Help me Salvage this Friendship, or End It.
December 7, 2009 8:19 PM   Subscribe

Help me be a better friend, or help me choose not to. Tons of details follow.

The situation: Former Roommate moved out, leaving me and Other Roommate with a spare bedroom we are in the process of filling. Former Roommate and I have known each other for a few years, but weren’t particularly close until recently. While we lived together, we’d go shopping, cook meals, or have a few drinks after work. I think we were both sort of excited to realize that we were becoming friends.

I was out of town for several months, leaving her and Other Roommate alone with a subletter or two. During that time, Former Roommate made the decision to sign a lease on a one-bedroom apartment a few blocks away. This seemed like a really positive step for her- she said she was looking forward to more time alone, space to herself, and living more like an adult on her own terms. Hooray for her! It was a tough choice and I applauded her for making decisions that would improve her quality of life.

Since she moved out about 6 weeks ago, interaction between me and F.R. went down to about once a week- shopping or dinner mostly. She’s been unemployed for a while now, though money is not really a concern for her. I think the sudden lack of basic daily interaction with roommates combined with the absence of a set schedule to her day is driving her a little nuts. She’s become really needy, and I don’t know how to handle it.

Our interactions have become really one-sided. Every time I see her now, she’s ready to spew out a list of complaints and gripes on friends, family, job prospects, etc. I’ve tried to help her work through her problems, but it’s becoming clear to me that she takes no responsibility for her actions. Suggestions for improving a given problem are met with “No, I just think it’s a hopeless situation- everyone ignores me anyway,” or “I don’t think that will work, so I won’t try it,” or “it’s always been that way, so I just have to resign myself to it.” I’m not sure if she’s even listening to me, or considering that I’m trying to help. These conversations are insanely frustrating to me, and I frequently give up on trying to help and instead focus on redirecting the conversation back to neutral territory.

It’s gotten to a point where I dread seeing her. I’ve left early some nights when it’s gotten too much. I’ve brought other friends along to dinner, hoping that the addition of another person would compel her to stop being so self-centered. No dice. She’s become an expert at hijacking a conversational thread and redirecting it back to her own problems, though I’m not even sure she’s doing it consciously. Events involving alcohol are becoming embarrassing- she’s drinking too much and keeping up a constant monologue on her complaints, interspersed with shouts of “Nobody’s listening to me!”

So here’s my problem. Our friendship is still pretty new, and was built around very low-key daily interaction when we shared an apartment. My history with friend-making in general is not one of being a confidante or a shoulder to cry on. I’m not used to this role, though I have long felt like I ought to be better at those things. For that reason, I’ve been trying really hard to stick it out. I don’t have enough history on her to know if this is a tough transitional phase, or if this is just how she is with friends who aren’t her roommates.

Should I confront Former Roommate, or just keep dealing with it until things improve for her, or should I give myself permission to end this friendship? I feel like confronting her would just add to her litany of hopelessness. I feel like avoiding her would be cowardly. What should I do?

Posting anonymously, so if you need to contact me use shouldistayfriends at gmail
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'd ditch her. It was fun when you were roommates but now she's a drain on you. It happens.
posted by Happydaz at 8:23 PM on December 7, 2009


I have been Former Roommate at times in the past, unloading all my problems on whoever is around, because I have no one to talk to. Constructive suggestions and help always set me on a course of "but there's nothing I can do" blah blah blah. What helped me to quit being a wet blanket and debbie downer was having a friend say to me "Stop being such a wet blanket. Let's try to have some fun for both our sakes." Allowing her to realize that her attitude is affecting her and those around her will do one of two things: 1) At least get her to shut up a little so she can keep her friends or 2) Close herself off from her friends. Both of these benefit you in some way.

If it ends up being #1, then swell.

If it ends up being #2, then hopefully once she gets herself back into a good headspace, she'll come back with a "Hey, sorry I sucked so much to be around a few weeks back, but I got over myself and want to hang out and have a good time". Either that or she stays in a bad spot and you don't have to deal with her anymore.

But it isn't your responsibility to be her personal therapist 24/7. Sure, be supportive, but don't be her crutch. She'll be better off for learning how to deal with her issues on her own.
posted by greta simone at 8:28 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I acted a lot like your former roommate when I was suffering from PTSD and its bedmates, major depression and alcoholism. A good friend took me aside and was like, "Okay, do you realize that you only talk about yourself and it's always sad bastard stuff? Get help or shut up, because we're all tired of being your shrink. Oh, and slow down with the drinking, because it's turning you into a broke, puffy asshole."

Actually, no she didn't--that's what I wish had happened. Instead I lost about half of my friends because no one wanted to hang out with me anymore, and with good reason. You are totally excused from dealing with this if you've just had enough. If you really care about her enough to take a risk, you might consider confronting her (gently) about it though. It might be the kick in the pants she needs, or she'll cut you off in a tearful rage full of bluster and denial. But since you're considering walking away anyway, what do you have to lose?
posted by balls at 8:47 PM on December 7, 2009 [9 favorites]


One technique you can use is to simply interrupt her verbal blabber with some different topic that's more upbeat. Do it several times, don't let the conversation go into the dumps about her. Either she gets a clue, or she'll do some confrontational weepy number about not being respected. If the latter, then perhaps you drop a gentle bomb on her about getting some social support before she drives all her friends away with her needy behavior.
posted by diode at 9:05 PM on December 7, 2009


I don't see why you have to choose between staying friends and tolerating this behaviour. Just see her only s often as you feel like seeing her. If she overloads you, when you do see her, go do something else.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:51 PM on December 7, 2009


There is a exercise that I have used before called emptying the jug. Set aside a little time.
Then you ask her what she is sad about. After she tells you, you ask her what else she is sad about. Until she runs out.
Your role is just to listen.
Do this for sad, mad, scared and glad.

Just being heard may make her feel a lot better.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 4:08 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is a exercise that I have used before called emptying the jug. Set aside a little time.

If you're already sick of being her mental health care amateur, this will not help matters. Not one bit.

I think it'd be much better to encourage her to get out and do something, rather than sitting at home, stewing, and venting the exhaust on you.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 5:15 AM on December 8, 2009


Favorited psycho-alchemy's answer because I think it's worth trying once, just to see what happens. Ideally one-on-one, and pick an occasion when you've decided for yourself that you are cool with having this be the sole focus of your interaction with her, because you're doing it to see if you can be better at this sort of thing, as an experiment. Maybe give yourself a time limit, an hour maximum.

And then really listen. Not to help her solve anything, but to really understand what her world looks like right now. I think that sometimes when people like your friend say "X, Y, and Z are hopeless, there's no point trying," they are trying to convey an emotional message: "I feel hopeless about X, Y, and Z, and I wish someone understood that!" Well-meant offers of advice might convey to her the message, "But it's not hopeless!" which could feel to her like she's being contradicted and not really heard or understood. While her objective situation is almost certainly not hopeless, her feeling of hopelessness is a fact. And having someone totally believe that feeling, for once, might be all she really needs.

And then you say, "I'm hungry, let's get dinner!"

(This might be what I'd hope a really good friend would do, perhaps not a casual, low-key friend. But if you are willing to try this, you should tell your friend you need to set limits for yourself-- it's an occasional thing you can do for her, when you're able and willing, not all the time, and certainly not at social gatherings with alcohol.)
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 6:09 AM on December 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


I have been on the giving and receiving side of this comment: "We keep having this same conversation over and over again. I care about you, but I don't think this is helping you and I find it exhausting. If you're not open to trying new solutions right now, can we please change the subject?"

Offer to help her find a therapist, support group, or religious organization that suits her so that she can get the mental health care she needs, but it's not a friend's role to actually be the therapist.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:15 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I’ve tried to help her work through her problems, but it’s becoming clear to me that she takes no responsibility for her actions.

OR

She doesn't want/need solutions to her "problems", what she wants/needs is someone to listen to her vent about the stuff that she thinks sucks. Think back: does she ever specifically ask "What do you think I should do in this situation?" Which is not to say that YOU have to be the one listening to her vent, but just a suggestion: The next time you feel like saying "Hmmm, have you considered this? Or that? Or some other plan of action?" try saying "Ouch, yeah that really sucks. Sorry to hear that."
posted by 23skidoo at 6:49 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


try saying "Ouch, yeah that really sucks. Sorry to hear that."

I may be bringing my own friendship baggage into this, but in my experiences with similar people, the conversations went like this:

Friend: COMPLAIN COMPLAIN COMPLAIN
me: That sucks. I'm sorry to hear it.
Friend: COMPLAIN COMPLAIN COMPLAIN
me: Wow, that really sucks.
Friend: COMPLAIN COMPLAIN COMPLAIN
me: Yeah, wow. That's awful. Have you thought about trying XYZ?
Friend: There's no way that'll work. COMPLAIN COMPLAIN COMPLAIN
me: huh, well... you know I've actually been having some trouble finding a job, too...
Friend: You really need to start networking more. But like I was saying, COMPLAIN COMPLAIN COMPLAIN

I totally get that sometimes people just need to vent, and it bothers me when I try to vent and a friend tries to solve my problems for me. But at some point, it's no longer "venting" but something seriously detrimental to an actual, mutually beneficial and supportive friendship.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:10 AM on December 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I totally get that sometimes people just need to vent, and it bothers me when I try to vent and a friend tries to solve my problems for me. But at some point, it's no longer "venting" but something seriously detrimental to an actual, mutually beneficial and supportive friendship.

Totally. But it's probably better to at least TRY out letting her vent, as opposed to just assuming that she's going to complain no matter what. I know when people try and offer suggestions when I'm just trying to vent, that just makes me want to complain more (especially if their advice is what they would do in my situation, not what *I* should do in my situation).
posted by 23skidoo at 7:41 AM on December 8, 2009


it's probably better to at least TRY out letting her vent

Agreed. If the OP has not had a few conversations in which s/he just lets this friend vent, that should be the first step.

I read this--"Our interactions have become really one-sided. Every time I see her now, she’s ready to spew out a list of complaints and gripes on friends, family, job prospects, etc."--to mean that the friend launches into "Woe is me" and tries to keep the conversation there relentlessly, whether the OP just listens, tries to offer advice, or tries to change the subject. Again, I may be bringing my personal baggage in a bit more than I should.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:38 AM on December 8, 2009


There is a exercise that I have used before called emptying the jug. Set aside a little time.

I really wished this worked, but I can vouch that sometimes the jug is bottomless. I have a friend who has a good job, but it enables her to cycle endlessly among "I have no [outside] life," "Here's what bugs me about my coworkers," and "What if everything I'm doing is wrong?"

After a while, I told her flat-out that she was forbidden from talking about work or relationships or I would hang up the phone (or in a face-to-face situation, get up and leave). It worked. It sounds cruel, but it you don't have some way of enforcing a topic-change, it will not end. You can say, "OK, you have five minutes to vent," but you need to cut it off then.
posted by kittyprecious at 8:43 AM on December 8, 2009


Second kittyprecious. She needs you as a friend. She also needs you to draw some boundaries and help her refocus.

Don't bother with trying to help her solve anything. Just let her vent. To a limit. Set some "no venting allowed" limits, preferrably coupled with some positive, fun activity. You may just have to get to apoint to say, "I am your friend, but as your friend I will not encourage your self-destructive self-talk any longer. Here's what I will do when you are not whining. And here's what I'll do when you start whining."

All great friendships have to withstand periods like this.
posted by cross_impact at 9:25 AM on December 8, 2009


I can't believe so many people are telling you to listen to her, that maybe she needs a friend, that maybe you can help her. You are not going to help her by encouraging this terrible behaviour.

Her main problem is egoism, not any of the things she blathers about. The best way to kill any kind of fanaticism is to properly value its object yourself. In this case, she thinks the whole world is about her. Great, that's enough care for the both of you. Your heart is telling you exactly what to do: push her out of your daily routine. She'll come around when she's interested in you, and that's when you can keep building your friendship. Show her how to focus on good things in your life instead of the downers by ignoring the downers in your life: her. Lead by example!
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:00 PM on December 8, 2009


So here’s my problem. Our friendship is still pretty new, and was built around very low-key daily interaction when we shared an apartment. My history with friend-making in general is not one of being a confidante or a shoulder to cry on. I’m not used to this role, though I have long felt like I ought to be better at those things. For that reason, I’ve been trying really hard to stick it out. I don’t have enough history on her to know if this is a tough transitional phase, or if this is just how she is with friends who aren’t her roommates.

Should I confront Former Roommate, or just keep dealing with it until things improve for her, or should I give myself permission to end this friendship?


Give yourself permission to end the friendship. It sounds as if you two weren't particularly close anyway. Practice your friend-making skills on someone with whom you have more in common.

Trying to force a relationship with someone you dread seeing is not helping her or you.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 1:41 PM on December 8, 2009


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