By Rori Boyce
Odds are that there is someone in your life like my friend Mary. On paper, she is the kind of person everyone would want as a friend. She is sweet, supportive, fun to be around, and she always remembers my birthday. But almost every time I interact with Mary I find myself rolling my eyes at some point and simply the sight of her name popping up in my Facebook feed is always a sign that I need to get back to doing something more productive. So, what is it about this sweet, supportive friend that virtually guarantees all her calls will be sent straight to voicemail? She is a bragging Betty.
If you took her at her word, everything in Mary’s life is just about as perfect as possible.
She has smart, overachieving, perfectly behaved children. I know this because at least once a day she is posting something on Facebook about one of her children’s latest achievements. I understand being a proud parent; I have wonderful, amazing kids too. However, I can assure you that even during their best week my wonderful and amazing children have never had daily happenings that were significant enough to inspire me to tell everyone—I have ever met—in my entire life—about them.
Mary also has the perfect job, the perfect husband, and the perfect house. If you doubt me, spend 20 minutes with her and she will tell you all about it. All of this bragging and boasting would be enough to drive a wedge into any friendship, but recently Mary has taken to bragging about something new that is forcing that wedge deeper and threatening the very foundation of our friendship.
You see, Mary has started working out and losing weight. Now these are both wonderful, positive developments that I can be happy about because Mary is my friend and I care about her. Well, I would like to feel that way because that is the kind of friend I want to be. Unfortunately, I am struggling to be supportive because I feel like I am being assaulted on a daily basis by all of her weight loss and work out accomplishments.
Every day they greet me on social media. “Mary ran 2.5 miles!” “Mary has lost .45 pounds since her last weigh-in!” “Mary has lost a total of 23.45 pounds!” And since the electronic assault wasn’t enough, I have to hear about all of her accomplishments in person too.
I want to be happy for her because I know this is a big deal in her life. She has been trying to find a weight loss program that works for her for years. I want to smile and be genuinely supportive of each pound she loses and celebrate with her each time she finds the time and energy to work out because I know how hard that is with a house and a husband and a job and kids. I want to, but I just can’t and I needed to understand why, so I went in search of a little psychology to help me understand why Mary’s need to brag makes me not want to be her friend.
What I found was very interesting because it showed me that fixing the problem was going to take both of us, since we were both contributing to its existence. On one hand, Mary is violating the generally accepted social norms about sharing information. It seems that most of us want to share our successes but we don’t want to seem like that that is what we are doing. And while we all like hearing about other people’s accomplishments, we don’t like to hear about them too often or too loudly.
On the other hand, I am responding negatively because each time Mary brags, it brings out my own insecurities and damages our friendship by making me doubt her honesty. You see, no one’s life is as great as she makes hers sound and no one wants to be friends with someone who makes them feel bad about themselves by lying about their life.
What Can I Do?
While it may be an uncomfortable conversation to have, if I really want to remain friends with Mary I will have to find a way to talk to her about how her incessant bragging is breaking our friendship. If I don’t, my need to avoid hearing about all the wonderful things in her life, and thereby avoiding her, will eventually end our friendship anyway.
This conversation will require me to dig deep and look beyond what is bothering me so that I can find a little empathy for my friend. To fix this problem, I need to understand what is making Mary paint such a publicly perfect picture of her life. Oftentimes, when people brag about their lives it is because they have some self-confidence issues of their own or to put up a positive front meant to hide all the other things that are going horribly wrong. It might also be that Mary is in fact a self-centered, narcissistic braggart at which point I will need to decide if it is time for our friendship to end.
But no matter what I decide to do about Mary, there is also work to do on myself. I want to be the type of person who can be happy for my friends when good things are happening for them. This means I need to focus a little more on boosting my own self esteem so that I can be the kind of friend I would like to have.