Dear Carolyn: A few of my close friends have recently gone through difficult breakups; meanwhile, I’m newly in love after many years of being more or less happily single. I’m trying to balance grad school, being a good friend and developing this great new relationship, but a couple of comments from my girlfriends have made it clear I’m not really balancing the last two very well.
One friend recently admitted to being distant because she’s not eager to see/hear about happy couple-y stuff so soon after her own breakup, and another was angry with me for canceling a “date” with her because she assumed I’d canceled to hang out with my boyfriend (not true, I had a school issue, which she knew about).
I thought I was doing a decent job balancing these things – not constantly talking about the boy, no kissing/snuggling in front of people, no pitying looks, just honest happiness – until these friends told me otherwise.
How can I figure out where the line is so I don’t cause pain to these friends? I tried sincerely asking them what they’d like me to change, but that only yielded assurances that they’re happy for me and that I should continue being happy.
A: Consider this permission to take them at their word.
You’re not causing them pain, their circumstances are. Merely by being sensitive to this, you fulfill your primary obligation to them as their friend. It is not your job to tiptoe around as if they’re unexploded ordnance.
Maybe you aren’t balancing things well, sure, and your friends’ concerns reflect that, but it seems premature to draw that conclusion from just two incidents, quite different ones at that.
The first was an admission that being around your happiness is hard. While it’s good you didn’t respond with anger or by taking it personally – all-too-common responses – you still leapt to take responsibility for her feelings. Say instead, “I understand; take any time you need,” and you accept her feelings versus presuming to fix them.
The second was a misunderstanding – one you were apparently in a position to clear up by reminding her of your prior school commitment.
If it does turn out these two were related parts of a larger mistake you’re making, then you’ll soon find that out without scrutinizing your every move for error.
In the meantime, please know there is also great kindness in letting problems retain their natural size.