best friend

Reader Q & A: The sadness of letting go

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QUESTION

Dear Irene,

 

I'm so glad that I happened upon this website. I've been struggling with my relationship with my long-time, former-best-friend Linda. It's been a gradual deterioration over the last couple of years and a long grieving process. I'm trying to figure out if this friendship is worth salvaging or if I just need to talk to her to gain some closure.

 

Linda and I had been thick as thieves since our sophomore year of high school 11 years ago. Along the way, there have been times of distance, which generally occurred when she was in a relationship. The biggest difference between us is that she always bemoaned the fact that she didn't have a huge group of friends, while I've always been content to have a few close ones. Our friendship was probably its healthiest in high school. I don't know when it changed exactly, but within the last few years since exiting university and entering the working world, I have become the one who listens, without being heard.

 

Linda had a particularly unhealthy romantic relationship a couple of years ago. I tried to be supportive of her feelings and not be judgmental. But our almost daily conversations, which often lasted for hours upon hours, were completely focused on the current drama in that relationship. It became exhausting and as someone who unfortunately likes feeling helpful, I didn't curb her excessive and repetitive discussions. Eventually things ended badly with that guy, but the phone calls remained the same.

 

Shortly aftert, Linda reconnected with a classmate, Ann, from college and the three of us started to hang out. Ann is very outgoing, has a huge social circle (which is slightly overwhelming to me as I am somewhat shy) and is very active in the Catholic youth ministry in our city. Linda used to be incredibly uncomfortable with overt religiosity, but she found Ann fun to hang out with, despite her focus on faith. Eventually, Linda hung out more and more with the group, especially when she fell for Ann's brother, who is also very religious. Linda started to become more religious herself. While, I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing, it did seem out of character. Then she became further involved by becoming a youth minister herself.

 

While she would still call to complain and vent, she was not calling to hang out on the weekends like we used to. She only called for what felt like a therapy session. Our friendship had become taxing and one-sided. I missed doing things with Linda like shopping, and going to movies and bars, etc., getting out and laughing instead of just wallowing and worrying. I'm a fairly independent person and I do enjoy time alone but I get depressed when I have no social outlet whatsoever. And that's how it ended up. From the summer of 2006, she has been steadily less available to hang out, but always, at least until recently, ready to call me when she's needed a sympathetic ear.

 

I have a few other great friends that I would say are just as close and important to me as Linda has been, but unfortunately, they live in various spots across the country. I talk to them and email them frequently, but due to the distance we aren't able to be together. ike I can be more open about how I feel with them than I can with Linda. Somewhere along the line, I stopped trying to communicate my feelings or frustrations because she would give me a one-line response that inevitably brought her back to herself.

 

About a year ago, I finally decided to go after my dream of teaching ESL abroad and this past February, I moved to Chile for about 6 months. It was a great experience which cemented the direction I want to take my life at least for now. I've been home a few months and am planning to go off on the next adventure in spring. But the professional motivation aside, I also thought it would be good to have some space from Linda. We still wrote each other emails, but she's not big on writing, preferring phone conversation, so she wasn't venting nearly as much. I felt good with that distance and thought it might help how I'd feel about it all when coming home.

 

However, in June she started dating another youth minister. I've seen her only three times since I came home in August and she doesn't call me much. We haven't spoken for 3 weeks, which would have previously been unheard of. Two months ago, she apologized for not calling, saying she's been busy with her boyfriend but that I need to call her on it, keep things up because she's just so distracted with him. But I am being stubborn and not calling very much. I did initiate our last get together after she sent me a one line note via Facebook asking me what I was up to. Coming from her, who has always been so resistant to online communication, I was hurt that she didn't just call me.

 

I've felt pretty depressed about my social life since coming home. It's been fairly non-existent aside from spending a lot of time helping a friend with her wedding. I feel like I need to find new friends here, but I'm not sure where to begin. In some ways it's more difficult at home than when I lived in a foreign country to forge new friendships and though I'm working on my shyness, I don't know how to approach this. I never felt very comfortable in the youth ministry circle because I cannot match their devotion. I am still questioning and searching for my spirituality. I know that Linda spends all her time with her boyfriend and that circle and they are the only ones I used to hang out with here.

 

Part of me feels like I need to let this friendship go, but with so much history, I don't know how to find closure. I want to talk to Linda about how I've been feeling, but I don't know how to do it or how receptive she will be to hearing it. Should I try or if not, how do I end this grieving process? Thanks for listening.

Signed,
Saddened

 

ANSWER

Dear Saddened:

 

Circumstances may change but personality endures. Linda has been self-centered since high school and ditches you whenever she has the opportunity to be with a guy. When her relationship implodes, she wants you to be around to listen and provide support. You have been loyal, supportive and willing to accept a fractured friendship in the hope that it will improve. How likely do you really think it is that she will change?

 

You mentioned that you are shy so it's not surprising that you prefer intimate friendships rather than socializing in groups---and I suspect that it takes some effort for you to make new friends but you know you can do it. While moving to Chile was positive in pointing you in a satisfying career direction and was also good for you socially (everyone likes to befriend a new visitor), the move may have compounded your loneliness when you got back home.

 

Much of Linda's life (and that of her friends) revolves around the youth ministry and religion/spirituality. If that doesn't feel like a good fit for you, there is no reason to try to squeeze a square peg into a round hole. Try to find people in other places who share your common interests, not hers. Perhaps you can find new friends in your workplace or else by joining various community or civic organizations.

 

It may take a while but I think you are better off spending your time looking for a healthy relationship than going back to one that isn't satisfying. It's great that you had a close friendship while it lasted and it sounds like you have already reached some closure. Whether or not you want to convey your thinking to Linda, and whether she will listen, is up to you but I don't think it's necessary. You can decide to say nothing and keep the relationship more distant because Linda is likely to be more tolerable in small doses. My suggestion: Move forward and you will soon find that you are no longer looking back.

 

My best,
Irene

 

 

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: Is my childhood friendship worth saving?

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QUESTION:

Dear Irene:

My best friend, well ex-best friend and I grew up as next door neighbors...destined to be best friends forever. We were those girls who were inseparable and would laugh at the most silly things no matter how silly we would look. After 19 years, we were still the best of friends and closer than ever. I am the more outgoing one whereas she was always more on the shy side, so a lot of our friends were friends with "us" through me.

I set her up with this guy who was a year older than us and hung out with the same crowd as us. He seemed like such a great guy, but we soon came to learn differently. He started to hit on all of us when my best friend wasn't around. One night at a party he put his hand on my rear, but it was a quick innocent brush, if you will. My boyfriend was there to witness it and so were a bunch of our other friends, including some people that my friend worked with. Unfortunately for me, there was one girl she worked with that did not like me one bit and went back to my friend telling her that I was hitting on her boyfriend when she was not around.

The immature and irresponsible side of my friend decided to shut me out for a few days and not talk to me, but her boyfriend wasn't so shy. He called threatening me saying, "Whatever you told Jessica, you better tell her it was all a lie or I swear I will cut your throat". I had no idea what was said at this point and tried to get him to calm down and explain the situation. Well that didn't go so well, since he was hotheaded and mean.

I got in touch with Jessica's younger sister who told me everything that was going on. I left Jessica voicemail after voicemail and she finally called me back. I told her that if there was ever a problem she should come to me, but that I was really disappointed in the fact that she would think I could do something like that to her. We made up of course, but there was another issue on hand...the way her boyfriend had spoken to me.

She understood, but asked me not to make her choose between him and myself. I promised not to, but I told her that I could not and would not be around him at all!!! I guess you could say that pretty much started our distancing right there. This all happened in October 2006, we did not speak again until the next New Year's Eve. We were all together at a party (yes, her boyfriend was there) and we had realized how important we were to each other. Her boyfriend I guess was not happy with that, found a new way to come between us, and started another argument with me. That was New Years 2006 and we have not spoken since.

She has not been with that boyfriend for about a year from what I can guess and she has tried to reach out to me over the past few months. My life is so much different now and we've been through so much. Can we ever get back to that place?? Should I even let her back into my world after cutting me out for so long?? It's her birthday today and yes, I do miss her, but I've been fine for the past two years and have so many other reliable friends in my life. ADVICE PLEASEEE and I'm sorry for the long entry, but it really is the only way to understand everything that has gone on between us.

Sincerely,
Sandy

ANSWER:

Dear Sandy:

It sounds like your childhood friend was in a "difficult" relationship. If her boyfriend threatened to "cut your throat," it's reasonable to assume that he was possessive, controlling, and angry. It sounds like he was very threatened by your close friendship with Jessica. (Sometimes, men like that don't want their girlfriends to have any friends.) Since he has been out of your friend's life for some time, it sounds like she outgrew this unhealthy relationship.

Since you have so much shared history together, I think you should give the relationship another chance. Can you send her a belated birthday card, telling her that you were thinking of her on her special day, and would love to get together for coffee or a meal to catch up with each other? There's not much to lose and everything to gain.

If she says no, you can forget about the relationship and move on with your life (as you already have). Or you may meet and discover you no longer have much in common---except for your past. Not all childhood friendships last forever.

The best of outcomes might be that you really connect again---even though it may feel a bit awkward at first. Caution: If you get together, don't dissect or ruminate over that unfortunate chapter of your lives---and don't try to get too close too quickly.

Let us know what you decide and how it turns out.

My best,
Irene

 

Reader Q & A: The Saga of the Disappointed Diva

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QUESTION:

Dear Irene,

I'm currently going through a friend breakup. She became very emotionally needy at the beginning of our relationship and I always felt compelled to help. She told me that I was distant and needed to let my guard down so that we could be close. I did and we eventually became BFFs.

I sort of became distant from my other friends and probably depended on her a lot more than I liked. We've had 3 riffs in three years. In my opinion that was a telltale sign that "the plane was going down." She is in an odd relationship with a total loser (with a child) who is extremely controlling. I've played the support role and picked her up when ever he tore her down.

The catalyst to prompt me to write was this was the most ridiculous thing ever. One, I was PMS-ing. Two, I had a blow up in a restaurant with a member of the wait staff (they told me to shut up). Yes, I behaved like a total ass and unfortunately, my frenemy's son began to cry.

She became belligerent outside of the restaurant (this was a first) and made a scene for an hour. We both were angry and exchanged some nasty words when she got back into the car.

Unexpectedly she smacked me.....yes, I know. I lost it and we engaged in a cat fight in the back of the moving car. It was a long ride back....and she began to apologize (total half-ass apology) and I said nothing.

Three days later, I texted her because I'm torn up about it. I want to have a face-to-face conversation. She tells me that she needs time and has refused to speak to me. She has made the entire situation about her son and has not addressed me at all. She is passive aggressive and extremely controlling. She also has poor communication skills and avoids confrontation at all costs (who would think after reading this).

I feel dismissed because I know that this is a game for her because she reacted in the same manner with the other two very minor riffs. It makes me so angry because I feel like she is totally breaking the girl rules and is acting like a total man. Unfortunately she is the only friend that I have ever loved and she knows it. Moving forward and changing lanes.... What a bitch!

Signed,
Disappointed Diva

ANSWER:

Dear Disappointed Diva:

It sounds like this relationship with your friend has been stormy from the beginning and you're feeling upset with yourself and with her----because you gave up your other friendships only to get dumped by her in the end. But you do say that you already realized that "the plane was going down," so it shouldn't have come as too much of a shock that the two of you were drifting apart.

Although it's always painful to be the one who is dumped, I think you both need a long sabbatical from this relationship. You can't make her speak to you if she doesn't want to. I worry that if you got together now, things might get worse.

In any case, the friendship sounds too complicated to work. You can't stand her "total loser." I'm sure she recognizes this and it puts her on edge. Also, it sounds like you both have problems discussing your feelings with one another openly. Finally, you need to put a lid on your temper, PMS or not. You can control yourself but you can't control someone else.

When an argument between two friends turns physical---especially in front of a child---both adults need to take a long, hard look at themselves AND their relationship. It sounds like you harbor a great deal of hostility towards one another. This unfortunate incident was totally out-of-control and you have both breeched relationship rules rather than "girl rules." An explosive "riff" like the one you had with your once-BFF will be difficult, if not impossible to overcome.

Hope this is helpful. Try to take away the positive things you've learned from this relationship (e.g. opening up) and apply them to nurture new relationships.I know that with time and self-reflection, you will heal, temper your anger and hurt, and emerge healthier from this painful experience.

My best,
Irene

 

The unexpected gift

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It wasn’t my birthday or any other day celebrated by Hallmark people.  It was just an ordinary rainy day when a small beautifully wrapped packaged appeared in my mailbox to make the day stand out from the rest.

I found inside a pretty ceramic plaque with purple and pink painted letters that read “Best Friends bring sunshine to each day,’” along with a hand-written note. (I thought of hanging it above my desk but my desk is in the middle of the room so I quickly regrouped---finding a proper place over the kitchen sink.}


I’m a friendship author, friendship scholar, and friendship expert but ironically, like too many busy women I know I never seem to have enough time for my own friendships, to be the friend I want to be.


Anyway, good friends have a gift for knowing what to say and what to do at just the right time. Good friends quietly bestow the unexpected without asking---on a rainy day when it is most needed.

 

Best Friends Day: Also a day for ladies-in-waiting

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Oops, I blinked and I missed it. I just found out that Sunday, June 8th was Best Friends Day, which completed passed me by. I don’t know how. I didn’t even pause to pay homage to my own Besties on that day. Shame on me!

That morning one of my closest friends called while waiting for her flight at an airport terminal in Tampa. I’m sure Linda didn’t know it was Best Friends Day but she seizes every moment to catch up with me when she is waiting----sometimes in the strangest of places.

This typically includes doctors’ waiting rooms; hair salons during the trip between the sink and the stylist’s chair; dentist chairs while she is waiting for the doc after her cleaning; ladies room while she is tinkling; nail shops while she is waiting for her nails to dry; and long post office lines---to name just a few. Only a few short years ago it seems, she would call while she was waiting for her now-grown son to get dismissed from school and run to her car.

Well my promised day for me, Best Friends Day, eluded me like so many others: laundry, dishes, chores and then a brunch/fund-raiser for a local NAMI group. But it wasn’t all work and no play. I met some lovely work-friends at the event. Afterwards I came home to write one of the remaining chapters of a book on schizophrenia that I’m finishing up finally (more to come in a future post). At least it wasn’t another day of writer’s isolation which has come to characterize so many recent nights and weekends as I wait to wrap things up and get back into friendship.

They say that all good things come to those who wait. Check in with me again on August 3rd, Friendship Day. Can you please remind me if I forget?

 

Lipstick Jungle: Tres Amigas or BFFs?

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The long-hyped premiere of Lipstick Jungle is scheduled for 10PM EST tonight on NBC. Following on the heels of Sex and the City by the same writer (Candace Bushnell), the show is described as a tale of three female friends in NYC who are a little older, wiser, wealthier and successful than the Sex and the City babes---but who are still juggling their personal and high-powered professional lives.

I’ll be watching this evening to see what I can learn about female friendships. Are the Tres Amigas good friends, close friends, best friends? Are any of their relationships toxic? How do they balance friendship and work? Friendship and romance? How intimate are their relationships? Here are excerpts from some of the critic’s reviews (which have been mixed), which I've selected because they focus on the show’s take on female friendships.

Shoe-Savvy Friends Against the City
New York Times Review by Allessandra Stanley

The women are one another’s confidantes and best friends in a nasty world teeming with younger, envious rivals and vengeful enemies.

Lipstick Jungle
Los Angeles Times Review by Mary McNamara

Here's Wendy Healy (Brooke Shields), the nicest movie executive you'll ever meet (she doesn't even swear), dutifully struggling to fill her roles as deal maker, mommy, wife and BFF. Needless to say, she's on the phone a lot.

The creators seem to think their show is saying something new, only it's not really clear what that is. That women can be just as power hungry or libidinous as men? Or female friendship trumps every other relationship save motherhood? Or it's tough to be a working mother? If this show had run 10 years ago, maybe. But now?

Lipstick Jungle: NBC's Thick Application of Gloss
Washington Post Review by Tom Shales

Now and then, the three dear friends meet -- on a rooftop, say, or for lunch at the inevitable trendy eatery, or to take a walk in Toronto (which appears to be playing New York City again). Their get-togethers might include deep thoughts on a woman's plight in the modern world…

Please comment. What did you think about the show? Are these real friendships or ideal ones?

 

Preteen Worries: My family, my friends and me

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Preteens tend to worry. Why? As they’re simultaneously growing into awkward new bodies and tackling the social challenges of middle school, they’re also victims of the emotional roller coaster created by their fluctuating hormones. With these stressors, it’s a difficult time for kids well as their parents.

Preteens tend to be tight-lipped---preferring to share secrets with their friends over their parents---so it’s natural for moms, dads and teachers to wonder what they worry about. A new KidsHealth KidsPoll was designed to provide some answers. The January 2008 poll surveyed 1,154 kids between the ages of 9 and 13, looking at how much they worry and what they worry about.

By far, the largest proportion (86 per cent) worry “almost all the time” or “a lot” about someone they love. They also worry about tests and grades, the future, their appearance, and making mistakes---in that order. But 1 out of 4 worry about their friends “almost all the time” and a third of them worry about friends “a lot.” In fact, friendships ranked among the top 8 of 20 pre-teen worries.

One implication: Moms need to talk to their daughters about female friendships and share their wisdom and experience about the fragility of these relationships. Particularly during these pre-teen years, we need to help cushion the blow when our daughters are excluded from a clique at school or camp, or when they are inevitably rejected by one of their Besties.

 

The poll was conducted by KidsHealth.org, a web portal that provides health information for children.

 

Eat, Pray, Love, and Befriend

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I just read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert---finally.

In the book, Gilbert translates an Italian phrase un'amica stretta, which means a close friend

With her wonderful way with words and analogies, she goes on to say, "...stretta literally means tight, as in clothing, like a tight skirt. So a close friend, in Italian, is one that you can wear tightly, snug against your skin.."

I would say that having such friendships is right up there with eating, praying and loving!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hillary + Katie = BFF?

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Use of the term BFF (Best Friends Forever) is becoming ubiquitous. The new online gossip page of the New York Post recently captured a picture of Hillary and Katie (no last names required) when both of them attended a children’s mental health benefit for the NYU Child Study Center held in New York City earlier this week. The Post headline read: Hillary + Katie = BFF.

I have no knowledge about their relationship but I can virtually guarantee that these two bright, accomplished women aren’t best friends---nor are they BFFs. People, not only the media, use the term so loosely that it has become meaningless. Generally, the term BFF implies a special type of connection between two or more women that is enduring. Does that even exist? Not often.


While there isn't a universally agreed upon definition of a bestie, sociologist and friendship expert Dr. Lillian Rubin (author of Just Friends: The Role of Friendship in Our Lives (Harper & Row, 1985) explains that a best friend is someone who embodies “the best of all the important relationships in our lives---kin, mate, and friend.” It is someone whom we trust, on whom we can depend, and with whom we can share our innermost fears and foibles. Do Hillary and Katie share that emotional connection? Give me a station break.

In terms of longevity, a snapshot of a news anchor and Presidential candidate smiling together captures a point in time and doesn’t necessarily speak volumes for the future of their relationship. I really would have liked the headline to read---Hillary and Katie: Two Great Friends of Children’s Mental Health!

 
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