A friend of mine complains a lot. She talks about problems at work, with her husband, even little stuff like bad hair days or when her computer locks up. I try to bring up more pleasant topics, like movies or a break in the weather, but she ends up gossiping about an actor, or predicting that more winter is on the way. I’ve gotten to the point where I avoid her calls, or seeing her. What can I do to help my friend cheer up?
Get Over It
Dear Get Over It,
There’s a lot of this going around these days. I wonder what’s behind your friend’s attitude—was she always like this? Or has she slipped into a rut of negative thinking? If she’s recently turned to the dark side, you might say: “Dear One, I’ve noticed lately that you’ve been dealing with a lot of junk. Things are really getting to you. What’s really going on? Maybe we can come up with some ways to help make things easier for you.” There could be some deeper issues at work—grief, fatigue, hormonal changes, feeling restless or bored, financial concerns, for example—that she hasn’t discussed. Underlying stressors like these make it harder to take day-to-day annoyances in stride. Try to dig down to what’s going on under her crabbiness, and if she can process some of her feelings with you, things may lighten up.
If your friend has always been this way, however, you may be the one who has changed. Perhaps you were going through a stressful time when you met your friend, and she was a willing sounding board for your complaints. Misery loves company, the old saying goes. Did the two of you enjoy good b**ch sessions? For me, there was a time when I based friendship on shared criticism. That is, we hated the same people, music, movies, politics, etc. Bonding was about complaining together. If someone didn’t share my snarky or cynical take on things, I didn’t make much effort to get to know them.
Then, when adulting set in, as a wife and parent, so did the anxiety. I mentally rehearsed, over and over, exactly what I didn’t want to happen. Stuck in that rut, conversations with close friends became dumping grounds for my frustrations, anger, or regret. Somewhere in my middle age-ness, I realized that focusing on the negative wasn’t really helping me, or those I loved, very much. Worry disturbed my sleep, and the dark imaginings of “What if?” just created more anxiety. With the help of some counseling and spiritual practice, I’m now aware of this pattern of thinking and can make better choices about where I focus my attention. I sleep better these days. It’s easier to let life’s slights go. It takes practice, but things are getting better. The power of positive thinking, a phrase I once sneered at, is true. You get what you’re looking for.
Perhaps you’ve experienced a similar shift of your own. You’re bothered by your friend’s complaining, but deep down, there’s growing awareness that a relationship that once fit no longer does. There’s a mix of sadness, impatience, and powerlessness underneath your frustration with your friend. These are symptoms of personal growth. Be patient with your feelings. Maybe the space you’ve put between you is what you need right now. You don’t have to take what she’s dumping. In the end, our one obligation is to be kind to each other. Be kind to your friend, and to yourself. Focus on the good in you, and in her. See where that leads.