Q&A: being a friend

Anonymous writes:

"Can we talk about being a friend? I'm having problems knowing how to be the best friend I can be to my best friend from college. She's desperate to have a husband and at least one child, and it's all she thinks about and talks about. The pain she's in about not being a mother is blocking out almost everything else in her life right now. The fact that we just turned 41 makes it way trickier because she really is running out of time.

The problem I'm having is this: I feel like she's got herself all tied up because she's convinced that she needs to find the right man and get married and have a baby with him. To me, it seems like she's running out of time to give birth, and if she wants to have a baby that's hers biologically (she does, for a variety of reasons) she should focus on that. Because her Prince Charming might never come, or he might come in 10 years, when it's too late.

So, basically, what I need to know is: How do I support her when it seems to me like she's letting this thing consume her and she's going in a direction that may actually be preventing her from getting what she really wants?

I'm starting to lose sleep and feel sick about it for her, and that's not good. And I don't even feel like there's much I can say because I'm happily married with three kids (it's my second marriage, but still).

There's got to be something I'm missing. Help."

Anonymous, I actually think you have plenty to say about this. This is your second marriage, and no matter who you had those kids with, that just goes to show that life doesn't work out the way you planned it.

If I'd gotten married to someone who was good for me and who I really had that connection, I'd probably be a happy mother of three living in a place that wasn't a crappy NYC walk-up apartment with no dishwasher or laundry on premises. But I'd also probably be the judgmental asshole I was back before I admitted that I'd made some massive mistakes, confronted why I'd made them and how to free myself from the crap that led up to it, and let myself experience the failure fully.

Everyone reading this right now has either had some life-changing event, where it was infertility or failure of a relationship you thought was forever, issues with your children you never anticipated, or even "just" the quiet pain of feeling like you're not living up to your own expectations. (If you haven't yet, you will.) We're all in various stages of it, with various amounts of emotional energy to help ourselves and to give to others.

And that's what makes this question so brutally hard. To me, it doesn't really matter what the actual issue is. We could talk about what's "best" for your friend all day. But the real issue here is how you support a friend when choices they make not only hurt them but start hurting your relationship. And it's a lot easier when the choice is something obviously bad, like addiction, having an affair, etc. Something like this, that is just quietly eroding her life and may be sending her in the wrong direction, is less obvious.

I am not good at standing by and watching people screw things up. So I'm really not the one to ask about how to keep your mouth shut. And it's not that I feel like they should do what *I* would do. It's just that I want them to trust themselves a little more, to know they're worth better than what they're accepting. It sounds like that's what you want for your friend, too.

Is there anyone out there who's good at being there without getting so connected to friends' decisions? If you are, can you tell me and Anonymous how to do it? Alternately, at what point do you just disconnect because it's affecting you too much?

38 thoughts on “Q&A: being a friend”

  1. Especially when I have a difference of opinion, I usually state my opinion once (sometimes whether my opinion has been asked ot not), and then drop it. If it is brought up again, I usually say something like, “Well, you know what I think of that.” And then I suggest we have wine (or tacos). I’m an avoider, I guess. I think I get it from my Dad who will state his opinion over and over without ever telling you that he thinks your opinion is wrong…this is just his opinion. And then he’ll get you a beer or a can of pop (you know, pop, like soda but for the Midwest).So, in this case, I would say, “Becky, I know how much you depsrately want a child and I know you are aware how much children have enriched my life (etc, insert comforting words that indicate you understand her desire and want the best for her and want her to have this enriching experience of motherhood), and obviously, if you meet the man of your dreams today, you won’t be ready to have a baby with him until you’re 43, at least, so I was wondering if you have given any thought to going it alone and being a Single Mom By Choice? (or whatever opinion you have…adoption, giving up the dream, etc). I am here for you to help you and support you through this journey (and other comforting words about how much you care for her and are behind her). But I am worried about you because you have this single-minded pursuit in mind and I worry what will happen if you spend all this time and energy on this and then it’s too late. I worry about your future regret (and other somesuch as I am not good with feelings).”

  2. I don’t know how not to say anything (I’m with Moxie), but my comment is geared toward another part of the question: my sister just gave birth to a daughter and is part of a Single Mothers by Choice group up in Boston. The group is just great and may be the type of resource that the friend needs, for support, for guidance, or a push, if needed. The group is made up of wonderful women, such a diverse group, who have just been such a blessing for my sister.

  3. Ugh – this topic is so sooo painful for me because I recently ended a friendship over something similar (i.e. losing sleep and feeling sick about a friend’s choices). I was a total chickenshit – and after smiling and nodding for months and months (while inside thinking WTF about the decisions and complaints that were coming out of her mouth) I just told her I couldn’t be friends any more. Truthfully, I couldn’t be the friend that she needed because 85% of what she was saying I disagreed with and I was too scared to call her on the drama. My regret now is that maybe I should have called her on it – maybe that’s exactly what she needed – someone to be really really honest with her. But I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to participate in the scene that I knew would result. So maybe we weren’t such good friends after all. I don’t have any answers, just sympathy. It’s hard when your friends problems start affecting your life on a really visceral level.

  4. I have a good friend who was in her 40s with no good man in sight, and realized it was now or never. She did IVF a couple of times with donor sperm and had twins. She was panicked at first about the twin thing, but it all worked out really well.The problem in the friend’s thinking is her focus on finding a man so she can have a kid is likely to send any potential man running away screaming. Her focus is misplaced, and the universe doesn’t take kindly to that.
    If she were my friend, I would have a conversation with her about her goals. The kid thing is the only one with any time sensitivity, so while it may not be her ideal to have a child first, it would be better to have a positive goal of having a child and finding a man later than rushing to find a man and rushing to get preggers, etc.

  5. So, my BFF from college made a no-good, awful, horrible choice in the man she was engaged to. I DID NOT like him and I thought she was compromising who she was to be with him (her: very anti-gun, him: had a freakin’ gun rack on his truck. her: very city, him: way country, the list goes on). I made a few light comments along the lines of “he’s not at all what I would have expected for you” and “wow, you are handling all your differences so well”. But, she was head-over-heels in love and swore she loved their little country house in nowhereville and that she enjoyed growing veggies – this from the girl who had never stepped foot in a garden because there is dirt there. It killed me because she was and is a strong woman, not the type you think would abandon their beliefs for a guy.I lived 4 states away and didn’t see/talk to her on a daily basis so I wasn’t sure I was seeing the whole picture. It broke my heart when she said they didn’t want children because of some philosophical BS he spouted. At the same time I clearly remember my own declarations of “no kids for us!” when my hubby and I first married (for the record we are baking baby #2 right now). Add to everything that I fell ass-backwards into finding my perfect mate and had no advice or similar experiences and I just kept my mouth shut.
    They divorced not even a year into the marriage – I was so excited to hear the news. But I was also so, so happy I had kept my mouth shut – because I KNEW this a really hard decision and I knew that right then all she needed was my support. She said it was like all her friends collectively exhaled when the divorce was announced because in reality NO ONE liked the match and although we all tried our best to gently tell her, she didn’t take any of the hints. She said that looking back over the past 2 years that every single one of her trusted friends suggested that this was a bad move; she glossed over all the comments and shut out anyone who did more then hint. She herself knew it was bad but figured it would get better after the craziness of the wedding planning.
    One of the huge things that helped her was seeking counseling when things didn’t get better. An impartial person to help her sort through everything made the world of difference and helped her leave the marriage before even more damage was done. When she was unhappy after the wedding many of us suggested she talk to someone and it really worked in her situation.

  6. I recently read an interview with Zola Budd (remember her? The barefoot Olympic runner from South Africa?) and when the topic of her marriage came up—there had been a very public infidelity on her husband’s part, and they had reconciled—she mentioned how mountain bikers have a saying, that there are two kinds of bikers, those that have fallen—and those that haven’t fallen yet. And she said she believed there were two kinds of marriages—those that had difficulties, hard times—and those that haven’t had them yet. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. And, I feel compelled to say, I’m in a relatively happy marriage. But to extend the idea, that maybe there are two kinds of lives. Those that have had their hard times and those that haven’t—yet.I feel like that’s a little OT… but maybe, anon, for whatever reasons, your friend won’t be able to realize her dream. A good book is by Rabbi Kushner titled, “Overcoming life’s disappointments” and he does touch on the pain of infertility (by extension, the pain of not realizing the dream to be a mother). There were some parts that didn’t jive with me, but, overall, I thought it was useful—for dealing with life’s large pains, or the more subtle ones, like the one Moxie mentions, a vague feeling of not living up to our expectations. You’re a good friend, anon, she is lucky to have you!

  7. I’ve had several friends in crisis this year. I’m starting to think this age (I’m 35) is one for examining where the rest of your life is headed, and that process freaked a few friends out big time. I had always been one to state my opinion of people’s choices loudly and often, but that has changed as I’ve matured and faced my own shit head on, as Moxie describes.As friends worked through stuff and made some choices I thought were terrible and misguided, I tried hard to keep my “WTF!” comments to myself and instead let them lead, mirroring instead of spewing my own judgment (BTW, all stuff I learned from “Between Parent and Child”!) In my case, friends came to some realizations and what I think are really good decisions on their own. If I’d gone with my usual opinion-giving, I feel like it would have really driven a wedge between us, when what my friends needed was truly unconditional support. Now if I can only manage to be unconditional with kids and spouse…

  8. I have a slightly different take on this one. This sounds to me like a classic Boundary Issue. The OP already knows this, but a friend, no matter how close, and how caring, is simply no substitute for a therapist-patient relationship. It certainly never feels good to be someone’s unpaid, unqualified therapist, but that’s what often happens when we don’t have healthy boundaries with friends. (Been there…) To me, the real issue here is not what a 41 year old woman ought do to meet her goals of having a child, because the truth is, deep down she already knows the steps one would need to take in order to do that… and so do the rest of us – so honestly what’s the point in telling her “what” to do? Why not just continue to listen & empathize to the extent you’re able and willing to do so? And be willing to change the subject – often. And re-frame her focus on to what is good about her life?Signs it is time to disconnect because it has started affecting you too much: 1) you’re losing sleep, 2) you’re spending more time focused on her recurring, unsolvable problems than on your own. Sometimes getting all wrapped up in someone else’s problems that are definitely NOT our own can be a clever way of being in denial & avoidance about our own stuff. Again, been there.

  9. My mom and dad always raised me with the philosophy that you can’t work harder at someone else’s problem than they do. When I find myself getting “hooked” into a friend’s problem or thinking if only they would do ‘this’ or ‘that’ and I start stressing about it, that’s when I know I need to step back, take a deep breath and detach from it. Not detach from the friend, necessarily, but detach from their problem. It is theirs to solve, not mine.That being said, I think SarcastiCarrie’s comments about what to say are great. Hopefully, you can find the words you want to say to her, say them and then open that bottle of wine and let it go. It can be so hard. I have a friend who just turned 40 and she is in a similar boat. But she has yet to make any decision to change even one thing in her life, so I have to figure she’s just not ready. Or maybe she only thinks that’s what she wants, but maybe she doesn’t really. Who knows?
    I know I appreciate all the friends who have stayed by me when I was doing something stupid in my life and told me how they felt but let me blunder my way through it in my way in my time. I love that they are still with me when I’ve found myself on the other side of it and say, “What was I thinking!?” and they either say, “No shit!” or something more demure like, “Well, you just weren’t ready” or “We all have our lessons to learn.” God bless every one of them. You’re a really good friend to be so concerned for her.

  10. I think my take is similar to Hush’s. I have a friend in almost the exact same place as the OP’s friend. She wants a marriage and a family, but doesn’t want to take any of the obvious steps to find a man. Its taken me a long time to realize that sometimes, she just needs a sympathetic ear. There may be potential solutions that are obvious to me, but for whatever reason, she’s not willing to pursue them. Less obvious suggestions have been gently made and not taken. Fine. Its her life. I have stopped trying to help, and now I just try to listen and support.It is very, very hard, to do this sometimes. And I hate that there are some topics that I can’t discuss with her because she is so unhappy in her life.
    @Rudyinparis- I think it is true that everyone eventually has problems, and that even happy marriages have rough spots from time to time. I also think that life is largely what we make of the crap we’re handed to deal with. Some people get more crap than others, but some people also deal with the crap they get handed better than others. One of my favorite quotes (sorry, I can’t remember who said it or exactly how it goes- it is up on my wall at work, and I’m home waiting for a baby to be born): “Life isn’t so much about being dealt a good hand, but about playing a bad hand well.” I’ve had a pretty easy life to date, but I try to remember that quote whenever I’m dealing with a problem.

  11. When I’m having difficulties and turn to a friend, I usually know before picking up the phone/opening my mouth/starting to communicate what I need, and I try to tell my friends up front what I need before I let loose with my problem. It is usually one of three things:1. Pure sympathy/empathy.
    2. Advice.
    3. Letting me vent and then talking through some solutions (1 and then 2).
    My guess is that if people thought about it before they started communicating, they would realize that they want one of those (or maybe something else) also. I think it would be so much easier if we all started our conversations with what we need from our friend (OR PARTNER!!!) about the subject matter before we started talking about it.
    Since Anonymous is asking, let me offer a suggestion. What if you sat down/called your friend and asked your friend if she just needs a sympathetic ear or if she wants to talk through some ideas you think might help her? Then she can tell you what she needs from you as a friend. If she just needs sympathy, try to just provide that. You’ve already said that you would help her with solutions, so she will know that you have some ideas/opinions on the matter. If she is ready to hear some of your opinions and advice, she’ll let you know.
    I have a friend who will alway provide the ear to hear my venting, and if I haven’t specified what I need to hear back, she will ask me, “Do you want to hear a suggestion?” She does not take offense if I say, “No. I just need to vent.” But I often do say that I want to hear her suggestion, because she also doesn’t take offense if I don’t follow her advice, even though I respect her opinions.
    It’s hard to watch someone make decisions that you consider mistakes. I had a friend in college that I had to finally tell that I couldn’t talk with her about her boyfriend anymore. She knew my opinion of him (she had asked after one of the many break ups), and knew how much I cared about her. So we just didn’t talk about him anymore.
    Finally, if you just can’t sit by and watch her make decisions that you think are wrong and you’ve asked if she wants to hear your opinion and she doesn’t, you have to figure out if the friendship is a healthy one. Just like any relationship, friendships can be unhealthy, and you may need to “break up” with your friend. It’s not easy, but sometimes it’s necessary for your own health. It can be so hard to break up with a friend, because friendships (especially long ones) tend to be like marriages with deep committments and all sorts of history. However, when a marriage is not working and because unhealthy and there is no way to fix it, then divorce can be the best option. Same can be true for friends.
    Good luck! I hope your friend is able to figure out what she wants out of life, and out of your friendship.

  12. Sometimes, the easiest way to support a friend is to ask what they’re looking for. In this case, it could serve the dual purpose of making the friend’s position on the matter clear.”I know this comes up a lot and I have a hard time knowing what I can say that would be helpful. Part of me wants to feel like I can do something practical to help you, like tell you about what I know from people who have decided to become single mothers in circumstances like these. But I’m worried that you aren’t really looking for ‘help,’ but just want to talk about how frustrating it is to be in this situation. What are you looking for from me as a friend?”

  13. Augh I’ve typed this out a few times and it’s never coming across right.To the LW: Stop trying to be the “best” friend to your friend. You are not on a reality show like Super Nanny or Intervention or Friends where you will come up with the perfect things to say/do/mail to your friend and suddenly her life with improve. Our culture is saturated with these quick-fix moments. But in other culture she would have to walk over coals for your advice and then you’d tell her to bring you a chicken… you know?
    Your friend is mourning a deep reality: She’s 41, and her life is not going the way she would like it to go, and she is engaged in that struggle. It’s a really honourable struggle. It’s even a natural one. You do not have to save her from it. Nor do you have to listen to the point you want to be sick.
    Buy her More magazine and just go to movies with her for a while, since she can’t talk through them. Supposedly. (Person at the last movie I was at, I’m looking at you.)
    Moxie: You asked how people disconnect. I for one channel my bossy older-sister formerly-gifted-child assvice onto the Internet (where it can be read and appreciated by thousands forever! :)).
    Then I breathe and think my “don’t be an asshole prayer” which goes like this:
    Short: Fuck it, I’m not God. God, or whoever or whatever is out there, good luck with this one. I leave it in your hands.
    Longer add on for particularly trying cases: I trust that my friend will be okay, that she is fundamentally strong, and that this too shall pass. At least I kind of trust that. At least enough to keep my mouth shut. Please help me to keep my mouth shut. Amen.

  14. I’m with @Hush, @Cloud & @Caramama. They all make great points and in general that’s how I try to operate. I have a friend in a similar situation, and we discuss it frequently (though not every phone call). Luckily, she is very introspective herself so they feel more like philisophical discussions than angst-ridden discussions.So, I’m tempted to think that maybe the stress the OP feels is more linked to the way her friend is communicating with her about it, than the actual subject matter. Anyhow, when I see my friend is stuck (i.e. in this case stuck on getting a man, then the baby…traditional order vs. taking the steps necessary based on personal priority – they baby) I try to gear the conversation more to ‘If you would like X, and know that the fastest/easiest etc. way to acheive X is by doing Y, why do you think you are resisting doing Y? What are your worries / concerns? What’s blocking you? Do you really want X? Maybe the most important thing to you is Z?’ If I suspect I may know what her blocks are, I’ll say ‘Do you think you could be hesitating because of A? B? C?’ Of course, this ventures into the territory of acting like her therapist, but I still think a good friend will help you to get around those road blocks or opening up your eyes to a different perspective. And that assumes that they are open to your honest opinion or hearing a perspective they may not be comfortable with. Luckily I have that kind of relationship with my best friends.
    Of course, if my friends are consistently blocked with one particular thing, I always suggest talking to someone objective (i.e. therapist) and tell them how helpful I’ve always found it.
    The other important point to me is the OP’s own boundaries. One thing I’ve learned through therapy and a few good friends is differentiating between your problem and my problem. And not feeling guilty or ill-at-ease at all about it. Of course, this is much easier if the situation is about someone’s happiness or other similar issues. Things like dealing with someone’s addiction problems or other life-threatening problems for people you care about are much more difficult for me to be good about respecting my own boundaries. But, I suppose it’s all a work in progress.
    And finally, if a friend keeps discussing the same thing (with no new insight) and is not making changes, I’ll just tell them, ‘Well, if you don’t change anything, you won’t see any change in the situation. I’m happy to help you with X, just let me know when you’re ready.’
    I tend to be someone who can listen to people’s problems over and over again, and don’t mind listening for good friends. I do think it’s mostly that they just want someone to hear them. However, if it starts to affect me the way the OP is stating, it’s time to put those boundaries into effect full force and either avoid the subject (I definitely have my whimpy moments, and quite frankly, sometimes I just want the path of least resistence), or agree not to discuss the topic unless the person with the problem is willing to entertain new solutions / reflections / information.
    Good luck!!
    p.s. Now that I have DS I find I much more quickly let someone know what I do and don’t have (precious) time for. It’s been great for cutting out BS at home and at work!

  15. I think how you handle dealing with a friend’s problems depends significantly on the situation – and I don’t mean the specific problem, but rather how the friend feels about it.In a case where you see a situation that you’re certain will only end in tears, but the friend seems happy in the moment, it’s a good idea to keep your mouth shut, IMHO, or at the very least make your criticisms vague and noncommittal. I speak from experience as the friend who was making the “bad” decision (in this case, falling for a man who was in no way ready for the long-term, serious relationship I wanted). My friend offered her “advice” in a very manipulative and explosive manner, which certainly didn’t help matters, but even had she just told me more gently that she thought the relationship was a bad idea, I wouldn’t have believed her – because it wasn’t. Yes we broke up, and yes I was devastated, but I still look back on that time fondly and don’t regret investing the time in that relationship for a minute (let’s just say the guy would have made a perfect boyfriend … if we were still in high school, not our mid-20s). Contrast her reaction to that of my mother, who often mentioned that she thought my boyfriend was a little less than ready for what I wanted but never encouraged me to dump him or tell me I was making a mistake (and provided a very loving shoulder for me to cry on later) , and, well … there’s a reason why I so often confide in my mother and very rarely speak to that friend about personal matters anymore. This obviously doesn’t hold in cases where a friend is being abused or is themselves engaging in truly destructive behavior, but in most cases, it’s good for people to learn their own lessons.
    On the flip side, and this is where others might disagree with me, if you’re being barraged with your friend’s unhappiness, especially to the point where it’s stressing you out, it’s time to point it out, offer your advice, then try to change the subject whenever it subsequently comes up. In the OP’s case, her friend is seemingly, as hush said above, using her as a therapist. I don’t think it’s inappropriate to say gently, “While I understand your frustration, have you considered that doing X instead might make you happier?” or “This sounds like it’s bothering you enough that maybe you should talk to a professional,” or whatever. And then every time she tries to bring it up again, say “Well, you know what I think you should do about that,” and then ask her what she thought of the new episode of Lost. The truth is, some of us like to vent, a lot, and even if it’s a serious problem like the OP’s friend’s, with a solution we’re not aware of or just not willing to hear, friendship does not mandate unconditional listening. My husband is very good at this – listening for a while, suggesting solutions, and finally saying, “Well, maybe you should talk to someone, because it sounds like you’re really unhappy.” If I call him on his unwillingness to listen, he often points out that my unhappiness is actually making him unhappy as well, which is a perfectly fair complaint when I’ve rejected all his advice. Often, this helps me realize that I’m looking at something more negatively than I should be, or that even though a situation is making me unhappy, I’ve committed to sticking it out for whatever reason and should lay off the venting for a while (aka, “It’s not a problem if you dislike the solution more,” as someone here is fond of saying).
    Obviously, the friend’s issue in this case is a very sensitive one that requires a lot of compassion and understanding – but I suspect the OP’s already given it. It’s now ok to let her friend know that the issue is stressing her out as well, tell her tactfully what she thinks she should do about the problem, then avoid or put limits on talking about it as much as possible for her own sanity. If a friend is focusing so much on one problem to the exclusion of all else, then she’s not being a very good friend to *you,* and it’s not a bad thing to take a break from that for a while.

  16. I am that friend. Not OP’s friend but “that friend”. I harrass my best friend weekly with the same issue that she cannot solve for me because it just requires action or acceptance on my part. Mostly I want her to listen so I don’t go crazy. I have a therapist but she’s expensive and I can’t afford more than the bi-weekly sessions. I don’t suppose I’m doing anyone a favor sitting here spinning my wheels and not making the tough decisions I know I need to make. The responses here have been very enlightening.

  17. I have two friends like this…one has finally come to terms with the shape of her life right now and is taking steps to adopt. The other friend, well, is in a much tougher place. She was there for me while I was struggling with infertility, but somehow what she managed to take away from that experience was the misperception that the technology exists for anyone to get pregnant at anytime. I try to support her to the extent that I can while also gently correcting her understanding of assisted reprodction when I can, but it’s a delicate balance.Our friendship is not what it once was in part because her uninformed optimism about her own fertility makes me crazy and in part because my own life is so dominated by my husband and children that it’s hard for us to find other topics to really connect on. And that makes me sad.

  18. I think there is something called “benign indifference”. I may have the exact terminology wrong, but the concept has helped. It’s a way of listening without engaging and not attaching oneself to the problem or the resolution of said problem. I don’t remember a lot, but I think it involves a lot of “mmHmm” and “really?” and “that sounds difficult”. It may also involve making a mental grocery list. Just the word “benign” helps me though – it’s such a nice neutral word. Kind of like, What would Switzerland Do?

  19. Let’s edit, shall we?”Dear Moxie,
    Can we talk about being a friend? I’m having problems knowing how to be the best friend I can be to my best friend from college. I want to get married and have kids. I’m 41, so it’s on my mind a lot. She is married with three kids, and it’s all she thinks about and talks about. She goes on and on about how wonderful motherhood is, and in the next breath tries to convince me that being childless is not so bad. I really feel like she doesn’t understand the pain I am in about not being a mother. I am running out of time.
    “Meanwhile, my friend has everything, and she acts like my feelings are the result of some unhealthy obsession. It is driving me crazy! She tells me I’m keeping her up nights? WTF? This is my problem, not hers! I just want her to be my friend, not fix me. What should I do? There’s got to be something I’m missing. Help!”
    Warning: Objects in the mirror may be closer or further from reality than they appear. Check local limitations, your mileage may vary, spay or neuter your pets.

  20. I, too, am with the @Hush clan – the same way that we try to honor our children’s problems as theirs, we should extend the courtesy to our friends. And I agree that the real problem is not meeting a man and getting pregnant right away – the problem is that she finds herself at a point in her life where the clock is ticking and she hasn’t made the decisions she should/would/could have to have achieved the things she wanted by this time in her life. Not to sound too crass, but if it were your kid on a Sunday night asking you to take him to Target at 10pm for a posterboard that he needs for a science fair project that is due TOMORROW!, well, what would you do? In a way, it’s the same situation, just on a grander scale.If it were me…I would say something along the lines of what @SarcastiCarrie says and then never utter another word on the topic. And change the subject. Every. Single. Time. You can’t meet a guy for her. You can’t get pregnant for her. You can’t travel back in time and keep the nice guy who wasn’t quite cute enough for her. You can’t give her one of your children (although some days you might really, really want to). You can’t live her life for her and pay the price for her or learn the lessons for her. You can be supportive and understanding, but not if it’s making you sick. That’s where she’s crossed the line and you’ve let her…And I can say this as a person who consistently assumes the troubles of others and is working very hard to define clearer boundaries b/c now when it affects me, it affects my kids and that’s not ok.
    So unless you’re willing to leave your husband and children and move to San Fran with flowers in your hair and start a two-mommy family with your friend, you need to find the courage to say your piece and then be done with it. Chances are that once you make it clear that you are no longer a willing party to the drama, that it’ll cause some change in her. I see this all the time with my sister – as long as I listen and murmur to her boy-drama, she feeds off of it. But then I get to a point where I’m done, where I apologize in advance for the harsh words that are about to – oh, here they come – oh can’t stop them – oh, he’s clearly an alcoholic and telling you to go eff yourself is not acceptable – it halts her in her tracks and she sighs in relief b/c part of what was making her behavior acceptable in the first place was my willingness to nod along.
    How’s that for a 37-wk prego rant?

  21. @ Akeeyu – “She tells me I’m keeping her up nights? WTF? This is my problem, not hers! I just want her to be my friend, not fix me.’I TOTALLY agree. You should be able to talk to your friends. And if they can’t listen because you aren’t exactly like them, they are not a friend at all.

  22. I’m also a new member of the “Hush clan” I love it! But that’s no surprise since I often feel like Hush is my long lost sister in some of her comments….If someone else’s problem is eating you up inside, it’s time to let “fixing it” go and just be her friend. Because, really, that’s what you are: not her spouse, doctor, mother, father. Not saying I haven’t been guilty of this myself, but I’m just saying.
    Akeeyu, thanks for your perspective. Refreshing.

  23. I made some very very bad decisions, let’s see, P is barely 6 now, so oh, about 7 years ago… And I had a lot of friends and relatives who very carefully said nothing, allowed me to make my own decisions, didn’t judge, didn’t want to tell me what to do…I really REALLY wish someone had taken me out for dinner and given me a serious reality check. None of this pansy-ass patience and trusting my process and not wanting to interfere. I needed interference, bad. I was getting myself deeper and deeper into a ruinous and dangerous situation. I needed someone who loved me to look out for me, or at least try and talk some sense to me.
    Now, I make no guarantee that I would have listened to the stern but loving, well-meaning friend. I have come out of a lot of denial and to a much clearer understanding of what it is to take care of myself since then (via my daughter, of course), and I might have blithely decided it would all work out.
    But I might have listened. Or I might have had a niggling voice in my head that brought to my senses sooner. And while I might have been mad at my mythical friend for telling me things I didn’t want to hear, I wouldn’t have been mad at her or him for not telling me what I needed to hear.
    And I guess now that I’ve written that I realize that I am mad at my real friends for letting me drive my life right into a big old tree without at least yelling “LOOK OUT!” Wouldn’t you rather have your friend mad because you told the truth than because you didn’t say anything?
    Big big BIG caveats here, because this is clearly my own baggage talking. I’m not sure what the OP needs. What I needed was a parent, which I never had growing up, and thus didn’t have in my head or on my shoulder guiding me, and I am talking about actual danger, not garden-variety angst (though no one’s pain is bigger than anybody else’s, so I’m not sure that’s a relevant distinction).
    Boy Moxie, you have a way of posting these sneaky questions that I have no idea are going to zero right in on my “stuff” until I’m halfway through an innocent comment on them.

  24. This is my mantra when those I love are being difficult: It is ALWAYS more important to be kind & loving than to be right. ALWAYS.OP, I have a friend like yours. Her issues are different (like, 180 different — she is coming to terms with her homosexuality, among many, many other things) but her life is a smoking wreckage in just about every way and she just keeps screwing it up, over and over and over (IMO). She’s pretty clear on the fact that her life is an utter mess, but that doesn’t seem to stop her. I try to gently suggest other choices, but at this point her dysfunction is so pervasive that any practical advice I might give would be a drop in the bucket. She needs an overhaul and I’m not equipped for that kind of work.
    My point is this: I recently spent the day with her after not seeing her for a while (but talking to her frequently). Spending time with her reminded me why I am friends with her in the first place. I love WHO SHE IS, not so much her current behavior and the choices she’s making. I have MANY years of history with her, starting from age 9. I love her for reasons that overshadow her current state.
    So, OP, if that’s the kind of friend we’re talking about — the sisterfriend who knows you inside-out … well … it’s more important to be kind & loving than to be right. Give her what you can, or what she needs (see @maria) and let her own the rest of it. Sort of along the lines of what @akeeyu said — this is her bag of rocks. Let HER carry it.

  25. This hits very close to home for me. I think those boundary issues that Hush mentioned are a big part of the reason why I don’t have a lot of close women friends anymore.I really miss them, but those boundaries are even more important to me. Maybe somebody can offer a class on how to have healthy friendships. I would sign up!

  26. Reading these comments, I wonder how many of the friends whose decisions are seen as bad (or at least, the posters don’t agree with) don’t agree with the decisions made by the posters. Why do we assume that everyone should see things the same way?

  27. She is your [i]best friend[/i] . Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is tell them what you see.After all, what is she going to do? Get angry? Fine, but you will have given her something to think on. Perhaps she will make a choice for the better, perhaps not. Just be you, that is all she needs from you.

  28. @anon, Sometimes it’s not about agreeing with your friends decisions – I have friends who make different decisions that I would make – that’s cool and differences are what make us friends sometimes. But what I find toxic (i.e. the kind of “friend” who keeps me up at night) is someone who can’t stand by their own decisions, or who complain all the time (poor me, life is so unfair to me), don’t acknowledge their own role in where they have ended up, or won’t take any steps to “fix” whatever they are complaining about. Everyone needs to vent sometimes, but when an entire relationship starts to center around complaints, woe is me, victim mentality, what kind of friendship is that? A lot of people have suggested that the OP stop trying to fix things, just listen and be supportive… but for how long? I agree with Caramama -some friendships do become unhealthy and you have to take a step back. You do not have to make other people wrong, to do the right thing for yourself. And if a situation with a friend is causing you to lose sleep and feel sick, the first thing you need to do is to put up the boundaries you need to protect yourself.

  29. I second all of the comments suggesting you help your friend by having a frank discussion about her priorities. She probably already knows what she really wants to do (have baby now, let go of the dream, adopt, etc.) but needs to get some validation that her choice will be “okay” no matter what.When I was 28, I felt like your friend feels about not having a child without a husband first. I’d just been dumped by the man I thought I would marry and had to face the possibility that I wouldn’t find another husband-worthy boyfriend.
    Granted, I still had a decade or so left on my biological clock but the break-up really made me put my priorities into focus. After soul searching and watching several friends have children before marriage, I realized I couldn’t purposely conceive without a husband.
    Basically, I had to come to terms with the possibility that if I never found Mr. Right then I would not be a mother. It was hard to imagine this possibility but making the decision was freeing. Two years later, I did meet Mr. Right and, after an infertility scare, I had our first baby at 34.
    I realize your friend doesn’t have the 10-year cushion I had when deciding to make having a husband prior to conception the first priority but perhaps the lack of a cushion makes the need to come to a conclusion all the more pressing.
    Even though I now have a child, I would not go back on my decision to prioritize marriage. I don’t think it’s a particularly modern or brave position. In fact, many would find this stance offensive. But I just hope your friend knows that it’s okay if she chooses not to have a child before marriage (and maybe never have a child). It’s okay if she goes for IVF or adoption now too.
    Women who stay single and don’t have children face stigma and women who have biological or adoptive children out of wedlock still face stigma as well. Either path, your friend will face challenges and joys. It will be freeing to choose a direction and start moving forward.

  30. Similar but worse:Friend’s situation seems insurmountable and has thus led to total inertia. i.e. Any potential decisions require money, of which she has none. In fact, she’s quite in debt.
    Aside from loaning significant sums, you can’t fix the problems. Agreed. But how frustrating that the only option is to stand by and listen to her mull over the possibilities, without acting on any of them because her current situation doesn’t allow it.
    What to do?

  31. We went through two miscarriages and a premature birth while we were trying to start a family. We received lots of sympathy, support and condolences from all sorts of family and friends, but my husbands brother and his wife NEVER offered any support, or even a “we’re sorry for your loss”. When our son was in the NICU they even gave us a hard time for not meeting them in the lobby to show them the way up!Now they’re the ones with fertility issues and about to start and IVF procedure. We offer sympathy and advice, but don’t push the issue because they don’t seem to want to talk about it much.
    Knowing what it’s like to not receive a sympathetic ear, I would suggest that Anon do her best to be a shoulder to lean on…but at the same time redirect the conversation when it starts giving her knots in her stomach. I agree that the friend already knows what paths lay in front of her, but she’s obviously stuck at the fork and can’t decide which turn to take.

  32. @another friend – mulling over possibilities that aren’t possible is more like fantasizing, right? Small steps can lead to big changes but again, she’s got to be the one to act. If you don’t want to listen to her if onlys anymore, say so.

  33. @anon who wondered about whether my friend would agree with all of my decisions- I actually know that she would not, because she has said so. That is fine. I’ve made some bad ones! I don’t have to agree with her decisions, either. What drives me crazy is that she doesn’t own the natural consequences of her decisions, even if (perhaps especially if) her decision is to do nothing.She wants to meet Mr. Right. But she’s making decisions that pretty much ensure she won’t meet Mr. Anybody. Yet every time I see her, she makes at least one self-pitying comment about not having a partner. For awhile, I tried offering ideas for how she might meet people. Now I have decided that she has all the ideas she needs- she just needs to act on one. She doesn’t seem inclined to do that, and I can’t do it for her. So I have backed off with the advice and just try to be sympathetic.
    I really like @Shandra’s comment. My friend is mourning the loss of what she thought her life would be like. That is hard, but something she’s going to ultimately have to handle on her own. All I can do is try to offer support through the process. It doesn’t help that I seem to have everything she wants. I know I have been very lucky, and am indeed grateful for what I have. But she doesn’t see the things I have given up to have what I have now. That is hard for me to handle sometimes, because I can’t talk to her about my problems. She doesn’t really acknowledge that I have any!

  34. can we talk more about the quiet pain of feeling like you’re not living up to your own expectations?thats a beautiful way of putting it moxie and thats exactly what i’m feeling at this very moment
    so glad that i’m not alone
    would love to hear how other people confront this and work through it

  35. No time to read all the replies (I’m a week behind on Moxie, AAHHH!)…But.
    My mom (speaking as a minister) says that if you create a space for something in your life, the only way that something can FILL that space (that is, show up), is if you stop putting all your own energy into the space! She has a child-and-husband-shaped hole in her life. She’s dumping so much energy into that hole, it is full of her, and there is no room for him or child. He could try to fit, and won’t, because her energy is already in there.
    My mom did this with me when I was 14 or so and desperate to have a boyfriend. She helped me figure out what my classification of ‘good boyfriend’ was (simple, not detailed – don’t want to bump someone good on a technicality!). We drew a picture of that space, and burned it to release it to the universe. And then my job was to keep my energy ENTIRELY out of that space. NO thinking about it, NO ruminating, NO pondering, NO obsessing, NO planning, NADA.
    I promptly had a boyfriend. I also never lacked for boyfriends after that – one would go, and pretty much the moment I took my energy back out of that space, another would drop right in.
    Anyway, it is a mental exercise, but uses ritual imagery to set it subconsciously, but hey, she’s a minister so she’ll go there… It is a little new-agey in tone, but the same concept applies to giving the problem to God (if you’re holding onto the problem, how much did you actually give to God?), etc.
    Men will definitely run the other way if they smell desperation. Good men, anyway.
    Anyway, for handling the friend, having a little ‘let’s just invite the right guy and baby into your life’ ceremony discussion might clarify what parts she wants to invite, and what parts she wants to just DO. There’s only one part there she can control, and that’s the baby part (as much as that is controllable anyway). Maybe taking it on as that kind of discussion might help clarify – it is just a totally different tack. However, if she is likely to take it too seriously and then blame herself for preventing good things in her life if she can’t get her obsessing under control, maybe not. You know her, you’ll have to choose.
    I have also had to tell friends that certain topics were off-limits, because they exhaust me and I cannot resolve them. Over time, those friends have dropped back in frequency of contact, though we have retained the affection for when we do meet. We just don’t meet the same needs for each other on those points. It’s okay, though – it’s a flow, and not a breaking apart.

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