DEAR NATALIE: I have a longtime friend, “Jane,” who has been very open about her mental health issues and I have always listened and supported her and her progress. She’s always working on boundaries to promote a higher level of happiness for herself. We have been friends for over 20 years and have been there for each other for all major life events. My problem is that over the years she is occasionally sharp with me and sometimes says things that hurt me. She never apologizes, and always has some reason, like stress at home, etc. We are part of a group of about five other friends who are all close. My other friends have noticed these incidences over the years. One friend even suggested that she’s more comfortable with me and therefore feels she can be more direct or assertive with me. When these occurrences have happened, they really hurt. I’m a believer in apologizing and working things out, and in this instance, I have to always internally forgive her and move on even though it bothers me. She doesn’t ever act this way around our other friends, and they all give her a pass when it happens to me because of her mental health struggles. I guess I have been giving her a pass because of them, too. Recently, she blasted me in a group text essentially because I made a very innocent joke about fingernail polish after she brought the subject up. She took it personally, and while it wasn’t meant to be a personal attack in the least, she said I “shamed” her. She used to joke about these things before, but now it seems as though she is flexing new boundaries on subject matter that no one was aware of. My friends texted me separately to say how sorry they were that she responded to me so harshly. I was very embarrassed. I have traveled the world with her, sent her care packages when she’s been sad, shown up for important things, and done everything I can to be the best friend I can to her. Now I haven’t said anything in the group text for two weeks and she’s carrying on as if nothing happened. It really hurts. I want to respect her boundaries but it’s starting to feel like she has so many she is humorless and has walled herself in. I want to keep all of my friendships but this is getting really hard to do. I hate putting anyone in an awkward place with my predicament as well. What should I do? — HURT TOO OFTEN DEAR HURT TOO OFTEN: I’m hearing a lot about her needs, her mental health, her perspective. What I am not really hearing about is you. You are allowed to also have boundaries. You are allowed to forgive her as well as a step back from her. Mental health issues do not give people the right to be mean and then not apologize. Her unkind behavior is not to be excused by her mental health. Just because you are close to her does not give her the right to dump all over you whenever she feels like it and then expect you to just suck it up. It sounds to me like you and your friends are a little bit afraid of her and that’s why no one stands up to her. They don’t want to be on the receiving end of her wrath. You are allowed to extricate yourself from this toxic friendship while still being there for her. You are allowed to say to her the next time she is mean to you: “That hurt my feelings and I need you to acknowledge it and apologize for it if we are going to continue as friends.” Friends hurt each other from time to time. It happens. But without repairing the damage, resentment builds over time. If you don’t want to become bitter about your relationship, I suggest you start standing up for your own needs. You are also allowed to have relationships with your other friends independent of her or the group. It doesn’t always have to be about her and it shouldn’t be. Relationships are a two-way street and if she can’t acknowledge that, I guess the question remains: What is your friendship really about?
DEAR NATALIE: My best friend has the worst taste in men. Every time she meets a guy, she throws herself head first into a relationship that is usually doomed from the start. Well, the other day, she met another “Mr. Perfect” online--who happens to be “separated” from his wife...yeah, right--and she wanted my opinion. I told her I thought it was going to be another dating disaster and now she is pissed off. What was I supposed to say? I can’t take her craziness! — WAS I WRONG THOUGH
DEAR WAS I WRONG THOUGH: We can all reach that point of no return with our friends where there is only so much you can take. Here she is, entering yet another relationship that definitely seems doomed from the start...because, who are we kidding? Married people rarely leave their spouses, and yet she wants you to coddle her and lie to her about how she is making a terrific choice. Instead, you laid it out for her and told her the truth.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t what she wanted to hear. She wants a relationship enabler. But what she really needs is a reality check. If she really wanted to fall in love and settle down with “The One”, it’s usually best to start with someone who isn’t already “The One” to somebody else.
But here you are. And the truth is, after you said it once, there’s no point in hammering her about this situation. She knows how you feel. Call her. Apologize for the way you stated your opinion. Explain to her that you love her and want the best for her and that you were just shocked by her news. Let her know that you are there for her, and you just want her to be happy. If she is still cold or angry with you, let her be. Give her some time. Sounds like she is a needy person and will come back around to you quicker than you will expect. She may even accept your apology and want your advice and counsel. Maybe. You can be her friend, but you aren’t her therapist. Your job is to be supportive, not to be a proverbial punching bag. It may be best to take a step back from her for a while and just let everything cool down so that you can continue to support her in a way that is healthy and constructive for you both.
Please send your questions to Natalie Bencivenga to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @NatalieBenci and on Instagram @NatalieBenci