She’s Such a Downer, WHY Are We Still Friends?
I know you mostly deal with love relationships, but I’m writing about a platonic, female friend. “Marley” and I were work colleagues. We hung out for lunch, sometimes even socialized on weekends. I wouldn’t say we were “besties” by any means, but we stayed connected for over 20 years. The thing is, I can describe Marley in one word: “DOWNER.” Not only is Marley always unhappy, but after all this time I realize she makes me unhappy, too! It is a shame. Marley is smart, but she wears old, unflattering clothes than hang off her slim body. Her hair is frizzy and unkempt. She kind of has a saliva issue. All that aside, Marley doesn’t seem to notice her image or the fact that she is painfully socially inept. Poor Marley had a controlling mother and when Mom died she now lives alone with three dogs. Marley always whined that she didn’t want to be alone and wanted to meet someone, but amazingly, every man someone set her up with wasn’t up to her standards. She rejected them, with a litany of reasons why they weren’t good enough to go out with, and n ever accepted a date. Every time I ask Marley how things are she pauses, then sighs deeply…and then she starts up with how bad her life is and a string of complaints. When I try to help her, all I get is resistance and excuses why my ideas wouldn’t work and how I don’t understand. Marley thinks the whole work is looking at her and judging her (no one is) and she blames everyone else for her troubles. Two years ago I decided Marley was such a downer I couldn’t be friends with her anymore. But I feel bad for her and recently reconnected. The minute we began “chatting” Marley began complaining. Marley is smart and could still have a great life, but I can’t understand how someone like her doesn’t have a clue. She’s such a downer, can I help her or should I end the friendship for good?
Tony’s Take: It is terrible the psychological trauma our parents inflict on us, sometimes by accident, or, as in this case, as specific intent in order to control us emotionally. If Marley had been with an abusive man everyone would know how to treat her. But in this society we gloss over or ignore the same emotional abuse if it comes from our parents. Marley’ s mother is the source of her issues. Marley’s mother would listen to minor complaints that Marley had and then amplify them so that Marley grew up believing that it’s always somebody else’s fault. Also, to keep Marley from straying, her mother encouraged her being unfashionable and isolated, while criticizing everyone that Marley showed any interest in by saying that they were not worthy of her or they would betray her. This has left Marley isolated, and alone, critical of everyone and everything.
Her complaining is the only type of social conversation she is comfortable with because that is what her mother encouraged, and her “Princess Complex” is expressed by her rejection of anyone who shows real interest in her.
If Marley was a young woman, she could have gotten psychological help or if she ran into a man who realized her issues, she could have been manipulated into a long term affair as the other woman, either of which would have removed much of her social awkwardness. At her current age, there is little of either, and the best you can do is help her find someone with children that she can play maiden aunt to. Otherwise, she will either find excuses to isolate herself even more, or get involved with a guy who is totally needy and dependent (e.g. an alcoholic). Friends like this are not people you can “change.”
Alison’s Take: Oh I feel for you! It’s difficult to ditch friends, even those friends are really toxic. Yes, it feels really bad to cut friends oose, but Marley is obviously not going to change any more than a leopard changes her spots. This woman has serious issues, as Tony has suggested, but she needs qualified psychological help and doubtless if you suggested she get some, she’d be extremely defensive and give you a string of reasons why she is just fine and you are wrong.
Most people who dress in odd ways are aware that they are doing it. That’s my first clue that Marley wants to be left alone. The fact that she told you she wanted to date someone but then never accepted a single date is another strong clue that she is the type of woman with “spinster” and “recluse” written all over her. Marley found your friendship attractive because you listened to her whining and paid attention to her, but really she just wanted a sounding board and you supplied that.
It’s laudable and kind of you to want to help Marley, but at this point I’d assume that Marley is beyond your influence, or anyone else’s. Assume that Marley has the life she wants, with her dogs and her solo life, and wish her well, then “be busy” when she calls you.