Earlier this year, I moved back to where I grew up and reconnected with some old friends. My best friend from high school was especially excited to see me again, and we started seeing a lot of each other.
But she’s really critical of my lifestyle — I like to job-hop and date around while she’s married with a 5-year-old and has a steady job as a medical assistant. I laughed it off at first, but her putdowns got meaner and meaner, and I finally lost it and told her off. I said her need to criticize my life meant she was defensive about hers, and that meant deep down she was insecure and unhappy.
Everyone who was telling me I shouldn’t put up with her behavior is now telling me I went overboard, since she seems devastated. I want to say to her that she sure can dish it out but not take it, but our families are really close and there are a lot of family connections between us (small town).
My mom has asked me to apologize at least for how I said it, if not what I said, but I’m not sure what I said was so bad. Where’s the line between standing up for yourself and being mean?
I’m thinking the easiest thing would be just to pull up stakes and move again, but I really like the job I have right now and I’m not quite ready to quit. What should I do?
— Setting Boundaries vs. Keeping the Peace
The best “should” I’ve got is to stop living as if you’re on reality TV.
“I laughed it off at first but … I finally lost it and told her off”? There’s an entire middle phase missing in this progression:
(1) Laugh it off;
(2) Notice it’s not funny to you anymore and it’s starting to bother you for real;
(3) Say out loud to your friend, “I laughed it off at first, but it seems now that a lot of what you say is genuinely critical of my lifestyle. If you mean it as a joke, then please stop, because it’s not funny to me. If you actually mean it, then I’d rather you say so once and for all than keep up with all the little cuts”;
(4) Notice she still won’t drop it;
(5) Say, “I asked nicely, but you’re still criticizing the way I live my life. I’m starting to think it’s more about you than it is about me. Either way, I won’t be your punching bag anymore.”
(6) End friendship.
When you told her that “deep down she was insecure and unhappy,” you not only jumped from Step 1 to Step 5, but also took 5 to her jugular.
“Everyone who was telling me … is now telling me … “: This isn’t high school, either. Stop running things by the Panel of Friends and stop living by catch phrase.
Your comment was indeed “so bad.” Do apologize.
And next time someone hurts your feelings, just say, “That hurt my feelings.” Vulnerability and honesty are your friends first, before anyone else can be.
I don’t even know where to start with skipping town as an option for ending a spat.
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