The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: A friend who constantly complains


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My best friend calls me on a regular basis, always with complaints, a new crisis or just needing to “vent.” Most of the time, these events in her life that cause her strife are of her doing.

The more I think about it, the more I think she thrives on the drama, and when there is none she creates it.

I am not sure how to proceed at this point. I have been through some major trauma the past two years: divorce, the birth of a very sick premature child, job reduction and my own health scare. Not once during these calls does she ask about me.

I am tired of the daily barrage of her calls, so I just stopped answering them. I know I have to say something, but I am sure it will be misconstrued. Do you have an idea of what to say to her to make her understand there are people out here with REAL problems, and not just ones they cause themselves?

Drama Queen?

There should be an autocorrect function in the “submit question” prompt, whereby if you type any construction of “make her understand,” the software rejects the question.

You can’t “make” anyone do anything. (Except perhaps “stop breathing,” but let’s keep this forum homicide-free.)

You can only state your opinion, share your feelings and observations, or ask fact-finding questions — with as much transparency of thought and motive as possible — and hope she has the emotional capacity to appreciate what you’re saying.

For example: You invite her to coffee, you sit down and you admit that you have been screening her calls. Why? Because she was calling with her desire to “vent” but not asking you, ever, how your child’s health was progressing, how you were faring emotionally during your divorce or whether there were any new developments on your health.

If you expect that whatever she says won’t be enough to restore your interest in taking those calls, then be careful not to pile on; it’s hard enough to learn a friend is dumping you without the parting gift of a detailed inventory of your shortcomings.

If your intent is to save the friendship, then that warrants getting more in depth with your concerns.

Start by asking her if she thinks you have been fair in your representation of the past two years of your friendship. Then see what she has to say.

She might stun you by being stunned, but this is someone who has demonstrated little self-awareness, so it’s a real possibility that she has no idea what you are talking about. Anger and defensiveness also are responses worth anticipating.

If nothing else, these possibilities are reasons not to do this in a place where you have to flag someone down for the check — but, more important, they’re reasons to be careful about your goals. You’re not in this to fix her, you’re in this to be heard, with the hope that it will help both of you, and your friendship, to be clear about what you want and need. Whether she listens is up to her.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at



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