Carolyn Hax: ‘Angst sponge’ tires of friend who can’t keep a job

Carolyn Hax: ‘Angst sponge’ tires of friend who can’t keep a job

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I am 31 and doing well in a middle management career I enjoy. My college friend has spent the decade post-graduation struggling from job to job with complaints about how every job has terrible people, and unfair rules, and every other thing that is not her fault.

Okay, eventually I may have gently pushed back at her instead of just being an angst sponge, and now she’s mad at me that I was only 80 percent supportive with her last firing.

The common denominator to me is that she is not adaptable at all and is her own worst enemy, but if my tiny pushback got a negative response, there’s no way saying that isn’t blowing up the friendship, right? She’s smart and funny, and I enjoy her company, but, again, I don’t want to be an angst sponge, so what now?

Tell us: What’s your favorite Carolyn Hax wedding column?

Friend: You’ve already done it. You’ve ventured into the I-am-not-your-angst-sponge zone, which is where all the healthy friendships live. Now all you have to do is stay there.

But there are also obnoxious and non-obnoxious ways to do that, the latter being better at not blowing up friendships.

Obnoxious: “Your problem is you’re not flexible at all.” “Hello, common denominator!”

Non-obnoxious: “Huh. What do you think you’ll do?” Or, “Interesting. How did you handle it? Or, “What would you do differently next time?” Or, “I wonder what I’d do in that situation.”

The non-obnoxious way is to recognize that you haven’t got life all figured out, either. You’re doing great, to your credit — but at any given time all of us are just snapshots along the way. It’s always good to remain mindful of that.

So, you either say what’s true without follow-up: “I’m sorry you’re struggling.” Or you bounce her complaints back to her by asking questions, which is better than expressing sympathy you don’t feel.

Even better, doing this makes her, not you, the one to come up with the answers, as it should be. She can resist all she wants, but if you gently hold that line, then she’ll have to offer ideas, change the subject or make a case for complaints without change. All wins.

And there’s also this: “When you find the job without terrible people and unfair rules, please share.” Dry sympathy, with a kick.

To Friend: You might just have to acknowledge the friendship is over. I know someone like this, and her neurosis has roots in her family situation; she has alienated absolutely everyone she knows, as well as all the possible managers at her employer.

Anonymous: True, but there’s still a lot between Friend’s situation and yours. Friend only just stepped away from the codependent-sponge role, which means a bunch of new options have opened up.

Re: Friend: If the friend is “not adaptable at all,” that may be a neuro issue that could be hard for her to change. The responses Carolyn suggests, plus cultivating an inner sympathy for someone whose brain is that rigidly wired, might be a good combination. I have some inflexible people in my life who seem to have been born that way. A mutual friend says she always thinks, “It’s hard being [Name of Inflexible Person],” and is grateful for the ability to be more flexible. Life is harder if you are not adaptable.

Hopefully this friend will feel uncomfortable enough to seek out some ways to change, but that’s entirely for her to decide.