Dear Friend or Foe,
For the past couple of years, I’ve been close friends with “Cara,” who is funny, entertaining, and supportive. Recently, I confided in her that I’ve become very serious about my recovery from sex and love addiction. I also told her that I’m completely off the romantic market until further notice. She said that she, too, is a sex/love addict, and was interested in going to a meeting with me. However, being something of a flake as well, she bailed on the meeting. No big deal; I wasn’t looking to indoctrinate her.
Then I received a text message from her saying she’d shown my Facebook pictures to a male friend, and he thought I was attractive. I was really upset that she’d do such a thing. I calmly reminded her that I wasn’t dating and told her she’d crossed a line. She apologized profusely, and said, “Well, he’s got a girlfriend right now anyway.” Since she’s never tried to set me up before, especially not someone with who’s taken, I have to believe her intent was sabotage my efforts and keep me acting out with men, like she does.
Cara wants to talk about the situation, but I’ve stopped responding to her messages. She’d told me before that she has borderline personality disorder and major abandonment issues. I feel guilty for not hearing her out, but I don’t want any more drama. Am I obligated to talk about this (i.e. do we have to have a “break-up” discussion)? What is the etiquette here? Other friends have advocated the “slow e-mail death” of the friendship.
Don’t Want To Be Rude, But …
If you’re tired of Cara, you’re under no obligation to continue the friendship. But if her only crime in your mind was to try to set you up on a date—even if that set-up was suggested while you were seeking help for sex addiction—I think you might want to rethink the situation before you delete her name from your address book forever. I’m not denigrating the gravity of your disease. But sleeping with your husband or bad-mouthing to your boss this wasn’t. Moreover, giving up your addiction to destructive relationships doesn’t have to mean giving up your ability to forgive.
OK, Cara went yenta on you at an inappropriate moment. But isn’t it possible that she momentarily forgot or misunderstood your recovery quest, ran into a cute male friend whom she knows to be a good guy, and thought she’d make both of your days a little brighter? Which is to say, isn’t it possible that her motive here was to actually make you happy? Conversely, I think you’re taking a very large leap in assuming that Cara’s clear intention was to lead you further down the road to ruin—simply by showing a picture of you to a male friend.
You say Cara has borderline personality disorder. So she’s obviously no rock of a human being. But until recently, you also found her “funny, entertaining, and supportive.” Unless there are other crimes here that you’re not reporting, I suggest cutting the woman some slack. If she starts trying to set you up with everyone from the bartender to the dogcatcher, I give you permission to unfriend, virtually and in real life.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
My longtime friend “Tammy” recently moved back to my city with her husband and baby. During her first few weeks here, I visited Tammy several times and even babysat her daughter so that she could attend a hair appointment. When she called to invite me to her daughter’s first birthday, I immediately expressed my regret that my husband and I wouldn’t be able to attend, as we were signed up to volunteer at an outdoor concert for the entire weekend. When I told Tammy about the conflict, however, she carried on as though I’d be able to attend both events.
I have a tendency to avoid conflict with loved ones. So rather than having it out with her then, I just let it go, though I did mention several times over the ensuing weeks that I’d be very busy volunteering. On the day of the party Tammy messaged me to ask when I’d be arriving. I immediately phoned and reminded her that I wasn’t attending. She sounded shocked and upset. She also asked me to drop off my spare set of keys to the condo in our building that her family still owns, so her out-of-town friends could stay there. (She had also told them that they could share transportation home from the party with us!) Unfortunately, I was already on my way to the concert site and couldn’t accommodate this request either. My last communication with Tammy was a text message apologizing to her that I hadn’t clarified the situation sooner.
Since then, Tammy has told a mutual friend that she’s still angry with me. There’s no question in my mind that our friendship is worth salvaging. But how do I re-establish contact? I’ve thought about e-mailing her to tell her that I miss her and feel bad about what happened. But the only thing I really feel bad about is not being more assertive from the start.
I can already hear my commenters railing about the nerve and presumptuous of folks like Tammy to assume that her child-free friends will want to sacrifice their weekend passes to Rock the Bayou/Ozzfest/Name Your Festival in order to sit around someone’s living room, ooh-ing and aww-ing over a bunch of 1-year-olds wearing conical hats. But I’m going to give Tammy the benefit of my doubt and assume that a) she’s not a bully who refuses to take no for an answer; and b) she wouldn’t have been signing you up for “drive home” duty if you’d been clear that you were definitely not attending the party.
As for what to do now, I’d write Tammy that you hate to disappoint the people you care about—which is why you weren’t more up front about your inability to attend Mini-Tammy’s first birthday. You realize now, however, that you created even more disappointment by leading her to believe that there was a chance you might show up. (See what she says.) And next time, do yourself a favor and, if you’re busy, proclaim it loudly and early. In the short term, saying, “I’ll do my best but I’m not sure” might be easier. But last-minute cancellations make everyone feel crappy.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
A year ago, I had to have my gallbladder removed. Since my employer didn’t provide health insurance, I paid for it in cash, which ate up my whole savings. Then I lost my job. As I was being evicted, my best friend of 10 years, “Ellen,” a woman I adore and admire, came up with an ingenious solution: She had a business associate, “Kim,” who needed an in-house nanny. I wouldn’t be paid in money, but I would have room and board. In a bind, I took the position—even though the house was four states away.
Within two weeks, I knew it was not going to work. Kim expected me to be on call 24/7 and also to help with her business. I didn’t have a single day off the entire time I was there. One evening, I finally went out (after working all day with the kids, plus cleaning the house). When I returned that evening, Kim told me I had to leave immediately. The next day, I called Ellen from my car to tell her what had happened. “I might as well fucking kill myself,” I said. I didn’t mean it, but I was broke, homeless, and scared. A few hours later, Ellen called again to say that her boyfriend had collected my stuff, and it was at her place. I drove over to pick it up and found that Ellen was furious at me—furious I’d said I wanted to kill myself, and furious that Kim was angry. I started to defend myself, but she said, “Fuck off.”
Stunned, I called after her, but she walked away. We haven’t spoken since, and it’s been a year. (Since then, I’ve tried phoning her, but she won’t call me back.) I miss her every day, and I don’t understand her anger. I’ve thought about writing her, but I feel as if the next move should come from her. I also wonder why she still has me listed as one of her Facebook friends. Several times, I’ve come close to de-friending her, only because seeing her name and face every day hurts so much.
Miss My Best Friend
The next move should come from Ellen, sure. But if you miss your buddy that much—and want to salvage the friendship—I suggest swallowing your pride and sending her a letter in which you tell her a) how much you miss her; b) how much you appreciate her attempts to find you employment last year after your medical bankruptcy; and c) how sorry you were it didn’t work out, but these were the reasons why. You could also apologize for frightening her by threatening suicide, when you were really just crying out for sympathy. If you’re looking for a template, the letter you wrote me isn’t far off the one you should send Ellen. If things in your life are better—and I’m hoping and assuming they are—you should also provide her with some details of what you’ve been up to in the last year.
The reality is that Ellen probably doesn’t hate you—why would she?—but is likely wary of the problems and drama you brought into her life. Look at it from her point of view: Here she had a friend and a colleague with two completely unrelated set of needs, and she tried to put you two together and help you both, it blew up in her face. (No doubt your fissure with Kim created tension for Ellen in her workplace as well.) Honestly, I’m not surprised that Ellen needed a breather from the friendship. But it’s time she, too, learned to forgive and move on. As for the Facebook stuff, I thought it had been agreed upon by all concerned parties that being someone’s “friend” in that context is an utterly meaningless designation.
Friend or Foe