A writer asks: How could my colleague and friend undermine me?

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Dear Irene,

I’m an award-winning author with a friendship dilemma. A long time friend has definitely hurt my feelings. She told one of my clients whose memoir I’m writing that she’d Googled my agent and that he was basically a “nobody,” casting doubts upon my agent’s ability to broker a deal on his book and the likeliness of film rights.

It sowed seeds of doubt with my client and caused me a lot of unnecessary time trying to defend my agent who is actually one of the most powerful in the business. In fact, he doesn’t have a website and intentionally keeps a low profile because he’s exclusive and takes on new authors by referral only.

She also told my client that I’m “just a ghost writer,” which is not an accurate account of my abilities and I felt it was said in a disparaging manner and insinuated that she doubted I could pull off a project of this scope. My dilemma is whether or not to send her the note setting the record straight, along with a list of my agent’s top-tier clients.

I am hurt and astonished by her behavior. Should I confront her, or do as my husband counsels and simply have the revenge of a bestseller and boatloads of money from film rights. What are your thoughts? I’m feeling blue, fatigued and having a hard time jumping back into my assignments after this disappointment.

I haven’t responded to her latest email which is all chatty and thanking me for recommending a good book doctor for her manuscript. I don’t have it in me today.



Dear Kaila,

I can well understand your feelings of hurt and disappointment. It’s sad when a friend has to tear you down to build herself up. Your “friend” has undermined you with your client, either because she is competitive and envious of your success or because she is clueless and has bad judgment. In either case, you have a friendship problem.

I think that this one will be hard, if not impossible, to remedy. If her envy is the problem, that is something SHE can work on but there isn’t much you can do yourself to make her less envious of you. If she has bad judgment and loose lips, can you trust her enough to involve her or even let her know about your business dealings in the future?

It’s absolutely necessary for you to educate your client about your confidence in your agent---and you’ve learned an important lesson about your friend. You have the choice of cutting her off from you completely or trying to redefine the relationship by setting clear boundaries about what you can comfortably tell her and what you can’t. Perhaps, you need to stay clear of any discussions about your work. But squelching communication about such an important element of your life may doom the friendship. The ball is in your court. Whether your friendship survives this betrayal will be determined by the strength of your ties to one another and how meaningful this friendship is to you overall.

Best of luck with your book!



Do you have a friendship dilemma that you would like advice about? Use the contact tab above to send your question to me. I try to respond to as many queries as possible; you need not use your real name. If it is bothering you, you can bet that someone else is having similar problems.




Friendship and Money: She's fired, you're not


Any major life change--including an unexpected job loss or other threat to economic security--can increase the risk of a once-close friendship falling apart. As such, the global recession is challenging untold numbers of female friendships. In the first of a two-part series, I interviewed journalist Emma Johnson, who covers money and finance topics for MSN.com and other national publications, to find out her thoughts on this topic:


In the current economic climate, where job loss is rife, how can getting a pink slip or being furloughed challenge friendships?

Women can be very competitive with each other. Traditionally women have competed for male attention and loyalty. The species depended upon it. The more women's sexual partners were loyal to them, the better off the women and their children would be since men were the breadwinners and women had few economic opportunities.

But the game is different today. We compete in other areas of our lives, including professionally. Even if we aren't in direct professional competition with our girlfriends, that rivalry can still be there. Of course it isn't always the case, but it often is, and worst of all, most of the time we don't realize it.

So if two friends are engaged in even a friendly contest about who's ahead in her career, a layoff can give the other woman the edge in this unspoken game. That can create resentment from the unemployed party--who is already distraught about her new economic situation.


How can women minimize the risk of losing their friendships if one friend is spiraling downward economically?

I'm a big fan of talking it out, though all the psychology experts don't agree with that. If the employed friend can say, "I'm so sorry you are going through this. What can I do to be supportive?" Then, give her friend some time to think about what she needs; that can go a long way. Likewise, the unemployed friend might need to talk to her friend and say, "I'm really worried about money right now. Would you mind if we find some less expensive ways to spend time together until I get back on my feet?"

There are other things to think about. Unemployment and financial worries are top factors in stress, sleep loss and depression, which can take a big toll on one's overall well-being, including their relationships. If everyone is aware of the realities of the situation, tough times can strengthen friendships. But the working friend needs to be willing to be supportive, and sometimes the friend in the tough situation needs to allow themselves to be vulnerable and cared for.

To be continued...

Emma Johnson is a New York journalist who writes about business, finance and money topics for publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur and Psychology Today. Her series on MSN  Money, "Jump Start Your Life," explores money topics for people in their 20s and 30s. 

*A version of this post appears on The Huffington Post



Just Do It: Putting a fractured friendship behind you




A few years ago, I was a roommate with a woman I will call Marta. She found me by looking at rentals in the paper. She was newly divorced and we became fast friends. I introduced her to my extensive group of friends.

She moved out after I got engaged. We were still friends until we shared a house again after my divorce. I will not go into detail but it did not work out. She seemed to berate me a lot and accused me of stealing. She also is extremely negative and was only in a good mood when she was tipsy. I felt scared and anxious around her so I stayed away which only made her angrier.  

I moved out last May. I sent her an email in September saying we both did things we are not proud of but I wanted to get together IN PERSON to talk about it and put it behind us. I still have not heard from her.

I introduced her to a lot of my friends and they became her friends. When I see her at gatherings, I say hello but that is it; she has made it clear she does not want to engage. How do you repair a friendship enough so that other friends are not uncomfortable when you are around each other?  I am reading a book called Forgiveness is a Choice and it seems to be helping.



Hi Eliza,

Let go of this relationship! It doesn’t sound worth saving. You are describing a “friend” who acted suspicious, angry and negative---and who made you feel quite uncomfortable. You don’t need to do a psychological autopsy of your relationship with Marta to put it behind you; just end it and take away the friendship lessons you’ve learned, both good and bad.

Since you share a circle of friends, it’s best to act cordially to Marta but keep your distance. Say hello---and smile if it feels natural---but don’t go any closer or deeper than that. No one else will be uncomfortable in your presence unless they sense that you are.

Guard against saying anything disparaging about Marta to your other friends; it will only reflect badly upon you and they are already in a position to make their own judgments about her. With the passage of time, I hope things will get easier for you.



Reader Q & A: Escape from a toxic mentor



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


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,


Graduating? Give yourself the gift that keeps on giving


If you haven’t yet realized it, graduation from high school or college can be a friendship-killer. When you are no longer living side-by-side or seeing each other every day, it will never be quite as easy to keep up once-close female friendships or to make new ones.

With more than $55 million in domestic box office sales, Sex and the City made its mark as the highest-grossing chick flick in history on its opening weekend. Why did working women and working-at-home women leave their boyfriends, husbands, and kids behind, flocking in droves to see a movie that will likely be available on Netflix and pay-per-view in the blink of an eye? They wanted to see each other.

Sex is the ultimate excuse for a girl’s night out---something that women are desperately craving as our multi-tasking lifestyles leave less discretionary time for female friendships. The march of Stilettos to movie houses across the country was nothing short of a surge. Women clicked on Fandango and lined up for tickets because they were eager to redress their friendship deficit. Regardless of our age or stage in life, many women simply don’t have enough friends to meet their needs for understanding and being understood.

Sex, both movie and the series, hit the nail on the head when it comes to female friendships. We all covet the close friendships like the ones mirrored by Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte. Women went to see Sex but they were more excited about the before and after cocktails, dinners and parties they had planned with each other. They wanted to walk in the footsteps of the foursome.

Getting back to my commencement remarks---Graduation often means going home or moving away, leaving the familiar and making new starts. As a result, it is a time when many of us lose touch with women whom we see every day and call and text in-between---both besties and entire friendship circles that are meaningful parts of our lives.

Make yourself a promise to keep up with your school chums---especially the ones with whom you have been able to share both happiness and heartbreaks. As you age and life becomes more complex and demanding, you’ll realize that you have given yourself the most wonderful treasure. A few of the basics:

1) Always make friendship a priority (right up there after family). If you need a rationale to convince you, here it is: Research shows that social support and close friendships are linked to improved health and emotional well-being.

2) Get rid of toxic friendships that are consistently negative and emotionally draining. We all have one or two gal pals that are annoying to be with, people we feel ambivalent about and who probably feel ambivalent about us. Just let go of them.

3) Find any excuse to create rituals to stay in touch with the good friends. It shouldn’t be a one-time affair. Make a plan to get together every month or at least several times a year. It can be on milestone birthdays or periodic girlfriend getaway jaunts. Or even the opening of a long-awaited chick flick!

4) In-between, use every way possible to stay connected---via cell phones, Blackberries, and old-fashioned letters until the next time your see each other.

Female graduates: Congratulations---Go forth with your friends!


This post also appears on The Huffington Post. Sign up to become by fan at www.huffingtonpost.com/living and receive my posts directly in your in-box. 


100 Friends to See Before You Die


Childhood friends, school chums, colleagues, neighbors, teammates and virtual friends---women accumulate hundreds, if not thousands, of friends based on where they’ve been and what they’ve done over the years. Friends are the living scrapbooks of our lives.

But every relationship doesn’t stick. In fact, very few of them do. It’s easy for friendships, even very close ones, to slip away--sometimes for no real reason at all. It just happens. A study of the friendship patterns of 10,000 people in the UK found that the average Brit collects 396 friends over a lifetime but winds up staying in touch with only one out of 12 of them.

This week a friend with whom I was once very close was diagnosed with a terminal illness. I hadn’t spoken to her in almost a decade and now I fear there might be time for only a brief reconnection, even though she is special to me and our friendship was an important chapter in my life story. Yes, we live in different states and no longer work in the same office. But why hadn’t I kept up the relationship? Was I really that busy? Maybe there wasn’t time to see her, but the ease of staying in touch via cell phones and e-mail make the excuse of being busy sound lame.

I know I’m not the only woman who is dancing as fast as she can. I once tried to introduce a close friend who moved to Washington DC to another close friend who already lived there. I thought they would enjoy each other as much as I enjoyed each of them. “I don’t even have enough time for my own friends so why would you ever think I would have time for yours,” said the DC native. And I understood.

Recognizing that life is finite (is that a new insight?), many of us have started composing “life lists” to set priorities. People are thinking about where they would like to go and what they would like to do before kicking the bucket. It’s not surprising that the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die became an instant best-seller. The same list-making mania has morphed into websites like www.43things.com. The film The Bucket List, which opened earlier this year, chronicles the story of two men, each with one year to live, who escape from the hospital where they meet to hit the open road and live life as they please.

Life is short. My suggestion: Make a list of the friends you truly want to keep in your life. To make the goal achievable, you don’t have to list 100 names and you don’t have to actually see those friends (unless you want to). You can just make ten phone calls or send ten e-mails, whenever it’s convenient, to tell your female friends how much they mean to you, before they disappear from your life.


This blog post also appears on www.HuffingtonPost.com/Living


Female Friendships: Breaking News

I’m so excited that I’ve been asked to blog for the Living Section of the Huffington Post (AKA HuffPo or HuffPost). This popular weblog offers: syndicated columns, blogs, news stories and moderated comments to 5.7 million readers---talk about reach! I will continue to blog on FracturedFriendships.com and many of the entries that you read here will find their way to HuffPo too.

But now you will be able to register with the Huffington Post and get my blog entries delivered directly to your virtual mailbox whenever a new entry is posted (probably about once or twice a week). I hope you will sign up as a “fan” when you read this post by clicking the little red heart at the top of any of my HuffPo blog entries.

The topic of female friendships is of universal interest (even to men who don’t always understand us!) As you nurture the close relationships in your own life, I hope you will continue to help me think about all the dimensions of female friendships and how those rich bonds enhance our lives.

And don’t forget: Please leave your comments and post your questions here or on HuffPo so I stay relevant to your needs and interests.

To be continued…
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