Dear Captain Awkward:
My very best friend and roommate acquired a boyfriend and I’ve become a bitter, jealous, monster.
I never, ever thought I would be one of those jealous, possessive friends, but it turns out I am.
We are very wonderful friends and roommates and are happy and enjoy each other about 90% of the time. But I feel disproportionately sad when friends seem to have fun without me, or really any time I feel left out, which is often.
This anxiety has seriously been brought up by the new boyfriend, since my friend is now dividing funtimes with someone else, and also since my friend is having boyfriend fun that I am not having.
For the past 4 years we’ve known each other and the past 3 that we’ve lived together, we’ve both always been single. I’ve dated around much more than she has but we’ve always commiserated over shitty guys and being lonely and taken each other out on dates, etc. Our relationship has come to be somewhere between sisters and girlfriends, which sounds gross and weird, but basically there’s a lot of emotional stakes wrapped up in our relationship.
Anyway, over the summer, I was dating a new guy and she had a huge, secret, crush on our mutual friend. All four of us hung out all the time. Six months later, the guy I was dating is a shithead who I am still sleeping with occasionally and the guy my friend was secretly crushing on is her loving, caring boyfriend.
Despite my best efforts, I sometimes find myself comparing our situations and feeling pretty down on myself. This, along with losing #1 status in my best friend’s life, makes me pretty bitter and resentful. She’s adopted this guy’s hobbies (hobbies that the four of us used to do together that I’m now totally left out of) and made a mushy gushy picture of them her faceboook photo, things we swore we’d never do! Which is totally understandable, but still makes me sad and angry.
So. Here is where I cross the line into terrible person. My friend has a secret Tumblr where she posts her poetry, which she sometimes reads to me and which I know the url of but am supposed to never look at. I never ever have, until, out of nowhere the other day I got a really strong urge to look. I did. Her post that day wasn’t even a poem, it was just “Sometimes I wonder why I continue to live with/be friends with someone who puts me down and makes me feel so terrible about myself. It’s not like that with anyone else.” I instantly closed it.
First of all, I know I’ve been a shitty friend lately, but I don’t know what I said or did that made her feel that way! Second, maybe this is just a vent-y post stemming from one specific instance that I just should never have read. But it sort of sounds like a post that’s come out of some long term stuff that she’s just never told me about. But I obviously can’t bring it up.
Now I feel terribly guilty but also deceived- like our friendship wasn’t anything like what I thought it was. I’m walking on eggshells, which I guess is maybe a good role reversal, since I feel like my friend has been walking on eggshells around me, this emotional-ogre, the entire friendship. My resentfulness definitely makes her walk on eggshells around the topic of her boyfriend, which makes me feel like she’s pitying me, which makes me even more resentful.
Help! This friendship is my Only Close Friendship. I love this person as much as I love my family. How do I fix this? How do I stop the resentful, bitter feelings without just bottling them up? How do I stop feeling like my friend doesn’t love me anymore because I’m an asshole who betrayed her trust and read her diary? Also, how do I stop hating myself for being totally emotionally and socially inept and having no boyfriend and only one close friend, who now maybe hates me, because of it?
Okay, I have a prescription for you, are you ready?
First, watch the movie Walking & Talking by Nicole Holofcener. It’s about exactly this – a close friendship where one person feels like her life is falling to shit right at the time that the other friend is getting happily coupled up. You’re not alone in feeling how you feel, so look at some art that will remind you that you’re not alone and that what you’re going through can be funny and survivable. Also, I posted a film by one of my former students a little bit ago that is relevant to your interests:
Don’t watch if parody of violent horror movies bothers you. And don’t be the Taco Tuesday guy.
Second, DON’T use your words yet. You’re not ready. Leave the entire question of the living situation, the friendship, the boyfriend, the jealousy, the fruit of the poisoned Tumblr alone for right now.
Here is my read on what is happening:
Your friend is feeling the pressure of being your only close friend and needs some breathing space. She wants a break from being the only person you process your emotions with. She wants to enjoy her new romantic relationship without feeling guilty about it or feeling like it’s something she’s doing AT you. She is at least thinking about a future where you guys are no longer roommates.
You’re allowed to feel down, and you’re allowed to feel like she is neglecting you in favor of New Dude (which, yeah, it sounds like she actually is), but you’re not allowed to be mean to her or put all of your bad feelings on her to manage, and it sounds like you’re crossing some lines with that. She’s venting to her LiveTumble because it needs to come out somewhere, and by venting there she can hang in there when she’s actually with you. That doesn’t make your entire friendship a lie. It does makes now a delicate time.
I know that this is like a scab you can’t stop picking. You want to FIX IT FIX IT FIX IT FIX IT so bad.
My recommendation is for you to take all of that energy you are putting toward MUST FIX IT and put it into shoring up the other parts of your life that don’t feel good right now. Let us institute a Three-Month Be Really Nice To Yourself project. Your job, for the next three months, isn’t to try to fix your friendship. It’s just to be really nice to yourself. Some things you can do:
1) Find an alternate audience for your feelings. If you can get access to a counselor of some sort, do it. Vent to that person! Alternatives: Write it all down in a letter that you don’t send, call a hotline, find an internet community or space to write. Using 750words.com or the “Morning Pages” exercise from The Artist’s Way (3 pages longhand in a notebook that you don’t edit or necessarily even read ever again, first thing in the morning) can be good, as it gives you a daily writing practice. Whatever works for you, get the feelings and worries about the friendship and your life 1) OUT OF YOUR BRAIN 2) Somewhere that is not at your friend.
2) Meet more people. Be it a hobby, a sport, a game group, a Meetup, a fandom, singing in a chorus, get yourself out there and meet some new people doing fun stuff that interests you and makes you feel good. The best is if you can find some kind of recurring, weekly activity that will let you slowly get to know people over time.
Notice I said “Meet more people”, not “make more friends.” Making new friends = pressure! Pressure on you, pressure on the people to be good friend material. Meeting new people = No pressure! You can say “I met & talked to one new person tonight, SUCCESS!” Let making new friends be a happy surprise, not a goal.
3) Volunteer. It’s a way to meet people. It’s a way to be useful. It’s a way to have interactions that don’t put yourself at the center and remind yourself that you have something to offer. It is, to be blunt, a way to see yourself as part of a community of your fellow human beings rather than as drowning person clinging to the leaky raft of your only friendship. Chances are there is an organization out there that matches your interests and skills. These puppies aren’t going to pet themselves.
4) Say only nice things about yourself. It’s really hard to break a habit of comparing yourself to other people and putting yourself down, but it can be done. Don’t say mean things about your body or describe yourself as a collection of flaws. Don’t compare yourself to other people. Don’t read or watch pop culture stuff that shits on women for being single or having bodies. Try to write down or or say one thing you like about yourself every single day. It’s hokey and cheesy, and you may start out like “fucking fucking stupid affirmations stupid this will never fucking work I fucking hate everything” but if you keep doing it you’ll start laughing at the absurdity and you’ll feel tiny bit better. Your friend met someone she meshes with because of dumb fucking luck, not because she’s magically better than you in some way. You’re okay. You’re great, in fact.
5) Practice excellent self-care. Get enough sleep, eat good food, a flattering haircut (or something else that makes you feel pretty and alive), call your family regularly if they are people who make you feel good, move your body in some way that energizes you, unfuck your habitat, pick up that book you’ve been meaning to read, maybe stop sleeping with “Shithead,” visit the dentist if it’s been awhile. This is all about finding ways to reward and nurture yourself that you can control. Be the kind of friend to yourself that you need right now. If you need someone to buy you flowers and tell you you are great today, then buy yourself flowers and tell yourself you are great.
Now, how do you deal with your friend, especially since she’s your roommate?
Do not initiate deep State of the Friendship conversations for at least a few months. Resist the urge to abase yourself here, and make it all about how you are a shitty friend and you are so sorry and confess your sins of looking at her secret Tumblr. There’s too much potential for a Woe Is Me kind of apology, where she ends up having to reassure you at the end of it and clean up your FEELINGSBARF. This friendship does not need a “Why are you even friends with a terrible person like me?” talk. Also, holding off puts time back on your side, since your friend’s New-Relationship-We-Spend-Every-Waking-Moment-Together-Frenzy might dissipate a bit on its own as the novelty wears off and the laundry piles up and she starts to miss you.
That doesn’t mean being fake or pretending everything is great. What we’re going for here is balance. This is where the Be Nice To Yourself Project will start to pay off. For example:
- Meeting new people, trying out new stuff, volunteering = good news! You’ll have new stories to tell and new stuff to talk about when she asks how your day was.
- You being out and about more = your friend has more time to be alone in the house, or more time to spend with boyfriend without feeling guilty or pressured.
- Unfucking your habitat = good news! The shared living space will be welcoming and nice.
- Spilling out your worries and complaints to a trusted pro or on the page means that hopefully you can leave some of them there. Keep conversation lighter than you normally would, for the time being, and let her take the lead on bringing up serious topics.
- Say only nice things about yourself, and say only nice things to and about your friend. Compliment her. Ask her how things are going and just listen. If she says “I am happy” say “Then I am happy for you.” Part of being a friend is celebrating your friend’s happiness with her, not calculating how it subtracts from yours. Love is not a pie.
- If you fuck up, apologize. “I’m sorry, that was out of line.” + start again tomorrow. This about making things better in the present and doing no new damage to the relationship, not solving the future or excavating the past.
Another thing I suggest is adding more structure to your friendship. As in, now you guys are roommates, and you used to spend every waking leisure minute of time together, so there weren’t a lot of boundaries about when & how you talked about stuff. You did everything together until she got the new boyfriend and suddenly you didn’t do everything together, but it wasn’t explicitly planned or negotiated to be that way. No wonder you’re feeling weird and lonely! But when you were single, you used to go on Friend Dates. It’s time to go on Friend Dates again: Saturday morning breakfast every 2 weeks. A night every 2 weeks to order in and catch up on your favorite TV show together. Start very small and low-key: Nothing that requires elaborate clothing or reservations. Leave a lot of room for reciprocity – like, invite her to a thing, and if she can’t, wait a week and invite her to another thing, and if she can’t do that, then it’s on her to follow up and make a plan with you.
There is some talking to be done and some mending to be done, a little bit down the road. “I felt so lonely when you met boyfriend, it was hard to be happy for you right then, or to know how to show it, but I want you to know that I am happy for you.” “I’m sorry I was mean to you. Unhappiness is no excuse for that.” “It makes me feel more secure and happy in our friendship if we can plan regular hangouts, is that something that sounds good to you?” “I would like to come along to (hobby) sometimes, is that cool? I really miss doing that with you.” This isn’t a project where you become some kind of FriendBot, pretending you don’t have needs and performing only detachment to prove you are Cool Enough.
But I think you gotta step outside the hothouse a little bit first. “You are the only person who understands me!” “You’re my only friend!” sound like compliments, but they come with too much pressure and too much…self… to actually be compliments. Your friend, even if she promises to be your best friend forever, can’t actually fix your bad feelings about yourself or fill up all your lonely places. I get why you feel abandoned, I get why you are panicking, I get that you would do anything to make this right, and I have oh so much love and empathy for you right now. But my honest advice is, take massive, radical care of yourself and do what you can to comfort and distract yourself until you can meet her on more solid emotional ground. You are my *favorite* friend. You are my beloved friend, and I want to sweeten what’s gone sour between us. You are an important friend, and I want to find a way for us to stay in each other’s lives through all the growth and changes that will come our way. Those are compliments.