Adapted from a recent online discussion.
A good friend has a habit that makes me crazy and I’d love to deal with it better. Whatever anyone says, she tries to put a positive spin on it. I realize I sound like a monster for being annoyed by this, but: She’ll ask how the weekend was, and I’ll say it was good but I was bummed that baseball was rained out, and she’ll say, “But I bet you got some great family time!” Or if I say the pool is chilly or the meal I had was just OK — always in response to her questions — she responds that at least we have a pool to go to, or it’s so nice that I got to try that restaurant.
I promise I’m not Debbie Downer. I think I have a positive but realistic attitude. I rarely complain. This need of hers to “Stay positive!” at all times is like nails on a chalkboard.
So do I just respond that the weekend/pool/meal/whatever was amazing and stay silent otherwise? Or is there a better way to deal with this?
— Positively Relentless
“I sound like a monster”: No, you don’t. She is negating you. Annoyance is a valid and understandable response to someone grabbing the last word all.the.time — and not about her own experience, but yours.
Does she mean it this way? Maybe, but probably not. A “good friend” presumably has many fine qualities. Plus, it’s also not hard to imagine she has retrained her own thinking toward gratitude in response to her own negative thoughts, and maybe forgot to put up the proper fencing between her own coping strategies and everyone else’s.
Either way, given the friendship, it might be interesting at least — and ideally useful — to ask her about it. “I’ve noticed you do that often — reframe things in terms of gratitude. Is that conscious, or a reflex, or … ? I sense there’s a story behind it.”
If a real conversation ensues, then you get to explain that you have a different way of handling invitations to commiserate.
You can also just come back with your truth whenever she does this: “Yes, I know I’m lucky — I am merely disappointed, and sometimes it’s nice to hear, ‘Yeah, that sucks,’ from my friend.”
Mine is relentlessly negative. And she brings me down. I say I had a good day, she launches into the litany of woes. Every day. I try to bright-side some of the things, and say “I’m sorry” for the others. But it is exhausting. And her complaints — huge house, husband who is good but not perfect, kid is a challenge — do seem tone-deaf to me sometimes since I am less wealthy, single, in the waning years of fertility.
How do you deal with a relentlessly negative friend without turning into the positive-spin person?
— Flip Side
You could have the bigger conversation, too, and just flip it. Say you notice that she doesn’t seem comfortable with where she is, and ask her if you’re reading that correctly.
At a certain point, though, it’s time to accept that some people are exhausting.
At least you have friends!
— Washington Post Writers Group