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Q: My friend, in her mid-30s, has become obsessively gloomy about being single. Should I try to pep her up or just change the subject? Seeing her has started draining me of the desire to, erm, live. Emily, 31

2012 February 26
by Zoe Strimpel

There are two types of people in the world (that’s right: two) – those who allow themselves to be comforted and those whose moods are fixed. With the first type, you can help. They’re responsive. They feel better, thanks to you, and will be grateful for your wise words.  Of course, there’s always the chance they’ll form serious emotional dependency on you and look to you – not themselves – for their validation. This can be intense and exhausting if you’re the helper, advice-giver or whatever. Lovely as it is to be able to cheer someone up, you don’t want to be the only balm for their weeping wounds.

The second type will just revert to what they said before after you’ve tried to help. They’ll exhaust you, drain you, depress you, empty you out if you try too hard to lift their spirits. It’s not their fault – in fact, you have to feel bad for those poor comfortless creatures. But you better be careful of how much energy you give their woe. The formulation of sprightly, supportive, compassionate and clear-headed advice or arguments will just go into the ether. It’s hitting your head against a wall.

This second type sounds like your friend. So: two things. One: you now know her personality type and your action plan in response: ie, don’t bang your head against the wall trying to make her happy with your words. Two: your happiness. I think you should first try to discuss entirely different things with her. Change the subject as much as possible. If she won’t be steered off her singleton gloom, you’re going to need to either tell her she is sucking you into her vortex of hell, and draining you of your will to live, or… avoid her for a while, until she moves to a different phase. It depends how good a friend you are. If she’s not your closest, you can get away with a bit of unexplained evasion/distance for a while. Good luck.

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