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Science Advice Goddess: Shifty-Fifty

Amy Alkon on

A close friend and I spend a lot of time discussing her issues with her boyfriend. I'm always there for her, even late at night when she's upset about something. However, when I bring up someone I'm interested in, she'll cut me off or say she just can't listen to me talk about the guy. Is it petty to feel hurt and to expect more from her?

--Disturbed

There are friends you can count on -- and friends you can count on to fake their own kidnapping the moment you are the slightest bit in need.

This sort of "friend" can be hard to identify because we want to believe their friendship is based on more than seeing us as an easy mark. This isn't to say we lack the psychological tools to identify and deal appropriately with users posing as friends. As humans began living in groups, we evolved to have a social "loss prevention team" -- the psychological version of the squad department stores have to catch crafty shoppers who get nine months pregnant in a matter of minutes, uh, with 26 designer dresses.

Our minds are tuned for "cheater detection," to notice sneaky nonreciprocators -- people who intentionally take more than they give -- explain evolutionary psychologists Leda Cosmides and John Tooby. The police force of our cheater detection system is our emotions: anger and resentment and other gloom-eristic feelings that rise up when we're giving and giving and being shafted by somebody who's all take.

That said, friendship isn't always 50/50, and it's important to identify when a good friend is temporarily unable to act like one because they're going through a rough patch. Unless that's the case here, your emotions are telling you the balance of give and take between you is just not right.

 

Now, maybe she's just a selfish taker and things will never be right. Then again, you could explain that you feel shorted and give her a chance to right the balance. Even good people sometimes act like crap people. As I see it, one job of a real friend is to put us on notice when we're falling short. This gives us the chance to make the requisite sacrifices to be a good friend to them -- like by dragging our emotional immaturity out back and slaughtering it like a goat on a stone altar (uh, the condo patio).

On Cloudy Nine

I'm having this undefined thing with this great woman I see just about nightly. She ended a toxic relationship seven months ago, and I'm still recovering from a terrible breakup. We're great friends, crack each other up, are extremely honest with each other, and have great sex. Should we try to label this? I worry this free love/no-strings-attached approach can't last.

--Troubled

...continued

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