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How to support a single friend

(34 Posts)
MrsSpagBol Wed 08-May-13 19:06:47

Hello wise women of mumsnet, hope you can help.

Just looking for a bit of advice on how to support / advise a good friend. I feel not so much a lack of empathy but rather that we discuss the same issue over and over and I am running out of positive/uplifting things to say ( I am perhaps also preoccupied with semi imminent arrival of PFB).

That said, she is a good friend and don't want to be self absorbed; I want to be helpful and not dismissive.

Issue is that my friend is single, 30 and desperate to be married. This has been a recurring theme for the last say 7 or so years. I've always been quietly encouraging, sympathetic, empathetic, made (hopefully) helpful suggestions, etc etc but at the end of the day - she wants to get married and she wants to get married yesterday.

She is not dating anyone; no one suitable on the horizon. Meltdowns this year have increased in frequency - obviously turning 30 was horrendous (may not seem too old for some, but culturally was a significant milestone), then today received her ex-boyf's wedding invite and she burst into tears at work.

I desperately don't want to come across as smug married. But in her view, I have perfection (married, baby on the way). I've done the whole marriage does not equal life perfection, I am very open about how it's hard work, I have tried to say it's not the great fix all, suggested alternative life goals, a bucket list etc etc but the bottom line is that I can't change what she wants.

She is not jealous I don't think (well if she is she doesn't say it to me) and I've encouraged online dating, introduced her to the few single guys I or my husband know, but I am at a loss as to what to say now that is actually helpful. I have also spent hours and hours listening to her wedding plans, looking at dresses and rings and being an active particpant etc etc - trying to give it my fullest attention.

I just today, having received 35 (!) whatsapp messages in quick succession and having been on the phone for ages with her in tears, feel that I really can't think of anything else to say and I can't ignore all these messages.

What would you say or do?
What can you say that is not patronising?

Any suggestions welcome.

Selba Wed 08-May-13 23:56:44

She sounds unbearable and you deserve a medal. Tell her to come on MN and see how shite marriage really is in many cases

MooncupGoddess Thu 09-May-13 00:02:23

You've listened to her wedding plans?? You are a saint.

Honestly, I'd take a step back and suggest counselling.

WafflyVersatile Thu 09-May-13 00:03:37

tell her to get some therapy. It can hardly make things worse.

Speaking as someone single who would prefer to be married yesterday telling me marriage isn't a cure all isn't helpful. It's perfectly natural to want a stable loving intimate long-term relationship and be sad that that is missing from your life. Even if you are happy with other aspects of your life and in your own company.

UnrequitedSkink Thu 09-May-13 00:09:55

I take it you have discussed with her how men can smell desperation a mile off and run for the hills? And that a man who meets an independent woman with her own interests will likely fancy the pants off her?

I think you need to meet with her and suggest a strategy, starting with a visit to her GP!

exexpat Thu 09-May-13 00:14:37

She has wedding plans that take hours to listen to, but no prospective partner? I think that would send any bloke running a mile. I think she probably needs more professional counselling than talking to a friend.

kotinka Thu 09-May-13 00:17:20

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

LemonPeculiarJones Thu 09-May-13 00:52:18

She sounds like she's slightly unhinged if she wants to talk, at length, for hours, about her wedding plan, when there is no wedding yet.

I was miserable when I was single in my early thirties but it wouldn't have occurred to me to obsess over rings etc confused Least of all expect a friend to basically parent me while I droned on about a fantasy.

I mean, she's allowed to have a moan, of course - but she sounds deluded and needy to the point of burdensome.

The fact that she thinks you should listen to her go on and on about this suggests to me she would find it hard to approach dating with the best attitude. Her expectations of others are skewed.

She does need some counselling. She needs a perceptual shift here. You aren't helping her by continuing to give attention to the attitude she has now. It's infantilising. I understand that's what she wants, but it's not helping her or you.

That transactional analysis idea, that friendships need to be adult/adult and not adult/child, is useful.

And I agree with Waffly - don't try to persuade her that being married isn't all that. It won't help.

You're obviously trying to be the best friend you can be in tricky circumstances smile It is hard when situations differ like this in close friendships.

Lavenderhoney Thu 09-May-13 03:45:22

What a nice friend you are, she is very lucky. However, I think she needs to see someone professional.

I think it has slowly dawned on you it's not quite right, all this wedding talk. In the nicest way, is it because you don't really have any common ground anymore? As it seems an inexhaustible subject.

Have you said anything like " no, I'm not looking at rings/ wedding dresses! I'd rather go to the cinema or something!" - what do you think her reaction would have been?

Before I met my dh, and was sometimes in despair(!) of anyone nice turning up, it wouldn't have occurred to me to plan my imaginary wedding, or mention it to anyone.

Does she do it with anyone else? What does your dh think? She must have other friends, especially as you will have a baby soon and are unlikely to be able to support her behaviour, plus aren't you getting a chance to talk endlessly about your baby and pregnancy? Which is real and trumps any imaginary stuff.

And 35 texts, calls etc is very unreasonable when you are prgnt, stress isn't the best. You'll have to be quite firm I think, just tell her you are busy with your dh and will call another day. Tbh, if she takes precedence over your time with your dh with all this and saps your emotional bank you need to step back anyway. You aren't really helping her by taking calls and supporting all this fantasy.

Its easier though, I guess, thank saying " you'll end up like miss haversham, Brenda, "

LittleMissLucy Thu 09-May-13 04:12:44

At the risk of sounding brutal, you can't support her. She's being a bit of an emotional vampire and you won't be able to tolerate that with a new baby. Nor should you.

I don't know what to suggest, frankly. I had a friend like this and she phoned me every bloody night and every day of the weekend to bemoan a crush on a guy at work. It was repetitive. In the end I had to say "oh for goodness sake, xxxx, I need to do the vaccuming I'll speak to you another time". And she backed off. But I was a bit brutal saying that to her and we're no longer friends as a result. Im' quite relieved!

CogitoErgoSometimes Thu 09-May-13 07:08:59

I think the poor cow needs therapy to help her with her self-esteem. If she launches herself on possible partners looking so obviously desperate to get a ring on her finger, she'll either end up with an abusive knob or they'll run for the hills.

JessicaBeatriceFletcher Thu 09-May-13 08:17:32

As someone who has been long-term single with not a sniff of interest in years, even through OD, I can feel her pain. When you want something so much and you see almost everyone else around you having that, it can get to you - but obviously in this case it has really gone too far. I think therapy is probably a good move.

However, I also agree with the previous posters who said that saying things like "marriage isn't all that" or whatever isn't necessarily a good move. I generally don't mope and moan to all and sundry - although I have moaned at times, obviously - and one friend, married 5 years and pregnant, said: "I don't know what you are moaning about, I loved being single, you can do X, Y Z, marriage is hard work". I replied "OK, if you loved it so much, being single is better and marriage is such hard work, why don't you leave your husband and go back to being single?" Deafening silence!

CogitoErgoSometimes Thu 09-May-13 09:41:57

"may not seem too old for some, but culturally was a significant milestone"

Why 'culturally'...?

themilkmonster Thu 09-May-13 10:36:03

I have a friend just like this. She has a habit of choosing the wrong men then falling to pieces when they won't commit and leave her. I've spent hours of my time listening to her as she reads me her texts from her latest fling, with her trying to work out if he really likes her or not, like teenagers! It becomes tiresome as she drones on for hours about how she's going to get her latest crush to notice her, and yet she hardly asks me anything about my husband or baby.

A few months ago she met a bloke I know, and I knew already that he's a serial shagger with serious commitment issues. I told her all of this and warned her not to go there, but did she listen? Of course not! And a couple of months later she's back at square one!

I know it sounds harsh but I'm starting to think she actually likes the drama of it all, if that makes sense? But the sad part is that I feel we've got nothing in common anymore. Sometimes friendships just run their course. hmm

MrsSpagBol Thu 09-May-13 12:30:51

Wow thank you all for all your replies!!!! I really appreciate it.

Erm cogito, I can only speak for my circles but black female and unmarried at 30 is like ......I can't even explain the pressure. All manner of people feel the need to comment, warn you you'll be "left on the shelf", tell you "you need to compromise", try to set you up ....etc. It's just a level of pressuring and interfering that I can't really describe in words. I was married before this, BY COMPLETE CHANCE, but my sister is approaching her 30th and so I am witnessing her experience which is just confirming what I already knew but was "lucky" enough to avoid, BY PURE CHANCE.

Thank you all for your comments. I am a bit shock that so many of you have suggested therapy. Maybe because of my background I have just assumed this was normal / expected / or understandable given the pressure I mention above, but maybe you do have a point. I have thought in the past that "this can't be healthy" but I guess you have put it down in black and white for me.

I am just so scared to be the one to say it because I am living, perceivably, the very thing she so wants so it seems a bit mean. As someone said upthread, if marriage is so bad and undesirable, why not give it up. I have no answer to that - I genuinely love my husband, love that we are married and am happy. So it feels hypocritcal.

Thanks for all your replies. I need to think about it all and how to phrase it.

Thank you again for replying.

exexpat Thu 09-May-13 12:44:01

I think the thing is that marriage can be great and life-enhancing with the right person. It isn't the state of being married, or the big wedding etc etc that makes it good - it is having found someone you love and want to be with. Marriage/weddings are just a public acknowledgement of that.

With the wrong person, marriage can be a nightmare, as a quick flick through the relationships board on here will tell you. And the problem is that you are much more likely to end up with the wrong person if you have rushed into it before getting to know someone, or because of social pressure or a desperate need to pass certain milestones at an arbitrary age.

So it is a problem if she is getting all fixated on the legal, ceremonial side of things, and focusing on the end goal of marriage, rather than finding a good man she enjoys being with, and who will love and accept her as she is. Obviously that is easier said than done, but having a head full of white dresses and engagement rings before you even get to know someone is a recipe for disaster.

Have you seen the film Muriel's Wedding?

EldritchCleavage Thu 09-May-13 13:43:01

What Lemon said: She does need some counselling. She needs a perceptual shift here. You aren't helping her by continuing to give attention to the attitude she has now. It's infantilising. I understand that's what she wants, but it's not helping her or you

She sounds immature (sorry, but she does-wedding fantasies when she isn't even in a relationship?) and also very stuck.

What is your friend doing to meet someone? How is she when she has got a boyfriend or with relationships generally? What is her family like about this? I ask because often I think people consciously believe they are desperate to marry or have a partner while subconsciously are just as desperately avoiding it because of unacknowledged issues (holding my own hand up to that one).

I have no idea how you go about suggesting she step back from the whole chasing a mate to do a little work on herself (no, it didn't go down well with me when my nearest and dearest did it!) but that's what I think she actually needs to do.

And perhaps tell her as kindly as you can that while you know it is hard for her, 35 messages a day plus long tearful phone calls is way too much.

educatingarti Thu 09-May-13 15:19:13

Hi there. I am single and have been for decades (not black though!) and have had to now accept the situation that even if i did get married at some time in the future, I won't be having any children of my own.

You don't have to say/think give the impression that marriage is awful in order to support your friend. I think you need to be honest - thankful for the things that are blessings but also open about the difficulties. Neither singleness or marriage is superior in reality - they each have their own advantages and disadvantagese

The fact that your friend has such detailed plans for her own wedding stands out to me as an issue. I guess I've sometimes thought about marriage - what kind of dress/reception would I like - etc but not in any great detail. Her obsession seems rather unhealthy to be honest. It sounds as if her discussion (monologue?) with you about it is a detailed fantasy that she has got drawn into and it is of course total fantasy because even if she did meet someone and get married, the chances are that not everything would be as she had imagined as she would have to take the groom's ideas and preferences, budget etc into account!

OK, so I think as a society we are really bad in the way a lot of tv, advertising, media etc portrays marriage/relationship = good/normal/healthy and single = barren/frigid/unhealthy/inadequate etc and I think she has bought into this lie. Probably from what you say about your and her cultural background this adds to it (though I've had to endure my DM expressing her grief about not having any grand children!! angry). She needs to be able to come to the position of accepting herself as being an OK person, "even" as a single!

I second those saying counselling would be useful for her - could you phrase it that you know how difficult and upsetting the whole situation is to her and feel that a counsellor would be able to help her process her feelings about it all.

Meanwhile I think you can best support you friend by saying that while you understand she is really upset about this, and you know she really longs to get married, you think she is a great/wonderful person just the way she is now.

EldritchCleavage Thu 09-May-13 15:34:38

Re-reading my post it really doesn't sound very kind, sorry.

Do you think that lack of a relationship, against the background of cultural pressure (am European/West African, so I had similar) is really just the superficial focus for distress that is actually much more fundamental? Because the calls and tears suggest she really is in distress.

You sound like a nice friend. Probably all you can do is suggest she talk to someone because she is so upset. Practical suggestions aren't really what she needs right now.

MrsSpagBol Thu 09-May-13 19:16:01

Thank you again for all the responses. I haven't found any of them brutal or unkind, just straightforward. I have obviously tried to address this on my own but I was genuinely looking for suggestions as to deal with this better so please no need to apologise or hold back.

To answer specific questions:

Yes I have felt uneasy (very!) about the fantasy wedding planning and all that. But I felt it cruel to p*ss on someone's dream so have sort of just politely gone along with it. My true thoughts are that it is VERY strange to plan out something in so much detail that isn't even imminent. Not in a mean way, I just firmly believe in living each phase of your life at the right time, if that makes sense. I am like any other girl, I will look at wedding photos and comment on dresses and rings in passing - but I definitely feel like you should save some stuff for the right time. I planned my wedding with my husband. Yes I did the detail nitty gritty stuff but I certainly didn't have a dossier when he proposed, and I enjoyed what we did together. Similarly, I have enjoyed this phase of being pregnant - now - not before, and now I look at baby stuff because I have a baby actually on the way. The constant "on to the next stage" mentality I feel robs you of the ability to live in the here and now.

I also agree any (normal) person would run a mile if they knew her folder was already full of plans etc.

The difficulties I have in being blunt with her are:

It seems mean to rain on her hope. All she has is hope.

It's easy for me to say "be more fulfilled" etc etc because I have it already (marriage). To me it's like a person holding a newborn baby tellling someone who is struggling to conceive to "just be happy as you are". I don't think the message can ever be right coming from me, if that makes sense. Not because my message is wrong, but just because it won't be appreciated, if that makes sense.

She DOES have a full life. She has a great job, earns excellent money, owns property, has a small sideline business on the side, etc - but it's NEVER going to be enough. Everything hinges on this marriage thing. Everything.

Eldritch I would be interested in your views as she is W African. There is no other underlying stress, as I said above, she has a very successful life that in fact other people would be happy with. It is LITERALLY this marriage issue.

Educating and others, I agree. Maybe I wasn't clear. I have never tried to downplay the good points of marriage or say it's krap or whatever. I have just tried to inject balance and/or reality into the proceedings. So when she is wailing that things will be so much better when married, I have more said that't not necessarily true - every phase of life comes with it's challenges. Rather than just say yes, marriage is the be all of life. Hope this make sense. I coudn't possibly bash marriage because I would be lying - I enjoy my marriage and being married. I just always try to encourage her to err on the side of reality - pros AND cons, IYSWIM.

"She sounds immature (sorry, but she does-wedding fantasies when she isn't even in a relationship?) and also very stuck.

What is your friend doing to meet someone? How is she when she has got a boyfriend or with relationships generally? What is her family like about this? "

Yes I agree immaturity could be at play. But she has come a long way since I first met her and she is MUCH better (ie more mature) than say 5 years ago, which can only be a good thing.

She is online dating, we have discussed general approachability ( she used to be a bit standoffish and judgemental of men who didn't "come correct" so we talked about the angry black woman face etc etc). She recently emailed me a PLAN for the summer - she has basically bought herself tickets to every event going this summer - eg
Chelsea Flower Show
etc etc
and all outfits have already been preplanned to attract maximum interest.
She volunteers at Church, volunteers with a charity, she goes on singles' events,
I think she is going everything she can to meet someone but it still doesn't seem to be happening.

Maybe people can smell the desperation?

Oh dear. I am still at a loss. Anything I say along the lines of what I have written above will hurt her.

Maybe I will just generally suggest counselling. sad. I guess my fear is that when you fixate on something in such an unhealthy manner, you rarely get it. sad. sad.

Lavenderhoney Thu 09-May-13 20:24:49

Yes, people can sense when someone is desperate. They want to move too fast, expect too much and are almost always let down by someone who might have been ok if expectations weren't so high.

To be honest, all those events attract couples, groups, groups of drunk blokes, single or attached, and groups of women single and attached out for a lovely time with their friends. They will chat, be nice, maybe take a number and then wobble off and forget about it. It's very artificial.

What sort of man is she looking for? From that list, rich is top? And glamorous sweep off your feet? Another dream maybe?

Activities and interests which are regular and show people in their normal day to day life are better really. Getting to know someone, common interests, seeing them in a relaxed setting.

Lots of women, whatever culture, feel pressure over 30. That's why they leave their home town and work in London or wherever- to escape from the marriage talk.

She doesn't take her folder on dates does she?smile

mermaid101 Thu 09-May-13 20:35:49

Although I think your friend's behavior sounds a little extreme, I recognize/empathize with her. I was single around her age and it felt like everyone around me was married.

The one thing I did feel was the most useful/helpful, was when friends didn't try to say that marriage wasn't always great and they missed being single etc. I can see now that they were trying to be helpful, but it appeared to me, at the time, to be patronizing and smug.

The friend I found the most supportive used to say " Mermaid, I KNOW. I hated being single and really wanted to get married. It's really hard going. I feel for you" Just having that "validation" was very comforting.

I think you sound like a very supportive friend. Does she socialize with other single women?

MrsSpagBol Thu 09-May-13 21:01:38

Lol lavenderhoney no the folder doesn't go on dates. Well, hopefully not!

Yes the man she is looking for. sigh. Whole other post needed.
High salary, she wants to be "kept", fairytale wedding, fairytale house in the "right" neighbourhood, holidays etc etc.
I've given up the ghost on trying to talk about the list of "requirements". I have exhausted the topic. I've tried and tried to tell her that you build things together as a couple, and that she should be open to someone who earns less than 6 figures etc but it's fruitless.

Someone upthread asked what my DH thinks of her. He finds her extremely high maintenacne and materialistic and we have agreed boundaries. I see her about once a month or so but he definitely doesn't want to be included on the invites, and he is not a fan. But he is happy for me to manage the friendship as I see fit.

She is not a cow by any means. Maybe immature. I see the materialism as a cover for something else. Self worth issues maybe?

I also can't be overly judgey because she "talks the talk and walks the walk". The things she says, she really does live out. There is no fakeness about it and she has always paid her own way. She spends about 6 (or SIXTY! lol) times what I do on getting her hair relaxed/straightened - so it's not fake. She really does spend that kind of money and would expect to continue to do so while married. Same thing with neighbourhood, she lives in a very upmarket borough and so it's not hypocritical per se for her to expect the same after marriage. I personally, don't live my life like that. But she is self funded, and it's what she expects. Those are her standards so I can't judge that.

mermaid thank you for your post. I really do try very hard not to come across as smug.

She used to socialise with other woman but has now, as part of this summer plan, scrapped "girls only outings" as she has decided that she doesn't want to go around as packs of women as it makes men less likely to approach her.

I have no views on that at the moment - I honestly haven't had the enery to analyse the thinking. PFB on the brain and all that. And I love my girly outings (book club, etc). But then as she'd point out, I would do - as I go home to my husband afterwards.

Having read and written all this, I really think we have passed the stage of normality. I will have to talk to her, somehow

Thank you all for being a sounding board.

Chubfuddler Thu 09-May-13 21:24:26

It's not normal. She's making herself miserable in the now chasing an unrealistic dream. I suggest she goes to relate or something.

QuintessentialOHara Thu 09-May-13 21:31:27

Your friend is a fruitloop and you an enabling saint.

Is she planning to marry another person or just have a wedding?

Maybe you can suggest buying a wedding experience?

I am sure you have posted about this before, and received good advice.

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