Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Judgmental Friend

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 13, 2012

Amruti, my fifty-eight year old female patient, relates a story to me about her connection to a long-term friend, Kirsten, age sixty-three, whom she met when they were both raising their sons who are now in their mid-twenties. “Kirsten told me about her younger daughter who was going to a high-end college and that really hit me hard,” Amruti says. “Since high-end meant that other colleges were low-end,” I said, tuning into the knife of judgment that Amruti felt. “Yes, that is it, exactly,” Amruti says with enthusiasm in the recognition that I understood her reaction. “I just felt like Kirsten must be so judgmental, and yet, I have known her for years, and yes, I have seen that part of her, but it has never hit me like it did last week,” Amruti says with confusion and curiosity. “Why do you think you were so sensitive to it?” I ask, with the same confusion and curiosity. “I just think that we needed each other when we were raising our kids. We were two working parents in a world in which most moms were at home. We had to join forces and overlook our personality clashes. Now that our kids are grown, we are less dependent on one another, and so our flaws, or at least my perception of her flaws, are more obvious and more painful.” Amruti says with striking clarity of thought and interesting insight. “In other words, friends use each other to get through hard times, and then when those hard times are over, the friendship is sometimes challenged.” I say, understanding how friendships sometimes end, but also sharing Amruti’s curiosity about how relationships can change over decades. “The knife of judgment is off-putting,” I say,  repeating Amruti’s dilemma. “Yes, I am not sure how to handle it. I have to think about whether I will confront her on that, but I don’t think it will do any good. I can’t stop her from bragging about her daughter.” Amruti says. “No, but you can tell her how it made you feel.” I say. “Yes, I am not sure she cares,” Amruti responds. “Well, if that is true, that tells you a lot about the relationship.” I say, stating the obvious. “Yea, it is sad,” Amruti replies, “but I am not sure if I am reading the situation correctly. I think I will think about it some more.” Amruti says, returning to her confused state. “It makes sense to give yourself time to ponder this relationship.” I say, stating that quick decisions in these situations do not make sense. “Yea, but I certainly did not like the sting.” Amruti reminds me. “Yep, I am sorry about that,” I say, understanding the “sting,” but also thinking that Amruti must have a certain sensitivity about college status as well. That sensitivity, I will discuss with her another day. This session was about reflecting on the friendship. It was interesting.
“Image (c) 2005 Tony LaRocca”

4 Responses to “The Judgmental Friend”

  1. Jon said

    Some friendships may not survive the test of time once some of the bonding that took place has dissolved. While it is sad to lose a friend, it may happen for this or other reasons. The caring of friendship is part of what gives life meaning.

    Deep friendships have many bonds. They may be able to survive the loss of one or many bonds. It is much sadder to lose a deep friend.

    Amruti has learned that her friend was not a deep friend. That is a painful thing to learn.

    • I am not sure that Amruti has learned that Kirsten was not a deep friend, as much as she learned that she was able to convince herself of a friendship, because she needed a friendship and now that that need has passed, she can look back and see her own self-deception in the relationship. In some ways we are saying the same thing, although I would say that it is painful to learn how much one can lie to oneself, when one feels one has to. Thanks, as always.

  2. Shelly said

    I wouldn’t say so much that Amruti has lost a friend so much as she discovered an aspect of her friend that she hadn’t recognized before and it made her uncomfortable. Why would KIrsten have a need, after all those years of sharing stories of raising their children together, to brag to Amruti about her daughter’s “high-end” college? I’m sure it made Amruti feel small, but what could it have meant, after so many years of friendship?

    • Yes, I agree with you Shelly, that it is not a black and white situation. They are still friends, but Amruti was injured by Kirsten’s comment, causing Amruti to look at their relationship more closely. Amruti concluded that when they felt they “needed” each other, while raising their kids, they were more guarded, and as the circumstances changed, there was a loosening of Kirsten’s judgmental nature. In other words, Kirsten was always judgmental, but maybe she kept it at bay, when the friendship was more critical to their life. Yes, one comment is not going to end their relationship, but it is going to make Amruti more aware, and perhaps more on guard, in future interactions. Maybe one way to say this, is their relationship is bruised, but not dead.

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