Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Dismaying Story #52: Stormy Weather Friends

Dear Andrew,

I have had some rough times in my life, including poverty, chronic illness (lupus, myasthenia gravis and more), and my sons have Tourette's Syndrome and OCD. My husband had polio as a child. My mother is diabetic. We had our 18th anniversary last year and seriously wondered if we'd make it to 19 because the marriage was in such bad shape. Our house is leaking from several places in the roof.

But ... I have several really good friends. They are always there for me. We laugh together. We know the important things in life. I am not judged by what I don't have. They have more than I do but they don't look down on me. They are great support.

Suddenly the world is looking up for me. My husband recently decided maybe God was better off being in control than him and our marriage has gone through a dramatic healing. We're happy for the first time. We're getting a house through Habitat for Humanity. A book I wrote four years ago suddenly found its way to a paying publisher. Even my health isn't quite as bad and my sons are doing great.

Now my friends seem to be jealous of my good fortune. My friends who are healthy and have had good marriages. My friends who have healthy children. My friends whose incomes are double and triple ours, with fewer mouths to feed.

They're making comments like, "Well, it all just seems to be going your way now doesn't it?" in rude tones. A friend out of state sent me a necklace and one of my friends said, "well, if one more good thing happens to you, you'll just be the grandest person on earth now won't you!" and walked away. Another said, "It all seems to be going your way these days."

I've supported these women in their hard times and their good times. I never realized that I was supposed to be the poor trashy 'relative' that allowed them to always say, "At least I'm not as bad off as she is."

I've heard of fair weather friends but not stormy weather friends! How do I deal with these people who are jealous of my life finally going in a good direction? It's not like I won the lottery and things magically turned around. I spent years struggling, praying and working hard for these changes.

Signed, Frustrated

Dear Frustrated,

Stephen King's first published novel is about a teenager named Carrie who didn't fit in well with her peers. In his memoirs entitled On Writing, King describes a real-life situation he observed while in high school that helped provide background for Carrie. He describes a ne'er-do-well teenage girl whom he calls Dodie. This young lady had the impertinent audacity to come back from Christmas vacation one year looking resplendent in a new outfit, complete with permed hair. King writes:

The teasing that day was worse than ever. Her peers had no intention of letting her out of the box they'd put her in; she was punished for even trying to break free. I had several classes with her, and was able to observe Dodie's ruination at first hand. I saw her smile fade, saw the light in her eyes first dim and then go out. By the end of the day she was the girl she'd been before Christmas vacation--a dough-faced and freckle-cheeked wraith, scurrying through the halls with her eyes down and her books clasped to her chest.

Dodie fulfilled a role in the lives of her schoolmates, just as you do in the lives of your friends. When your role starts to evolve, it can seem to them that some piece of their own world is changing and people often react poorly to change. It upsets some inner sense of balance and calm. Your friends were apparently quite comfortable with the box you had always been in.

To understand their motivation, I tried turning the situation around and examining it from their point of view. You mentioned at least two friends who acted the same way. What was it about their shared experience that evoked a common reaction? I wondered if something in the way you celebrated your good fortune might have been viewed as flaunting or somehow irritating. But here's the thing; no matter how I twisted and turned your situation and peered at it from different angles, I couldn't find a view consistent with your friends being mature and supportive.

Like everyone else, I have friends with significant issues in their lives. I thought about them having a sudden burst of wonderful fortune and reacting with all the fist-pumping, in your face jubilation you could imagine. I know without a shred of doubt that I'd be right there celebrating with them, with no reservations whatsoever. I would be happy for them because I care about them.

Your friends' reactions show that, at least in this instance, they care more about themselves than they do for you. In my view they are fair weather friends. They were happy and friendly as long as you didn't disrupt their world, as long as things were going well from their point of view. As soon as you introduced change into their lives, however, and caused a minor ripple they had to deal with, then they turned on you.

I would be completely honest with them. Tell them how their reactions surprised and hurt you, that you would expect friends to be happy for your good fortune, not resentful. Explain that despite recent events, you still have significant issues in your life and need the emotional support of those around you. Hopefully this will open their eyes so they can apologize and get back to acting like friends. If not, you need to find some new friends, real ones this time.

All the best,


  1. Just came across your blog -- You are doing a very good job !! HELPING PEOPLE Selflessly IS SOMETHING NOT SEEN OFTEN.

  2. Very interesting, Andrew... the Stephen King thing. Reminded me a bit of the story of Heidi and how the crippled girl's relatives didn't want her to walk. I've known many a person who wants you to stay handicapped, so you will always be right where they left you.

    Friendship is a tricky thing. Very hard to tell who is genuine. But real life, and time, bears it out. I don't think there's any other way.

    I know we all think of Paris Hilton as a spoilt brat who has everything she wants and can't possibly have any real struggles. She does struggle with this same issue. She never knows when someone is truly her friend. She's devised a test. She tells one person something that is not true and if it comes out in the media, she knows who said it. Maybe she's smarter than she looks.

    Keep up the good work, Doc. You keep us all hanging on the edges of our seats! :)

  3. Well put, Andrew. I’ve seen the same thing happen over and over again. I don’t get it, and I don’t think I ever will.

  4. I like your advice on this problem. All too often people judge you from the outside not really knowing the turmoil that is in your life.very few people really take time to find out.

  5. I have had friends like that in the past...not good times!

  6. Narcissists only see events and other people in terms of themselves: when you look good they think it makes them look bad. (And it's devastating to discover that that is how your own parents operate.)

  7. I thought this was just a middle school phenomenon... Which I never did understand, by the way. There was this one girl who had awful hair, ugly clothes, and acne (at one point I tried to be friendly but we just didn't "click"- but I never teased her though).
    One day she got a new outfit, a new haircut, and although she wasn't a top model, she looked pretty normal, even sexy (a reasonable mini-skirt and some boots). She was teased even harder than before and called bad names. The only real friend she had was an exchange student, I think this was because she came in from outside the class and was able to see beyond that.

  8. I think your 'friends' are lacking something in there own life.

  9. I can only add my comments of agreement to what's already been said. True friends would be celebrating the fact that things are finally turning around for you, not acting petty and spiteful. I think Twyla hit the nail on the head - perhaps in the past, hearing of your problems made them feel better about what's lacking in their lives. 'Things for me might be bad, but as least they're not as bad as hers!' Now you're having some good fortune come your way, and envy on their part is setting in.

  10. I think it's one of the hardest things to take - when friends disappoint you. You can't choose your family, and spousal relationships are always going to have their difficulties (comes from the male-female gender divide, maybe?!). But FRIENDS are supposed to be there simply because they think you're special and vice versa.

    I guess these particular friends are jealous, and don't feel secure enough in their own situations. You must feel sad at their lack of excitement on your behalf, after all you've been through. I hope you have at least 1 or 2 true friends who are genuinely thrilled for you. And by the way - congratulations!

  11. With friends like that who needs enemies? good job Andrew

    Coma read my post today Andrew...I think you will get a little chuckle.

  12. I think it's also quite possible that they needed someone beneath them so they felt above themselves.
    How truly sad.

  13. I think her friends liked having someone to pity because it made them feel better about themselves. Good advice you gave her, though. And, I like your blog so I bookmarked it so that I can find my way back.

  14. Fantastic advice Andrew! For Frustrated - - I have been in a similar situation, and as the tides turned in my life, my friends changed too. Sadly, most people I had been close to for years pulled further away as my life kept moving uphill. The answer for me ended up being some new friends... I still keep in touch with the people who had been supportive in hard times, but have found different people who are friends with the new me. We are changing creatures, who evolve throughout our lifetimes. I'm happy to hear your spouse is evolving with you :-) Maybe you can open up your life to some new people and become stronger through those ties.

  15. I don't find the situation strange at all.We lived in a single bedroom flat with seven family members occupying every available space.Now we have a three bedroom apartment with just the two of us.We have 'friends' who love to remind us what we were some 15 years back.I don't take offence at all.Such 'reminders' only make me more concerned about those less fortunate than me.So I choose to thank them for reminding me about things that I may conveniently forget.Get on with your life and just be 'yourself'.