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Take a Whine Appreciation Class

Sound familiar?

Sound familiar?

Submit your questions about friendship, relationships, careers, family, or life decisions to [email protected] or leave a question in the comments section, and I’ll answer it in Bad Advice, PJ Lifestyle’s new advice column every Wednesday!

Dear Bad Advice,

My friend is absolutely driving me up the wall! She complains about everything. I know not a lot of things are going great for her in her life right now, but I wish she had a better attitude. If I tell her to have a better attitude when she’s complaining about things, she gets mad and storms off. How do I handle her? She’s fun and a great friend most of the time, but her complaining is getting on my last nerve.

– Not a whine appreciator

This is going to sound like bad advice, but quit complaining about your complaining friend.

I know some folks think that no one should complain, ever — that being entirely uncomplaining is a virtue that people should strive for. I say, go ahead and strive but don’t kid yourself that anyone is actually complaint-free. In fact, I’ve found that the people who talk most proudly of how little they complain are the same ones who have a grouse with everything. And what makes me wary of the idea that never complaining, ever, is a high virtue is the fact that there are many other qualities that can make a person good, even if he or she is a habitual complainer.

What if you have a friend who’s generous, kind, and loyal, but has a tendency to whine from time to time? If she’s an important part of your life, instead of adopting a zero-tolerance policy try focusing on her good traits and letting the rest go. All friends are bound to annoy each other from time to time. There’s probably something about you that drives her completely nuts, too… possibly your strident refusal to show her a little patience when all she needs is a sip of whine? If she’s not a great enough friend to be worth putting up with the whining, and she doesn’t have too many redeeming qualities, then why are you spending so much time with her in the first place? Just remove yourself from the source of irritation. But for now, let’s assume she does have enough sterling qualities, and she is important enough to you that you want to continue spending time with her.

When your friend complains, no matter how grating it is, try to remember we all need to do it sometimes. And if she storms off at the suggestion that life isn’t always a game rigged against her, let her storm off, and take the time for both of you to cool down. Complaining about complainers is, in fact, another kind of complaint. If you want her to let go of her petty irritations, start by letting go of yours, and when she leaves you to fume on her own, instead of fuming about her, get back to all the other interesting things life has to offer. And remember that moment the next time you need to unload your frustrations into her listening ear.

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This is going to sound like bad advice, but if your friends are complainers it might mean you’re one, too.

Everybody hates a whiner… until they have something to complain about themselves. Complaining is one of those things that’s always irritating beyond toleration in other people, but perfectly justified (in your own mind) when you have something to complain about.

Let’s get one thing straight: unless you can make it exceptionally funny, or unless it has something to do with a wider injustice that must be righted in the world, no one is actually interested in listening to you whine. Complaining is one of the most boring forms of conversation in the world. Whenever a friend listens to you complain, and assures you he or she wants to hear what you have to complain about, they’re not doing it because what you’re saying is interesting. They’re doing it because they care about you, and they understand everybody needs to get stuff off their chest every once in a while, and they want to listen because it makes you happy and helps relieve your burden.

So, first of all, don’t overtax their generosity or patience (and definitely do show your appreciation of it). Complaining is tolerable when it’s something you need to do every once in a while to vent, to let go of the multitude of the day’s irritations and then move on. Complaining is inexcusable when you make it such a habit that it becomes your only form of conversation — when you forget how to talk about anything else.

As I’ve written in earlier columns, no one likes a sermon on manners from a friend. So in this, as in so many other situations of bad manners, the best way to send a friend a message is to set a good example yourself. If she’s surpassed your patience for complaints for the day, or she’s trying to make conversation by complaining because she can’t think of anything else to talk about, why don’t you change the conversation yourself? When she complains, point out the bright side. Or, jump off from something she said to start a conversation about that, instead of a whine fest. Or, just ask her what else happened to her that day. And show genuine interest — don’t ask these things just to be passive aggressive or to get her to shut up. Ask them so you can start a genuine conversation with her…just about something besides complaints. If you didn’t want to talk to her at all, there are plenty of ways to gracefully end a conversation and then go do whatever you’d rather be doing.

Say you decide to turn the tide of the conversation, and you just can’t think of anything else to talk about. That might be a good time to look at yourself in the mirror and ask — how much do I use complaints as a crutch when I’m thinking of things to say to someone? It might be that your friend got into the habit so easily if you both did it together.

Submit your questions about friendship, relationships, careers, family, or life decisions to [email protected] or leave a question in the comments section, and I’ll answer it in Bad Advice, PJ Lifestyle’s new advice column every Wednesday!

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