A friend in need is my worst nightmare! CLAUDIA CONNELL on why she hates lending a sympathetic ear

A friend in need is my worst nightmare! CLAUDIA CONNELL on why she hates lending a sympathetic ear

A friend in need is my worst nightmare! CLAUDIA CONNELL on why she hates lending a sympathetic ear

12:10 AM on 19th May 2011

My friends, particularly the ones I’ve had for many years, know if they ever have a problem, no matter what time of day or night, then they should on no account bother me with it.

If the mark of true companionship is allowing your friends to prattle on about their tedious issues for hours and hours, then I’m happy to nominate myself for the Worst Friend Of The Year award.

It was the liberal politician Lord Samuel who famously once said ‘A friend in need is a friend to be avoided’ and I have to agree with him. Needy people — even if they are your mates — are a pain in the backside.

Switching off: Claudia Connell doesn

Switching off: Claudia Connell doesn”t want to hear about her friends” marriage/career/parenting problems

I should justify my severe stance by saying that I haven’t always been this way. In the past, I’ve sat with a phone glued to my ear as a person on the other end bores the living daylights out of me by whingeing about their husband, children, job, body, car, house and other friends. I allowed them to bleat on for hours as I listened intently and offered a soothing ‘you poor thing’ or ‘never mind’ every minute or so.

The problem is that friends who want your help are like naughty children. Just as badly behaved youngsters will learn which adult they can play up to, so people with problems cotton on to who in their circle of friends will lend an ear as they offload their never-ending woes.

At least you can banish brattish children to the naughty step. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work with a 44-year-old woman who wants to come over at the weekend so you can help her work on a job application.

Back in my more compassionate days, I’d listen and feel proud as my friends would tell me how much more sympathetic I was than other people of their acquaintance.

‘Sarah couldn’t get off the phone fast enough when I told her my boss was bullying me,’ one said. At the time, I thought that Sarah sounded cold and unfeeling. Now, if I met her, I’d give her a high-five.

Most people, if they’re brutally honest, would have to admit that their heart sinks when they ask somebody how they are and the other person sighs deeply and replies: ‘Well . . .’

Nothing makes me invent a pan boiling over on the stove, a forgotten appointment or a visiting relative more than a friend in need on the other end of my phone.

I’ve learnt, to my cost, that needy people are like limpets. Once they’ve found a friendly ear, you’ll never be able to prise them off.

They don’t think: ‘Well, I burdened Claudia for two hours last night, so I’ll call someone else.’ They think: ‘Claudia seemed to be so interested in my problems yesterday that I’d better ring with the latest updates.’

It’s not as though you ever get to speak your mind, either. As blunt as I am, even I can’t bring myself to tell the truth to my friend Jo when she sobs down the phone and says: ‘Why would he dump me when we were getting on so well’

Never hear the end of it: People with problems cotton on to who in their circle of friends will lend an ear as they offload their never-ending woes

Never hear the end of it: People with problems cotton on to who in their circle of friends will lend an ear as they offload their never-ending woes

So instead of saying ‘Because you’re a high-maintenance pain-in-the-neck who dresses like a floozy and talks about her cat like it’s a real person’, I say rubbish such as: ‘It’s not you, it’s him. He’s probably intimidated by successful women. It’s his loss.’

The fact is, people with problems don’t really want to hear the truth. They just want to be told that they haven’t done anything wrong.

In the name of fairness, I should point out that I never attempt to dump my troubles on other people.

I do what most mature adults do and attempt to solve them myself because chances are they were of my own making. Even if I did need a little help, the whinge brigade certainly wouldn’t have time for me. They’re far too absorbed in their own misery. It isn’t just the ones who want to bend your ear on the phone — friends in need can take on many forms.

There are the ones who always want to borrow things, from clothing and money to books and kitchen equipment. Annoyingly, the sort of people who borrow things are always the type never to give them back.

I’ve lost count of the number of books, DVDs and CDs I’ve handed out over the years only for them never to find their way back home. These people are also the sort to ask you to water plants and feed cats when they’re on holiday, even if it means you going miles out of your way to do so.

I once had a friend who asked me to drive her to the airport at 5am as she insisted that — even though she had the money for a trip to Singapore and Australia — she couldn’t afford a taxi.

Like a mug I did this, thinking that at the very least there would be a nice duty-free thank-you present in it for me upon her return.

When she arrived home three weeks later (to healthy plants and a well-fed cat), looking bronzed and rested, her gift to me was a koala key ring. Unfortunately, it was too small to strangle her with.

So, no more taxi services, no more career advice, no more phone calls into the night. I believe that when it comes to friends, different ones serve different purposes.

There are those you go to for intelligent conversation (not me); the ones you seek out for sound maternal advice (not me either); the ones to guide you through the maze of relationship issues (definitely not me).

Then there’s the one you contact when you want to knock back the Pinot Grigio and bitch about all of the above people (me, me me)!