DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been friends with Elizabeth for almost 20 years. We met because we were both active in an activity our children were in. When we were on equal footing -- both married, working, etc. -- things were fine.
Five years ago, my marriage fell apart in a spectacular way that became the talk of the county. Elizabeth was so supportive during this time. About two years later, Elizabeth began an affair and eventually left her husband.
I supported her when a lot of people didn’t. Cheating was a big part of my marriage ending, so I told her it wasn’t something I would do, but we can be different people as well as friends. She has had subsequent problems, during which I have again tried to be a good friend.
After she moved herself and her children into a house she couldn’t afford on her own, her boyfriend left her. I again tried to be supportive.
Here’s the problem: While she feels like her life is spinning out of control, mine is going great. And it seems like the better I do, the nastier she becomes. I try not to bring up anything positive about my life with her, because then she says things that make me uncomfortable.
It’s getting to the point where I don’t know if I want to be close friends with this version of Elizabeth, which is difficult because we’re both still active in the same activity where we first met. We have moved in the same circles for so long, our lives are very much intertwined.
Do I need to find the understanding from somewhere to continue to try and be supportive, or is it really time to distance myself from my best friend? If it is time, how do I go about doing it without causing any more disappointment or pain in her life?
GENTLE READER: There is a tendency to take offense where none is meant, perhaps to claim sympathy as a victim. Miss Manners is not accusing you of this. She merely notes how surprising it is that people like you accept the premise that your good fortune is a rebuke to her reverses.
It is not, which is why Miss Manners is not charmed by people who admit being jealous of a friend’s happy news. As decent human beings, we are supposed to be pleased by one another’s successes. That baser feelings exist is not a reason to indulge them -- or to reward bad behavior.
There is a world of difference between bragging about something to the point of hurting someone’s feelings, and simply being happy to share one’s good fortune. The former is, indeed, worthy of censure; the latter is supposed to leave you time to show empathy for the less fortunate.
The proper responses to unpleasant remarks by Elizabeth are silence and a change of subject. If this does not discourage the behavior, then it may indeed be time to back off the friendship, while remaining on polite professional terms. This can be accomplished by the same pauses applied on a larger scale -- namely, calls less frequently returned, and finding that you have less time to spend with her.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)