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Susan Shapiro Barash

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The Misery Lover in Your Life

Posted: 02/03/10 05:22 PM ET

In our ongoing quest for healthy friendships, those in which we feel appreciated, understood and where trust is at a premium, the misery lover's modus operandi isn't always immediately apparent. Since much of female bonding is environmental and age related, the misery lover starts out as a good friend to have. For example, the two of you share mutual interests and common experiences, which leads to trading confidences. Perhaps you both have controlling mothers-in-law, awful bosses, trying adolescent children. Or it might be that disappointing husband or long-standing partner that you have in common. Thus, you and your friend moan together over these topics and soothe each other when the going gets rough. This applies to women of all ages since the search for female friends who echo one's sentiments is compelling.

But in the case of the misery lover, it's all about you being down and out. This kind of friend functions best when, either both of you have a similar problem, or if you alone have a problem. In either case, she thrives on the negative and she'll go out of her way to comfort you -- while secretly rejoicing in your discontent. A big factor here is that this friend gets jealous of your happiness and therefore enjoys your unhappiness. This is all well and good until your circumstances change for the better and then she tends to disappear. Consider the following examples:

1) Two best friends hope to be pregnant within the next year and are so close that they are planning this together. When this happens for one friend and the other is faced with fertility issues, the tension kicks in. Rather than be genuinely congratulatory, the non-pregnant friend distances herself from the pregnant friend.

2) After two close friends endure many a lonely Saturday night watching Netflix, one woman meets a man and falls in love. Not only is she not available for these slated evenings, but she's stopped whining about not having a man in her life. Her friend who is still single is reluctant to listen to her good news and instead becomes icy.

3) Several women at work commiserate over unequal pay for equal work, sexism and tokenism and there's a strong sense of "being in it together." However, once one woman is promoted, her work friends feel left behind and aren't remotely interested in her good news.

4) A group of women who have been solid friends since their children were in kindergarten, sharing the concerns and burdens of motherhood, find themselves competitive as college acceptances come in. When one woman's daughter aces Harvard, the other mothers diminish this accomplishment.

5) Two best friends who have yo-yo dieted together for years are now estranged. One of the women lost 25 pounds and swears it has 'changed her life', while the other is still struggling with the first five pounds. Her friend's progress is unsettling and she feels she's lost her compatriot, so why hang around.

6) Two friends who have had similar experiences now have disparate lifestyles due to the economic downturn. The woman who has lost a great deal of money feels that her friend who is on solid financial ground is nosy and perversely curious about her money problems.

In any of the above scenarios, it isn't that the misery lover isn't committed to the friendship, but that she only appreciates it when her friend is miserable. She is also drawn to mutual suffering and when the playing field isn't level she exhibits envy and even jealousy. So, while being the object of affection for the misery lover is rewarding (because she understands your pain and likes to be there to help out), it only suffices as long as you are miserable and in need of her attention. Besides, this friend isn't keen on cheering for your turn around; she prefers you to wallow in misery. Still, there's no need to despair for her as you move on, grateful for your positive news. After all, the misery lover will find fresh prey until she discovers some happiness of her own.

 
 
 

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