Month of August , 2008

Reader Q&A: Self-centered friends with hefty needs

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One of the most popular posts on my blog has been one on the topic of needy friends. An anonymous poster recently wrote about her “friend,” whom her husband labels as an “emotional vampire” who is sucking away all her energy. Read on…

QUESTION:

Dear Irene,

This site has been a real help to me. As a woman I think we gear ourselves to try and help those around us. I am in the middle of a relationship with a 'needy' friend.

Her husband is never good enough (tho he tries!) Always yelling at her children (tho they try!) and complaining to me all the while. The kind of person who ALWAYS asks for some sort of favor when you see them, childcare, to borrow stuff etc.. She asked if she could store around 2 bags of yarn in my garage and showed up with twenty 30-gallon garbage bags full.

It's causing stress between my husband and myself (we typically have a great relationship) and my children. If I don't answer her phone calls (there are MANY during the day) she usually shows up at my house. My husband calls her an emotional vampire who is sucking all my energy away. I have started saying no to her (the last favor she asked of me, when I said I didn't have time she started to yell!) but I stuck to it and will try to continue to do so. It's hard though- because I have to see her at the kids school- but I just need to stay strong and do what's best for my family first.

Signed,
Anonymous

ANSWER:

Hi:

You haven’t expressed anything positive about your friendship with her but even assuming there is, it sounds like you need to set some boundaries and stick to them! It's great that you recognize your own priorities and there's nothing wrong with telling her that you like your privacy and feel uncomfortable when anyone pops in unexpected. Multiple phone calls are too much if you feel like they are too much.

I understand the potential discomfort of bumping into her at your kids' school but if you handle it calmly and graciously, without attacking or blaming her, you'll establish some needed distance. On the other hand, she sounds so self-centered that she might not even notice the change in her relationship with you and will decide to pounce on easier prey.

Good luck and let us know what happens.

Best,

Irene

 

Mommy Friendships

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My writer friend, Kathy Sena, has an award-winning blog called Parent Talk Today. She recently interviewed me for a post on the topic of mommy friendships. Click here to see the post, which discusses several ways for multi-tasking moms to make new friendships. While "'mommy friendships" can pose challenges, sharing the experience of parenting with other women also presents opportunities to forge close female friendships that can last a lifetime.

Coincidentally, my friend Diana is coming for a sleepover tonight on route from Washington, DC to drop her daughter, Nikki, off at college. We first bonded as we worked out the kinks of breastfeeding while we were both on maternity leave from work.

Anyway, check out Kathy's excellent blog!

 

 

 

Reader Q&A: Achieving closure after being dumped by a friend at work

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QUESTION

 

Dear Irene,

I’ve read many of your posts regarding the breakup of female friendships and I am going thru one myself as we speak. Anna and I met two years ago at graduate school. A little over a year ago, I helped get her a job at my company and we become inseparable. We did everything together from going to dinner, the movies, and jogging at the park. Also, we spent a lot of time texting and instant messaging everyday at work.  

About three months ago, Anna had met a new friend, "Lisa," and I felt replaced. Little by little, I felt pushed aside and believe that Lisa had put a rift in the friendship between Anna and me. All of the sudden, Anna and I spent less and less time together as she made for time for Lisa. The two of them would go bar hopping, swimming, and yoga together...all of the activities that I do not enjoy but Anna likes.

So, one day after I dropped Anna off home from lunch, I texted her saying that maybe we should give our friendship a break because she and I have gotten into many small arguments within the last couple of months. I said that friendship is a two-way street and I was tired of working doing all of the work. So, she texted me back saying, "Fine and take care."

The next day, I felt badly about what I said and texted Anna saying that I was very sorry and hope that she could forgive for the angry outburst. Anna texted back saying, "There is no need for you to be sorry.” She was and had always been a b$$ch to me. She said that I needed a friend that could be there for me constantly, someone to listen to me, and someone to keep me company." Anna said that she feels badly but she cannot be that kind of friend to me and for me to take care. However, she still would like to be a work acquaintance. Nevertheless, this took place over 6 weeks ago and Anna and I have not spoken since. We often avoid each other at the office because things feel so awkward.

I’ve texted Anna several times since then, asking for a face-to-face meeting. I told her that I have and will always continue to value her friendship and would like to work things out with her. Last week, she answered back saying that our friendship just doesn’t work anymore and for me to move on with my life. She said that she has nothing to say to me. 

However, despite her response, I still feel the need to have one last face-to-face meeting. The break-up of our friendship clearly had more to do than just that one text and I want real closure. So, should I try to reach out to Anna one last time or should I just let her go? Seeing her every day at work and not speaking to one another makes it very painful for me.  I still want to reconnect with her and be friends once more.

Marcie 

 

ANSWER 

Hi Marcie:

What a painful and difficult situation! In addition to losing a close friend with whom you once spent a lot of time, you still have to face her (and her new best friend) at work. That really has to hurt!

You are correct---the friendship didn’t break up solely because of the text message (although texting generally isn’t a good way to handle sensitive discussions, as I’m sure you are now aware). But you were already seeing red flags that something was wrong: You were arguing with each other more and she was choosing to spend her time with Lisa rather than you. If Anna had wanted to, she could have brought you into their circle. She chose not to without any explanation or apology, even when pressed for one.

It’s infuriating when a decision to end a friendship is unilateral---and you aren’t the one who makes the decision. It is natural to feel hurt and angry, and to want some closure. Unfortunately, it looks like Anna isn’t ready to talk or discuss what happened. Anna may be more close-mouthed than you, in general, and have less of an interest in intimate relationships than you do. Whatever the reasons, she has made it clear that she doesn’t want to talk about your split and while you may have been close at one time, given what has happened, it doesn’t appear like you will be able to get over this rift.

You definitely need to back off at this point and involve yourself with other friends at work and outside work. There may be some truth to Anna’s accusation that you are too needy or perhaps you are only too needy for her. You need to dig deep into yourself and think about what you asked of Anna in the past to determine whether you need to set boundaries for your future friendships.

You will be able to achieve closure when you assume control of your circumstances. When you accept that the relationship is over, you’ll feel better about the situation and about yourself. As brutal as it sounds, this isn’t the first time a good friend has been dumped and won’t be the last. You deserve someone who will appreciate your kindness and sincerity, and whose personality and interests are in better balance with yours.

Focus on your work and maintaining a professional demeanor in the office. And try to forget about Anna’s relationship with Lisa: that will probably become history, too. It’s going to take some time but I promise, you will get over this trauma.

Let us know how it goes.

My best,

Irene

 

The Friendship Olympics: Which sex gets the gold?

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In the course of my own research on female friendships, I serendipitously found the perfect mentor to teach me about male friendships and the differences between the two: Geoffrey Greif, DSW, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and author of the new book, Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships (Oxford University Press, 2008).

Dr. Greif studied 386 men and 122 women, whom he interviewed in depth about their definitions of friendship, how they made friends, how they maintained them, and whether they had ever lost friends. These questions and answers represent just a few of the lessons he learned and that he shares in greater detail in his excellent book:

Q: How do male and female friendships differ from one another?

Through listening to men and women and studying what they tell us about friendships, certain tenets about friendship can be cautiously put forth. We must be careful though about making sweeping generalizations about women’s friendships, just as we must be careful about making generalizations about men’s. Great diversity exists in the friendships of both genders---but:

  • Women are more apt to say they have enough friends and that friends are important; they are less apt to say they didn’t have time for friends. Although the majority (60%) of men say they have enough friends, 40% do not have enough or are unsure, a greater number than women. It may be that some men are pulled by work and cannot find the time to balance friends, work, and family. Or, it could be as we have heard from some men: that they have a hard time connecting with other men in a way that is satisfying to them on a friendship level. They may feel they do not have enough must friends. (Grief uses four categories to describe friendships: must, trust, rust and just).

  • Women are more apt to help each other than are men, by being supportive, encouraging, and “being there.” Men, on the other hand, are more apt to give their friends advice and offer their perspectives. Both mentioned the importance of listening and talking. Men tend to be fixers, and see getting something concrete accomplished as a way of helping, whereas women are more comfortable with emotional support, which sometimes involves listening without giving specific advice.

  • When with friends, women spend more time shopping, going out to dine with them and going to the movies, as well as staying home with friends to cook or watch movies. Communication, as part of the relationship, is frequent for both women and men. Men, who gave fewer distinct responses to this question, are much more apt to be involved in sports-related activities, either as a participant or viewer.

  • To make friends, women may reach out to others a bit more than men, and they are less concerned with finding commonalities as a basis for friendships. Men mention sports more often than women as a basis for making friends. To feel comfortable, men may be slightly more apt to need a socially acceptable arena for having a friendship begin, like a similar hobby or sports. This would be a shoulder-to-shoulder approach to friendships, as opposed to women perhaps feeling slightly more comfortable making friends without a specific activity or commonality being at the center of the friendship.

  • To maintain a friendship, women put a much greater value on frequent contact than men. Men often mention being able to pick up again with a friend after little contact, whereas women place a greater value on staying in touch. Women appear to need more communication in general than men. Emotional connection is important to them, and it is often manifested by staying in frequent contact.
  • Women are more apt to lose friends and more apt to try to get them back than are men. We have learned already that men are often less concerned about slights than women and so they may be slightly less apt to lose a friend because of someone’s behavior.

Q: How are male and female friendships similar?

  • The words used to define friendships are similar. Being understood, trust, dependability, and loyalty are key features of friendships for both genders.
  • The percentage of people who said they had a friend of the opposite sex is similar.
  • The importance of friends, although slightly higher for women, is very high for both men and women.
  • Women and men both make friends through their spouses and significant others.
  • Women’s friendships can also be effectively grouped using the must, trust, just, and rust categories. These categories of friendships are discussed in depth in the book and help us understand our relationships with friends.

Q: What can men learn from female friendships?

Men can learn that physical and emotional expressiveness can exist in a friendship without it meaning that a man is gay. Women are much less concerned about this level of expressiveness than are men who often pull back from other men. Men are socialized to compete with and not pursue other men as friends. Unless it is sports, music, or war, emulating men, having a “crush” on them, and being physically close, is not universally acceptable.

Q: What can women learn from female friendships?

Men tend to have less complicated friendships than women. Some women, when directly asked, said they wished their relationships were more upfront and less emotionally demanding. They like the fact that men are able to resolve differences more quickly and move on.

“Cultural relevance is key,” cautions Dr. Greif. “Different sub-groups in America view friendships, women’s and men’s roles, and community connectiveness in vastly divergent ways. Anything that can be learned from men or women must be understood within such a context.”

In your own experience, which friendships do you think are stronger or more meaningful, male or female? Who takes the gold and who takes the silver?

 

 

 

Buried Treasure: Finding Long Lost Friends

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In the midst of an archaeological dig amongst the piles on my messy desk this morning, I found a not-yet-used 2008 calendar from Papyrus. When I glanced at the celebrations of the year, I discovered that today is Long Lost Friend Day.

 

I don’t know who started it---Hallmark or Papyrus, I suspect. But it’s really a nice reminder of the warm fuzzies you feel when you reconnect with someone from your past. In the old days, before the internet, if you lost touch with a person you had to hire a private investigator but now there are so many electronic tools that make it easy to find people from your past. Admittedly, if your female friend has changed her surname, it makes the search a bit more challenging.

Want to find a long lost friend? Here are some ways to begin looking:

  • Try finding the person using Google by putting her first name and last name in quotes. See what comes up. If you know the city and/or state where she lives or last lived, you can refine the search by putting that after her name in quotes.
  • Check out groups from your high school or college on social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace.
  • Search for former classmates on sites like Reunion.com or Classmates.com---or email or phone the alumni office of your school.
  • Let your fingers do the walking---use the white pages directory on switchboard.com.
  • No luck finding her in a directory? Are her parents or other relatives findable? Chances are they may still live in the same town she did. Try finding their phone numbers or email addresses.
  • If you don’t know any relatives, you could try the friend-of-a-friend route. Do you know someone who knew her that you are still in touch with and who may be easier to find?
  • Any clue to the kind of work she is doing? Perhaps, you can find her through LinkedIn, a professional association, or the human resources office of her former place of employment.

Even better than digging: If you develop a blog or personal website, your old friends may come out of the woodwork looking for you. I was so delighted to hear from some of my childhood friends who serendipitously found me.

Have any of you successfully reconnected with retro friends? Please post your stories---and I hope you will reach out and touch somebody whose friendship has been meaningful to you. Oh, Happy Long Lost Friend Day! (Any and all suggestions for de-cluttering my desk are welcome too.)

 

Baltimore Jewish Times: We're friends, our children aren't

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In this week's Baltimore Jewish Times, journalist Amy Landsman wrote an article called, We're friends, our children aren't. She describes some of the challenges of balancing mom friends and kids friends.

It begins: You’re pregnant! And so is your BFF! Instantly, you dream about play dates, outings around town, even vacations that your growing families can share. And for a few years, that just might happen. But one day, the kids get that independence thing going, and little Johnny or Susie announce they just don’t like little Hannah or Joshua. What do you do?...

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to add my two cents, Amy! You can click the link above to read the article. What do you think?

 

 

 

Healing Lifestyles & Spas Magazine: Transform your self; Transform your life

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Freelance journalist Amy Paturel's life was 'transformed' when her surgeon found a three-pount malignant tumor in her abdomen---when she was only 23 years old. In her recent article, Transform your self; Transform your life in the July/August issue of Healing Lifestyles, Amy suggests that transformation need not be inspired by anything as dramatic or life-threatening as occurred in her situation.

Instead, she offers her wisdom and experience to encourage other women to lead the life they want to live now. One element of that: getting rid of toxic friendships. I was honored to be interviewed and to be asked to contribute to this excellent piece.

 

Friend Poaching or Social Networking: What’s the difference?

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Have you ever poached a friend or had one poached from you? This is how it happens: Your friend introduces you to her friend and the two of you develop a friendship---independent of the friend who introduced you. If you’ve been there, done that, you’re a poacher. Or if you have introduced two friends and one of them snares the other for herself, leaving you in the dust, you’ve been poached.

Is it ethically wrong to become a ‘friend of a friend’ or is it a legitimate way to expand your friendship network? What are the rules and could they be changing?

CNN.com recent ran an article called, When social poachers snatch your friends, that posed both sides of the issue. Through one lens, poaching can be viewed as the ultimate betrayal, akin to “friend-napping.” Through another, it can be seen as a reasonable way of making new friends through vetted introductions.

A 2004 essay by Lucinda Rosenfeld in New York Magazine, Our Mutual Friend, expressed the jealousy and hurt the author experienced after she had been poached. When she learned that her two friends were planning a ski trip together---without her---she felt excluded (even though she had no interest in skiing). It harked back to the days of junior high school.

I’ve been poached, too. I had two close friends, let’s call them Marcie and Hayley, whom I decided to introduce to one another. I knew they would instantly “click” because they had so much in common: neither worked outside the home, both loved competitive tennis, and each had two kids around the same ages. It was a good hunch because they soon became best friends with each other as I drifted into the background.

Admittedly, the first time I bumped into them at Starbuck’s having coffee without me, I felt a bit strange and awkward, even hurt, but as soon as I regrouped mentally I realized that I didn’t have as much time or motivation to spend with either one of them as they did with each other. Now we get together as a threesome occasionally. Rosenfeld also found that being poached can be a blessing in disguise. Prior to the treachery, she had found herself in the unpleasant role of constantly ministering to one of the women who was needy and always crying on her shoulder. It gave her a way out.

With the booming popularity of social network sites like Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn, the ethics and etiquette of friend poaching may be turning upside down. In cyberspace, becoming a friend of a cyber-friend is not only socially acceptable, but is actually one of the raison d’êtres of participation.

Being poached offline isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. Because friendships change over time, a friendship that is 'stolen' may have long been gone. It may offer the poachee an opportunity to change, take a break from, or get rid of a friendship that was draining, all-consuming, or toxic in other ways.

The corollary: Don’t feel guilty about poaching. Unlike family or marriage, friendships have no blood or legal ties; the good ones are totally voluntary relationships that enhance our lives. Feel guilty? Remember that your new friend has the free will to add, subtract, or realign her friendships.

One caveat: Friend poaching is unacceptable, and maybe even pathological, when an individual consistently tries to derail friendships and hurt people around her.

 

Reader Q & A: Saying NO to the Queen of Favors

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Dear Irene,

 

Someone please help. E-mail me a response. I have a friend that is about to be my sister-in-law; her wedding is in two weeks. She takes and takes and TAKES from me because I can’t say NO!

I’m fed up and don’t know how to tell her. She has me sending out invitations, baking and decorating her cupcakes and the groom’s cake for the wedding, helping her with the music and there’s no telling what else is yet to come. If I try to say NO, she twists it and keeps pressuring me until I give in. Oh, and I’m her maid of honor. We had to pay for our own dresses and my husband had to pay for his shirt---that’s over $100.00 already. I paid to give her a luau shower and I helped out with the bachelorette party.

The last straw was when my husband didn’t pay for his shirt because we spent over $50 (the price of the shirt) on necessities for the cakes...he just wanted to call it even. Now she is calling me, crying and upset trying to get me to pay for the shirt!!!

Signed Megan

________________________________________

 

Hi Megan:

This is just the beginning of your relationship with your once-friend who morphed into a sister-in-law---so you need to set realistic boundaries for the future about what you feel comfortable doing for her and what you don’t. For example, you shouldn’t feel like you have to spend more money on her than feels comfortable for you or that fits within your budget---no matter what she thinks she deserves or is entitled to. She may think that now that you are relatives, she can ask you for anything and everything.

 

As time passes, if you keep acquiescing to every favor the Queen of Favors asks of you, as you have seen, she will continue to ask for more. You may need to speak to your brother to give him a heads up and to ask for his help in giving the message to his bride-to-be that you are starting to feel like a patsy. You don’t want to blindside him and create conflict between the newlyweds by taking on his wife without letting him know.

 

That said, weddings are always times of great angst for brides and their families. I think that now isn't the time to begin to say NO for the first time or to try to change your sister-in-law-to-be. Be gracious until the wedding is over and let her enjoy her special day. Then stick to your guns.

 

Hope this is helpful.

 

Best,

Irene

 

Friendship by the Book: Friend or Frenemy?

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When a new book on friendship came on the scene, I was eager to see where it fit on my already bulging friendship bookshelf. The just-released Friend or Frenemy: A Guide to the Friends You Need and the Ones You Don’t (Harper, 2008) by Andrea Lavinthal & Jessica Rozler is a quick summer read aimed at teens and young women who can probably breeze through the fast-moving pages within an hour---even while texting.

The chapters read like a series of Cosmo Girl magazine articles with lots of headers, little quizzes, and charts liberally interspersed between text. The book is an unambiguously humorous, rather than serious, take on friendship that makes abundant use of whimsy and has oodles of contemporary cultural references.

If you have no frenemies and you feel well-befriended, you will laugh out loud at the author’s portrayals of “users, losers and abusers” and “odd couples.” My favorite pages (perhaps because I tend to be deadly serious): the timeline of "Tragedies in Girlfriend History" and the chapter called "Misery Loves Company," on making new friends.

If you are heartbroken about losing a friend or feeling alone, this book isn’t the antidote for you---in fact, you may read it without a giggle and plummet into the depths of despair. I’d characterize this book as “Friendship Lite”---a fun read for someone under 25 whose friendships are largely intact.