DAME’s Friendkeeper tells us how to respond to a pal’s backhanded compliments and what to do when a favor-happy friend denies your request for help.
I have a friend who is a total underminer. She’ll say things like, “Your skin is looking so much better now.” Or, “Your career is finally taking off.” I am a working artist, always have been, nothing’s changed. I see her saying stuff like that to other people, too, so it isn’t just me. But it’s…jarring, I never know what to say. Is it just her manner? What’s it about? She’s otherwise quite nice and thoughtful, always remembers your birthday, takes care of the cats when you’re away, stuff like that. Maybe she’s tone deaf? Is it worth saying something?
I think what you’re dealing with here is classic frenemy tendency. I know a few of them—“Your writing has really gotten better,” or when I share what I think is a funny anecdote, “Oh, that’s embarrassing, I wouldn’t be able to show my face.” You get it. The thing is, I deeply believe there is a meanness and jealousy in it all. And me no like it. As I think I’ve made clear in my column, I am of the school of thought that friends should be direct, honest, kind, supportive, and not crappy! It is possible she does not know she does it, and rather than say, “You do this awful thing and everyone hates it…” I would point it out the next time it happens. When she says, “Your skin is looking so much better now.” Say, “Better than what? When it was inflamed with boils?” And then you can explain that couching a compliment like that stings. It’s great to notice improvements in people, but those people know where they came from. And complimenters know that saying they look better isn’t the same as them looking great.
A friend, let’s call her Jane, always likes to boast about how she does extraordinary favors for people. She knows a lot of people, and holds a pretty important job, so we’re talking about big favors, not I’ll house sit for you and collect your mail. I hate asking for favors, I’ve actually never done it. But I recently lost my job of ten years when the company I worked for filed for bankruptcy, and so I summoned the courage to cash in a chip—I asked her if she could help. Not financially or anything, just with a leg up. And she said, “You know what, I really can’t right now. I wish I could.” I was so flabbergasted, I honestly didn’t know what to say. I mean, she helps people she barely knows, and now, in a moment of desperation, I, a friend, have mustered the courage to deliver on one of these favors she loves to brag about. I’m hurt. And, of course, depressed because I’m still unemployed. Should I take this personally? Is she better about helping strangers than friends? Or should I assume she’s just one of those people who tends to be full of shit?
Easy to Be Hard
I’m getting this image of your friend sitting in her shrink’s office talking about how she’s got to stop helping people, because it’s depleting her or whatever and the shrink saying, “The next person who asks just say, ‘You know what, I really can’t right now.’” I don’t know, just a guess. Or maybe her job is in jeopardy and she just doesn’t feel safe right now. Whatever the case, your feelings were hurt, because although those scenarios are likely, when someone says what she says, the only thing you can think is, “It must be me.” And you’re feeling vulnerable because you are out of work. You know what I think? If she’s a good friend, talk to her about it. I remember many years ago a close friend of mine asked another friend of ours to borrow some money and the friend she asked said she couldn’t, even though she seemed like she could. The friend who asked was so offended, she never said anything and their relationship disintegrated. Years later I was talking to the one who said no and she said something about not being liquid at the time, or she was house rich and cash poor. Some money talk that I didn’t understand, but it was not personal. When I asked her why she didn’t say it at the time she said she was embarrassed. It’s unfortunate, because I know had it been said, they would still be friends. But now you have the luxury of learning from their mistakes. So speak to your friend. It’s a very valid question and those are very valid feelings and at the least you need to express them.
Got a platonic problem of your own that could use the Friendkeeper’s advice? Fire away: [email protected]. No situation is too uncomfortable or too small and all details are kept confidential.
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