I'm having trouble with my high school friend

My best friend since seventh grade is acting weird and I don't know what to do.

Published May 16, 2006 12:08PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

You probably don't answer letter from teenagers very often, but I need some advice. I am at odds with one of my friends, and I'm sick of dealing with it. We have been friends for four years, starting in seventh grade. At one point, mainly between eighth grade and freshman year of high school, I guess we were best friends.

Anyway, over the past year, things have gotten really bad. First of all, her family is a little screwed up, her mother and father fight a lot, and she is an only child. Through my friendship with her, I have tried to be supportive, even offering to let her stay at my house or hang out with me when she is having trouble at home.

But why I am writing you is that over the past year, she has done some really stupid things. She has repeatedly tried to break up some friends of ours, even going to the point of telling the girl that she kissed the guy. Later, when I asked her about it, she said it was his idea, but that really shouldn't matter. If a friend is about to do something really stupid, one should try to stop them. Besides that, the one time she stayed with me, she ignored my family's rules, she never told us where she was, and ended up going home early. Also, I know this sounds really petty and immature, but at my birthday party, she left after being there for maybe 20 minutes without saying anything to me.

A few days ago, she contacted me and said she wanted to talk, that she couldn't understand why I wasn't really talking to her at school. I said that if we were going to talk, I wanted it to be face to face, and she suggested lunch the next day. I agreed, then spent the rest of the evening completely stressed out. I even thought about being sick the next day, so as not to go to school (just for the record, that is major for me; I hate missing school), but I went. When I asked her if she had any idea why I would be upset with her, she said no. I told her that I was mad because of all the little things adding up, and before we could discuss it, she just walked away. I'm pretty sure that she is going to tell one of our friends, and I really don't want anyone else getting involved in this. What should I do? I just want her to go away, but I know that isn't going to happen.

Confused in High School

Dear Confused,

You're right, I don't answer letters often from teenagers. One reason is that teenagers don't often write to me. I'm glad that you did.

Your friend really is having a hard time and you are doing your best to help. But your friend is not making it easy.

The way she left your party early and walked away from your lunch seems to show that she is going through something that she feels she cannot discuss with you. So your job, it seems to me, is to provide her the opportunity to tell you what is going on. It is very difficult to walk around with feelings or fears that we cannot express. You could give her the opportunity to get some things off her chest. One way, perhaps, would be to spend time with her alone -- I mean really alone, away from other people, in a quiet setting like a park or the beach. I know that teenage life moves pretty quickly, and there are always people around. But if you could spend a few hours just you and her, perhaps then she would be able to open up and tell you what is troubling her. Maybe she just needs to talk.

Imagine what she is going through.

It may be that her parents are talking about getting divorce, or she may fear that they are going to divorce. That can be a terrible thing for an only child to deal with. If she had brothers and sisters they could help each other. But alone, that's got to be very hard. Just having your parents fight a lot is upsetting enough. Or there may be more serious things going on between her parents. There may have been episodes of violence and threats that she is keeping secret. Sometimes all a person needs is just to talk about what is really going on. She is probably frightened about the future, angry about her parents' inability to get along, and confused about how to talk about it. Frightened, angry and confused. That sounds about right.

Here are a couple of other things. Since you have been so helpful to her in the past, it is probably difficult for her to face the fact that now you are angry with her and about at your limit. She may feel you pulling away and that has got to be very hard for her. She desperately needs your support. So she is in a bind.

The best thing you can do is just continue to be there for her. Continue to be a stable person in her life to whom she can turn when she is feeling upset. I don't know what kinds of things you discuss with your parents, but if your parents would be helpful in a situation like this, you might talk to them about it as well. There may be ways that they could help.

Her attempting to break up those other people is interesting, isn't it? If her parents are breaking up, or in danger of breaking up, she may symbolically be acting out what is going on in her head. If she is upset about them breaking up she may be angry at other people who seem to have good relationships. Out of revenge, in a crazy way, she might want to break people up. I know it doesn't make sense rationally, but emotions don't always make sense rationally. They work through symbols.

You can't fix her life, but you can continue to be her friend and help her when she needs it.

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