Ask Amy: Patient friend becomes ‘comfort bot’
Dear Amy: I have a perfectionist friend. I used to find her neurotic nature endearing, but now that we’re both parents, the qualities I used to think were cute are now wearing thin.
This started when we were both pregnant at the same time. My pregnancy was a (very happy!) accident. I wasn’t married to the baby’s father, was working and finishing school, and lived in a comfy little apartment. She planned her pregnancy for the perfect time: a stable job, a marriage to a high-earning partner, and a big beautiful house. Still, she panicked about the smallest things. I didn’t understand it, but I rolled with it.
I’m not sure I can, anymore. It’s not even her frequent complaining that bothers me most. It’s the fact that she no longer seems to care about me as a person. I’ve become some kind of “comfort bot” that she messages, gets a response from, and ignores.
Discussing my own kids seems to whip her into a bigger frenzy. She diverts every conversation — always — back to motherhood. Mostly, I respond with the same stock empathy phrases: “That sounds hard!” “Hope it gets better soon!” “Poor thing!,” and hope she doesn’t notice.
She’s important to me, but I can’t continue. I know that, as mothers, we’re supposed to support one another no matter what and that we should give each other permission to complain about the little things. (Especially now!)
I don’t want to be the kind of woman who doesn’t do that, but truly, I can’t support this woman in this way any longer. What should I do?
— Tired Mommy Friend
Dear Tired: Oh yes, the “comfort-bot.” What a perfect description of what it feels like to reliably deliver comfort, encouragement, and empathy — in short, the key elements of being a supportive friend — and to never receive same in return.
If your friend was in a bad patch and was reaching out for help — then yes, you should continue to provide an actively supportive ear. But motherhood hasn’t changed her. Motherhood seems to have intensified her already intense reaction to life. She reaches out, you respond, she ignores.
But guess what? You have needs, too. Motherhood may have intensified your awareness of them. If you believe it makes your friend feel better and is genuinely important for her to vent to you, then yes, respond with a “heart emoji,” and leave it at that. Otherwise, I suggest a quiet backing away from a relationship that seems to have run its course.
Dear Amy: My spouse and I are fervent Democrats, and yet the six other family members we’ve invited to dinner (sitting at adjacent outdoor tables) are all Republicans.
My fear is that a relative is going to bring up politics (probably as a jibe) to initiate a debate with us, even though we are the hosts. This has happened before.
How do I politely handle such a situation that could easily spiral out of control?
I could respond that our wish is, just for this once, to avoid politics during dinner, but it may come off as a put-down of sorts and serve to deflate everyone's spirits.
Something with a bit of humor could defuse and deflect it, but I’m not very funny when I feel confronted, and offering one snarky joke or comment to counter another could inflame instead of defuse. Please help!
Dear Worried: I believe that for the next few weeks, lots of families are considering a moratorium on talking politics. One way to do that would be to say, at the outset: “Let’s see if we can get through this dinner without discussing politics, OK? First one to incite a riot has to do the dishes.” The problem is that almost every topic has political overtones right now. It’s easier not to take the bait if you refuse to take “jibes” personally, even if you suspect that is the intent.
Dear Amy: Responding to “My Hair, My Choice,” I’m glad so many women (and maybe men) have decided to let their true hair color show through due to the pandemic.
To cover early salt and pepper I started coloring my hair in my late 30s.
I quit in my late 40s to save time and money.
Last year I lost all my hair due to chemo. I feel fortunate it’s grown back salt and pepper and some curl!
— Grateful for The Extra Time
Dear Grateful: Chemo is the great leveler. I’m celebrating your recovery!
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