Month of December , 2008

A friendship too broken to fix?

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QUESTION

Dear Irene,

Nicole and I met soon after each of us moved to a new town and we hit it off immediately. We were both adrenaline junkies, partners in crime who enjoyed outdoor activities. Sometimes we thought of each other as twin sisters or maybe more, like teenage brothers. I'm a lesbian and Nicole is bisexual and we dated briefly. Nicole wasn't that interested and I decided to end it when she started avoiding me although I would have preferred otherwise.

 

We remained friends. Unfortunately, I noticed a cruel side to her personality after we stopped dating. She started to make condescending and dismissive remarks if I wanted to "talk" about what was bothering me about us. She even threatened that she would walk away from me if I brought up certain subjects.

 

If she met a new friend, Nicole would ask that I sit in the back of her car so her new friend could sit in the passenger seat. She'd call me to cry about her boyfriend who dumped her and she'd pick up girls in front of me while at clubs. She even started getting frisky with one, literally in front of me.

 

She knew I was sore and sensitive. I confronted her about her behavior and her response was that since I'm her friend and not an ex (we were never in a long-term relationship), there was nothing wrong with what she said or did. She seems to have conveniently ignored that I still had romantic feelings for her.

 

I requested a "break" for a couple months and then we started up our friendship again. She seemed really happy to see me and I was glad to see her. But I had unresolved anger and became passive aggressive at times. She requested a break. Several months passed. We tried to be friends again but now she's in a relationship a new boyfriend.

 

She wants all of us to hang out together since weekend trips and campouts are better suited to groups. I'm just trying to come to grips with my jilted ego over this guy who's taking away time I could be spending with her. When I expressed my discomfort, we went on a trip for several days without him but she was angry at me that her boyfriend wasn't with her. On our last night, she more or less gave me a threat/ultimatum that going forward, she's won't leave her boyfriend behind. I had to remind her that she chose to do the trip with me.

 

I'm tired of her hostility. I'm tired of how I'm feeling. I'll miss parts of her but can walk away but I'd rather salvage this relationship if possible. Is this too broken? Should I get a clue and move on? Please help. This is really about friendship with a misbegotten romance that may have complicated the issue.

Signed,
Lacey

ANSWER

Dear Lacey:

It’s exceedingly difficult, usually impossible, to downgrade a romance to a platonic friendship AFTER SOMEONE HAS BEEN DUMPED. There is just too much residual hurt and anger. Nicole has made it clear that she no longer has any romantic interest in you. She's avoided you and dismissed you, yet you keep coming back for further insults and assaults to your ego.

 

You need to simply let go of her and look elsewhere for someone with whom you can to share your time, energy, and desires. For whatever reasons, she's just not that into you!

 

I’m not sure whether her hostility and ambivalence is only directed at you or to other "friends" as well---but that is her problem. Don't allow it to be yours any longer. You will feel much more in control emotionally if you make a clean break from this destructive relationship.

 

It's hard to understand your ambivalence as well. Yes, your friendship is too broken to fix and you need to figure out why you would ever want to salvage it, given that has been so unsatisfying on so many levels.


My best wishes,
Irene

 

Reader Q & A: Escape from a toxic mentor

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QUESTION

Dear Irene,

 

Never thought I'd write but... years ago, when I started my current career, I was befriended by an older woman. She and I bonded and have become very, very close over the years. In the past few years, though, I've started to think of her as "toxic" - she's very negative about others, events, the profession, etc. and when she talks, it's like that old fairytale about the frogs and snails falling from her mouth. In one joint venture, she created problems that have taken about a year to clean up.

 

I've been pulling back: not sending as many e-mails, not calling, not spending time with her at meetings, etc. I don't want to hurt her, but I don't want my reputation to be hurt nor can I take the constant negativity. Any advice?

Signed, Amy


ANSWER

Dear Amy:

 

It sounds like as your own career has blossomed, you may have grown apart from—or simply outgrown your friend—who you once saw as a wise mentor. During this period of time, she may have also changed. It sounds like she is more jaded and negative about her work than she was when the two of you first met.

 

It’s great that you are aware of the growing schism between you and that you have instinctively done the right thing by pulling back from the relationship. You are also wise to be cautious about not alienating her since she is part of your professional circle.  

 

My advice would be to try to establish better boundaries between the personal and professional relationship. Do acknowledge her and say hello at meetings but don’t get into extended discussions. Send her work-related questions or information if you need to, but don’t send her personal emails or plan after-work dinners.

 

Unless she is clueless, she will probably recognize that you are pulling back. If she asks you why or confronts you, come up with an excuse that allows her to save face. Remember that she helped you become the person/professional you are today. You might say that you’re working on a relationship, working on a book, or realizing your own need for more down time.

 

Taking the time to write this note suggests that you are sensitive to your mentor’s feelings, as you should be. Because of that, I’m confident that you won’t do anything to provoke a backlash or damage your own professional reputation. If “frogs and snails” are spewing from your mentor’s mouth,” it’s likely that others will recognize her toxicity and won’t question your motives for backing off. They may be thinking, “Why didn’t she do it sooner?”

 

I think you are doing all the right things and hope your escape goes smoothly.

My best,
Irene

 

What does a friend do?

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I wanted to let my readers know about a unique opportunity for children to contribute to a global book on friendship.

 

An international book project has been launched to portray children’s views on friendship. It was initiated by the Norwegian charity Echo 2012, under the auspices of the Swedish publishing group, Bombadil Publishing. The sponsors state state:


“Inside the word friendship lives many other words; friendship is all about taking care of each other, make each other secure and happy, share, comfort and a lot more. These words we call friendship values. If people lived by the friendship values, Earth would be a good place - and for all of us. Therefore, we will gather children and young people's friendship values from around the world. We will show that there is a great desire for a world in friendship. If the adults think about the friendship values when they decide important things, amazing things can happen.”


Children from 27 countries will join together to write and illustrate to the theme of "What does a friend do?" The book will be translated into 12 languages. Heads of state from the 27 participating countries have also been invited to share their views on friendship.


The proceeds from book sales will help participating charities promote global friendship through understanding and communication, as well as combat illiteracy. Part of the revenue will also be distributed as royalties among the contributing youth authors and artists.


The preliminary release date of the book is September 2009, and will be preceded and succeeded by charity festivals, exhibitions and various friendship and knowledge enhancing activities for young people.Material is being submitted daily and interested schools are invited to participate as well. Drawings not selected for the book will, as far as possible, be shown at the exhibitions and festivals.

 

Do you know a child who would like to draw what a friend does and write a few words about the picture he/she has drawn?

 

It can be a wonderful way to begin a discussion of friends and friendship.For more information regarding submissions, see Echo 2012

 

Need help with registering or uploading photos? Under the Help menu on the Echo 2012 site, you'll find guidance on how to add your own work. You can also send an e-mail to post@echo2012.no for further information.



Source: Press Release from Bombadil Publishing





 

Leaving a friend behind

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QUESTION:

Dear Irene,

 

I was recently made redundant, had been working in a high powered job and decided to move to a different county to explore what it is i actually want to do, have been volunteering to discover, anyway my closest friend whom i've been friends with for over 10 years has hardly been contacting me, any time i'm back home i always make an effort but she hasn't been asking me how i'm getting on just doesn't seem interested and it really hurts because i'm on such a journey and want so much to share it with her but she's always talking about herself and looks bored when i tell her about how i'm doing.

 

I now think that maybe she was envious that i'm off doing something different because she hates her job so much and spends 4 hours a day travelling to and from. It's really bothering me at the moment because i am always supportive of anything she does and i know if it was the other way around i'd be on the phone to her all the time wondering what she's up to. I did confront her and asked her if i had done anything to her and she just disregarded it and started talking about work. any advice on how to handle it would be much appreciated

Signed,

Anonymous

 

ANSWER:

Dear Anonymous:

 

A former neighbor on my block told me in confidence that she was going to move at the end of the school year. She asked me to please not tell a soul---get this, she was worried that other moms wouldn’t agree to playdates with her four-year-son when they found out about the family’s upcoming move.

 

It seemed kind of far-fetched to me at the time but there are people who only want to have friendships of convenience. As long as you are centered in their universe, they will be your friend. But if you move, either geographically or psychologically, they lose interest in the friendship and are unwilling to extend themselves. Perhaps that’s the kind of thinking shared by your friend. She may have written you off because you have left her universe.

 

Another thought: A journey of self-discovery, like the one upon which you have embarked, is rarely as exciting to the friends you’ve left behind as it is to the individual who is on the journey. Your friend may not be interested in the blow-by-blow of the story, but will probably be very interested in how it ends.

 

To meet your own needs to communicate and understand your experience, I would recommend that you keep a journal so that you regularly record your experiences and feelings during this exciting time. I would also suggest that you try to fully immerse yourself and make new friends in your new environment. 

 

Also, don’t write off your friend yet. She may simply be distracted by other things or have some transitory feelings of envy or distance towards you that will abate when you return to her turf. Keep in touch but don't deluge her with the details.


In any event, congratulations on your new beginning!

My best,

Irene

 

Just for Fun: Blue Christmas Update

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I just found out about this site and wanted to share it with you.

 

Reach out and touch one of your friends by sending them a recording of you and Elvis singing Blue Christmas together!

 

Go to: www.SingWithTheKing.com to make your recording and send it as a free holiday Ecard. If you sing like me, it's guaranteed to bring a smile to your friend's face.

 

Irene

 

 

 

 

 

When Red and Green Make Blue

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The last time I heard the words "Blue Christmas," they were crooned by Elvis. This morning, my local paper ran an article by religion writer Gary Stern noting that two churches in Westchester County, New York, are holding special "Blue Christmas" services for people who are "sad, angry, depressed, lonely, melancholy or uncertain. "

Churches around the nation have been doing the same for more than a decade, traditionally scheduling these services on the day with the least amount of light; this year, the winter solstice falls on Sunday, December 21. The services are often somber and ecumenical, using candles to acknowledge that many are experiencing pain, loneliness, or grief.

Unfortunately, we all know at least one person who'll be experiencing a Blue Christmas this time around. The economic turndown has resulted in lost jobs, lost homes, increased costs, and for many, a looming sense of financial uncertainty. This month alone, the pending collapse of the Big Three Automakers and the mind-boggling Madoff affair were the icing on the cake of financial despair.

With government cutbacks, gaps in the health and social welfare systems have become gaping holes. And people are still reeling from the tragic costs, both human and economic, of the war in Iraq and from a string of man-made and natural disasters that caused senseless death and destruction.

If you know someone who is likely to feel blue over the holidays, be sensitive and don't overdo the merriment and good cheer. Figure out which friends, relatives, or neighbors you can help and what you can do. Sometimes even a "Hi, I'm thinking of you" phone call helps. Reminding them they aren't alone may be all they need to get over this holiday hump.

Listen to Blue Christmas on YouTube

 

Wisdom from Whitney: Rx for being a less needy friend

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I recently received this post from a reader named Whitney that I thought was worth sharing. Whitney was fortunate to have a good friend---who gave her honest feedback about her neediness--- without making Whitney feel totally hurt or bent out of shape. Whitney also seems to have a fair degree of insight into her own behavior. As a result of the two factors, she’s found a way to reduce her neediness, which will hopefully work for her and make her a better friend. Thanks for sharing your story, Whitney!

 

Dear Irene:

Wow. This blog has definitely helped me realize what a needy person I am. I just wish I knew why. I've experienced my fair share of friends who required more than the usual amount of validation, or coddling. or praise, but tonight I was told that I am too dependent on people as well. Not just all people, but one person in particular. My good friend told me this tonight, and I admit that it is hard to hear. Especially since I can't stand that kind of behavior.

 

But even more than that, it is hard to hear because I have a great fear of losing people close to me. This fear isn't typically that unreasonable, but I believe since I've lost a few close friends recently to death and other complications life brings, I'm more sensitive to the notion of losing friends. Somehow I've allowed myself to believe that I need to spend much more time than necessary with this person, and that's not fair for anyone.

 

I realize now that I'm always complaining or have something physically or emotionally wrong with me, and those things are draining to hear or see all the time. It's good to be able to talk to friends about what's going on in your life, but to an extent. To all you out there struggling with finding your own independence like I am, I suggest talking to a counselor once a week like I'm going to start doing. I've decided that I'm going to write everything going on in my life down so that I can keep my friends in the loop to an extent, but all the especially deep and emotional trials I'm going through at the time will be told to a counselor first so I can learn better how to cope on my own.

 

It's always good to have a strong support system of friends, sharing EQUALLY in all of life's ups and downs. However, it's also good to have that unbiased opinion from a professional and NEVER good to lay out all your problems to ONE friend. That's too much for anyone person, and they have their own lives to deal with. What a night this has been! I'm so glad my friend was able to tell me about my neediness so I can start to remedy it. Thanks, friend ;)

Signed,
Whitney

 

Reader Q & A: Dumped Times Two

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QUESTION:


Hi Irene,

 

My name is Veronica and I live in the UK, I’m not sure if you take emails from people from the UK, but I felt compelled to email you about a situation that is bothering me involving of a couple of girls who I thought were friends of mine.

 

I have known these two girls for a number of years. We have boyfriends who are all friends and would go over to each other’s houses for christenings and on nights out for birthdays, etc. I saw them during the week as one of them has kids, as I do. Last year all seemed okay, until this year when things seem to have fallen by the wayside with the girl who has the children.

 

Every time I asked if she would like to meet up, she was 'busy' or working. I got a bit paranoid after the fifth time and thought, “What have I done?” She is on good old Facebook, so I removed her from my friends list.

 

These two girls are best mates, very close, but thought I got on with both of them. When the one with the kids was avoiding me, I concentrated on still being mates with the other girl, who I had always assumed was the nicer one and who did not gossip, etc. I was wrong. Recently, for my b-day, I asked if they could make it out for a drink but they were both too busy. I always make the effort for theirs---but not even a happy birthday did they wish me!

 

I made up my mind there and then that they are not worth it, but still spoke occasionally to the girl without children. She was feeling down and I said I hope she was okay and if she ever wanted to pop round and talk she’s more than welcome to. She told me hadn’t gone out for ages.

 

A week later I saw her and the other girl with three other girls I know, out on a night out. They did not talk to me until one of the girls came and got me. The other day I emailed the girl who was feeling down asking, “So, how are you?” Then she told me to stop hassling her! I was upset by her reaction and admittedly I panicked and send her three texts saying I hope we can sort things out and a voice message.

 

The next morning she said she can’t be bothered with me anymore, so I went ahead a deleted all these girls off my Facebook friends, I know that sounds petty, but why have them nose at my profile when they are not my real mates? One of them told me I was weird for doing so. I am fed up with these girls’ attitudes. They have tried phasing me out for ages and have now managed it but I want to know why.

 

The only thing I can think of is that I attended a wedding of the cousin of the girl who has the kids and she was not invited, as they do not get on! Hope you can advise me, this may sound so shallow but it’s doing my head in!!

 

Yours faithfully,
Veronica

ANSWER:


Dear Veronica:

 

When you ask a friend to get together five times and she comes up with one excuse after another, it means she doesn’t want to get together. I know this feels disconcerting because you were good friends in the past. And I’m not sure what accounts for the change in your ex-friend’s behavior but, as painful and confusing as this feels, it is common for people and friendships to change over time.

 

In terms of the second girl, you were supportive to her when she was depressed—and then she accused you of hassling her? She is telling you quite directly that she doesn’t want to be involved with you. Again, you can only guess the reasons why. One possibility: Since she is best friends with the first girl, it may be difficult for her to maintain an independent relationship with you.

 

These girls sound mean, insensitive, and SHALLOW. Defriending them, both in real life and on Facebook is the right thing to do because they are no longer your true friends. Stop trying to understand their motives because that really doesn’t matter. Move on and find another friend who is interested in a more reciprocal friendship.

 

I’m sorry this has happened to you and hope this is helpful. By the way, being dumped by female friends is a universal problem! The only cultural difference is that you call them “mates” and we call them “friends.”

 

Best,
Irene

 

Reader Q &A: Should breaking up be a blame game?

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QUESTION

Dear Irene:

 

When you break up with a female friend, is it really necessary to "give advice" about what they should do in the future, or is it better to focus on the problems within the relationship you were personally involved with?

 

I just got dumped by a friend who went on to say some very hurtful things under the guise of giving advice and saying she still cared about me, even if she didn't want to be friends anymore. It just felt like having salt rubbed into the wound -- she insulted my parents, my family, me, and cast doubt on my other relationships (none of which I'd been having trouble with), all while supposedly trying to help me be a better friend. I know she was just trying to give me a good explanation, but was it really necessary?

 

I've always tried to focus just on why it wasn't working for me when I end a friendship, not try to give advice on how they should behave with other friends; it just seems like it's enough to leave it implied. I also do a bit of the "It's not you, it's me" approach if I really care about the person but just can't handle them anymore, since I don't believe in putting all the blame on the other person when breaking up even if I feel that way --it just seems too hurtful/unfair. Is this correct, or is it okay to come out and say that it was all the other person's fault?

 

And when you break up with a friend, do you also unfriend them on Facebook/MySpace? What am I supposed to think if she tells me she has no desire to have me in her life, then doesn't unfriend me on Facebook?

 

Signed,
Anonymous

 

ANSWER:

Dear Anonymous,

 

Just as knowing what to say at a time of loss (e.g. a death) is always awkward, there is no commonly accepted protocol for breaking off a female friendship. That said, my thinking is that if an individual decides to unilaterally end a relationship, leaving no room for discussion, she should take responsibility for her decision and do whatever she can to allow the other person to feel unscathed.

 

Although your friend rationalized her bluntness by saying she was trying to help you become a better friend, her explanation doesn’t quite cut it for me.

 

  • She was insensitive about how you might be feeling. Being dumped without warning leaves any woman reeling, so her approach and timing was off if she really wanted to “help” you become a better friend.
  • Disparaging your parents and family should have been off bounds; Her relationship was with you, not them.
  • It is arrogant and unfair for her to blame the relationship’s demise entirely on you. She failed to recognize that all relationships are defined by two parties, not one. While your ex-friend may not have been able to sustain her relationship with you, other friends don’t seem to have the same problem with you. Did she even consider that it might be her and not you?
  • It sounds like she lashed out at you in anger. I’m not sure why. And because of the way she handled it, it has made it extraordinarily difficult for you to ever consider reconciling your relationship.

 

Since the ball is entirely in her court, I would consider the friendship over unless she comes back with a very good apology and you want to accept it. And if I were you, I would want to be sure to establish a comfortable distance from the woman who just dumped me. I wouldn’t want to know what she was doing and wouldn’t want her to know about me and my relationships. I understand your pain but I think you just need to move on. Taking control and defriending her might help.

 

Warm wishes,

Irene

 

Women who bicker over books

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A recent article in the New York Times, Fought Over Any Good Books Lately?, by Joanne Kaufman recounted the story of a woman, named Jocelyn Bowie, who was invited to join a book club shortly after she moved back to Indiana. She had hoped she could find a sisterhood of women in the group with whom she could network.


When the women began bickering about their choice of books, she decided to defect. The article goes on to describe the acrimony that is rampant among the 4 to 5 million book groups across the U.S. (predominantly made up of women)---but explains how it isn't just about the book. They disagree about "the rules" and refreshments, and butt heads over politics. I'm sure the recent polarizing election killed off more than a few groups.


I had a similarly disappointing experience in joining a short-lived writer's group. Although we all loved writing, there weren't enough ties to keep the group together and we dispersed as soon as we could, explaining it away as a summer hiatus. We were at different stages of our writing careers and at different phases of our lives---and our personalities just didn't seem to click. One person was an incessant talker and another always came late, expecting us to rewind from the beginning. No one wanted to intercede, possibly alienating another member.

 

I found out that a shared love of writing doesn't always cut it when it comes to maintaining a writer's group---just as forming and maintaining female friendships are partly a matter of luck, too. When I interviewed more than 1200 women about their female friendships, a large number of them talked about how best friends just seem to "click." They described how it felt easy and comfortable to be together from the beginning, like slipping into a worn pair of jeans, and it didn't take any work.


Friendship circles like book clubs and writers' groups are more complicated than one-on-one friendships, perhaps, because there are more personalities added to the pot. Some of us are lucky to find groups that "click" while others have to try more than once---to find the right one.

 

You may also want to read The Book Group and the Bitch Fight, a blog post by my writer friend, Joanne Rendell, author of The Professors' Wives' Club.