I’ve been having a tough time with my friend “Mandy.” When she was feeling depressed or upset, she would ask me if she could talk to me about it and we would talk through it. But she’s stopped doing that, and now it feels like she monopolizes every conversation we have with her trauma, depression, or low self-esteem.
We could be talking about anything and then she’ll casually start talking about a traumatic event in her life or will say self-deprecating comments about herself. I don’t know how to react when this happens because the content of it is no laughing matter, but she says it so casually that I can’t tell if she’s being sarcastic. I’ve told her before how I have a hard time comprehending when she’s being sarcastic and she’s acknowledged that it can be confusing, but she keeps doing it, and it’s frustrating me. When she is being sarcastic, I feel like I’m being mocked. When she’s not being sarcastic, it makes me upset because I’m not always in a state to process it—sometimes it’ll be downright triggering content for me. Other times she’ll ask questions, and I can’t tell if she’s being rhetorical or if she wants me to respond or engage with what she’s saying. When I don’t pick up on it, she feels ignored, and I don’t always realize that she wants to me to respond with more than a “yes” or “no.” It makes me feel like I’m being tested and it makes me anxious that I’ll respond wrong. She’s apologized a few times for the behavior, telling me it’s because she was feeling moody, but I don’t like feeling like I have to anticipate her moods all the time—it feels exhausting to be around.
I feel like she does this stuff as a form of passive aggression when she feels ignored. It makes me feel like I’m being manipulated or tested, and it puts me on edge and makes me feel distrustful. There’ve been times where I’ve been short or cold with her when I should have been more empathetic because I was so frustrated or annoyed.
I know that irritability is a symptom of her depression, but it’s not healthy for me to be around so much bitterness, it just really brings me down. I have hard days too, and sometimes I’d just like to chat about light-hearted stuff with my friends like we used to, but it would be insensitive and invalidating to tell a depressed person to lighten up. Auntie, what should I do?
For starters? You should ask yourself why you care about this friendship in the first place, because boy, is that a fascinating mystery. What is your reason, beyond inertia, for continuing to devote all this time and energy to a person who just consumes it, like a bottomless pit of insatiable need and sadness? What positive things does she contribute to your life? What is the foundation of your relationship outside your role as her emotional dumping ground? Is there one? I’m really wondering! It’s just so striking: you don’t talk about this girl like she’s a friend. There’s no fondness or familiarity or…well, anything. Actually, the language you use to describe your friend, your relationship, even yourself to a certain extent, is like something out of a cognitive behavioral therapy textbook.
And while that wouldn’t be so weird if you were a mental health professional, it’s a problem if this is your default way of relating to someone, peer to peer. Your humanity and your needs get lost in all that jargony therapeutic language. And would it be invalidating to tell Mandy that you’re sick of depression talk? Perhaps, but on the other hand, she shouldn’t be seeking that kind of validation from you in the first place. That’s not your job! You’re not her therapist or her safe space; you’re just another kid, with no psychological training and lots of your own stuff going on. You’re allowed to get annoyed when she’s being annoying. You’re allowed to set boundaries for the sake of your own well-being. And while of course you don’t want to go out of your way to be cruel, you’re allowed to do this even if it hurts her feelings.
That’s why, if you’re going to continue your friendship with Mandy, it’s gotta happen within a different framework than you’re currently using. Specifically, you need to give yourself room to be a little bit blunt for the sake of getting a message through:
“I’m tired of this endless game of trying to guess what you want and then having to manage your bad reaction when I don’t get it exactly right. I’m not a mind reader, and I’m not your therapist. If we’re going to keep being friends, you need to stop testing me, start saying what you mean, and find an appropriate, qualified person to help you work through your trauma.”
That may not be an easy thing to say, and your friend may not enjoy hearing it. But it’s true, it’s important, and it’s your only way out of a dynamic that’s wildly unhealthy and clearly not working for you. You sound so exhausted, sweet pea. Something needs to change.
Of course, that something might also just be the presence of Mandy in your life, period. It’s hard to tell from here whether there’s any deeper connection below the surface that makes this relationship worth hanging onto; that’s going to be your call. But whether you call it quits or just try to change the conversation, please make this decision with your own happiness in mind — and with the understanding that Mandy’s reaction is hers, not yours, to manage.
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