Dear Friend or Foe,
“Jack,” my boyfriend of five years, just finished his graduate degree, while “Dan,” his best friend since high school, dropped out of art school and now supports himself primarily by selling drugs (which he also abuses). Until recently, Dan was living a few hours away. But a year ago, while I was traveling, Jack told me that Dan was trying to better himself—a project he attempts yearly—and wanted to move to our city to get a “fresh start.” Jack asked if, while I was gone, Dan could stay at our place. I agreed, provided that no drugs came into our home and Dan knew that he had to be out by the time I got back.
When I returned a month later, the room Dan was staying in was so dirty it was infested with insects. Oh, and he was still there. Dan had only been able to find part-time work, so he hadn’t gotten his own apartment. Plus, his girlfriend was now staying with him. Jack and I told them they needed to find another place to stay by the end of the week. Dan flew into a violent rage and stormed out, then called the next day threatening to kill himself. Jack was incredibly upset and felt responsible, but he convinced Dan to check himself into an in-patient substance-abuse program. Dan lasted only three days, saying it wasn’t for him. I told Jack I didn’t think the relationship between the two of them was healthy, and that Dan was not someone I felt comfortable around—or would want involved in the lives of my children. Jack agreed to limit contact.
That lasted a few months—until Dan moved cross-country, was arrested (for, among other things, a gun charge), and called Jack for advice. For months, Jack would only admit they’d been talking when I asked directly. Now they are back to being best friends. Moreover, after bouncing around, Dan has ended up in the city we plan to move to, living in the dorm room of his college-age girlfriend and still using. What should I do? I don’t feel right giving my boyfriend an ultimatum. And I appreciate that Dan has had a difficult life with no family support. But he’s had opportunities to receive help and hasn’t taken them. I also feel threatened by him and worry about his influence on Jack. To be honest, I’m not sure I want to marry him if Dan is a part of his life. Recently, I mentioned to Jack that I was disgusted by prostitutes at bachelor parties, and Jack said there would probably be one at his, since Dan would order one and he “wouldn’t be able to stop him.”
My Boyfriend’s BFF Is a Bad Influence
Dan sounds like a disaster area—agreed. But while you assert that he’s a bad influence on your guy, other than the possibility of him booking hookers for Jack’s bachelor party, I don’t see any direct evidence. Yes, Jack let him stay in your apartment while you were away and apparently failed to notice the cockroaches aggregating near his sock collection. But it’s not as if, with Dan’s help, Jack has turned into a transient, suicidal, underage-girl-dating drug addict himself. In fact, apart from this issue, he sounds fully committed to making you happy and to your future together.
It sounds as if Dan and Jack’s relationship has more to do with one old friend looking out for another than two guys bent on raising hell. I would go so far as to say it speaks well of your boyfriend that he feels so protective of someone as messed up as Dan. Nor is it Dan’s fault that you two are moving to the city he’s currently scoring in. In short, I don’t see that it’s your right to tell your husband with whom he can associate, especially since his and Dan’s friendship predates you two.
What you can insist on, however, is that Jack refrain from bringing Dan to your new home. Drugs are one thing. Potentially violent, unstable people are quite another. (I’d be wary, too.) But after you make your point, stop complaining and let it go. You don’t want to let this issue drive you and your boyfriend apart. Already, you’ve put Jack in a position where he feels compelled to lie to you. That’s not a good pattern to establish. As for Jack’s bachelor party, why don’t you decide if you actually want to marry the guy before you start worrying about what happens in Vegas? In my book, husbands are allowed to have at least one awful friend. I’ve never heard of anyone deciding not to marry the man (or woman) they love because of the platonic company he or she keeps.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
I’ve been best friends with “Jenna” since our freshman dorm days, seven years ago. Even though we now live 1,000 miles away from each other, we still communicate multiple times a week via e-mail, phone calls, Facebook, and texts, and we see each other several times a year. Six weeks ago, my father suffered seizures, and a brain tumor was found. The experience has been scary and stressful. I called Jenna right away and leaned on her for support. Initially, she was there for me and checking up regularly. A month ago, I called to update her on my dad’s coming surgery, and she texted back saying she was busy with her boyfriend and would call early that week. I haven’t heard from her since. (A side note: When I met the boyfriend, I found him rude and less than impressive; he’s also broken up with Jenna three times, but she keeps going back. So it’s adding insult to injury that he’s apparently more important to her than her best friend is.)
My family recently found out that the tumor was late-stage cancer, another blow, which Jenna now has no idea about. I know if the roles were reversed, I’d be checking up daily and probably planning a visit. Should I call her and tell her how I feel? I fear that if she doesn’t show any remorse, I might have to end this friendship. Is that too harsh, or this event a very telling one? I feel very hurt—and can’t help but wonder if in the face of a crisis, Jenna’s true colors are appearing.
My BFF Is MIA
Assuming that Jenna doesn’t have a well-established flakiness problem, there must be more to the story than you know. I suggest getting in touch with her directly, airing your hurt, and finding out what accounts for her neglect. There are several possibilities. Maybe you said something during your last phone call that bothered her enough to withdraw her affections. (Maybe she felt you were judging her boyfriend or in some way dismissive of him. Though I’m assuming you didn’t share the opinions you voiced in this letter with Jenna.) Alternately, perhaps she’s having a crisis of her own. It’s still no excuse for dissing you, but at least it’s an explanation.
The last possibility is that she doesn’t like being leaned on and is sending you a message, loud and clear—despite her silence—that you ought to find real friends elsewhere, because she’s no longer one of them. I hope it’s not the latter, but college roomies often do go their separate ways by the time they reach their 30s. In the meantime, I’m very sorry for your father and for your family. How sad for all of you—and how disappointing that your BFF didn’t live up to her title when she was needed most.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
Recently I asked my close friend of five years—”Dale”—to baby-sit my 2-and-a-half-year-old (she has a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old). As I was walking out the door, she casually announced that she’d be taking my daughter to someone else’s home where they could all swim. While I’m fine with her keeping my daughter in her home, I’m not OK with her taking my child to someone else’s house or taking her swimming. Stunned by Dale’s presumption that she could do either thing without my permission, I didn’t say anything in the moment. But as I drove away, it kept gnawing at me, and my instinct told me to turn around and go get my daughter. So I did just that with the lie that my event had ended much earlier than expected. Since then, Dale has told me she’s hurt, insulted, and humiliated. I will not apologize for following my maternal instinct. Nor will I agree that what she did was OK. I’ve made several attempts to repair the relationship, but she is adamant that she was in the right. This is our first disagreement, and I’m also deeply disturbed at how quickly she seems willing to end the friendship simply because I asserted my parental preference. Does a friend have a right to insist that you substitute her parental judgment for your own? Obviously, Dale and I have different styles of child-rearing. She often makes verbal jabs that my daughter is “overprotected.” (My feeling is that she’s 2, and it’s my job to protect her!) Who’s right?
Not OK To Take My 2-Year-Old to a Neighbor’s Pool
Hmm. Regarding the pool, that’s a tough call. I admit that I would have had a pang of worry myself hearing that one woman—however close a friend and however competent a guardian—was going to be responsible for three young kids who probably can’t do much more than doggie paddle. (Do we even know if Dale had water wings or rings for all of them?) As for taking your 2-year-old to a neighbor’s house, though, I’m afraid I’m going to have to side with Dale there. Your baby is human. And however much you might wish to keep Tiny Tim (or Tara) in a padded playpen for the next 18 years, humans live in the world. In fact, it’s good for your child’s development to be exposed to other places and faces. Time to unlock the gate.
What’s more, if you’re going to leave your friend to baby-sit, you’re also going to have to trust her to handle your little one with care. On that note, I wonder if what Dale is really furious about is not your excess of paranoia but your lack of gratitude. (It’s not as if she doesn’t already have her hands full at home!) You say you lied about why you came back so quickly. But at some point in the dispute you obviously let slip that you didn’t think she was acting responsibly. Did you also use the opportunity to thank her for her being so generous in offering to help at all? Please note that, before you flipped, she may well have believed that by arranging a pool date she was giving your beloved a special treat.
As for the future of your friendship, since neither of you is willing to apologize verbally—as neither of you believe you did anything wrong—action is going to have to suffice. I suggest attempting a nice gesture of your own, such as inviting her kids over for dinner and a video. (Anything but Jaws.)
Friend or Foe
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