Thursday, September 16, 2010

Friend With the Perpetual Problem

Having a friend with a perpetual problem is no fun.  You want to be a good friend and a shoulder to cry on, but eventually, you get tired of a friend who nurses a problem along like a child, and refuses to take steps to solve the problem - they just want to complain about it.

As I noted in my Emotional Vampires posting, the Friend with Perpetual Problem can be a form of baiting.

Here's how it works:  You have a friend, and they have this intractable, unsolvable problem, that goes on for years.  Actually, it is intractable and unsolvable only to them, but they make it sound like solving their problem would be akin to inventing anti-gravity.

Now, granted, we all have our share of problems.  And some are not solvable.  For example, you are going to die and that is all there is to it.  You can sit around and whine about it, but hey, we all have to deal with it, so buck up and move on with what's left of your life.

The problem with the Friend with the Perpetual Problem is, they don't just buck up and deal with it.  No, they have to bend your ear for hours at a time, day in and day out, for weeks, months, even years.  Their life is in perpetual crisis because of this problem, which can't be solved!  They are the victim, here, and we're supposed to feel sorry for them.

A local playwright here in the Finger Lakes put on a reading of one of his new plays the other day.  The message was very profound - often, when you think you have no choices to make, you do actually have a choice.  And making that choice is often the difference between life and death, profit and loss, happiness and sadness.  But not making the choice is almost always the wrong choice.

The Friend With the Perpetual Problem doesn't want to make a choice, for the simple reason that The Problem is now part of their identity and as such, gives "meaning" to their otherwise meaningless lives.  They now have places to go, things they have to do, because of "The Problem".  And when they are in the company with others, they keep everyone enthralled (they think) with the latest update on their "Problem".

Now what sort of "Problems" am I talking about?  There are tons of them.  For Parents, it can be the bounce-back kid, living in the basement.  They bitch and whine and moan about their 30-year-old son living in the basement, smoking pot.  Of course, the answer is really simple - just toss his ass out on the street.  But that would eliminate the fun part of bending your ear about it, so they never do that - or any of the other advice they get from you and everyone else they bore with this.

For Adult Children, it can be the crisis of  "Putting Momma in the Home" and all the bat-shit crazy she's up to as a demented Senior (who may have been bat-shit crazy all along).  You can walk away from abusive parents, or share the burden with other siblings.  There is no law saying you have to sacrifice the remainder of your life taking care of an parent, particularly if they require institutional care.  Nailing yourself to the cross is fun and all, but come down from there.  We need the wood.

For Pot Smokers, it usually is the "asshole boss" or the "crappy job" or the "fucked up company", "jerk-wad landlord" or "bitch of an ex-wife" (or ex-girlfriend, or whatever).  You try to suggest to them that they change jobs, move, or just not deal with their ex, and they look at you like you are speaking Esperanto.  Bitching about things IS their life, man!  Take that away, and well, things look pretty pathetic.

And the list goes on and on.  The point is, the Friend With Perpetual Problem has this problem forever (or, if one is "solved" another is created).  Unlike other friends who may have transitory problems once in a while, this Friend is always needy and drawing energy away from you with these various continual crisis.

And here's a clue - something going on for years is no longer a "crisis" but the status quo.

Yes we all should be good friends - support our friends in need, and be a shoulder to cry on - on occasion.  But when it turns into ALL THE TIME, then you have an imbalanced friend - and an imbalanced friendship.

Trying to "help" such people is very problematic.  They come to you seeking advice, but when you give it, they don't take it.  Or worse, they take your advice, twist it all up and mis-apply it.  Or they apply it halfheartedly or half-way and they say, "See, I told you it wouldn't work!"

The only way to deal with the Friend With the Perpetual Problem is to just walk away.  It is no fun to hang out with a friend when every time you do, he or she is the center of attention, along with their Unsolvable Crises.  Friends like that will latch onto you, like a remora to a shark, and never let you go.

And many people, suffering from low-self-esteem, feel "lucky" to have friends like that.  In fact, they may complain about that friend to everyone they know, and end up being a Friend With Perpetual Problem as well.

Take action in your life - change your life.  These are the things that stave off depression, anxiety, and boredom.  You are at the control of the wheel of your life.  There may be storms and your ship may founder, but you can still at least try to steer.  The Friend With the Perpetual Problem has given up on steering, and switched to complaining instead.

Don't follow suit!