Friend or Foe: Advice for women who want to break up with old friends.

Advice on sticky friendship dilemmas.
June 1 2010 7:15 AM

One Is Silver and the Other's Mold

Advice for women who want to break up with old friends.

Illustration by Jason Raish. Click image to expand.

Dear Friend or Foe,

Lucinda Rosenfeld Lucinda Rosenfeld

Lucinda Rosenfeld is the author of four novels, including I'm So Happy for You and The Pretty One, which will be published in early 2013.

In my teens and early 20s, I made friends with six women. At the time I thought they were wonderful. The problem is that I formed and maintained these friendships before I sought treatment for my relationship with my parents, both of whom have narcissistic personality disorder. I know now that I chose friends who did not support me properly.

Not one of them stood by me a few years ago, when my fiance and I ended our engagement and he kidnapped my daughter and told awful lies about me to a family court judge. They were all "too busy" or concerned that involvement in my case might bring to light some of their own indiscretions—and, in several cases, cost them their professional licenses. One was even afraid that the mutual friends she shared with my ex wouldn't be her friends anymore if she supported me—and this was my alleged "best friend!"

I've only recently begun to work through my issues with knowing what I do and don't deserve from other people. While I've maintained friendships with these women, I've begun to wonder why I kept them after the kidnapping. I'm at the point where I resent them when good things happen in their lives (promotions, landing husbands, etc.).

Now that I mentally understand that I deserve better than this, is it OK to just dump them?  And before dumping, should I tell them what lousy friends they are? Also, how do I prepare myself to make all new friends when I've always believed it was our history that bound us?  I have one really good friend who I know loves and supports me, but she lives three hours away.

Sincerely,
Bad Choices in Friends

Dear BCIF,

Having no degrees in any field that begin with "psych," I don't know the fine points of NPD. But, when applied to parents, I'm going to assume that the words "neglectful and generally sucky" can readily be substituted. In which case, I'm sorry about your sucky childhood and also about the horrific-sounding custody battle that took place between you and your ex. Generally speaking, it seems to me that women get too caught up with the whole idea (and mythology) of "old friends."

So what if you shared a sandbox—or a limo to the prom? As you found out these past six years, "old" doesn't necessarily mean "good." Friends are people you have fun with, who make you feel good about yourself, and who are there to cry on when you need to cry. Some date back to nursery school. Others you may have met at your kid's soccer game last weekend.

The only reason to confront your old "friends" before dumping is if it will make you feel better. That's for you to decide. The fact that you have a great friend a few hours away means you know what to look for the next time around. And there will be a next time, since the pursuit of love—like the pursuit of friendship—is a lifelong project.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,
"Melanie" and I have been best friends ever since we attended preschool together 20 years ago. I was there for her when she lost her father, when her family faltered because of a heinous crime committed by her brother, and, most recently, when she broke up with a long-term boyfriend who had been stealing from her. Though she can have a good heart (always offering to help people move, baby-sitting and supporting her nieces, doing nice things for her mother) she can also be cruel, cheap, and worst of all, jealous.

She almost never makes a compliment that isn't backhanded. She makes comments about my weight (she is obese, I am not) and disdains my love of reading (she's never read an entire book). She tells me I'm dorky; exaggerates stories to cast me in a negative light; makes a point of telling me when others don't like me; insults my ex-boyfriend's looks; and gets angry if I don't follow her orders.

I'm tired of picking up the tab, holding my tongue, and being dissed. At the very least, I want a break from her. Right now I'm trying to negotiate a tough break-up that I initiated and that I ideally want to work out. And I don't want her negatively influencing my decision. The problem now is that I'm intimidated by her. She knows a lot about me. And I wouldn't put it past her to resort to evil social networking tactics if I were to totally disconnect from her. She's been vengeful with others who have dumped her. What should I do?

Sincerely,
Sick of Being Bullied

Dear SOBB,

Melanie sounds like she's had a difficult life so far, and you're probably not far off the mark in assuming that her rage toward you is most likely caused by jealousy. But that's no excuse for harassment. Bullies operate under the assumption that, if given the choice, no one will stick around to listen to them. While intimidation is a surefire way to keep others nodding in agreement, it's also a poor recipe for lasting friendship.

If you really do fear Melanie's wrath, my advice would be to slowly but surely slip away without explanation. Stop answering phone calls, texts, and e-mails. If she catches you on the phone, act friendly but tell you're too busy to talk (or make plans). Either she'll get the hint and accept defeat, or she'll confront you. At which point you'll have to decide (again) whether or not to explain the distance you've put between you. If she does resort to uploading nude photos of you wearing bunny ears and smoking crack, etc., you can always "report" her to site administrators. If you're both on Facebook, I'd also strongly suggest unchecking the box in the privacy settings marked, "Allow friends to post on my Wall."

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,
My best friend of many years, "Julie," is head over heels in love with her boyfriend, "Ben." Though this should make me happy, since he's a good friend and generally a nice person, it doesn't. Ben has always been irresponsible and insensitive when it comes to women: Before he started dating Julie, he was pretty much the village bicycle. Not to mention that during the onset of this relationship, Ben would blow off Julie whenever he wanted to sleep with another girl. Although Julie would be heartbroken and enraged every time, she'd always initiate a rekindling of things as soon as his "flavor of the week" had made her exit.

When he finally expressed an interest in commitment, she immediately moved in with him. Once she moved, she started rebuffing invitations for coffee, lunch, and girls' nights—not just from me, but from all our friends. On the rare occasion that she does join us for some socializing ,she invariably gets plastered and spends half the night crying in the ladies room about the fact that she and Ben have not had sex in over TWO YEARS.  

Julie's dream is to be a wife and stay-at-home mom. Meanwhile, Ben has always been very vocal about not wanting children and being opposed to marriage. When other friends have voiced concern on this subject, she either stops speaking to them, turns a deaf ear, or glosses over his beliefs on marriage by saying, "Well, that's not what he tells me when we're alone." What's more, since our college graduation nearly a year ago, Julie has made no attempt to look for a job—­and has developed into a hypochondriac. Her days revolve around Ben's schedule, unnecessary doctor's appointments, Oprah and The View. Ben supports her comfortably and treats her like a lovable pet, but not like a girlfriend or wife. The Julie I once knew was smart, ambitious, and independent! I feel like I hardly know her anymore. What should I do?

Sincerely,
Talk About Unhealthy Relationships   

Dear TAUR,

Wait. Ben is a legendary swordsman but he and his live-in girlfriend haven't had sex in two years?! Two possibilities: Either he's getting a ton of action on the side or you've got an outdated or simply erroneous notion of Lover Boy. Which is not to say he's a good guy—­or good for Julie. Rather, I'm just not convinced you're seeing the situation through a clean pair of glasses. Let's break it down.

There is every reason to believe the guy has cheated—or, at least, he did so in the beginning (bad). The guy supports Julie financially (possibly detrimental to her ambition level and hypochondria; possibly kind of sweet). The guy never has sex with her (not ideal obviously, but not a mark of evil, either). The guy is skittish about marriage and kids (bad if Julie wants these things, but, on the other hand, he's living with her and supporting her). If you don't mind me saying, aren't you all a little young to be trying to settle down?

Bottom line:As one of Julie's former best friends, you're well within your right to sit her down and assail the lack of effort she's made, post-college, to maintain your friendship. But unless Ben is abusing her, pimping her, and/or shooting her up with intravenous drugs, her relationship is kinda, sorta, not your business. Questioning the relationship isn't going to get you anywhere either, since a) she's not going to listen to you, anyway, and b) ultimately, she has to come to the decision to leave Ben herself. My guess is that Julie is depressed, and Ben—by withholding his affections, at least in bed—is playing nicely into the self-loathing campaign. If she admits to so much, encourage her to seek counseling.

It's also possible, of course, that college was the only thing you and Julie had in common. If so, your friendship will gradually fade from view with or without Ben in the picture. 

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

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