How to be a good friend.

There’s a post up on the Times’ Parenting blog about how to tell a friend struggling with infertility that you’re pregnant:

I’m hoping for some advice on how to kindly and sensitively share news of a pregnancy with a friend who has spent roughly the last five years trying to conceive through a variety of methods with no success. She’s an absolutely wonderful, unselfish person, but I know that the last year especially has worn her down and that each successive pregnancy announcement makes her situation even harder.

I have been telling my close friends for weeks now. My friend should have been one of the first phone calls I made, but I am so worried about how it will make her feel that I find myself unable to pick up the phone. She was not even aware that my husband and I were trying to get pregnant — because we weren’t, though this was a very welcome surprise — so on top of it all, she will see another friend her age (we are both 36) getting pregnant effortlessly, making it even harder to share the news.

Any advice from Motherlode readers who have been on either side of this equation would be very much appreciated.

A lot of the comments are some variation of, “If she’s really a good friend she will be nothing but happy for you!” or, alternately, “You other commenters clearly do not understand infertility, she is going to be devastated and you should tell her over email so she can cry and don’t be upset if she doesn’t want to talk to you for a while!” But this doesn’t seem that complicated to me. Sometimes, you’re going to experience something that you know will cause a good friend to feel envious; sometimes you’ll feel envious of a friend’s good fortune. So just, you know, be nice. Be thoughtful. A few rules:

1. Tell your friends about the good things that happen to you in life. They are your friends! They will be happy for you!

2. But don’t be a jerk about it, you know? Think it through a little bit. If you know your friend is having trouble in a particular area of their own life, be sensitive to that. If they just ended a relationship, of course tell them if you get engaged, but don’t use them as your sounding board for all of your wedding-related complaints. If they’re unemployed, of course tell them if you get promoted, but don’t constantly vent about how much you hate your new responsibilities. If they’re having fertility issues, of course tell them if you get pregnant, but don’t make them your go-to for conversations about how much it sucks to be pregnant.

3. If you’re the friend experiencing the tough time, be happy for your friend to the best of your abilities. Their happiness is not the cause of, or even really related to, your unhappiness. Happiness and good things are not zero-sum games; there is enough to go around. So focus on the happy feelings. And even if you aren’t actually 100% happy, let your friend have their happy moment, and don’t make it All About You.

4. But also take responsibility and take care of yourself. You can’t control all of your emotions, even if you know they’re irrational or unfair. If it absolutely breaks your heart to see a friend with a baby / a job / a partner / whatever, you are allowed those feelings, and they don’t make you bad or selfish. What does make you selfish is if you expect your friend to temper their happiness for you, or if you act negatively toward them because they are happy in a way you are not, or if you cut off the friendship or otherwise damage or compromise it out of jealousy. It’s ok to take a temporary step back from a friendship if you’re aware that the friendship is hurting you and you are going to act unkindly toward your friend. But if a friend’s happiness is going to torpedo the friendship — when they aren’t being a gloating jerk about it but are only, you know, happy to be having a baby / getting married / getting promoted / whatever — that’s something you maybe need to talk through with a therapist. If you find that you’re experiencing feelings of bitterness or anger toward your friend instead of just toward the unfairness of life generally, you need someone who can help you to work through your feelings productively. Because this is life, you know? Sometimes shit goes really wrong, and other people have things that you wish you had. Sometimes those things are huge fucking things, like a child. Jealousy is natural and ok. Being a dick to your friends is not.

5. That is why it’s good to have a wide circle of friends, and not depend on one person for all of your emotional needs. We’re not all going to be capable of being 100% emotionally supportive of each other at all times, and knowing when to step up and when to step back is part of being a good friend. Understanding that sometimes a person just can’t be there for you is also part of being a good friend. Understanding who to call and when is part of being a good friend. If you’re dealing with awful backaches and nausea from pregnancy, you deserve a friend who will listen to you talk about that! But maybe don’t call the friend who is having fertility problems. If your job is frustrating and your boss is being an ass, you deserve time to vent! But maybe don’t vent to the friend who just got laid off. If wedding planning is a nightmare, you deserve to complain about that! But maybe not to the friend whose boyfriend just moved out.

Etc etc.

22 comments for “How to be a good friend.

  1. March 9, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Good advice. I tackled a variant of this in my column last week: guidelines for posting/responding to complaints/good news on Facebook.

  2. gratuitous_violet
    March 9, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    Long time reader coming out of lurk to say two things:

    Jill, you’re really thoughtful and sensitive and you sound like you’d be a wonderful friend. This advice is dead on.

    And two, maybe reading feministe since 2006 has made me cynical, but I already started making popcorn for this thread…

  3. Katya
    March 9, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    I wish I had something to add to this post, but I don’t. Nice job.

  4. Falcon
    March 9, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Great post, Jill. You sound like a wonderful friend.

    I would also let the infertile friend know that she is welcome to participate in as much or as little baby stuff as she likes. I would not want her to feel banned from showers and the like, but I would want her to know that I would not be insulted or hurt if that sort of thing is just too painful.

  5. EG
    March 9, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    I would also add that, personally, I would be upfront with the friend and acknowledge that this could be very difficult for her. “Sweetie [if you call your friends “sweetie,” which I do],” you could say, “I’ve had some wonderful news that I’m really happy about–but I also know this could make you feel bad, so I want you to know that if you’re in a place where you don’t want to talk about it, I will completely understand.”

  6. EmbraceYourInnerCrone
    March 9, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    This is very good advise and I have been the person struggling with infertility and multiple miscarriages (including one that required a D&C).

    The hardest part for me was always friends who didn’t know what to say so they totally ignored the fact of the miscarriages. I personally think EG’s suggestion is perfect, it acknowledges the other persons difficulties but also lets them decide what level of participation they are OK with. And to give you the un-asked-for end of my story, after 10 years we had my wonderful smart daughter who is now 17 and starting college(Yay Physics!)

  7. March 9, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    This is a really great post Jill. Having been on both sides (being the stupidly fertile one whose friend was struggling to conceive, and being perpetually single and lonely one while my sister planned her wedding) I think what you have said here rins true.

  8. Lolagirl
    March 9, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    I agree this is pretty sound advice. As an (until recently) intractiblly infertile gal I would also throw in a mention to avoid any and all assvice of any kind when talking to one’s infertile friend. This includes any talk of God’s intentions or plans/destiny/luck, any advice to relax or de-stress, or mention of how your infertile cube mate/neighbor/cousin Betty got pregnant finally by whatever means. Don’t tiptoe around her, but try to understand that while she will try to be happy for you she will likely feel quite conflicted in her happiness for your happy news and her sadness over her current lack of pregnantness.

  9. Yan
    March 9, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    In my last year of college, a good friend taught me this. We had the same major, and were both applying to graduate schools, but in different areas. When I got accepted, I hesitated to tell her because she’d been rejected by her top choices. She was so incredibly gracious and happy for me, and she showed me how to be that way.

    Many years later, we’ve both gotten out of grad school and have careers we love in two completely different fields, so it’s evened out well for us both.

  10. EG
    March 9, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    This includes any talk of God’s intentions or plans/destiny/luck, any advice to relax or de-stress

    This is excellent advice concerning anybody going through anything difficult, in my opinion.

  11. Rose
    March 10, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    I’ve actually been on both side of this fertility divide, the no-baby friend and the happily-but-uncomfortably pregnant friend (to different people, and in different decades of life). I second all the great advice here, and add, trust your friend to be as happy for you as she can in whatever way she can, and give her space and comfort to feel how she needs to. And never, EVER, tell her that she’s “lucky” or “will get her turn someday”.

  12. Falcon
    March 10, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    This is excellent advice concerning anybody going through anything difficult, in my opinion.

    Indeed, God’s will/destiny talk is one of the most colossal dick moves possible.

  13. DouglasG
    March 11, 2012 at 10:20 am

    #5, well stated by Ms Jill, makes me recall Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede and the monastery precept, “Have as many particular friends as you can, but not one.”

  14. NC73
    March 13, 2012 at 11:23 am

    I’ve got to say, this is really helpful. I recently got engaged (yay!) and asked my lifelong best friend to be my MoH. She was thrilled to be asked. But I am trying to be really sensitive about it at the same time; she’s been through a real mess of relationships and bad breakups the past few years and is still single despite desperately wanting to not be. While I know it would have hurt her even more if I didn’t ask her to be my MoH (seriously, she’s my girl), and I also know that she’s legitimately, honestly happy for me and she’s not the type to be bitter about other people’s good fortune, I respect that this whole engagement/wedding process might be hard for her. So despite her being my MoH, I want to be sensitive to her feelings too, and luckily I have other married friends whom I can go to when I want to vent about wedding planning – they’ve been there, done that.

    Seriously, thanks for this post, it really highlights the way I feel about this stuff. I’m glad to get some confirmation that I’m doing everything I can to be a good friend.

  15. NC73
    March 13, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Indeed, God’s will/destiny talk is one of the most colossal dick moves possible.

    Oh, WORD. I am an atheist and do not believe in God, so maybe I’m a little biased here, but seriously, how is this supposed to be in any way comforting, even to people who do believe in God? In fact, doesn’t that make it worse? Like, so God’s will is to keep me from having the baby (or relationship/job/whatever) I desperately want? Well fuck, thanks, God.

    Not trying to derail anything, but seriously, people-who-are-comforting-their-friends: don’t do this. Ever.

  16. Lolagirl
    March 13, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Like, so God’s will is to keep me from having the baby (or relationship/job/whatever) I desperately want? Well fuck, thanks, God.

    Yep. Especially since there are so many terrible people out there who reproduce with such ease. I just can’t abide the tortured sort of logic that tries to excuse such awfulness while still accepting that somehow I and my husband are not good enough or deserving enough to have children. Worry about your own eternal soul and leave me and my uterus the hell out of it.

  17. EG
    March 13, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    Hey NC73, in order to stick up for the chronically single everywhere let me beg you not to do what my cousin did when I was her bridesmaid. As we were instructed on how the dancing was supposed to go (first my cousin and her new husband, then they dance with in-laws, and then…), the person in charge said “And then, the members of the bridal part should get their partners and dance.” At which point my cousin shouted out “EG, you can dance with the best man!” and I decided to murder her in her sleep at the very next opportunity. No! Do not do this! If a member of your bridal party is single, particularly if she is the only single person, do not make her put her singleness on display! Also, do not seat her next to some random single dude. We can tell when you are doing this to us, and we do not like it. Also, we will decide for ourselves if we are going to participate in the bouquet toss. Do not under any circumstances try to cajole, coax, or nag your friend into participating if she would rather not.

  18. March 13, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    luckily I have other married friends whom I can go to when I want to vent about wedding planning – they’ve been there, done that.

    This is good.. My sister and I go into a huge fight because I felt like she was getting hung up on petty details and upset about stupid shit and why are you getting so stressed when all that matters is that you get to marry this amazing guy. She called me out for being jealous and I said well yes of course I am and ugh… It just wasn’t pretty. We worked things out, but yeah.. Vent to your married friends. It’s safer.

  19. NC73
    March 19, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    No! Do not do this! If a member of your bridal party is single, particularly if she is the only single person, do not make her put her singleness on display!

    Oh my fuck. Really? These stories are the ones that make me shudder and seriously check every single thing I’m doing, because I have heard so many brides-behaving-badly stories that I think I’m developping an anxiety complex out of my sheer terror that I might do something terrible to the people I love. (Anxiety issues and an overactive guilty conscience are something I deal with on a regular basis anyway, so wedding planning is not exactly stress-free for me.) I swear, I would never humiliate my single friends like that! And I don’t understand forcing participation in silly things like bouquet tossing on people. Like, whatever, if you don’t want to stand in a throng of ladies and try to catch some flowers due to a silly tradition, it’s hardly going to ruin my wedding.

  20. Falcon
    March 19, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Like, whatever, if you don’t want to stand in a throng of ladies and try to catch some flowers due to a silly tradition, it’s hardly going to ruin my wedding.

    YAY An anti-bridezilla!

  21. Blah
    March 22, 2012 at 9:45 am

    I’m late to this, because my only other comment didn’t get through, but I still feel it’s important that it be seen.

    I don’t remember exactly how it went, so I’ll summarize.

    It’s also of serious importance (IMO) if you want to be a good friend, to not tell your friend that’s on her 5th miscarriage, (and 3rd D&C) just how hard your ONE SINGLE ABORTION was.

    Don’t tell her just how much “pain and loss” you suffered when you aborted a 5 week fetus that you didn’t want, and spoke very harshly of not wanting.

    That sounds a little personal. Might just be.

    Just… don’t try to act like an abortion of an unwanted fetus is in any way as painful or upsetting as 5 (…or any other number) dead DESPERATELY WANTED fetuses.

  22. Falcon
    April 2, 2012 at 1:27 am

    @21 Or any number of abortions! I think more is worse here and leads one to start screaming “YOU COULD HAVE HAD HOW MANY BABIES?!”

    I am so sorry for your loss.

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