DAME’s Friendkeeper gives advice for halting the cycle of complaint, and about what to do when a friend in need wants more than you can give.
Several months ago I got really close to a friend who had always been on the periphery of my social circle. But at the time we were both in jobs we hated, I was in a dating hellhole, and she was getting out of a sucky relationship. We basically bonded by commiserating over our misfortune. It felt really good. But then it stopped feeling good. And now I’m sick of complaining all the time. We still hang out regularly and I want to talk about other things, but no matter how I try to steer the conversation, it always becomes a serious Debbie Downer situation. Which I get, the familiarity of our friendship was based on griping. We were in it together! A sisterhood of sadness! But I just can’t do it anymore. Is it possible to break this pattern with her? I’d prefer not to lose her as a friend, I just want her to move forward with me.
Two Can Be as Bad as One
Oh man, can I relate to this. I’ve forged many a relationship based on mutual whinings. And in the past few years, I’ve been racing in the Triple Crown of Hard Knocks©. My friend Claudia and I text and talk and get together a lot—she’s had her fill of stuff, too, though not as bad as me because, you know, it’s not happening to me. And there was a period where it seemed like every time one of us checked in with the other, there was a death or tragic illness to report. One day we were texting and I said, “I feel like I never get good news any more.” And she said, “I have good news. Last night I got a really bad stain out of my white shirt.” And boom, the clouds lifted (a few weeks later her good news was that she got a new mop—I do kind of wish she’d stop bragging so much, but with close friends you must take the good with the bad). ANYWAY, my point is if you can possibly inject humor into the complaints, they become much less depressing. Another thing Claudia and I do when we are talking and things are getting too morose, is we make the Rachel Dratch/Debbie Downer face and noise. But if your friend just wants to stay in the muck and not crack jokes, she may not be able to take the friendship to the next level.
My friend is going through a really crap time right now—a divorce and a recently diagnosed chronic illness back to back. And it sucks, I know. All of her friends have rallied together to help and be there for her, inviting her over for dinner, helping her move to her new place, inviting her to do things. But many of us are coupled, even have families and other obligations, and can’t always check in as often as we’d like. And I admittedly spaced for over a week and forgot to check in. Which I didn’t think was such a big deal because she has a huge circle of friends, and I have a demanding job and two children. Something I thought she understood. Apparently not because she’s been complaining that we have all failed her in this time of need, that she has no one. I feel terrible—I love her, and I can imagine how lonely and terrifying it must feel to be sick and alone—but also, a little resentful. We don’t live close to each other, and speaking for myself, I’m doing the best I can to be there for her. What can I do to make her feel less alone? And how can I defuse the tension and resentment on both ends?
Trying To Be a Good Friend
You are a good friend, and she’s going through a rough time and the situation she is in has got to be making her furious, and sometimes you say kind of mean things to the people in your life who you trust and count on because you know they won’t hold it against you. The fact is, she is very much alone. Having a chronic illness, no matter how much support you have, is lonely as shit. You are the only one in your body. And going through a divorce is also terribly lonely, because you’re the only one who is dealing with your former person and feeling the stabs of pain of being estranged from someone who used to be yours. It sounds to me like you and your friends are doing everything you can, but I would talk to her about seeing a therapist. She’s got to have a place to blow off steam, because as good and understanding as you are, feeling resentful isn’t going to make you want to jump in there and be more available for her. Life is hard when things are fairly normal; she is in a crisis and needs professional support, and you will still be there for the stuff the therapist doesn’t do … like plying her with cosmos and bringing her up to date on the Kardashians.
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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