Tell Me About It

My promotion has caused a rift with my unemployed best friend

His financial successes or failings do not matter to me. I wish we could be as close as we were before

PROBLEM: I was recently promoted at work. I got a significant salary rise and an array of work-related travel opportunities. This has been a huge couple of months for me, but, as the dust has settled recently, I realise I’ve become estranged from my best friend.

Last year I lived with him in a shared apartment and we were a very close unit. I have since moved out, and he has not fared as well in the interim. He is unemployed, having lost his job, and can’t afford to stay in the city much longer.

Money has become a wedge between us. Most of the tension is unsaid, but I feel apprehensive when talking about my own job with him and I’m afraid to ask whether he is having any success looking for a new job. It’s hard, because conversations between us now tend to avoid dealing with anything either one of us has done in the previous weeks. He is nowhere near as happy now as when we were living together, and I don’t want the friendship to suffer any more.

His financial successes or failings do not matter to me. I wish we could just be as close as we were before. There was always a competitive streak between us, and now it seems as though this is poisoning our relationship.

ADVICE: You call this man your best friend. The friendship was easy when everything seemed comparatively equal, but the current situation will test the relationship. One of the draws of friendship is similarity – of views, humour, education, background and so on – which makes the relationship easy and to go unquestioned. However, we also tend to compare ourselves to those closest to us; if we are doing as well as or slightly better than our friends we consider ourselves successful. The difficulty arises when a huge gap opens up in terms of success.

The natural competitive streak that existed in your relationship is now stretched. It seems you do not have the vocabulary to deal with this new situation. There is a line in a poem by Marianne Williamson, “There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you”, and this advice is worth taking now.

Do not hide or play down your successes in your job or finances in order to make your friend feel better; it will not work and will only serve to create silences or no-go-areas in your communication.

Now that he is unemployed and probably suffering from a lack of confidence, his response is to hide these feelings or to avoid any topics that might highlight his current failure.

How we build confidence in others is through listening in order to grasp fully what is going on until we understand. As his best friend, you are in a position to be his sounding board, his source of no-holds-barred conversation.

If the tables were turned, how would you like him to behave around you? How could he speak that would allow you to be honest and open about what is truly going on? This is likely to be the way forward.

There is a risk that, because of embarrassment or fear of humiliation, one or both of you will let this relationship go. Is this really the measure of this friendship?

Take every opportunity to speak honestly, even if this includes saying that you do not know how to have these conversations but you want to try. There is no doubt that a time will come when you too will hide something from him because of fear of judgment, so this is the opportunity to turn this into something more than a friendship that only survives when everything goes well. The real test is to overcome this current “pretend” communication. You are the person who has to do this, as you are in a better place and have more awareness than your friend does.

Tell him how important the friendship is to you and how you want it to survive. If you do not take this opportunity, you will have a friendship that will never allow either of you to really be yourselves, and there is no doubt that this fissure will be exposed at some stage in your lives.

It might require patience and many efforts at real conversation, but this is your best friend: you must stay the pace and keep trying.