Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Just want to be over it: I have a friend who has started only texting to complain.
I listen to her talk about her husband mistreating her, her child being just as disrespectful, and her health declining to the point she doesn’t work enough to pay her bills. She says she knows what she needs to do but she never does any of it. She sabotages her health by eating junk and fast food. She sabotages her marriage by not holding boundaries and talking disrespectfully herself.
We used to have such great conversations. But I hate hearing how she left work because she had a headache and doesn’t know if she can pay her bills, and how she and her husband just got into it again. I just want to yell STOP! Am I the jerk for wanting to just block her now?
A: Blocking feels like an extreme—and yes, somewhat jerky—step to take before communicating with your friend that you’re not able to absorb her nonstop complaints. If you’re at a place where you’re so frustrated that you’re willing to end the relationship, you really have nothing to lose by saying how you feel and giving her a chance to improve. So just speak up—and of course, this can be a text: “Hi [Friend], I’m so sorry you’re going through all of this. I care about you a lot but I have to be honest and let you know it’s hard for me to receive so many texts about the negative parts of your life and negative feelings. If there’s something I can help you with, I want to know and I’ll be happy to talk through it with you but for now if you could cut back on venting, I would appreciate it.”
My wife and I are both complainers by nature. We dump most of it on each other, for the sanity of our friends and family, and it’s been a comforting aspect of our relationship. She’s several years younger than me and has been at the same job since finishing university. She hates it and has been talking about changing fields for years without actually doing anything about it. The things she complains about, though, are sort of part-and-parcel of any job. Recently, I was in a bad mood and I interrupted her complaining tirade by snapping, “I think you’d hate any job. It’s not your job, it’s you.” I felt bad right away, but her reaction surprised me: She agreed. She said, very seriously, “You’re right. I’m a negative, hateful person. What should I do about it?” It made me realize that I’m a negative, hateful whiner too. Do you have any ideas how we could improve this aspect of ourselves?