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Life Hax


Carolyn Hax

My friend group went on vacation ... and left me behind

Ar 171129913
Carolyn Hax
Ar 171129913
Carolyn Hax

There is a group of women with whom I’ve taken weekend trips once or twice a year over the last six years. Back in May, we tossed around possible trip ideas for the summer. Nothing was decided. I saw two of these friends (the third lives in another state) a couple times in June and July and none of us brought up a discussion of a trip.Fast forward to when I opened my Instagram feed to see the three of them on vacation together. I was floored and devastated. None of them had invited me or even told me about it.I worked through the hurt and anger I was feeling in therapy, in my 12-step program (Adult Children of Alcoholics) and through journaling. I came to realize these friendships were based in superficiality and heavy drinking, and weren’t healthy for me.I did not reach out to any of them to express my revelation or my hurt feelings. I have heard them “talk smack” about women they used to be friends with and I didn’t want to give them any ammo to use against me. I don’t trust them.I’ve had no contact with any of them until two nights ago when one of them texted me suggesting we get together.I feel I have to say something. Any advice on how to respond? Do I owe her an explanation if I decline?Feeling Stuck

Congratulations – you are free.

I’m sorry it hurt you to get there. We’ve all had that sudden heat and nausea, I’m sure, when our own eyes tell us we’re not wanted by the very people we count on to want us. Who can’t summon that feeling like it was yesterday?

But the work you did to recover didn’t just patch you back up. It spurred you to get better, and you did.

So let that truth dictate how you respond to your (possibly former) friend’s text. Tell yourself, “I am free.”

Then treat your next steps not as confronting them about your hurt feelings, but instead as the next step in managing the transition from an unhealthy place to a healthy one.

Specifically, focus on your epiphany versus the exclusion that triggered it. You don’t know its full story, after all – maybe they’ve done some separate trips (more discreetly) all along, maybe only one of them vetoed you and the other two feel awkward, etc. – but you know YOUR story, and you’re done with this group.

I agree that ignoring a friendly overture is the low road to that.

It takes courage to say (or tap) out loud that you felt vulnerable, and I see why you chose not to initially, but remember – you’ve since summoned your strength. Don’t rule out honesty: “I was hurt when I saw you all on Instagram.” Then, your epiphany: “ ... but I surprised myself – I’m happier out of the group.”

Statements, yes. Defensive explanations, no.

Then, decline her invitation – or accept it if you decide this particular friendship is worth a try, on your terms. Distrust would rule that out, of course, but a shallow group can mask deeper individuals; you were in it, too, remember.

Is there a chance she or all of them will rip you for your honesty? Sure. Will you care?

You’re not required to. You control your own philosophy. You can focus where you are present, and mentally release what goes on in your absence. As in: Expect the tree to fall, and don’t loiter in the forest to hear it. Or, pithily said and oft paraphrased: “What others think of me is none of my business.”

I was laid off recently from a job of 15 years. My confidence took a blow.When I told my mom, she said, “Hurry up and update your resume. And don’t forget to add your Employee of the Year award.” I had of course already done that, and asked her why she thought I would forget about the highlight of my career. She said, “Don’t get so defensive, I’m just trying to help!”It would have been more helpful for her to say she had faith in me. But her style has always been 0 percent cheerleader, 100 percent drill sergeant.I hesitate to tell her anything. When I say I’m going to the beach, she says, “Don’t forget sunscreen!” and if I say, “Mom, I’m 55 years old and you don’t need to tell me that,” she says, “Don’t get snippy with me!” – then when I return, she says, “Did you wear sunscreen? Oh, good GIRL!” as though I’m a little kid, or so incompetent that I need to be told what to do.I try to explain how I feel but she starts yelling at me.My confidence suffers every time I talk to her because it seems like she thinks I’m dumb or can’t take care of myself. But if I object, she gets upset. What can I say to make her understand that her unsolicited advice insults my intelligence?Don’t Need This “Help”

“To make her understand.” That is your treadmill, your hamster wheel, your Möbius strip of maternal suffocation.

Trying to change her output – what she thinks or feels or advises – hasn’t worked in 55 years, and isn’t yours to change anyway. So, change your INPUT.

Tell her less. Expect less. React less. That’s what you control.

You know the ridiculous advice and invasive questions and “Good girl!” condescension are all coming – so, adapt accordingly. Either:

Ignore. “So, Mom, how are YOU?” Don’t underestimate the power of a non-answer.

Rise above. “Ah, Mom. You taught me well, remember?”

Hold firm. “Nope, not answering that.”

Disengage. “Thanks!”

State the obvious. “Mom, I’m 55! years! old!”

Get silly. “I used baby oil.” “Yes, I wore sunscreen. Did you floss?”

But do NOT engage anymore.

Deflections can be mean if not said in good cheer, so here’s where to find some: People tend to smother and control out of anxiety, not contempt, your mother likely included. Such worrying says she doubts HER ability to handle risk.

That certainly explains her methods. She fusses over and drill-sergeants the people she cares about; because she (fancifully, mistakenly) thinks her fussing helps keep them safe; so she feels better for fussing; which is why she does it ... and why anybody does anything, right?

It also means you can expect her to resist your efforts to deflect her, but stand firmly – and, again, try more smile, less exasperation. Make this your new way to assure Mom you can manage: quietly managing, versus discussing whether you can.

Don’t just do this out of kindness, either. To take her seriously is to question yourself, and that’s the crux of it. Self-doubt is the example she set and you now unwittingly live by. If seeing this pattern isn’t enough for you to break it, then good therapy might bring relief.

Carolyn Hax is a syndicated advice columnist for The Washington Post. She started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. Email her at tellme@washpost.com.