Dear Friend or Foe,
I’m a woman in my late 20s with a small-but-close group of friends. Last week, my friend “Becky” was over at my place and used my computer to check Facebook. That night after she left, I noticed that she’d forgotten to log off. I got the bright idea to look through her messages. I saw one with my name in it and couldn’t stop myself from reading it. Becky and my other friend “Megan” had been sending some very cruel messages about me over a period of two weeks. The gist of them was that Megan thought I was clingy and anti-social and suggested that Becky distance herself from me because, although we were both single, Becky would have no problem getting a man if she wanted. But I was a hopeless case.
I feel totally crushed having read this. I had no idea they were feeling this way. (We’d been hanging out and socializing like nothing was wrong.) I also feel terribly guilty: I should have known better than to invade someone’s privacy. I can’t say anything because I shouldn’t have been snooping. I wonder whether Megan is jealous because she and Becky were friends first and, once I came along, Becky and I became very close. But I’m hurt that Becky would have agreed with Megan instead of sticking up for me. Am I just reading too much into some un-thought-through-yet-nasty gossip? Should I back off and let them continue being friends without me? Until two days I ago, I would have considered Becky the one person in this world I could count on. Now I feel uncomfortable socializing with both of them.
Curiosity Killed the Cat
I hate to say this, but you got the punishment you were looking for. The sad truth is that everyone talks about one another, and everyone pretends they don’t. The problem with electronic messaging—or, at least, the problem with reading other peoples’ electronic messages—is that they make serious and stark what, in an earlier era, would have been idle chatter, as quickly forgotten as it was uttered. It’s not that you’re “reading too much” into nasty gossip. The gossip was certainly cruel. It’s that you’re reading something that never should have been committed to paper, virtual or otherwise.
I think it’s imperative that you differentiate between Megan and Becky here. The bitchfest seems to have originated with Megan. Becky’s crime was, according to your description, to agree, tacitly or otherwise, with Megan’s judgments. It’s possible that Becky doesn’t believe a word of what Megan said but thought it was easier not to protest. I think it would be fair to you to distance yourself somewhat from Megan, who doesn’t sound as if she has your best interest at heart. With Becky—who you clearly consider the closer friend—I think you should try to forget you ever saw those messages.
A final note: Be as insulted as you want. But please also note that Megan’s first accusation is an oxymoron. You can’t simultaneously be clingy and anti-social, unless she means you’re clingy with a small group of people but that you shy away from others. In my book, that’s called discerning.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
For a decade following a bad breakup, my friend “Gabby” showed no interest in meeting new guys. I’ve since moved away, but we remained close. The summer before last, Gabby started e-mailing me about a handyman whom she had a crush on. I suggested asking him to a movie. She did, and he politely declined. I’ve been accused of being brutally honest, but I can’t lie to my friends: I told Gabby that meant he wasn’t interested. Even so, Gabby spent the next year analyzing his every move and trying to win him over—to no avail. Just as I’d predicted, it turned out he was dating someone else, the news of which left Gabby devastated.
During this time, I also began to sense that she no longer thought I was a supportive friend, since I refused to “read” Handyman’s moving his glass one inch closer to her as a sure sign that he was prepared to fall madly in love with her. Her e-mails became more and more distant.
Just recently, I got an e-mail from Gabby, telling me I was right all along about Handyman. In the last sentence, she mentioned that—oh, by the way—she’s now dating my old boyfriend, “Fred.” After picking myself up off the ground, I had to wonder why a) he’d want to be with someone who has been pining away for another man for the past year and why b) Gabby would suddenly be attracted to someone she’d always told me was a nice guy but not for a relationship. In any case, the next day I sent an e-mail congratulating her, as I’m genuinely happy for them both.
A month later, I went out for lunch with Gabby and another friend. The entire time she said nothing about Fred. At the end of lunch, I finally asked how they were doing. She announced that her new relationship was private. Huh? Now both she and Fred go out of their way not to mention the other person’s name. She’ll say that she went to a movie with “a friend.” Hello? My best guess is that she thinks I’ll be judgmental. What should I do?
Can’t Deal with the Elephant in the Room
Chances are that Gabby’s silence has less to do with punishing you—or feeling weirded out by your and Fred’s shared past, or scared of your reaction—than with her humiliation over the whole handyman fiasco. That time, nothing happened and she gabbed endlessly. When he turned out to be nothing more than, well, her handyman, she felt ashamed and vulnerable. This time—for the first time in more than a decade!—something finally is happening on the romantic front. Whether for superstitious reasons or not, she probably figures it’s a good idea to keep her mouth shut, at least until she finds out whether she and Fred are for real.
You say that you’re genuinely happy for Fred and Gabby. And I believe you—mostly. But, then, why must you pass judgment on their connection? People change their mind about others all the time. Sometimes all it takes is a kiss to turn a frog into a prince (or a friend into a “friend with benefits”). As for Fred’s interest in Gabby, if none of us were willing to date someone who was still hung up on someone else, we’d all be single forever. All this said, if you’re feeling a tad jealous or freaked at the thought of a former partner bedding a close friend, you wouldn’t be the first.
My guess is that, if and when Fred and Gabby get serious, she’ll begin to integrate talk of him into her conversation. In the meantime, give her some space. If you can’t stand the distance, send her an e-mail telling her that you think she and Fred make a terrific couple. You did nothing wrong speaking your mind the first time. But now it’s time to keep your mouth shut.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
I have a good friend, “Ellen.” I care for her deeply, but she and and her partner, “Portia”, have one serious flaw: They’re late to anything we plan together. In the past, I’ve brushed it off, since I know it’s Portia who is horrible about time management. But, lately, I’ve lost respect for Ellen because of the chronic lateness.
Recently, I invited them to dinner at my home. Fifteen minutes before they were due to arrive, Ellen sent me a text saying that they were stopping at a store and that they’d be over after. At that point, I thought it was odd and I was a bit miffed. When they finally showed up—one hour and 45 minutes later!—I was furious. What’s more, they were apologetic but had an attitude of “What can we say—we tried.”
I realized that my emotions were intensified because I was really tired (my baby is not sleeping through the night yet), and I had to get up early the next day for work. It was the extent of their lateness and their reason that pushed me over the edge this time. It wasn’t traffic, kids to tend to, car malfunction, an accident, work tie up, family drama—it was shopping! It just seems so indulgent. I should further clarify that my husband is currently deployed and that I’m home alone with an infant and a toddler. So putting on dinner means cleaning, preparing, and hosting, all the while managing and caring for two small children and their bedtime routine.
Part of me doesn’t want to continue this friendship with Ellen because I know that the lateness is not going to change or stop; part of me is humbly reminded that I have my issues, too, and that she loves and accepts me. Am I being too harsh?
Tired of Reheating Dinners
Well, you have two choices. You can do what my mother does with her pathologically tardy friend Jane—lie about the time. If you mean to put on dinner at 7, tell Ellen and Portia you’re inviting them for a late lunch. They’ll straggle in just as the chicken comes out of the oven. Or you can confront Ellen and tell her that her lateness problem is getting in the way of your friendship.
Explain that you put a lot of work into putting on dinner that night, and it really hurt your feelings that she put retail therapy ahead of your company and cooking. You might add that your life is not a piece of cake right now, what with a husband overseas, two monsters under 3, and a job to boot. Seeing good friends like her (and Portia) should be the “break” you look forward to at the end of the day—not another point of stress. Give her a chance to get the message and improve her ways (or not). Good luck! And for what it’s worth, you have buckets of my respect for holding it all together. I can’t believe you have the energy to cook at all!
Friend or Foe