Can my female friend become less emotionally sensitive? Can I help?
May 27, 2006 2:07 PM Subscribe
My best female friend is very emotionally sensitive-- to the point where we can't mention a specific ex-boyfriend from three years ago in her presence. I and her other close friends are starting to think she can't control her responses about this, and that it's starting to impact how honest we can be with her. What can we do?
posted by woot to Human Relations (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My wonderful female friend freely admits that she is deeply emotional. This makes her a great, supportive friend, but this same quality sends her over the deep end when she gets hurt by guys. This isn't a daily occurrence by any means -- she isn't mentally ill, and she is very intelligent, attractive, and "normal" (whatever that means). But there is a specific situation that's been going on for a while now, and I am concerned that it's starting to impact our friendship.
Almost three years ago she dated a guy for about five months. He's very charismatic and attractive, but also profoundly self-centered. He didn't want to date her "publicly" so their relationship was pretty much just sex and "standing near each other" at parties. Such was their chemistry, though, that my friend recognized his selfishness and yet couldn't bring herself to protect herself from it. They broke up (his idea) and within two weeks he was dating another woman. (He didn't flaunt it-- my friend managed to find out.) My friend lost it and went through several weeks of crying, stalking, endless rehashing, all the things that people do when they're deeply hurt. (Let's leave alone for a moment the possibility that it's his right to date someone else once they've broken up-- that didn't enter into her thinking at all.)
The problem is that her level of hurt from this hasn't diminished. It's been three years, and I and all her other friends are afraid to talk about him to her because her reaction to hearing about him is extremely unpredictable. There are times when she seems OK with the situation-- she actually took the news of his marriage (to the same woman he started dating) fairly calmly, saying that she'd prepared herself for it. I thought this was a sign that she'd crossed over into acceptance. A few weeks after that I mentioned that it's possible that the guy will start working as a consultant for the company I work for. (I would have the ability to stop this if I chose.) When I told her this, she started crying.
I was stunned, and tried as gently as I could to find out why she was upset. Her explanation was twofold: first, she feels an uncontrollable physical response to hearing about him-- she flushes, her heart pounds, she feels lightheaded. She says she cannot control this response. Second, she believes that he is a bad person (untrustworthy being the core of it) and she expected all her friends to know this as well. She couldn't believe that I was even entertaining the idea of working with him at all, and she said that this indicated to her that I don't understand her. She didn't go so far as to say "If you were really my friend, you would have nothing to do with him ever", but I definitely felt that that was the message.
I and her other friends (we have talked about this a lot) are puzzled by this. My take is that she and this guy dated three years ago, for a few months, and he has done his best to stay away from her without being rude to her. (She got mad at him whether he ignored her or not.) He didn't cheat on her (even she doesn't think so), and I'm not sure that he's untrustworthy (despite the aforementioned self-absorption). Frankly, I and our other mutual friends kinda think he's an OK guy who did his best not to hurt her, and that there is nothing he can do that will ever be right or appropriate in our friend's eyes, ever.
But perhaps the scariest thing for me is the "if you were really my friend..." implications. My company needs this guy as a consultant-- it would help me professionally. I feel like if I do work with him, I will face the inevitable day when my friend will find out and tell me I have betrayed her. I think that would pretty much be it for our friendship.
For now, we all just lie to her, not talking about him when we run into him. This feels to me like we are all treating her as if she is less than human.
My question for you MeFites:
1) Is it possible for her to change herself to be less reactive to emotional distress like this? (Is there any kind of yardstick for when you're supposed to recover from emotional hurt?)
2) If it's possible, can we, her friends who love her, say or do anything to help her make those changes?
3) If she can't ever change, how do we talk about the things that distress her? Do we have to keep lying by omission? Isn't that wrong?
4) Do I have to make the choice between my professional welfare and my friendship with her? Should I tell her that I feel like I have to make that choice?
Thanks for any advice. This has been a tough one for me.