Dear Friend or Foe,
My close friend "Laura" and I are both new to the area. We often double-date with Laura and her husband, "Rob," who works with my husband. But we also spend a lot of girl time together, commiserating about being married to academics. The problem is that Laura is totally paranoid and jealous of every other woman who comes into Rob's life—especially a woman named "Suzanne," who is in our husbands' department. Lately, whenever Laura and I are alone, all she wants to talk about is how Suzanne is luring Rob away. Yet all these accusations and theories contradict what Rob has said to me about Suzanne: He thinks she's unattractive, and he can't stand to be around her. (Suzanne has an extremely unpleasant personality, is irresponsible about work, and engages in a party-going lifestyle that none of us enjoys.) Nevertheless, Laura is convinced that Rob is going to leave her for Suzanne.
I can certainly sympathize with a woman who feels her husband is drifting away, but I'm getting sick of feigning sympathy for her when it's clear to me that nothing is going to happen. I try to steer the conversation away from Rob's faux infidelity, but somehow it always comes up again. Another part of the problem is that my husband and I have a very happy, stable relationship. I suspect that Laura feels uncomfortable when all I have to complain about is how my husband loads the dishwasher with the cups facing the wrong direction. What do I do when the talk turns yet again to infidelity? Is there a polite way for me to tell her that she sounds crazy?
Running Out of Sympathy
There are three possible explanations for Laura's behavior. One is that Laura is a complete paranoid who will probably run her marriage—and herself—into the ground if she doesn't get professional help. (For a worst case scenario, see Anna Karenina. Anna becomes so convinced that hunky Vrosnky is cheating on her—even though he's not—that she harangues him into leaving, becomes a drug addict, and throws herself in front of a train.) The second explanation is that Laura is bored and looking for some drama to fill her otherwise colorless days—and has landed on Suzanne as the perfect villain. The third possibility is that you're wrong and something is going to happen. Perhaps Laura is getting clear signs from Rob that he already has one foot out the door, if not to be with that hard-partying, lazy-ass, mirror-breaking Suzanne, then on account of some fairer, cleaner-living damsel. If so, it's no wonder she's freaking. But the only way to find out is to sit her down and ask.
You could begin the conversation by saying you're concerned for her because she's been talking a lot lately about Rob leaving her. Then ask her gently if there's something going on in her marriage that she hasn't told you about that she wants to discuss. If she admits she's been wracked by anxiety about Rob leaving her—and she doesn't know why—try to be compassionate but also urge her to talk to a professional. If she screws up her face and acts offended, as if she has no idea what you're talking about, you'll know that this is just how she gets her kicks—hater-ating on other women. At that point, you'll have to decide if you want to continue the friendship, since the "evil woman" she enjoys maligning may at some point be you.
The final possibility: She chokes up and admits her marriage is on the rocks. If this is the case, and you consider Laura to be a good friend, this is the time to be a good one back.
By the way, my husband loads the bowls sideways. So when you open the dishwasher in the morning, they're filled with water. Totally annoying, I agree.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
"Sarah" and I met because she was going through a divorce and needed a roommate to help pay her mortgage. A little while later, I moved out so I could shack up with my then-boyfriend. But after my boyfriend and I broke up, I had no place to go. As a "great favor," Sarah offered to let me move into her home office. She expected me to pay rent and a quarter of utilities. (There are two other roommates besides her.) I was fine with the arrangement. After a month or two, she decided to raise the rent on all of us. I knew that by having so many roommates, her mortgage was covered and then some. What's more, she had just left for a monthlong vacation, where she ran up her credit-card bill while we took care of her dog and house and bills. I didn't think it was fair and told her why not. She denied her vacation had anything to do with the rent hike. We fell out over the matter, and I moved out again.
We resumed being friends after a truce. For a while, everything was fine—until a guy we both know asked me out. I immediately told Sarah what had happened and that I was excited. She never mentioned that "Bill" had asked her out, too—or that she'd accepted his offer. When I found out, I felt hurt and betrayed. Had I known she liked him, I wouldn't have gone out with him. She apologized, but I told her that if she wanted me to trust her again she needed to show me that she didn't always have a hidden agenda. She got defensive. And now we're not speaking again. Was I out of line? And is this friendship even worth salvaging?
Tired of Being Taken Advantage Of
This dude really asked both of you out at the same time? Way to make a girl feel special—not! I guess I'm kind of hoping that both you and Sarah quickly discovered that Bill wasn't so special, either (and dumped his promiscuous behind). But let's get back to your issue with Sarah—or, more precisely, issues—since I'm not sure they form a pattern so much as the woman pissed you off twice in entirely different ways.
Regarding the rental: Sarah offered you a room at a price, and you accepted. It's really not your business how she chooses to spend the income she makes as a landlady (i.e., whether she uses it to pay down the balance on her mortgage or buy trinkets in Tahiti). Your mistake was mixing friendship with business and thinking that one would somehow sweeten the other. Whether you had a written lease or not, this was a monetary arrangement pure and simple—at least to Sarah it was.
As for the Bill situation, the most generous reading here is that you started prattling on about how super-psyched you were to go out with Bill. Sarah, seeing your excitement and not wanting to upset you, kept the news of her own rendezvous with Bill under wraps. I doubt she was "getting off" on the secret of her own date so much as she found the subject uncomfortable—not least because she liked Bill, too. But I'm curious as to why you say that if you knew Sarah had liked the guy, you wouldn't have gone on a date with him. Is that really true? Or are you saying that you expected her to have canceled her movie/dinner plans when she heard about yours?
In any case, since you don't mention a single positive quality of Sarah's, you ought let the friendship die a second and final death. I can tell by your use of quotes around "great favor" that you believe if she were a real friend, she would have offered you a place in her house for free. In short, you've answered your own question.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
Four years ago, when I was a senior in high school, I started dating "Chris," the brother of my friend "Matt." It turned into a physically abusive relationship in which I felt trapped. All of my closest friends—including my best friend since preschool, "Tina"—knew I was unhappy. But they didn't know about the abuse. I ended up being hospitalized for three days. Once I was discharged, I immediately ended things with Chris and told my closest friends, including Tina and Matt, what had happened.
Matt said his brother would never do that, and the revelation ended our friendship. Tina was very supportive and said all the things a good friend would say. But that support lasted a month. I found out that Tina had decided to be friends with Chris again, and Chris started hanging out with other friends of mine, too. I felt compelled to pull away from all of them. Tina blamed the demise of our friendship on me, saying that I had changed. I haven't spoken to her or seen her or Matt in four years, but I still feel betrayed, hurt, pissed off, and sad. I've since made new friends and even have an awesome best friend. I also went to therapy to deal with the fallout from having been in an abusive relationship. But I can't seem to shake my bad feelings about Tina. Should I write her an e-mail? Do nothing?
Betrayed, Hurt, and Pissed
I'm sorry you had to experience such a traumatic series of events at such an early age. Life isn't the Mafia, but I think you were probably asking for the impossible when you expected Matt to turn against his own brother. Tina is a different story. I'm sure it felt like a second blow to watch your best friend since the Barbie-doll era effectively siding with Ken instead of you. If, four years later, you're still seething over the matter, I don't see why you shouldn't send her a letter telling her how betrayed you felt. You might point out that while everyone deserves a second shot, by inviting Chris back into the friendship fold almost immediately after learning that he'd abused you, she was effectively sanctioning his behavior. In that sense, she was a bad friend—not just to you but to all women.
Friend or Foe