You haven’t really lived until you’ve found yourself standing, baffled, in the middle of an inexplicable war between two close friends.
Each of them has a case, and each of them puts that case to you, over and over again, and you listen and nod and sympathise. You can’t help being confused, though. You can’t help thinking that they’re really fighting over nothing, and should get over it, so you can all go to next week’s party together and have a nice time.
So what do you do, when you’re caught between two beefing friends? Is it possible to soothe everyone’s feelings without anyone getting more upset than they already are?
The good news is, yes! It totally is. But once emotions are in turmoil it’s easy for them to spiral, so here are some tips for keeping the road smooth.
The first one seems easy. A lot of things seem easy, really, but very few things actually are, and listening is not one of them. It’s easy to listen when your goal is simply finding the next point in the conversation when you can talk. It’s easy to listen when someone is telling an interesting story, and all you have to do is react. But listening intently, and considering someone else’s feelings and point of view is harder than you think.
No matter how baffling the conflict in question is, and no matter who you think is more wrong or right in the situation, if you don’t start out by listening properly, you won’t get anywhere. You can’t help anyone if you don’t understand where they’re coming from.
While the first step on the road to reconciling your battling friends takes only concentration, step two requires a little more. Namely: tact and empathy.
You will need both to figure out when each friend is talking about important things, like their feelings and when they’re basically just venting. Everyone needs a safe space to vent, on the understanding that the venting goes no further. Vent sessions are Vegas, and what happens there stays there – your role is just to accept the flow of rage and help release it into the ether. Feelings, however, need to be worked through and understood. People have been hurt, and hurt needs to be respected.
This is the point when a really delicate touch is necessary. Here, you are trying to get two people, separated by presumably many angry words, and behind-the-back slaggings off, and horrible things that were never actually done or said but which each has imagined the other one doing or saying, back together. It is part of the human condition that, while we know that most of our own actions are haphazard, spontaneous and totally unconsidered, we still tend to assume that other people plan every move and every syllable – so if they hurt us, they must have meant to do it. But actually they are bumbling through as much as we are.
You, as the person who has heard both sides of the story, can reassure everyone how much stuff was said in the heat of the moment, how much regret each person is feeling, and (carefully) what they might have done that needs apologising for.
Btw, it is important here to note that none of the venting needs to be communicated. Venting is sacred, what you say when you vent is rarely what you actually feel, it is nothing more than the popping of the boil of emotion. And unless you are willing to carry around the fluid from that boil and bring it out at dinner parties, you should not be repeating vent talk.
Now things can get a little more fun. Once the dust has settled, once some of the wounds have healed a bit, you can gently start pushing your two friends back into the shallow waters of generally hanging out. You don’t want to do anything too dramatic to start with, not a lavish party or a weekend in Majorca. A girls’ night in is a good idea, with hot chocolates and movies and enough snacks to feed Hagrid.
The film selection is key – you want something good enough that any awkward silences can be easily pushed past, and unimportant enough that no one will mind if you end up talking all the way through it.
5. Just keep swimming
A strange truth is that the best way to get yourself out of an awkward social situation is to pretend it is not awkward, until it simply stops being so. It is time for jokes. Gentle teasings that show how affectionate you all are for each other, stories about what’s been going on in everyone’s lives that gently gloss over the old rift. Before you know it, all will be forgotten and, if you’re lucky, you’ll all be better friends than you were before.
Friends fight for all sorts of reasons, and it’s always the worst – whether you’re one of the battlers, or whether you’re stuck in the no man’s land in between. But nothing lasts forever, and working through a fight is almost always worth it.