Hi, Blender Heads. This installment of the column is all about challenging friendships. One involving a person who may be on a self-destructive path and another that has seemingly grown cold due to distance and emotional burdens.
While I was reading these letters and responding to them, a Michael Caine quote from the 2005 film The Weather Man repeated in my head: “Do you know that the harder thing to do and the right thing to do are usually the same thing? Nothing that has meaning is easy. Easy doesn't enter into grown-up life.”
Adult friendships can be hard. And sometimes the “thing to do” is truly realizing the limitations of your influence on another person, make peace with that and, as I say in the second answer, give your friends the grace of low expectations. Let’s get into it!
“Why Hurt Someone The Way You Were Hurt?”
Dear Eve 6 Guy,
I have a 23-year-old friend who wants to fuck a 28-year-old married man. She’s gotten in trouble at work at least once because she spent three hours talking to the guy. She doesn’t care that he's married. She says it’s not her life being ruined.
I don’t want her to get hurt. She was molested by her stepdad. She suffers from PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Her first serious boyfriend cheated on her multiple times, and she cheated on him multiple times to get back at him, which is understandable. She stayed with him for three to four years.
Her second boyfriend didn’t respect her boundaries. He always wanted her to spend all of her free time with her. He would overwhelm her. She says she has bad luck with men. I told her once that she needs to screen her applicants.
She says she isn’t the jealous type. She’s a Taurus, by the way. She's also insecure. She gave herself the supervillain name “The Heartbreaker.” She also said she wants to be loved.
What baffles me is that if she was cheated on, why would she want to fuck a married man? Why hurt someone the way you were hurt? I want to tell her she is just as bad as her ex who cheated on her, but I don’t think that would help. Should I still be friends with her? I’m morally opposed to what she wants to do, but I don’t know what to do.
She also talks shit about other people at work behind their backs. Oh, I forgot to mention, she wanted to fuck a manager at work. He’s married, and when he rejected her advances, she started a rumor that he offered her a PS5 in exchange for sex. I asked him, and he told me that wasn’t actually the case.
On top of this, she talked shit about another manager’s family. This manager treated and loved her like a daughter. She likes to play the victim and doesn’t like taking responsibility for how she talks to and treats people, especially guys who are interested in her.
So, what do you think I should do?
—A Blindly Loyal Fool
Hi A Blindly Loyal Fool,
Wow, OK, there’s a lot here. Your friend is clearly in pain. I’m less concerned with the moral implications of your friend’s desire to fuck the married guy than the likelihood of her troubled past being the motivating factor behind her pain-seeking. Cheating is never good, but it isn’t necessarily pathological behavior. Going off the information you’ve provided, however, it sounds like your friend is, either consciously or unconsciously, looking to confirm a negative perception of herself in relationships — to repeat the pattern of abuse and abandonment.
It is exceedingly frustrating to watch people we care about make choices we know will be injurious to them and others. When you love a person, whether they’re a friend or romantic partner or whatever, you are connected with them. You have an idea of what motivates them. You know their fears, traumas, joys, and sadnesses much like you know your own. You feel an impulse and even an obligation to move in and correct their course. It can feel like having a phantom limb that’s a whole human being. When the link is strong enough, it almost seems unnatural that you have no volitional power where they’re concerned.
What can you do? Well, you can tell her that she is engaging in behaviors that will likely cause her more pain. You can suggest that she get professional help to address the causes and conditions of the pain she already has, which is what is making her seek out more. And finally, and this is the hard part, when she does not take your advice, you can give her the dignity of making her own mistakes.
If you decide to remain her friend, you love her through it. This is a person who desperately needs real, capital-L Love.
I’m not a fan of cutting people out of your life unless they’re actively harming you. Harm can take some subtler forms though. When my younger brother was in the throes of his drug addiction, I finally got to a point where I was like, “Look, you’re killing yourself. You can’t have a conversation without lying, you’ve stolen from me, Mom, and Dad. I will be here for you the second you want to help yourself, but I’m not gonna keep following you into the dark.” It was fucked up because that could’ve easily been the last conversation I ever had with him. Thankfully it wasn’t, and he did end up getting clean.
I’m not equating this situation with yours, but you do need to prioritize your well-being, and if this person succeeds in pulling you into her tangled web to the detriment of your mental health, it might be necessary to apply some boundaries — or even, possibly, cut her out altogether.
You didn’t specify how this person treats you. You mentioned that she talks some shit about other people. Shit-talking can mean anything from relatively harmless gossip to lying with intent to do character assassination. If it is the latter and you know for a fact that she frequently lies about your mutual friends, you can probably safely deduce that she’s doing the same about you. I italicized “know for a fact” because just because your friend’s manager told you he didn’t offer your friend a PS5 in exchange for sex doesn’t mean he didn’t. (That would absolutely be something a manager would deny.)
I would try to give your friend the benefit of the doubt where you can, especially in light of her being a victim of sexual assault as a child. If, however, you are certain that she is spreading lies about people, that is not a friendship dynamic I would feel comfortable with, and I would most definitely back away.
If you decide to remain her friend, you love her through it. This is a person who desperately needs real, capital-L Love. Real love doesn’t mean cosigning people’s bullshit; it means leading with grace, empathy, and understanding. Whether you end up a fixture in this person’s life in the future or not, try to let this aspirational notion of love guide you.
The Eve 6 Guy
“I Feel Like I’m Doing All The Heavy Lifting In This Friendship”
Dear Eve 6 Guy,
I have been best friends with K. for 17 years. We are long-distance friends — she’s in Georgia, I’m on Long Island. She’s been here to visit several times, but our friendship is mostly over email, text, and phone. We used to talk every single day, but as our lives got busier and the years went on, it was a few times a week, then once a week.
Our friendship is a deep one. She knows things about me no one else knows. For well over a decade, we’ve shared details of our lives and our kids’ lives. We’ve been through breakups together. We’ve talked each other down from our respective ledges.
We’ve had times where we drifted apart but we always came back to each other, both of us apologizing for not prioritizing our friendship better. Well, K. just went through a bad breakup (they were engaged and living together), and she has some health problems. I know she likes space when she’s extremely stressed out, so I give her that.
Last time we talked, she told me she was having a rough time and she was sorry she wasn’t being a very good friend. I told her that I would always be there for her when she was emotionally ready to talk. I didn’t say anything about my own recent health scare or my fragile emotional state because I didn't want to burden her with my problems when she clearly has her own.
Two weeks went by and I didn't hear from her, so I sent a brief text asking if everything was okay. She said she was doing okay and asked me to email her an update on my health issues and my kids. So I did. That was two and half weeks ago. I have not heard a thing from her since then.
This is not the first time I feel like I’m doing all the heavy lifting in this friendship. I’ve been upset about this before. But this is the first time where it feels like she’s actively ignoring me, and I really think our relationship has become a burden to her, just another thing on her very full to-do list to check off when she can.
I don’t want to be that. I’d rather end the friendship for good than be cast aside every couple of weeks by her. But how do I approach her? Do I let her know how I’m feeling and add to her feelings of guilt about us, or do I just let the friendship stagnate?
I am feeling way too old for all this. I thought once you got older friendships were easier. Guess not. Appreciate any advice you can give me.
—Feel Like I’m Being Ghosted
Hi Feel Like I’m Being Ghosted,
Reading this made me think of the unanswered texts, emails, and DMs I have in the smartphone I’m typing on now. I would be a hypocrite if I judged your friend too harshly for not getting back to you, because not getting back to people is one of my more glaring shortcomings.
For me, ADHD and social anxiety probably play a part, but so does good old-fashioned laziness and self-centeredness. One of the subtler forms this self-centeredness takes often appears as a thought along these lines: I’ll respond to this text/return this call when I’m in a better headspace because I want to present like I have it all together.
This is especially true for me with family members. I don’t want them to worry about me. I want them to think everything is great with me all the time. I don’t want them to detect qualities in my voice that might make them doubt this, so I’ll delay getting back to them and then sometimes forget about it all together.
This is selfish. My friends and family don’t need me to be a perfect version of myself, they just want to connect. The reluctance on my part to do so stems from a kind of pride. I wonder if your friend is feeling this way. She’s recently had her life pretty profoundly thrown into upheaval. I felt a tremendous sense of guilt, shame, and personal failure when my marriage ended. It wasn’t easy to be honest about this with the people in my life, and sometimes I would avoid doing so.
You may have shared your trials with each other in the past with relative ease, but one thing I’ve noticed about the pandemic is that it’s siloed us not just physically but emotionally. There’s a kind of social-stunting effect that I’ve seen both in myself and in others that likely arises from these strange and unprecedented years spent negotiating the virus and the losses it’s caused. It’s been gnarly. Gnarlier than we allow ourselves to admit, I think.
Consider that your friend may be unresponsive not because you’re unimportant to her but because she is suffering.
What I’d advise you to do is to consider that your friend may be unresponsive not because you’re unimportant to her but because she is suffering. From this consideration will come compassion, and with compassion as your guide, you can send her a text that goes something like this: “I know you’re going through a lot, and there’s no need to respond. I just wanted to let you know that I love you, and I will always be here for you no matter what.”
I think you may be surprised as to how quickly your hurt feelings and resentment evaporate when you reframe the situation this way. A trick I learned in early sobriety was to say a prayer for peace and well-being for people you are upset with. You do not have to do this for people who have actively harmed you, but in relationships that aren’t abusive, this can be a helpful tool. You don’t even have to mean it to get the desired result.
Give your friend the grace of low expectations. Allow her to be all that makes her herself, which includes her character deficiencies as well as her better qualities. Look upon her and yourself gently. We’re all going through this strange life together. Even our feelings of isolation and loneliness are shared. Whether you once again become thick as thieves or you end up drifting further apart, the love that you have shared matters. By holding onto the love part and leaving the rest behind, you will be more comfortable in your own skin regardless of what happens.
The Eve 6 Guy
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