I swear on the Thelma & Louise video we watched into a scratchy oblivion: I didn't mean to be the worst friend ever. When Lisa—my roommate and boon companion of three years—stepped into our apartment, sank to the floor, and clutched our cocker spaniel, I asked, "What's wrong?" with sympathy.
"I got fired," Lisa told me.
"Wow." I pulled her to her feet. "You'll have an amazing story for Jim's party tonight!"
Lisa's eyes went round and wet as the dog's when we left her at the vet. She said, "Come on, Maya" (who gave me a reproachful glance before obeying), disappeared into her bedroom (for three days), and never discussed career matters with me again.
Boy, was I annoyed. At age 26, I was a sublime friend. Lisa, also 26, was blessed to have an ally so honest about dates and hairstyles, so fiercely supportive of her dreams, and willing to defend her choices (the dates, hairstyles, and dreams) to her habitually nettling mom and dad. Never once in our relationship, I was proud to think, had I ever even been tempted to commit a single mortal friendship sin: being competitive, gossiping, or backstabbing. To me, Lisa's job loss was no big deal. She had complained about the position. Her parents were rich and gave her money. She had nothing to worry about. I thought that reminding her we had something fun to do that night was an appropriate and kind response.
Psychologist Douglas LaBier, PhD, director and founder of the Center for Adult Development in Washington, D.C., disagrees. He explained to me that my dearest friend was humiliated by receiving a pink slip, feared she might be incompetent at everything she tried, and, because of me, felt utterly alone. I was, LaBier tells me, "catastrophically unempathetic" to Lisa.