DEAR CAROLYN: I have a close friend, "Rose." Rose has done three failed IVF attempts and is gearing up for her fourth one (when it's available). While the failures have of course been very painful, she didn't start trying until after 40, so they are also not a surprise to her or anyone else. Meanwhile, she seems to have claimed for herself a license to be completely nasty to everyone around her, and to treat us all as punching bags while she goes through this tough time. This includes her husband — they are actually on the brink of divorce, I think — her family and me, her best friend of 20 years. She solicits my opinion on various things just to tell me how naive and misguided it is. She attacks my parenting and implies that if she had a kid, it would be in all ways superior to mine. She has become an extremely unpleasant person to interact with in even a small way, like texting, and I barely recognize her. Yet when I try to pull away, she calls me back and tells me how lonely this time is and how grateful she is for the support. How much leniency do I afford this person while she's going through hell?
LENIENT: The short answer is "a lot," but, that's a bad answer, too.
The only way to make it a better answer is to give her leeway in terms of showing compassion, feeling sympathy and maintaining your end of the friendship — but also giving her zero leeway on the jackholery.
She: Solicits your opinion on various things.
You: Give your opinion.
She: Tells you how naive and misguided you are.
You: Ask her why she asked you then, if she doesn't respect your judgment? And next time she asks for your advice, state clearly that you're not interested in a rerun of the last time, when you gave a solicited opinion only to be criticized for it.
Or, another example:
She: Attacks your parenting and implies that if she had a kid, then she would be a superior parent in all ways.
You: "If I hear you correctly, you just said I am a bad parent and, if you had a kid, then you would be a superior parent in all ways. Yes?"
She: Either backs off or doubles down. If it's the latter:
You: "I think this friendship has run its course," as you end the conversation, possibly for good, if she doesn't make appropriate amends.
See what I mean? You don't have to take these uppercuts to the chin, ever. Not from anyone for any reason. You calmly, kindly stand up for yourself. She can then either sweeten up or take the initiative to find herself some new friends.
None of that is inconsistent with showing compassion for someone dealing with grief and highly whacked-out hormones — both of which could be affecting her personality, both of which warrant a policy of being slow to take personal offense, and neither of which grants her an all-access pass to abuse anyone within reach.