Submitted by guest writer, Irene S. Levine, author of the upcoming book, Best Friends Forever: How to Survive a Breakup with Your Best Friend
“Best Friends Forever.” Women grow up with a romanticized notion that our close friendships will last forever. In fact, we are often judged by our ability to make and keep friends. But friendships that last forever are the exception rather than the rule. Most friendships, even very good ones, tend to be more fleeting than we could have ever imagined.
Every divorce has some collateral damage, which often includes a toppling of very close friendships. Couple friends may blame you for the divorce or be jealous of your decision. At a time when you are most in need of friends and support, you may feel like you are adrift.
The following question and answer were posted on my website, The Frienship Blog, by a friend who was feeling put upon by her friend’s recent divorce. What are your thoughts?
My best friend is finally dumping her jerk husband of more than a decade and I’m glad about that but it’s all wearing me to a nub.
Her frenzied dating is making me nuts. She talks about her boyfriends constantly, and about how many men are chasing her. She is convinced her life will be right back on track when she has a boyfriend, even though the divorce isn’t even final yet.
She’s really into psychotherapy which I hope might help her. I think she needs to stabilize before she gets involved with anyone but who am I to say? I don’t know how to be supportive, honest, and not make my tongue bleed by biting it all at the same time.
I used to think that when she finally got away from her husband, who was emotionally abusive, she would grow into the woman she could be and our friendship would deepen. Now I just don’t know. I’m feeling distant from her and irritated.
Sounds like you’ve had a hard time supporting your BFF’s choices almost as long as you’ve known her but you deluded yourself into thinking her rotten choice of mate was circumstantial: that she simply picked the wrong guy and had a hard time getting out of it.
In large part, people choose their circumstances, and if they don’t because they’ve fallen into them by mistake, they do have the free will to change them. Eighteen years of abuse must have eroded your friend’s self-esteem completely. What half-normal person would put up with all that stuff for that long?
Admittedly, this is probably a very difficult time for your BFF. She must worry about whether she will eventually land on the ground with both feet standing—and you may be wondering the same thing about her too!
Being indiscriminately “boy-crazy” diverts a woman from thinking about their own life (How do I know? Been there, done that!). Her interest in psychotherapy suggests that on some level, she would like to find her true self.
But let’s get back to you. It’s impossible to support a friend when you consistently don’t support her choices, unless she has other qualities that outweigh the negative ones. The value of every female friendship is determined by how well it meets our needs—I like to call this the concept of reciprocity. Friendships usually work when two friends feel like they are giving each other more—or at least as much—as they are getting. Sounds like this one isn’t working for you.
In this circumstance, what are your choices? You can leave things as they are and bite your tongue (but I think you are having a problem doing that or you wouldn’t have written to me). You can tell her things she isn’t ready to hear. Or there is one more approach that I think is the most prudent. I suggest that you take a friendship sabbatical.
You need to step back and give your friend time to work things out—and you need to give yourself time to think about whether the friendship is worth the angst. You can tell your friend that you need some time and space for yourself but you really care about her and what she is going through. In the meantime, spend more time with other friends and see if they can fill the deficit. Let me know what you decide and how it goes.
Irene S. Levine, PhD is a clinical psychologist and award-winning freelance journalist and author who spent the major portion of her career as a senior manager and policymaker at the National Institute of Mental Health in Rockville, Maryland. After that, she was privileged to serve as the first Deputy Director of the federal Center for Mental Health Services during the Clinton Administration.
Her upcoming book, Best Friends Forever: How to Survive a Breakup with Your Best Friend (Overlook Press, 2009), was written to address the myriad of issues that impact friendships through various stages and transitions in a woman’s life. The book will be available in Borders, Barnes & Noble and major online booksellers on September 20, which coincides with Women’s Friendship Day.