Dear Debra: Frustrated Friends
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I have a very good friend who recently had to give up driving. I offered to pick her up and take her to our weekly maj game as well as any other events we attend together.
All was well until she began refusing to wear a seat belt. She says it feels “too constricting,” and now whenever she rides with me she will not honor my request to “buckle up.”
What if we are in an accident and she is harmed? What if my insurance goes up? I am a good driver but accidents happen. I could never forgive myself if she were hurt in an accident with me at the wheel. What can I do?
— Strapped for an Answer
Too bad your friend has turned your kindness into a conflict. You don’t need the answer to any of your “what ifs?” above. Your friend is refusing to follow a basic rule of safety and putting the onus on you. You’re going to have to do a bit of tough love here.
Before you next chauffeur her, call your friend and lay it out plain and simple — the safety rule in your car is that all passengers must be belted. If she protests, tell her that you are sorry she feels that way, but that is your rule. You can offer her the number of a car service and tell her you look forward to seeing her just the same. Should she reconsider and agree to wear a seat belt, tell her you would be happy to drive her again.
Another thought occurs to me: Has your friend ever played such a power trip game before? If not, she might be trying to assert her independence because her own wings were clipped. Doesn’t mean she gets to ride belt-free, but it might make for a conversation opener. Has anything changed physically with her? Abdominal tenderness that has led to her not wanting the safety belt? If this is the case, urge her to make an appointment with her doctor. But don’t offer to take her unless she’s willing to buckle up.
My friend and I have known each other since second grade. We have had our ups and downs but, over the past couple of years, the way she conducts her life is really beginning to annoy me.
Whenever she has a problem, she comes to me, talks for a long time, asks for my advice but then never follows it! Two months later the whole thing repeats itself again. She does the same things over and over, gets just as upset each time but never changes her behavior. I am so frustrated! I don’t want to end the friendship, but it’s really draining me. How can I help her see how self-defeating these behaviors are?
— Frustrated Friend
Have you ever tried to herd cats? Or to take a lyric from The Sound of Music, catch a cloud or hold a moonbeam in your hand? You are trying to do the impossible: Live your friend’s life for her.
She has set up a very sweet situation — she gets herself into a pickle and dumps it on you. You make nice and ah ah baby, and then she feels relieved and goes right back to her old ways.
No wonder you’re feeling frustrated. And maybe a bit used?
Friendships are supposed to make both parties feel good, energized, connected, nurtured and nurturing. Of course, there are times when friends need us to carry them through. But what you describe is a one-way street going nowhere satisfying. No wonder you feel drained. Drained is for bathtubs; not friendships!
If ending the friendship feels too drastic, restructure the terms. Next time Needy Friend calls to dump, listen for a moment and reply, “I’m sorry you’re in this situation again. I’m sure you’ll find a way out.” Then change the subject. Or head the poor-me talk off at the pass by reminding her that you’ve had this convo before, and no matter what advice you offer, she doesn’t follow it. Again, change the subject.
Best thing you can do is take care of yourself. Maybe Needy Friend will see a competent young woman (that would be you) taking care of herself and start following your example. I said maybe, didn’t I?
Debra Darvick shares her unique take on life, books and more at debradarvick.com.