Lucinda Rosenfeld is also now taking questions for an upcoming, occasional feature, “Keep or Creep: Advice on whether to make up or break up.” Please send all questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Friend or Foe,
My friend—”Jon”—and I used to work together. He’s a great guy but a bit strange and socially awkward. At 27, he’s never had a girlfriend and doesn’t make friends easily; at parties, he’ll only talk to the few people he already knows. Based on how he interacts with people, I think he may have some form of high-functioning autism.
Recently I posted something on my Facebook page about how terrible people are at driving. Jon replied that if anyone hits him in their car, “The nation will feel my wrath.” He also posted the other day about how he can’t wait for the apocalypse, as he “can’t wait until everyone’s dead.” I’d assume he was joking, except the tone of a lot of his posts are dark and he only talks about how terrible life is and how no one will ever love him, etc.
While I don’t hang out with Jon much—he’s really hard to have a conversation with—I truly feel bad for him and would feel somewhat responsible if he hurt himself. I also really don’t want him to hurt anyone else. Worried, I contacted his brother via Facebook. His brother replied that he’d give the matter his full attention, but so far I’ve seen no change in the tone of Jon’s posts. Should I talk to anyone else about this and, if so, whom? I don’t know any of Jon’s other family members, and his parents have a different last name than him so I can’t look them up.
Have you thought about approaching Jon directly? You say he’s hard to have a conversation with. And I’m sure that’s true. But expressing your concern—and telling Jon that you’re here if he needs your ear and/or a professional referral—doesn’t require you to be a great conversationalist. If the encounter goes badly and Jon acts offended or tells you to go to hell, at least you’ll know you tried. Plus, it doesn’t sound as if you two hang out much, anyway. So if he cuts you off, it’s not as if you’ll be losing a close friend.
What else should you do? While no medical professional myself, I have to agree that Jon sounds as if he wishes ill on a world he perceives as having wronged him. Does that mean he’s about to unload an Uzi in a crowded McDonalds? Not necessarily. Talk is talk. It’s also free and legal in this country and theoretically doesn’t hurt anyone. But most suicidal and homicidal maniacs do drop hints about their intentions in the weeks leading up to their crimes. Has Jon spoken of harming anyone in particular, in any particular place? (You don’t say.) If you have a hunch that violence against himself or others is a real possibility, I don’t think you’d be wrong to contact your local police. You could also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK), through which you can speak with a crisis counselor about helping someone else.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
I have an old friend, “Amy,” whose company I enjoy. But I have not had much contact with her over the past year because of a major secret in my life that I didn’t want to share but felt uncomfortable lying about. About a year ago, I left my husband for another man. The decision was an extremely painful one to make, and the months following the break up were the most difficult of my life. I had chosen not to tell my husband—or anyone but two or three people—that there was another guy. And I moved out of state (to the home of my new partner). I told Amy the same thing I told most of my family and friends: that I was going away for a few months for a change of scenery. I also made up a story about a new job that I’d found to pay the bills and a place I’d found to live.
Because I don’t like lying to Amy, however, I became distant and haven’t spoken to her in months. Now I’m back in town—my partner has moved here with me—and I’d like to get back in touch with her. But I’m not sure what to say. A big part of me wants to be honest and admit that I lied to her, but I’m afraid she’ll feel betrayed and not trust me anymore. As an alternative, I could just be vague about my “job” and the start date of my new relationship and let Amy think it’s moving very fast. (We plan to get engaged in a month or two.) But that means keeping a big secret. What’s the best way to handle this?
Not Used to Being Secretive
I’m not generally of the opinion that our friends need to know every last detail about our personal lives. (As the saying goes, the only two people who know what’s going on in a marriage are the two people in it—or, in your case, three.) But since you seem to feel especially guilty about having lied to Amy, you might as well be honest and beg for her forgiveness. Chances are she’ll be relieved both to have you back in her life and to have an explanation, finally, for your disappearing act.
That said, I’m wondering why you were comfortable telling “two or three people” but not your old friend Amy. Was Amy close with or otherwise connected to your ex-husband, whereas the two or three chosen people you told were not that close to him? Were you worried that Amy in particular would judge you? Or was the calculation based purely on who was least likely to let the news slip? Whatever the case, I admit to finding it curious that you’re so upset about having lied to your girlfriend but seem to have little compunction about doing the same to your husband, a person with whom you presumably exchanged vows. Call me old-fashioned, but doesn’t the man you marry have the right to know that you’re leaving him for another guy? Of course, when you and the New Man get engaged next month, it will become obvious to anyone with half a brain that the new relationship overlapped with the old marriage. Nobody “moves fast” after a divorce except those who already have a new gig waiting in the wings.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
I lost my job last year, and, like a lot of people, I turned to friends for solace, comfort, commiseration, and, of course, happy hours. Recently, I had dinner with one of my best friends, “Stan,” of 30 years standing. We went to college together, then law school, and then both moved to New York. I was a groomsman at his wedding. I moved away for 18 years, but even then we’d always chat and exchange e-mails. At dinner that night, my bud said, “I can get you a job.” I didn’t pay much attention then. But afterward I kept thinking about what he said. A few weeks later I sent him an e-mail saying that I was embarrassed to be writing but that, since he’d offered, any help he could give would be much if not eternally appreciated. He responded, “Cool, we’ll talk.” I figured that that was that. But I thought, Why not? I’ll follow up. So I e-mailed him again and repeated my speech. He sent me, rapid fire, several e-mails, and the gist of them was: “You can sell internet ads on commission, and you can make about 35k to start.” Oh, and “You’ll need to work really hard, and really be passionate about it, and it’ll be tough for a while, but you never know.” This from my classmate at an Ivy League college and law school who works at a hedge fund and makes mid-seven figures. It’s insulting, but more, it’s just troubling. (That’s what Stan thinks of me?) I haven’t spoken to him since. What do you think? I’ve been stewing.
Victim of Schadenfreude—or Worse
Unless there’s more to the story than you’re saying—and assuming that, previously, you were earning good money at a mid- to high-level position at a white-collar firm—it was totally insensitive of Stan, I agree. Of course, there are readers out there (this writer included) who may be thinking: Hey, $35,000 is nothing to sneeze at these days! But given your fancy pedigree, I can see how dancing in your skivvies at Chippendales might seem more dignified.
Two explanations for Stan’s behavior: Either he’s missing a screw and actually thought he was being helpful or your friendship contains a strong undercurrent of competition—one that you’re only now acknowledging—and Stan was trying to gain the upper hand.
I asked my husband what he thought, and, in typical guy fashion, he suggested cutting him off. Forever. But I think you’ll feel better if you call attention to his jerkiness. My advice would be to do so in a humorous way. Send him a one line e-mail such as, “Hey, saw a listing on Monster.com thought you might be interested! Turns out you can make four cents a day wiping donkey asses. You should check it out! I think you’re very qualified. But you have to scrub really hard.” If Stan has an iota of self-awareness, he’ll get the message. After that, it’s his job to apologize. If he does, forgive and move on.
While you’re waiting for an answer—and despite your understandable upset over your employment situation—you might also decide to find humor in the almost comically underminer-y nature of Stan’s suggestion.
Friend or Foe
Please send your questions for publication to email@example.com. (Questions may be edited.)