Saturday, September 18, 2010

From Advice Column..."Like Sisters" Toxic Friendships

Please check out (click here) the new issue of C Mag, the fashion/style quarterly from the Cville Weekly.

NEW! Fall 2010: Like Sisters

Are you in a toxic friendship?


When I was in the second grade, the guidance counselor came around to our classroom and taught us the difference between “Warm Fuzzies” and “Cold Pricklies.” She held up pictures. They existed. They had eyeballs. She talked like they were things people gave you. Things like a feeling. Feelings exchanged back and forth like gifts, like toys. Toys that could make you cry. We were to understand that there was not only a temperature to relationships, but also a texture. Good friends left you with heat in your cheeks. Heat and softness beside you, like a Smurf right out of the oven. During the counselor’s talks, Rhonda Miller used to sit behind me, sucking her thumb with her right hand and twisting my hair with her left. I loved it. She gave me warm fuzzies. Thirty years later, I think “cold prickly” is a simple but accurate way to talk about the ice of a toxic friendship, and about the sting. The cartoon drawing of the Cold Prickly looked just like you think—a big, dry brown burr with sharp hooks—just like what falls from the tree and pays you back for running around barefoot. In the interest of making more merry about friendship, more light from the dark, I asked myself some questions:

1. Have you ever been a toxic friend?
Yes, I have spread gossip, judged, offered too much advice, lied about my whereabouts, coveted someone else’s partner/house/job/figure, misplaced or abused things I borrowed and competed.

2. Anything else?
Oh, yes, I’ve been over-sensitive, insensitive, too proud, needy and selfish.

3. Do you have any friends left?
Yes, tons.

4. What’s your secret to keeping friends?
Self-awareness and apologies. Nothing’s wrong with being wrong unless you
don’t have the moral fortitude to make it right. Nothing’s wrong with not keeping
a friend—moving on. Some people come along in your life to teach you about yourself. They prepare you for the next, bigger friendship.

5. Sometimes the success of my friends makes me question everything in my life and it throws me into a Level One Funk. I just want to be happy for her. Why does this happen?
Because sometimes the wave forgets that it is water and sometimes you forget that you are love. One wave wants to compete with the other wave, but it’s all the same water. Give yourself a break. It’s not always easy to take someone else’s good luck/good work/good notice and quickly, like a flash, turn it into shiny, happy, carrot-colored motivation
for you to aspire to and be inspired by. Come on. You’re at least as complicated as the weather. Feel it and then move on to some sunnier thoughts.

6.What’s the danger in never saying anything about what’s really bothering you?
Getting stuck in what you think she thinks, and even worse, what you think she thinks about what you think. Wow. If you’re getting tangled in projecting and guessing, it’s time to ask questions. Friendship is more like a thing with eyeballs and less like a trophy. It wants oxygen and water, and it doesn’t want to be collected. It hates to hear, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” It loves to hear, “You look frustrated. What’s going on?”

7. My friends get upset with me because I’m busy all the time. Why don’t they understand that when I’m not available, I’m just not available?
I know, you’re slammed with work. Me, too. I’m super-busy. 2010 is my 20th anniversary of being busy. Isn’t that cool? Cool like a Cold Prickly, my friend. Even when you’re really busy, and it’s really the truth, sometimes it’s you getting isolated from friends, and I bet you do have an hour. Remember that how you respond is like a thing you give to her, and she’ll have to determine the temperature and texture.

8. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Always. Invest in the Warm Fuzzies. Little love offerings are more than bumper sticker ideas. Who gives off heat and softness? Call her tonight. Who could use a card from you, a little bit of your ridiculous humor? Go to a concert with a friend and know that the touch of her arm beside yours is like the old days when you used to sit cross-legged on the floor at storytime and there was time for twisting hair and lessons about feelings.

Denise Stewart is a local writer, actor and business lady who loves her screenwriting group and drinks with twists.