Thursday, July 10, 2008

Advice Column #28

Hey Bartender!

I'm a woman in my mid-twenties, and one of my best girl friends from college lives in the same city where I've been living since college. At first, I was really excited that she had moved here, I mean, she's my girl. When she moved here, she quickly found a boyfriend and explored town with him, so I didn't feel like I had to be the tour guide. When they broke up months later, she hadn't made any new friends besides him and his friends, and was totally crushed. Obviously I was there for her.

Since the break up, she refuses to go to any of the fun parts of town because the places "reminded her of him" or she thinks she'll run into him. I put up with the lame places she wanted to hang out with almost without complaint, even though it's really far away from where I live, and a hassle for me to get there. Lately, my life has started to get more complicated and demanding, and my friend keeps getting mad at me. She never asks about what is going on with me, but insists I'm avoiding her by not wanting to trek over to the places she frequents. When I ask her to meet me mid-way, at places literally halfway between our respective domiciles, she gets angry protesting "you know he hangs out around there!" or "but we went there when we were together!". Even our phone conversations have become all about her.

I'm tired of giving all the time. Am I a bad friend because I don't want to cater to her every need even though she's still upset about her break up? How long does she get amnesty for her behavior? Oh, what do I do to stop this? Please, help me get my friend back.

You are not a bad friend because you have your own life and needs. It sounds like the two of you are in a really bad dynamic right now. Just because she's upset about some boy doesn't mean she gets to walk all over you, and certainly does not mean she gets to dictate how you spend your time. She's taking you for granted, big time, and you're letting her. Just because she acts like a big baby, doesn't mean you have to coddle her. As for her amnesty, I'd say she gets to be needy and upset for a month for every year the relationship lasted. Then you have to cut the cord.

Put your foot down. Tell her she's letting this break up affect her too much, that the time for wallowing in sadness and avoiding the fun part of town is over. She needs to be out in the world, and needs to re-associate those places with new fun memories. By standing up for yourself in this friendship, you're also going to force her to react to her actual relationships, not the ones that are finished. When people are reacting only to pain, they often retreat to their childhood reactions to similar pain. Her selfishness isn't about what she needs now, but about what she needed as a child. You gave her a reasonable response to this need to be nurtured, and now, as her real-life adult friend, you need to bring her back to reality. The reality is that she needs to live her life, and so do you. So she can either toast to happiness with you, or you'll toast alone.

With regards to the phone conversations being all about her, you need to interject. She's being careless about your feelings, and is overwhelming you with her own. When nothing constructive is being done by talking about the break-up, it really is great to help her think about something else, and let her forget things that are painful. Sometimes you have to lead her to the right behavior- like talking about you, and the many things going on in your life. If she's not asking, you just need to tell her what's going on, and ask her for opinions about your problems. If she turns it back to a conversation about her, you need to bring it back to you again. Insist she return to the present tense, and not drag you through these memories and her feelings about that boy. When you call her the next time, don't ask "how are you?" but ask "how was your day?". Make her focus on things that are happening now, not how she's handling her drawn-out sadness.

You need to be a little ruthless, and get her out of this broken record of violin tunes. Demand that she meet you at his favorite bar. The time has come. Say you're reclaiming territory. If he's there, give him the head nod then ignore him. Make her remember how fun she was before he stepped in and muddled her heart. If there's a jukebox, use it. Tell the bartender that you demand two whiskey smashes to refresh your fighting spirit. Tell your friend that her heart is the size of her fist, and her fist should be holding some whiskey. In the end, if you're anything like me, the whiskey smash will probably make you giggle more than fight, but it's worth ordering like you are a pirate in an enemy port. If nothing else, the charade will amuse your friend, and make her see that her fears were unfounded. That boy doesn't matter, and he can't keep you away from a good drink. A whiskey smash is made deliciously with Rye bourbon, some simple syrup, muddled lemon and mint, and served over crushed or cracked ice in a low glass. Also, if you're a hulkamaniac, well, you'll know what to do.

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