What to do about this friendship?
November 13, 2018 6:08 PM   Subscribe

I have a friend i don't really feel comfortable spending time with much anymore. Is this worth trying to "fix" or should I just let the friendship go?

I've had a friend for almost five years. We have many things in common, and she is smart and interesting. However...

Several months after I became friends with her she got into a relationship which she has been in over 4 years now and seems to make her completely miserable. Though she and I used to hang out quite frequently, I have met her boyfriend twice over the years. She's been on the verge/has broken up with him oh, 6 or 7 times already. Most of our "get-togethers" consist of us sitting down for coffee while she complains about her relationship. She seems very unhappy and these talks actually make me feel drained and depressed after. I have told her that I don't think the relationship is making her happy and don't understand why she is with him.

Most of my friends deal with sadness or depression to some degree, and so do I. However, there is something about her misery which just drains and depresses me in a way that other friends don't. Her negativity extends to things other than her relationship as well.

When I first met her, she was going out and dating and pretty sociable. Whenever I see her now, I can almost feel her unhappiness. So, I stopped initiating contact and tried to do a slow fade. However recently she keeps contacting me and wants to meet up again. I've thought about telling her that talking to her makes me drained and depressed because she is unhappy yet not doing anything about it...but that seems really harsh and I am not sure what good it will do.

Would it be worthwhile to confront her directly about this? She recently sent a longer email asking to hang out which I haven't replied to yet. Should I?

If anyone has been in a similar situation or has perspective, I'd appreciate it.
posted by bearette to Human Relations (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You might as well be honest with her. The slow fade really hurts when it's someone you've been friends with for years. And we've all been in a shitty place but not realized it at the time.

If you do, say the nice stuff you say here, too. She is smart and interesting. You like her a lot. Right now, she seems to be miserable, it's stressful to watch because you care about her but you can't do anything about it. And let her know that you'll be there for her if she ends her relationship for good (if that's true).

Anyway, you don't have to have this conversation if you don't want to, but it's not more harsh to tell her the truth than it is to just ghost her. At least she'll know what's going on and it gives her a chance to figure some stuff out.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:28 PM on November 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

I was just talking with a friend about this type of situation today! We both agreed that when a friendship has become a series of mainly negative interactions, that are equal to or greater in frequency or impact than the positive interactions, it's time to let that friendship go. This does not apply to someone going through a temporary hard time of course, but does apply to a long standing pattern of draining and crappy, non-reciprocal interactions.

Vampire friends are a thing, and there comes a point where you need to prioritize your own wellbeing and time. You could be honest with her as Rock em suggests; you could also just minimize contact until they fade to distant/acquaintance friend status. I've done each of these things once in my life, and for me the slow fade worked better (the other person became upset then ignored the boundaries I tried to set and caused drama for a long period of time). But this is all the experience I have and I expect the success of any strategy is highly person and relationship dependent.
posted by DTMFA at 6:52 PM on November 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

I would meet with her and have a heart to heart. You think the world of her. Interesting and smart. You would hang with her often if she was either a happier person or working toward becoming a happier person. But if she is going to continue to complain about things, ask for advice, then ignore the advice and keep doing things that make her miserable, you cannot be dragged down into that at this point in your life. You want friends who can support each other by making each other happy.

Maybe it will be the wakeup call she needs. Maybe she will say that she is not leaving her boyfriend and that she is not changing because she thinks she IS happy. Who knows what she will say, but maybe there is a path toward rekindling the friendship or a path toward parting ways amicably.

I see no downside to talking to her directly about it as long as you do so not in an accusatory way, but in a way that sort of blames yourself because you need up beat at this point in your life.
posted by AugustWest at 7:00 PM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I should probably add that in the slow fade situation, I didn't suddenly disappear out of nowhere. I had expressed many of my feelings about our interactions over the course of about 6 months and we'd had some disagreements, so there was at least some context for the other person (I kept my most unkind thoughts to myself). I just gradually minimized contact rather than having a "breakup" or boundary setting conversation.
posted by DTMFA at 7:03 PM on November 13, 2018

Could you try to set some boundaries with her before jumping ship? Tell her that you can’t listen to incessant complaining about her relationship because you love her and it makes you sad. Tell her you will give her ten minutes and then you have to move the conversation to something else.

A dear friend said this to me probably 10 years ago when I was in a toxic relationship that dragged me down and consumed my whole world. It was tough to hear but I was able to reign it in for the sake of our friendship. And 10 years later we are still very close friends.
posted by pintapicasso at 7:58 PM on November 13, 2018 [13 favorites]

Could you try to set some boundaries with her before jumping ship?

I came to suggest this. I had to do this with a good friend several years ago when I just could not stand hearing about the way her then-boyfriend was treating her. I told her that I could not listen to any stories about him anymore, but that if she ever needed practical help in leaving him, I'd be there. It took a couple more years--and a couple of abrupt departures from lunch or drinks or whatever when she tried to vent about him--but one day, she did ask me for that help. Later, she told me that my boundaries had helped her see what was going on.

If you do think highly of this woman and value your friendship, it's worth a try.
posted by rpfields at 8:22 PM on November 13, 2018 [13 favorites]

Do you have enough distance from the frustration of it to do something that is not quite confrontation? If it's going to turn into letting out years of disappointment with her, maybe just do the slow fade. But if you can say with a bit more equanimity look, this is making it hard for me to spend time with you and has taken a toll, then maybe do that, leaving room for the fact that it may not fix things. I mean, is there something to salvage here? Can you imagine a friendship with her that would bring you happiness? If so it's worth some kind of effort. If not, you're just deciding if a slow fade is a kinder letdown than a friendship breakup, which I think we can't know because opinions on this aren't universal.

I am saying this remembering a time earlier in my life when I absolutely unloaded on someone whose unhappiness I didn't know what to do with (that must have been setting off some unhappiness of my own) and it led to an angry parting of ways and I felt pretty bad about it later. (Happy ending, we later became friends again, FWIW.)
posted by Smearcase at 9:32 PM on November 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

You might have been friends before, but it seems clear now she’s using you for therapy. Can you be direct with her about your feelings? This is draining for you, and your needs aren’t met in the relationship. You could suggest an alternative: you two hang out, do a fun activity, and she doesn’t get to complain about her relationship. You enjoy each other’s company without the shadow of her toxic relationship.
posted by boghead at 9:34 PM on November 13, 2018

Vampire friends are a thing, and there comes a point where you need to prioritize your own wellbeing and time.
posted by DTMFA at 8:52 PM on November 13
Never heard it called "Vampire Friends" but it sure rang true immediately. I have a friend that I have to be careful with, I don't mind giving and I'm good at it but he can easy turn Vampire Friend if I don't watch out. It's sneaky -- he's sneaky -- sometimes the game is upon me before I know it.

I learned that any time my mother started with being Vampire Mother I would begin to feel sick, physically, and I began to ring off immediately, no matter what, if/when I began to get that churn in my guts. Got to where she felt what she was doing when I was ringing her off -- though she would not have felt it otherwise; it was damn sure intentional but completely unconscious to her, until I began to bust her.

Anyways, it works as well with Vampire Friends as it did with Vampire Mother. Cell phones are a godsend, text msgs are life savers -- just let the Vampire Friend Calls go to voice-mail, and respond with a brief text, and then later he will maybe sheepishness cop to being needy, though he wouldn't have picked up on it until 4 calls had gone to voice-mail, if even then.

A good question for me to ask myself: Am I a victim or a volunteer? Generally, unless the person has a gun, and it's pointed at my head, I'm a volunteer.

Last. I'm a Vampire myself. No one is completely grown up, not anyone that I've ever met anyways. It helps to have friends who will bust me on it -- the problem with that though is that I know, unconsciously (it had better be unconscious, because if not I am operating in serious asshole mode), I know who I can run a game on and who I can't. I think the best I can hope for is to grow up more, warn people that I'm a human being and then get on best I can.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:20 PM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was your friend, although not for as long. I feel so badly in retrospect about one friend in particular that I unloaded on regularly, I wish she had set some boundaries with me because I feel badly that I was draining her and venting to her, it also would have helped me connect the dots a bit faster that what I was feeling wasn't normal relationship issues but true unhappiness and unlikely to get better.

Suggest only doing fun things you want to actually do with her. Or if you can stand it, suggest a walk/hike where you can at least be doing something other than sitting there, she can still (try to) complain, and you can focus on the walk.

If you want to keep her as a friend or even just help her a bit, can you suggest counseling for her? It sounds like she has gotten depressed and if I was spiraling downwards would want a friend to let me know. My best friends let me know that I didn't seem like myself anymore when I was on the verge of splitting up with my ex and it helped me as a reality check because I didn't realize how anxious I'd become and how it was colouring so much. She is in a state of limbo about staying in the relationship and truly it's the worst, you can gently share information around that.
posted by lafemma at 7:23 AM on November 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have a friend that had been complaining about something every time I saw her (weekly) for like a year. It wasn't something as big as a romantic relationship (though it did involve some issue in another relationship she is in).

Sometimes I listened and made sympathetic noises, sometimes I offered suggestions; finally one day I said to her "Uh huh, and what are you going to do about it?" She kind of blink blinked and then said "What do you mean?".

I pointed out to her that she'd been complaining about the same issue for a year. She stopped complaining to me about it, and then a month or so later she made some changes to stop the issue from happening. Pointing it out to her sort of woke her up to just how long it had been going on.

If you truly value your friendship you could challenge your friend to think about how long this has been going on, about what she is getting out of this relationship, and about whether she is getting what she wants from the relationship.

Be gentle. Be prepared that she may not have an answer at the tip of her tongue. Be prepared that she may not break up with the guy for a little while (if ever). Women are often conditioned that we must be in a relationship, regardless of what that relationship actually looks like, or what it may or may not add to our lives. The status of being in a relationship is strong programming. To challenge that thought can be frightening. She may be so frightened of the idea of leaving a relationship that she cuts ties with you instead. If that happens, you will know that you did your level best to be a good friend. You can move on with a clear conscience. But it may work out the other way, and she may move on with her life and be grateful to you that you cared enough to say something to her and challenge her to better her life.
posted by vignettist at 9:37 AM on November 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

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