Dear Friend or Foe,
A dear friend, “Barbara,” has had some hard times recently: months of unemployment, a big pay cut, and she’ll likely lose her house by next year. She desperately wants to move to the city where I live, which is where she grew up. She has tons of friends in a tight social circle they formed back in high school, well before we met. Of all her peeps here, my husband and I have the largest apartment, and it’s just around the corner from a subway stop. Having room for our friends, after all the years we spent on their couches in far-flung locales, has always been important to us. So, at first, we were happy to host Barbara whenever she wanted to come stay. But I’m starting to feel she’s taking advantage of us.
Barbara has come four or five times in the past six or seven months. She’s neat, quiet, and low-maintenance, so it’s not as if she’s impinging on us. But she rarely makes plans with me and spends the whole weekend dancing through a social calendar that lasts until 4 a.m. She doesn’t invite us to join her either, and we’re still pretty new to this city. (We’d love to meet new folks!) Sometimes I work weekends, so I understand her not saying anything when she knows I’m busy. But this past weekend we invited her to breakfast. She declined because she had brunch plans but was still here when we got back and about to run out to meet people for a pre-brunch coffee. Huh? What’s more, she’s never brought us anything as a house gift or done anything to help around the house. I don’t want to sound like the cost of our guest bed starts at a sinkful of dishes, but she’s not once even offered. And other friends who have come to stay have insisted on taking us out to brunch or at least bringing us a bottle of wine. (We do the same if we visit them.)
I don’t want to end our friendship over this. Barbara still sometimes makes time in her weekends for me, and we bond riotously over our common interest in Etsy and knitting. But I also hate the idea of passive-aggressively just telling her “no” the next 10 times she asks—until she gets a clue. What should I do?
Clearly, Barbara has had a rough year and is seeking solace in old memories and friends. That’s no excuse for treating newer friends as if they’re running a cheap hotel. Since you say you want to avoid passive aggression, you need to sit Barbara down, and, in the most honest and direct way possible, tell her that you feel hurt that she comes to your city to see everybody but you and your husband. You can also mention that, being new yourself, you’d love to get to know some of her old friends. I don’t think you can bring up the fact that she never brings a house gift without sounding petty. Moreover, she’d likely find a way to make it about the money—and tell you she’s too broke right now to spring for a fruit basket. Never mind buying you guys dinner. So I’d keep the strobe light on her social calendar. She may get defensive and argue that, in fact, just yesterday the two of you enjoyed a cup of joe between her other plans. But I suspect your clean-coming will hit a nerve. I also suspect that she won’t be inviting herself to stay at your place for a few more months. At that point, you should get back in touch and invite her to come stay. If the invitation comes from you, she’ll feel more obliged to actually spend time in your company. If she’s no longer interested, you’ll find out what the friendship really was for her—a free bed in which to crash.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
I recently got married. After returning from our honeymoon, I received an earful from several family members about the behavior of one of my bridesmaids, “Diane,” during the wedding. (I only had family as bridesmaids except for her). The most disturbing report was that she thought she could hang out with my husband’s married guy friends after the wedding. The wedding was out of town, so most of the wives were not there. They told my husband that she made them feel very uncomfortable because she ate off of their plates, and then invited them to come to her hotel room as she changed out of her dress. They didn’t want to be rude, so they told her that they had other plans, but she wanted to know where they were going so that she could join them. What’s more, when one of my sisters tried to invite her out, Diane told her that she “only goes to 30-and-up clubs,” which offended my sister.
Diane also complained to another of my sisters that bridesmaids shouldn’t be expected to drive themselves to the wedding, as we’d asked her to do, and that she wouldn’t do that to her bridesmaids. Then she told one of my sisters’ boyfriends that he was “young” and that she only liked guys age 40 and up; she made comments to the boyfriend of my other sister about his suit. She told another relative that she would have used a different color for the wedding than the one I’d chosen. I’m really offended by the way Diane treated and talked to my guests, none of whom said anything back as they thought she was my good friend and didn’t want to ruin the night by starting a fight.
However, Diane gave us a wedding present—a loaded gift card—that was expensive and excessive for even a good friend. I’m grateful, of course. But she also bragged to my maid of honor about the cost, which I consider conceited. I’ve already apologized to my family and friends for Diane’s behavior, but what do I say to Diane? And if I have a conversation with her that ends on a bad note, do I return the present?
Victim of a Loose-Lipped Bridesmaid
Wait, she only likes guys age 30 and up—or over 40? I’m confused. Diane may be the queen of all loose lips but I wouldn’t call your own family discreet, either. Why on earth are your sisters telling you that Diane complained about her wedding transport, then bragged about the cost of her present? And was the “comment” about your sister’s boyfriend’s suit so deeply distressing to the guy that he felt the need to repeat it back to you? (Being called “young,” it seems to me, isn’t the worst insult, either.) Allow me to suggest that your nearest and dearest are stirring the pot as much Diane is.
Of course, everyone likes a good post-wedding gossip, and Diane seems to have provided plenty of fodder. But there are some tidbits to be repeated because they’re juicy (e.g., “Diane was hitting on all the husbands”) and some that are best left on the dance floor (e.g., “Between you and me, I’m not sure about the fuschia theme”).On the former note, I suspect that your married male friends, rather than being made deeply uncomfortable by Diane, were actually amused if not titillated by the appearance of a slobbery bridesmaid looking for some action. It also sounds as if they successfully fought off the woman’s advances without too much of a struggle, so I don’t see where the harm has been done. The only person who should be embarrassed is Diane herself. I also suspect that alcohol played a large role in her comments and carousing. This isn’t to excuse her behavior, just to put it in context.
If you still feel an apology is due, I’d begin by saying, “I heard you had a wild night.” Let her come clean before you accuse her of being a degenerate.
P.S. Returning a wedding gift is the height of rudeness.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
I have a best friend at college, “Mason,” who means the world to me. We were roommates freshman year. Three years later, we still share trips, stories, friends, and everything else. The problem is that our relationship is strained because a lot of the areas that were his strengths in our first year have since become mine. He had a way with the ladies, but I’m the one who ended up in a wonderful relationship. We both started out in the same job, but I got the promotion. The straw that seemed to have broken the camel’s back was that I’m now doing better in school than he is. You have to trust me that I’m not competing with him. Rather, I’m trying to be supportive. Lately, I’ve been trying to convince him that he should focus his energies on what he’s passionate about and that he shouldn’t take grades personally. I’m also working on the girl thing for him. The problem is that, as time passes, he’s becoming more bitter, pushing his friends away, and making things worse for himself. I won’t give up my own aspirations or do worse in school to make him feel better, but I’ll do almost anything else! Please help.
Trying To Show We Can Both Be Best
You don’t say in your letter whether you’re male and female (and my attempts to ascertain this information have failed), so I’m going to answer with both possibilities in mind. I admit that I’ve never before heard of a male-female friendship with no sexual component that had grown competitive. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. In an increasingly a) cut-throat and b) gender-neutral world—at least where the professional classes are concerned—there’s no reason that a male student wouldn’t envy his more successful female friend. If this is the case, I’d simply do more of what you’re doing: reminding Mason what a warm, funny, and talented person he is.
There’s also a chance that Mason’s bitterness stems from some secret undying love for you. If this is the case, and assuming you have no interest in reciprocating, there’s nothing much you can do. I suppose the same advice would apply if you’re a guy and Mason secretly harbored special feelings for you. But if you are of the male persuasion, it’s more likely he’s just plain old competitive. In this scenario, I’d recommend giving Mason some space to work out his own shit. Obviously, he’s feeling threatened right now, and the sight of your pretty face is only making it worse.
In either case, if depression seems to be in play, you might want to point him in the direction of a counselor or therapist. It won’t be an easy conversation, but you can phrase the suggestion in terms of how awesome a guy you think he is—and how he seems to be the only person who doesn’t realize it! Good luck.
Friend or Foe