By Esther Mann, LCSW
Over time, I’ve received a number of questions relating to friendships. Concerns about what’s OK, what’s not OK. What’s normal, what isn’t? Some of you might feel that devoting a column to such questions could be frivolous, in light of all the more serious issues that come up and that I address in this column.
I believe friendships are extremely important and, for many people, represent a much-needed life preserver, particularly when other relationships fail to do the job. For some people, it’s like the oxygen they breathe, certainly a shoulder to lean on.
Therefore, I’m going to respond to some of the questions that I’ve received along the way. I feel their experiences and questions deserve respect and validation.
I have a very close friend, I’ll call Cindy, who I’ve been like a sister to for over 10 years. We talk several times a day and I love her as much as anyone could love another person. Basically, I thank G‑d every day for bringing her into my life. I don’t know what I’d do without her. She’s helped me through so much in my life. I want to believe that I’ve been there for her as well.
But here’s my problem.
Cindy is one of the warmest people you would ever want to meet. She only sees good in people. Unlike me, who can sense when someone is being phony or generally not so nice, Cindy is oblivious. She sees everyone as perfect, and so maybe they respond that way to her. I know it’s a wonderful trait. So everyone and anyone she bumps into gets a great big hug and kiss from her. And that’s another reason, I think, why people adore her. She makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy.
My problem is that there are a few women in the neighborhood who treat me indifferently. I know it all sounds very 1st-grade, but I still feel hurt by it. If Cindy and I are walking along and we bump into one of those women, Cindy will treat them to one of her famous hugs and kisses and talk to them for a while, while I’m standing nearby, feeling like a complete idiot and also feeling resentful.
Do I have a right to feel resentment toward Cindy? Am I being unrealistic expecting her to sense my discomfort, since she knows how I feel about these people, and refrain from her usual fanfare? This lack of sensitivity toward me makes me think that maybe Cindy doesn’t deserve to be placed on the pedestal I’ve put her on all these years. Or is it me? Am I being childish or overly sensitive?
Curious to hear your thoughts on the subject.
Glad to hear that you have a Cindy in your court, on your team, there for you all the time. Not everyone can make such a claim. It sounds as though you are grateful for all that she represents.
It would be nice if Cindy were able to intuit the feelings you experience when she is gushing over women who you both know do not have your best interests at heart. We could probably both agree that Cindy is not behaving this way on purpose and most likely is not even aware of your huge discomfort. Cindy sounds like one of those rare individuals who is missing the criticism gene when it comes to interpersonal relationships. As you’ve insinuated, with her “it’s all good.” Everyone is nice, no one has bad intentions; everyone gets along and looks forward to a big group hug. Great idea—but far from reality. Most of us have been hurt, dismissed, or treated poorly along the way. Many of us have people in our lives who choose to ignore us for no apparent reason.
Since Cindy is not intentionally trying to hurt you, and since she is probably oblivious to your pain, my suggestion would be to explain to her how it feels when she pours her love all over someone who is not nice to you, right in front of you. What she does when you are not around hopefully doesn’t matter to you at all. But when it happens in your face, it’s no good. Ask her if she would be able to tone down her acknowledgment of “these women” when you’re right next to her, by simply greeting them with a friendly hello or even a quick “How are you?” And then to keep moving. No over-the-top hugs and kisses. No five minute schmoozes. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of asking for what we want or need.
Hopefully, Cindy will be happy that you’ve shared these feelings with her and thrilled to oblige you in the future, so that you don’t have to feel neglected and uncomfortable. I have to believe your happiness and comfort will be most important to Cindy. After all, what are best friends for?
I have a question about friendship etiquette. I would say that I have a fair number of friends in my life. I’ve never belonged to a clique; that’s not my thing. I tend to connect with different people here and there, when the chemistry feels right. I have friends who are a lot older than I and a lot younger. I have friends who are more to the right and some who are more to the left. It’s really all about what’s going on in our hearts. When I sense that our hearts are in the same place, the friendships tend to take off from there.
Usually, my friends don’t really know one another very well. Only a casual connection through me, because they see one another at simchot of mine or other such occasions.
Once in a while I realize that Friend A would really like Friend B. It becomes clear to me that they have a lot in common and could probably be helpful for one another, as they might be going through similar challenges. When that happens, I do everything in my power to get these two friends together. I might invite both of them to lunch with me, or have them over on Shabbos. I’ll talk to each of them about the other one, telling them how I think they would love one another. I really work it. And usually the results are good.
Recently, I met a friend of one of my friends briefly and took an immediately liking to her. She possessed the qualities that usually pull me in, and I wanted to get to know her better. So I later asked my friend if she could arrange a dinner for the three of us or some opportunity for us to get to know one another better. I asked twice, thinking she might have forgotten the first time around. Incidentally, I hooked this particular friend up to another close friend of mine in the past and they presently have a lovely relationship.
Well, nothing ever came of this. What’s worse, my friend will sometimes comment to me about spending time with her friend, and clearly I was not included. I don’t know what to make of this. Am I being silly? Or is there some friendship etiquette that I’m not aware of? Do people not ask friends to introduce them to their friends—even though that’s something I’m always happy to do?
I know this all must seem so trivial, with all the “tzoris” we all hear about all the time. You shouldn’t think that my life is easy or simple. But I cherish my friendships. Without them, I don’t know how I could have survived some of the challenges I’ve been through. I welcome your answer.
I think the only way to understand the dilemma you find yourself in is by trying to get into your friend’s head. Because that’s where your answer lies. There is nothing wrong with asking a friend to orchestrate an opportunity for you to get to know her other friend better. What are friends for? What does this request of yours trigger in your friend?
Let’s look at a couple of possibilities. Is it possible that your friend has only a couple of dear friends and therefore cherishes them to the point of ownership? Could she view you as someone who has more friends than you know what to do with, and feel that you don’t need another friend and that your request felt like you were encroaching on her territory? This might sound a bit silly, but friendships, at any age, can bring out the child in certain people.
Another possibility is that some people love one-on-one get-togethers. When three people are involved, they automatically feel like the odd man out. In this case, since your friend is close to both of you, she should actually feel the most secure. But many people have social issues, and “three’s a crowd” is sometimes a feeling that is almost impossible to shake.
Or maybe there is something specifically about you that intimidates your friend in public. Maybe she feels overshadowed by your confidence or personality. One on one, she can feel OK, but that might quickly dissolve when other people are around.
I think you ought to respect your friend’s comfort level and embrace one of two choices. Either you can decide that if fate has it in store for you to get to know this other woman at some point in your life, it will happen. In the meantime, it sounds as though you’re doing fine in the friendship department. Or you might want to consider what it would be like to pick up the phone, separate and distinct from your friend, and call this interesting individual on your own and see where it goes. Either way, keep doing what you’re doing. You sound confident and giving, and I’m sure your friends are grateful that you are happy to “share.”
I have a problem with my friends that I feel I can only share with you, since you don’t know me and I would be horrified if anyone who does know me were to find out. Here goes. I’ve always wanted to be friendly with people who were the best. The prettiest, the smartest, the richest, you name it. I was like that in school, and here I am, in my thirties, still reaching for the stars.
I’m an average person, I think. Not on the top of the food chain in any particular area. I’m attractive, not beautiful. My husband and I are doing all right financially, but far from well off. I think I’m no dummy, but I’m not brilliant. My husband is a good guy, but I don’t think I married the catch of the century. Get the picture?
And yet, my friends appear to me to be superstars. Gorgeous, rich, overachievers, everything. They seem to have more impressive children than I have. Their sheitels always seem to come out looking better than mine. They seem to have better ideas. Better success. Everything is better with them. Even their cholents taste better!
And I am so jealous, I could just scream! When I’m around them, which is a lot of the time, I feel diminished, like I’m the poor stepsister. I feel like they tolerate me but don’t really view me as one of them. I work very hard to keep up, play the role, pretend I’m blending. But in my heart, I feel just awful about myself.
I wish I could control my extreme jealousy. My husband thinks it’s my worst quality and I have to learn how to control it. But I can’t. I feel it all the time and it’s unbearable. I find that I’m unable to enjoy anything in my life because I’m never satisfied and always feeling jealous.
How does one get rid of jealousy?
The Green-Eyed Monster
Dear Green Eyed,
I can certainly understand why you don’t feel safe sharing these feelings with anyone. Except, it seems, your husband. Mind you, it doesn’t sound as though you respect him all that much or think too highly of him, and therefore probably feel comfortable letting him see you in your least attractive way. Kind of sad.
Yes, you are a very jealous person. But that may be the least of your problems. Much more serious is the fact that you don’t like yourself, you don’t love yourself, and you don’t want to be yourself. Which is why you’ve always been attaching yourself to people who you believe are “more” than you, hoping something of them will rub off on you so that you can feel better about yourself. Of course, your strategy has had the exact opposite effect. It’s made you feel even worse about yourself. And sadly, in your view of yourself, your life and your accomplishments are never appreciated by the most important judge of all—yourself. Consequently, according to you (and probably only you), nothing you do ever turns out right.
The basic work you need to do is to figure out why you are so very down on yourself. The message playing nonstop in your head is that you are basically worthless and undeserving of love or even praise. Can you figure out where that message is coming from and subsequently how to zap the power out of it? There are some serious self-esteem issues at work here that need to be addressed.
Furthermore, it’s time to look for friends who allow you to feel safe and comfortable. Friends who will admire you for the gifts you no doubt possess. Friends who value you rather than make you feel as though you are the low man on the totem pole. But for them to respect you, you need to respect them and yourself. Maybe a new and improved measuring stick needs to be implemented when determining a person’s worth. That applies to both you and to others. Because it doesn’t sound as though the values you have been responding to up until now were worthy of anything meaningful.
You’ve got a lot of work to do. Hopefully, when you get your head on straight and begin to see yourself and others through a new lens, the jealousy piece will begin to fade away. But first, you need to learn how to love yourself and others for all the right reasons.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.