Carolyn Hax: Best friend shares problems but leans on others for fun

Adapted from an online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn: I have a person I would consider my best friend, almost a sister. However, I’m noticing over the last few years that I am the person she complains to — understandable, she has a terrible husband and job — which would be fine with me, except I’m noticing that’s all I am. If she goes out, I’m not invited. If I invite her to go out, she’s always busy with her kids.

Enjoying Carolyn Hax’s advice? There’s more where that came from. Sign up for her newsletter so you don’t miss a column.

A few months ago, she had a milestone birthday, and I offered to take her out, to the point where I was insisting — her husband was, as usual, MIA — but she refused, saying she didn’t feel like it, then went on a weekend with some friends and dinner with others.

I’ve tried to bring this up gently, but she’s wrapped up in husband and work drama.

Given the drama, I’m worried about bringing it up less gently, as I’m her only outlet. Do I just ride this out? We used to do more together, but honestly, I think our relationship has always been a little co-dependent with respect to complaining about husbands (although I am now divorced). Advice?

— Good Enough for Complaints, Not Good Enough for Drinks

Good Enough for Complaints, Not Good Enough for Drinks: If she is indeed a “best” friend, almost “sister,” then you can say, “When you turn down my invitations and then go out with other friends, I feel like your complaint friend, not your real friend,” without worrying that it will end your friendship/sisterhood.

“Gently” is not getting it done, clearly.

The idea that you don’t want to risk compromising her “only outlet” is a selfless one for you to hold, but aren’t these other friends of hers also available to her? I’m guessing you haven’t done this for one of these reasons: 1. You expect she’ll take it badly, possibly even sever ties over it, and you’re not ready for that to happen. 2. You suspect she’s not much of a “real” friend to you anymore, if she ever was — with “real” meaning affirmative, mutual choice — and you’re not ready to have that suspicion confirmed right now.

These are both actually fine, in the sense that it’s your prerogative to hang on to a so-so friendship if you are at peace with its so-so terms. No judgment here.

But if you don’t like the terms, and if you’d rather not be friends with her at all than be her dump-on friend, then it’s time to speak up on your own behalf.

· Please stop RIGHT NOW and go ask yourself why you are feeling this level of responsibility for her emotional health, particularly when the relationship does not appear to be reciprocal. You are taking on a burden that she NEEDS to figure out how to manage some other way than dumping on someone she’s not happy to see in other circumstances. Please examine why you are so invested in catering to her mental health — over your own.

· I wonder whether this friend has overshared, and is compartmentalizing her life. There is a reason therapists are not friends with their clients. Just a thought.

· Oversharing and compartmentalizing: exactly! When the divorced Complaint Friend goes out socially with the (still-married) complainer and discovers her husband isn’t the monster he’s been portrayed as, what happens then?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *