Dear Friend or Foe,
My best-friend “Ellie” left her job late last year after she was dropped from full- to part-time status—a decision I supported. But it hasn’t been easy for her: She has been nominally unemployed ever since. For my birthday early this summer, I wanted to go ballooning. In the invite I sent out, I specified that it would cost each of us $150-$200. So I understood if, for financial reasons, some people couldn’t do it. Ellie replied saying that she was sorry, but she couldn’t afford it.
Well, later in the summer, another friend spotted my best friend in line at the AT&T store before it opened, waiting to buy the new iPhone, which costs upward of $300. I got really upset when I found out, confronted her, and said I felt as though she’d rather have a new phone than celebrate my birthday with me. She said that it was none of my business how she spent her money. But I think she made it my business when she used money as the sole reason for saying no to my birthday idea. And I told her that. She responded that she’d dashed off the e-mail without really thinking about it. And there were other reasons. And I shouldn’t take it personally.
We’re OK now. But whenever I see her take out her iPhone or talk about how wonderful it is, I get a little upset. Is there anything I can do to stop? I feel like I’m being irrational.
Not as Good as an iPhone
Yes, you are being irrational. But more than irrational, you’re being self-sabotaging. Create unrealistic expectations, and you’ll always be disappointed (and feel rejected). Forgive me for admitting that I let out a giggle when I read the word “ballooning”—by which I assume you mean “hot-air ballooning.” Let’s just say that it’s an “acquired taste” kind of activity. That’s one way of putting it. Another would be; “I’d rather die than catapult through the sky at 30,000 feet in a flimsy wicker basket!”
Unless you travel in the multimillionaire set, $200—especially in these rough economic times—is simply too much to ask any of your buddies to spend on a birthday. Even a big birthday. It’s even a lot to spend on a wedding present.
Finally, comparing a ballooning expedition to the purchase of a smartphone really is comparing apples to oranges. One involves risking your life. The other is quite literally a lifeline, especially for the unemployed, who, on a psychological level, may feel that it keeps them connected to the world and, on a practical level, need to be near their e-mail. That Ellie wanted to get the Phone of the Moment is her business. Your business is figuring out a nice way to celebrate your birthday. Next year, try a potluck dinner party at your place. You make the main course. All your friends bring the sides. I guarantee that everyone will raise a glass.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
My roommate and co-worker, “Joy,” recently broke into the e-mail account of her boyfriend, “Stew,” who is also our co-worker. She showed me e-mails from a year ago in which he graphically described to another officemate how he wanted to have sex with me. One e-mail included projections of what I’d be like in bed. Naturally, Joy was upset.
Before this, Joy and Stew’s relationship had been going really well. As her friend, I counseled that these e-mails were from before she and Stew were officially bf/gf. I also told her that there were things boys said but didn’t act upon.
Privately, however, I felt upset and sexually harassed. Before this, I thought Stew was a great guy. Since seeing his e-mails, I haven’t been able to look him in the eye. What’s more, as my roommate’s boyfriend, Stew is going to be spending time at our house. I feel he should be held accountable for his actions.
I decided to tell Joy how I felt, and she’s stopped talking to me as a result. Since I want to maintain our friendship, should I forget about this and move on? Or do I have an obligation to stand up for myself and the other women in the office? (I wasn’t the only female co-worker whom Stew wrote crude things about.) I suspect—and, apparently, so does Joy—that her relationship will suffer if I confront him about what I’ve seen. Joy confronted Stew herself and he insisted the e-mails were a joke. (And she apologized for snooping.) But she never got him to acknowledge how wrong it was to make sexual “jokes” about co-workers in the first place. I feel like he owes me an apology. Am I wrong?
Think I Deserve an Apology
Quel mess. I’m wondering at the wisdom of your roommate showing you those e-mails in the first place. Must everyone see everything? If she was going to show them to you, it seems a bit rich of her to imagine—as Joy seems to imagine—that you’d be able to continue your hunky-dory relationship with the guy after reading about the various pornographic things he longed to do to you on top of the water cooler …
As for my feelings about the e-mails themselves, assuming they were a) not group e-mails but intended as the private correspondence of two grown men and b) written on a personal, not company account (you don’t specify), they’re really nobody’s business but Stew’s. Yes, ideally, heterosexual men wouldn’t be fantasizing about their hot young co-workers in their off-hours, but they’re also human. The issue, to me, is whether any of this fantasizing affected Stew’s behavior in the workplace. You say that before reading his private e-mails, you thought he was a great guy. So apparently the answer is no. The guilty party therefore is your friend, Joy, who got exactly the punishment she deserved (for snooping)—and also, unfortunately, managed to punish an innocent party (you) at the same time.
I think you need to sit Joy down and tell her that if she didn’t want you to be upset or freaked out, she should have made those graphic e-mails her own cross to bear—not yours. As for confronting Stew, you can be sure he’ll die of shame and embarrassment if you tell him what you saw. He’ll also, yes, probably break up with Joy because he can’t deal with the whole subject. But I wouldn’t bother, unless you’re itching for a scene. All you’ll ultimately gain is a skulking co-worker and a weeping roomie, neither of which will make your life any more pleasant. Instead, I suggest rolling your eyes at both of them and saving money for your own place.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
“Hunter,” who is like a sister to me, has been in a psychologically abusive relationship for two years. After months of counseling her through a tearful and difficult breakup, I invited her to stay with my husband and me for the summer, across the country from where she lives. I found her a summer internship—she’s in law school—as well as a cheap plane ticket.
When Hunter arrived, I found out that she’d gotten back together with her ex. Although upset, I tried to stay unbiased. But within a week, she became erratic, cold, and impulsive. One time, she showed up in the middle of the night after wandering lost and drunk through a dangerous neighborhood. Soon, she began leaving for several days at time without communicating when or if she’d be back. After a 10-day absence, she told me her ex had dumped her again and she was having a difficult time. She packed all her things and left without so much as a goodbye or a thank you.
That was three weeks ago. I’ve tried to reach out to her, texting, IM’ing, and e-mailing. Hunter has either ignored my messages or been noncommittal. I’m frustrated by her lack of responsiveness, but I also know that extending myself was my own doing and that I shouldn’t be asking for anything in return. Nonmutual friends I’ve told about the situation insist that she’s resentful and jealous of my stable career, relationship, and new home, and that I should just let her go. What, if anything, can I do?
Breaking Up With Friends Is Hard To Do
There’s not much you can do that you’re not already doing. Which is to say, letting her know you’re there if she wants to talk. Hunter is clearly in some kind of pain. Whether it’s the boyfriend’s doing or whether her problems precede him, I can’t say. But I don’t see that your nonmutual friends’ reading of the situation is helpful or even necessarily accurate. It seems just as possible to me that Hunter is so inside her own problems right now that she can’t be a friend to anyone, stable or unstable. It’s also unfortunately the case that having leaned on you during the earlier breakup (and, most likely, gotten you to corroborate how rotten the guy is), she feels like she can’t turn to you now for further solace regarding her most recent breakup. “I told you so” is probably the advice she least wants.
You’re not getting anything out of the friendship right now. So you might as well leave it alone for a while. If Hunter is really like a sister to you, try again in six months (or a year). Here’s hoping that by then, she’ll be hot and heavy with a nice young “third year.” Maybe, by then, she’ll also be ready to say, “Thank you.”
Friend or Foe
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