Second hand friends, second hand smoke

Dear Khortn3e,

I have a friend whom I love dearly, but can be very hard to spend a lot of time with. Lately, most of our conversations turn into arguments, and whenever I disagree with her, she seems to take it very personally. 

I posed the question "How bad really are the effects of second hand smoke?"
 Within moments, I'm feeling attacked for even wondering, and she's saying things like "Well why does it even matter? You sometimes smoke anyways!" I realize any comment I make will lead to high-tension controversy, so I drop it.

This frustration has caused me to disengage from conversations, or keep quiet when I have a differing opinion. It's happening over everything (e.g. "what does half and half contain?"  "Are you taking the bus today?", etc).  When I don't engage in a conversation, (just adding "yeah; cool; oh really?") our communication is excellent, and she seems to really enjoy our time together. 

How do I tell my friend that I feel attacked and uncomfortable? Are we incompatible friends or does one (or both) of us need to alter our communication practices?
Shut Down

P.S. If we were playing the advice column game, I would read this letter and think: "better than." 

Dear Shut Down,

So good of you to write.  I have a lot of theories about what could be going on:
  1. There is unresolved conversational history between you.  Maybe in the past, she felt judged by something you did or said, and hears that repeatedly, no matter what's going on now.  That's the way it goes with unresolved things.  For instance, perhaps one day you said something that made her feel judged for driving her car every day, and now when you innocently ask if she's taking the bus, she hears, "what the hell is wrong with you, driving your car every day when you could be saving the world, taking the bus?" 
  2. There's unresolved history between your friend and the world at large.  She had a judgy little boyfriend, or a mean mama, or something that caused her first chakra to be thrown off.  (Look at me, tossing around chakra stuff!). When anyone says anything, she hears judgement because she feels insecure.  
  3. She isn't a very curious person, and your questions irritate her.  Who cares what's in half and half?  Who cares if there's a threshold for 2nd hand smoke?  
As with all the inter-human problems, it takes two, and the remedy is always the same.  (But you knew that!) Try to have a conversation about it in the most open, loving way you can summon.  Start by owning your shit, as honestly and kindly as possible.  For example, "I love hanging out with you, but sometimes I wonder if my communication style contributes to tension in our friendship.  Is that something we can talk about?" rather than, "Jeez, you take everything the wrong way!"  

At the very least, you'll learn a lot.  Some people aren't up for communicating, and maybe those people aren't a good match to be your friend.  (Says a woman who lives alone with thousands of bees, an imaginary pet rabbit, and 3 deer.)  But you will learn.  If someone can't meet openheartedness with openheartedness, oh well.  You can decide whether "friendship light" is worth it for you.

PS:  I don't think I would say "better than", by the way.  I'd go equal to.  Because this is the basic problem that every one of us has nearly every day in big and small ways:  communication failure.  

PPS:  I don't think it's excellent communication if you just say "yeah" all the time.  She's so missing out!  But you knew that.



  1. Sometimes I run into a person like this and I try for awhile but then I basically disengage, as much as possible. Life is too short. It IS harder if this is a person who was previously friendly and good company. Khortneeeee/Khortn3e/N'3lvra is a smart cookie and gives good advice. Communication failure is surprisingly widespread.

    1. Hi Jennio! Yes, life is too short! And getting shorter and shorter! Yikes!

  2. I generally charge a friendship fee. This makes them feel obligated to agree with me or else stop paying the fee and go without my sage advice and counseling services that come at no extra charge. Once they have been exposed to the workings of my mind they usually pay up and shut up. There is a lot of bang for the buck in befriending me. Really.

    1. Wow, that's a good idea! Where do I sign up? Do you accept payroll deductions? Or paypal? HA, you probably INVENTED paypal.

  3. I love you. I have pared my friends down to those with whom I do not have these issues. This means I have about three friends. So be it. I like solitude. And chickens. And cats. And my husband. And my kids. And their kids.
    A full enough life for the likes of me.

  4. Jono is on to something. I'm gonna try it. It might be a good way to make some moola AND weed out the pseudo friends that say things like , 'yeah. I know HER' when they have No IDEA who I am. They're just trying to be cool.


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