How to get rid of clingy people
The answer is no, again
It was just another night of partying together with her friends in their house. Julia had been really looking forward to the event but once the party was in full swing, her mood was spoiled by her friend whom she had known ever since they moved into their house.
Once again, he tried to confess his love to her, even though she had made it clear from the get-go that she wasn’t interested in him in a romantic way. ‘He was drunk enough to try to kiss me even though I had just told him again that I don’t want to be in a relationship. It was like he hadn’t even heard what I just said,’ she recalls.
‘For a while, I felt guilty because I didn’t want to hurt him, but I couldn’t help not feeling about him that way,’ the master student of journalism says. But as he kept trying, she just felt more and more annoyed.
After a whole year of turning him down, her admirer still wouldn’t give up the idea of them becoming a couple. Instead of accepting that she didn’t reciprocate his feelings, he tried to kiss her on several occasions. ‘I always pulled away when he tried. It made things awkward’, she says.
Law student Anna Hartz also had a clingy guy chasing her. She met him on a dating app, and they went on two dates. While they were talking about meeting up a third time, she realised that things were not going to work out between them. ‘I told him that I was busy but he wouldn’t stop asking whether we could meet up. That really put me off,’ she says.
After a while, she simply stopped responding. But that didn’t keep her ‘date’ from texting her repeatedly, pouring his heart out. ‘He sent me this really long message, saying that he thought what we had was special. This was after several messages that I had already ignored,’ Anna says.
Anna and Julia aren’t the only people who’ve had a ‘no’ interpreted as an invitation to try harder. Especially in the past months, boundaries have been crossed more frequently, says assistant professor Bertus Jeronimus. The researcher of intimate support relationships believes this is a result of ongoing lockdowns and a lack of social contacts.
‘Normally, you learn where a friendship ends and where a relationship starts by interacting with other people.’ But because of the restriction of social contacts, young people, especially those between fifteen and twenty-four, ‘haven’t had a lot of practice to learn how to negotiate boundaries in these group settings’, says Jeronimus.
Did you even hear what I just said?
During last years’ fall and the spring of 2021, less than 20 percent of the adolescents in the Netherlands were dating, Jeronimus says. A consequence of that, he says, is that they now overstep boundaries more easily, especially when their inhibitions dwindle because there is alcohol involved.
The reason for overstepping boundaries comes down to our biological make-up, experts say. While it’s not the only reason, sex is a motivator in opposite-sex friendships. Studies have found this applies more to men than for women, because men are more likely to overperceive sexual interest from their partners, whereas women tend to underperceive it.
‘Men don’t have to carry a baby, so for women the investment is much bigger if a relationship develops into something more than a friendship’, Jeronimus says. ‘Men can just move on, which is why they will more often try and push harder than a woman would.’
‘People tend to select partners who are similar to them, for example in terms of hobbies or their moral values,’ says Sofie Lorijn, whose research focuses on peer relationships. The social cues that play into the selection of friends and partners are learned at a young age. However, children do not simultaneously develop a sense of how to not cross personal boundaries.
It feels like they just want to have a partner for the sake of it. It scared me
‘If you make a move two or three times and keep going after someone says no, it becomes too much. I was very patient for a long time, but he tried something at almost every party. If someone keeps on pushing like that, it’s a big turnoff for me,’ Julia says.
In the end, her clingy friend’s behaviour pushed her away even further. ‘When someone wants a relationship so badly, it feels like they just want to have a partner for the sake of it. It scared me.’
Continually having to turn someone down who keeps trying to convince you to do things that make you feel uncomfortable can cause people to doubt themselves, says Jeronimus. ‘Maybe I haven’t communicated my boundaries clearly enough,’ is a common thought when the pushiness doesn’t stop, he says.
In the end they start to blame themselves, says Jeronimus. ‘In extreme cases, this leads to a decreased sense of control and self-worth. The world may seem more dangerous to you if your boundaries are constantly disregarded.’
‘Being open about how you feel is key,’ says Lorijn. ‘Know that it’s okay not to like everyone and that relationships aren’t always beneficial. Forcing a low-quality relationship isn’t good for anyone, because if there are no boundaries it can have a harmful impact on your mental health.’
Art history student Sonia Polidori was in a situation like that when she was thirteen years old. She was texting with a girl that was eighteen – quite a bit more mature than herself. ‘When I was on a vacation with my parents, she asked me to send photos of myself in my swimsuit,’ Sonia recalls.
‘I was easily manipulated at the time and didn’t realise that it was wrong.’ Only as she grew up, she became aware that this girl had crossed many boundaries. Sonia felt ‘used’, she says. The experience has had a long-lasting effect on her. ‘Until I was about seventeen years old, I was reluctant to trust people,’ Sonia says.
A few years later, the girl reached out to Sonia again, saying that she regrets the things she did and that she was hoping they could reconnect. ‘That time I immediately distanced myself from her and unfollowed her on all social media because I didn’t want to go back to that place,’ says Sonia.
It’s not just women who encounter this type of behaviour. Master student of international relations Raphael Rifflet also knows what it’s like to deal with someone he had no interest in and didn’t respect his boundaries.
She contacted the person I was actually dating at the time
He had a roommate at The Village who would knock on his door at two in the morning to spend time with him. She sent him unsolicited nude pictures and made sexual advances through inappropriate comments towards him. He describes feeling ‘awkward and repulsed’ by her behaviour.
Eventually, the girl became so possessive that she inserted herself into other relationships Raphael had. ‘I learned that she contacted the person I was actually dating at the time through social media. She became very possessive when I started to hang out with some Spanish people. She was very controlling and constantly asked what I was doing,’ Raphael recalls.
It is crucial to be assertive to preserve your personal boundaries, the experts say. ‘You have to communicate clearly, explain what you want and what you don’t want,’ says Jeronimus. ‘If they don’t respect these boundaries, they are not really your friend.’
‘If you have warned them and they still disregard your boundaries, another option is to involve a third person who is connected to both parties to help navigate the situation or finally to break off contact altogether.’
He tried to be clear, Raphael says. ‘I tried to make her understand nicely. I explained to her that I wasn’t interested but she just became more and more aggressive,’ he says. Eventually, the contact between them ceased because they both left their accommodation at The Village. Raphael left because he found accommodation elsewhere; the girl was sent to prison because she burned down one of the kitchens.