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"?

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

Dear Friend or Foe,
I've been friends with "Mike" for five years, and good friends for the last two and a half. Five months ago, we started dating. It was easy, fun, and drama-free. All of our mutual friends were happy for us, and, to my mind at least, we were both pretty happy with the situation. Without knowing what the future would bring, I felt that the relationship had the potential to turn friendship love into something more.

A couple of weeks ago, I told Mike I felt as if I was trying to balance a stack of books on my head while riding a unicycle: My sister is having a health scare, my father is moving out of the country, and  I'm having financial-aid issues regarding my return to school. I said I needed moral support right now, and that it would help knowing where things stood with the two of us. Mike said he hadn't given it much thought because things were going so well.

Well, he thought about it. The night before my sister went in for surgery, he took me out for a nice dinner, then to a kickball game to watch our friends play, then to his place, where he said he thought it was a good time to break things off because he didn't "want one of us to develop stronger feelings than the other person." He also said he wanted to be regular friends again, but I don't know if I can go back.

The last communication we had was my e-mail telling him to bring the things I left at his place to the back door of my apartment—and that I don't ever want to see or talk to him again. But we have a lot of mutual friends and I feel that, at the very least, some effort has to be made to keep things cordial. Given my last communication, I suspect that the burden is on me to make that effort. But I'm so hurt right now that I don't know if I have it in me. What should I do?

Sincerely,
Should Have Known Better

Dear SHKB,
With hindsight, we always should have known better. But we usually don't, especially when it comes to love and sex, which draw on our least rational emotions. Not that your attempt to turn a close friendship into something more was so very irrational. You were hoping for When Harry Met Sally. Instead, you got Dirty Harry, who freaked out the moment he felt any pressure to be your actual boyfriend. (His loss.) The good news is that, while your friendship may have lasted a bunch of years, your amorous relationship was not long enough for you to have thrown over your life for the guy.

As such, it sounds to me as if most of what you're suffering from right now is hurt pride (as opposed to heart sickness). You probably feel anger, too, given the callous way in which he called it quits. My advice would be too live up to your own declaration (i.e., no contact), at least for a while. If and when you're ready to resume the friendship, go for it. But I don't see how you're under any pressure to hurry that process. The mutual friends will live. And if Harry feels awkward when he walks into a room and you're standing there, well, too bad. He should have known better, too.

In some way, I'm also imagining that, if only for revenge's sake, you might actually enjoy seeing him standing sheepishly in the corner at the next social function, feeling guilty and embarrassed and possibly wondering why he was such a chicken. Please take the opportunity to flirt your ass off with the nearest available male.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Please send your questions for publication to lucinda@imsohappyforyou.com. (Questions may be edited.)

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