Pfft, cry me a river. Wait, don't!
January 8, 2009 3:42 PM   Subscribe

Okay, so my friend cried in front of me. This isn’t usually a big deal for me, but for some reason this little episode has totally unnerved me. A huge plate of overthought beans await inside.

First, I’m a lady: in general, a liberal, feelings-having, men-can-cry-too lady. Specifically, I am the "tough love" friend who’s drawn to dynamic, self-deprecating but also self-sufficient folk. While I have had many a sleeve get be-snotted by an upset friend, and I’ve done the same, I personally resort to hyper-rationalization and anger when I’m upset, and up until now, so have most of my friends. And like anyone, we have fits of despair (foreign affairs, personal relationships, Sarah Palin), but they never keep us in bed all day. I know depression is way, way more complex than indolence and self-pity, but again, I’m not very exposed to it personally, and it’s not something I viscerally understand.

One of my good friends has recently suffered from episodic bouts of depression spurred by social anxiety, insecurity and a general sense of malaise. We have a lot of intellectual chemistry (nothing sexual, we're both friends with each other's SOs), hang out 1-3 times a week, and try to keep each other sane while we deal with mid-twenties dissolution and boredom. A week ago at dinner we got into a minor discussion about some benign problems with our dynamic (which are as much my fault as his: he gets a little overbearing and I can be insensitive). To me, it was a pretty normal, healthy exercise in an adult friendship. I had already moved on to another subject when I realized that my friend’s eyes were suddenly glazed with tears. He didn’t wipe them away, but hung his head as they dribbled down his face. Much to my everlasting shame, I was left speechless and appalled at this reaction. I basically sat there petrified until he finally sniffed the tears up again and we eventually moved on.

A week later, I still can’t shake that initial shock, and if anything it's metastasizing into something much worse. I see now that he had been having a rough, that it was poor timing for me to criticize him, that it was probably the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back, and that I shamefully didn’t rise to occasion to console him. But I also can’t help but feel manipulated, exasperated, and (I can barely admit this) embarrassed for him. I’m disgusted with myself for feeling like this when I know that he's depressed and I'm being an asshole. And I’m further alienated after his follow-ups, in which he tries to ease my guilt over making him cry (“I know you didn’t mean it”) without apologizing for losing his cool or admitting that it was a very minor infraction that just happened at a bad time. I’m avoiding him because I only feel guilt over my internal reactions, not the discussion itself.

I keep waiting for this irrational cringing to subside, because now I’m being the immature cry baby who’s made a big deal out of nothing. I don’t want to hang out with him, I avoid his phone calls, and I get mad all over again just remembering the scene. Obviously I can’t really tell an already insecure depressive “Look, I’m irrationally mad and embarrassed for you that you cried over nothing and now I feel like I can’t say anything negative to you ever again,” but he’s starting to demand an explanation for why I fell off the radar.

Can I be honest about my reaction without sending him into a deeper depression? How do I get over this “Ick, ick, ick” feeling? Aside from choosing my words carefully, how else can I exert some damage control? Or does this incident mean I’m probably too emotionally obstructed and unsympathetic to be friends with him?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (53 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
But I also can’t help but feel manipulated, exasperated, and (I can barely admit this) embarrassed for him.

Ok, I'm thinking this is weird. Why would him crying be manipulative towards you?

he tries to ease my guilt over making him cry (“I know you didn’t mean it”) without apologizing for losing his cool or admitting that it was a very minor infraction that just happened at a bad time.

Why would he apologize? One apologizes when one has done something wrong.

Frankly, when one releases a few drops like that it has little to do with the criticism and is instead generally related to letting difficult feelings go.

Obviously this all depends on what you said to him. E-mail a mod and let us know.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:02 PM on January 8, 2009 [10 favorites]

Q: Can I be honest about my reaction without sending him into a deeper depression?

A: Maybe. But if you already feel bad about the initial display, do you want to risk it again? And what do you honestly gain from being honest?

Q. How do I get over this “Ick, ick, ick” feeling?

A: By realising you're an adult and that other people have and are entitled to their feelings.

Q: Aside from choosing my words carefully, how else can I exert some damage control? Or does this incident mean I’m probably too emotionally obstructed and unsympathetic to be friends with him?

A: I don't think you are "too emotionally obstructed and unsympathetic to be friends with him" but I do think you have some issues of your own you probably need to work out if this is your reaction to his feelings.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:08 PM on January 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think you're trapped in a vicious cycle. The last time you saw your friend, you were made to feel profoundly uncomfortable (precisely why, I can't say). Thus, you are avoiding your friend. Thus, you deny the friend a chance to create a different last impression. Thus, you continue to be uncomfortable with the idea of hanging out with your friend. (Regardless of what people say about first impressions, I'd say last impressions are even more important.)

Go hang out with him despite your discomfort. If you see that you're not going to be made to feel profoundly uncomfortable every time you hang out with him, I suspect your reluctance to see him will decrease.

Can I be honest about my reaction without sending him into a deeper depression?

As someone who's suffered from serious depression myself, I doubt it. While this is a conversation that two well-adjusted people might have without too much difficulty, it sounds like your friend isn't equipped to hear that right now. I'm not one who often advocates lying, but here I think the white lie is the best thing: "Work has been so busy lately and I've just been so tired when I wasn't at work." Or "I've been taking care of my sister who's been ill." Or whatever else is plausible. (Note: this only applies in conjunction with my previous advice to hang out with him again. You can cover up a week of avoiding him that way. Probably not a month.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:20 PM on January 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Maybe you could try educating yourself about crying? Possibly some of your ideas about crying that are currently making you feel icky will evaporate.
posted by Pigpen at 4:21 PM on January 8, 2009

Ask yourself if this may be a gender issue.

Most of us have offered consoling shoulders for distraught female friends whose mascara, tears, and nasal mucosa flow unfettered as they heave, sniffle, bawl, convulsively sob. We love 'em anyway -- maybe even moreso because they've shared their vulnerability with us.

It takes incredible bravery, even today, for a man to cry openly in front of others. Your reaction -- whether gender-related or not -- is the reason why.

Men don't get the same TLC during PDE's (Public Displays of Emotion). Oftentimes, unfortunately, the response is contempt, awkwardness, distancing, and a few slaps on the back with a mumbled, "buck up, dude."

Your friend doesn't need to apologize for crying openly, uninhibitedly.

Much, much later, after truly processing this episode, you may want to let him know how you first felt -- but only if at that later time you become more at ease with his vulnerability.
posted by terranova at 4:21 PM on January 8, 2009 [13 favorites]

If you want to be kind, you'll let it drop. Stop trying to make him make you feel better, and instead of endlessly processing it just cut yourself off every time you try to rehash it in your head. "Bygones!" is a good motto, as is "Shake it off!"

It can be really jarring to see someone's guard down like that. I have a similar flinch in the face of friends' poetry/prose/lyrics, and I've just learned to let it roll off because it's my problem, not theirs. Let it go, forgive yourself for your reaction, forgive him for startling you, move on. It's something you have to work at, but it's not like you're never going to be in this position again, so call it personal development, yank on those bootstraps, and call him and spend some time with him. If he wants to know what the deal is, apologize and tell him you freaked out but it's totally your problem and you're over it. And then be over it.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:30 PM on January 8, 2009

If I'm reading this right, you were at dinner with him when you told him that he is overbearing. He responded that you are insensitive, and I assume there was some back-and-forth, and then he cried. Then, he tries to tell you that he knows you didn't mean to be so harsh.

By your words, when you are upset you get angry and hyper-rationalize. I think you are not angry at him for crying, but at yourself for being exactly what he said you are -- insensitive -- to the point that you reduced him to tears in a restaurant.

So, to get over the "ick, ick, ick" feeling, first acknowledge that you are not angry with him, but with yourself. Then, be honest with him about your reaction.
posted by Houstonian at 4:32 PM on January 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

Much to my everlasting shame, I was left speechless and appalled at this reaction. [...] How do I get over this “Ick, ick, ick” feeling?

I hear you trying to give yourself a bit of a "get out of jail free" card, in the sense that you seem to be framing your reaction as just this irrational thing that you can't understand, and that you (and your friend) just have to snap your fingers and "get over."

I have found, though, that to get past uncomfortable feelings, you must first be able to sit with those feelings for a little while -- yet your reaction seems to be to push the feeling as far away and as fast as you can. This is unlikely to result in a lasting sense of understanding for you, nor a dynamic that's good for your friendship.

There are a variety of different things that might be driving your feelings... and it's getting to the bottom of those things that will help you actually get past this. For example:

- Maybe your discomfort indicates that, despite considering yourself a "men can have feelings too" kind of gal, you've actually internalized certain dominant cultural ideas about gender and, specifically, masculinity and emotion. If so, then his crying forced a certain internal contradiction of yours to the surface.

- Could be you're just generally suspicious of crying itself; I think it's revealing (and honestly, a little chilling) that you characterize him as being manipulative for crying, and that you evidently hold it against him that he didn't apologize. But tears, in and of themselves, are not necessarily any of those things -- they are simply an outward manifestation of a strong feeling. For some people, tearing up is as involuntary as blushing. Would you hold blushing against someone? Probably not. So why do you assume tears are different?

- Perhaps you tend to have a very hard time apologizing, or admitting you were wrong, etc. As long as someone doesn't cry or get mad, then, you can perhaps kid yourself into thinking that your words don't affect anyone else. If so, then his tears would feel like a reproach to you. That can be humbling -- and if you're not used feeling humbled (or knowing how to react constructively when you do), that can quickly turn to humiliation and embarrassment.

- Maybe you think that when someone feels bad, it's your job to make them feel better -- and if you feel you can't fix the situation, your frustration becomes anger. But compassion and kindness sometimes just means being in the moment with someone -- saying "I'm sorry you're hurting" and putting your hand on top of theirs. Or stopping in the middle of a conversation and saying "things are getting a little heated. The important thing I want to tell you is that I care about you, and I care about our friendship."

I think it's worth it to consider these questions and see where they lead you -- both for yourself and for your relationships (not just this one with your friend, but all of them) so that you can develop your compassion and empathy muscles a little more. Start with yourself by forgiving your own reaction to your friend, and see if that might allow you to open your heart a little more towards your friend.

Sorry to go on so long; I grew up in a household where my own feelings and expressions of sadness were pretty routinely censored ("what have you got to cry about?" is really not a good thing to say to a child, seriously), and it set in motion a pattern where I used to date people who were similarly uncomfortable and censoring about sadness -- so it's something I've given a lot of thought to over the years.
posted by scody at 4:39 PM on January 8, 2009 [25 favorites]

I personally resort to hyper-rationalization and anger when I’m upset, and up until now, so have most of my friends.

Anger is OK but crying is weak? I mean, I know that's the stereotype and all, but I guarantee you it's 10 times easier to get angry in front of someone than it is to cry in front of them.

And like anyone, we have fits of despair (foreign affairs, personal relationships, Sarah Palin), but they never keep us in bed all day.

What a fine, treasured little life you've had. So far.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:41 PM on January 8, 2009 [12 favorites]

I know depression is way, way more complex than indolence and self-pity, but again, I’m not very exposed to it personally, and it’s not something I viscerally understand.

I think this might be the thing. It sounds like you intellectually understand and respect the legitimacy of depression, but deep down you don't. Which is why the sight of your friend in tears disgusted you, even though you have cried yourself and don't ordinarily react this way to the tears of others. Please stop avoiding your friend, and please make an effort to gain a real, internalized understand what depression is. If you'd like to read a long book, try The Noonday Demon. If you'd rather read a short one, I'd suggest Darkness Visible.
posted by moxiedoll at 4:46 PM on January 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

You seem to be more concerned with how your friend's depression makes you feel than about his welfare. Are you his friend or his acquaintance? If it's friend, reply to his calls/texts. Try to "be there" for him.

You seem to lack empathy. Maybe you should work on that.
posted by spork at 4:53 PM on January 8, 2009 [12 favorites]

It is somewhat alarming that you feel manipulated by your friend's emotional reaction to you criticizing him. I think that your embarrassment on his behalf is unfounded as he was merely reacting to a situation - we (including OP) can only guess as to what the triggers really were. I must say, however, that his reaction was, indeed, not crying over nothing and any such assumption is both unrealistic and harsh.

You can certainly be honest about your reaction, but how your friend takes it is up to how you present it. Just keep two things in mind: You are not the sole reason for his emotional state - there are a lot of things at play here. And secondly, don't try to be blunt, try to be understood.

How to get over the ick ick ick feeling... Identify the root of the feelings of shame and anger in yourself and deal with it. Also, realize that other people have feelings and you can affect them and realize that other people can and do have different emotional reactions to situations than you do. You can't expect everyone to react exactly how you would.

As far as damage control goes, start with getting yourself through this - it seems to be the part of the situation that is spiraling faster than anything else.

As a side note, I agree with previous replies that I fail to see just what it is for which your friend has to apologize. You are shouldering displeasure and shame for your own reaction, and you are talking yourself into being more and more upset about the situation with passing time. It is clear you're not comfortable with how you behaved and you feel guilty about it, but no matter how unsettling to you it may be, that does not mean your friend should apologize to you for crying.
posted by kirstk at 4:53 PM on January 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

"It's stress, you asshole!"
-- Meg Ryan getting glassy-eyed in Courage Under Fire

Sarah Palin may have made life difficult for Trooper Wooten but it's unclear why she keeps roaming across people's emotional lives. Anyway, do you have some logical reason to view his tears as manipulative? Manipulate you for what end, exactly?

Whether you send him into a spiral of depression isn't your concern, but the underrated virtue of tact is a good reason not to tell him his tears invite your contempt. Were you raised in a household in which expressing sorrow was considered a cynical play for attention? I've known people who've carried that attitude into adulthood, and it's a belief worth reconsidering.
posted by Kirklander at 4:59 PM on January 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

To him, at the time, what you said wasn't benign or nothing... but if the guy is depressed, he's going to be extra sensitive, and feeling sad and alone, and really needs support from friends, not abandoning him. I don't see him crying as manipulative at all, it's just honest (unless this is something he does all the time in order to guilt trip people)..

I've struggled with depression at times myself & if I put myself in the guy's shoes here, I'd look at it like.. I was already feeling awful, I tried to talk about it with a friend I thought I could trust, she didn't listen to what I was trying to say and just wanted to change the subject, I started crying because I couldn't help it, and she didn't care. And now she doesn't talk to me any more and I feel more alone than I already did - that's what I get for trying to reach out to people. (Note depression lends itself to black-and-white thinking and seeing things in the worst possible light, so this is not an accurate or fair version of what happened - it's just a conjecture as to how he might have seen it, being in the head space that he's in.)

My advice would be, sure you can be honest too - call him up and tell him you didn't know how to handle it when he got upset, and you avoided him because you didn't know what to say. That's pretty much it. Just put it out there - you didn't know how to react at the time and you're sorry, but from now on if he needs a friend you will be there.

Also from the POV of someone who has struggled with depression, you could be an awesome kind of friend to have, because if he's bummed out and wants to do stuff (eg going out with friends, playing sports, taking up a hobby, heck just getting out of the house..), you can be one of the assertive people who convinces him to go for it, if he needs an extra push. Just don't go too far if he's really not up to it.
posted by citron at 5:18 PM on January 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

A therapist once told me that a healthy relationship is one where there's room for both people's feelings in the room. It's interesting that your first forays were accusations ("overbearing" vs. "insensitive") rather than ownership of feelings ("I get upset when you do x".). Then, when he actually shows genuine feelings rather than counter-attacks, you interpret it as manipulation. This sounds like it may be an issue of how your family of origin dealt with (or didn't deal with) emotion. Was hostility (aggression such as accusations and name- calling) the way anger was expressed? Was crying used as a manipulative tool? In other words, were actions designed to "win" arguments mistakenly labeled as emotions in your household? You may have to acknowledge to yourself that your reaction, not his action, is coming from a less healthy place.
posted by lleachie at 5:40 PM on January 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can I be honest about my reaction without sending him into a deeper depression?

Of course not. It's perfectly okay to remain silent while someone else tries to compose themselves. It's not okay to tell them what a loser they are afterward.

I can be insensitive

You sound like the type who would run off at the mouth and say just about anything without a second thought - for example, your Sarah Palin comment added nothing to your post other than annoy at least one of your readers. So you might have been a lot harsher than you realize. If you don't respect him, then don't hang out with him anymore. If you do, follow Lyn Never's advice.
posted by txvtchick at 5:45 PM on January 8, 2009

You made your depressed friend cry! It doesn't matter why! Give him a hug!
posted by footnote at 5:53 PM on January 8, 2009 [8 favorites]

IANATherapist, maybe I'm misinterpreting the situation, maybe this is not good advice, etc.

You could say to him "Hey, could I talk to you for a second alone?...Ok, here's the thing: I don't apologize for what I said. I meant every word. I am sorry you got so upset. Because, as your friend, it hurts me to see you upset. I regret not giving you a hug right then, that would have been the friendly thing to do. So I'm sorry about that. I guess you were right about me not being sensitive sometimes. But, I don't like you thinking that I did you wrong, when I don't think I did. Will you admit that this was just the straw that broke the camel's back? You can call me an insensitive bitch, and I would agree, but can we also agree that you were being over-sensitive?"

Oooorrr, you could think to yourself "I didn't really mean to, but I hurt this guy. It's not his fault for being "weak" or depressed, that's just life. The fact is, I wasn't being very sensitive. I was the bad guy. I am feeling sad, because I hurt someone else, and I can't really say it was unintentional. It was intentional. I was mean." Then, go to him and apologize. Say, "Look, I am really sorry. *hugs* I will try to be more sensitive."
posted by metastability at 6:14 PM on January 8, 2009

Follow-up from the OP
"Thanks everyone for your insights. Again, I posted here anonymously because I realize how deeply messed up my reaction was, and I'm trying to address it as best I know how. For all of you who went beyond the "what's wrong with you, you emotionally constipated asshole" responses, I especially thank for exceeding both my own maturity and the reactionary knee-jerk responses that my question elicited out of other users.

First, to address the gender component: I realize that simply recognizing that men can cry doesn't exonerate anyone from shutting down when they are in front of a crying man. However, I don't think that gender plays a primary role in my response. I date very emotionally open (though never clinically depressed) men who tend to mitigate my own overly rational personality and cry over the scene when Laura Dern ends up alone in Love Actually. But, obviously, this crying man did freak me out, so that declaration is clearly fallible.

The conversation went as follows:
[Us gamely debating the merits of Bukowski, and then friend goes off on a 15-minute tangent about how I have to give up my "juvenile" distaste for Bukowski's portrayal of women]
Me: I feel like when you argue with me, you're just talking AT me instead of listening to what I'm saying.
Friend: I know, but I know once I stop talking you'll say something mean and dismissive. So I'm trying to wear you down.
Me: Admittedly, that's a pretty good strategy. So if I stop dismissing you, will you stop lecturing me? Besides, Bukowski doesn't age well. Women probably smells like vinegar.
Friend: *tears up*

To haphazardly address other's points: I don't think anger solves an iota of anything. I'm certainly not proud that I throw temper tantrums when I'm upset, or that I compartmentalize my feelings into rational little boxes. I'm not congratulating myself on being an asshole when I'm sad, because obviously it's affecting my friendship with this guy.

I'm worried because this is a new friend, and my first close friend who's depressed. While I treasure my emotionally-open male friends who cry over stray cats in the winter, I've never been exposed to someone who's combative and witty one night but despondent and tearful the next. I'm asking for tips on how to be a better, more mature person in the face of emotions I really can't relate with. I know I shouldn't feel manipulated, and yet I do. This is wrong, which is why I'm addressing it here rather than yelling at my friend for manipulating me. I know he didn't, but I can't shake the feeling. So I'm asking how non-depressed people relate to people with severe depression, and vice versa. Again, thanks everyone."
posted by jessamyn at 6:22 PM on January 8, 2009

on preview, that last part doesn't really make sense- either it was intentional or it wasn't. sorry, i'm confused...
posted by metastability at 6:24 PM on January 8, 2009

Just a point on the followup, to me it sounds like you denigrate his feelings by calling his tangent on Bukowski "arguing," while your response enjoys a euphemism that you "can be insensitive." To me this sounds like you accept your own insensitivity, while his tangent qualifies as argument and deafness.

I grew up with something like this. All differences of opinion from the child to the parent were greeted with "I don't want to argue about it." I've come to understand this to be translated as, "I don't want to have to account for your ideas." Now, this is my personal case but it overlaps a bit with your disregard for his opinion.

"So if I stop dismissing you, will you stop lecturing me?" There is a huge contradiction in that statement/question: "I'll stop ignoring you when you stop talking." The beatings will continue...
posted by rhizome at 6:38 PM on January 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Let's be honest: the only reason you'd want to be honest with him is to give him an opening to say "Yeah! I'm a manipulative crybaby!", or some sort of way to validate how you feel. Not acceptable.

Where's the pain in just moving on with your life, hanging out with him and not bringing it up? If you're as mentally stable as you present yourself you shouldn't have a huge crisis absorbing the fact that Oh No Boys Can Be Angry Or Witty But Also Cry; Dr. Depressed has a lot more going on, you can just let it slide. You'll forget about it in a week.

This really isn't a case of a non-depressed person unable to relate to someone with severe depression, it's just a case of two absolutely normal people with one friend making a mountain out of a teary molehill. You don't need to compartmentalize him as The Depressed Guy, you can relate to him just like anyone else, exactly how you've been doing for the past however-long.
posted by soma lkzx at 6:48 PM on January 8, 2009

…in general, a liberal, feelings-having, men-can-cry-too lady.

But I also can’t help but feel manipulated, exasperated, and (I can barely admit this) embarrassed for him.

I personally resort to hyper-rationalization and anger when I’m upset…

I know depression is way, way more complex than indolence and self-pity…

reading through your post, it actually sounds like you are someone who likes to believe she is "a liberal, feelings-having, men-can-cry-too lady" but secretly, you are probably more judgmental and conservative in your ideas of gender roles, emotional expression, their relationship than you'd like to think you are. i think this disconnect between your self-perception and what is the reality of who you are is why you reacted (and continue to feel) the way that you do in response to your friend's emotions and tearful expression of his emotional state. you need to be more honest in your self-assessment and either own up to the reality or make changes to align the reality with the kind of person you'd like to think you are.

btw, depression has nothing to do with "indolence and self-pity," and your making that statement is just another example of the point i made above: that you would like to think that you have some intellectual knowledge of what it is and therefore want to appear sympathetic towards someone who suffers from it but in reality, making a statement like that actually both diminishes what a person dealing with depression is experiencing as well as reveals your true feelings about it. just as you actually really think your friend is weak for crying, you also think he is weak for hiding behind his depression and manipulating you.

And I’m further alienated after his follow-ups, in which he tries to ease my guilt over making him cry (“I know you didn’t mean it”) without apologizing for losing his cool or admitting that it was a very minor infraction that just happened at a bad time.

if he had apologized, would things now be different? would you have stopped avoiding him and gotten your friendship back on track? i tend to think that part of the reason you are still resisting is that you still feel you are owed and apology and the fact that you aren't getting one is just another subconscious reason for you to continue to avoid him. i can't determine whether or not he should have apologized or not and i'm not saying that this is an excuse but he's depressed. when ppl are depressed they may say or do things that are out of character for them; they may not realize they should have done or said something.

your feeling manipulated and then overthinking this and dragging it all out and letting it affect your friendship makes it appear to me that you are not only "insensitive" as you admit, but that you are also very self-absorbed. your friend is depressed and he expressed his emotional state through tears (and then later tried to make you feel better) but you've made this all about you, about how his tears of distress made you feel uncomfortable, about how he manipulated you and wouldn't apologized to you-- and can't or won't let it go.
posted by violetk at 7:10 PM on January 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

From the follow up: "what's wrong with you, you emotionally constipated asshole"

Did this get deleted? Are you referring to posts like my one earlier? I was going for succinct. Do you know when you're being dismissive?
posted by spork at 7:17 PM on January 8, 2009

You should apologize to him. He didn't do anything wrong-- he got upset because he felt hurt. Then you avoided him. You didn't give him a moment of comfort. If you want to be friends with him, apologize for essentially kicking him when he's down.

When you are depressed, every experience can feel like a slight and every perception skews negative. He probably thinks he's a worthless oversensitive loser who doesn't deserve to have friends and should be exiled from all company and is a clingy unattractive ball of nerves who will never experience anything good ever and certainly doesn't deserve to.

Now, imagine living with that shit in your head 24/7 plus being unable to sleep, unable to experience any pleasure in stuff you usually like and feeling listless and like even the tiniest task takes overwhelming effort. Add to that a sense that it's all meaningless and you are worthless anyway and a sense of constant dread that it will continue getting worse and nothing will ever fix it.

Be grateful *you* don't feel that way and realize that those who do don't need tough love or to be told about their flaws-- trust me, they know all about them and even if they don't seem to, won't be helped by being told about them now. In fact, you will probably make them less likely to change anything problematic by confronting people when depressed because that only makes the depression feel worse and everything feel more hopeless and insoluble.

So, if you want this guy's friendship, apologize and be supportive and listen and if he cries again, offer a hug or a look of understanding and a pat on the shoulder. This is not about power or who's right or wrong or manipulation-- it's simple human compassion.
posted by Maias at 7:34 PM on January 8, 2009 [10 favorites]

metastability has a very valid point. This is (from your perspective) a perplexing overreaction that really requires no apology.

I spent the lions share of my adult life exactly how you describe yourself, until about 3 years ago, when I was blindsided by a massive depressive episode that just abated last year.

This may not be a popular response, but I really don't think you're in the wrong in this situation. I have (far too) recent memories of constant waterworks. Someone at work has a question that I can't answer straight away? Tears. Can't find the tortillas in the grocery store? Tears. Lost a half-assed game of solitaire? Tears.

But things that would, for me-as-usual, make me mist up at a minimum (a handful of songs, nostalgia, that hallmark commercial when the kid buys a card for the old lady across the street) left me totally numb.

I had a period of about 6 months toward the end when I was mostly fine. I had days on end of "on", and that's when the irrational crying became alarming.

I was embarrassed! I hid the tears every time I could, made a quick exit to more bathrooms than I can count to get it out of my system. I never once even implied that an apology was even an option.

I also got the frozen stare from a few friends (and co-workers) when the tears popped up at a few inopportune (can't just leave the room) moments. I avoided it as much as you are avoiding your friend.

So, long on perspective, short on advice: The most valuable thing I learned from this was that depression introduces another voice to the conversation. It was like carting around a perpetually negative interpreter that lied about everything (and everyone) I came in contact with. You are not in the wrong, and neither is he. He's just being lied to by his invisible interpreter.

I think you should hang out with him, but I don't think you should bring up this situation. Leave that to him. A quick "Hey, man, you ok?", maybe a hug, and the ball is in his court.
posted by metricfuture at 7:34 PM on January 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, man, f*** a Bukowski, you are right about the misogyny. If he was being belligerent about your totally justified distaste for Bukowski, wouldn't hear you, and then started crying.. OK I would be angry too! I know dudes who are so wrapped up in particular music/art/literature they like, and then they're deeply wounded if you don't like it too or dare to say something critical about it. Maybe better to be less in-your-face critical, at least..

Now it sounds like he's depressed, fine, but the sort of depressed person who is often afraid of seeming sensitive or vulnerable and covers it up by being kind of a dick. That's not acceptable, the sort of.. mercurial behavior.. that makes you think that if you don't go along with him, he might have some kind of emotional meltdown.

And he's a new friend? You're already thinking you did something wrong, worrying about him, trying hard to understand how he's feeling, confused, off balance.. umm.. beware. You can be a friend but don't get sucked in. Your original post made it seem like you were the problem and feeling guilty, but something's telling you that he's manipulative - I think your instincts are right and you should trust them. I guess I've done a 180 on this but someone who witty one day, tearful the next, all keen on Bukowski and calls you juvenile and admits he doesn't listen to what you're saying and tries to wear you down by lecturing about it.. ugh. NOT COOL
posted by citron at 7:42 PM on January 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

citron--seriously? your whole post demonstrates a complete lack of knowledge, understanding, or sympathy for someone who is going through depression. that's exactly the type of attitude that makes it still difficult for those who do suffer from depression to seek help or to open up to their friends about having it or what they are going through.
posted by violetk at 7:53 PM on January 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

If he was being belligerent about your totally justified distaste for Bukowski, wouldn't hear you, and then started crying.. OK I would be angry too! I know dudes who are so wrapped up in particular music/art/literature they like, and then they're deeply wounded if you don't like it too or dare to say something critical about it. Maybe better to be less in-your-face critical, at least.

would you be saying the same thing if you agreed with the friend in regard to bukowski rather than with the OP? because your new post makes it sound like you changed your mind based entirely on the fact that you agree with the OP's "totally justified distaste" for bukowski and are now viewing her friend's behaviour through the shared lens of disagreement with him. because ppl who are depressed aren't thinking that they should use their depression to win arguments.
posted by violetk at 8:05 PM on January 8, 2009

violetk - Seriously. I've been through it myself, quite a lot - see my previous post. Believe me. I also read the account of that conversation and.. look, I think being tearful is completely understandable if you're depressed, but I don't really think it's OK to call someone "juvenile" and freely admit you're talking at them instead of hearing their side, and the fact that he's witty and combative sometimes, tearful the others.. that concerns me. I don't think it's healthy to have to walk on eggshells around someone because you don't know what person they'll be that day or what will set them off, and I think the author probably has good instincts.

from the original post -
Or does this incident mean I’m probably too emotionally obstructed and unsympathetic to be friends with him?

This concerns me - it strikes me now as being very hard on oneself. I don't know about being in a situation where you worry about not being good enough to be another person's friend. I don't think it's "emotionally obstructed" to instinctually be wary of a person who is this mercurial. If he was just being down, and sad, and distant, that is one thing - by all means, do your best to support him and take care of him - but the second post made it seem like he's also combative and accusatory, so I think it is better to handle his behavior with some emotional detachment.
posted by citron at 8:06 PM on January 8, 2009

I guess I've done a 180 on this but someone who witty one day, tearful the next, all keen on Bukowski

I fail to see how someone's reluctance to acknowledge Charles Bukowski's misogyny disqualifies them from deserving the same basic compassion and empathy you already advocated for someone suffering from a major disease. I mean, there's a point at which (hopefully sometime soon after high school) real friendships have to stop being conditional on whether we all agree on the same bands and artists and books, no? I mean, it's pretty laughably easy to be kind to someone you agree with about everything, or identify as being suitably like yourself; the real test of one's heart comes when we try to exercise compassion for those we disagree with, or don't identify with.
posted by scody at 8:06 PM on January 8, 2009 [6 favorites]

would you be saying the same thing if you agreed with the friend in regard to bukowski rather than with the OP?

I can't figure that one out, actually. The red flag, though, is the guy talking at her for 15 minutes about how her POV was juvenile and she has to get over it. Maybe it's not a typical interaction. But if it is, what kind of friendship is that? Not one worth keeping IMHO.
posted by citron at 8:10 PM on January 8, 2009

The red flag, though, is the guy talking at her for 15 minutes about how her POV was juvenile and she has to get over it.

citron, the friend is depressed. to the point where he cried in front of a new friend. you yourself admitted that you tried everything possible to cry in front of others when you were depressed. so clearly this guy is in a bad enough state that he couldn't hold his tears in.

scody made my point much more clearly than i did. you can't even definitively deny that you are using your own personal distaste for bukowski (and thus disagreement with the friend's viewpoint in that matter) interfere with empathy for a condition which you should understand well.
posted by violetk at 8:15 PM on January 8, 2009

…you tried everything possible to cry in front of others when you were depressed.

that would be not cry.
posted by violetk at 8:16 PM on January 8, 2009

Not trying to derail things, honestly, I shouldn't have made that crack about Bukowski because it's distracting. But the more I think about it, the more I'm inclined to say the writer's pretty level-headed and aware, and as far as interacting with others, her instincts are good and should be trusted, and she shouldn't be guilty about her own feelings.
posted by citron at 8:24 PM on January 8, 2009

i don't think anyone is trying to say that she isn't entitled to her feelings but i think most of the answers here are getting the sense that she should probably examine why she's reacted as extremely as she has when everything she's said in describing herself indicates more liberal and sympathetic nature than she's actually exhibited.
posted by violetk at 8:37 PM on January 8, 2009

Helping people to cry is a great gift for them, if you can accomplish it, and a mark of their great trust and faith in you.

Crying is a normal human function. You would not be embarrassed if your friend breathed or ate in your presence; no more so should you be if your friend cries before you. It is an expression of a real emotion; that is OK between friends.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:38 PM on January 8, 2009 [4 favorites]

I have to admit that I'm a bit baffled at the pile-on.

Looking at this from her perspective, she's having a perfectly normal conversation with someone and all of a sudden he's crying. Now, if the guy hasn't done that before, if he's been acting like a stereotypical ethnically-American man, then his behavior doesn't signal "Oh, I'm a bit sad" or "That upset me" so much as "I AM AS MISERABLE AS IF I FOUND OUT THAT I HAD CANCER AND WAS FIRED AND MY WIFE LEFT ME ALL AT ONCE." That is, if up to now he's acted like he's the sort of guy who would cry only for "It's the end of my world!" circumstances, you wouldn't have to be the heartless bitch that people are making the OP out to be taken aback when you get that in response to a bit of give and take.

As well, from the description, it doesn't sound like he burst out bawling, but that he just sat there staring ahead with his head a bit down as tears fell off him. And I've gotta say, you wouldn't have to be a heartless bitch to see that as being pretty accusative, "look what you did to me" behavior.

That doesn't mean that the OP was right, of course, and I don't think she was. I expect that mostly she hasn't been exposed to depression before, and doesn't really get it. Lots of people expect depression to be just sadness, or sadness but more. Thanks be I've only ever tasted the shallowest edge of it, but that's not it. Depression is being made of wood and the urge to cry. It's not like you felt when you were sad because something bad happened. It is something fundamentally different, and more hopeless and vastly worse. And, yeah, being on the edge of crying all the time and having it pop out at socially inappropriate moments is part of it.

Assuming I got the description right, I would bet that he was not intending to be accusative in the way he was crying. I would bet instead that he was just sufficiently dead inside that he couldn't muster the energy for a solid crying jag.

Crying is a normal human function. You would not be embarrassed if your friend breathed or ate in your presence; no more so should you be if your friend cries before you.

Defecation and coitus are too, but most all of us would be embarrassed if our friends shat or fucked at the dinner table.

I know what you're getting at, but I think it might be more useful to the OP to consider this as something other than normal, especially if the guy doesn't normally wear his heart on his sleeve, and double-especially since depression isn't a normal human function.

Another way to think of it is that you've seen him have a fairly big, public symptom of an underlying illness, as if you'd seen him seize or seen a stain on his shirt where his colostomy stoma was leaking* or something else for the first time. It's understandable that it can be surprising and that you might have a strong reaction to it, now move on or not.

*Do they do that? I've no idea.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:39 PM on January 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

At the same time:

Ok, I'm thinking this is weird. Why would him crying be manipulative towards you?

Oh, come on. If the genders here were reversed, we'd be unlikely to be debating this. If he were sitting to dine with a women who collapsed into tears at mild criticism, after offering mild criticism first, I expect that many people would agree that this was either directly manipulative behavior of the stereotypical psycho-bitch variety, or some sort of learned helplessness that's functionally identical if you're on the receiving end.

I'm not by any means accusing Mr. Dude of that, but let's not pretend that crying is not ever manipulation.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:45 PM on January 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

I know depression is way, way more complex than indolence and self-pity, but again, I’m not very exposed to it personally, and it’s not something I viscerally understand.

Okay. Let me describe it for you.

You wake up in the morning. You are sorry to be awake. You have to go to work, make telephone calls, answer e-mails, interact with people in the outside world. It is terrifying; you will say something stupid. Your clothes don't fit. You look like shit. You will (maybe) bathe and comb your hair and put yourself together in some stupid fashion that will likely be criticized five hundred times before you even get to work. You want to disappear. You wish no one would look at you and, if they do, you assume it's because you're worthy of contempt. You're a spectacle. You hate everyone. Everything you do is a slow-motion mountain of effort and pain and pointlessness. It's unfair - noone else is walking through this agony. No. They're just going to get their morning coffee. They're just talking on the phone. They're just reading the paper. You try to do these things. All these things are empty and meaningless and just point up what a rotten, pointless person you are. You don't matter. But you've got to go to work and make the money and walk through this world just like everyone else. You know this. You know that other people do it and don't seem to mind. Snap out of it! Snap out of this self-pitying horseshit reverie that amounts to fuck all! Go to work! Go grocery shopping! Get a fucking cup of coffee! You can do this!

You meet with friends. You put on a happy face. You try. They're your friends; they care about you. You let down your guard a little. You open up a bit - you're safe. This person is your friend. For some inexplicable reason they keep showing up and smiling at you and asking how you're doing and talking to you as if there's some point to all this, this shit. This shitpile you and they and everybody is living in. To you. You're a worthless nit - there's probably something wrong with them because they give a shit about you. No, they're you're friends. You can see the life in their eyes that you haven't felt for a long time. You think they know something you don't know. Maybe you'll try and be like them for a minute - you'll talk a little bit about movies or books - assuming you've had the focus to watch a movie or read a book or read the newspaper or look at the internet because really, with this constant broken record of self-hatred and constant regret and recrimination, it's hard to focus enough on the outside world to give over to anything other than your own ceaseless, agonizing navel-gazing, which you fucking hate about yourself. You're self-obsessed. You're selfish. Your pain is no greater than anyone else's. You know this. You try to listen and observe and breathe a little bit of fresh air out of interactions with these good people you know in your heart wish you well and whom you love. And to whom you are, indeed, grateful for putting up with what you know is the burden of your friendship.

And then, by accident, by just a little slip of the tongue, you feel criticized. You're overbearing. You KNOW YOU'RE FUCKING OVERBEARING. YOU ARE! You knew it all along! And this is your friend! Your friend is telling you something you know about yourself! You can't hide your feelings about yourself even over a fucking innocent cup of coffee with a friend. You're out of control. You've done something wrong by being overbearing. With your friend. And yet, you wish your friend - who should know not to call you overbearing, even though you ARE, you worthless piece of shit - would say something that you can't even begin to honestly feel toward yourself in any genuine, compassionate way. You wish they'd say, "I'm really sorry. I shouldn't have said that. It was wrong of me. You're sad right now and I shouldn't have been so hard on you." But, at the same time, you're sorry you made them feel bad or...overborn upon?...and you just don't see the point. And you start crying. And they can't handle it. But you love them and you want to make things better. For them. Because it doesn't really matter how you feel. You're just totally worthless. See? They don't even see what they did as a mistake. They're not even really sorry. Maybe you were wrong to get upset and cry. What the fuck is wrong with you, anyway?

It goes something like that.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 10:48 PM on January 8, 2009 [54 favorites]

ROU_Xenophobe -- again, no one is saying that she isn't entitled to her feelings, to being stunned, to her reaction in the moment. the red flag is that she's held onto it for so long--long after it's over, even after he's tried to make her feel better about her reaction--and seemingly can't move on; that she would rather just ignore him, and drop him as a friend rather than address the reasons why.
posted by violetk at 11:04 PM on January 8, 2009

I'm a woman, and I often tear up for no good reason, depending upon so many factors that it's impossible to list. I've also had male and female friends get misty on me for no discernible reason. The proper response? A hug. You don't have to understand, you don't have to value their precious feelings...just recognize a friend who's feeling down and give them a damn hug! There's no reason to feel weird about it - if you are lucky, maybe you won't cry on a friend's shoulder for no reason, but I wouldn't bet on it. Give a hug, get a're good.

Welcome to the human race.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:10 PM on January 8, 2009

Hmm, ok, having been on both sides of this fence, this is what I think may have happened.

Basically, I don't think it's about men/crying issues, and I don't think it's about his depression per se, so much as the social anxiety and insecurity that he has and a bit of insensitivity on your part. By telling him that you find him overbearing, you basically pushed a *very* sensitive 'no one likes me' button, although you were just meaning to make a very small piece of constructive criticism. He cried because you hurt him quite badly, but you see him as overreacting to something you meant lightly. There's a big difference between someone crying on your shoulder about something removed, and someone crying at you, because of something you've done, especially when you don't understand why. I think the latter is quite terrifying. Because (as you see it), what you said was very minor, you feel manipulated because now you're scared to express your own feelings in case you hurt him again/get the same reaction. I can see how you would feel like this, but from the information you've given, i don't think that's actually what he's doing in this case.

The thing is, you're both kind of right. In *theory* it would be nice to be able to have adult discussions about 'i feel x when you do y and could you please work on that kthxbye', and to be able to give constructive criticism to our friends leading to better communication and interaction. On the other hand, you called someone with social anxiety issues overbearing. Seriously, *ouch*.

I think you basically need to recognise that while *in theory* what you said is reasonable, in practice, it usually doesn't work like that. Very few people (especially those who are already hypersensitive) are able to take lighthearted but very personal constructive criticism as it is intended, rather than overreacting, and getting sad and/or angry. If you can take this kind of criticism yourself then you're obviously either very self-confident, or very emotionally balanced, or probably both. That's great, but most people aren't that lucky.

No-one's perfect - we love our friends despite their failings, not because we can't see them or they don't exist. I think you should tread very carefully when trying to critique/improve your friends - it will achieve what you want only very rarely, and can cause a lot of upset, as in this case. Consider doing it only when you're absolutely sure the person will take it in the spirit in which you intend it, otherwise you're risking a lot more than you stand to gain.

I think you should try and build a bridge over your embarassment over making him cry without meaning to, and over your desire for an apology about his overreaction. In an ideal world, sure, maybe you're entitled to an apology, but you (unwittingly) hurt him way more than he made you feel uncomfortable. Plus, holding out for one (or asking for one) will only make things worse. Plus, you're the emotionally stronger one, which means you're in a better position to calm the situation.

I think you need to be the bigger person, accept that he's really hurting, and that your reaction is comparatively small potatoes. If you want to fix this, let it go. If you need to bring it up again, I don't think you need to exactly take back what you said, but you can certainly express that you are truly sorry that what you said was so hurtful, and explain to him how great a person you think he is. But you've said that you've already apologised, so I would leave it at that and just try and be a good friend to him. Take the initiative to make contact and hang out with him, and by so doing, counterract the seed of social doubt you placed in his mind.
posted by Emilyisnow at 3:01 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you like him, and still want to be his friend, you need to pave over this memory with other memories. Right now, it's all you've got, it's like the series finale. You need to cover it with memories of something else so you can begin the incredibly important process of forgetting about it. If you want to say anything, say, I'm sorry you've been having a hard time lately. Let's go do something fun. And then go buy shoes together or do whatever (preferably trivial) thing you'd like to do with him. Something fun, meaningless, and distracting.

You are under no obligation to be emotionally connected to anyone in a way that you're not comfortable with, but you have to set the tone -- you can't both want to reach out to him and help him and at the same time get flinchy when he emotionally dumps on you--you can't go back and forth between emotional intimacy and emotional distance.

Also, some of your pulling back from him may have something to do with the fact that he referred to your feelings about Bukowski as 'juvenile'. Part of what was at work in that situation might have been that you were kind of pissed off at having your feelings dismissed, and then he disarmed the situation by crying. You might have still been angry, but you have to switch emotional gears in like two seconds and your being pissed never gets addressed, which can leave you feeling frustrated. Characterizing someone's opinions as 'juvenile' is obnoxious, and maybe you subconsciously felt like you maybe wanted to reevaluate your desire to be friends with him based on that.

Anyway. Boundaries. They really help.

Also, you don't have to be his friend if you don't want to. Just for the record. You can change your mind. Supporting someone through life's crises, emotional, financial, personal, medical, are generally the purview of people who already have an emotional connection and history with the person in question.

And since this thread has already become personal, I will say that yes I do know lots and lots about depression and having weird emotional reactions to shit and even sitting in restaurants weeping because someone said something to me that I took to heart that I really shouldn't have, and as someone with decades of experience with clinical depression and who has gone through clinically diagnosed major depressions, I don't think the OP has done or said anything heartless or mean or displayed a lack of compassion or humanity or anything else in that vein.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:43 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

In order to save the friendship I think that it can be as simple as apologizing for not knowing what to do when he cried. You don't have to feel bad about it, it is really common to feel uncomfortable when people cry. Especially if it is a new friendship or someone you don't know very well. This is why people try to avoid crying in front of others and in public.

I understand how you can feel that it was manipulative, but I think you need to let go of that. It isn't helpful to accuse someone of manipulating you. You need to decide how you react based on the behaviour not on the intent. You may never know the intent. I think it is cruel the way our society accuses criers of manipulation. It completely devalues their feelings.

It is also completely valid that you are not comfortable with dealing with a friends depression. It is hard to support someone through something like that. Even if it was your mother, you have to set boundaries for yourself. There is only so much that you can do for another person. Your friends mental health is not your responsibility, help if you think you want to and if you think you are up for it.
posted by Gor-ella at 8:30 AM on January 9, 2009

Hmm. Looking at the reported conversation, I wonder where his crying came from: the shock of the conversation, the feelings/memories expressed in "once I stop talking you'll say something mean and dismissive," frustration that (if there was more to that than meets the eye) anon did not really pause to apologize for those, or something else.

It does seem likely that there was more going on here, something that Friend didn't say or anon didn't hear. Maybe this is why it felt manipulative, that he showed something else was going on instead of saying what that was, which might make Anon feel like she's being indirectly asked to do the emotional work. It sounds like Anon is used to people who can say exactly what's going on with them or ask for exactly what they need.

I'm wondering if it would have felt different to Anon if he'd explained the tears immediately by saying, "Okay, but I'm apparently quite rattled! :) I need a hug before I can do more intellectual jousting" or "Hang on, actually this is serious, I'm being overwhelmed by remembering past dismissive things you've said, we need to talk about this for real for a second," or "I'm sorry, I'm suddenly just feeling like I must be a huge asshole who lectures everyone all the time, can you tell me I'm still a decent person?" If I were Anon, I'd probably go back and ask what was actually going on, so that the loose end of the conversation is a bit more tied up (keeping me from imagining the worst, for one thing).

Also, I'm wondering if Anon just has a visceral reaction against negative emotions. If he'd said any of those things above, it would also have pointed the way out of bad feelings. Understandably, he just cannot do that right now, since his life is probably full of bad feelings. Anon could work on developing a softness and ability to hold another person's pain when there's no clear way for it to go away anytime soon. (I tend to think that it takes something bad happening to someone before they can really get there, but ymmv, maybe that book mentioned above, The Noonday Demon, would help).
posted by salvia at 8:56 AM on January 9, 2009

In my post above I'm not trying to say the crying was manipulative.

But like everyone else, I find it really interesting that anon felt manipulated, which raises the question "...into doing what?"
posted by salvia at 9:00 AM on January 9, 2009

But like everyone else, I find it really interesting that anon felt manipulated, which raises the question "...into doing what?"

Into not arguing further or to feel bad about her relatively mild swipe at him.
posted by electroboy at 10:44 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

This Bukowski thing is a game-changer. I repudiate everything I say, this guy's reaction was clearly bizarre and everyone involved needs to read better books.
posted by Kirklander at 12:36 PM on January 9, 2009

I'm going to focus on the question of what you should say to the guy now, since you recognize your reaction was unhelpful.

I usually advocate honesty as the best policy, but you have to be more careful with depressed people. Why? Because almost anything you say, if it has the hint of criticism in it, they will be inclined to take it much more harshly than you mean it. One of the things I have noticed above all is that my friends, when they are depressed, have a paranoia that their depression is making other people's lives miserable, and that others think they're weird for being depressed and don't care about them.

If you tell this guy that his crying made you uncomfortable, it is going to make him feel like shit, no matter how well-meaning you are or how much you say it's your own fault for reacting that way. He's going to beat himself up even more about crying -- you can see he's already doing this for apologizing when, imo, he shouldn't have even done that. He's going to think even more that he's weak. If you say it has anything to do with him being a guy and you're not used to guys crying, he's going to think that he's a piece of shit, that he thought maybe it was okay to not be the most stoic guy but he was wrong, no one wants men to have emotions, not even his friends. He's going to feel like no one understands him and he can't be himself around anyone.

And, my god, if you say you felt manipulated, he's going to feel doubly like shit, because even if he was trying to manipulate you -- and I don't think he was -- I don't think he would have even realized that's what he was trying to do. He's going to feel like he can't do anything right and that everyone thinks the worst about him, and that even when he does the most pathetic, powerless thing like cry, people see it as a power play because they can't imagine someone being as powerless as he feels. He's going to feel he's completely outside society's conception of how low people can go. If you tell him you felt embarrassed for him, he's going to feel extra humiliated, because he's already embarrassed enough, he didn't realize he was so pathetic others needed to feel it for him, and he doesn't want his friends to have to feel that way, what a burdensome fuck up he is. And so on, with that train of thought, to nowhere good.

When you contact him, say you were trying to figure out why you're angry and dismissive sometimes. It won't be a complete lie. Don't say it reproachfully or depressed, like he hurt your feelings, because he might think so anyway and you don't wanna feed that fire. Just say it in a thoughtful way. Say you're sorry you reacted that way, that you didn't take the criticism well, and you should have been more consoling but you were lost in your thoughts. It doesn't matter that, in this instance, he took criticism worse than you did. He already knows that. What he needs to feel is that the incident didn't make you hate him, and that, in your mind, the incident was not about him. What he needs to feel is that you didn't spend all this time off the radar thinking about how messed up he is.

If you're inclined to feel resentful towards him for having to take all the blame on yourself, just remember you're in an emotional position to do that and he is not. It shouldn't matter enough to make you feel resentful. (I raise this possibility because you seem resentful of his crying.)
posted by Nattie at 1:36 PM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

I feel like the reason the poster feels manipulated might be because her friend said "I know you didn't mean it" which implies she said something out of line. Unless she's leaving out part of the conversion, I don't she where she did. Basically, it was "why don't we both agree to quit doing stuff that bugs the other person. If her friend had said " I really sensitive when I'm been having trouble with depression. It would really help if you just ______", I think she'd have less problems with this. To me, he did over react and that's ok. It's part of life for things to hit you the wrong way but it's not right to lay all the responsibility on someone else if depression or maybe a bad incident/conversation earlier in the day contributed.

She didn't handle the crying well but she wasn't expecting it and didn't understand what caused it exactly. It seems more like freezing up in a strange situation than being deliberately unsuportive. Now she's worried that it will happen again if she hangs out with this friend, then she won't know how to handle it and feel like a jerk for hurting him.
Right now I think she needs to work on a kind way to explain her reaction. He's probably worried that his crying in front of her has totally turned her against him.

If it was me, I'd probably say something about being surprised by his reaction because you didn't think you said anything worse than he did so you were kind of stunned when he started crying and didn't know how to handle it. Ask if he was having a bad day or if not, can he help you understand how what you said was hurtful. Do your best not to defend yourself because that's a natural reaction, only try to see his point of view. I would apologize for not being more comforting when he was so upset.

After this, the poster could take a few days to see how she feels. Then it's up to the her to decide if she wants to continue this friendship. Maybe she forgot something she said that hurt him deeply. It could just be depression making him cry easily. It could also be that he thinks he can say whatever he feels but everyone else needs to be careful of his feelings. Having depression doesn't make you perfect. I've had friends with serious depression (bi-polar and clinical) and some were wonderful and others were pretty self focused. They're people with good points and bad, just like everyone else. If the poster decides she still want to be friends with this guy, practicing what to do in her head if this situation happens again would make her more comfortable. If not, at least she's tried her best to resolve the situation and not leave this guy hanging.
posted by stray thoughts at 4:16 PM on January 9, 2009

I'm gonna go with the old AskMe standby and recommend therapy for the OP. We can't possibly begin to delve into the infinite possible reasons that she has trouble empathizing with a so-called close friend in a delicate emotional condition or why her first reaction is to abandon that friend.

Having been that friend (see here and here), I still can not fathom why or how someone else could be so calloused. I personally cannot afford to try and interpret the OP's attitudes and reactions--it still hurts me too much to try to get inside her mind. But I can definitely identify with the sense of absolute despair, sorrow, worthlessness, and loneliness/alienation that accompany the bottomless abyss that is depression. It's like having your skin ripped off your body, leaving your organs exposed and vulnerable. Every moment it feels like you're dying inside. Every moment feels like being hacksawed from stomach to sternum. Every moment feels like total isolation from life and living and people.

I hope that the OP is able to examine herself and her difficulty with empathy in a real way by seeking professional help. She will alienate more people with her ascerbic lack of compassion if she does not find out what is causing her to react this way.

With regard to your "friend" anon, it seems that you are not yet ready to deal with his intensity. Not everyone is able to handle another person's stuff--this might mean that you are not as emotionally invested in him as he obviously is in you. You need to apologize to him for being kind of a crappy friend. You might have to be honest and just admit that unexpected emotion is not something you handle very well. The whole, "it's not you, it's me." And then leave him alone and go get your own help.

He will appreciate your honesty more than your avoidance (trust me). But if you keep trying to avoid the subject or avoid him entirely, you are going to create a shit ton of tension because as someone with Depression, an Internalizing disorder, he is automatically going to assume that you're Rejecting him and it's His fault, not that you're uncomfortable because of something You did (that is, believing he was trying to be manipulative--which, let's face it, probably has more to do with your family of origin and early lessons you learned about emotion than with that situation).

I'm finding it hard to empathize with You, OP, but I think that what is good for your friend is good for you.
posted by mynameismandab at 11:35 PM on January 9, 2009

I totally understand your reaction and empathize with you. The range and strength of the reactions above just go to show how different people really are and how selective empathy is for all of us.

Look, two people had a misunderstanding. Why don't you excuse your initial strong feelings as a reaction to something new and unexpected. You said your friend had previously been one way and this behavior was a shock. Now that it's over with it's time to decide what to do. It looks like your friend is not going to apologize or excuse his behavior. That's what you hoped for and expected but it's not the way everyone behaves. It sounds like you and your friend communicate in very different ways and you are left trying to decide if you can/want to deal with what is being dished out.

I think that whatever you choose is fine. If you do want to try to work it out it might make a big difference to your friend if you call him up and admit that you felt disproportionately overwhelmed by his reaction and you have been overanalyzing the situation ever since. Ask him if he's willing to let you learn on him. However that might not be what you are ready to do right now and the friendship might just fizzle. Sometimes when you plow ahead and get in over your depth you end up doing more damage in a situation than had you just let the friendship go. You just might not be ready. Be honest with yourself about what you want and what you can do.

You are who you are and you should embrace that within reason. If it's holding you back or you feel the pull to change by all means seek that change. But going around secretly fearing that you are a monster when you don't have the optimal reaction is only going to make you unhappy and make you gun shy to just the kind of experiences that will teach you to handle things with grace and aplomb next time.
posted by tinamonster at 10:56 PM on January 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

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