Don't judge complaining friend; find out how to help or hush her
Q: Near the end of last year, a good friend of mine had a baby. Soon after, she started complaining about having to go back to work, which she recently did. Each time we speak, she complains about having to do this when she'd rather be with the baby.
Normally, I would be empathetic as so many people are forced to make this difficult decision. However, she and her husband chose to purchase an enormous two-income home. They both drive fancy vehicles, take nice vacations, wear high-end clothes, etc. I know what their incomes are, and they could definitely afford for her to stay home if they downsize.
I have refused to comment as I don't want to come off as judgmental about their lifestyle choices, but the constant complaining has me to the point where I don't want to pick up the phone. Do I butt in or keep my lips zipped?
A: Maybe if they "downsize," she really could quit her job. But your timeline says the baby is just months old. That means, unless they've jetted, shopped and moved in the weeks since becoming parents, their vacations have already been taken, the cars driven, the clothes worn and the mortgage papers signed. Even where it's possible, divesting oneself of expensive obligations lately can mean 4-, 5-, even 6-digit losses — not a manicured-finger snap by any means.
It's also possible she can afford to quit her job, but doesn't want to — and she's crying poor to cover guilty feelings. Interesting twist, if it's true; her fear of being judged on one choice has you judging her for another.
If you're going to judge her, you're going to have to pick your reason from among the various possibilities: her poor financial foresight, insincere complaints or misplaced priorities. Not having the facts means all these possibilities are legitimate.
Not having the facts also means judging her isn't legitimate.
Supporting her would be: "You sound really unhappy about working. I'm not sure, though, how to help you — by validating your choices, or brainstorming alternatives?" Translation: Please let me help, or please let me change the subject.
Fearing former friend will spill confided secrets
Q: I had a close friend for many years, and we had a falling-out. I was just thinking of all the very personal things I told this person over the years. We still have mutual friends, and sometimes I irrationally think this person is going to blab everything. Am I irrational? I don't think the person is bad or anything, I just feel a deep sense of regret for trusting enough to tell such personal things that I would probably only tell a therapist.
A: I'd have to know your friend to know if your fear is rational. Some people have enough character to keep the secrets of those they dislike, and some don't.
But rational or not, your fear is of something beyond your control — you can't get your secrets back — and so there's a clear course of action: nothing. You can only embrace that most of our secrets matter far less to others than they do to us. And embrace that you shared yourself with love and trust; meaning, disclosure would reflect far worse on the person doing the disclosing.