I have a friend whose lifestyle bothers me - half of me is envious and half of me is concerned. Since college graduation, I've been busting my tail to build a good future for myself. Meanwhile my friend seems content to work at low paying jobs that aren't going to take him anywhere and spends his free time partying, chasing girls, or doing other things he really can't afford but puts on his credit card - like a recent trip to Rio. It's like he's regressing to a really immature teenager, yet he seems to be having a lot more fun than me. Do I try to encourage him to grow up or do I take a cue from him and start enjoying my 'glory days' more? ~Bewildered Best Friend, 28, Los Angeles
Dear Bewildered Best Friend,
Sounds like your friend has a severe case of "adult-olescence;" his mindset is far below his numeric age and he continues to play at being an adolescent when he's really an adult. I often refer to it as the "Peter Pan Syndrome." Your friend is in Neverland -- a place outside of time where you get the freedoms of adulthood without all of the adult responsibilities of mortgages, spouses, children, aging parents, and all the other things that make eternal adolescence seem so appealing! But it can be a form of escapism, denial, and delayed adulthood, and it's accomplished by a lot of play, feelings of invincibility, and self-obsession.
So what do you do as his friend? Let's address the jealousy first. I'm sure listening to his stories about hooking up with Brazilian girls makes your cubicle driven life seem pathetic. On the surface, the Peter Pan Syndrome sounds attractive, but don't get too green with envy -- every Peter Pan eventually wakes up. In fact, underneath, most Peter Pans feel a twinge of fear and long for a sense of purpose. Living a fast-paced life while racking up debt is basically a way to avoid growing up. Your friend is using this carefree lifestyle as a way to ignore the underlying questions about the lack of direction he feels. His trips to Neverland will eventually come with reality checks - but it's not your job to give them to him.
All you can do is share from your own experience while not lecturing him so that your intent won't come off as condescending, nagging, or envious. Also, if you are consistently complaining about your job or the stress in your life, you aren't really the best poster-child for the responsibility route. Talk about the wins you are having along your career path and what you are learning about money. As he sees you achieving success in your life hopefully he will begin to see his choices and behavior are not supporting any long-term goals.
Also make sure you aren't inadvertently enabling his irresponsibility. Don't go along for evenings out all the time if you don't want to deal with adolescent behavior. If you think something he's doing is stupid, don't play along. And don't lend him any money if he's a little short and needs to get by. Let him know you will be happy to help him learn how to manage his money, but that you won't be a crutch. Take a look at the people he hangs out with the most. If they all have the same mindset, then he is remaining in a delusional comfort zone. Maybe reconnect him with old friends who are working towards goals. Keep in mind you can show your friend the possibilities, but it will be his choice to start learning and growing. If you try to force him, it may lead to feelings of resentment in your friendship. Sure, you don't like the image of him you see in 10 years if he doesn't change, but that is his life, not yours.
And speaking of your life, yes, you do need to take a cue from him in terms of having some fun. If your life is all work and no play, you are going to eventually burn out. It's important to do the things you really want to do before you have even more grown-up responsibilities. Life is all about balance, so don't neglect the guy inside who wants to have some fun. Every once in a while know it is ok to give yourself a trip to Neverland.
Please send me your questions by posting them in the comments section below. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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