Advice for a woman whose friend is self-medicating. 

Advice on sticky friendship dilemmas.
June 15 2010 10:04 AM

When Friends Self-Medicate

What to do when your pals won't get the professional help they need.

Illustration by Jason Raish. Click image to expand.

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.

Dear Friend or Foe,

Until a few months ago, I would have jumped in front of a bullet for my friend "Cintra"—and I would have said she'd do the same for me. Then pretty much everything bad that could possibly happen in someone's life happened to her: She fell in unrequited love with her other best friend; her father died suddenly after a short illness; her mother's health and depression took a downward spiral that led to a suicide attempt. Most of this happened several months ago, and she has made no attempt to seek therapy of any kind, unless you count self-medication.

Now her life basically revolves around drinking, smoking pot, and her "boy"—as she constantly calls her other best friend, despite the fact that they are NOT dating. They live together in her mother's basement but do not share a bed. Nor do they have any sexual or couple-type contact. A few months ago, he said some pretty insulting things to me after butting into an argument I was having with Cintra. He's never apologized, and at this point we have a barely cordial relationship.

When I was in town recently (I am in college elsewhere), Cintra was in bed with a back injury. I swallowed my pride and went over there. We had an enjoyable visit, I thought. But that was more than a month ago, and the only contact we've had since then has been via Facebook status comments. Otherwise, she NEVER returns my calls.

I know she's going through a very difficult time emotionally, and I've tried to be patient with her. But even when we do talk, it's always about her most recent party or how high/drunk she was last night, or what "her boy" said. I don't want to end the friendship, but I feel like I'm mostly clinging to an idea of the friends we used to be, and she's just not that person anymore. If she were interested in talking about her feelings or growing through this difficult period it would be one thing, but she seems to have just shut down. Should I give up?

Sincerely,
Tired of Being the Only One Trying

Dear TOBTOOT,

I have to admit that your letter made me curious about the exact nature of Cintra's relationship with "her boy." It also made me wonder what I was missing out on in life, having never kept "a boy" in my own basement. In any case, I feel your pain on the watching-friends-deal-badly-with-trauma front. We've all been there, and I'm afraid there's nothing you can do beyond what you've clearly already done—namely, made repeated overtures to "be there" for her. I'm also going to assume that those overtures include urging her to seek professional counseling.

As for attempting to get Cintra to try harder at your friendship, I'm afraid you're barking up the wrong tree. The friendship isn't working because Cintra isn't working. Without one, you can't have the other. You also mention that she's in unrequited love with this boy. I can imagine that this leaves you lower than others on the list of people she's dying to see. Never mind the potential embarrassment factor of her bizarre arrangement with him.

Hopefully, at some point, Cintra will realize that friendship is one of the few things in her life that isn't broken—moreover, that it's a known analgesic for depression and heartache. In the meantime, yes, I'd give her some space. But you should keep in the back of your mind that, at some later date, you might get your girl back.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe:

"Analese" was my best friend for years. But in the last few years, she became overly clingy and obsessive about our friendship. She'd call five or more times a day to blather on endlessly about her life and offer me unsolicited and usually bad advice. After a while, it got on my nerves. We had a falling-out last winter after she dropped out of my wedding, saying she couldn't be a bridesmaid because she couldn't be happy for me. I stopped talking to her, but she kept calling and texting. Despite her bizarre behavior, I invited her to my wedding because we have a lot of history. She asked me why I wanted her at the wedding and where our relationship was going. She did the same when she got the invite to the shower.

I saw her at the wedding and shower and it was pleasant. Weeks later, I invited her to a bonfire, and again, she wanted to know why I wanted to hang out with her and where our relationship was going. This was after she'd been trying to arrange a dinner for us for weeks. I can't take it any more—I want out of the friendship. I feel like I'm dealing with a crazy ex-boyfriend. But we have mutual friends. And I don't want to hurt her. What should I do?

Sincerely,
Feel Like I'm Dealing With a Crazy Ex

Dear FLIDWACE,

I guess I have the same question as Analese: Why in the world did you want her at your wedding and shower when she specifically told you she wasn't happy for you—and therefore wanted out of the ceremony? Am I missing something? Is she madly in love with your husband and/or did they once date, during which time he stole money from her/murdered her cat? Moreover, you all but accuse the woman of stalking you. But then you continue to invite her out? Maybe Analese is pestering you with questions about your intentions because she's so stunned that you're still talking to her. (Perhaps she feared that you had more than marshmallows in mind when you asked her to the bonfire. Joan of Arc, anyone?)

Shared history is a nice thing to have. And if I were friends with Analese, I'd probably be monitoring the caller I.D., too. But forgive me for suggesting that you may have clingy issues of your own—namely, a need to cling to the past. As for hurting Analese, I guess I'm not sure why you're so worried about her feelings, since she seems to have no problem hurting yours. Or, at least, trying to hurt yours. At the risk of sounding 1970s, it might be time to get in touch with your emotions and get mad. Then delete Analese's name from your address book, unless there's more to the story than you're telling me here.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,

On my birthday, I took the day off and went out with friends. My phone died and I wasn't able to speak to my bestie—"Brittany"—until I got home at 7 p.m. She was semi-cold on the phone and complained that she hadn't spoken to me during the day. She'd already planned on not coming out with me that night because she had to get up early for work. I invited her to dinner with my family but she declined. But her sister came out with me and delivered flowers on Brittany's behalf. I loved the flowers, but I didn't call to thank Brittany because I was frantic and already late to my party, and it slipped my mind.

I went to a club, where my phone was stolen and I had an overall terrible night. On the phone with Brittany the next day, I cried hysterically and, again, I noticed she was cold. Later on in the conversation, she mentioned that I hadn't even thanked her for the flowers—and added that when you receive a gift, you say thank you. I apologized a few times and said of course I loved them and thank you. She proceeded to say she was upset that she hadn't been a part of my birthday. I later felt that she was being unfair.

Over the course of our friendship, I've had to deal with Brittany not returning calls or answering her phone—and she's never once said she's sorry. I've also hung out with people I didn't like so I could be with her and I've gone out of my way to accommodate her schedule. I do all the apologizing when we argue because I'm usually the one who blows up. After our fight the day after my birthday, I contemplated making her a homemade card to really thank her for the flowers. But I'm tired of feeling like a horrible friend who will never meet her standards. Who is in the wrong here?

Sincerely,
Tired of Feeling Like a Horrible Friend

Dear TOFLAHF,

Wow, you seem to have a lot of phone issues. But back to the drama at hand—namely, the unacknowledged birthday flowers. Do you make a habit of failing to acknowledge the efforts of others (including Brittany) until prompted to do so? If so, I can understand why she got pissy over a seemingly petty matter. The alternative is that Brittany is one of those people whose entire approach to friendship is to make others feel guilty about being bad friends, even when they show up 15 minutes early and promise unlimited access to their hearts. For these unhappy souls, being disappointed is the narrative of their lives—a narrative as self-fulfilling as it is sabotaging. Only you know the truth. My advice: Send the homemade card, then give the friendship a vacation.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

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