• Keeping Friends

Can I remain friends with someone with a totally different lifestyle?

Published: June 4, 2015 | By | 15 Replies Continue Reading
A woman who lives a healthy lifestyle is frustrated by a friend who neglects her health.

Hi Irene,

I am a 55-year-old woman and am writing to ask advice about a friendship I have had for about twelve years with a woman who is ten years older than me.

I live a healthy lifestyle, eat well, am an avid hiker and skier, and practice yoga on a regular schedule. I very much value my health and am very interested in healthy eating and alternative medicine. My friend has grown extremely overweight over the years and has one health problem after another. Her joints are giving out, and she constantly has colds and has surgery for various problems on a fairly regular basis.

She was never what I would call healthy, but over the last couple of years she seems to have developed a kind of perverse enjoyment in being sick. She talks about her illnesses and medications constantly. When I have suggested she look at some positive lifestyle changes, she has accused me of “preaching”. So now I just listen.

I find myself becoming less and less sympathetic and know I am judging her. I feel she does nothing to help herself. She has been a kind, warm friend over the years but I am struggling with how to maintain the friendship. I don’t like being judgmental but find I get completely exasperated listening to her latest medical problem. I am hoping you can offer some advice.

Should I try to maintain this friendship and if so, how? Is it possible to be friends with people who have completely different lifestyles?

Signed, Vera


Hi Vera,

The short answer: It depends. To a large extent, our lifestyles reflect our values and sense of priorities. People with different lifestyles can be friends if it doesn’t get in the way of their friendships. In this case, it seems like the gap in feelings about “healthy living” are a constant grind.

You are fortunate to have good health. Your friend may have not been as lucky as you genetically and also may have a hard time trying to keep her weight down. I can see how you, as a good friend, would want the best for her and encourage her to make lifestyle changes.

On the other hand, if she feels unable to make changes, having someone telling her to do so, often, can get pretty annoying.

In addition, having different values about health can also create schisms in terms of your shared interest and activities. For example, do you agree on restaurant choices? Activities that involve exercise, such as taking a long walk? Are you able to ski and hike together?

My suggestion would be to have a heart-to-heart with your friend and tell her what you have told me in this letter:

I care about you; value our friendship; and accept that we have different values regarding health and lifestyle. 

If you are unwilling to make any changes, I will no longer “preach” to you but by the same token, I expect you to stop complaining about your health to me. 

A conversation like I’ve suggested should open a “healthy” dialogue and, hopefully, put your friendship on a better track. If it continues as is, without this discussion, I would predict it would continue to go downhill.

Hope this helps.

My best, Irene

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Comments (15)

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  1. Laura says:

    Some people have metabolisms that are predisposed to carrying extra weight and have to work much harder than the average person to lose weight. You are lucky that you seem to be genetically predisposed to being lean. Also, often a person gets caught in a vicious cycle; gains some weight, then takes meds for health problems caused by the weight that make it harder to lose weight. Also, getting older slows your metabolism down and it’s much harder to lose weight. When your health is in a downward spiral it’s hard not to talk about it because pain can take over your life. She might also be depressed. It can be a tough hole to climb out of.

    There’s no “one size fits all” why someone is overweight. Being overweight doesn’t mean a person doesn’t care or is lazy. Most overweight people are ashamed of their weight and hate it, just like most smokers hate that they smoke. I seriously doubt your friend has a perverse enjoyment in her misery.

    Have you offered to be part of the solution, such as attending Weight Watchers with her or doing water aerobics with her, which is easy on the joints? Exercise would help her mood immensely. Someone not used to exercise classes could sure use the support of a friend willing to attend with her. You might enjoy it yourself, and it could really save your friendship and give you a common interest!

    This friendship doesn’t sound like it’s working anymore and is good for either of you. If you can’t change your attitude towards her and stop judging, you both would be better off without this friendship. I do think it would be a shame to end a friendship you have invested so much time in.

    Nobody is perfect and we all have problems. Everyone has something they have to work on, that’s more difficult for them than others. When someone is overweight, their problem is on display for the world to see, unlike other problems.

    Some of the responses here are so cold it’s disappointing.

  2. Maddie says:

    I practice medicine and see that obesity is the number one killer in this country especially combined with inactivity. The sad part is 90 percent of patients I see with this problem, care very little about helping to solve it. It’s a shame and very sad.

  3. Dionne says:

    If someone has a bad effect on you and it doesn’t seem solveable, for whatever reason, I’d say it’s time to back off from them. Maybe you’ll enjoy her company more and feel more tolerant with more distance.

  4. Amy F says:

    For me it doesn’t have to be either or. I pull back when relationships aren’t satisfying. I’d have a conversation with her about my concern regarding what is preventing her from taking better care of herself to prevent these health concerns (is this a psychiatric issue that she needs to address?). I’d use “I” statements. “I’m worried because you seem to have a lot of physical complaints and wonder if there’s something getting in the way of you following your doctor’s instructions to eat more healthy, exercise, and take your medications. I feel frustrated because to seems like there could be lifestyle changes that might improve your situation and wonder if there’s something getting in the way of that like depression that therapy could help.” If she’s full of excuses, “I just can’t listen to you talk about your health. It’s not helping you and it’s frustrating to me. You really need professional help with this.” Then I’d back away, but still maintain a more superficial relationship,
    My best friend has end stage cancer, I have no tolerance for people who aren’t taking care of themselves AND complaining to me about their health. I have no tolerance for people constantly complaining about hang nails etc. Everyone needs to bitch once in a whilre, but not repeatedly when they won’t help themselves.
    When I was going through cancer and having surgeries I had a friend who kept trying to have elective surgeries to mimic mine (breast reduction, hysterectomy,). I backed away and the friendship and or fizzled out.

  5. lottie says:

    Yes it is tiresome when someone drones on and on about health problems.No matter how many positives you come up with they seem to delight in putting up obstacles.It is as if they enjoy being on deaths door so to speak.The attention somehow makes them thrive.If a cure were to be found for moaning and groaning they would be devastated.They have nothing in their lives only illness but the benefits are awesome… attention.
    Like GraceW says reduce your time spent listening to their ailments.
    The heart to heart wont be worth your time,but you can give it a last chance by doing the following..

    There is a saying …You are a long time dead.

    Another version is you are a long time OLD. If your friend Vera is 65 yrs then just imagine if she lives another 30 yrs.

    My suggestion is to mention the later version saying to her in a kind and caring way that she needs to wake up to reality because she could live another 30yrs. After all she has been a kind caring friend to you in the past. Give her one more chance and then do as GraceW says limit your time with her. Lottie

  6. Tina says:

    Oh God! This one really hit home with me. My husband had a couple of his old college era hippie friends over last weekend, one morbidly obese, both stoned out of their minds.

    I had been working for five hours on the computer, and hoped we would all be able to enjoy the outdoors, a walk, the beach.No, the obese woman could only sit and be waited on. I sat there for hours, while they let us wait on them, cook, clean up, while I did household projects. These people have enjoyed our free hospitality in the summer, including sleepovers, for years, but never pitch in, like my other friends with similar moderate eating, partying, and health-consciousness.

    I don’t ever say anything to an overweight person, especially a friend, about how yoga and swimming can be great to manage arthritis and other conditions that contribute to obesisity. I have a chronic illness myself, and if I didn’t exercise, I would also be an obese cripple. I feel like I’m being judged for being slim and fit and young for my age, as if this were vanity, but it is really just a physical and especially mental health thing.

    I never talk about my health issues unless pointedly asked; I try to focus on the health, and it grows, accordingly.

    • cyn says:

      Tina, I am 52, had a full hysterectomy in 2007 and suffer from menopause terribly, Yoga and a healthy lifestyle helps a great deal. I refuse to be on steroids due to weight gain, natural is how we go. My son is Autistic and eats pretty much Vegetarian in my home, now with his father that is different. I take him out for walks every day and he is very active at 19, I do not have him on medications and he is doing great, no behaviors at all, we are a natural household and now my ex is on the bandwagon. It is about choices. As for those lazy friends, do not have them back. I could never be that nervy when invited to anyone’s home.

      • Tina says:

        Yes, you’re right, it’s about choices! The sad thing is, this obese pot head friend, when we knew her in college over 30 years ago, was a jock. I know she’s probably very troubled, and I try to be compassionate, but I think I have a right to say, no illegal drugs on my property.

        I think they could tell just from my alarmed manner (I’m no good at hiding my feelings) that I was a little freaked out. But I never preach to anyone. When I was in my early 20s I smoked cigarettes, and went through a brief period of being a bit overweight. Working long waitressing shifts, I realized how even an extra 20 pounds is a huge handicap.

        A friend’s brother said, “What Happened?” So I know what it’s like to be judged over 20 pounds. (Now this person is overweight himself!)

        I am not “weightiest” and have several friends who are heavy and gorgeous and productive and try to do a bit of exercise here and there, but it’s not their thing and I get that. But they never talk about their weight or complain about their health.

        • cyn says:

          Your home, your rules. No Pot, Cigarettes or drugs in my home as well. When I caught my ex husband who never smoked, smoking. I flipped on him, my son or his nasty habit. He quit No smoking. I have friends who are heavy as well, some of them beautiful women who dress to the nines. I am not preachy.

  7. cyn says:

    I agree with Grace, I also practice a healthy lifestyle, ballet, biking and Yoga. I am from NYC, the lifestyles are completely different and people tend to be a little more heath conscious. I am 52 and diabetes runs in my family. I currently live in Cheyenne Wyoming where the Obesity rates are high, where people drive everywhere, even to the mailbox clusters and where everyone smokes and drinks a great deal. Sometimes in our quest to maintain a healthy lifestyle it may come of as preachy and arrogant, so we need to be diligent to the different attitudes and lifestyles. I take care of myself but will not push that on anyone else. If they want to lead a healthy life they have the mind and ability to do so if they put their minds to it. Sometimes, lifestyles clash. You can be listen to her and offer suggestions but do not sound judgmental.

    • cyn says:

      I lost a friendship of over 40 years because of her unhealthy lifestyle, when she moved to the Suburbs of NJ she put on over 100 pounds, stopped walking and was being driven by her girlfriend everywhere, she became complacent and lazy. This friend complained about every ailment under the sun but never had any clear diagnoses from doctors, often diagnosing herself. I offered her some helpful suggestions but it seemed like she took pride in making up her own illnesses and seeking attention, that friendship took a turn for th worse in Feb 2014 when I visited NYC and she would not even take Public Transportation to meet me in the City, she had no way besides her girlfriend to come to NYC. I had enough and it was all done from there, sometimes we can lead a horse to water but we cannot make them drink.

  8. GraceW says:

    I wonder if the problem isn’t so much the difference in lifestyles as it is the frustration of always being the one who listens while the other complains and obsesses about herself? Would you want to maintain a friendship with someone who has the same lifestyle but who constantly complains about a problem that she refuses to fix?

    I personally would skip the heart-to-heart talk – you’ve already tried and been accused of “preaching” – and just reduce the amount of time spent with this person.

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