Friends

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

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QUESTION:

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.

Signed,
Kaila

ANSWER:

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!

Sincerely,
Irene

 

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.

 

 

 

Valentine's Day: Not Just for Lovers

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The first handmade Valentine's Day cards in the 1800s weren't intended only for lovers. They also celebrated affection between friends and relatives.

 

Esther Howland, one of the pioneers of the greeting card industry in the US, was charmed by an ornate English Valentine she received from a friend. So she began a business of importing lace and floral decorations from England and turned them into lacy V-Day cards.

 

Howland advertised in the Worcester, Massachusetts newspaper, The Daily Spy, in 1850, and her business grew so quickly that she had to enlist friends in an assembly-line operation to meet the demand. Her sales are reported to have exceeded $100,000, a handy sum at the time for a female entrepreneur.

 

On February 14th, people in Finland celebrate Ystävänpäivä, which is translated as Friend's Day. In Mexico, it is called the Día del amor y la amistad, the day of love and friendship. Admittedly, the day has been over-commercialized in the US but it still remains a fitting day to express love and appreciation, in whatever way we choose, to the important people in our lives---which, of course, includes our friends.


With love to my husband, son, and my dear friends who sustain me

In memory to my Dad who died on Valentine's Day, 2006

 

(This is an update of a similar post on this blog from February 2008).

 

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.

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

My Christmas Bailout: An Open Letter to My Friends

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Here are my top ten reasons for opting out of Christmas this year. I’ve clarified my priorities so I won’t be in the position of begging for an economic bailout after the holidays.

1) I’m reducing my carbon footprint and saving gas by not going to the malls or ordering by mail, and I’ll save trees by sending fewer cards and buying and trashing less wrapping paper. I’ll rapidly recycle all the seductive mail-order catalogs I receive without wasting time looking through them.

2) By avoiding Black Friday, I’ve saved the lives of innocent strangers who otherwise might have been trampled by sale-crazed crowds.

3) With the country in a recession, my 401K heading south, and my cost-of -living escalating, I’ve been forced to skimp on myself so why should I practice excess with others?

4) With the term “friend” redefined by social media like Facebook and Linked In, I don’t know where to draw the line between virtual friends I talk to every day and physical friends I see once a year.

5) Although I’ve always tried to come up with creative gift ideas, I know that many times I’ve chosen gifts you already have, don’t need, or don’t want. Now the pressure will be off me.

6) With the time I save, I hope to focus on the true spirit of Christmas---love, peace and sharing---as opposed to the crass consumerism that has come to define the season.

7) Instead of material things, I want to give my friends the gift of time, the most generous gift of all. I know I would like to see more of them.

8) With loss and sadness touching so many parts of the globe this year, I want to focus my giving where it is truly needed.  

9) I’m also setting you free: You probably don’t want to exchange gifts with me any more than I do with you.  

10) I’m a secular Jew. I really don’t know how I got sucked into this tradition anyway.

Want to join me? Visit Redefine Christmas, a clearinghouse that enables you to replace meaningless gifts with donations to your friends’ favorite charities.

 

Just for fun: ‘Girls’ Night In’ Photo Contest

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Do you have a great picture of you and your friends hanging out that you'd like to share? Good news: I have three awesome prizes to award.

 

The woes on Wall Street---and the slump on your street---may up the risk of fractured friendships. With the economic downturn, many of us are finding that we will need to work more and harder---just to maintain our current lifestyle. It is obvious each time we buy a container of milk, purchase toiletries, or fill up at the gas station. As a result, there's less money for eating out, taking girlfriend getaways, and visiting friends who live out-of-town.

 

We need to find creative ways to bring friends together on the cheap, to support one another and celebrate friendships. Whether it's organizing a pot-luck dinner, planning to watch a first-time-on-TV movie, or staging an informal get-together to catch up and gab, it's important for women to create and maintain rituals to nurture our friendships.

 

I'm delighted that Orville Redenbacher's Gourmet Popcorn has partnered with me to award prizes to 3 of my loyal blog readers who submit the best pictures of ‘A Girls' Night In.'

 

Each prize includes an Orville Redenbacher popcorn bowl; a supply of Orville Redenbacher's newest popcorn, Natural Lime & Salt popcorn (pairs well with margaritas), a picture frame and cocktail napkins: perfect ingredients for your next Girls' Night In.

 

Contest rules:

  • Enter your best picture. It need not be recent---pictures of childhood friends welcome. Each entry must show two or more close friends enjoying each other's company, at home or away (after all, there was a day when we had more money to spend ☺.)
  • With your entry, include the first name of each woman shown in the picture and send your own name, snail mail address, and email address to me, so Orville Reddenbacher can mail the prize to your home.
  • All pictures and accompanying information must be emailed to: IreneLevine@gmail.com. By submitting a picture you agree to allow me to use your photograph on blogs and/or in books about female friendships.
  • All entries must be submitted by November 9th, 2008. The photos will be judged by a small committee of my best friends. Please enter the contest and email this contest announcement link to your friends. The three prize winners will be announced on November 15th.

For additional tips on planning a Girls Night, visit Orville.com/girlsnightin

 

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

 

Good News to Share

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Using the search term "friendship blog," Fractured Friendships is the Number 1 blog on Google, Thanks for your support and interest!

Is one of your friendships getting you down? Do you have any questions I can answer? Send your queries to irene@fracturedfriendships.com/ I'll try to answer as many as I can.

 

 

 

 

100 Friends to See Before You Die

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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

 
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