Here's the Thing: You're Not a Bad Friend, But You Are a Judgy One
A BIG CUTIE:
I have had the same best friend for the last seven years, and we’ve gone through just about everything together, but recently there’s been a rift in our relationship.
She started dating a mutual friend of ours, and it became clear that while he’s a great guy, he’s a trash boyfriend. Her mood would plummet every time he came over, they were constantly fighting, and the only thing she’d talk about was complaining about him. Being the person I am, I couldn’t help but meddle and encourage her to break up with him, seeing as she could come up with very few positives about their relationship. Eventually, she did break up with him, and I tried to be as supportive as possible through it.
Cut to a few weeks later, though, and she started sneaking behind my back to go on dates with him. She’d hide it from me, then when I found out would act like she did nothing wrong—even though we tell each other everything. This has evolved into her bailing on our plans to spend time with him, keeping secrets from me, and still finding a way to complain about him.
I tried to stay out of it at risk of hurting our friendship, but at this point I am already hurt. She has this same pattern with bad boyfriends, bad jobs, and just about everything in her life—she can’t seem to cut negatives out of her life but doesn’t see that she’s the one letting them in, and she seems to want me to blindly support her decisions even when they’re clearly hurting her. I’m tired of listening her complain and don’t want to stand by and watch her get hurt repeatedly, so how do I express my concern when doing so has caused her to stop telling me anything about her life? Mostly, I just want to know how to get back to a healthy place in our relationship and help get her to a healthy place in her life.
Howdy howdy!!! Your email to me had the subject line “Am I a bad friend?” which I will answer promptly just in case you need to move on with your life and do things like eat raspberry sorbet. No, no you are not. That said, I’m not sure that what you described above is the best way to handle a friendship with your friend, for her, but also for you.
It’s very painful to grow at a different rate than your best friend, and that, I believe is what’s happening. You’re begging her to shoot up and join you at your sunflower-height maturity level and she just isn’t there, which has lead you to believe that the options are to shrink down to her marigold-level or abandon her completely. But I don’t think those are the only two options. The last option is acceptance that you two are simply different plants or the same plant in different stages. Has she been hurtful? Yes. But—I KNOW you think you’re justified in your actions and reactions, and maybe you are—you have also been hurtful to her. I know that’s weird to concede to because right now you feel you’re Doing Everything Right and she’s Fucking Everything Up, but remember that hurt can come from a well-meaning source.
So, can you two get back to a healthy place? Yes, if that’s really and truly your goal, I think you can. Your goal cannot secretly be to influence her to make the decisions you want her to make. You have to actually want to be friends with her more than you want to be right. You’re going to have to do a lot of uncomfortable rearrangement of yourself when you two hang out. You’re going to have to learn to judge people (her) less, even when you love them.
Often when we say things like, “I want the best for her…” or “It hurts to stand by and watch X…” what we really mean is, “I have decided something is a bad thing in her life and I don’t want it there anymore.” Which is true and fine, but you’re going to have to do the work to keep that opinion of yours from seeping into all of your interactions if you want to have a friendship with her right now. No one wants to be scolded by their friends. They want love and support, even when they’re doing dipshit things. The lack of that support, unfortunately, is why she’s lying to you right now. (Is it excusable that she’s lied? No. And you two will have to deal with her lying in order to move forward. But the fear of judgement and scolding is the reason for it). That doesn’t mean you agree with what she’s doing, it just means you don’t judge or chide her for doing those things. The consequences will come. (Or they won’t, and then boom! someone you love just got lucky and faced no consequences for doing something dumb, how lucky of them!)
Of course, in being her friend, you need not enable her or do things you don’t want to do. You can still walk away from situations you personally find unappealing. If she wants to hang out with her boyfriend and asks you to come along and third wheel, you can say no with love and without judgement. You are also allowed to voice your opinion on dipshit life choices. But there’s a catch. You only get to do it ONCE. The script that I have with my sister, which we have agreed upon goes like this, “I love you so so so much you’re a perfect angel who has never made any mistakes, HOWEVER, I think this Herbert guy is a bad dude. I will only ever mention it this one time because I know you don’t need my blessing to live your life, but I’m concerned that he’s controlling and rude, which are things that you normally don’t put up with, and which I don’t think you want in your life. I will never bring this up again, and I’m still going to root for you, always. I’m in your corner and I love you. Let me know if you ever want to talk about what I said here.”
You two are also going to have to talk about your friendship on a meta level. You’re going to have to own your judging and scolding and she’s going to have to own her lying and avoiding. You can’t make her do any of that, all you can do is lay down your shit, spread it out on a blanket and say, “here’s what I did wrong and how I’ll do better in the future.” And then ask her to do the same.
If you want a friendship with her right now, know that you’re going to have to practice one of the most difficult skills of all: grace. Grace is saying to yourself, “This isn’t what I want for her, but I’m going to ACTIVELY practice kindness and generosity.” If you don’t want to offer that level of grace (and trust me it is FUCKING HARD), that’s ok, too. It’s ok to walk away from this friendship because it doesn’t work right now for you. It’s ok to try and to fail and to walk away in 7 months. If you stay and put in the hard work, there is a chance that you discover that she never grows and matures, that this is how she is forever. There’s a chance that she doesn’t ever give as much as you give. But there’s also a chance that you guys save a years-long best friendship.