Dear Friend or Foe,
A mutual, married female friend of my husband and mine—“Leanne”—recently told us that she and her husband are separating. He’s already found new living arrangements. She found a place to live as well, but it isn’t available for three months. In the interim, her only real option is to rent a room. She informed me last week that she was having great difficulty finding a place for such a short time period and asked if she could move in with us (for the three months) instead. She was very emotional and vulnerable. I, of course, said yes, and told her that I would confirm with my husband, but that it shouldn’t be a problem. I spoke with him and we agreed to let her stay and told her so. Since then, however, I’ve been experiencing great feelings of trepidation. I’ve never had a roommate and am nervous about sharing my home. I’m very much a person with a routine and am anxious about having that routine disturbed. Also, I’m worried that it will create problems between my husband and me, who have been married less than six months.
My husband says that we have to support her, and that it’s not an ideal situation for Leanne either. And I agree. But after thinking about it, I fail to understand why she needs to live with us when she can afford to rent a room. I know she’d prefer to live with friends, but I don’t feel that I should be burdened because of her situation. I initially invited her to stay with us for one or two weeks and am still fine with that. But three months now seems like a huge inconvenience. Am I being horrible? Should I just suck it up and let her stay the whole time?
Am I Being Selfish?
It’s hard to say no to a friend in need. But you can’t be mad at Leanne, whose only crime was to accept your offer to help. If you’re a fussy type with personal space issues, you never should have donated your home in the first place. I also tend to agree that, unless you live in a palatial setting, sharing your living quarters with a third person isn’t an ideal way to begin a marriage. (Sayonara, Honeymoon Period!) But unless you want to end the friendship, I don’t see how you can back out now. Or, at least, you can’t back out in the short term. Possibly, in the next month, you could slither out of the arrangement by finding Leanne other friends to bunk with for short stints. Though even if you promise to move all her belongings yourself and stock the new kitchen with butter and salt, prepare to apologize profusely.
If I were you, I might be inclined to tell a lie and say your mom or other close relative is coming to visit and there just isn’t room for all four of you. Or you could try the honest approach and say you’re a world-class neurotic who can’t deal with stray hairs in the sink but that you want to “be there” for her in other ways. Either way, don’t be surprised if Leanne accuses you of throwing her to the dogs. Bottom line: Next time, don’t make promises you’re not prepared to keep.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
Five years ago, I left home and moved to a beach house on Long Island. My three best friends from high school still live where we grew up. When “Beth” came to visit me, she was shocked to find that I live well and have a great job and generally happy life. This was because “Allie,” who had already been to visit, told her I live in a town several miles away from where I actually live that is known to be a bad area. Allie also told Beth that I’d refused to meet up because I was afraid to leave my apartment at night. What’s more, at a wedding a month ago, my friend “Carl” got drunk and started telling stories about all the cool things that Allie does when she goes to New York. The trouble is: They’re my stories! From what I can gather, she also checks my Facebook page for concerts and events, then says she went with me or saw it on the same date. Or she tells our other friends she has been places with me and done things that I’ve told her about over the phone, such as extra work in music videos and special events my boyfriend has taken me to.
Allie was my absolute best friend in high school, but I’ve always known her to be a follower. When I went away to college we didn’t speak for two years because she latched onto someone who I despised and started acting just like him. Needless to say, we’re not as close as we used to be. But I still consider her one of my oldest and dearest friends. And I know she’d do anything for me and vice-versa. Is there a way to politely handle this without offending someone and splitting up the group? I still want to go to brunch with the girls! Beth has caught Allie in a lot of these lies, but she thinks it’s funny. Carl, on the other hand, is closer to Allie than I am these days. And his responses to my stories are always, “Really? That’s not what Allie said.” I want to scream THAT’S BECAUSE SHE WASN’T THERE!
Being Impersonated by My Best Friend
You’re likely too young to remember Jon Lovitz’s brilliant “Pathological Liar” sketch from Saturday Night Live. But your letter brings it to mind … . So Allie would do anything for you? It sounds as if she’d also do anything to you, including steal your credit card numbers, keys, jewelry, and boyfriend. OK, I’m exaggerating. But honestly, the woman appears to be well on her way to Stalker Central. You could take the high road and be flattered (and feel sorry for her that she can’t generate any stories out of her own dismal life). Or you could sit her down and tell her in the nicest possible way that you feel like she’s piggybacking on your big city tales—and that, if she’s so keen to be living the New York life, maybe she should move there herself. But my advice would be to forgo the group pancake parties if necessary and to stay far and away from this wackiest of all whack jobs.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
My close friend “Heather” and I met waiting tables more than 15 years ago. While we’re opposite personalities and she’s a decade older, we bonded through girls’ weekends, travel, and mutual respect. Several years ago, I suffered a series of devastating losses. Although Heather showed up for the funerals, our relationship turned into me driving up to her place and drinking my way through the grief. Fast forward to a year ago when I came out of my fog and realized that “Heather” and I have nothing in common but a shared past. She has few if any close friends, doesn’t seem interested in exploring new activities or places, and she isn’t even open to the idea of a romantic relationship. We’re both single and have successful careers, and I’m no social butterfly. But I’m constantly pushing myself to keep the channels open. I enjoy evenings out and work hard at keeping my relationships with friends and family. I’m also trying to “date,” online and the old-fashioned way. What’s more, to keep our friendship going, I always had to come visit her. And she basically pooh-poohed who I was and what I did (i.e., criticizing the times I like to listen to music), etc.
A few months ago, I e-mailed “Heather” some of my concerns in what I thought was a direct and friendly way, basically telling her that she hadn’t been a good friend and that I worried about her tendency to self-isolate. Although her reply sounded hurt and defensive, she admitted that she needs to make herself more available and that her tendencies were self-destructive. That was several months ago. Now I feel sad about our parting and bad about criticizing her so directly and hurting her feelings. Most of all, I worry about her. She just turned 50, smokes, and never exercises. Plus, she doesn’t have any children or family in town or close ties to anyone. An email and a “funny” text that I sent went unanswered. I’m not sure if Heather and I can be friends anymore, but I do believe in the Girl Scout mantra “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver, and the other is gold.” On the other hand, lives diverge. Should I try and repair the rift?
Walk or Sail?
First, I’m sorry for the unnamed losses you suffered. Death has a way of clarifying what (and who) is important in one’s life. It makes sense that you would worry about Heather, who, from your description, has put everything into her career and very little into the rest of her life. But worrying about someone getting lung cancer is different than wanting to go on vacation together. Pity and guilt do not make for a good friendship; companionship and shared interests and outlooks do. Then again, you say you feel sad about your parting from Heather. I think you need to figure out if you’re melancholy because you miss her or because the two of you grew apart.
I will say this: If you do want to revisit the friendship, the onus will be on you and then some. I don’t know how you convinced yourself that your breakup email was delivered in a “friendly” way. You basically told the woman she was an ungenerous loser. That’s not a very friendly thing to do. So, don’t be surprised if she rebuffs your attempts to repair relations, just as she failed to reply with a “ha ha” to your “funny text.” Moreover, from your description, it sounds as if Heather learned to do without intimates long ago. So if guilt is the true motivating factor here, please know that she might not be missing you as much as you fear.
Friend or Foe