Divorce and Sleeping Around — Emotionally Drained by My Best Friend’s Midlife Crisis Escapades

Reader’s Question

I am a middle aged woman and have a friend who is 5 years younger than me. She is going through a divorce that she initiated. My problem is with her behavior. In the past year she has had 3 affairs with married men (at least 3 that I know of). From all she has shared with me and from what I know of her husband, he is emotionally abusive and very controlling. She lost weight, got a tummy tuck and liposuction and has been dressing provocatively. All this wouldn’t even bother me, except her behavior has turned me off the idea of dating again, or ever finding someone who is faithful.

Every time we talk she has to tell me how many men have tried to “hit on her” or check her out. I told her I did not want to hear this any more and that it is really meaningless to share. She has to tell me the detailed conversations about some man’s infatuation with her, and I hear over and over how guys will tell her how “hot” she is, or gorgeous. She is an okay looking woman, but honestly not that beautiful. I have friends that are extremely attractive and never say a word about how men drool over them.

Here’s the thing, the more I hear from this particular friend, the less attractive and desirable I feel. Who can compete with someone who has artificially transformed themselves and works hard at being seductive? Personally I think she looks cheap.

I am a reasonably attractive woman but I look my age and I dress modestly. My feeling is that a person I would be attracted to would not be impressed by glitz and glamor, but every time I listen to her drama (and there is a lot of drama: angry phone calls from wives, her children feeling neglected, confrontations with her soon to be ex-mother-in-law, new beau, fight with husband, reconciliation with husband, etc.).

I want to be a good friend, because she was helpful to me through my divorce and was a sounding board for me, but I am not a drama queen and don’t believe I was draining anyone emotionally. Now I feel emotionally drained at times. But beyond all of that I just feel like her participation in my life just proves that everyone cheats, lies and sleeps around. I guess I am just very old fashioned, but I used to believe that there were other people who were of the same mold as I.

Thank you for reading this. I feel a little better just getting it off my chest.

Psychologist’s Reply

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Cheap people go to restaurants that advertise cheap food. Those restaurants also use big signs, flashing lights, and even sidewalk clowns pointing the way to the entrance. Your friend is advertising herself as cheap, sleazy, and available — and she’s attracting the cheap, sleazy, and available men interested in what she’s offering. As you mention, attractive adults who advertise sophistication, social grace, and appropriate attire don’t get “hit on” by these social and sexual predators in the same way that an expensive, high-class restaurant doesn’t have guests who drop by for a burger and fries.

Your friend is seeing and talking about a certain social level in our society. In the emotionally shallow, drama-oriented, cheap and personality disorder group (see my introduction to personality disorders), there is a higher number of divorces, quick romances, and affairs — as well as alcohol/drug problems, legal offenses, unstable job histories, etc. Don’t view dating through her eyes — that will make you depressed. Remind yourself that you will never be in competition with her, and you’re not looking for the type of man or relationship that is interested in her type of personal advertising. A gourmet restaurant never feels they are in competition with a sidewalk hot dog stand. She is talking about a small, specific level of the society — not the entire society. If we worked at a university, we’d come away with the impression that everyone reads.

If your friend has been this way for many years, she likely to have a personality disorder — Histrionic Personality, the “queens of drama” in our lives. However, if her current behavior represents a dramatic and significant change in the past 18 months, her behavior may be the product of a type of “midlife crisis”. Both men and women can experience the “midlife crisis” reaction in which they have an abrupt change in personality — typically venturing onto the road not taken years ago and engaging in bizarre and out-of-character behavior. This midlife crisis reaction is often a type of middle-age-onset depression and may be so severe as to require psychiatric/psychological help. The individual, male or female, detaches from their established life (marriage, children, job, career, etc.) in search of their soul and meaning.

A key to the presence of the midlife crisis reaction may be her reaction to the divorce. Divorce is the third highest stressor an adult can experience, and the absence of severe emotional distress tells us that she may have emotionally detached from her real life experience. Her preoccupation with drama, youthful attractiveness, romance, etc. is inconsistent with the normal response to a divorce. If this is true, what does a friend do?

  • If you suspect a midlife crisis, redirect her conversations to divorce issues such as the children, finances, her future plans. You may need to be a reality anchor for her at this time.
  • Emphasize protecting herself from these superficial relationships. While she may have a fantasy of being a princess among admirers, she’s actually a wounded fish in a pool full of sharks.
  • Focus on hearing about her, not her adventures. Is she sleeping, eating, etc.
  • Don’t involve yourself in her drama, but remain on the outside as someone who will always give stable, mature, and intelligent advice. While her behavior is attracting the bottom-feeders of the dating world, it’s also alienated most of her family, friends, and co-workers. She may have few true friends left by this point.
  • Don’t compare your post-divorce situation with that of your friend. Like a gourmet restaurant, if you are dating, you’re looking for quality — not quantity. Keep your prices high.

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