Previous installments of The Toast’s advice column from two disparate and imperfect persons can be found here. (We are STILL open to better names for it.)
I have a friend who, in the last few years, has become a very negative person. Or maybe she was always like that, but it seems to be highlighted more now. I understand she’s not all that happy with her life situation–she’s single and doesn’t want to be, she doesn’t have a good group of friends where she lives, she can’t afford to travel to see the good friends she does have, her job is going nowhere–but every time I talk to her it quickly turns to her complaining about everything in her life. Even when I try to change the topic to something more positive, she quickly shuts it down, and often makes fun of me or my situation in the process.
I’ve tried offering advice or suggestions, but so far those haven’t really worked. I want her to be happy, and I feel sort of powerless. Help?
Nicole: There is nothing you can do. I think there are people who are negative in a very specific, situational sense due to life tragedy or job loss or crummy season of a beloved show, and then when the situation changes, they rebound. You should have infinite or near-infinite patience for the dumped or the grieving or the unemployed and their misery. And it sounds like there’s a chance that’s your friend’s deal? However, “last few years” is not a great sign to me. She might just be negative, which is immutable and a personality trait and a total downer for glass half-fullers, who are aggravating as shit in their own way. And, whatever, that’s okay, all the studies suggest that negative people are more keyed in to the realities of our miserable planet than those of us who wake up and are dressed by small woodland creatures every day, but they can be a nightmare to hang out with. Is she a good friend? Is she a friend you would be horrified to lose? No, don’t even answer that, because if there’s nothing you can do to fix it, it doesn’t matter.
I would find a moment to ask her if she thinks she might be depressed. It probably won’t go well. Other things that don’t work: talking about how her life is actually okay because North Korea. I’ve tried that. Mistake. I don’t want this to come across like “cut ‘er loose,” but if you are actively not enjoying the friendship and she seems like a consistently negative person who can never shake it, start broadcasting your disapproval and then spend less time with her. Adjust your own air mask, etc.
Mallory: Oh, I love negative people. They’re awful. The best part about negative people is that you can be very honest with them, because they are being very honest with you. You can actually say things like “It’s very boring when you complain for more than fifty percent of our conversation, and I’m bored right now.” It’s amazing! Have you tried it? She will laugh in astonishment, and you will feel a little shocked with yourself. It will be amazing. (Or terrible, but that doesn’t happen as often with the congenitally negative, only the profoundly sensitive.)
Besides, if it backfires, then you’ll know it’s time to stop talking and you won’t have to do the slow and vague fade-out, which I abhor. No one who gets faded out ever understands why it happened, and the one who does the fading has to work at it like a part-time job (“okay, after three weeks I’ll unfollow her on Twitter, and next month I won’t show up for our usual Thursday thing…”).
She’s telling you honest things 100% of the time (“my job sucks, men suck, everything sucks, suck suck sucky sucktimes”) and you’re trying to gently shepherd her into positivity and give her subtle advice. You are fighting fire with a damp rag. Blowtorch her with some reciprocal truths. Not in anger; not because you’re frustrated and you want to hurt her feelings. Say it lightly, say it gently, say it lovingly. “You’re being ridiculous, and this is not an unsolveable problem” is a wonderful sentence that doesn’t get said nearly often enough. It doesn’t work for everything, obviously. Sometimes people aren’t being ridiculous at all, so please employ it judiciously.
She’s giving you a really rare and unique opportunity, by telling you how she really feels all the time. She’s giving you a chance to be unbelievably honest with her right back.
How do I be Maid of Honor to someone I generally don’t like very much?
A friend of mine from middle school just got engaged, a gal who I was BFFLs with for a few years before we hit the part of high school where she ignored me for a serious boyfriend until senior year, and then was generally a very terrible friend (pathologically lying, used to text the guy I was seeing across the table kind of terrible friend) who I basically only talk to every few months when tries to guilt me for never calling her. But according to her I am her “oldest and best friend” (….????) and when she asked I said yes.
Because WHAT ELSE DO YOU SAY?? To someone’s FACE, when they’re all smiley and giddy and telling you they just got engaged? Anyway, any advice on resentfully planning and paying for showers and bridesmaid dresses would be great.
Nicole: WHY DID YOU SAY YES? I was all set to have this be literally the easiest thing in the world to resolve, but you’ve messed it up. When did this happen? How recently? Because I think you should just lie. Just straight-up lie, and say you are going through something really private and difficult and will not be able to bring your A-game to maid-of-honoring, and you want her to pick someone else. Then be a totally decent low-grade flunky in a more limited wedding capacity and ignore the fact people will talk about you. She can’t make you do it. She will also be a lot happier and less justified in being a bitch to you when she thinks about her wedding if you do a good job handing people a guestbook to sign instead of a passive-aggressive shitty job as her maid-of-honor. You can’t be her maid-of-honor, is the takehome here. Don’t.
Mallory: Never grin and bear anything. Never smile. Get out. Get out. Never text anyone, either. You’ll be a garbage maid of honor, and she’ll know it, and you’ll know it, and she’ll punish you in a thousand tiny, petty, hotly miserable ways because you both know it but neither of you would dare acknowledge it until she drags her white-tulle-enruffled carcass down a hallway and flings herself into marriage. I love my friends, and I have made it very clear that if any of them ever ask me to be in their weddings, I will joyfully and respectfully decline (Nicole, thank God you were already married when I met you).
I know it’s very easy to say “just don’t do it!!!” here from my safe and cozy corner of the Internet. I know that it will be awful, saying no, if you’re the kind of person who has a hard time saying no. I don’t even think you should lie. Just tell her through whatever form of communication you’re most confident in that you’ve thought about it and you really can’t dedicate the time and energy and money necessary to do a good job, and you are not going to be able to be her maid of honor. And then don’t say anything else. No followed by silence is the greatest trick in the world. You’ll be armed so strong with honesty that her threats will pass you by as th’ idle wind, which you respect not. It will feel weirdly great.
Don’t give her a long and detailed explanation, don’t over-apologize, don’t anticipate her reaction, just say “I’ve given it some thought, and although I’m really flattered that you asked me, I won’t be able to make this commitment,” and then shut up. People are allowed to back out of things, especially early on in the process. This is a thing people do; this is a thing you can do. She’ll yell at you, or her hair will turn into birds with bronze claws, or whatever, and then it will pass, and she will find a new best friend she hasn’t spoken to in years to rip open like a Tauntaun and use her for warmth and party planning until she bleeds out on the frozen tundra. Meanwhile, you’ll be merrily toasting your toes by a fire, immensely grateful to yourself for having weathered an hour of unpleasantness in order to get out of being her hate-servant for eight months.
This is totally vain and ridiculous, but I really wish someone sane and sensible would talk to me about stretch marks. Like, do we all have them? Is that OK? The only place I see them discussed positively is in the context of how they are a woman’s “tiger stripes” from pregnancy, and that’s all great and empowering, I guess, except I’ve never been pregnant, and this year they suddenly blossomed all over my stomach. I’ve had them on my breasts since puberty. My husband has them on his knees. So I guess they are common enough? But still — it feels like this one thing is so permanent that it means I can never be beautiful again, no matter how thin I get, or how much makeup I wear, or whatever, and I like to think that I’m a smart woman who doesn’t have to define herself through beauty, but I keep on feeling pretty awful about having scars on my body that came from a time when I got a little fat.
Nicole: About a month and a half ago, I got a text from Jane Marie, professionally attractive woman, who said she had been crying since 11pm the previous night after getting her first pregnancy stretch mark. Most of that was hormones. She is fine now. And you’re right that we’ve carved out a particular cultural space where stretch marks acquired IN DOING BATTLE TO CREATE LIFE is all rah-rah-sisterhood, whereas the fact that skin stretches for other reasons as well is just…a thing that happens and you keep it to yourself and feel shitty.
But I think it is very normal and natural to react badly to anything new on your body that you don’t like the look of that will never quite go away (except to fade and become part of what you are used to seeing on your body.) People have scars and moles and stretch marks and port-wine stains and all manner of detritus, because we are sacks of flesh waiting for death. I have some on my hips from puberty, and I don’t even see them anymore unless I look for them, because it’s just my body. Everything becomes normal in time. You are not required to either feel empowered by them or disgusted or neutral. You can have literally any reaction to them you want, but know that you will almost certainly think about them a little bit less every day of your life. Or maybe it’s like Frodo’s only wound from the Black Rider’s blade, and it will bother you forever, while other people will only think of it when you mention it to them. I don’t know. I’m very sorry that this is a source of frustration and sorrow to you. I think it will be less so over time. It is not a wall between you and being beautiful, even if it is at least temporarily a wall between you and feeling beautiful.
Mallory: I have a few little ones on my right hip. This was an easy question! You just wanted to talk about them, right? I don’t have to fix your Complicated Feelings About Your Only Body? I have a few little ones, and I’ll probably get more at some point, and they don’t really bother me yet. Skin is amazing, but also disgusting. I don’t know who else has them, but I’m sure it’s fine.
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