Helpful or Hurtful?
When does someone’s “friendly” advice cross the line and turn unhelpful or even hurtful? Is unsolicited advice really an effort at friendship and support, or is it bossiness and ego/arrogance disguised as being helpful? These questions have been going through my mind a lot lately, especially since coming back to New York after my two-week hiatus in Minneapolis at the end of May. Being new in New York City brings out the “expert” pretty quickly in a lot of people–especially people who aren’t even original New Yorkers, I’ve noticed.
I freely admit that I’ve had a very tough time trying to move here, and anybody who communicates with me on a regular basis and/or sees my Facebook status updates should also know this. Moving to New York City is hard. It can chew you up and spit you out, is the phrase I often hear. The stress, the insanely fast pace, the traffic, the throngs of people everywhere, the transportation, the housing market, the high expense of nearly EVERYTHING, the congestion, the impatient and often-rude people–it’s tough. It’s especially tough coming from the Midwest, where people are extremely “nice” and polite all the time and you drive a car everywhere and rent won’t break your bank account (and spirit). But it’s even tougher moving to New York when you are not a “normal” healthy person. Trying to live in a huge new city and figure out even the little daily “life stuff” when you have an exhausting and painful chronic illness is unspeakably difficult. Unfortunately, many of the advice-givers and New York “experts” don’t understand this. And even more frustrating and disappointing is that some of these “helpful” advice-givers are (were) friends.
There are three friends in particular I’m thinking of right now–two of them have recently become ex-friends, which is really upsetting, and I’m on the fence about the other one. Just a couple weeks ago I was shocked to get “dumped” by two of these new(ish) “New York friends,” one right after the other. We met in November through a mutual Minneapolis friend during my trip to Jersey City, NJ (and NYC) and stayed in touch while I was back home in Minneapolis making plans to move to New York–completely anxious and nervous and mostly clueless as to how to go about doing it. Both women were very helpful, giving me housing tips and job advice and support with other questions and concerns I had about moving and living there. I appreciated their help a lot and I made sure to express my gratitude. So great, right? It seemed like I would have two new friends waiting for me when I arrived, in addition to my fellow Minnesotan. Well, once again, I learned how you should apparently never assume anything. The expectation and hope of developing stronger friendships with these women suddenly shattered in a matter of two days, via rude judgmental texts and Facebook messages. They couldn’t even “break up” with me in person, which I found insulting and felt like an extra punch in the face.
So why the break up? As far as I can tell, both women got annoyed with me “complaining” on Facebook about the challenges I was having recently moving to the city, and they didn’t have the patience for it or for me. I wouldn’t want to hang around someone who’s constantly complaining and negative and b****ing either. That’s understandable. Except my posts weren’t only “negative,” ones. I was writing about all different kinds of experiences I was having–good, bad, funny, weird, random. Admittedly, I was doing some venting (but not that bad, honestly!), basically because I didn’t have anybody to talk to. I was lonely and I needed to let it out! As soon as I left Jersey City April 20th (I had been there that weekend for a health conference), which is where the Minnesota friend lives, I was essentially on my own in Brooklyn, trying to figure out everything alone. And deal with everything alone, while being constantly exhausted and fighting RA pain.
The Minnesota friend fell off the face of the earth as soon as I moved to Brooklyn, for some reason. No texts or emails “hello, how are you?” or anything. However she did find the time to leave bossy, passive aggressive comments on my Facebook page regarding my struggles finding an apartment to rent, with one of the other women chiming in to agree with her and add to the judgment. Probably needless to say, this tactic of “supporting” me didn’t lift my spirits or help with motivation. Instead it dragged me down further and made me feel worse and like more of a failure. Thanks for the “help,” friends.
The text “break up letter” I received recently from the Brooklyn friend outlined all of my unwarranted negativity in these infamously b****y (I guess?) Facebook posts of mine. Here’s an excerpt:
“There is a reason everyone says NYC is tough; maybe everyone’s warnings to you about that were their subtle way of saying it would be a difficult transition and maybe not a good idea. The things you are finding most difficult according to your FB posts, are things you HAD to have known about beforehand, like noise, transportation, housing and not being near friends. If they were understandable issues, like a difficult job hunt or a bad breakup or the death of a parent, I think a lot more people would be sympathetic. But frankly we are all battling humidity, train delays, loneliness, loud neighbors, crazy rent, etc…”
The funny thing is, I had also been dealing with a bad breakup of sorts (which I did not write about on Facebook) AND I wound up getting fired from my long-term temp job two days after she sent me this message. Sigh.
Well anyway, I was having a drink with a lovely new friend, my roommate (the girl whose couch I rented April 20 – May 10), when I received this text in response to a very nice one I had sent inviting her to get together soon. My roommate got quiet as she watched me read the message and tears welled up in my eyes. Granted, the now ex-friend and I didn’t really know each other that well or that long, but to be unfairly dumped, because of Facebook, didn’t seem right. Especially when I had been trying so hard to make things work and go well. She clearly didn’t get me or know who I was at all. The rejection was disappointing and hurtful, but even more disappointing because I thought she would be understanding since she has also suffered from significant health issues over the years, which is something we bonded over together (the evil side effects of prednisone, difficulty dealing with illness). She apparently had no problem dishing out advice and self-righteous judgment but when I needed someone to be actually understanding and empathetic, she was out the door. And I certainly felt it slam in my face!
Oddly enough, the very next morning I awoke to an assault of similar messages from the other New York friend (who actually lives in Jersey City) via Facebook messenger. What? I couldn’t believe it. Her comments were even more rude and hostile with her telling me to go back to Minneapolis. What? Like the other “friend,” she referenced my negativity on Facebook about the challenges and frustrations I was dealing with, yet with seemingly hyper-sensitivity, lectured me as though she were my mother or teacher about New Yorkers and all things New York implying that I was an ignorant ungrateful idiot. Then she unfriended me. Wow, two days in a row? And again, because of Facebook? I tried to explain and defend myself but she wouldn’t listen. I even asked her, “Do you even look at all of the GOOD, positive things I write about?” She didn’t answer. This friend-dump was similarly disappointing and surprising to the other one because she and I also had talked a lot and bonded over health issues. Like me, she deals with chronic pain on a daily basis, and in her ankles (also like me), so she should know how difficult it is trying to move to a big city like NYC when some days you can barely walk.
These friendship rejections, two days in a row, crushed my self-esteem and self-confidence and basically just made me feel like s*** and even more alone. But it also taught me some lessons and made me think about the nature of friendships and relationships and what really makes a good friend. These women were there for me when things were going well, my Facebook statuses were bright and sunny (ok, I’m probably exaggerating there a bit), and they were happy to share their knowledge of NYC with me. But when things started getting really tough and I sometimes briefly voiced my real feelings about it online (I was not writing long, miserable rants every day about how much I hate NYC, by the way), they had no patience for me. And patience is a big thing when it comes to real friendship, I think. When someone’s having a hard time, it’s easy to spout out advice to try to “fix” the problem. But really, I think people who do this, offer their “help” in this way, just don’t have the patience or empathy to really be there for someone. To listen. A kind, patient ear is sometimes the best way you can help and support someone else, I think. All of the directions, and unsolicited advice, and rides to the airport can’t beat that.
These friends are gone, but I definitely have room and patience in my own heart for some new ones. And maybe now I’ll be more selective about who gets to see my mostly silly Facebook posts.