Dear Friend or Foe,
After years and years of abysmal eating habits, my mother has, predictably, been diagnosed with diabetes. The doctor told her to start eating healthily and lose weight—or else. She seemed to take him seriously. Enter her friend "Sharon," who has been blessed with a great metabolism and has always had a very active lifestyle. She runs marathons and competes in other athletic events, so is able to eat pretty much anything she wants in sometimes massive quantities. Seeing this, my mother has developed a "just one won't hurt" (cookie/candy bar/soda) mantra. This, of course, is followed by "just one more won't hurt." And on and on.
Sharon is aware of my mother's diabetes, as well as her lack of willpower and massive sweet tooth. (I've seen my mother eat an entire tub of frosting before it even made it to the cake.) Yet Sharon encourages this kind of behavior, often inviting my mother out for ice cream or coffee and cake.
I understand that it's hard to enjoy sweets when your friend can't have any. But this is literally a deadly friendship. Should I say anything? They're both adults, and what they do on their outings is none of my business, except that it makes me ill to hear my still-obese mother gush about that extra large double-chocolate fudge sundae to which Sharon just treated her.
Just One More Will Kill You
Here's my advice. Play dumb, take Ship-Shape Sharon aside, and tell her that you're worried about your mother. Her doctor has issued grave warnings, and you need Sharon's help in controlling your mother's eating. Ask that Sharon invite her out for brisk walks rather than chocolate cheesecake—then thank her profusely in advance for helping out your family. If you make her part of the solution, rather than the problem, she'll be more likely to change her ways (and dessert orders).
That said, I wouldn't necessarily assume—as you seem to do—that Sharon is responsible for stuffing your mother's face. You're not at these pig-out parties, so you don't actually know the dynamic between them. Maybe it's your mother who insists they meet at Krispy Krème. Nor is it Sharon's job in life to monitor and control your adult mother's eating habits. Also, it's possible that your mother has downplayed the diabetes, as well as her doctor's warnings, to her friend. Bottom line: Instead of wasting your time being mad at this woman, enlist her support to help you fight the battle of (your mother's) bulge. But please also remember: It's not your life at stake here. Your mother has to want to shed the weight.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
About a year and a half ago, I married a man who, well, has a few pounds to lose. He has many other great qualities that I was looking for, and most of my friends really liked him. However, we separated not long ago, and afterwards, I found out that some of my friends never liked him. One couple in particular—"Mitch and Chris"—let me know that they never thought he was "hot" enough for me, and questioned what I saw in him.
Since then, my husband and I, though we remain separated, have patched things up and are a couple (again). Meanwhile, Mitch and Chris are throwing a party and have invited me, and I don't know what to do. While I'd sort of like to go to the party, I can't lie to my husband. And he'd wonder why I was going without him. Also, while I can't really hold it against Mitch and Chris that they don't like my husband, I feel totally awkward around them now.
Should I just make an excuse not to go to the party and keep making excuses for as long as my husband and I stay together, or should I address the issue directly somehow? I don't want my husband to find out what they said about him because he has enough self-esteem issues already.
Hey, if you feel embarrassed, just guess how mortified Mitch and Chris felt when they found out you got back together with the guy! Here's my advice: Walk into the party arm in arm with your big man—wearing a big smile on your face—and pretend the whole your-husband-looks-like-humpty-dumpy conversation never took place. Because, really, what's to gain by raising the subject with any of them? Your husband will surely feel hurt if you tell him, because who wouldn't? (You don't have to have self-esteem issues to dislike being called fat and ugly.) Moreover, if you confront your friends, they'll either get wildly defensive and deny ever having said such things or insist they were simply making you feel better by echoing back to you what you'd already told them.
That's what good friends do: After a break-up, they try to think of things to say that make the newly single feel fine about being on their own. One of the ways they do this is to devalue the dumped or dumping party. In short, it's impossible to say if a) Mitch and Christ actually believe your husband is beneath you, or b) they were simply trying to rally on behalf of the newly separated you. It's also possible that, at the time of your break-up, you were feeding them extra-negative morsels about your husband that you no longer entirely believe. But at the end of the day: Who cares? You still love the guy plus or minus 15 pounds—and he loves you. And you're trying to make it work. That's the important part. The rest is just noise.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
While in college, I made close and lasting friendships with my fellow teammates on our Division I volleyball team. In the years since—I'm in my late 20s now—I've watched them go through a traditional series of life events while I decided to tackle graduate school. I was a bridesmaid in the weddings of four of them. All of these occasions have involved major outlays of time and money, from gifts to limos to expensive dresses I'll never wear again. Meanwhile, I became the object of pity because I was working 12-14 hour days with no real paycheck to show for it. Every time I saw them, they'd ask,"So how much longer until you're done?" That would be the end of their interest in my life and work.
More recently, three out of the four had babies. Which for me has meant more gifts, plus fawning over nurseries and photos and listening to stories of baby poop maladies.
I recently finished my Ph.D., which took me 6 years. It felt like a huge accomplishment and I wanted my friends to feel my relief at being done. So I organized an evening with them to celebrate. I sent out e-vites. And when the evening came, I got all decked-out. However, my friends treated it as one of our regular get-togethers. They dressed uber-casual, and my graduation was barely mentioned. I did get two Starbucks gift cards. (Yippee.) I'm not asking for them to have spent the kind of money I spent on their weddings. I just wanted them to recognize the sacrifices I've made. (And they didn't.)
Should I tell them I was hurt? Chalk it up to my failure to have been more explicit about the grandiosity of the occasion? Or is it time to say that, while we'd some good times together, we don't have much in common anymore?
The Giver Needs To Receive Sometimes, Too
I can only imagine how intense it must have been to play on a Division I team. Because, as far as I can tell, there's nothing else sustaining your friendships with these women. You say they've never shown any interest in your life and work, yet they clearly expect you to pull out all the stops when it comes to their weddings and babies. As I've written before in this column, history is a nice thing to have with a friend. But at a certain point you have to stop and wonder if you're getting anything out of the association. There's no excuse for your teammates not making a bigger fuss over what is indeed a huge victory, albeit an off-court one. Did they not even raise a glass to you?
That said, it's possible that your e-vite signaled a different kind of event than the one you imagined—some would argue that e-vites are inherently informal—or that your expectations were somehow outsized. Our society really only has rituals for familial triumphs. So the rest has to be improvised. It's also likely that your nonacademic friends simply can't imagine or understand what went into the writing of your dissertation. My guess is that, during your 30s, you'll gravitate away from the volleyballerinas and toward others who've followed similar personal-professional trajectories.
Friend or Foe
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