S1: Dear Prudence your prudent effort prudent here is your proof here.
S2: Things that I should contact him again. Help how. Thank you. Thank you.
S3: Hello and welcome to another mini episode of Dear Prudence. I’m your host Daniel Mallory or Berg and this show is for you. Plus subscribers. This week my guest is Alexandra Petra a humor columnist for The Washington Post and author of A Field Guide to awkward silences. And now here’s our first letter.
S4: Oh oh oh oh.
S1: Would you read this one. Sure. The subject of this one is should I stop being friends with my one quote unquote friend in my new town who consistently upsets me. Dear Prudence I female late 20s have always found it very difficult to make friends and only have one close friend male late 20s male late 30s in the city I currently live in. He also worked in the same office as me. We have to interact and work related issues a few times a month. I’m struggling with depression at the moment something I have had bouts of since my early teens and although this friend has not always responded well before I felt like I needed support from somebody nearby I told him I was struggling and he was relatively supportive to start with but later on that evening I told him via text our usual communication mode that I had started crying during a yoga class. He went into a rant under the guise of friendships or about being honest about how I had issues. I dragged him down and that he was frustrated with me almost to the point of breaking. He also implied that his view had to be right because he’s older than me. I said that this was exactly why I struggled to talk to him then sobbed pretty much all night. This is not the first time he’s talked to me this way and he only ever does it when I tell him that I’m not feeling great. I already give myself a lot of these messages when I’m depressed so I don’t need anyone to reinforce them. I know this is unacceptable behavior and having tried to distance myself from him before I am willing to try again. But how can I let go of my one local friend when I already feel so alone at least part of me feels like a bad friend is better than no friends and I don’t have the energy to get to know new people at the moment who so I think it’s some when I think about that last point part of me sometimes feels like a bad friend is better than no friends.
S5: I get that I think it is a little bit more I think that the truth is slightly more in the second half which is mostly I actually just can’t imagine mustering out the energy to to get to know somebody new and I just wanna acknowledge that the kind of exhaustion is real and it’s really really hard. And I also understand that there’s a part of you that feels like at least this person who is like often very cruel and dismissive towards me responds to me at least they are intermittently interested in how I’m doing. So I do understand that and I don’t think you should try to beat that feeling out of you. But I also think the way that this guy is treating you I don’t think that it’s ridiculous to assume that he might end the friendship anyways. I don’t think this is somebody who is likely to remain even intermittently interested in you. I think the odds that he will end your friendship before you do citing something like you are too dramatic or too much for me is pretty high. So I think if there’s a part of you that feels like maybe if I really carefully managed myself I can keep some version of his friendship. I think you would be putting yourself through a lot of stress for somebody who is probably already pretty likely to stop talking to you at some point in the near future.
S6: Yeah I hadn’t even thought of that but I think I would say that for me what jumped out was that our usual communication mode was text because to me that if you have friends in other places they can communicate by that same mode just by the fact of being in the same town like I would urge you to lean on your friends in other cities and other places like making friends when you’re depressed is like just exerting that emotional energy is incredibly hard and so find other people like let your out of town friends step up for you because I feel like somebody who’s sort of I guess slightly hypocritical about this because I’ll be like oh I live in the same town as somebody but they’re across the river so we’ll never see each other again. I’m sorry. That’s just how it is. They’re too far away. They’re just like imagined barrier that comes along with actual distance but I do think this is a situation where you’re out of town friends can step up and I know look I would urge you to let them.
S5: Yeah I think that’s a really good point too. It may be that the friends are so far away they’re in different time zones but even so even if you just were to try to arrange for certain times of day that you will overlap slightly. I think that if is the way you’re talking to him you can get that from other people who are not going to see those horrible things to you.
S6: Yeah. No. I like sometimes when you’re depressed it it’s like oh it’s 3:00 a.m. hey my California is able to be oh gee it looks like have a real media conversation like that’s what gets you through it. And so I think because this guy is not treating you nicely and also it sounds like there’s the work element of it. So that’s another like a proximity thing. But it sounds like it’s tough to make new friends so find an old one and see if you can just set up a standing text date or something and get that validation and hopefully contact with somebody who isn’t going to berate you for feeling the way you feel.
S5: Yeah I would just say he has made it very clear that you cannot trust him with any kind of significant emotional disclosure. And I don’t want you to be in a position where if you’re in a really vulnerable state and you reach out to him via text and he attacks you again especially given that the two of you work together and it sounds like he’s senior to you.
S3: My other worry there is that he would try to use this information against you at work because again the things that he said were just wildly cruel it wasn’t like hey this is really hard for me I have to limit some of the amount of time I can be available for that which would have been maybe painful to hear but at least like you know kind and constructive this kind of response of just like you’re dragging me down you’re breaking me for telling me that you’re crying and going through a tough time it’s just like I don’t trust this guy. I don’t think he should know intimate details about you because I believe that he would potentially use them against you. And I really really don’t want you to have to go through depression and worry about like your reputation at work.
S6: You know this guy has not shown that he’s able to handle this and are frustrated with you to the point of breaking that. Yeah. I also like the whole thing where people like friendship’s about being honest. It’s like that’s always like a flag goes up in my mind was like oh you’re about to say something that’s unnecessary and probably also cruel. Right. Let’s find out what it is. Right.
S5: Yeah. So I think my other my other you know. So yeah I mean my other advice is pretty straightforward which is like reach out to your other friends if you’re not already in contact with a doctor and or a therapist. I encourage you to do that again being perfectly aware that it’s it’s sometimes very difficult to schedule those appointments logistically financially emotionally when you are depressed it is very hard to come up with the motivation to make those appointments. So I understand that that may take a lot of time but I do think that that’s going to ultimately be a lot more fruitful than than trying to pursue this guy and the last thing I think that I want to stress here is you say that you already give yourself a lot of these messages when you’re depressed and so but then you also say I’m trying to distance myself from him before I’m willing to try again. So part of me worries that what you’re gonna do with him is a part of you will think like yeah he should be saying this to me.
S3: This is true. This is reality. And so part of you will want to go back to that tests to find another human being who’s willing to say to you what the worst part the most self-loathing part of your brain is already saying to you and that there can be a sort of perverse satisfaction of getting confirmation of like right. That depressing voice in voice in my head is telling the truth and he’s the only person who’s willing to be honest about it because I think that can be a form of self harm that we can seek out when we’re depressed. So I don’t want to be hard on you about that. I get that when we are depressed we want to cause ourselves harm that’s part of why depression is so awful and debilitating. But I just want a name that as a potential dynamic so you can be aware of it. It’s not. If you wanted to seek him out again like oh I’m being forgiving or giving him a second chance I want you to consider that a form of self harm like you would you know cutting yourself and that’s not to say that he is a human life and he’s not capable of change or being better but it’s like if I seek out emotional intimacy with this guy it’s because there’s a part of me wants to hurt myself and in that moment I hope and I would encourage you to turn to anybody else a journal to call like the National Suicide Hotline to text to another friend to find a local support group for for people who struggle with depression in your area. Anybody who can kind of hold space for you in that moment and say look I get why you want to reach out to him right now and I’m here to help you wait out this impulse until it passes. Like I would any other self harming impulse. And I just wish you the best. I’m just so sorry. That’s such a painful situation to be in and I hope that he does not continue to treat people this cruelly in the future.
S5: All right let’s get out of here. Let’s move on. Let’s talk about partners. Let’s talk about attention and reciprocity and celebration and getting a master’s degree and let’s have you read it.
S1: Let’s do it. Levels of effort Dear Prudence. I recently finished a master’s degree in a very difficult field. It’s by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever done academically. I was spent in ways I didn’t know existed. Throughout this journey my partner was very supportive both physically and emotionally. I can’t thank them enough for that. The day before I was finished they suggest we go at to lunch the next day days celebrate. We go. It was nice to breathe the fresh air and get out of the house. We have a good time. A couple of days later I’m at the store and splurge on a couple of new pairs of sweat pants. When I return home my partner says well there you go. Happy graduation. We laugh. I’m not one to make a fuss or needed to be the center of attention. I don’t make a big deal about my birthday. Normally just the love of my family and quiet dinner at home is all I need to feel loved and cared about. My partner’s best friend’s birthday is today. They threw them a surprise brunch. They’ve gone all out. I come downstairs this morning and the entire kitchen and dining room is covered in decorations. There are presence on the table trays filled with breakfast foods. People are about to start showing up. It was like a punch to the gut. They’ve been planning this for weeks. From secret invitations to planning a menu they’ve put in a lot of work. I’m suddenly very sad and feeling let down by my partner. How can they muster such an effort for a friend’s birthday and only a last minute lunch for me. Am I overreacting. Should I just let it go and be glad they did something so nice for someone else.
S5: So two things stand out here. One is absolutely it is totally ok. Even if you aren’t making any claims about whether or not your partner is doing enough for you it is ok to feel jealous. It is okay to feel anxious or insecure. I don’t think you should try to police yourself to make sure that you have the correct emotions.
S3: The other thing is I know graduate school can be really intense and overwhelming and kind of give you tunnel vision. So I just also want to acknowledge again that doesn’t mean that you’re wrong. If you have a feeling and you just got a master’s degree you’re like automatically have lost perspective. I just maybe pause and reflect on you know over the last year or two or three years or four as I’ve been going through this program like how am I doing you know. Like are there other things that I’ve been putting on a backburner because I just want to push through this. Are there other ways in which our relationship was strained. And so I’m just feeling like a little especially sensitive right now. That doesn’t mean you can’t talk about this. That doesn’t mean you have to say I was wrong. I just think it will be helpful to check yourself for that before you have this conversation with your partner because you may find like there’s some there there. Does that strike you as reasonable. I’m worried about making it sound like a letter writer you were just in graduate school and therefore you are wrong and too sensitive.
S6: No but I think it’s a good point because this is one of those things that feels like a very valid conversation to have and often those can be very tempted to just launch into without thinking like is this specifically about the thing that it’s about or is it about something else. So I think that’s a good thing to pinpoint and I would also say the senator that jumped out at me as somebody who is kind of who resembles this is like I’m not one to make a fuss but needs to be the center of attention. I don’t make a big deal about my birthday. Normally this is all that I need to feel loved and cared about. Sometimes you ask for what you think you want and it turns out when you see somebody else getting like the full cake treatment you realize it like the expectation I’ve been setting and the thing that I’ve been asking for and what I actually would like are not the same. But yes like your partner has been dealing with all the information that you’ve given them and their expectation has been said it like this is the person who doesn’t like birthdays. This is the person who’d is happy. We’d like a luncheon. And so it’s not horribly unfair either for you or for them to be like Wait a second. I actually saw that this other person getting the treatment and I realized I would kind of like that. Could we do that. And like having to ask doesn’t mean that like your partner’s bad in any way for like missing out on this because the cues you’ve been giving them before have not been like I am the person who wants this but it’s okay to discover that you want this and that to ask for it. But I think you might need to do the second thing right.
S5: It’s such a classic like I thought I was Liz Lemon but I’m actually Jenna Maroney. Or rather like Liz Lemon thinks that she’s low maintenance but she’s not and that’s not to say that there’s something wrong with wanting a big party. But I do think sometimes if you start to think like what I am is a low maintenance person what I am is someone who doesn’t make a quote big deal out of birthdays because I associate making a big deal out of birthdays with somebody who is like immature unreasonable attention demanding a diva whatever and Lord knows there are ways to treat adult birthdays in that fashion.
S3: There are absolutely people who do that but it is saying every once in a while you know I love to have a big birthday party and I want to let my friends my close friends or my partner know like I would really really love something a little over the top this year or are just something really like thoughtful or well planned in advance. Communicating that you can still do that and have reasonable expectations you can still do that and not be a demanding person I think. So yeah just just maybe revisit that level of kind of like investment you’ve been putting into the concept of I am a person who never wants a big party thrown for them because my goodness big parties are very cool and you might have a lot of fun if you asked for one.
S6: Exactly. So that’s why I’m team sort of like try like I understand why they’re feeling sad and let down by their partner but like their partners has been doing the best with the information they’ve been getting up to now I think I hope and so like all it may be that all you need to do is ask for what it now turns out that you won’t like your partner is not like like there’s not like an additional thing with it like I like my best friend and like I want to throw a party like it it’s more just like they didn’t they thought that they were making you happy and they just want to make you happy.
S5: Yeah exactly like if they thought like no I know my partner my partner doesn’t like stuff like this. That that could very much just be why they didn’t do this for you. And I think it would also be helpful to bear in mind. It may be that over the course of the last couple of years you say you know my partner was very supportive both physically and emotionally. They may have been doing so much over the last couple of years that the idea of on top of that doing a really big party would have been a lot to ask.
S3: And so I just think again I think you should have this conversation with your fiance or at your your partner. I think you should absolutely be bringing up it kind of made me realize that I’ve been downplaying sometimes things that I do want for. For celebration. And I want to talk a little bit about what I might want in the future. And I would also just invite you to share with your partner. Like do you feel like I do enough to celebrate and support you. Are there things that I could be doing differently and even if your partner doesn’t immediately say like Yes I want these nine things like it might be another good opportunity to reflect and think like when was the last time I surprised my partner with you know something I know that they like or got them like a little inexpensive token to show them that I was thinking about them today. Like this is a good opportunity for both of you I think to stop and think What are ways that we can start celebrating one another that are special.
S6: Yeah this could be the beginning of a very productive conversation.
S5: Absolutely. So I wouldn’t say like I felt like I received a punch to the gut when I saw you went to all this work because that I think would kind of the implication would be you really fucked me over but I would just say one of the things I was really struck by when I saw this was like Oh my God I really do want this kind of party sometimes it’s so loving and caring and thoughtful and they’re such an attention to detail and I just realized in that moment when I really meant selling myself short when I’ve been saying I don’t care about celebrations like this I do sometimes want stuff like this. Is that OK. How does that sound to you. And so you can talk about that you can also talk about what grad school has been like for the last couple of years if there’s ways in which you can support your partner in return so you can absolutely share 95 percent of what you shared in this letter. I would just advise you against using the punch to the gut language because that would make it sound like your partner fell down on the job and I know that’s what happened. Yes snaps to that. Yeah. So be both easier on yourself and also a little bit harder on yourself in the sense that it is never helpful to assume you want less than you do. And then later feel bad about it because no one else will be able to read your mind and it is also really ok to say look I want a big birthday party this year and you are my partner and I love you and I want you to spend a week or two in advance inviting people to stuff and coming up with a menu that will make me feel loved and appreciated. And then when it’s your birthday I want you to let me know the things that make you feel loved and I want to do those things for you.
S6: Yeah some people it doesn’t come naturally to you know some people like they need to be told what to do and they will do it with bells on it and like other people like it’s like they love to play on like this is like their masterpieces like arranging the perfect shindig and so also like knowing which kind of person your partner is will come in handy because some people like you just have to be like. Here are the six things that you need to do to make me feel loved and I know that none of them come naturally to you. But please do them because you love me and I’ll be like great. I have a list done and other people are always like trying to anticipate.
S5: Is it really just varies so much by person like what their comfort level is and like how much you need to ask Yeah and you don’t have to like babysit a partner through like here is every detail that I want from a party that I want to micromanage it’s more just like this is a pretty significant update in terms of my feelings about parties and I want you to have a general idea of what that looks like and I want to communicate those expectations and those desires to you which again I just think is super super doable and achievable and reasonable.
S7: That’s our mini episode of Dear Prudence for this week. Our producers is Phil circus. Our theme music was composed by Robin Hilton as always if you want me to answer your question call me and leave a message at 4 0 1 3 7 1. Dear that’s 3 4 2 7 and you might hear your answer on that episode of the show.
S5: You don’t have to use your real name or location and at your request we can even alter the sound of your voice. Keep it short 30 seconds a minute tops. Thanks for listening.