dear Dr. abby

Over time, our relationships change, and we need to change with them.

What are we supposed to do when our relationships with our lifelong friends and our parents begin to cause stress in our lives? Dr. Abby offers advice about navigating the stresses and difficulties that arise when our relationships change.

Dear Dr. Abby,

It is really hard for me to feel happy for my friends’ successes while I am struggling. It just feels better not to call them than to fake being happy. I miss our time together, and I don’t know how to break out of my feeling of inferiority. Please help.

Signed,

Want to Be Happy

Dear Want to Be Happy,

What is a Friend?

Friends are people that we feel safe around. We also feel that we have a connection with them. You may have connected with your friend because you both played tennis at the same place, brought your kids to the same daycare or soccer games, worked at the same company, or lived in the same neighborhood. Your shared moments helped you grow closer.

Your relationship grows with each experience shared. You helped her take care of her son when he got hurt on the soccer field. She gave you advice when you didn’t know whether to confront your sister. She was the person you called when your marriage was falling apart.

Friendships Change with Time

For years, your friendship was a safe place and not a threat or a reminder of your shortcomings. However, as you go in and out of the different phases in your lives, your friendship changes. You may not share a common activity anymore. You may be at a point where your children are no longer playing soccer anymore, so you don’t see the other soccer mom every day at practice. You may have moved out of the area and no longer have the time to bond with each other.

When these things happen, you grow out of touch, and you begin to grow out of sync. You no longer feel safe because you haven’t been very close lately.  She hasn’t done anything wrong, but you don’t share the closeness you had before. You feel like she is a distant acquaintance. You might not feel that she cares the way she did before, so you compare yourself to her and may feel inferior. You feel jealous or insecure about yourself when you hear about her success.

How to Deal with the Insecurity

1. Remember the times you shared together and how you both needed each other during that phase of your lives. Nothing can change the fact that she cheered you up during postpartum blues or that she helped you pick the dress you would wear to your father’s funeral. You will always have that, no matter how things change.

2. When you see her recent success, think of how she must have worked so hard to get where she is.   Think that there must have been a moment (when you weren’t around) when she agonized over whether she would ever become successful, and she persevered through the hardship to finally make it happen. Even though you were not there to experience her rise to success, you can imagine her ups and downs which led her to where she is now. Imagining those moments will help you truly be happy about where she is now.

3. Remember that her experience has nothing to do with where you are in life. The insult to your current situation comes from outside influences that have affected your mindset. You might have people saying things like, “Why aren’t you as successful as your friend?” These comments make it even harder for you.  Remind yourself of your truth and hold on to it. You are doing the best you can, and just like everyone, you are a work in progress. The truth in your mind will overpower the toxic comments from others.

4. Lastly, remember that you are on your own journey. Seeing your friend’s prosperity might be hurtful, and it can also be a reminder that there are some things that you need to do to get to where you want to be.   Allow your negative feelings to fuel your determination to improve. This might look like a more active job search, working out more, or saving money to buy something. Do what you can to improve your own journey and then you can feel good that you are on your way to greater things.   Remember that the journey is the destination, so embrace your experience and be thankful for each step in the process.

Thank you for sending in this question because it shows that you are seeking a better mindset. I applaud you for your initiative in finding a solution!

Dear Dr. Abby,

I have a group of lifelong friends from high school. I always thought we would be close for the rest of our lives. But now whenever we talk, I don’t like their attitudes about politics and current news. It makes me not want to talk to them anymore. Is it possible that our friendships have come to an end?  

Friend to the End

Dear Friend to the End,

Remember the times.

High school is a very special time in our lives, and the people who spent this time with us will always hold a special place in our hearts. The high school experience in itself is one that exists for that certain time and certain place. Mr. Z’s science class does not remain a part of our lives forever. Hanging out at the McDonald’s after the Friday night football game is not an event that happens forever. Even the heartache that happens in the 200 buildings near the lockers is meant only for one time in your life, high school.

Friends will change.

In the same way, people act, behave, think, and feel a certain way in these high school years. Our characters are defined by our environment. Certain people in high school liked Guns n’ Roses, and others liked Whitney Houston. Some people liked house parties and other people went bowling every weekend. Some were rude jokes, and others were straight-A brown-nosers. Then high school ended. All of you went out into the world to find jobs or go to college. In that next phase, you became different people. Some became very passionate about politics while others lived and breathed everything about yoga. Some have formed opinions about abortion, gun control, education, euthanasia, etc. You have found that your interests are no longer aligned. In fact, they may even be completely opposite.

Friends forever?

Now you think back to the visions of grandeur you held about these high school friends and the image of all of you staying in contact after many years. Is it actually possible for you to keep close friendships with people that you completely disagree with?

Yes and no.

Yes, you can keep them as friends that you care about as people who once held an important part in your lives. Nothing that happens today will erase the fact that these people meant something to you in the past. They will always be the special friends who saw you through all the ups and downs of those crazy high school years. You will continue to care about each of them if you remember to identify your friend as a person who was special in the past. Do not allow their new and different character, which you do not like, to define who they are in your life today. They are your amazing friends from high school.

No, you might not be able to remain close to them like you were in high school. They may not be your close friends now, and that’s okay. If they have changed into a different person over time, you can’t expect them to be the same person when you call them to ask for advice about a guy you just dated. You have both changed.

Next Level Friends

Among your high school friends, you may find that some of them still have many things in common with you. It’s almost as if they meet the requirements to continue a friendship with you. The changes you have experienced in your lives have not conflicted with each other, so you can still feel close and trust each other for advice. The secret here is to understand that not all of your high school friends will move to this next level with you.

Cherish as you remember

Once you understand exactly what has happened to your high school friends and what their new role is, you will realize that your relationships are valuable for certain reasons. You will also understand that your high school friends do not have to become enemies. They are friends that you can continue to cherish as you remember what you experienced together.

Dear Dr. Abby.

My parents are getting much older, and I’m afraid of the time when they won’t be there for me. I’m also afraid of the time when I will have to witness them declining and no longer being the strong people I know them to be. How can I be prepared for the coming years?

Not Ready

Dear Not Ready,

When I read your question, I directly went to all the thoughts and feelings about losing my own mother one day. (My father passed away many years ago.) I feel the same way you do: afraid and also sad. Then I changed my perspective, and I thought about how my children would feel as I got older.   Immediately my feelings changed. 

The “New” Mom

When I grow older, I don’t want my children to be sad. I want them to laugh and joke with me. I want them to show me funny TikTok videos (if TikTok is still a thing). When they see that I can’t hear as well or walk around as much, I want them to see these as “new changes” in their mom rather than the end of mom. With your parents, make a point to focus on the present moment. Listen to them and hug them, even when they are changing into a new and different version of themselves. 

Open to Change

Each new change brings a different approach.  You will need to re-acquaint yourself with the new version of your parents, rather than expecting them to be the same superman and superwoman you always knew them to be. Every second you expect the old version, you will be disappointed and maybe even sad. So the secret here is to be open to the new changes and curious about the new versions of mom and dad.  This also includes your understanding that they might be less able to cater to you. Dad might be too tired to listen to you talk about your day. Mom might not be able to pick up your children or take care of them while you go out. Dad might even have to miss your birthday party because he can’t be up and around for long periods of time. Stay open and remind yourself to love them even with the new changes.

Support is Key

It’s a good thing that you are raising these questions because you recognize there is help for you.   Many people don’t prepare, and they try to deal with the stress and anxiety on their own.   The fact is that we know aging and death are a part of life, so finding the best ways to cope is so important.  Continue to examine your feelings and thoughts, think of the best solutions, and share your experiences with others.   The more support you have, the better you will be able to deal with it. 

Cherish the Love

Lastly, recognize that your anxiety and your discomfort about your aging parents are an indication of the love that you have for them. Be thankful for what you have learned from them, the wonderful times you have had together, and the relationship you have built with them. The love that you feel for them and from them is something that you will have forever.  

   

She Is You
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