I have this friend. Well, actually I have many friends. One of the reasons I have many friends could be due to my big smile, my sparkling and cheery demeanor, and my knack for always saying things like, "You go, girl!" Ok none of what I just said is how I describe myself, or why i think I might have more friends than my boyfriend or family members who by default, have to be my friends.
The real reason why I feel as though I have a variety of friends is because I like to listen to people. I'm a problem solver, maybe a bit of a control freak, and somehow I can conjure up some bit of advice for pretty much anything. I'm mostly an expert at telling people the blatant and not always gentle truth if they have a complaint about their dating life. A conversation could go on for hours about whether this girl's ex-boyfriend was really a douchebag, or maybe she really did nag him too much. Sometimes people mention they have bigger problems, such as money troubles or their car has been acting up. Even if I don't have experience to provide "good" advice I usually chime in with at least a, "maybe get a better mechanic?" so I can contribute. Could be conceived as annoying, now that I'm writing it down to explain myself, but usually I find that my input is appreciated, even if it's not useful.
I find that the concern for others and the willingness to listen is what gets me on someone's good side. (Let's just clear it up here, folks. I'm not trying to toot my own horn, there is a whiny and not-so-self-promoting side to this blog post).
There are acquaintances I have from comedy or acting that I have never hung out with outside of that setting, but I probably know more about their personal issues or family troubles than a far more average acquaintance. I attribute this to my openness and how much I (sometimes annoyingly) dish out to people about how my life is going. When someone asks me, "How are you?" it's very hard to me to simply say, "good, you?" and leave it at that. So when I provide an anecdote, so do they, and a small bond forms between us.
One more lead-up to where this is going before I explain my personal dilemma of the week; I have had times where I'm on a bus, or a subway car, or in line at a taco stand and somehow a stranger starts telling me about their life problems. No idea what it is about me, maybe it's just that my face looks non-judgmental, maybe I'm too nice and too good of a listener, maybe God is telling them that I can listen to their problems without running away screaming, but I've had more women tell me about their drug-addict ex husbands abuse or their alcoholic family members' financial troubles than a family counselor at a rehab institute... and I can't really figure out why except that I always finish the conversation with, "I'm sorry, I'll pray for you" and they really seem to love me for that in some way.
ANYWAY this week seems to be troubling for me because I'm at a loss. Two instances where I'm at a personal loss for how to react to a friend and what my role is in their life when they come to me with an unsolvable-by-me issue.
So I have this friend, and her family member is very sick. I don't know how to comfort her, and I'm not sure what to say except that I'm sorry for her being worried. Maybe we all go through that one, where a friend is suffering through a family dilemma and we're just supposed to pat them on the back and have a drink with them while they get through it. See, I'm not that kind of person!
I feel like if nothing I can do or say will make them feel better, then I'm simply useless and I should just cut out my tongue and sacrifice it to the wellness gods and maybe THAT will somehow make everything better in the balance of sickness versus health in my friend's life... how do other people simply "be there" for their friends? Really, I feel like an awkward useless dumby, like there was a part of the friendship handbook that I missed when I played hookie to sleep in one day.
So then I have this other friend that has been going through a rough patch... well maybe they've always been in a rough patch, but they have had their ups and downs and right now they are most certainly down. I have offered so much advice, so many phone calls, so many nights agonizing over what could possibly be the root of the problems, what causes their anxiety, whether it's job related or body related or just plain life related, and now I'm at a loss.
I can tell a starving person sixteen different ways to eat their dinner and pick up a knife and fork and put it in their hands, but they're going to stay starving if they don't put a fork with food on it, into their mouth, chew, then swallow. I could write them a book, "How to Eat" and make them read it, but if they don't apply anything I'm giving them to their problem, then it won't be solved. So now I feel even more frustrated because half of what I'm giving them seems like it's going in one ear and out the other! They throw their hands up and say they're giving up on "eating", they may as well "starve". How many times can you repeat yourself before you're just as ready to give up?
Of course, that part is somewhat made up and problems are never that simple. But the point is, there is a certain point where as a friend you just can't do anything anymore because you talked until you were blue in the face, gave all the solutions you could think of, but whoever needs help can really only help themselves or seek out the help for themselves.
Maybe I'm throwing my hands up? I get frustrated when I feel like I'm not being listened to, like maybe I couldn't get through to the person and I start being mean to them instead of just letting them run their course. Then comes the mother/controlling part of me where I picture myself actually letting them run the course they're on, and I am terrified they're going to crash into a wall. Should I just let them crash?
At what point, are friends supposed to stop the hand holding and advice giving? Where are the lines between bad friend and letting them run free, or great friend and being a control freak? I guess I need some advice on that one.