Friend turns nasty on long trip abroad

The Buffalo News - - LIFE COLUMNS -

Hi, Carolyn: I went on a week­long trip abroad with a friend of mine. We are 27. On the trip I saw a dif­fer­ent side of her: She was mean and at the very least insensitive, and I can’t fig­ure out why she acted this way to­ward me when I hadn’t seen this from her be­fore. She com­mented on my hair be­ing a mess, how I eat the same food every day, and when she looked at a pic­ture of us, she com­mented how she didn’t re­al­ize how much taller she is. She com­plained there were flies at night and I agreed, then she told me, “Well, maybe you should shower at night” – I shower every day.

I could list more, but you prob­a­bly get the point. Am I be­ing overly sen­si­tive and just need to let it go, or is there a good way to con­front her?

– Friend or Foe

If every re­mark was in­deed mean­tasadig,then­thi­sisa sur­pris­ing level of mean­ness to emerge with­out warn­ing. So I won­der which you think is more likely, that you missed ear­lier warn­ings, or that she only got like this un­der the duress of an am­bi­tious trip?

Ei­ther way, “con­fronting” peo­ple is climb­ing rapidly up my list of ideas that make me flinch. It’s so con­fronta­tional.

The way I’d rec­om­mend han­dling snark like hers is calmly, plainly and in the very mo­ment you re­al­ize it: “Wait – did you just im­ply I at­tract flies be­cause I don’t bathe?” Even if it’s a halfhour after she said it, it’s still the per­fect time to find out what’s re­ally go­ing on. That’s be­cause tak­ing it in­ci­dent by in­ci­dent, within re­cent mem­ory, is the purest form of just ask­ing what’s go­ing on. You say what you heard, and ask if that’s what she meant.

When such in­ci­dents ac­crue, then, yes, it’s time for: “You’ve now of­fered commentary on my hair, diet and height. What’s up?”

Now, after the fact, the ex­act words are al­ready sub­ject to the va­garies of mem­ory. It’s not im­pos­si­ble to ad­dress it, it’s just not as ef­fec­tive.

If you want to re­main friends with this per­son (a rea­son­able “if”) and if you’re still bugged by some of the things she said, then I sug­gest pick­ing out a cou­ple that ran­kled the most and men­tion­ing them: “I find my­self still think­ing about a cou­ple of things you said to me on our trip. [Ex­am­ple 1] is one of them, and also [Ex­am­ple 2]. I heard them as [your in­ter­pre­ta­tion here]. Is that re­ally what you meant?”

Ad­mit­tedly, what you de­scribe is low-level nas­ti­ness de­liv­ered in the hard­est way to man­age, mean­ing there was room for de­ni­a­bil­ity in every in­ci­dent – which means you faced a tough speak-up-or-drop-it de­ci­sion every time. If it was de­lib­er­ate on her part, too, then it is gaslight­ing, which means the whole point was for you not to know how to re­spond. Con­text is go­ing to be es­sen­tial in fig­ur­ing this out.

Also, for what it’s worth: Even some bestest-ever friends should never travel to­gether. Ever. The abil­ity to get along 24-7 for days in­volves a spe­cial kind of com­pat­i­bil­ity. You can be friends with­out it; you just can’t travel well with­out it. True for cou­ples, too.


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