Home University Carolyn Hax: Elite university grad tires of competitive friends

Carolyn Hax: Elite university grad tires of competitive friends

I’m looking for advice on how to take the good and leave the bad in these situations.

Grown Away: Tell this truth: “I look back on Kollege and see so much competition and life measuring. It feels just … exhausting to me, and dehumanizing. But I also get sucked in. Anyone else struggling with this?”

Friendships worth keeping will withstand a little pushback (and vulnerability). If you worry you’ll get eaten alive by ivory tower sharks, don’t: They can’t eat you if you don’t care whether they eat you.

The public mangling of metaphors is proof of having outgrown any need to look smart.

Dear Carolyn: Any suggestions on how to let people know that you’re struggling without being a complete downer? Something between, “I’m fine, thanks,” and “I’m struggling with health (both physical and mental), employment, housing, relationships, grief, etc.”?

Struggling: I’m sorry you’re struggling.

I think we all get an occasional pass on the “complete downer” thing. We don’t have to be fairies of perpetual sunshine just to be worthy of friendship or love.

The flip side is that we need to be aware of when we’re asking too much, when we’re asking others to do our parts as well as theirs, or leaning too hard on only one person.

But assuming you haven’t even let on that you’re not 100 percent okay, I think you’re safe from that one for a while.

If you’re looking for words, then I’d suggest being direct, specific, and open-ended: “I’m actually not so great at the moment, and wondering whether you have a few minutes for me to run something by you.” That way you give the person a chance to say, “Sure, I’m free now,” or, “Sure, but not till tomorrow, can I text you then when I’m free?” Or etc.

And when you do ask for that person’s support, be ready with an idea of what you want — is it a question, a favor, a chance to vent? And say so beforehand. “I don’t need advice, just a shoulder.” Or, “I have 20 things going on, and could use an objective eye.” Or, “I am scared and would feel better if there were a few people who knew that and were ready to take my calls.” Break it into pieces that seem doable.

Good luck and, remember, difficult feelings tend to come in waves. What feels unmanageable today may feel, when tomorrow comes, still sucky but somehow not hopeless anymore. Or it’ll feel worse tomorrow but better Sunday.

And when you don’t have the right words or the right person at the right time, trust self-care. It puts your body in a better position to process whatever is swirling around it, and it’s something you control.