Six months ago a group of friends started a weekly coffee get-together to stay connected and celebrate the positive side of life. In that time our friendship has strengthened and I believe a special bond is forming that I would like to continue, but it is in jeopardy. One of our friends continues to hijack the conversation to use it as a therapy session and even though time is given to listen and give advice, she will not stop going in circles. When we try to branch off onto another topic, she will have a story that eventually brings it back to her issues. This week, two friends told me she is driving them crazy and they are not sure if they can continue to come. We all want coffee time to continue and I want to help my friend. How can I do both?
Your friend sounds like a real … hmmm, not quite sure what the word is for it, I may have to make one up – maybe of those Germanic-type compounds … How about: koffeeklatschenjammer? Your friend is a real koffeeklatschenjammer. Definition: someone who brings social occasions involving hot caffeinated beverages to a medium-fine-grinding halt with long, boring, solipsistic soliloquies. Her cold-beverage counterpart: the bierhausblottobore.
I don't have that problem in my world. My friends love to talk about interesting topics and only about themselves when the story falls into that category. What a bunch of interruptenheimers, though! I say this with great affection. They are "live wires," and I know it's all part of the cut and thrust of social intercourse, but it's getting impossible to tell a story of any length any more.
"That's it, I'm just gonna abandon this anecdote," I had to say at a get-together recently. "Too many interruptions." It was a good one, too, full of cops and teenagers and other hair-raising components …. Anyway, onto your friend. I have a theory: People who are overly focused on their problems are often adrift in life. They're not busy enough, so have a tendency to fluff their footling "issues" into a frothy foam, same way a barista makes milk for a macchiato or cappuccino: by stirring them around a lot and applying frequent injections of hot air.
So if you genuinely care about your koffeeklatschenjammer friend, your long-term goal should be trying to help her regain her sense of purpose and direction in life, so she can put her problems in perspective – i.e. in her back pocket and not in a giant rucksack she upends at your coffee klatsches.
Meanwhile, in the short term, I see no reason you couldn't form a splinter group – a breakaway klatsch. That may seem harsh, but if your self-involved friend is derailing your interactions with people whom you feel could one day become close friends, decisive action is called for.
If she catches wind of this splinter klatsch, all the better. Maybe it's time to drop some "tough love" on her: "You're burning everyone's beans by endlessly pouring over the same grounds. We love you, we want to talk about you some of the time, but we also want to talk about other things, too."
Phrase it however you like. Just say what's in your heart. Have a Spanish coffee first if you need to bolster your courage. (Personally I wonder if your group wouldn't be better off switching to non-caffeinated, alcohol-infused drinks, e.g chardonnay, but maybe that's just me.)
Sound like impractical, non-real-world advice? I don't think so. My friends may be a bunch of unrepentant interruptenheimers, but I love them all fiercely, and when one of them recently brought up something that was stuck in his craw vis-à-vis me, I was really glad he did.
He was all frosty and businesslike at first (cough cough WASP-y cough cough) then I could tell he made the decision just to blurt it out: "Listen, Dave, there's something I've been wrestling with…"
And I was so happy he did. Because here's the thing: If he hadn't, I wouldn't have had a clue about the thing that was bothering him.
And I can almost give you my Damage Control patented Absofreakinlute Guaranfriggintee™ your friend has no clue about her koffeeklatschenjamming, either.
She may feel hurt and/or angry. But look at it this way: You're doing her a favour, in the long run. Better to feel a little zinged for a while than to have people slowly tiptoe/moonwalk away from her socially, which is what is bound to happen over time.
Let her brew and stew over it a while. But only give her the keys to get back in the klatsch if she dials back her me-me-me monologues and starts to "show willing" to take a back seat and listen a little more.
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