Evelyn asks: I have been working on making new friends. I have a new(ish) ‘friend’ who decided to tell a group we were hanging with, a story about what happened when we were camping. Thing is, she changed it so I looked like a bad person, or at least not very considerate. I sat there very surprised. I did speak up and said, “No, that’s not what happened, this is what really happened.“ This is not the first time she’s tried to make me look bad, especially when men are around. I’ve defended myself so far. She also seems to have to be the centre of attention. Now I feel very guarded around her, she threw me under the bus. I am considering saying something directly about it, now that I see it’s a pattern, yet wonder if I would be better off just to cut my losses.
One of the questions we’re often faced with in new relationships of all kinds is, Is this OK? As in, is what they’re saying/doing or how I’m feeling/thinking about it OK? We ask this question because we’re experiencing discomfort, which is our cue to be more boundaried, which some of us find just as hard to do with new people as we do with more familiar folk, sometimes even more so.
Let’s be real: we don’t make new friends or in fact new relationships full stop, with quite the ease that we did when we were younger and for some of us, it’s never been easy. For instance, a significant portion of the BR tribe that I’ve met or conversed with have traumatic experiences of friendship that still influence their self-esteem as well as their confidence in friendships today. I’ve come across women who don’t trust any women, men and women who don’t seem to realise that their ‘best friend’ is their tormenter, people who have given up on friendship altogether and experience grief and loneliness, and people who are stuck in a rut with their high school circle of friends.
You haven’t divulged the ins and outs of what happened while camping but that’s neither here nor there: She recounted the story in such a way that you felt sufficiently embarrassed and as if your character was being cast in a certain light so that your friend could either enhance her reputation in this social circle or so that she could distract from herself by cutting you down.
As it’s a new friendship, you not only don’t have an established pattern on which to draw wider inferences about her overall character, motives or even backstory, but when she behaves in this manner amongst other people who are new to you, it speaks to that base fear of looking ‘the fool’ and ‘uncool’ amongst peers who we want to impress or at the very least, fit in with.
Friendship plays an important role in our sense of belonging and security. While we might have family who we feel that we can express our innermost feelings and thoughts with, friendships do represent the family we would choose for ourselves, if we have the self-knowledge, self-awareness and self-esteem to do so of course.
What strikes me in your story, Evelyn, is that this relatively new friend behaves in a manner that has the potential to significantly impact not just on the dynamic of the friendship but also your self-image, if you allow her. Now you could take enemy binoculars and draw the conclusion that she’s out to destroy you and even see her behaviour as a reflection of you, or you through compassionate binoculars you could see it for what it is: