Dear Metro

Metro Magazine NZ - - Etc. -

Got is­sues with work, love, sex, fam­ily, friend­ships, money or the crush­ing ex­is­ten­tial angst of mod­ern life? Each week on metro­mag.co.nz, our Metro ad­vice columnist an­swers a reader’s query and solves all their prob­lems.

Dear Metro,

I have a friend who will act like the whole world is against them if any­one sug­gests they’ve done some­thing bad, or even dis­agrees with them. They will then ice ev­ery­one out for hours and make their pres­ence as un­com­fort­able as pos­si­ble in so­cial sit­u­a­tions. This can be caused by such things as their flat­mates ask­ing them to clean up their messes, or us choos­ing a dif­fer­ent place to eat than they sug­gested.

Ob­vi­ously, this makes it dif­fi­cult to ap­proach them about it. What can we do?

Sin­cerely,

The Hurt Locker

Dear Hurt Locker,

I have been think­ing a lot lately about what it means to be a friend, partly be­cause de­press­ingly trans­ac­tional tem­plates about how to cor­rectly per­form friend­ship keep go­ing vi­ral on­line.

Surely the way to ap­proach friend­ship is not to re­duce our in­ter­ac­tions to ten­ta­tive tem­plates us­ing painstak­ingly ex­act and oddly for­mal lan­guage (the orig­i­nal vi­ral meme, “I’m so glad you reached out. I’m ac­tu­ally at ca­pac­ity / help­ing some­one else who’s in cri­sis”, is more out-of-of­fice re­ply than a way to talk to some­one in your life who needs you). We should in­stead aim to foster in­ter­per­sonal con­nec­tions ro­bust enough to with­stand low-level con­flict or con­fronta­tion from time to time. This will in­clude clumsy lan­guage and bring­ing prob­lems up at im­per­fect mo­ments.

There are rules in friend­ships, even if they’re un­spo­ken, and re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple are a ne­go­ti­a­tion. But in­ter­act­ing with oth­ers isn’t about two peo­ple fol­low­ing a script, with the guar­an­tee that if you say your lines right, the other per­son will, too.

Most peo­ple are, to vary­ing de­grees, dif­fi­cult and an­noy­ing — and these tem­plates don’t take that into ac­count as be­ing nor­mal, hu­man and, broadly speak­ing, fine. The ma­jor­ity of the time, we’ll find the peo­ple we’ve cho­sen as friends de­light­ful (or at least pleas­ant) to be around, which makes main­tain­ing friend­ships pretty easy for the most part. But be­ing very an­noy­ing some­times shouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily pre­clude a per­son from mean­ing­ful friend­ships.

Of course, it’s up to you to de­cide whether on bal­ance some­one is worth keep­ing in your life — friend­ship is a

give-and-take re­la­tion­ship up to the point where it’s not worth it for one or both of you. If this per­son con­stantly acts in ways that don’t treat you, some­one also wor­thy of care and re­spect, with much de­cency, then it’s OK to make the choice to walk away from your re­la­tion­ship with them.

But if, as your question im­plies, this per­son is a friend you want to keep, then part of be­ing a good mate is call­ing peo­ple on their bull­shit, even though that’s an ob­jec­tively hard con­ver­sa­tion to have. That way they have the chance to make amends for their be­hav­iour, and it be­comes clear to them how you would like to be treated (some­times this seems ob­vi­ous, but isn’t).

This per­son sounds like they’re be­ing a bit of a night­mare, but there are a mil­lion pos­si­ble rea­sons for that, prob­a­bly all stem­ming from their own in­se­cu­ri­ties (peo­ple com­fort­able in them­selves don’t tend to freak out when their friends sug­gest some­where else to eat). I would sug­gest talk­ing to them one on one, and fram­ing things con­struc­tively. Tell them you value them for x, y and z rea­sons, but some of their be­hav­iour makes you feel up­set or un­com­fort­able and ask them why they think they re­spond that way.

Try, where you can, to fo­cus on let­ting them know how it makes you feel, rather than fram­ing the is­sue as be­ing how they are bad or wrong, and of­fer so­lu­tions rather than fo­cus­ing too much on past in­stances. (For ex­am­ple: “Do you think in fu­ture if we sug­gest some­where else to eat, you could try to take that in your stride? It makes me feel re­ally bad when you ice me out over some­thing so small, and I’d like to feel I’m al­lowed to have an opin­ion too.”) You don’t have to baby them en­tirely, but if they’re prone to over­re­act­ing then it does seem nec­es­sary to treat them a lit­tle gen­tly at first if the out­come you want is a more func­tional and en­joy­able ver­sion of your friend­ship.

It’s en­tirely pos­si­ble your will­ing­ness to be up­front could serve as an im­por­tant first step to a health­ier friend­ship. When peo­ple worry they aren’t cared for, they act out. Telling some­one you see their flaws and want to be their friend any­way is a pow­er­ful con­fir­ma­tion they are cared for, and can re­lax a lit­tle. Hope­fully their be­hav­iour im­proves as a re­sult.

With love, Metro

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