YOU CHOOSE: Your friends… or your sanity?
Sometimes — not often, but sometimes — you are faced with choosing to keep or lose a friend through no fault of anyone but yours: you made a bad friend. A perpetual whinger, perhaps. Or a high-street drama queen. Or, like Peggy, an insufferable storyteller.
“Looking back now, I don’t know why I became friends with her in the first place,” says Sandra, her ex-best-friend.
At first, Peggy seemed very exciting. The stories she told of her conquests with men, with her career, with her exercise regimen — they all sounded like true-life accounts, and Sandra felt like she could learn a lot from her. As it turns out, though, most of her tales were lies. Yet even after Sandra began to suspect that Peggy was prone to stretching the truth a little now and then, she continued hanging around her.
“She was immensely popular,” mulls Sandra. “She always knew what the hottest gossip was — I say knew, as in ‘knew’,” she continues, making the double inverted comma sign with her fingers.
But a lot of the gossip Peggy passed around had no basis to it whatsoever. If she saw two people together, she would say, “They’re sleeping together.” If a lecturer spoke to a student alone, she’d say, “He failed his exams, you see?” Peggy seemed to thrive on making the lives of others a soap-opera she was directing.
Like everyone else, Sandra thought she was the only one excluded from the harsh untruths of Peggy. Until one day, a girl came up to her and asked her if she really was a part-time call-girl — she’d wanted to interview her for an assignment.
“I was stupefied,” Sandra says. “I asked her where she heard that piece of lies from, and she pointed me to another girl, who pointed to another girl, who pointed me to Peggy. It hurt so much to think that someone I regarded as one of my best friends had done that to me.”
Of course, Sandra confronted Peggy and asked her what was going on. But Peggy was nonchalant about the whole thing — she said she was only joking, adding a little spice to everyone’s lives. What harm could come of that?
“With people like her, you always think that you are her confidante, her so-called ‘best-friend’,” Sandra says, again with the double inverted commas. “But if she can bitch about others that way to you, you can bet that she has no problem bitching about you to others.”
Sandra walked away from the friendship. And Michael Wano, author of Refill for Life, does not think she could have done any better.
“There is little debate here,” he says. “Negativity is like gravity; both work equally hard to bring things down.”
You whinge, I whinge, we all whinge
Although liars are easy to fall for and easy to break away from, complainers are a lot trickier to deal with. There is nothing inherently wrong with the way they live their lives or the way they live up as friends. But there is something downright depressing about having them around. They are a wet blanket wherever you go, a damper of spirits no matter what the occasion.
Phillip and Richard have been friends for six years, but the two 28-year-olds couldn’t be more different. Phillip is an optimist, gung-ho about his opportunities in life and relaxed in every crisis that strikes. He does not let much get him down for long, and in his words, he “fights hard to keep his spirits up in the face of adversity.”
“I learned that line from a sales talk I attended,” he grins.
Richard is quite the opposite. Although he starts off looking for the bright side to everything, it is not long before he is blinded by the dark. He’s a perennial job-hopper and has had six jobs in the last four years. He starts off every one with a positive attitude, but within the first few months, his enthusiasm wanes and he is soon reduced to a sighing heap of gloom just waiting for his next pay day.
“He complains about everything,” says Phillip. “At times, I think he must be worse than a woman, he bitches so much.”
Richard complains about his bosses and company — nothing wrong about that. But he also complains about his younger sister, and his mother, and his father, and his car, and his credit card bills, and the government, and the airport authorities, and the….
“You cannot put an end to that list,” Phillip says. “He really does complain about everything.”
Yet he’s not like that with everyone — only his very closest friends get to see the ‘real Richard’.
“When he’s around others, I always notice that he’s very upbeat and zealous,” says Phillip. “But it’s a sham, really. In a way, I suppose that makes me special, because I am one of the few folk he feels completely at ease with.”
What makes it bad is that when Richard comes visiting, he brings his melancholy with him. And like a cloud, it descends upon the room and depresses Phillip, too. The negative energy surrounds him. He fights it as best he can, but sometimes, Phillip really cannot help but to wish he had not come.
Bill Cottringer, a socio-cultural researcher and author of You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too suggests that with people like Richard, you take a specific situation and give them some detailed feedback about how they could approach something differently and get better results.
“First, create a non-defensive climate in which you acknowledge that everyone feels this way now and then,” says Mr Cottringer. “Then say that if you have a valid criticism to offer, take some more time and instruct them how they may do something differently to get better results.”
Phillip says he won’t desert Richard just yet. Although he’s got a lousy air about him, he’s a good guy at heart, and that’s what counts.
“He’s a depressing chap to be around,” says Phillip. “But I’ve been in jams before, and he’s always been there to help me out. He’s just a pessimistic complainer, and I think that makes the friendship I give to him all the more valuable.”
Drama queen’s last hurrah
Possibly the worst kind of friend you could make — and probably the easiest to ditch — is a drama queen who lives for her next crisis… and ropes in those who are with her to participate in the scene.
“If I wanted publicity, I would have become an actress,” says Winnie, 23. “My friend insists on making a hullabaloo about the smallest thing. Once, she found an ant in her drink. She screamed. The waiter ran to her to see what the matter was, and she positively yelled at him!”
According to her, Winnie’s friend was not really scared. But the incident gave her the opportunity to make a scene. She grabbed it. She started talking loudly to Winnie, trying to get her involved. But all Winnie wanted to do was leave.
“I never hated her more than then,” says Winnie. “I wouldn’t have minded a private word with the manager, but she really overreacted.”
Mr Wano can only offer a little tongue-in-cheek advice that may very well be the answer to all of us who are terrified of being in Winnie’s position one day.
“Offer a little cheese with your friends w(h)ine, or find a king for your drama queen,” he says. “Both may help to reduce your stress levels.”
These days, Winnie spends as little time as possible around her ‘royal’ friend. Of course, this has given her even more opportunity to dramatise her life by bitching about Winnie, but she doesn’t mind.
“Soon, she’ll get bored of talking about how stuck-up I am and move on to something more exciting,” Winnie says. “So what? At least I’ll still be sane.”