Dear Friend or Foe,
My friend “Katie” and I met three years ago and became good friends. I spent a summer with her and her family. We go shopping, eat dinner at the school cafeteria, go to the beach, bitch about men—the whole nine yards. We have the same taste in music, opposite tastes in men, and the same shoe size. She’s the perfect friend! My problem is that I don’t know how to relate to her anymore. I’ve paid attention to my studies, gotten engaged, and held jobs and internships. She has serial men in her life, drinks like a fish, thinks a good job is one where you get free food at the end of the shift, and barely passes her classes. She also tells people that she wants to work for the FBI after graduation. I feel a little ridiculous when she does this kind of thing. I don’t know how to talk to her anymore. I feel that if I discuss my life with her, I’m underlining the fact that we’ve gone totally different ways.
To make it worse, my then-boyfriend, now fiance, asked Katie to secretly find out my ring size last year, and she told me, which—from his point of view—ruined his proposal plans, which he’d intended to keep secret. (He doesn’t like her anymore.) But she was and is a good friend with whom I have a lot of fond memories. How can I keep her in my life?
Can’t Relate to Reckless Friend Anymore
It may be that you and Katie have grown apart in irreparable ways. But there’s no law that says that good friends must have the same life experiences (e.g., an engagement) at the exact same moment. Just because she hasn’t settled down doesn’t mean she has nothing to offer. You say that Katie has always been a good friend to you. So why not propose that the two of you sign up for a class or new activity together? Pick something like yoga, where quiet is encouraged, or tennis, where the physical distance will preclude the two of you from doing anything more intimate than yelling, “Nice shot!” What’s more, you might find that this gives you more to talk about out of the studio or off-court. And finally, your fiance won’t be around to convince you of how annoying your friend is. On that note, it’s a shame that Katie couldn’t keep her mouth shut about the ring. Maybe she got too excited? Thought you’d want to know? But I don’t think the action is worthy of excommunication, either.
Regarding Katie’s other “failings,” I think you’re being a little harsh, as well. The drinking like a fish part doesn’t sound all that advisable. Ditto for the barely passing classes. But since you say you two ate in the “school cafeteria,” I’m going to assume that you’re in college. In which case, jeez, why the mad rush to become a responsible adult—and see your buddies do the same? Believe me, when you’re 41, you won’t be wishing that, at 21, you’d stayed home a few more nights and eaten a few more quiet dinners with your husband. Also, isn’t sexual adventuring half the point of college? As for the free food at the end of a shift, please sign me up! And what’s wrong with Katie’s ambitions to join the FBI? I thought that CSI series made forensics the dream profession of every young person today. Anyway, I digress.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
My BFF “Jen” and I share the same sense of humor and many friends; we also work together sometimes. Recently, a good friend of mine whom Jen doesn’t know—”Nate”—did some free creative work for a project that Jen and I run. When he presented us his work in an online conference chat (he lives in another state), Jen privately told me that she didn’t like it, but that I could handle the project by myself. Then she left the chat without saying one word to Nate. I let 10 minutes pass before I messaged her and asked if she was going to say anything, even “thank you,” and that it had been rude of her not to acknowledge his work. She flipped out and said I was starting a fight. I let a day pass and then sent her an email saying that she had been disrespectful to my friend—he felt this way, too, but didn’t feel comfortable saying it to her since he doesn’t know her—and therefore disrespectful to me. A flurry of emails ensued. Jen said she didn’t think she’d been rude because that hadn’t been her intention. But by her own admission in one of her emails, she said she has a history of being difficult and also of pushing friends away. I, in turn, said that I needed a break from our friendship because this was the third incident in the last few months where I felt she’d acted out of line. First: She asked me to baby-sit. I said no, and she proceeded to barrage me with 10 texts about why I should have said yes. Second: She flipped out on me in front of a group of friends, stormed off, and never apologized or acknowledged that she had been out of line. In her reply email, Jen admitted that she hadn’t handled the flipping-out incident well, but she still didn’t apologize. As for the baby-sitting, she refused to understand why it was wrong of her to “let me know it sucks” that I’ve only baby-sat for her once. A few years back, Jen self-diagnosed online as having borderline personality disorder. I have a bachelor’s in psychology and, at the time, I said that that could be the case, but that she should get a professional diagnosis. She never brought it up again. Is it even worth trying to save this friendship? Going forward, I’m not sure how to keep it going if Jen can’t ever acknowledge that she was wrong.
Friend Is Too Rude
Thank God for the Internet. Otherwise, how would we all know what classifiable psychiatric syndromes we can use to justify our obnoxious behavior? Well, here’s my cheap psychological diagnosis of your buddy, Jen. The woman is an acute sufferer of Inconsiderate Entitled Hothead Disorder. Those afflicted by the disorder believe that nonfamily members should raise their children free of charge; co-workers need not be thanked for their contributions; and friends who say things with which they disagree should be subjected to public excoriations. Luckily, there’s a cure. The first step is to purchase a gag. Preferably, it should be applied by a medical professional. But in extreme cases, friends may insert the device into the sufferer’s mouth themselves. Smart phones should also be confiscated so as to prevent said sufferer from sending gratuitously antagonistic texts, IMs, and emails—while thank-you cards should be placed on top of the sufferer’s desk, or some other place where he or she can’t miss them. If this doesn’t work, feel free to be inconsiderate yourself—and blow off said sufferer.
But seriously, Jen sounds like a hopeless case. I’d blow her off now, before you waste any more of your life getting bawled out for expecting a bare minimum of politeness and decency. Where I’m from, we say please and thank you—and pay for our baby-sitting.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
I’ve been friends with “Wendy” for 15 years. She was always really negative and cynical, and I suppose that appealed to me at one time, but no more. For the past few months, I feel like I’ve been seeing her based on the strength of our association rather than any real desire to spend time together. Her negativity is overwhelming. She complains constantly and never does a single thing to address any of these complaints. She has some real problems, sure—health, money, etc.—but we all do. Not only do I have health and relationship problems, but I’ve been unemployed and homeless much of the past two years (until recently). I’ve worked hard to overcome adversity, however, and it’s frustrating to hear someone talk about her inability to cope when there are simple things she could do.
Whenever I have a complaint, Wendy has a worse problem. If I have good news, I’m met with a litany of her newest problems. She’s been on antidepressants the whole time I’ve known her and won’t see a therapist. She blames her problems on her parents, still. (We’re 30.) Another issue that’s been bothering me is that I finally found a place of my own, 45 minutes outside of town, and she won’t come to visit me there. I’ve driven to see her again and again, sometimes every week, although I can barely afford the gas. And my old car is nearly falling apart (in contrast to her new car). She always makes excuses—her dog (he’s welcome!); the distance (I’m willing to do it); she’s scared to drive. I find it harder and harder to keep my frustration to myself. So, even though it pains me to do so, I’ve decided to remove myself somewhat from the friendship.
Have I made the right choice? I want to be supportive, but there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do. And Wendy won’t do anything for herself.
Can’t Take the Whining Anymore
First of all, congratulations on propelling yourself out of poverty and homelessness in this tough economic climate. If only we all had that kind of endurance and fortitude. Unfortunately, for a lot of folks with financial problems, demoralization and depression are the norm. It’s also a sad fact that not everyone wants to be self-reliant. And it sounds as if Wendy falls into the latter category. Every time she tries to one-up you on the misery quotient, I suspect that she’s really asking you to take care of her. Which is obviously not something you’re in a position to do. Nor should you feel compelled to do so.
As her old friend, however, you owe her a motivational speech—and an ultimatum—before you clip the cord. Begin by telling her that it’s very frustrating to watch someone you care about wallow in her problems. And if she doesn’t think that change is possible, tell her to look at what you’ve accomplished in the past year. If she has health insurance, urge her—even if it’s for the umpteenth time—to find out what, if any, mental health benefits come with her plan. Finally, tell Wendy that, in order to continue the friendship, you need a sign from her that she’s trying to make positive changes in her life. Give it another six months. If the whining continues unabated, you have my permission to cut loose.
Friend or Foe