’s behavior was appropriate or okay. Albert is responsible for his own actions.

But so is Brian. It isn’t victim blaming to recognize that you have power and control in your own life. You don’t have to be powerless and call yourself helpless every time someone does something you don’t like. You can come up with a way to react and adapt. 

Even disabled people will have to get along with a lot of people in their lives, and learned helplessness isn’t the answer. Learning adaptive skills is. And the first step is realizing that your behavior can have an impact how other people treat you. Your ‘no’ can be respected.

Harassment needn’t escalate to assault to constitute abuse. When someone’s insisting that they are your friend, even over your objections, that’s abusive.

And saying that it’s their own fault for ever giving that person contact information is victim blaming.

Sometimes there really *isn’t* anything you can do to get someone else to willingly respect no. Some people are committed to ignoring no.

That’s the kind of scenario I’m talking about here. Are you claiming that this doesn’t happen?