Dear Wayne and Wanda,
I am really frustrated with my best friend and hope you might have some advice. I've considered "Sarah" my best friend for a few years now. We work together and hang out at least a couple nights a week.
I'm a pretty goal-oriented person. When I decided to quit smoking, I quit. When I decided I was ready to meet someone, I signed up for online dating. When I wanted a promotion at work, I worked my butt off to prove to my boss that I was ready for more responsibility. I'm not perfect but I'm task driven, and when I say I'm going to do something, I follow through.
Then there's Sarah. Sarah talks a big game. Just this last week, she told me how she wants to get a pilot's license, learn to play guitar, travel to New York and lose 10 pounds. Within the last month, she mentioned wanting to learn French, take a cooking class and clean out her garage. None of this will happen. Sarah talks and talks about all the goals she has and never accomplishes any of them. Not only does she not reach her goals, she doesn't even try. I find myself getting really irritated with her over this and it's affecting our friendship. The thing is, I don't expect Sarah to be just like me. But if I know and she knows that all of her talk is just talk, why does she keep talking about it?! I don't know if, when she says these things, she fully intends to do them, and if I'm supposed to encourage her? Or does she just want someone to listen while she talks about all the things she wants to do that will never happen?
Wanda says: Sarah sounds a little lost. Or a lot lost. But before your irritation prompts you to tell her to get lost, take a deep breath, and put your BFF hat on. Sarah is sharing all this with you for a reason, and I'm guessing a little encouragement might go a long way. Sarah sounds like she's full of good intentions but has no idea what to do with them. Someone with your ability to set goals and deliver results could really help her out.
When she's sharing her goals with you, how do you react? Listening is good, but asking some probing questions could go a long way. For example, if Sarah says, "I want to lose five pounds," ask her, "How? What's your time frame for this?" That will get her thinking more seriously. Then ask, "How can I support you?" You could suggest cooking a healthy dinner together or going for a walk or hitting up a yoga class.
We love our friends and want them to be happy. When we see them in a self-defeating cycle, yes, it's frustrating. Only Sarah can reach her goals but you can certainly help her along the way.
Wayne says: It's tough simply being above average when you're best friends with a total superstar overachiever. I mean, every time I think I'm taking this column to the next level, Wanda is already there. She's also working on a self-help book, a relationships podcast, and is known to live-tweet breakups and dates she sees taking place around her when she's out on the town. It makes me feel like a total slacker.
Maybe that's how Sarah feels hanging with the hard-driving superstar like you, Annoyed -- you will things to happen while she struggles just to get the plane off the ground. That can be tough. Or maybe she has anxiety issues. Anxiety can cripple those trying to accomplish even the smallest everyday tasks, not to mention make life-changing decisions. Sometimes people with anxiety issues verbalize their ambitions in the hopes that others will hold them accountable. But Sarah sounds more overly ambitious than anxious. So maybe she's just a flake or a big dreamer.
Whatever the case, I agree with Wanda that if you truly value her friendship and want her to succeed, you can't hold her to your standards of passion, effort and determination. You need to work with her at her speed and think of yourself more as a cheerleader instead of a hall of fame coach or an overbearing tennis mom.
• Wanda is a wise person who has loved, lost and been to therapy. Wayne is a wise guy who has no use for therapy. Send them your questions and thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.