Dear Donagh,

I go into your website sometimes and I like the question and answer part even though I cant always follow you.  But I think youre a kind person.  I'd like to pass this by you and see what you think.  A friend of mine (used to be?) really maddened me last week and to make it worse when I said it to her later on she just passed it off .  A few of us were talking about someone and one of the girls said, that one is a bit of a slag.  My friend looked at me as if to say and youre another.  I broke up with my boyfriend the week before and started going out with someone else, and I think thats what she meant.  It really depressed me.  As I said she just passed it off when I said it to her.  That makes me think she really meant it.  Then when I came home and I was petting my cat she suddenly scratched me real bad.  Now I'm thinking I havent a friend in the world, not even the bloody cat.  Of course I cant say anything to my boyfriend about it.  What should I do….? Niamh

Dear Niamh,

I'm glad you put it down in writing, because if you left it inside you it would continue to eat you up.  You would need to talk to your friend about it as well.  Tell her there's something you need to talk to her about.  That makes it a little bit ‘official’, and it would be harder for her to pass it off again.  Then tell her honestly but kindly how you feel.  A friendship is not something you can afford to throw away; and a cat is no substitute, as you found out. 

‘The look’.  I know that with girls it can be a deadly weapon.  “I gave her a look,” a girl said to me once, describing the climax of a row she had with her friend.  Had they been two boys the climax would have been a punch or a kick.  But girls are also more skilled at fixing things up.  There must be a different kind of ‘look’ that would have the opposite effect: a look of friendship and trust.  There must be a whole dictionary of looks.  Be careful not to inject any of the first kind of look into the conversation you will have with her.  Take it for granted, unless you can prove otherwise, that there was no significance in the look she gave you.  If there was no distrust between you before, that's more likely.  If you were a bit sensitive about the breakup with your boyfriend it’s possible that you saw more in her look than was there. 

I'm a great believer in the value of unpleasant experiences!  Am I out of my mind?  Not entirely, I hope.  I believe we can nearly always learn something useful from hurts and disappointments.  I mean we can learn something useful about ourselves.  It would be a pity if we only learned to dislike and distrust the people who hurt or disappointed us.  When it’s “summertime and the livin’ is easy” we can drift along in the belief that we are very secure: self-confident, trusting and loving.  But then ‘wham!’ – with a word or a look from someone, our security is shattered and we feel rejected and unhappy.  That is the feeling that can teach us something of great value.  Normally we don’t stay long enough with it to learn from it; we only want to be rid of it as fast as we can.  But if we could just wait a bit and look at the feeling itself…. I know how hard it is to do that, but it’s always worth it. 

How so?  If I could put it this way: we all wear glasses.  Everyone you ever knew wears glasses – rose-coloured ones.  We all have a certain view of what we are like, and it always tends to be a self-flattering one; it’s a type of selfie.  Or rather I should say we all have two pairs of glasses: the other pair are dark, like sun-glasses.  That's when we have a very low opinion of ourselves.  We are always changing from one to the other.  Some people have a preference for the rose-tinted ones, wearing them most of the time; and some people wear the dark ones most of the time.  What would it like if for one moment we didn’t wear any?  We might feel that we were nobody, that we didn’t exist.  We would feel very unprotected, very vulnerable.  Even people who wear ordinary glasses have that look in their eyes when they take them off.  We would not only look but we would feel that way if we took off our coloured glasses.  That's what the truth feels like; that's the (at first) bitter taste of reality.  We are never so fully human as we are at that moment.  It gets better.  If we don’t run away from that feeling but stay with it, just experiencing it, not judging it, not exaggerating it, not making plans around it, it begins to change.  It turns very slowly into something else – something deep and wonderful.  It becomes a kind of tender feeling.  We will never know what real tenderness is like if we don’t allow ourselves to feel it.  Instead we will be trying to make do with an imitation of it: we’ll just have sentimental feelings about certain things and people – feelings that change and pass away quickly.  But real tenderness lasts.  And it’s not restricted to a few nice things or people.  You are able to feel it for everything and everyone, even people you don’t particularly like.  When we experience our own humanity deeply we experience the humanity of other people equally. 

Meditation is very popular nowadays.  There are meditation groups everywhere.  What are all those people doing?  They are trying to take off their glasses.  It can be difficult at times, especially at the beginning.  But that is the very same difficulty that you are experiencing now, Niamh.  I hope you will have the good fortune sometime to join such a group. 

About the cat.  That's how cats show love.  Have you ever listened to them at night?  I hope you gave her a long look of understanding. 

Best of luck with your friend, Niamh, and thank you for writing.

This is our Question and Answer desk. 
We respond to one question each month. 
If you would like to ask a question, please send it to