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Ask Anyone

will the circle be unbroken?

In my circle of friends, we tend to kid each other a lot, and we’ve known each other so long that each of us has got a reputation. Julie drinks too much. Mike can’t hold down a job. Lisa sleeps around. Marie is a brainiac with no common sense. Etc., etc. The jokes tend to gravitate toward and reinforce these types we’ve assigned to one another since high school.

My type? I’m the guy who worries about everything and everyone, and right now I’m worried about Mike. We don’t just make jokes about his inability to hold down a job or find a path in life, we actively celebrate it—like he’s a hero for evading the responsibilities that are beginning to ties down the rest of us. The trouble is, I think the reinforcement is preventing him from finding any traction. Every time he starts something, or discovers a passion for something, he friends, through their joking with and about him, sabotage his progress. We’re all almost 30. We’ve all started our adult lives. He hasn’t. I sense that he’s beginning to despair that he’ll never catch up.

I’ve talked to my friends about this, but they tell me to stop being a heavy. They say that he’ll be fine, and that he loves the fancy-free life he leads. Doesn’t look like it to me. What would you do? Again, I’ve talked to my friends, so please don’t tell me to talk it out with them. I need some other advice.

The Analyst

The Omniscient One says: Yes, you and your friends are part of the problem. You’ve created a role he needs to play to be part of the group. Stop creating a caricature he feels obligated to own. More importantly, can you please share Lisa’s phone number?

The Practical Cogitator says: Maybe he feels like if he gets a job and is successful he wont fit in your circle anymore. Let him know it’s ok to get a job, encourage him if/when he finds one. And stop the mocking—maybe your other friends will follow suit.

The Straight Skinny says: This is really his problem; he’s the one affirming and reaffirming his role in the group as a slacker. Sticks and stones, remember? The kind of joking that passes between friends is generally intended to bind friendships, not to undo them, and intention here is everything. It seems unlikely to me that your friend does not feel the loving intention of the jibes he receives. I guarantee you that he’s not going to go get a law degree as soon as you and your friends start cutting him a break.

It’s possible that he’s using his identity within the group as a crutch, and as reason to forgive himself for his failures, but again, that problem begins with him. But you’re all friends, so his problem doesn’t end with him. It falls to you, his friend, to help him find his way. You say you’re in your late 20s, which is a period of life that my partner and I call the “slough of despair.” A lot of people don’t know what to do with themselves in their mid and late 20s, when we feel as if we’re supposed to make decisions that will shape the rest of our lives. So he may just age out of it. If you want to actually DO something, then you might try to tease out from him what he’d like to do with his life besides loaf.

And if he says that loafing is all he wants to do, you might consider just supporting his choice, as a friend. You might even regard him as kind of hero for his clarity of non-purpose.

Strictly Classified says: Talk to Mike, but keep in mind his life is his to lead. Just be honest, tell him you are worried about him. It might be a good idea to think about how he will respond, and come up with some thoughtful responses to any arguments he might make. Call me Pollyanna, but so long as you are thoughtful in your approach (and avoid being combative), you might actually help him out.

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