Dear Friend or Foe,
Several years ago, I had breakups with three of my closest friends, all in rapid succession. The first happened after my friend “Sara” began making snide remarks to me (e.g. “you know, when you’re older, your neck is going to be so ugly”). Later, after she found out I’d gone out to lunch with a friend with whom she was embroiled in a fight, she got angry, dumped me, and wanted an apology for not backing her up. The second falling out—with my friend “Jane”—occurred after I introduced her to a male friend of mine. I was hoping they’d hit it off. (Jane’s greatest complaint—and source of insecurity—is that she’s single.) He invited us to see his band play. But on the night of the performance, I was sick with a cold and opted out. After that, Jane stopped talking to me—even after I wrote her a letter.
The third breakup happened when my friend “Claire” bought a townhouse right across the way from me. At first, we were carpooling everywhere and watching over each other’s homes. After she became distant and flaky, I discovered she was seeing my rude louse of an ex-boyfriend (“Sam”). To make matters worse, I’d confided in Claire about all of his … ahem … shortcomings before I dumped him! Now, all of a sudden, he was lurking at every event and even on my front lawn. To me, that was a serious breach of trust. (Adios to another pal.)
Since all of this went down, I’ve become a lot more closed-off to women. I still have female friends, but I no longer confide in them the way I did with Sara, Jane, and Claire. I long for that closeness, but I’m afraid of losing another friend, or worse, discovering that I’m just a horrible friend and these breaks were really my fault. To make matters worse, Sara is now trying to get me blackballed from the group. Oddly enough, everything else in my life is better than ever. I recently got a dream job, and my boyfriend and I are about to get engaged. Yet I feel like I’m in crisis. Should I just chalk these fallings out up to bad luck—or am I missing something?
At a Loss
Let’s break it down. The Sara chick sounds like a bitch with a capital B. For one thing, all necks assume turkeylike properties in old age. (Just ask Nora Ephron.) For another, when you became friends with the woman, I’m assuming that you didn’t also agree to join a cult. Therefore, I fail to see the crime in having lunch with her ex-friend. Nor am I surprised to hear that she’s now trying to ostracize you in a similar manner. That said, I can make a similar accusations against you in your dealings with Claire. Sure, it’s a little awkward now to think of you giggling over Sam’s anatomical “challenges.” But you dumped him! Why it is disloyal of Claire to have picked him up off the floor? Besides, maybe he’s not as much of a louse as he once was. I’m not saying you have to double date with the two of them. But unless there’s something missing from the story, I’m not “getting” the breach of trust part.
As for Jane, my hunch is that, even if you’d shown up to hear the band play that night, Jane would have found another way to convince herself that you’d disappointed her. Some people think the whole world is out to screw them. No doubt she finds similar tendencies in potential boyfriends—hence, her perpetual lack of one. Unless you’ve made a pattern of canceling on her at critical moments, one lame-out doesn’t even come close to a friendship sin.
In any case, if I were you, I’d let the old gang go. You’re about to enter a new chapter of your life, and the group dynamics seem past the point of repair. The only person I might reach out to—and maybe even apologize to?—is Claire. Also, you two are neighbors. Who wants an enemy you can see out your kitchen window while you’re doing the dishes?
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend of Foe,
After 10 years of working with the same group of people, we’ve all become friends. Or so I thought. Recently my co-worker/friend—“Tina”—stopped speaking to me and won’t even eat lunch with the crew. Work-related questions are answered gruffly and with attitude. This was all after an associate quit, and I hired an individual to fill the position. From what I can garner through office gossip, Tina is angry because I dismissed her choice for the position; hired an individual who had quit a few years before and who she didn’t like; didn’t fill her in on every step and now she feels “left out”—or all of the above.
I feel hurt. I thought Tina was not just a co-worker but a friend and that, as a friend, she’d have come to me to talk about what was bothering her. If she felt left out at any point, she could have asked me what was going on. To my mind, she’s acting like a child having a tantrum, and I’ve done nothing wrong. Should I forget about the friendship and move on? Ask her what her problem is? (This will likely result in yelling.) Agree not to be friends but ask if we can be civil co-workers? I refuse to apologize for something I haven’t done.
Confused, Hurt, Mad, and With One Less Friend
“So, Tina, I sense you’re really angry at me. And I honestly have no idea why, since you’ve never actually told me. I’m wondering if you want to talk about it instead of glaring at me all day and refusing to sit at the same table as me when I eat lunch, which, to be honest, has been kind of hurtful.” That’s how I’d open the conversation—a conversation you absolutely need to have. If Tina yells, so what. At least you’ll have cleared the air. Though I wouldn’t confront her in front of, or even in eavesdropping distance of, your co-workers. Instead, find a time when you can get Tina alone. (In the parking lot? On the way back from lunch? Invite her to coffee?) Person-to-person is best. It will remind her that you’re a human with feelings of your own.
As for you being mad at Tina for not coming to you with her grievance, I wouldn’t waste your time being sore about that. Most of us are naturally conflict-avoidant—even as we simmer and steam inside. Maybe a part of her is even ashamed that she’s as upset as she is. You don’t say if you’re higher up in the office food chain than Tina. But if you’re hiring the new associates (and she’s not), I’m guessing that the answer is yes. Is it possible that Tina herself was hoping to be awarded the position? Or that the person you hired did something unforgivable to Tina during his/her first tenure at the company? I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions until you hear it from Tina’s own mouth. Nor can I pass any more judgment until I hear her version of events. Feel free to write back with an update and let me know how it goes down.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
Three years ago, my college friend “Carly” had just begun a graduate program—when she landed a boyfriend (“Fred”). Instead of taking internships during the summer, she’d travel to see him. She also stopped putting energy into looking for a job after graduation. I know what it’s like to be lost in love—I’m now happily married—but Carly lost her entire self to this man! What’s more, she told me that Fred had cheated on her and that she was miserable but could never leave. She also starting telling our friend group that she “deserved” not to work for a few months after grad school because she’d worked so hard. She then began living off her sister, who’s a single mom. Later, despite sporadic work in the food services industry, she became financially dependent on Fred, who pays their rent.
More recently, she told me she and Fred haven’t had sex in months (and these two are in their 20s!) and that he brings OTHER women home to their apartment late at night while Carly is asleep! Things she also said made me think he might be physically abusing her, though I have no proof. In any case, I got to a point where I couldn’t bear to watch her make the same bad choices, over and over again. (I realized she was one bad fight with her jerk-boyfriend away from being homeless!) So, when, at a friend’s wedding a year ago, Carly had a drunken outburst directed at me, I cut her off.
Maybe that was harsh of me, even selfish, but all I could think was: What antics will she pull at my wedding? It almost goes without saying that I didn’t invite her to my big day. Please tell me I’m not a bitch who abandoned friend in a hard time and it was OK to preserve my own sanity by ending the friendship. Carly has been there for me in the past, but we’re adults now and she gave no hint that she’d ever stand up for herself.
It’s a sad truth that not everyone strives to be self-reliant. Some prefer to spend their lives leaning on others. Of course, the being taken care of often comes with a price—like having to pretend you’re asleep when your caretaker brings home other women to have sex with in the living room. (Or does he do it right on the bed, next to her? The mind boggles.) In any case, as you say, Carly is an adult. She chooses to continue with the arrangement—just as it’s your choice whether you want to be friends with her. Assuming that you’ve told her you can’t bear to see her living like this—and that a cheating boyfriend with whom she doesn’t even have sex is not much of a bargain, even if he’s paying the rent—I don’t think you need to feel guilty about cutting her off.
The irony here is that I suspect Fred is trying to do the same. (I know that if I found a half-dressed woman eating cornflakes at my breakfast table, I’d take it as a message to start packing!) That’s not to excuse the guy’s behavior. But unless he’s a true psycho who gets off having a punching bag in his life—it’s hard to weigh your suspicion of physical abuse without more information—what is he even getting out of the arrangement?! You can cross sex, money, and intimacy off the list. Moreover, if Fred ever actually succeeds in dumping Carly, he’ll be doing her a favor. The transition to single life might be hard for her, but she might also learn something about a) self-reliance and, just as importantly, b) self-respect.
Friend or Foe