This is a weird question, but it falls in your area of expertise. I have about a half-dozen friends (male and female) who are basically losers- terrible in relationships, unhappy with their lives, yet make no effort to change things. We’ve been friends since college, and we are all in our late thirties now. In college, it was funny that these people could never seem to get a relationship to stick. They have even tried dating each other (often with disastrous results). Most of them are overweight, work in dead-end jobs, and drink and smoke regularly.
As I’ve grown up, gotten married, and moved on with my life, I find myself less and less inclined to spend my time with them, mostly because we have so little in common, and while hanging out and having a beer once in a while is fun, it’s not what I want to do every single weekend. I have a family and I don’t wish to expose my kids to drinking, smoking, etc. So we don’t hang out all the time like we used to.
I don’t feel drawn to help them. I don’t want to get them in better shape, improve their love lives or help them find meaning in their lives. I think I just want to understand them better.
Why, when everyone else in the world around them is going places, do these six people seem to be stuck in their “my life is terrible and I’m never going to find someone” phase of life? Will they be like this until they die (prematurely, from heart disease or lung cancer) or will I ever get my old friends back?
His friends are losers, babyyyyy…
We all have friends that we outgrow. It happens when we’re very young–at 11, the family friend we’ve played with since age 5 suddenly annoys us; at 17, the friends we’ve had since middle school don’t seem to understand us anymore–and when we become adults with new lives or families of our own. And while I haven’t quiiiiite reached middle age…yet (sob), I imagine it happens at that stage, too, and perhaps later on as well.
I don’t think all your friends are lost souls. Some people are late bloomers. When I was 23 I was talking to a friend’s dad and fretting that I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. He said, “Until I was 30, I was drinking myself stupid every night and pissing the bed. You’ll be just fine.” This man is currently a big effing deal at a university in Chicago, well-respected in his field, and many years sober. It just took him a little longer to figure it out.
I also think it’s likely that there are mental health issues present with some of these people. Substance abuse often indicates depression or anxiety, as does lack of motivation, and an inability to form meaningful relationships. I’m not trying to excuse their inertia but most people do manage to create lives for themselves beyond the status quo of college. Most people don’t want hangovers every Saturday and Sunday night when they’re 30. Most people don’t want to be perpetually dating when they’re 40. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule (I’m looking at you, Clooney!) but in those cases, healthy people make the decision to stay single, instead of sort of passively accepting whatever life is throwing at them.
Finally, there’s the element of chance. The people who irk us, who live their lives in what we perceive to be a wasteful manner…that can be any of us. The right set of circumstances can lead us down a path that’s hard to dig our way out of. The woman whose first boyfriend verbally abuses her might have her self-esteem so thrashed she continues dating losers her whole life. The man who severely injures his back in a car crash in his twenties might find himself addicted to painkillers in his thirties. Which leads me to lend voice to what some readers are probably thinking, which is, geez, what’s this guy’s problem, doesn’t he have any compassion at all?
I see both sides, Inquisitive. I know it’s frustrating to see people just existing, without any purpose. You want to slap them out of their apathy–“For the love of God, man, care about something!” But I also think these people deserve kindness, and perhaps the benefit of the doubt. Think about the last line of your email: “Will I ever get my old friends back?” These are your old friends. From your own mouth, they haven’t changed. They booze, they mess up relationships, they’re flaky–they were like this in college (as was yours truly). The difference now? You’ve moved on but they haven’t. No need to be friends with people you dislike or disrespect, but a little perspective might be in order.
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