The Well-Meaning Jellyfish in Your Life

We’ve all had a “well meaning” person crop up in our life now and again. That person who offers you diet pills even though you never asked for advice on losing weight; the person who takes it upon themselves to tell you all about what an asshole the guy you just started dating is; the “friend” who tells you what your other friends are saying about your haircut; the aunt or cousin who tells you that you’re looking a little worse for wear these days. We’ve all got them. Seemingly kind-hearted, concerned people who just can’t help but to butt their big nose in where it isn’t wanted and burst all your bubbles one by one.

We’ve all had them – the friend/family member who wants to hurt you, but manages to wrap that giant F.U. up with a shiny bow and disguise it as “meaning well.”

Why do we say such nasty things to each other? You’d never approach a perfect stranger and tell them they could stand to lose a few pounds – so why would you say it to someone you love and respect? Is it because we live in a society of one-upmanship? Is it because we’re all taught to be so unsatisfied with ourselves that we project our own insecurities onto others? Are we that envious when we see a loved one doing well that we have to take a giant crap all over it?

Just as we’ve all had that person who pissed in our cornflakes, so have we all, at least once or twice, been the person doing the pissing. When I find myself in a particularly naysaying kind of mood, I typically force myself off the computer and hide my cell phone in the couch cushions, lest I end up having a two-person snarkfest with whoever is willing to join me.

We’re a society of people who gleefully eat it up with a spoon whenever one of our beloved celebrities does something wrong/bad/stupid. We take utter joy in their demise, and tear down those who we claim to love with sheer abandon. Why would it be any different when it is a real-life loved one?

How do you deal with these people? You could be really passive aggressive, like me. If someone tells you they have it on good authority that the guy you’re dating is a lying, cheating sack of douche who has seen more ass than a toilet seat, you can reply with, “I know. That’s why I like him.” This works in most situations. For instance: “That doughnut has 1,200 calories!” “I know, that’s why I like it.” “Man, you’re really looking tired lately.” “I know, that’s the look I was going for.” Generally this type of response totally puts a person on the back foot. They can’t tell if you’re being gracious, or a complete and total bitch. Perfect.

It’s no fun to go through life dodging bullets, trying to get away from your supposed loved ones unscathed. The people you love should create a safe space, free of judgment and snark, where you can just exist without having to defend yourself. In an ideal world, right?

In real life, we have friends like Bridget Jones’ jellyfisher, who can’t help but sting you repeatedly, all in the name of friendly concern.

I wonder, though, is there ever a time when these “well-meaning” comments are warranted? There have been times when someone confronted me with a statement or a question that, while definitely rude, brought things to my attention that I might have needed to see. For instance, right before I moved overseas to cohabit with a complete asshole, my best friend said, “You know we all hate him, right?” It was rude – totally uncalled for – and I didn’t talk to her for months afterward. And yet, when I finally decided to leave him years later, that was the first thing I thought of. It was a warning. Totally lacking in social graces or sensitivity, but it was something I needed to hear. Had I paid a little more attention to the fact that my friends hated this guy, I might’ve reevaluated our relationship.

Do we need to hear it from someone when we’ve started seeing someone who displays abusive tendencies, or is a known cheater? Or is it better to figure it out for ourselves? Should we hear it from a friend or family member when they see signs that our health is on the decline, when we’ve gained/lost too much weight suddenly, or are showing signs of mental stresses? Is it helpful to us to hear when we’re making a wrong decision that could negatively affect our lives in a major way? When we’re harming ourselves or someone else, or not seeing the bigger picture?

Or is it simply better to remain silently supportive, giving your unconditional love and respect to someone without judging or belittling their ability to take care of themselves?

I’ve been on both sides of the argument. I’ve been the “well-meaning” friend who butted in and tried to help when it wasn’t asked for. Once or twice the outcome was good, and more than a few times I lost friends over what I had considered good-natured clucking. I’ve also been the friend who stood by silently while watching someone make a huge mistake, in the interest of minding my own business. Sometimes things worked out for the person, and sometimes I heard, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

I think the old cliché holds true here. “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. If it’s something that really doesn’t matter, just shut up. Nobody wants to hear your diet tips, or what you think of their hair, or what you heard from the ex-girlfriend’s cousin’s sister of the guy they’ve been on one date with. It’s more than obvious when a person is saying something just to get a rise, create drama, or cause hurt.

When you go to open your mouth in observation, or to give unsolicited advice, think about why you’re saying it first. Is it because you’re genuinely intending to help and offer support? Or do you have another reason? Chances are, the reason isn’t genuine concern.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, so they say. All we can do is try our best not to make life hell for everybody else.

By Teri Drake-Floyd

An almost 30-something synestheste, foodie, genealogist and all around proud geek.

9 replies on “The Well-Meaning Jellyfish in Your Life”

It’s a thin line, indeed. But I think that if you’re in a sane state of mind, you know when you can.

Ofc it’s tempting to strike out when you’re grumpy, but (to me) it feels so incredibly childish. Bite that tongue, it’s a part of being a grown-up.

Does this even makes sense?

I was told the other day by someone, “gosh, you really have some DARK circles under your eyes” out in public, with a big group of friends, while we were eating dinner. Yeah, no shit sherlock. I am pregnant, been throwing my guts up for 3 months, wake up a million times a night to either upchuck or pee or shift positions off my hurting hips, and have been anemic since I was 18, not to mention year round allergies to everything from ciggerate smoke to pollen to my own damn dog. So, I just said, embarrased, “Yeah I know. I have allergies.” I KNOW I have dark circles under my eyes, and I HATE it. No amount of make up covers it completly, and I wonder if it should even matter. Its embarrasing, but even more so when someone commets on it. Maybe I just took it too personally, but damn.

When I feel the need to “jellyfish,” I try to be very organized about it. I just sit down with my friend/family member (in private!) and start with something like “Can we talk about X? I’m concerned about you and if you don’t want to talk about it anymore after this conversation I won’t bring it up again.” I think it’s important to do it in private, public passive-aggressive remarks and/or a group confrontation just make people feel defensive. Also, making clear that you will only say this once alleviates the worry that you will be constantly bringing the topic once in the future. If the person doesn’t want to talk about it, at least you tried and pushing the subject will just most likely result in a lost friendship.

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