Dear Carolyn: One of my dearest friends has been living abroad for the past three years teaching English. I am SO proud of her for all she's accomplished, and so thrilled she's been able to see the world.
The problem is, every time she's returned home for summer vacations, I've noticed she thinks a lot more highly of herself, and it's not a healthy sort of confidence so much as a big fat ego. It's "her way or the highway," and I always used to think of her as so easygoing and understanding. She's made some insensitive, rude comments.
The parts of her I love are still there, but I don't know how to reconcile them with these new elements of her personality. She probably has no idea she's behaving this way, but I don't know how to call her out on it without causing drama. It's not like there are specific instances I can point out, it's more of an overall shift in her tone. How can I get my friend back?
-- San Francisco
A: You're "proud of her" -- so you raised this friend yourself?
That whiff of condescension, and your hint of entitlement to have your friend in the form you prefer, and the suggestion that "easygoing and understanding" are the traits you miss the most, are three threads I'm going to embroider into a hunch: Even if you're peers in the eyes of the world, there's a master-protege element to your friendship. Is this someone who has looked up to you in the past, and sought your approval accordingly? And who is now road-testing her own sense of herself?
Maybe, maybe not. But it does appear as if you're appraising her ego display from the position of the disappointed elder, and she's displaying said ego with the (perhaps subconscious) intent of busting out of the child role in the most time-honored way: thumbing her nose not just at you, but also at the version of herself that you value so much.
Even if I'm wrong, the advice still applies: Don't try to get your old friend back. Instead, concentrate on the things you like about the new version. Take gentle exception to any rudeness on the spot but otherwise incline yourself to regard, then wait out, the sharp edges as part of the process of coming into one's own. Suppress the impulse to coach; back off a bit.
Maybe her rough edges are her true nature, and you'll grow weary of her and her friendship. It happens. But since that sharpness is such a common, (often) necessary and (often) impermanent part of the process of breaking away from a draft version of oneself, it's worth treating her sharpness as such, on the chance that she emerges from it as both a stronger person and friend.
In the meantime, take a hard, objective look: Is the prevailing dynamic -- with her and with others -- your way or the highway? Other people's problems aren't always our fault. But, we're better for being willing to entertain the idea that our frailties are playing a part.