I am a 31-year-old woman. My best friend only seeks out people who are successful in a very conventional sense- Harvard graduates, Google/Microsoft employees, and those running successful businesses. I find it very limiting and a hindrance to building healthy relationships.
Being the CEO of a startup, she, I think, embodies the corporate culture that hates any signs of “weaknesses” and has less time to delve on the so-called negative emotions like fear, anxiety, depression etc. We have really fun time together but whenever I am down with any of these emotions, I feel like she tries to avoid discussing the subject or rush me up, prompting me to find a “solution” fast. Sometimes she would often give a textbook answer like “I am sorry this is happening to you” or “I can imagine it must be terrible” but beyond that we rarely talk through the problem. On two occasions, when I tried to discuss my traumas, I was (unintentionally) shamed and gaslighted into thinking that I am looking for excuses to blame others or that I am not doing something right. And since I have mental health issues, I often face emotional breakdowns.
I don’t know how to make sense of it. What does that say about her? I am confused.
There’s a lot I would like to say to her on the subject – right from how we get the meaning of “strong” and “weak” wrong to how she may want to see people beyond the conventional parameters of success, and how her behaviour during my low phases makes me feel. But there’s so much to say and also involves confrontation about her own behavior, I often can’t decide what and how much to say. I sometimes also think that if she didn’t find me “successful enough”, she wouldn’t probably have been my friend (but I could be wrong here.)
A Confused Friend
Dear Confused Friend,
It’s really stressful to feel like a friend isn’t supportive, or doesn’t understand what you are experiencing. Or that you just can’t depend on them when you are down.
That being said, it’s completely normal and healthy to have friends that you rely on (or refer to) for different things. Some friends can be confidants, and others can be for less personal but still important topics, and some can be more surface and fun. When it comes to friendships, what really matters is that you have reciprocal relationships, people you can confide in, and that you feel safe and understood as a whole.
It’s hard to know exactly what her behavior and choice in friends says about her. She could be repressing her own mental health concerns, or she could be unsure about how to deal with tough emotions. Someone can have all of the charisma, intelligence, and business knowledge in the world, and still be lacking in emotional intelligence.
You can handle this one of two ways:
1. A direct conversation. Talk about your feelings regarding her less than fuzzy responses to your personal disclosures. Use as many “I” statements as possible. For example, “When I shared my trauma with you, I felt shamed and uncomfortable. I really care about you, and I know you didn’t do it on purpose. Can you tell me what you were feeling when I shared that with you?”
2. Choose to confide in other friends, and redirect this friendship at a surface level, focusing on professional goals, and not mental health concerns. This one doesn’t require a conversation, just specific filtering in the future.
One thing to keep in mind is how genuine that you can be with your friend. If you choose to go the route of keeping this friendship in a specific realm, will it be comfortable, or will you feel like you are filtering yourself so much that you can’t be genuine? You can also tell your friend exactly what you need from her when you share emotional or traumatic experiences.
I wish you luck,