Dear Friend or Foe,
After enrolling in law school, my friend "Tabitha" was diagnosed with some severe health problems, and her long-term boyfriend "Jake" broke up with her. Two years after the breakup, she continued to send me constant e-mails and text messages about her upset over Jake. I tried everything I could think of to help her move on—sympathizing with her, demonizing him, telling her she could find someone better, even giving her tough love. It got to the point where she steered every single conversation we had to how Jake ruined her life.
Fast-forward to my upcoming wedding. Although she introduced me to my fiance—a friend of Jake's—I didn't ask her to be a bridesmaid because we also planned on inviting her ex. I didn't want any added stress or meltdowns. Apparently, now I'm the one who ruined her life, and I deserve to have my wedding ruined as payback: She threatened to buy a gun and hurt my fiance. This prompted me to look into getting a restraining order. When I told her about this, she immediately backed off, apologized, and admitted that she was just looking for attention. Tabitha also promised to leave us alone, so long as I didn't ruin her burgeoning law career.
I want out of this toxic friendship for good. But how can I trust her to leave us alone after she demonstrated that she can't let go of things? Help!
Trying To Move On
I was sympathizing with Tabitha—until the part about the gun. At which point I became less concerned about the seating arrangement at your wedding and more concerned about your safety. Whether or not she was "seeking attention," Tabitha issued a death threat. And in this fair land of ammo for sale at a Wal-Mart near you, that's no laughing matter. Assuming the woman can't be locked up for words alone, I suggest you contact her family and tell them what happened. Hopefully, they'll be able to persuade Tabitha to get the help she clearly needs. At this point, if you tried to suggest she see a therapist, she'd likely see it as another grave insult and start brandishing her .22.
However, under ordinary circumstances (i.e., no one threatening to pack heat at the nuptials), I believe that those who have been lucky in love (you, apparently) have a duty to be patient and gentle with those who've had a bad time (Tabitha). We've all been in your spot—groaning internally as a lovesick friend/obsessive spends months parsing a two-line e-mail that her ex sent last April. But it's easy to pass judgment when you're happily paired. The thing to do in these cases is to announce that you don't think it's "healthy" for your friend to dwell on the guy anymore, and for her own good you're going to boycott all future conversation about him.
As for the bridesmaid thing—again, this was before I heard about the gun—I was wondering whether you were justifying your desire to dis Tabitha. In general, it seems fair to let friends turn down offers because they find them too stressful rather than make those decisions for them. I can see how Tabitha experienced the "regular guest" designation as a demotion and even punishment for still loving Jake.
I don't know how she got from upset over being left out of the wedding party to threatening to mow down your husband-to-be. Please stay far away.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
Over the past 18 months, I became close to a work friend, "Milly," who, until recently, lived about an hour's drive from our office. Because of the distance, she became a frequent dinner guest in my house and got so comfortable that she'd invite herself over after work. I didn't expect the same in return because she lived so far away. But three months ago, she moved very close to me and began having colleagues over for dinner—just not me. She recently asked me why I never invited her over anymore, and I told her that it was her turn to do the entertaining. So this past weekend she invited me and her best friend of many years, "Carly," over for dinner.
The day of the dinner, Milly texted to say that she was sorry for the late cancel but that she and Carly had stuff they wanted to talk about. Milly is now going out of her way to be really nice to me, but I don't really want anything to do with her. By canceling at the last minute by text so she could hang out alone with her other friend, she crossed the line from being a difficult person to being a lame one. But my desire to end the friendship has other causes, as well. I'm tired of her bitterness, her constant complaining about being single, and her making fun of people in a mean-spirited way. Plus, I find being around her draining. She's of a minority race and constantly uses discrimination as a basis for being pissed off at the world.
Milly has acknowledged that canceling on me was a faux pas but keeps asking me what is wrong. I don't feel I owe her an explanation. But I also feel as if she's holding me hostage. How do I extricate myself from this friendship without making a scene?
Enough Is Enough
Are you sure you're not overpunishing her for an ultimately mundane crime? The whole thing sounds very seventh grade. Obviously, Milly shouldn't have invited you over for dinner in the first place if she had something private to talk about with Carly. But isn't it possible that, after the plan was made, something traumatic happened to Carly that she needed to discuss with Milly privately? Life unfolds in unpredictable ways, and sometimes it interrupts our better intentions.