Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Friends Every Woman Needs: Like, You Know, The Rationalizing Friend Who Uses You For Source Material

MSN has a series of those soul sister traveling pants type articles in which women write articles about their own friends, and how those friends represent the types of friends that every woman needs. They're typical of those articles that writers write sometimes to make a quick buck (just last week a man wrote an article about what he thinks makes a "real man") and make themselves feel better. I really don't blame them, but these articles are often so transparent as to be laughable, and I wonder why anyone puts up with them.

In the first article we learn first about author Jennifer Weiner's "kooky" friend Elizabeth.

Her fears could fill a phone book: mice, bugs, elevators, confined spaces. She reads the fine print on warning labels and scrupulously adheres to the age guidelines for board games and amusement park rides. If she spies her daughter scratching her elbow, she'll scrutinize the spot, murmuring, "Oh, I hope that's not the bite of the brown recluse spider." The last time we went swimming together, Elizabeth peered at the pond's tranquil surface, then turned to me and asked, "Are there sharks in there?" It was a freshwater pond, I told her, so sharks would be unlikely. She looked at me somberly. "Things happen," she said.

She sounds like a jerk, and I certainly wouldn't want her for a friend. Someone should call child protective services on her. A minor scratch and she tells her daughter that she might die from it. That is not what parents should do. Parents should teach their children to be strong and self-sufficient. She is doing her daughter a horrible disservice, attempting to pass along her totally unfounded neuroses to her.

But it gets even worse, where her kids are concerned:

Besides, who wants normal friends? Normal friends do not have hilarious stories about the time they saw a mouse in their kitchen and barricaded themselves and their kids in the bedroom, and made their husband come home from work to kill it.

To Jennifer's friend, I implore you, for the sake of your kids, GET HELP. The story about barricading yourself AND YOUR KIDS in the bedroom because you saw a MOUSE is not hilarious in any way. It is sad. It's dangerous. Think about what you're showing your kids- they can't do it on their own, they need to be dependent on a MAN to help them take care of something that is insignificant, even trifling, that should take up no more than a minute or two of your time. The resulting story might be amusing to the author who might or might not have a sadistic streak, but it's actually a cry for help.

Even the author seems to realize this, at least subliminally. But she has a great way of rationalizing away any desire to possibly help this poor woman:

Sometimes I think that Elizabeth's myriad terrors make the world a difficult place to live in...but then, I think, her world must be a more interesting place than the one most of us inhabit. After all, if you see every meal as a potential case of botulism, every hot tub as a roiling cesspool of infection and every rash as the harbinger of Dengue fever, imagine the sweet relief when the food's OK, the hot tub's clean and the rash is just a rash.

The world is just so much more interesting when you're insane. Or, if not insane then incapable of learning from your past. At some point you should grow out of being so hagridden, but if you don't, perhaps it's time to see a psychiatrist. Because this isn't just "kooky," (such a playful word- so innocuous!) it's pathetic and dangerous.

Yes, it's dangerous:

And, because of her occasional freak-outs, she meets new people in the most interesting ways, like the obliging kayaker who befriended her after she panicked in the middle of the pond when we went for that swim last summer. He towed her back to shore.

Here's the crux of the problem. Most people are too generous, too kind-hearted, to call this woman out. So they indulge her. The "obliging" kayaker could have been doing something else, something productive (maybe saving the children who were drowning on the other side of the lake, or teaching the children on the other other side of the lake to kayak) rather than wasting his time on the "kooky" woman who is afraid of being eaten by a shark with botulism in an enclosed freshwater lake.

I'm wondering why it is that someone would keep such a friend, then I get all the way to the end of the article and read that the author is a novelist, and moreover writes "chick lit." I have nothing against chick lit; I've read more than a few of them in my time (no need to list them all here at this time but trust me I know the genre), but it explains why she remains with this friend, and why she isn't trying to help her to get the treatment she needs: She provides good source material. She's a fairly stock chick lit character- the lovably neurotic friend.

Rationalize all you want, JW. Deep down, you're still just a writer.

Anyway, there are a few more articles, but I couldn't bring myself to read them. Maybe they're good. But the first one irritated me.

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