I just talked to my best friend from college. I’d asked her why since college I’ve twice become close friends with someone who is weird, self-involved, and rude.
Her hypothesis, and recommended course of action, intrigued me.
Her recollection was I had a higher tolerance for BS-filled, self-involved people than most of our mutual friends. I don’t seek out such annoying people, but I also will listen to them, be as polite to them as I am to anyone else (which isn’t amazingly polite, but I try), and in general avoid confrontational exchanges. And this was ok in college because for every self-involved, full of BS student there were several more empathic, mostly kind, and able-to-listen people I could be around instead.
Most other students intuitively realized, “Person X is self-involved and an ass, I can’t change it, but I’m certainly not going to tolerate it”. They would be as rude as necessary, as early as necessary, to ensure Person X didn’t get a chance to hurt them.
Where things started to go wrong was, potentially, after college. I no longer had my accumulated group of interesting but not self-involved assholes around me. And my college friends were both interesting as people (i.e. friends I could talk to about life) and intellectually. But I’m (very) shy, and so I find it extraordinarily difficult to meet people when they’re surrounded by other people. It’s much easier for me to meet and introduce myself to people that aren’t part of a close group of friends.
And so that’s what’s seemed to happen at least twice to me. I ended up meeting and befriending a couple of narcissist social misfits that could be good to talk to for a few weeks but really bad close long-term friend material. And I missed the warning signs. Conversely, as my college friend said, “These sorts of people tend to be incredibly lonely. They’ll latch onto whoever gives them some non-abusive attention.” So I would meet these people, miss the warning signs, be happy that I could interact with them and without a giant crown surrounding them, be even happier when a closer friendship developed, and then realize that this friendship is full of crazy that I didn’t sign up for. And then have major issues trying to manage it, and not being sure if it’s me or the other person or what.
My friend’s advice: I need to stop beating myself up and, in the future, up my standards. Don’t become friends with someone just because they’re socially available, don’t miss/ignore the warning signs that someone is going to be emotionally abusive, and don’t confuse “interesting person to talk to for the next 2 weeks or during this year’s classes” with “interesting person to invest lots of emotional effort into for a life-long friendship”.