When I was a kid, my mom once bought a bag of Smarties for a treat. She would dole out a couple after dinner for my sister and me. They were, I suppose, to keep us from beating each other up while she took her shower. This worked for my sister, but I was a gobbler who finished my Smarties before the shower even started running. So I climbed up on the counter to reach the top cabinet where she hid them. Each night I would grab four or five more. The only problem to this brilliant scheme is that I failed to realize that one day the bag would be empty.
And so one day it was. And my mother was angry. And things did not turn out well for me.
Oddly, I thought about this childhood episode while talking to a friend last week. There is no doubt that he is going through a difficult time. And his friends have rallied around him. But he has failed to realize that he is close to depleting their goodwill.
If any of his friends mentions a problem, he immediately says something like, “I wish my problems were that tiny.” Every discussion has become a litany of miseries that everyone else must listen to. Even neutral topics can’t remain neutral for long as he manages to twist the subject around to how awful his life is.
It is clear that more and more friends are falling away, and this makes him even angrier as he sees this as another example of how terrible life is: he doesn’t even have decent friends.
I’ve been where he is, and it is hard to see beyond one’s own pain. But there has to be give and take. If you want to consider someone a friend, then you have to be willing to accept that their problems are legitimate, that their needs are valid, and occasionally you’re going to have to be the one who listens.
It doesn’t have to be 50/50. People will give you credit for trying. But just like my bag of Smarties, if you’re always taking from the friend account and never replenishing, then one day, there will be nothing left.