Month of January , 2009

Girlfriends with pink slips

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The support of female friends can help a woman get over the traumatic emotional and financial losses associated with being fired or let go. What can friends do?

Read my latest post on The Huffington Post.

 

The Sometimes Friend

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QUESTION

Dear Irene,

I'm in my late 30's and for as long as I can remember (since early childhood), I have always been the "sometimes friend". Usually there are two friends who are inseparable. They are on each other's speed dial, they shop together, lunch together, and their families spend time together. And only sometimes...will they decide to include me. I have never had a "best friend" or someone that I would feel comfortable just calling up for a lunch date or to catch a movie. This leaves me feeling incredibly lonely.

For some reason, I have trouble making a personal connection with people. I am currently a stay at home mom and moderately outgoing. I am very active in a mom's group (two years now) that I really like. We have playdates for the kids and regular mom's night outs, etc.  I think most would say that I'm happy, optimistic, and fun natured, but I can't seem to make that personal connection or cross that boundary into friendship.

There are two women from the mom's group that I do spend some time with. Our families spend Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve together and we do a gift exchange. To me, it's very personal whom I share my family with for the holidays. But, I somehow end up feeling hurt and lonely because I have been relegated to being the "sometimes friend". They talk on the phone, shop, lunch, hang out together and have family events.... and don't invite me.

Should I end these relationships? Or continue with them even though they aren’t fulfilling for me? I feel like my choice is being the "sometimes" friend or having no friends. Also, I worry what my 3-year-old daughter is learning from my lack female bonding. She is in preschool and chooses to play with the boys. I'm worried that by continuing with these type  "friendless" friendships that I’m hurting her ability to learn to bond with other females as well. My worst nightmare is for her to grow up and live her life without a real female friend as I have.

Thanks,
Tara

ANSWER


Dear Tara,

It sounds like your friendships don’t offer the intimacy that you are craving. My guess is that while you are a sociable person and collect acquaintances (and even close friends), you are somewhat guarded and hold back from sharing your true self with your girlfriends. Thus, these relationships never evolve into “best friendships.” We’re all different and being somewhat reserved and private is an aspect of your personality that has been there since childhood.

Maintain these imperfect “sometimes friendships” because you derive pleasure from them; without them, you would be far lonelier than you are now. But you don’t need to choose between being a “sometimes friend” and nothing. Instead, try to take one of these friendships (or any other) to the next level. Make plans to get together with a friend and slowly begin sharing more of your self; my guess it that the boundaries will begin to dissipate over time.

Somewhat related: There is an interesting challenge that’s popular on Facebook these days. One of your Facebook friends sends you this note that reads as follows—Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

I took the challenge and wrote about myself online in a more intimate way than I had before. I found that people responded in kind by revealing more of themselves, and before I knew it, we were closer than before. In short, a sense of intimacy and trust between two people is what turns acquaintances into “best friends.” One caveat, it may not be practical to covet “best friend” status with someone that already has an exclusive “best friendship” but you should be able to accrete a best friend somewhere.

And don’t worry about your 3-year-old daughter yet or project your problem onto her. She isn’t old enough to assess the nature of your friendships or to set her own friendship trajectory. Becoming the best friend you can be will have the added effect of making you are more confident and happy mother. The fact that you don’t want to settle for “sometimes” is already a good sign.

Let us know how it goes.

Best,
Irene
 

Walking on eggshells

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QUESTION

Hi Irene,

I have a nagging suspicion that my best friend Julia harbors some type of jealously or resentment toward me. We met five years ago when I moved to a new city to live with my boyfriend. She had known him casually for a few years. I didn’t know many people in town and Julia and I became inseparable.

I have never had a large quantity of friends but I am extremely close with the ones I have. I’m an identical twin and my relationship with my sister is strong. As Julia and I grew closer, my boyfriend became jealous and resentful of the relationship. He felt that Julia was occupying too much of my time. I don’t blame him. I spent more time with Julia than I did with him and our relationship ended about 6 months ago.

At the time, I didn’t see how spending so much time with Julia might be putting “all my eggs in one basket.” I want to expand my social circle because I think that our relationship may be too limiting. She can be extremely selfish and insensitive. For example, when I broke up with my boyfriend six months ago, I told her it was uncomfortable for me to frequent the local bar where we used to hang out. I suggested that I wanted to visit new places where I knew I wouldn’t see him. She responded, “Well you know where I’ll be, at the usual place.”

She flips out on me when I don’t say the right thing. I’m constantly walking on eggshells around her. She also makes little comments that get to me. My mom recently passed away and I came into a small inheritance. She’s made comments like “Well I don’t have money like you do…” This hurts my feelings since I’d give anything to have my mom back.

Since breaking up with my boyfriend, Julia views me as competition. She constantly talks about how “hot” she is and how we have the same level of attractiveness. She is many things, but “hot” isn’t one of them. She is fairly attractive but doesn’t take particularly good care of herself. That’s fine; physical appearance isn’t everything. It’s the fact that she has to toot her own horn. A few mutual male friends have confessed that they have had crushes on me for a while but since I had been involved they held off. When I told her this she said things like, “Oh, they don’t really mean it like that.” One guy friend told me that Julia had come onto him and he was not attracted to her.

No matter how much I give her, it is never enough. I am a private person and I don’t talk about absolutely everything that goes on in my life, especially mundane things. Julia has complained that she feels like she doesn’t know “all of me.” I told her that she knows the important stuff but I’m not like her, I don’t tell her about every little thing that happens in my life. Sometimes, I feel as if she wants to own me.  

Of course there are many things I adore about her. She can be extremely caring and considerate. When my mom was dying, she came to NYC to be with me. We talk about things that I’ve never shared with anybody (except my twin sister) and we get along great for the most part. We have a lot in common and share many of the same interests. But it’s the underlying tension that’s really bothering me. I hate confrontation and I know with her, she’ll deny everything I say. I also hate hiding all of this from her. I know she means well and I love and care deeply for her, but I don’t know if this is the healthiest relationship, what should I do?

Signed,
Michelle

ANSWER

Dear Michelle,

No friend or friendship is perfect: Each one has strengths and weaknesses. Although you like Julia, you seem to feel tense and uncomfortable around her. To my mind, that would be a deal-breaker but you need to ask yourself, “How important is this friendship to me?"

It’s hard to give up a friendship with someone who has been an important part of your life. Julia was your anchor in your new city. She was there for the death of your mother and the loss of your boyfriend. But now, do her negatives outweigh the positives? Only you know. Is she too self-centered and controlling? Can you trust her? Does being with her always make you feel tense and queasy? Could she be competing for your closeness with your twin sister?

You have several choices: 1) You can speak to Julia to try to resolve some of these issues; there’s not much to lose. You may be anticipating a worse reaction than you think because of your own discomfort in being honest but if you really can’t express yourself candidly to her, it says something about the friendship; 2) You can downgrade your friendship so it isn’t as close. Perhaps, you both need some distance from Julia and should make other friends so your relationship is less intense; 3) If all else fails, you can end it. You’ve made an investment in this relationship, but life is too short to have unsatisfying friendships. It’s only worthwhile to continue a close friendship if it is characterized by mutual trust and respect.

Best wishes,
Irene

 

Escaping from a toxic triangle

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QUESTION

Dear Irene,

I'm a 40-year-old woman who feels like she's back in junior high. I have three kids who are very involved in sports and activities. Over the last four years, my husband and I developed a group of friends with kids the same ages. My closest friend in the group was a woman named Susan.

Recently we went away with Susan and her DH (dear husband), and another close friend Jenny and her husband. It was a terrible trip. Jenny was pretty much a bore and ruined much of the weekend. She ganged up against me and afterwards, my best friend Susan ignored me for an entire month or more—not answering phone calls, walking away from me at school events, etc. I finally confronted her at a baseball game. She called me names, and said she was tired of defending me to "everyone." I asked her what she meant and she said I was mean and biting.

Susan and I have been on three family vacations together: One was great, but the other two were terrible when Jenny and her family were involved. I can't forgive Susan for the cruel things she said to me and for walking away without giving me a chance to speak. She spent weeks talking about me behind me back—poisoning other friendships with Jenny and even my neighbor. Next thing I knew, she was calling me for rides for her daughter, dropping off Christmas cookies, and baking us bread. She recently asked if my DH and me wanted to drop by for drinks.

I have no desire to befriend her again. Jenny and I started to patch things up after our trip but this weekend, she told me that she wanted me to know that her family and Susan's were going on vacation together this summer. She wanted to know if my family would think about a "separate " house at the beach.

Some days I feel like I'm in some sort of depression. I wish these people didn't bother me, but I feel terribly betrayed. Our kids are all in the same activities and I can't get away from them, I've even considered moving our family to another state. Being made a fool of embarrasses me but I don't intend to suck up to anyone to get them to like me.

I'm having a hard time coping...Thanks for your help.

Signed,
Patsy

ANSWER

Dear Patsy,

The reason why you are having a hard time coping is because these women have either been nasty or have been giving you mixed messages. Sometimes women are blinded to the foibles in their friends for the sake of the kids—until they get clobbered over the head. Because you and your children once enjoyed spending time with these two other families, you may consider these women “friends,” but don’t make that mistake. True friends aren’t petty, cruel, and divisive. You need to find a way to extricate yourself from this adolescent triangle and find friends with whom you are more compatible.

Susan and Jenny have drawn a line in the sand; they plan to keep you at a distance---in a “separate house.’ Is this acceptable to you? If you agree to remain a friend on their terms, you will continue to feel hurt. Opt out of the triangle now. You don’t need to make abrupt changes but begin to treat these women as parents of your children’s friends, not your friends. Let your kids take the lead in determining whether they want to get together with the other kids. I’m not sure how old your kids are but children reach an age when they want to make their own friends anyway.

Begin mingling with other moms and try to put these toxic women in the periphery of your life—downgrade them from friends to acquaintances. I promise you will feel better about yourself. Just because these women are acting like girls in junior high doesn’t mean that you have to play in the their playground.

Best,
Irene

 

Inauguration Day 2009

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I share your hopes for the future!

Make an Obamicon of your own and send it to your friends. Go to: http://obamiconme.pastemagazine.com/

Warmest wishes,

Irene

 

Sophisticated Lady

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QUESTION

Dear Irene,

First, thank you for a wonderful website. Second, I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong. I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps I have a higher need for interaction than most people. I’m turning 40 and when my husband mentioned throwing me a birthday party I realized I have no dear friends to invite. I have never known anyone that I would call a “best friend” and was painfully shy and awkward growing up.

I know many women very superficially. Over the past 20 years, three people have told me that I come across as polished/sophisticated and that it is threatening to others. That has never been my intention and I am not trying to cultivate that image, in fact, to combat it I work at being self-deprecating and watch what I wear to casual events with women I would like know better.

I would like to have friends to go out to a dinner/movie/coffee with 2-3 times per month. Is that unreasonable? I’m at the point of thinking maybe it is. We moved five years ago to a new state and have one child. I’ve tried to organize coffee meet-ups with other school moms, most of whom do not work outside the home, and my invitations have either been entirely ignored, I am asked who else is attending, or I get a “not sure if I can make it, if I can I’ll meet you there.” There are two school mom cliques and I can’t seem to get into either, and it’s been four years. While they are polite, neither my child nor I am asked to participate in their group activities, e.g. a week at summer camp or weekend visits to vacation homes.

I tried to organize a dinner group with neighborhood women and it never materialized. I went a handful of times to a neighborhood gardening club and one woman there clearly had a problem with me as I was on the receiving end many times of her verbal jabs and putdowns. I finally had enough and didn’t return.

Two other women have actively pursued being my friend. One came on very strong and frankly felt like a stalker; the other brags constantly, which I have no interest in listening to. During this same four years, I’ve developed very superficial friendships with six women. Only two of them have ever issued an invitation to me for anything, I’ve always asked and they’ve always agreed. I changed jobs two years ago and invited a few women at work out for coffee/lunch. Two people took me up in those two years and they’ve never invited me again even though we work together peripherally.  

For added measure, my husband and I have no couple friends that are our age – and never really have. All couples that we’ve gotten to know and gone out with have been from his work and are generally at least 10 years older than us. I am very thankful for these relationships, but it strikes us as odd and we can’t figure out why we don’t have any couple friends our age. Sounds like I’m having a pity party here, but maybe I should just start to be happy with what I have.

Thank you,
April

ANSWER

Dear April,

Thanks for reading my blog and posting. It sounds like you’ve done all the right things to nurture friendships with other women. Like you, I’m having a hard time understanding why you aren’t connecting. Yes, you’ve moved and changed jobs over the past five years, but it sounds like your friendship problems started before that.

A few thoughts/questions come to my mind: What are the people like in your community and at your workplace? Are they very discrepant from you in terms of their educational, cultural, ethnic or religious backgrounds? Are these people of your ilk? Perhaps, the differences between you and them are challenging to overcome—and perhaps you or they aren’t accepting or tolerant of differences.

You shouldn’t have to be self-deprecating and to dress-down to garner friends. Best friendships come easily when women feel comfortable being themselves—warts and all. Perhaps it’s your uneasiness in being yourself that other women find off-putting.

Forming couple friends is always a dicey prospect. Instead of two people having to get along with each other, the complexities are multiplied when spouses are involved. Just because two female friends are close doesn’t mean that their spouses will feel the same way about one another. So it’s great that you’ve made couple friends through your husband’s work.

I sense that you feel like you’ve tried very hard to make close friends and feel like you have failed. Would you be comfortable asking your husband what he thinks? He knows you and your situation over time; he is also the person who is most familiar with the cast of characters, and may be able to offer you new insights. Two other alternatives would be to confide in one of the women you feel closest to and to ask her advice, or to seek help from a counselor or therapist. With your motivation and sophistication, I’m certain your problem can be resolved with the help and objectivity of a trusted third person.

Best wishes,
Irene
 

Friendship by the Book: Cancer is a Bitch

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"I'm part of a club I didn't mean to join," writes Gail Konop Baker, author of Cancer is a Bitch: Or, I'd Rather Be Having a Midlife Crisis (Da Capo, 2008).

 

Baker, a mother of three and wife of a doctor, was a self-professed health nut. She ran marathons, practiced yoga, ate organic foods, and was a lifelong subscriber to Prevention magazine. Like many of us, she believed that she could keep breast cancer at bay: It was something that happened to other people's friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers.

 

Then, at the age of 45, after two prior biopsies that turned out to be false alarms, Baker was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), the most common form of noninvasive breast cancer.

 

This intelligent, funny, and extremely gutsy book not only chronicles Baker's breast cancer journey and successful treatment, but talks about marriage, motherhood, careers and the significance of friendships in women's lives. Her voice is unusually compelling because it is so intimate and honest, like a best friend telling you her story.

 

Gail graciously responded to several questions I posed about the impact of her diagnosis on her female friendships:

 

Do you believe that there is a sisterhood of breast cancer survivors? If so, why?

If you'd asked me that before I went on tour for my book, I wouldn't have known since I was the first (still am) in my circle of friends to be diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn't join any support groups either. I have to admit I felt very alone. But as I toured the country this fall and winter, I met survivors and felt an instant and immediate bond. There was really nothing that made me feel better than a survivor telling me that my book touched her, made her feel less alone, helped her understand the feelings she was feeling.

I think the reason there is this instant connection is that receiving a cancer diagnosis is like being forced to walk through fire. It isn't something you choose. It isn't something you can conjure in your mind. And once you've walked through it alters your perceptions of life forever. Life is different. I think survivors bond because they have been forced to feel and see and taste and smell and live life through a different lens. I meet a survivor now and it's like we share a secret language.

 

What are the range of reactions (so aptly described in your book) that friends have to someone who is diagnosed with breast cancer?

Everyone meant well and all of my friends were very generous. They brought me food and flowers and took care of my children but few knew what to say. I think that was because their own fear got in the way and understandably so. But the hardest thing was seeing myself as someone else's worst fear. Feeling their dread. They didn't even have to say anything for me to feel it.

But a couple of friend encounters stand out in my mind. Just before my surgery when I was in a very funky funk, one of my best friends came over and told me, "If you have to shave my head, I'll shave mine in solidarity." Luckily I didn't have to but her words made me feel like she would walk through the fire with me. That she wasn't afraid of me. That she didn't feel differently about me.

After my surgery, I ran a half marathon with that same friend and another one of our friends. After the race we were talking old boyfriends and sex and I told them I didn't feel very sexy with all my scars. They talked me into showing them my worst scar and inched my shirt down and they stared at a minute before one of them said, "Scars are hot! I think it makes you sexier."

 

Did you rely on your friends for practical advice and help?

Not so much advice but, as I said above, they brought food and helped with my children and showered me with love and concern, Honestly, I didn't even know I had so many good friends until I was diagnosed. I was absolutely blown away by the love and support that surrounded me.

 

Did your friendships change at all since you were diagnosed? Did you dump some friends and add others? Did you get closer to some and feel more distant from others? What accounted for the changes?

Great question! Cancer brought clarity to my life and gave me license to declutter my life. So yes, some friendships, the ones that were draining me, fell away. I felt like I didn't have time to waste on relationships that weren't mutually enriching.

But it also made me aware of the depth of some of my friendships and deepened those bonds. My best friend helped me get my feet back on the ground. Literally. Soon after my surgery she came over and told me to put my running shoes on and pulled me out the door and forced me to put one foot in front of the other.

 

'Friendship by the Book' is an occasional series of posts on this blog about books that offer friendship lessons. To read other posts in the series, use the search function on the right side of the page.

 

 

 

Just for Fun: How many friends would you give up for a Whopper?

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Ending friendships can be touchy, even virtual ones. That’s why Facebook users are reluctant to defriend and feel humiliated if they’re defriended.

But you've gotta admit it. Everyone has at least a few frenemies they’re just dying to purge from their friends list: People who post too often or who only post to brag; ex-friends or competitors who lurk without posting at all; and people whose names they don’t recognize, let alone consider friends.

Burger King has just provided Facebook users with the ready excuse for which they were waiting. It’s a marketing campaign called the WHOPPER Sacrifice, created by Crispin Porter + Bogusky: Delete ten of your Facebook friends and you’re rewarded with a coupon for a free Whopper.

"The [friend] removal is another kind of socializing," says Jeff Benjamin, executive interactive creative director at Crispin, as reported in Adweek. Benjamin had 736 friends on Facebook at the time the campaign was launched although he may have deleted some by now if he likes Whoppers. "At first you think it's antisocial, but it's a social device," he says. "Now we finally have something to talk about."

Source: Adweek 

 

Reader Q & A: No way out?

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QUESTION:

Dear Irene:

My "best" friend and I have been friends since last year. Sometimes I feel like I love her; other times, she’s my worst enemy. She comes from a controlling and abusive family and I was always there for her to get through it.

I just turned 18, and I realize more and more that she’s doing the same things to me that her mom did to her. I’ve watched her lie and manipulate older men and she’s only 17. She brought me into these situations to help her be more convincing. It made me feel guilty but I couldn’t do anything about it. I’ve lost almost all of my old friends because of her telling me they talk bad about me behind my back. She’s changed me into becoming more promiscuous and she gets me to meet new guys to "make me feel more confident." She says I can’t do it on my own because I’m too shy. Then she finds something bad about them to make me from stop talking to them if I start spending more time with one of them and not her.

She even said something about my parents not caring about me. She "jokingly" calls me stupid and puts me down. Other times, she tries to make me feel better about myself. She found me a job with her but if I do something wrong, she makes me feel like a bad friend because she throws it in my face about how she got me the job and all the other great things she’s done for me.

I wish I had an escape but I’m still in high school and I happen to live a street away from her and she knows almost everything about me, even that I may have an STD because of a guy she hooked me up with.

Signed,
Heather

ANSWER

Dear Heather:

As a woman and as a mom, my heart goes out to you because it sounds like you are in a particularly painful situation for someone your age. Even if you desperately want to, it’s hard to escape from a girlfriend who lives near you, goes to school with you, has some of the same friends as you, and works with you.

It’s great that you have insight and recognize that this relationship is toxic. Your friend has you hooked on the excitement she provides but the costs are too great. She undermines your self-confidence---and tries to manipulate and control you.

You were brave to tell me about your worries and that you want to make positive changes. Although it will be difficult, you need to find a way to back off from this friendship. If you don't feel comfortable talking to one of your parents, I suggest that you talk to another trusted adult, perhaps a counselor at your high school, who can provide support to help you find a way to end this risky relationship. Also, make an appointment with a physician so you can reassure yourself about your health and can cross an STD off your worry list.

 

My best,
Irene


 

Getting over getting dumped

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QUESTION

Dear Dr. Levine,

I'm so glad I found your blog --it seems there are many resources for how to break up with friends, but very few for the friends who get dumped! Your blog addresses both sides of the issue, for which I am thankful.

The first (and only) time I've been dumped by a friend happened over a year ago, but I'm still not over it. We were close friends in high school, then drifted apart as she went to a conservatory to study music and I went to a university to major in psychology. We talked mostly online, but it was usually her talking about music, rehearsal, theory class, etc; we didn't really have much in common anymore.

One day, I made a stupid, tactless joke while we were chatting online; she signed off, offended. I felt immediately remorseful, so I emailed her an apology right away.  However, she ignored me for 3 months afterward; the only contact I had from her was when I was back home for break and invited her to lunch (She said she had food poisoning). Finally, my boyfriend (a mutual friend) contacted her to demand that she let me know where things stood. She emailed me the next day to end the friendship, and I was blown away by how unhappy she was with me.

She told me that for some time now, she had felt I was looking down on her, and she accused me of putting my friends down so as to make myself feel better, along with many other hurtful things. I was upset since I'd never meant to make her feel this way, but I was also confused as to why she'd never said anything to me before if she'd been upset for so long. My boyfriend later told me that she also confessed to him that she'd had feelings for him for a long time (which she also never told me; in fact, she was the one who set me up with him).   

I never emailed her back because I didn’t trust myself to stay calm, plus she said she never wanted anything to do with me again. The thing is, I can’t get over her. There are so many things I want to tell her, but I feel there’s no use in telling her now since it’s been so long. She never unfriended me on Facebook, and even though I know I shouldn’t, I look up her profile constantly to see what she’s up to.

I’m just so shaken that I never noticed her resentment. I find myself questioning whether any of my friends really like me, or if they too are secretly tired of me. I hesitate to celebrate any of my accomplishments with my friends for fear of coming across as boastful or snobby. I even fret about winning too many scrabble games! My boyfriend says that it was mostly her insecurity and jealousy that brought this on, not my behavior, but I just don't know anymore.

I don’t know how to get past this. Should I delete old emails? Unfriend her on Facebook?  I don’t know how to stop thinking about it!  

Thanks,
Still Hurting

ANSWER

Dear Still Hurting:

I agree with your boyfriend: Your ex-friend seems to be very insecure and it sounds like she was jealous of you. First, she betrayed you by telling your boyfriend about her feelings for him. Then she seized upon your “tactless joke”—for which you later apologized—as an excuse for ending her friendship with you without giving you any chance to redeem yourself. My guess is that she was feeling too uncomfortable to sustain her relationship with you.

Given these circumstances, you should be angry with her rather than hurt. You should immediately defriend her---and do everything else you can to get her out of your consciousness. You certainly shouldn’t be tracking her status on Facebook or be reading her old emails because she’s made it clear that she doesn’t want to have a relationship with you.

You were dumped and the loss of any long-term friendship is very painful, especially when the decision to end it has been one-sided. Try not to use this fractured friendship as a yardstick for others. Hopefully, you will learn to trust again and your trust won’t be broken.

Best,
Irene