balance

Reader Q & A: Why did she dump me?

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QUESTION:

Hi Irene,

I telephoned a girlfriend today for a chat and to see how see was doing and she hit me with a bombshell. She politely told me that she saw no point in continuing our friendship. She said she was making positive changes in her life and I wasn't included.

We have had one disagreement in the six years we have known each other. We are both busy moms and live in different towns so most of our friendship is over long phone calls. We are both Americans living abroad and we have found creature comfort in talking to a fellow-country woman.

Though I understand that we were never best, best friend-our interests are different-we were always there for each other to share joys and tears. I told her that I had to respect her decision but I admitted I was confused why she felt the need to cut it off entirely. We didn't have some screaming fight. We laughed with each other, gave support when the other needed it. I babysat when she asked and included her daughter in all my kids' parties.

She said she was looking for a best friend. Someone whom she could go out and have a drink with. She said she didn't feel like putting any energy into a phone friend. I understand what she was saying but I don't get why she had to dump me as a friend totally. Can she only have one friend at a time?

I am a mom with three little boys and a husband who comes home late. I rarely have an option of a babysitter, so nights out are even rarer still. My friend is a single mom who has one day during the week and every other weekend child-free because of visitation with the child's father. I understand her need to let loose but I thought she understood my situation too. I am sad. I miss our girl chats. I miss being her Dr. Freud. I know a lot of people in this foreign country but she was my touchstone to home and I didn't have to explain who I was because she already knew. I really feel alone.

Sincerely,
Dumpee

ANSWER:

Dear Dumpee,

It is always painful to be dumped, especially without any real explanation. To make matters worse, your friend was unnecessarily blunt and showed little respect for your feelings. Your friend's reasons for suddenly breaking off the relationship in a hurtful way are as inexplicable to me as they are to you.

There are a few things you've mentioned (and that you may have overlooked) that suggest your friendship may have been imperfect to start: While you are both ex-pats, you have different interests, fairly different lifestyles (single mom of an only child vs. married mom with three little ones), and live in different towns with few opportunities to see one another. While none of these differences are necessarily relationship killers, it sounds like there just weren't enough ties to bind you other than you country of origin.

Your life sounds pretty constricted right now (your husband has long working hours, you are still adjusting to living in a foreign country away from old friends and extended family, and you have few childcare options), so admittedly, this is a tough time to make new friends and it's natural to feel alone.

It sounds like this lost friendship may have been a relationship of convenience for the two of you. You mention that you liked being your friend's "Dr. Freud," which suggests that you were on the giving end of the relationship more than the receiving one. When relationships are tipped in one direction like that, they are often prone to fracture.

You deserve to have a close friend with whom you can share feelings-but one that is more reciprocal. My advice: Try to find a replacement closer to home. You may have more in common with someone in your neighborhood than you do with this ex-pat---perhaps, a mother of one of your children's friends. At different times in a woman's life, it may be more or less difficult to make and maintain female friendships. Before you know it, your little ones will be older and you will have more time and options.

You have a very full plate right now so, perhaps, on an interim basis you could reconnect by email to some of your friends from back home. I'm sorry this happened but I think it has more to do with her than with you. Don't over-analyze why she did it because you'll never be able to figure it out. Instead, move forward and find new ways to address your own needs for friendship.

Hope this is helpful.

My best,
Irene

 

 

Reader Q & A: Good boundaries make good friendships

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Dear Irene:

Hi, I have a friend who doesn’t have very good boundaries. I live in a small town. I am a fairly private person who is social but also like my alone time. This friend has stopped by my house when I don't answer the phone and once she comes over, doesn't leave until really late.


I have no idea how to tell her nicely that it is now time for her and her children to leave. I really value our friendship, but she and her children are very intense and I don't want to spend every waking moment with her. I think she would spend all the time with me if she could.

Any advice? I want to be able to get together with her without being with her for the rest of the day. Also, she seems to get irritated with me and think something is wrong when I don't do what she wants or don’t see her for a couple of days.

Signed,

Anonymous

 

Dear Anonymous,

The most satisfying friendships are built on a foundation of balance and reciprocity. It sounds like your relationship isn’t balanced; your friend covets more of your time and space than is comfortable for you. Yet, you allow her to show up at your home uninvited---and permit her to stay past her welcome. That’s a recipe for a fractured friendship to come!

Sadly, she doesn’t have the sensitivity to sense when you’ve had enough of her or to read your nonverbal cues. In cases like this, you need to be more explicit and tell her something like, “I hope you won’t take offense but it’s getting late and I have an early appointment in the morning” or “I have to get the kids to calm down before bedtime.”

Another tactic might be to schedule your time with your friend so there is a beginning and an end that it is set firm. For example, you might say “I have about four hours before I need to take care of stuff. We’ll have to wrap things up by 2PM” or “Why don’t we meet at the park for an hour or two?”

Acknowledge (to yourself) that you may have boundary issues as well. You need to start to establish ground rules so you don’t wind up feeling angry and abused. Since you really seem to like this friend, it’s worth the risk of explaining how you feel. Tell her that you treasure her friendship but need more alone time for yourself and your family.

Admittedly, I have only heard a little slice of a long story and I suspect your discomfort over this boundary may be just the tip of the iceberg. I suspect that there are other ways in which she is insensitive to your needs and that you feel like you are giving more than you’re getting. Let us know what happens.

My best,

Irene

 

Just Friends?

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In a recent post on her Psychology Today blog, research psychologist Dr. Bella DePaulo, author of Singled Out, raises the issue of what it means to be “just friends.”

Unlike marriage (and same-sex unions in some States), friends have no legal ties to one another. Unlike siblings, they have no blood ties. Yet one of the most unique and defining characteristics of a friendship is that it is a totally voluntary relationship that exists simply because two people “just” want to be friends.

Ironically: “Friends are marginalized as ‘just’ friends,” writes DePaulo. “Now that Americans spend more years of their adult lives single than married, friendship is more important than it used to be,” she adds. “As family size decreases, so, too, do options for family care in old age or any other age - fewer people have siblings or adult children to care for them (or if they do, those family members may live many miles away). Again, it is friends who come to the rescue.”

Whether single or married, it is often difficult for women to strike the right balance between their friendships, family ties, careers, and needs for time alone. Yet DePaulo’s remarks remind us that---in sickness and in health, for better or for worse---it’s always a treasure to be surrounded by strong, caring female friendships.

 

Saying NO to Friends: An interview with psychologist and author Susan Newman, PhD

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Social psychologist Susan Newman, PhD, a colleague of mine from the American Society of Journalists and Authors, is author of The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It—and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and a dozen other relationship and parenting books.

Susan graciously agreed to participate in an interview for this blog about the relevance of her book to female friendships...

 
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