Monday, June 3, 2019

She Doesn't Want to Hear about Her Friends' Relationship Problems

Of course, as often happens, we do not know why the letter writer cannot find a mate. We do not know how old she is, where she is living, what does does for a living… nothing whatever. This gives us the unenviable task of sharing her deep feelings… She feels sorely put upon because her friends confide their relationship problems in her.

You see, she does not like to hear about these problems. They make her feel even more alone. But she does not know how to address the issue without alienating her friends. We do not know to a certainty whether or not she has any single friends. If she does, then hanging around with them might salve her wounded psyche.

Anyway, she writes to therapist Lori Gottlieb, who is going to tell her to be open and honest, to have conversations with her friends about her problem with their problems:

How do I tell my friends I really don't want to hear about the problems they are having in their relationships? It is really hard for me to listen to them complain about their spouses or significant others when I am fighting hard to accept being single.  

They assume that because things are going well in other aspects of my life, I am okay with my nonexistent romantic life, and therefore free to listen to them complain. I am not. It's the reason I have been in and out of therapy for the past few years—the inability to accept and deal with the fact that I am single, with no real prospects on the horizon.  

I want to be a good friend, but I just don't think I can hear another story about how he forgot to take out the trash or call right back so the marriage/relationship is over!

When I tell them that I don't want to hear it, I truly mean it, but they assume I'm only kidding and keep talking. I have to take breaks from them just to get away before I explode and ruin friendships.

For reasons that escape me, Gottlieb diagnoses this woman as suffering from “ambiguous grief.” It is undoubtedly the correct psycho diagnosis, but we do not quite get why she is grieving what does not seem to be a loss of an individual:

If your coupled friends understood your ambiguous grief—the intangible loss, the not knowing, the toggling between hope one minute and sadness the next—they might show more sensitivity by toning down their complaints and taking your request more seriously. So rather than taking breaks from them or biting your tongue during these conversations, you might find it beneficial to be more direct in sharing your experience with them.

Gottlieb advises the letter writer to share her experience, to talk it over. And she believes that this will distract her from her feelings of isolation. Before explaining what is wrong with this, consider Gottlieb’s advice, or at least her general description:

Having this conversation will help with one aspect of ambiguous grief: isolation. The more your friends understand your experience, the more they can support you, and the more you’ll enjoy these friendships and not feel like you have to distance yourself from them (which adds to the isolation). Of course, you don’t want your friends to avoid sharing their lives with you, or to feel like they’re constantly on the verge of causing you pain. But an awareness of how these complaints land on you will make your friends less tone-deaf, and that in turn will build your tolerance to hear what’s weighing on your friends (at least in small doses).  

In the psycho world people share experiences, become more aware and forge closer alliances. In the real world, people are put off by all the sanctimonious mewling. They feel that they are forced into discussing something that they would rather not discuss. And that, in this case they are being indicted for being inconsiderate. This tactic might well ensure that the letter writer has fewer and fewer friends. Because that would, after all, solve the problem.

The obvious solution is to find more single friends. Or to consult with a matchmaker or to go onto a dating site. Since we know nothing about the woman in question, we do not know whether or not she has tried any or all of the above. And we also know nothing about her family situation, parents, siblings and the like. We know nothing of her daily habits or even her relative attractiveness.

If I may, I will offer a modest suggestion. She might use a line that I once heard from the widow of a man who had been killed on 9/11. The woman was being interviewed with other widows on television. She summed up her attitude to hearing other women complain about their husbands by saying, wistfully, that she missed having her her husband around to leave the toilet seat up.

Fair enough, that represents a form of shaming. But it allows the other person to see what she is doing without forcing her to have a conversation about it.

1 comment:

Sam L. said...

Why are all her "friends" dumping their problems on her...or wanting her to suggest what they could do to improve their lives? If she could, I'd suggest a looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong vacation trip, to get away from them.