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My friend is a drain

She’s always crying about her problems. Is this a normal part of friendship?

It does sound one-sided, says our elder. Maybe it’s time to have an honest conversation.

 

Dear EWC

I hope you’re staying well during these unsettling times. My best friend, Lisa (name changed), has been on and off ‘dating’ this guy, Peter (name changed), for two years. Their relationship has been rather unstable and it’s impacted our friendship greatly. I can’t honestly share my thoughts or advice, but I also wonder – is it my place? After four break ups, I am tired of wiping away hers tears until late at night, only to hear she has forgiven him and everything is better. When I try to give my honest opinion, she gets upset and tells me it’s not my place to give advice and that I’m not a trained expert. 

Truth is, I don’t know anything about dating. I have been in a relationship with my college sweetheart for eight years (we’re 28 now), so I never had to date as an adult in the real world. So perhaps she’s right. I now limit my opinions on Peter because I know she doesn’t want to hear it. Through these past two years, we stopped talking often because even when I do try to steer the conversation away from her romantic relationship, she always seems to be in a bad mood. She responds in a short/angry manner. When I ask if something is wrong, she chalks it up to just being tired or stressed from work. I find it hard to have a regular conversation with her. Lisa and I have gone on a couple socially distanced walks, and she informed me that they’re back together. She tells me she’s so lucky to have him during Covid and they plan on getting serious and starting a family. While she sounded hopeful, she also told me she deleted her social media accounts because she couldn’t stand the sight of him liking/interacting with other women. She also told me she continues to hack his email/phone to check that he’s not cheating. Because of her reaction to my previous advice, I try to stay neutral but supportive. When tried to talk about myself, and things I’m doing, her responses seem bitter and snarky. 

So my questions are: 1. Is it my duty as a friend to share my opinion? 2. Is it my fault for not setting healthy boundaries? Throughout high school and college, I have always had friends who end up in these types of relationship entanglements, and I become the shoulder to cry on. It is really draining. During college, I had a different friendship which ended because I felt she kept using me as an unhealthy emotional asylum anytime she and her boyfriend were fighting. If I wasn’t available for her, she would get angry. Since I’ve been in a stable long-term relationship, I have never really had to go crying to someone else about my problems. I can’t tell if I’m doing something wrong in terms of selecting female friends? Am I simply bad at drawing healthy boundaries, or is this a normal part of friendship? 

 

Ms. Mary replies

First, congrats on your long-term stable relationship! You are doing something right, Susan. “Lisa” could learn from you. It must be frustrating to watch her on an emotional roller coaster ride, confiding in you when she is down, but not wanting to hear your advice. I’ve learned that unless people ask for my opinion, they generally don’t want to listen to it. Even though you care deeply about Lisa and don’t want her to get hurt, I don’t think mentioning your concerns about “Peter” would be beneficial. So, in answer to your question, no, it isn’t your duty to share your opinion. And as you indicated, she doesn’t want to hear it, anyway. 

I think it is natural for females to complain to their friends when they are having romantic troubles. However, if the relationship is draining you, then you are right to question it. It sounds one-sided, but that is often the case when one friend is in a stable relationship, and the other is struggling. It is hard to say whether the problem is from not setting boundaries or whether perhaps the friendship has changed and is no longer serving you. Overall, does it enhance your life, or are you just going through the motions? Have you outgrown it? Friends often grow apart as their lives change. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just a part of life. However, a healthy friendship includes both give and take. Most importantly, friendships should be meaningful, fun, and rewarding.

With that said, it is essential to set boundaries if a friend becomes too dependent on you. If her continual complaining starts to disrupt your life, then enough is enough. You already experienced that in college and recognized that it was toxic. However, I don’t think you are doing anything wrong. Learn from your past, and as you meet new people, look at their attitude. Do they talk about what is working in their life or their problems? Do they have a positive or negative attitude? Do they show interest in you or mostly talk about themselves?

Susan, what do you think is best for you – continuing the relationship as is, having a heart-to-heart talk with Lisa about how you feel, or continuing to distance yourself from her? If you aren’t sure, then maybe it would be worthwhile having an honest conversation with Lisa (even if it is uncomfortable).

Regardless of what you decide, it would be wise to make a new friend with someone who is in a stable relationship. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a light-hearted friend who listens and cares about you, someone who makes you laugh and enriches your life?  That probably won’t happen overnight, but having that as an objective will eventually bring it about. 

I’m happy to talk with you further if I can be of more help, and would be interested in knowing what you decide (if you feel like sharing). Wishing you confidence, clarity, and relief as you move forward. 

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Friendship

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