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damage control

The question

I have a friend who is constantly pontificating to me and lecturing and criticizing me. She has been doing well for herself lately and I haven’t as much, so she feels superior and is always telling me what I should do and how I should act and what moves I should make when it comes to my career and my love life and basically everything else. We’ve been friends a long time and I don’t want to lose her friendship but I’m getting tired of her lectures. Can you suggest some way I can get her to stop bossing me around without alienating her?

The answer

Sometimes it seems to me that, here in 2019, all anyone everywhere seems to do is, as you say, pontificate and criticize and lecture.

Take Twitter – please (old joke I know, but hey). I know it has its uses. Excellent for the dissemination of information, a critical tool for journalists and so on – but try being in any way, shape or form in the public eye and making what the Twitterverse considers a misstep, and criticism will come down upon you like darkness, like tanks on an innocent peasant village.

Happened to a friend of mine recently. I told him: “Don’t take it seriously. It’s like the writing above a urinal. It’s the anonymity of it all. It emboldens people to say things they would never say to your face in, for instance, your living room.”

Lately, it has also come to my attention that the upshot of many a social interactions is: One is judged. Even over the phone, one is judged. And one doesn’t even want to get started on the topic of office politics. Wherever humans gather or interact, there is going to be judgment.

It’s coming to the point where I think: Why do I leave the house or interact with anyone ever, at all? Why don’t I just become an urban hermit?

But my bigger question is: Where does everyone get the energy/stones to criticize everyone else?

When I was growing up and some other kid would criticize me, my mother would always say: “Consider the source.”

Wise words, I now realize. My own reformulation of that statement (a little cryptic, I suppose) is: “Everyone should look into their own backyard.”

Or as Jesus said: “He that is without sin amongst you, let him cast the first stone.”

In a way, you could (almost) thank your friend for pontificating and lecturing and criticizing you to your face and not behind your back, as most people are wont to do.

I suppose some people might suggest you push back in some way, but I don’t see the advantage in that. That’d just cause friction as far as I can imagine.

I’ve said before: “We teach people how to treat us.” In the case of your friend, it almost sounds as if you have to train her.

There was a great article in The New York Times several years ago called What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage. The premise might offend some, but the author, Amy Sutherland, was feeling annoyed with her husband, what with him leaving his dirty socks on the floor and whatnot. At the same time, she was writing about how trainers get animals to do tricks (e.g. seals to balance balls on their noses, baboons to do flips, etc.).

She had an “aha” moment where she realized she would use the same techniques on her husband – and it worked! She became less annoyed, which is probably all any of us can realistically ask of a co-habitational arrangement.

(I’m always telling my wife: “As annoying as you find me, you would probably find some other dude even more annoying.” Her answer: “Huh. Good point.” True love!)

Amy Sutherland used mostly praise-based techniques on her husband. But I think, with your friend, you should use a combination of praise and “gotta go” techniques.

Please allow me to explain. If she says something nice, thank her (thus encouraging her Shamu-like to say more nice things).

If she starts lecturing or pontificating or criticizing say, “You know what? I gotta go” and get off the phone or beat it out of the restaurant or whatever.

(If in a restaurant, you could even use your phone as a prop: “Oh, wow, something’s come up, I gotta go.”)

Eventually she should get the hint.

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