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Carolyn Hax: Friend demands ‘happy’ topics, then breaks her own rule

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Dear Carolyn: I have a very dear, long-term friend who is increasingly unable to talk about anything involving negative information. She quite literally has begun having physical reactions to conversations about politics, current events and anything she deems too “deep,” such as philosophy, religion and psychology. She frequently tells me to not bring up “x,” where x is whatever constitutes the uncomfortable subject du jour.

But here’s the kicker: She feels quite free to bring up all kinds of [stuff] herself, including the aforementioned “x,” but as soon as I respond, she folds up like a cheap tent and declares she only wants to talk about happy stuff.

Is it worth challenging her on this, or should I just reframe her as someone I simply can’t have a meaningful conversation with anymore?

Frustrated Friend: I get the frustration, but she sounds more like a mess than a menace.

These things are on her mind and they upset her, check. Easy to sympathize with that. She doesn’t want to talk about them, check. She wisely is upfront with friends that she doesn’t want to talk about this stuff, check. She is still preoccupied by these topics so they fall out of her mouth sometimes, and when they do, that doesn’t mean she wants to talk about them, it just means she had the kind of self-discipline lapse that people tend to have when they’re upset.

My version uses the same set of facts as yours, but it’s an interpretation that gives her the benefit of at least some doubt that your phrasing — that she “feels quite free to bring up all kinds of [stuff] herself” — doesn’t grant.

Friendship questions come to this a lot: If she’s a very dear friend, then doesn’t she deserve that benefit, and if she doesn’t deserve it, then is she really a very dear friend?

We’re all a little worn down by “politics, current events, and anything … ‘deep.’ ” Like, laundry-soaked-in-lye-soap-and-beaten-over-river-rocks-and-cranked-through-a-wringer-daily-for-several-years worn down. So that could certainly explain why someone might develop a touch of conversational incontinence.

If you agree — or even if you don’t, what the hell, in the name of enduring friendship — then try extending her some grace instead of “challenging” her next time she talks [stuff]. “Does this mean you really want to discuss [stuff], or did that just leak out?”

I wonder if we can get, “It’s the empathy, stupid,” to catch on.

Dear Carolyn: How do I move on from my divorce? It’s been 15 months since I left the ex and nine months since the ink was dry. She seems to have moved on, but for me, it’s a slow, painful journey away from that 20-year relationship. It is better than it was, but it still hurts.

Divorce: You’re moving, at least, and sometimes that has to do. The “on” will happen when it’s ready.

Big wounds can take years to close.

As for your ex, maybe you’re right that she’s moved on — people just have their own pace for healing. Scouring someone’s recovery for meaningful information is basically self-torture. But it’s also possible she just looks fine from the outside. You simply can’t know.

Either way, the full extent of the significance of the progress each of you has made relative to the other is covered by this: “godspeed.” Two separate journeys from here.

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