Why Befriending Someone Mid-Tragedy Is Tough

January 11, 2019  |  
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grieving friend

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It’s probably happened to you a few times in your life: you’ve met someone who you felt you really hit it off with, who also happened to be in the middle of a tragedy. Perhaps that person was in the middle of a divorce, or had just lost a loved one. Perhaps this person put on a happy face in your first few interactions, not quite yet comfortable to display the turbulence that hid beneath just yet. But once she felt safe with you, she opened the floodgates—and the flood was massive. You didn’t quite know what you were taking on by developing a brand new relationship with someone who was in the middle of a tragedy. Unfortunately, even if this is someone with whom, under normal circumstances, you’d really be great friends, mid-tragedy is just not a natural time to develop new friendships. That’s the time to be with old friends and family. Here is why befriending someone who is mid-tragedy is hard.

grieving friend

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You can’t share your problems

You feel as if you can’t share any of your hardships, because they’ll never compare to what this person is going through. If you had an established relationship before this person experienced tragedy, she’d already be familiar with some of the struggles in your life. It would be more natural to discuss them. But now, when she knows little about you, and she’s just experienced something awful, you feel strange telling her about your relatively mild problems.

grieving friend

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You become a therapist

You will accidentally become the therapist. This person will talk most of the time you are together. It’s almost unavoidable. You feel weird talking about anything other than the tragedy this person is experiencing—discussing your yoga class or dating life would feel rude. So you just ask this person about her. She indulges in the chance to vent. Before you know it, your hangout sessions are just therapy sessions.

grieving friend

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She’ll turn to you more than anyone

The mere fact that you are a new presence in this person’s life could be the very reason she turns to you more than anyone else. There can be a comforting form of escapism just being around someone new—someone removed from your life—during hard times. But as such, you could wind up being this person’s sole confidante and shoulder to cry on. That’s a lot.

grieving friend

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She forgets a lot

People who are grieving can experience mental fogginess. They’ll forget the plans you make. They’ll forget the stories you tell them. They’ll forget to stop by and feed your cat as you asked them to. It can become frustrating feeling like you have to repeat yourself, or having to remind them of plans you made.

grieving friend

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She can bail on plans

You also have to accept the fact that someone who is grieving can cancel on your plans at any moment due to her mood. That is obviously completely unpredictable, and can mean she bails on you at the last minute all of the time, leaving you feeling like your time is disrespected.

grieving friend

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You have no even foundation

When someone is going through a tragedy, most of their relationships become all about them. That’s normal. That’s how their circle supports them. But, it’s not natural for a friendship to begin all about one person. You can’t build a foundation that way. In the beginning, a friendship should be about both people, which is why it usually takes two happy and whole people to build a new friendship.

grieving friend

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Is this grief behavior or normal behavior?

If this person is very negative, drinks a lot, does drugs, or does anything that disturbs you, you don’t know if that’s the grief acting up or just her personality.

grieving friend

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She won’t make the best listener

Grieving individuals are usually a million miles away—mentally. Even though we’ve already established that they’ll talk most of the time you’re together, on the rare occasion they let you talk, they won’t even really be listening.

grieving friend

Source: Maskot / Getty

Introducing her to other friends is tough

Part of developing a friendship is bringing someone into the fold and introducing her to your other friends. But you can’t really do that with someone who is grieving—you can’t expect that person to put on a cheery face and pretend to be happy for your friends. In fact, she likely won’t—she’ll be gloomy and distant around your other friends, and your friends will be put off.

grieving friend

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The responsibility can be too much

The responsibility can feel like a lot. Every time this person calls, you feel you must pick up—what if she’s having a meltdown? Every time this person wants to see you, you feel you must show up—she needs you. That’s a lot of pressure for a brand new friendship.

grieving friend

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She’ll forever see you as a tragedy friend

Unfortunately, once this person sees you as her tragedy friend—the person she runs to during tough times and cries to when she’s down—it will be hard for her to see you any other way. Even when she is recovered from this time, she may not ask you to do fun things. She may not be lighthearted with you. She may only call you during tough times.

grieving friend

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You’re not allowed to criticize

You feel as if you’re never allowed to criticize this person. You worry she’ll call you insensitive or say you just don’t understand. But a real friendship consists of people who can give each other feedback.

grieving friend

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You can’t express your needs

You also feel like you’re not allowed to say, “I need you to stop flaking on our plans at the last minute.” You know she’s going through a lot, and you want to be understanding. But at the end of the day, it messes up your life when she repeatedly flakes on you.

grieving friend

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You can’t build good memories

In order for a relationship of any kind to thrive, the formative years have to be rather light and easy. They should be fun. They should be joyous. They should be filled with laughter. Once you have that, you can be there for someone during tough times. But you need to start with a foundation of happiness.

grieving friend

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You can’t rely on her for favors

You feel like you can’t rely on this person for favors. You’re there the moment she asks a favor of you—you do whatever she asks, because she’s grieving. Meanwhile, she won’t help you with much because she’s going through a tough time. It leaves you feeling taken for granted. I’m not saying you need to do a full-on breakup with this friend, but you may need to create major boundaries.

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