Friends Let You Vent

Venting. It’s controversial in its effect on our happiness, and our friendships. Some say letting out steam and going on a rant about some terrible awful only fuels anger. Some studies have even found that whatever you say about another person, people attribute to you. So if I’m complaining that my boss is insecure or my third cousin is selfish, my friend on the receiving end of the vent will, subconsciously, begin to think that I’m insecure and selfish.

That’s no good.

Usually I think no-venting is better than venting, definitely. That doesn’t mean I’m especially good at following my own advice, of course. I’m a talker, and I have a really hard time processing thoughts without speaking them aloud. Even if all that does, more often than not, is get me more worked up or poison the person I’m speaking to against whoever I’m venting about.

So, yeah. Venting is, in theory, unproductive. But let me tell you. Last night I needed it.

I was in an angry tizzy when I got a funny text from one of my closest friends in the world. It was a hilarious reference to a Facebook photo. Just the thing to put a smile on my face, and it came at the perfect time. As soon as I saw it I thought, “Yes! This is exactly who I need to talk to.” So I rang up my bestie in San Francisco, and, great friend that she is, she let me go off. She listened, commiserated, told me I was in the right (just what I needed to hear) and that I had every reason to be mad, and then changed the subject enough to distract me and calm me down. She was, in that moment, exactly who I needed. By the time I hung up, I was calmer. I’d let all my anger out and had nothing more to say. So I did the most productive thing I could think of. I got in bed with a book, and went to sleep. So much more pleasant than staying up and stewing, which probably would have happened had my pal not come to my rescue.

I still say less is more when it comes to venting. If your whole life is spent complaining about this horrible thing or that person who wronged you, it’ll just turn you into a sourpuss. Your friends will avoid you because you’ve become such a downer. But if you can save your venting for the times you really need a friend’s ear, well then, I hate to even write these cheesy words, but that’s what friends are for.

Sometimes, you don’t need a local BFF. A faraway pal will work just fine. And someone who’s known you since you were 18, and knows how to calm you down, is a keeper.

Are you a venter? Or do you avoid it at all costs? Is the ability to hear you out and calm you down one of the things that makes someone your BFF?

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Friends Let You Vent

  1. San

    I politely disagree. I think, venting is important. It’s just a matter of how you vent and for how long you let it go on for.
    I believe there is nothing better than letting off some steam to be able to gain focus again and move on. You just need to limit the time and energy you spend on venting (and clearly vent to the right person, who a) knows you well and b) won’t hold it against you.)

    There are, of course, people who vent to the wrong people – as in, people who don’t know you well. That’s a bad choice and won’t do you no good. But venting to a close friend, who can put things into perspective again afterward, is a really deliberating act.

    • San, I love polite (or even impolite) disagreement! As was my case last night, you’re definitely right. Personally, though, sometimes when I vent I just get myself more and more infuriated. It snowballs instead of dissipating. But you’re right– the perfect combo of person and time can be really cathartic.

  2. Ana

    Hmmm. I think there is VENTING—getting something off your chest or talking through it & then moving on and OBSESSING—going on & on to multiple people on multiple days about the same topic. And yes, as San says, the right person is essential. I have a problem with that whole “if you say something negative about someone else, the listener will attribute that trait to you” thing. Maybe if its someone who doesn’t know you well…but your husband, or sister, or good friend isn’t suddenly going to think you are lazy when you complain about a lazy co-worker.

    sometimes all I need is to talk it through & get an outside perspective on the matter, and the anger/stress/etc… disappear. In your own head, little harmless things can get out of control, so its helpful to hear it outloud and also get a dose of reality.

  3. For me, being able to vent to a close friend is essential. And I do mean the way Rachel describes; venting, eliminating the anger, being calmed and moving on in a better frame of mind.
    However, this is also a reciprocal privilege of a very close friend. You have to be able and willing to do the same for her.
    My only rule about venting is to not be as sympathetic if the friend vents about the exact same thing more times than is humanly possible to hear. I even wrote an email to one of my BFFs after one such phone conversation stating my exact thoughts on this and told her that nothing had changed since her first vent except my patience level and I could no longer hear about it. Risky? Yes, but necessary for the welfare of my marriage.
    Sometimes you just have to draw the line, but mostly I’m the one that listens more than vents.

  4. I agree completely that it matters WHO you vent to – some “friends” will only take the opportunity to knock you down a peg. “Well, you DO act that way sometimes.” Wrong answer! It has to be an old friend, or a new friend that you bonded instantly with and who obviously understands your idiosyncrasies despite not knowing you forever.

    This post also reminds me that I need to limit my venting. As I’ve gotten older (ancient 29 that I am), I have less time to stay on the phone for hours with people going over the same problem…but plenty of time to go over it in my own head. When its a serious issue, I will make time to chat with a close friend, but I need to nip it in the bud on my own time!

  5. Deb

    Although this thread is somewhat dated, it is right on time for me. I realize that my problem is that I have trouble distinguishing when my BFFs are venting from when they are looking for a solution. When “venting” is just another word for name-calling or, as Ana points out “obsessive” then I need to warn my dear friends that they may want to seek a more sympathetic ear.

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