Advice for a woman who wants to spend time with her friend without her children.

Advice on sticky friendship dilemmas.
Aug. 10 2010 7:15 AM

Why Can't I See My Friend Without Her Rug Rats?

I'm her old pal, not a surrogate auntie.

Illustration by Jason Raish. Click image to expand.

  Dear Friend or Foe,
"Erika" and I have been best friends since I was 15. When she was 20, she got pregnant and had a shotgun wedding. She's still married to the guy, and now they have three children. Erika also has a very hectic professional life. They've moved many times, and for years I'd visit on a regular basis. Over time, I began to hate going to her house more and more because her kids are bratty and obnoxious, as is the husband. And the one person that I actually want to speak to (Erika) is too busy breast-feeding or talking to clients on her phone to pay any attention to me. Half the time I end up sitting in the driveway, waiting for her to come home. So I quit making the trips entirely.

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.

Recently we got in a huge argument. She told me I was weird, secretly hated her, that I don't want to know her children, and that she's done with me. At first, I thought our split might be for the best. But I love and miss her. I sent her a copy of Beaches to try and make her realize that friendships change over time. I also sent a letter saying that I'm willing to put in more effort but that changes need to happen on her end, too. She needs to pick up the phone when I call, and give me at least a little of her time without her family around. Every time we try to make plans, she has 900 things she's juggling. If I enjoyed having kids around, I'd have some myself. Why can't she understand that I want to be her friend and NOT "Auntie Jeanie"?

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Erika hasn't written back. Should I make another gesture or accept that all there is nothing left to this friendship but memories?

Sincerely,
Never Signed On To Be Friends With Her Family

Dear NSOTBFWHF,
There's no easy answer here, but I'm afraid the burden falls on you. Erika has three small children. No one's asking you to love them like your own, but there's no way you are going to be able to resuscitate this friendship without embracing her family. If it seems like Erika doesn't carve out enough time for you, it's probably because—between her kids and her career—she doesn't actually have the time to carve. So the question becomes whether the friendship is valuable enough to you to make adjustments to both your expectations and your attitude, which, frankly, is pretty bad.

I don't see why you can't create pockets of grown-up fun amid the pandemonium. Find out what time the small fries all watch The Wonder Pets. Bring over a bottle of wine, and—while Ming Ming the Duckling saves a baby turtle—pour a few glasses in the kitchen. I have small children myself. And in some ways I actually have easier friendships with my non-mom friends. They have more time to come visit; they also bring me out of my world. I don't expect all of them to play special auntie beyond the passing "She looks so cute in that tutu!"

All this said, I admit that while reading your letter—and trying to makes sense of all the hating (including for the husband)—I wondered if, just maybe, you were a little in love with your best friend and resentful of her kids and husband simply because they, not you, currently own her heart? Forgive me if I'm way off the mark.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,
My close friend "Alice" recently asked me to be her bridesmaid, and I happily said yes. Two months later, Alice wrote me an e-mail letting me know that she had become very close with "Carol" and that Carol was going to be invited to the wedding … and the shower and the bachelorette party. Carol happens to be the ex-girlfriend of my current boyfriend, "Dan." Dan and Carol's relationship had turned into a just-really-good-friends situation by the time they split. They were both were too scared of being alone to leave. However, Dan's interest in me was the catalyst for the break-up. At the time, Carol agreed that ending the relationship was the right thing to do. But because Dan and I got together so soon after (and are still together, more than one year and going strong—we talk about marriage), she looks at me as the reason her relationship "failed."
 
Since Alice announced her new friendship with Carol, she has become increasingly distant from me. Calls, texts, and e-mails to find out about life and wedding planning go ignored. Offers to get a drink or dinner are never accepted.  I feel like Carol has turned Alice against me. I'm still a bridesmaid, but I'm starting to wonder if Alice even still wants me to be one, or if she's keeping me around only because the dresses have been ordered and she doesn't want to tip the balance of her perfectly sized wedding party. I know the solution is to talk to her about it, but what do I say?  ("Are we still friends?" seems a little blunt.)

Sincerely,
Bridesmaid or Not a Bridesmaid?

Dear BONAB,
Two separate issues here. First, do yourself a favor: Stop spinning the story—and start admitting that you were more than incidental to Carol and Dan's break-up. They may have been unhappy. (Most couples who end up splitting up are.) It also seems clear that he left her for you. The second issue is what to do about Alice's wedding, given that she's been blowing you off big time.

Yes, you do need to talk to her. But don't make this about Carol; make it about the two of you. Assuming you get her to sit down, tell her that you've noticed she's been AWOL lately, and is she mad at you for any particular reason? If you feel compelled to talk about her new friendship with Carol, ease your way into it. Say you know she's grown closer to Carol, and you're fine with that, but you hope she doesn't feel compelled to take a "side" in a situation that doesn't ultimately have anything to do with her.

By the end of the conversation I think you'll know whether Alice is still psyched to have you holding the daisies on her big day—or whether it's time to return the lavender dress. But see what she says first. You might be surprised.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

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