Avoid Being "Hoovered" in a Relationship

Tracy Stengel

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I had a neighbor I will call Cindy who quickly insinuated her way into my daily life. It started when I walked over, introduced myself, and welcomed her to the neighborhood. She invited me in for a cup of coffee and proceeded to tell me her life story. I listened to ultra-personal renderings of her painful past and began to fidget. I didn’t even know her last name, yet I knew she had been molested, had beaten cancer, and had irregular periods.

I wanted to come up with an excuse to leave. Maybe say I needed to mow the lawn or had something in the oven. Instead, I sat pinned to a chair in her kitchen for two excruciating hours. As I made a polite exit, she asked me if I wanted to go out to lunch the next day. My mind was so numb, I simply nodded and made hasty steps home. I mentally kicked myself the rest of the day.

Soon, Cindy was at my door or blowing up my phone on the regular. I began avoiding sitting on my deck — a place I loved to relax and read a good book in my cozy chaise lounge. I stopped taking my daily walks. I’d sprint from my front door, slide into my car, and pull out faster than Daisy Duke.

One day, Cindy asked me what I was doing later that evening. “I have plans,” I blurted. “Me and some friends are going up to the Village Idiot. We know the guys playing in the band.” That night, I almost spilled my cocktail when Cindy showed up and joined us. She attached herself to me like a tick I couldn’t shake.

My attempts to avoid her became craftier, but Cindy doubled down on her persistence. When I told her I needed some space, she said, “You’re the only friend I have. I’d die if I lost you.” Then, she followed up with vague inferences of wanting to hurt herself.

Guilt tore me up inside.

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“You’ve got to do something about her,” my best friend said. “She’s hoovering you.”

“Who … what?” I said, puzzled.

“Hoovering. Like the vacuum. It means when someone who won’t let you go. They suck the lifeblood out of you,” my friend explained. “My ex-husband did it to me. Don’t you remember?”

Ah, I did, indeed! She had tried to leave him for years, but he kept haranguing her until she was too emotionally exhausted to make a move. Now, that she pointed it out, her ex and Cindy both liked pulling a “hoover maneuver.”

When my lease ran out, so did I. Like a thief in the night, I moved to the other side of the city and blocked Cindy’s number. It wasn’t until I eventually moved out of state that I felt truly free of her.

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In Psychology Today, Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D. says hoovering is often done by narcissists who enjoy manipulating people and feeding their own ego. While Dr. Krauss Whitbourne’s article is about hoovering in romantic relationships, Cindy proved it can be done in friendships as well.

Specifically, the person who commits this behavior is someone whose rage, should their partner try to leave, leads them to use extreme manipulative and even deceptive tactics in order to convince their partner to stay.

Paying attention in the early stages of a relationship can help you detect someone prone to hoovering. Dr. Krauss Whitbourne points out some of the signs:

… observe how your partner responds to other real or imagined snubs or rejections. How much are they ready to explode when someone turns away from them? Are even innocent situations, such as someone failing to respond to and email, enough to infuriate and enrage your partner?

If you’ve ever been hoovered in a relationship, how did you handle it? I’d love to hear your story in the comments!

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Tracy explores the world with a positive eye, an open heart, and a sprinkling of humor. Without laughter, she would be lost.

Onsted, MI
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