Dear Friend or Foe,
My best friend, “Lola,” is a serial monogamist. She hasn’t been single for more than a couple weeks since her mid-teens. After her last relationship (which, by her own admission, she stayed in years beyond its expiration date), she and I made a pact that she wouldn’t move in with someone unless they were engaged. In a cheeky ode to her then new-found singledom, she signed a contract dictating that, if she broke our pact, she’d shave her head.
For the past two years, she has been dating “Bob,” a combative, unemployed alcoholic who is verbally abusive. Lola knows that few friends or family are supportive of their relationship. Even though they’ve broken up several times already, it doesn’t appear that Bob is going anywhere soon. In fact, she and Bob are now moving in together. At the same time, Lola has told me that, while she’s enjoying the relationship now, she doesn’t ultimately see them together and has serious reservations about the move but is afraid to hurt his feelings by changing her mind.
Needless to say, I feel like she is making a huge mistake. And, insane as this might sound, I now want to make her honor the contract and shave her head. Should I? In the past, I’ve made an effort not to discuss my views of their relationship unsolicited. And even when it is solicited, I try to be supportive as I voice my concerns.
Honor the Contract!
Whoa, you run a tight ship, lady. You also need to take a step back—straight off that ship. We are talking about Lola’s life here, not yours. I understand your concern about your friend moving in with her dud of a boyfriend, and I’m sure I’d feel the same way. (Bob sounds like the gift that keeps on giving.) But you are her friend, not a cult leader. You say the boyfriend is abusive. But, honestly, forcing a grown woman to go bald sounds unnecessarily punitive to me as well. So before you make the woman pull a Britney (see: nervous breakdown, circa 2007), please do everyone a favor and take a vacation from Lola’s troubles.
You say that, in the past, you’ve been circumspect regarding your views on Lola and Bob. If you’re really concerned about the woman, what about amping up the views you’ve been so careful to hide? You’re likely to have more luck, anyway, if you resort to reason rather than to Scarlet Letter-style punishments. In short, I’d sit Lola down and tell her that if she’s having doubts, she should honor them and put off the move-in date. At a certain point, it’s a slippery slope between domestication and marriage. And if she has no intention of ever marrying Bob, she shouldn’t be taking a step in that direction. See what she says.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
I’ve been freelancing for a major city paper since 2003. All three of the editors with whom I’ve worked (until now) have praised and encouraged my abilities, thought highly of my writing, and relied on me to cover a wide variety of assignments. Recently, a new music editor, “Donna,” who is just a year older than me, came in knowing my reputation and aware of the stories I’ve contributed. She seemed fine at first. But then, on multiple occasions, she didn’t communicate proper deadlines, which made me look bad. She also took stories that had been promised to me and assigned them to other writers (without explanation), leaving me with less and less work.
When she returned from maternity leave, she stopped returning emails and phone calls I’d make to inquire about possible assignments. After I informed the deputy editor of this, I started getting generic, passive-aggressive BS responses (“I’ll get back to you,” “I’ll let you know”). Even worse, she’d send notes asking about my kids and suggesting we have lunch! I accepted her invitations, looking at them as opportunities to clear the air, but she canceled every time. Finally, I deleted her from my Facebook page and blocked her from my Twitter feed.
If my skills were falling off, or the paper wasn’t using freelancers anymore, or even if she’d just told me that she didn’t want to use me anymore, I’d try to understand. But I never even got that. Am I missing something? I still write about and cover many of the same events (for other publications) that Donna oversees. How should I handle her two-faced demeanor if we run into each other in public, and what do I say in future interviews about why I “left” the paper? An editor who doesn’t know either of us suggested that Donna might be jealous.
Dismissed Without Cause
It must be very disappointing, not to mention disheartening, to find yourself shut out of a publication at which you thrived for nearly a decade—and with no explanation to boot. (As a freelancey type myself, I can relate!) My hunch is that this is a case in which a new editor arrived on the scene with her own stable of freelancers in mind. It’s not that Donna thinks your writing is sub-par; it’s that she’s eager to give the work to Person Y, with whom she built up a close relationship at another publication long before she ever heard your name. It’s just a shame that she isn’t a good enough manager, or mature enough person, to realize that she owes you a sit-down at which she tells you the truth—rather than pepper you with phony lunch invites.
The sad fact is that, in a situation like this, freelancers like you have few rights. It’s why staff positions are so coveted in journalism and, increasingly, so hard to come by. My advice is to pat yourself on the back for a job well done; forget about Donna; and move on with your life. It may feel like the end of an era, but it’s also the beginning of another one. Try to see it that way, and I think you’ll feel less bitter. After all, we can’t do the same thing forever. And if a future editor questions your “decision” to leave the paper, just say your old editor left. (Enough said.) As for what to say if you run into Donna at the Stop & Shop, a quick and insincere smile should do the trick.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
Two years ago, my old friend “Sue” moved to the West Coast, and I stayed in the East. During Sue’s last visit, she was over-served at the bar and mentioned several times how much she disliked my boyfriend of two years. She also dropped several passive aggressive comments. I’ve recently lost weight, and she said it didn’t matter because we’re getting old anyway. I wrote it off as a drunken night and, having had a few myself, decided to not think much of it.
But then she blew off my birthday party. (One of the things I was excited about during Sue’s visit was that she’d be able to celebrate with me.) Five minutes before we were all due to meet, Sue called and said she was running late and would catch up with us. She ended up missing the celebrations completely. And then, later in the week, I went to visit her and she was incredibly negative, snapping at me, her boyfriend, her parents, and even her young nieces.
She’s never acted like this before, and I figured it would pass. But it hasn’t. Meanwhile, my boyfriend and I have split up. When I returned from collecting my things from his place, which was a painful experience, Sue called. She offered no sympathy, but said “Didn’t you have things in storage there that you were going to put in a care package for me? Presents! Presents! Presents!” I was appalled and made up an excuse to get off the phone.
Since then I’ve made no effort to contact her. She’s posted comments on my Facebook about old inside jokes we used to have, but she hasn’t addressed her rudeness. A part of me doesn’t even want to go through the drama of confronting her—and would rather let the friendship fizzle out. With our shared history, however, I feel guilty doing so. Opinion?
Fight or Let Fizzle?
Well, Sue definitely sounds like a Rudie. But I also have trouble believing that her blunt verging on belligerent conversational style was born yesterday. You say you’ve been friends with this woman for a long time. Are you sure it’s not you who has changed—and who no longer has the stomach for Sue’s abrasive manner, never mind her put-downs and wisecracks?
In any case, let’s break down what she actually said—and weigh the obnoxious quotient. Most friends, it’s true, drink or no drink, don’t typically volunteer the information that they “dislike” the person with whom we share our beds. Apparently, Sue had no such qualms. (At least she’s honest?) Moreover, since she failed to identify any redeeming features in your man, she was apparently unable to summon an ounce of sympathy on hearing that the two of you had broken up. (At least she’s consistent?) One could also make the argument that the “presents, presents, presents” crack was an attempt to bring levity to a sad situation. (I’m on the fence on that one.) Same goes for the weight-loss comment. (I, too, have sometimes wondered what the point of dieting after 40 is.)
All that said, the birthday no show, especially if no apology attached, suggests a woman who is not thinking about anyone but herself. (You don’t elaborate on the “snaps,” so I can’t comment on them.) Of course, it’s also possible that Sue is going through a hard time herself—and, for better or for worse, this is how she’s expressing it. In any event, my instinct would be to trust your own instincts. If you can’t deal with the drama, I’d purposefully lose touch with the woman, at least for a while. You can always revisit the friendship later down the road—at which point Sue might surprise you and be actually pleasant again.
Friend or Foe