Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Offer to help friend may yield the break you need
Anonymous: I have been good friends with someone for nearly 30 years (since college) and we live about 35 miles apart. My divorce is final today; my husband deserted the family. Meanwhile, she has a sick daughter and a husband who lost his job but has found a new one recently. She doesn't have a full-time job but has three kids at home, including the ill child.
I really need to see her just to have some continuity in my life and because I like her and think she's having a hard time, too, but she has made it clear that she doesn't have time. All I'm asking for is dinner or brunch.
I'm feeling like she's really not there for me. I told her I would be her friend whenever she has time for me, but I'm really not feeling it. Is this friendship kaput?
Carolyn: Would you be willing to spend time with her in a way that helps her?
"Dinner or brunch" takes her away from responsibilities that she probably has to prioritize over you. Yes, she could lean on the husband, but she might be hoarding those opportunities for when she really needs them, not for when someone else needs her, no matter how legitimate that need.
If what you want is just her companionship and continuity, tell her you're ready to bring the friendship to her on her terms — be it to tag along on errands, or to babysit for two kids while she runs the third to the doctor, whatever she needs.
As an added benefit, that might get you out of your own head for a day, a place you've no doubt spent a lot of time during this difficult phase of your life.
Anonymous 2: Re: Dinner or brunch: Carolyn, I think the writer would like a pleasant escape from her problems, not to run errands or babysit. Maybe if she could offer to treat?
Carolyn: I get that she wants an escape, but this friend is not Fantasy Island. She's Reality Gulch. If that's where the letter-writer expects to find solace, she's looking in the wrong place, even if she underwrites it.
That's putting the friend in the position to be nurturer and sympathetic ear — when this friend could clearly use some nurturing and sympathy herself. She's already giving on so many different fronts.
Now, I don't believe busy/emotionally preoccupied people are incapable of caring about people farther down their priority lists — but the best way to their hearts may be to offer a chance for you both to lean on each other. That's what I was suggesting.
Anonymous 3: Re: Leaning on each other: That might be therapeutic for both of them. Sometimes the best way to feel better is to step out of yourself and help others. I discovered that after my divorce, when I started helping out at my church's soup kitchen. I got so much more back than I gave.
Carolyn: Well said and done. If it turns out that the friend just can't or won't help, even mutually, then the just-divorcee could also use your insight as the beginning of a beautiful volunteership.