reader Q & A

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

Virginia Woolf.jpg


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.




Friendless in Seattle


Why would a middle-aged woman not be able to keep a friend?

Read my latest reader query on that topic on The Huffington Post.


Reader Q & A: Unable to let go


Dear Irene,

About a year and a half ago I broke up with a friend and I'm still not over it. I was hoping you could offer some insight. I’ve known this girl since 6th grade when she stopped speaking to me over some boy. We became friends again in 7th grade but she always needed a new best friend. She moved out of state in 8th grade and made me promise to go to college in her state.

Well, I did move there and got married (she got married too). The four of us would hang out some but she did the same things as she did in elementary school: she'd just stop calling or she would ask for rides or a babysitter when she needed something and we'd be there to help. But if we needed something she'd just whine and complain. We moved a couple times within the same city and she was always negative about were we lived, saying we lived in a bad neighborhood (when we didn't and we had a brand new house).

Finally my husband and I stopped speaking to them because we felt like we were being used. About 3 years later, I started feeling guilty so I called her to see how she was and she was happy to hear from me. We started hanging out again and things seemed all right. I actually helped her to get a job at the same place where I worked with my husband.

My husband and I started to have problems and were considering a divorce. It turns out that she HATED my husband. She kept encouraging me to divorce him and spread rumors about him at work. Apparently she was talking about me, too, and spreading our personal problems to everyone we worked with. It made work very uncomfortable but she denied saying anything. She told me I shouldn't have told her any of my problems if I didn't want them to be known!

I ended up getting my own place and separating from my husband. I was very depressed and could hardly get out of bed. She was always mad at me for not “snapping out of it”. I eventually went to a doctor and got on anti-depressants and starting seeing a therapist, but she kept talking about me, saying that the anti-depressants weren’t good for me. She told me that I needed to convert to her religion to find happiness and get over the depression.

I agreed to go to church with her a few times but after a couple months decided it wasn't the place for me. When I began studying with a Rabbi she began saying horrible things about Jewish people and constantly told me how “sorry” she was that I was going to hell. I ended up moving out of state for a new job and to start a new life: I had planned to remain friends with her and talk to her from out of state.

Once I moved, she started sending me bible tracts and told me that Hebrew was a “bad language” to learn. Then I received an email with childish insults and name calling from both her and her husband. I just couldn't take it anymore and didn't want to fight, or call names so I just stop talking to her altogether. I deleted all the emails I got from her without ever reading them and changed my phone number.  Now she has befriended my mother on Facebook and constantly leaves my mom messages about how great she is. I feel like she's crossed the line by trying to be friends with my mom or she's displaying some passive aggressive behavior.

I feel a lot of guilt over this and feel like it is immature for me to stop being friends with someone. My life has improved A LOT since I stopped being friends with her and my self-esteem has climbed. Should I feel guilty over this? I feel like it is something that some middle school girls would do but I never imagined adults would stop speaking like this. Should I say something to her about being Facebook friends with my mom? Or do I just let this go?

Unable to Let Go


Dear Unable to Let Go,

I hope that by posting your dilemma on this blog and reading it in black-and-white, it helps clarify your answer to the question you posed: Should I just let this go? When other women write about their friendship dilemmas, the answers are often in shades of gray. This one isn’t.

It sounds like your ex-friend has been possessive, self-centered, negative and controlling from the time she was an adolescent and she still hasn’t outgrown it. While you tolerated her for some time, you and your husband appropriately decided to end the relationship. The same attitudes and behaviors you overlooked in middle school were less acceptable when you saw them appear in an adult.

Like most women, you tried to put a positive spin on your friendship when you attempted to renew it three years later. Then your friend began to encourage you to leave your husband, spread rumors about you and your husband to your colleagues, and betrayed confidences about you to people at work. I can’t help but think that she was alienating you from him and your co-workers so she could have you for herself again. Then she tried to dictate your religious beliefs and showed little sensitivity to or understanding of your values or emotions. Besides, people generally don’t “snap out” of a clinical depression.

Don’t you remember you changed your phone number to avoid contact wit her and even deleted her emails? Why would you ever feel guilty for cutting off a friendship like this one? You deserve so much better.

Why would you want to re-friend someone who has been such a negative influence? Yes, she crossed the line by trying to befriend your mom and there is no point in initiating contact with her over this. However, you should let your mother know how nasty your friend has been to you so she doesn’t get sucked in. The rules of friendship on Facebook are often pretty murky but I would think your mother wouldn’t want to maintain a relationship with your ex-friend if she knew how much pain she had caused you.

Clearly, you are feeling happier and more self-confident since you broke off with her. Yet you are guilty and ashamed about separating from a long-time friend. You seem to be tied to they myth that “best friends are forever” but generally, this isn’t the case. Being able to let go, in this situation, wouldn’t be immature; in fact, it would be a sign of your maturity. You need to let go and move on. This woman sounds like a toxic friend.

Hope this is helpful.

My best,

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.



A "good enough" friend


Dear Dr. Levine,

I recently got into a fight with a girl named Linda, whom I considered my best friend. She said I was never a "good enough" friend for her, and I told her that I thought I couldn't be her friend because she was spreading gossip about me.

We both agreed that it would be better if we just tried not being friends for a while, but now I'm sad because I don't have my best friend to talk to. Is there a way I could still patch up our friendship?



Dear Ariel,

All friendships have their peaks and valleys and when times are rough, even the best of friends may say things that are mean, even if they don’t mean them. However, before you decide to patch up your friendship, you need to think about whether you miss your best friend Linda or you miss having a best friend.

If you decide that you really miss Linda, you need to open a dialogue with her about what happened and how it can be resolved. Depending on what feels most comfortable, you can call, email, or text her and tell her how you are feeling (I prefer email because you are less likely to catch the other person off-guard). If she is open to you, this may not only be an opportunity to patch up but to strengthen your friendship.

If she doesn’t respond or, after you make this overture, she still maintains that you aren’t a “good enough” friend for her, you have to accept her decision and find another best friend who appreciates you as much as you appreciate her. Good friends need to value one another.

Let us know what happens!

My best,

Reader Q & A: By love possessed



Dear Irene,

I have a friend who is a few years younger than me. I love her to death but she is causing me to feel bad about not being with her 24/7. She and I used to have the best time together; we laughed and watched movies and all sorts of stuff together. She had a really tough year, with her first two boyfriends being big jerks to her.


I want to be there for her, but now, a year later, she is not talking to anybody but me, not even her family. On top of that she is locked in her room and not making eye contact with anyone. She cancels plans with other friends just in case I want to hang out with her and when I say I can't or I'm not up to it, she gets mad at me and usually doesn't speak to me for days.


I am applying to colleges and she is insisting that I go to an in-state college so in two years, when she gets out of school, we can have an apartment together. When I tell her I want to live in a dorm, she says she doesn't want me to. I am thinking of going to college four states away and I don't know how to tell her because of the argument I know will follow.


She tells me that she doesn't want to be my friend for not sleeping over at her house every weekend. If I want to hang out with my other friends, she tries to get me to cancel my plans. I know I have to stick up for myself more, but I care a lot about her and I am not sure how to find a happy middle to me being a rug she walks all over. Do you have any advice?






Dear Stephanie,

This relationship doesn't sound healthy for you or your friend. I presume that she is still a teenager, who has become overly attached, possessive, and dependent on you---maybe because you are a few years older. She is demanding exclusivity in your relationship because she doesn't seem to feel comfortable alone or with other friends.


If she really is as emotionally volatile and is "locked in her room," as you describe, she may need professional help. You should speak to someone in her family, in confidence, and admit that this problem is more than you can handle at this stage in your life. It seems like it is.


Although you may not be aware of it, you have been encouraging her dependency by acquiescing to her unreasonable demands. You need to gradually begin to create more distance between you and your friend, and to set some limits. Moreover, you need to examine your own motives for allowing this to happen. It sounds like this relationship is dominating your life when you should have other interests and involvements. You certainly shouldn't let this friendship dictate your college plans. It wouldn't be good for either of you.


I know this situation is tricky and I wish you luck and grace in resolving it.

My best,


The Sometimes Friend


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.



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.


Escaping from a toxic triangle



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.



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.



Sophisticated Lady


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,


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,

Getting over getting dumped



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!  

Still Hurting


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.


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