Some friends can be draining. When you think about spending time with them you recall being made to feel tired. Maybe they always bring you down. They say things that make you feel frustrated. They sound like a broken record at times.
There are probably a few ways that people can be draining friends. This is an exploration of that concept.
Think of a friend who is draining. I have three in mind.
What have they done that made you feel drained?
- My friend C used to make financial plans that I felt were irresponsible. C would get excited about planning a holiday. Look up prices, start working out how much it would cost. All without having much savings. C would intend to spend all their savings and come back with close to zero spare dollars. They would excitedly share their plans about spending money. I would listen intently, think about their plans and carefully point out the ways that simple things might go wrong. Ways that C might end up with negative dollars when they got back. I would be unconvincing at first. C is a very stubborn person. So am I. I would slow down. Explain some financial fundamentals. Suggest some ways that things could go wrong.
Eventually I would get the message across. C would plan differently, but I would be “drained”. I would be tired of having to teach them these things. I love helping people understand concepts they don’t currently understand. This was pretty confusing to me. I don’t know exactly what made them more draining than other people. And I am not entirely sure how to fix the feeling of draining. But something about that interaction made them draining.
- My friend J used to believe the world was against them. Every week they would have a new story describing the way that someone actively plotted to ruin their day. The person who pushed past them on the bus. The co-worker who didn’t respect their contribution. The ex that said words that seemed designed to hurt them. Each story I would listen intently. And I would do what I do in my head when someone pushes past me on the bus.
I imagine that they are busy and have somewhere to go. Maybe they are running late, maybe they are rescuing babies from burning buildings. I would share the way that I would be willing to interpret the same world experience. This might not always go over well. I’d have to explain the foundations of fundamental attribution error. I’d suggest that maybe the co-worker doesn’t have time to appreciate their work because they were too busy with other responsibilities and it’s not the co-workers fault either. Invariably I’d get the message across that maybe the world doesn’t hate J. There would be peace in their world. But not for long. Only as long as until the next ambiguous world event happened.
- My friend S has a pet topic. They always want to bring up the topic and engage about the topic. It doesn’t help that the pet topic is one of those endlessly arguable topics. So there is often new ways to look at the topic and try to explain it differently. It’s gotten to the point that I will avoid conversation with this person because I anticipate they will invariably end up on that topic and end up in a debate. Often an adversarial truth seeking method, not a collaborative truth seeking method. I don’t always dislike adversarial truth seeking, but there appears to be a pattern here that I don’t enjoy.
Erratio had an example too. A friend who would have a lot of complaints about how they were being treated socially. Having stories that sound like, “He said this. Then she said that. And can you believe they would do that to me”. Erratio would do the emotional labour of processing these experiences until they were not so much “the universe is plotting against you”, and more, “sometimes things happen and you don’t always win”. Erratio suggests – the thing that makes it extra draining is the thought that – knowing that a friend will end up having one of these conversations with you – you brace yourself to manage the conversation. To the point where, even thinking about conversation with the person will cause the feeling of being drained.
Among these scenarios there are a few common elements:
- A person with an idea or worldview that comes up and gets shared and portrayed a certain way.
- A desire to change that view or interact with the idea.
- Changing or interacting with the idea seems to be like walking through mud. It’s harder work than just walking.
- After successfully navigating to place of clarity around the idea, there is no recognition or acknowledgement of the distance travelled, or the work put in to reach a better place. Often there is a desire from the other person to move forward as if they always agreed with me – despite the sudden change in view.
- There is an expectation that the pattern of conversation will repeat. Either because it has repeated in the past or because it was unresolved the last time it came up.
- There is a desire to not engage in the pattern again. The feeling of being tired just thinking about attending the conversation.
- There is some implicit burden or responsibility to change the view. This might be, “people wrong on the internet”, or “this person I really care about is about to make a stupid mistake that could be avoided”. You feel you have a duty to be involved, often before consenting to being involved.
Something that might matter:
- The view is strongly held and this makes it hard to communicated any different view, or that an understanding is missing.
Ways to fix this:
An obvious solution is to look at the draining features. Either the parts listed here, or your own experiences of a draining person. Consider changing the features of the drain.
If I only ever go out to the movies with my friend J, I won’t be stuck having that conversation, we will talk about the movie, we might talk about the topic a little bit. Overall I expect to not have to brace myself for the topic.
I could talk to my draining friend. I could link them to this post, I could get curious and communicate about it. I’d like to think I’ve done some work here to understand what’s going on, this isn’t an accusation of wrongdoing, it’s just an observation of how I am experiencing some social situations. I have no blame around the fact that I feel drained. Ideally I don’t want to feel drained. Maybe there is a way we can talk about the important issue that doesn’t lead to the draining feeling. Maybe my friend has a solution. Maybe my friend had no idea they were causing the draining feeling. Maybe there are other people in their lives that don’t feel as drained that they can talk to more. Maybe they can improve their relationships by understanding the draining problem more themselves.
I could try working on myself. At first I could think about my expectations. Just because the friend was draining in the past does not mean they will always be draining in the future. Alternatively, maybe I don’t have to help. I don’t have to solve the problem. Maybe the mistake is small. Maybe letting my friend make the financial mistake would help them learn to not make that mistake again. Maybe I am too worked up and invested in my friend here and I need to step back and not be so concerned. It’s not my problem.
I don’t have the answers. I do have these thoughts.