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 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



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.


When Red and Green Make Blue


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


'Girls' Night Out' Takes a Hit with the Economic Downturn

However and wherever you live, the effects of the economic downturn have been pervasive, leaving few of us unscathed. They're even affecting our friendships!


With the cost of entertainment, transportation and meals skyrocketing, there's a natural tendency to hunker down, cocoon at home, and reduce spending. "In times like this, everyone is looking for ways to save," says Jo Gartin, a celebrity party planner and author of Jo Gartin's Weddings. "For many, that means bringing entertaining inside the home."


See my blog post on the effects of the recession on Girls' Nights Out in The Huffington Post.


Friend or Frenemy: Redux


In an interesting article in yesterday’s Staten Island Advance, relationship columnist Elise McIntosh looks at the distinctions between friends and frenemies.


She interviewed the authors of the new book Friend or Frenemy: A Guide to the Friends You Need and the Ones You Don’t (Harper 2008) by co-authors Andrea Lavinthal and Jessica Rozler (discussed in a previous blog post here) and also solicited my thoughts about these ambivalent relationships.


McIntosh notes that most people have someone in their lives “who falls in-between a true-blue pal and full-fledged foe.” These are the women with whom we’re ostensibly “friends” but who are very unsettling to be with for a variety of reasons.


What do you think of the term frenemy? Is it helpful to have a word that allows us to better identify, talk about, and resolve these challenging relationships?

The Friendship Olympics: Which sex gets the gold?


In the course of my own research on female friendships, I serendipitously found the perfect mentor to teach me about male friendships and the differences between the two: Geoffrey Greif, DSW, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and author of the new book, Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships (Oxford University Press, 2008).

Dr. Greif studied 386 men and 122 women, whom he interviewed in depth about their definitions of friendship, how they made friends, how they maintained them, and whether they had ever lost friends. These questions and answers represent just a few of the lessons he learned and that he shares in greater detail in his excellent book:

Q: How do male and female friendships differ from one another?

Through listening to men and women and studying what they tell us about friendships, certain tenets about friendship can be cautiously put forth. We must be careful though about making sweeping generalizations about women’s friendships, just as we must be careful about making generalizations about men’s. Great diversity exists in the friendships of both genders---but:

  • Women are more apt to say they have enough friends and that friends are important; they are less apt to say they didn’t have time for friends. Although the majority (60%) of men say they have enough friends, 40% do not have enough or are unsure, a greater number than women. It may be that some men are pulled by work and cannot find the time to balance friends, work, and family. Or, it could be as we have heard from some men: that they have a hard time connecting with other men in a way that is satisfying to them on a friendship level. They may feel they do not have enough must friends. (Grief uses four categories to describe friendships: must, trust, rust and just).

  • Women are more apt to help each other than are men, by being supportive, encouraging, and “being there.” Men, on the other hand, are more apt to give their friends advice and offer their perspectives. Both mentioned the importance of listening and talking. Men tend to be fixers, and see getting something concrete accomplished as a way of helping, whereas women are more comfortable with emotional support, which sometimes involves listening without giving specific advice.

  • When with friends, women spend more time shopping, going out to dine with them and going to the movies, as well as staying home with friends to cook or watch movies. Communication, as part of the relationship, is frequent for both women and men. Men, who gave fewer distinct responses to this question, are much more apt to be involved in sports-related activities, either as a participant or viewer.

  • To make friends, women may reach out to others a bit more than men, and they are less concerned with finding commonalities as a basis for friendships. Men mention sports more often than women as a basis for making friends. To feel comfortable, men may be slightly more apt to need a socially acceptable arena for having a friendship begin, like a similar hobby or sports. This would be a shoulder-to-shoulder approach to friendships, as opposed to women perhaps feeling slightly more comfortable making friends without a specific activity or commonality being at the center of the friendship.

  • To maintain a friendship, women put a much greater value on frequent contact than men. Men often mention being able to pick up again with a friend after little contact, whereas women place a greater value on staying in touch. Women appear to need more communication in general than men. Emotional connection is important to them, and it is often manifested by staying in frequent contact.
  • Women are more apt to lose friends and more apt to try to get them back than are men. We have learned already that men are often less concerned about slights than women and so they may be slightly less apt to lose a friend because of someone’s behavior.

Q: How are male and female friendships similar?

  • The words used to define friendships are similar. Being understood, trust, dependability, and loyalty are key features of friendships for both genders.
  • The percentage of people who said they had a friend of the opposite sex is similar.
  • The importance of friends, although slightly higher for women, is very high for both men and women.
  • Women and men both make friends through their spouses and significant others.
  • Women’s friendships can also be effectively grouped using the must, trust, just, and rust categories. These categories of friendships are discussed in depth in the book and help us understand our relationships with friends.

Q: What can men learn from female friendships?

Men can learn that physical and emotional expressiveness can exist in a friendship without it meaning that a man is gay. Women are much less concerned about this level of expressiveness than are men who often pull back from other men. Men are socialized to compete with and not pursue other men as friends. Unless it is sports, music, or war, emulating men, having a “crush” on them, and being physically close, is not universally acceptable.

Q: What can women learn from female friendships?

Men tend to have less complicated friendships than women. Some women, when directly asked, said they wished their relationships were more upfront and less emotionally demanding. They like the fact that men are able to resolve differences more quickly and move on.

“Cultural relevance is key,” cautions Dr. Greif. “Different sub-groups in America view friendships, women’s and men’s roles, and community connectiveness in vastly divergent ways. Anything that can be learned from men or women must be understood within such a context.”

In your own experience, which friendships do you think are stronger or more meaningful, male or female? Who takes the gold and who takes the silver?




Friend Poaching or Social Networking: What’s the difference?


Have you ever poached a friend or had one poached from you? This is how it happens: Your friend introduces you to her friend and the two of you develop a friendship---independent of the friend who introduced you. If you’ve been there, done that, you’re a poacher. Or if you have introduced two friends and one of them snares the other for herself, leaving you in the dust, you’ve been poached.

Is it ethically wrong to become a ‘friend of a friend’ or is it a legitimate way to expand your friendship network? What are the rules and could they be changing? recent ran an article called, When social poachers snatch your friends, that posed both sides of the issue. Through one lens, poaching can be viewed as the ultimate betrayal, akin to “friend-napping.” Through another, it can be seen as a reasonable way of making new friends through vetted introductions.

A 2004 essay by Lucinda Rosenfeld in New York Magazine, Our Mutual Friend, expressed the jealousy and hurt the author experienced after she had been poached. When she learned that her two friends were planning a ski trip together---without her---she felt excluded (even though she had no interest in skiing). It harked back to the days of junior high school.

I’ve been poached, too. I had two close friends, let’s call them Marcie and Hayley, whom I decided to introduce to one another. I knew they would instantly “click” because they had so much in common: neither worked outside the home, both loved competitive tennis, and each had two kids around the same ages. It was a good hunch because they soon became best friends with each other as I drifted into the background.

Admittedly, the first time I bumped into them at Starbuck’s having coffee without me, I felt a bit strange and awkward, even hurt, but as soon as I regrouped mentally I realized that I didn’t have as much time or motivation to spend with either one of them as they did with each other. Now we get together as a threesome occasionally. Rosenfeld also found that being poached can be a blessing in disguise. Prior to the treachery, she had found herself in the unpleasant role of constantly ministering to one of the women who was needy and always crying on her shoulder. It gave her a way out.

With the booming popularity of social network sites like Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn, the ethics and etiquette of friend poaching may be turning upside down. In cyberspace, becoming a friend of a cyber-friend is not only socially acceptable, but is actually one of the raison d’êtres of participation.

Being poached offline isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. Because friendships change over time, a friendship that is 'stolen' may have long been gone. It may offer the poachee an opportunity to change, take a break from, or get rid of a friendship that was draining, all-consuming, or toxic in other ways.

The corollary: Don’t feel guilty about poaching. Unlike family or marriage, friendships have no blood or legal ties; the good ones are totally voluntary relationships that enhance our lives. Feel guilty? Remember that your new friend has the free will to add, subtract, or realign her friendships.

One caveat: Friend poaching is unacceptable, and maybe even pathological, when an individual consistently tries to derail friendships and hurt people around her.

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