Heartbroken friend being bad friend
March 19, 2013 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Hi, I have a friend who is incredibly heartbroken. His girlfriend and he broke up after a very long relationship, and I don't think it was a clean breakup, but he has not told me what happened exactly (I suspect she was cheating on him). Let us call him George to make this flow more easily.

George's breakup was in December. It is mid-March now, so I understand it really has not been much time. I'm having a hard time being a supportive friend, I think, but it's because he has been being a bad friend, too. I think his depression is making him incredibly selfish. Lately, I have felt that I have been carrying the friendship, while he has not been contributing anything. We fought about it recently.

Now, I am thinking it over, and I am wondering if I handled this all wrong. Maybe I should have swallowed my hurt feelings about the way he is treating me. I brought up the fact that he's been acting like kind of a crappy friend lately, and his reaction was to be self-pitying and self-defeating. From my limited knowledge of the way depressed people act, they don't see things the way other people do. I am wondering what I should do. I was pretty hard on him for the way he's been treating me...and now that I have had some time to reflect, I think I handled things wrong.

Does anyone have experience with depressed people? How should I proceed?
posted by kbennett289 to Human Relations (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How has he been a "bad friend"?
posted by corb at 1:50 PM on March 19, 2013 [10 favorites]

If he's depressed, he's probably not participating in anything up to the level he was beforehand. You wouldn't begrudge him if he were physically incapacitated, and if he is indeed depressed, it's just as much a barrier, at times.

Try to be patient and supportive. If he's actually a good friend, he'll appreciate it, and reciprocate when he can.
posted by xingcat at 1:54 PM on March 19, 2013

It's impossible to answer this without knowing exactly what he did to be a bad friend/selfish.

For example, it's one thing if he's not returning your calls and being a hermit... it would be a wayyy different thing if your house burned down and he told you that sucks for you but it's not his problem right now.
posted by cairdeas at 1:54 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think asking people to be equal partners in a friendship after a bad breakup is optimistic at best and sadistic at worst.

People recovering from a broken heart need to be treated tenderly and gingerly. They're not able to muster strength beyond turning channels between sad movies and picking at the dinner they thought they wanted.

Part of being a friend is being willing to do heavy lifting in times of trouble. You know in your heart that if the situation were reversed, he'd do the same for you.

It's not selfishness, it's the inability to see beyond one's fingertips. The recently dumped is only marginally present. I can't tell you how many times I've sat on the sofa with a weepy girlfriend, watching some dumb movie on tv in silence. And certainly that favor has been returned in kind.

So cut him a break, he's a real mess right now. Extend an olive branch. Offer to bring over a really good tray of mac and cheese and a DVD where shit blows up. He'll thank you for it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:57 PM on March 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Ah, yes, I was vague about how he's being a "bad friend." He's kind of just like very focused on himself...like, there is big shit going on in my life and he's completely forgetting stuff going on with me. I recently worked on a project in another country and when I came back, he didn't even welcome me back or ask me how it went. I guess that's still sort of vague and seems like not that big of a deal, but essentially, he has just been completely distant and nearly impossible to talk to, as most of our conversations he is just putting himself down. And no matter how hard I try to make him smile/laugh, he seems to just ignore me.
posted by kbennett289 at 2:02 PM on March 19, 2013

This is a case of a bad friend. But it's not him. Just let him be.
posted by Kruger5 at 2:13 PM on March 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: That's what I was afraid of. It's hard because I am trying to be supportive, but he is shutting me out, and it's becoming frustrating.
posted by kbennett289 at 2:14 PM on March 19, 2013

Shutting you out is his way of dealing. That frees you from having to do anymore for him. Let him be. He'll reach out to you when ready.
posted by Kruger5 at 2:16 PM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, everybody. This helps. I really had no idea what was best...keep trying to act like everything is fine and trying to make things normal or just let him wallow for a bit.
posted by kbennett289 at 2:19 PM on March 19, 2013

This is not about you, so stop making it out to be. It's fine to realize that your needs aren't being met, but unless this guy is your one and only friend, you likely have many other ways to get those needs taken care of, and putting this on a friend who is clearly miserable after a messy breakup is neither fair nor mature. You're the one being a not so great friend here based on what you've explained thus far.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:24 PM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Mod note: kbennett289, no need to reply to every comment or two. Please let folks answer, and follow up with a clarifying/elaborating comment later on if there's some outstanding confusion or followup questions about the question.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:25 PM on March 19, 2013

Best answer: After one brutal break-up, I was all the time moaning to everyone within earshot, one of my sisters just began to run me over. I'd say "Oh boy, am I ever a bag of pus." and she'd say something about some book she'd read or was reading or whatever else; she was just not going to listen to that baloney any more.

It helped me. Until she did that, and then kept to that, I truly wasn't aware of how I'd been acting. It was like a towel slap on the ass with cold water, it turned me some.

Because I was in so much pain, I was reading nothing outside of self-help books or whatever, and lots of it great, much of it very helpful. But that was all I'd read. Judith sent me a flippin' novel for chrisakes, I'm all like "What, I'm supposed to read for pleasure or some shit?" I read it. It was good. A nice gift.

Your friend would be amazed to be told that his ego is big as Poland, what with him putting himself down all the time etc. But he *is* being driven by his ego -- egotistical isn't really about how much you think of yourself but rather how often. He's stuck. Caught in an ego game. Ouch.

Let him know that he gets to have some moping time. Some. But not all the time, and not every conversation. You're a friend, you're not a psychotherapist getting paid to hear this out. Might be that to be his friend you'll have to be his friend like my sister was my friend.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:26 PM on March 19, 2013 [13 favorites]

What dancestoblue said, ten times. Friends let friends have pity parties, but all parties must come to an end.
posted by Capri at 2:36 PM on March 19, 2013

He's depressed. It's not something he can control; to say he puts himself down all the time right now is like saying he's got the flu and and all he does is lay around feverish.

However, you can tell your friend with the flu to go to the doctor, drink lots of fluid and get lots of rest. So you can tell your depressed friend that he's not sucky and to get off the couch and find a therapist and / or medication as appropriate. If you need to draw boundaries to protect your own sanity, you do have permission to say, "We've discussed this, I think you need to do X to solve your problems and until you do, we're not discussing X any more."
posted by mibo at 2:37 PM on March 19, 2013

Is he actually spending less time/attention on you now, or were you harboring a wish for him to spend more time/attention than he was before after he broke up with his girlfriend (who i see you conveniently painted as the bad one)? Are you hoping to date him and are frusterated that he is instead mourning the loss of his relationship?

I'd busy myself with other things and just keep it light and upbeat when talking to him.. plan activities that are outside in the sun and happy and give you guys something to focus on and your friendship may kindle once its out of the pressure of heavy examination and expectations.
posted by cakebatter at 4:20 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

as someone who suffers from deppression I would personally appreciate it if a friend like you called me out on my disappointing behaviour there are times in my life where I wished people would have stepped in and told me to pull my socks up. there comes a time where deppression or not everyone needs to take responsibility for their actions and when I or a friend is acting in a way that's not in accordance with their own personal beliefs then I think it's important to talk about it. I think you did the right thing, I don't think friendship means putting up with someone's hurtful behaviour out of understanding at least not consistently
posted by frequently at 4:27 PM on March 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

Some people need to circle their wagons when they're depressed or sad or struggling. They want to make things easier on themselves by focusing on their own problems, and they also don't want to feel like a burden, so they don't ask others for support.

People like this -- like me, if I'm being honest -- are better left alone in these circumstances. If they need your help, they'll ask, and in the meantime just let 'em be and don't rely on them for anything.

In short: be a friend by supporting him if he asks, and be a friend by understanding that he doesn't have the energy to support you right now. After all, if you're not willing to be a good friend by understanding he needs space and time, and to focus on himself, why is it fair to call him out for not being a good friend to you?
posted by davejay at 4:39 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

How should I proceed?
Back off. Unless this guy had an already crap history with you, three months after a painful break up might be too soon to give a shit about other people. No need to keep playing "build me up buttercup" with this -- you said your piece, now let him come to you when he's ready to resume the friendship on terms you can both be happy with.
posted by sm1tten at 5:20 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

.... plan activities that are outside in the sun and happy and give you guys something to focus on and your friendship may kindle once its out of the pressure of heavy examination and expectations.
posted by cakebatter at 6:20 PM on March 19

I've got a real good friend who -- like me -- has this manic depression thing going on. But he's more susceptible to the depression piece than I am, at least most of the time, and especially since I've reached medicinal armistice with it, better living through chemistry etc. Anyways, my friend sometimes just isn't happy unless he isn't happy, if you catch my drift.

So. Movies -- we're not going to be talking very much; meet at the theater, go sit down, here goes the movie and I'm saved, at least until after the movie, in the parking lot, but that's not too much -- I really do care about the guy, he really is hurting, I can open to him some, and I'm glad to. Plus we do have similar taste in movies, and that's nice.

Aside from a movie, getting outdoors is the best -- one afternoon we're walking around the lake, it's a gorgeous, golden autumn afternoon, and he goes off on this run and I say "Yeah, that's awful. Isn't it a gorgeous day?" And then he'd go off on another topic of breathtaking tragedy, and I say "Oh god yeah, that's awful. Isn't it beautiful today? Damn, we're so lucky to live here." I was not negating the things he said -- he's smart, he's alert, he's got damn good eyes and can see what's going on, and what is going on often sucks. But -- it was a beautiful day. Both can be true. Both were true.

Harder to be upset on a beautiful afternoon, once you're out in it and the blood pumping.
posted by dancestoblue at 5:26 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

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