Advice for a woman whose friend is a bigot.

Advice on sticky friendship dilemmas.
Oct. 5 2010 7:12 AM

Help! My Friend Is a Bigot!

Should I stop talking to her?

Illustration by Jason Raish. Click image to expand.

  Dear Friend or Foe, My friend "Rhonda" has always been a bit of a bigot, sneering in an offhand way at Muslims, Christians, Jews, gays, Americans, French people, Spanish people, doctors—really, nobody gets off. At the beginning of our 10-year friendship, this bothered me a lot. But I learned to ignore it, as the comments were infrequent and because she has many other fine qualities. Recently, we were talking about a public figure who struggled with depression and eventually killed himself. And Rhonda said how "stupid" the man had been to trust his doctors and the medication they gave him and questioned how such a "genius" could do such a thing. It really bothered me.

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.

I've had my own problems with depression—I grew up in an abusive, violent home—but with the help of a great therapist and medication my life is turning around. I told Rhonda how hurtful her words were and how they reinforced the stigma associated with mental health care. "We're not talking about you," said Rhonda. "[The public figure] was a genius and should have known better." I felt like slapping her. She started crying and accused me of not wanting to be her friend anymore. After protesting for a while, I said, "You're right, I think it's best if we don't speak." We haven't spoken since.

Frankly, I'm relieved, as well as happy to be free of Rhonda's "opinions." Rhonda was also domineering and critical about what I wore and ate and what music I listened to. However, I do feel a modicum of guilt. Other friends have suggested I was too harsh. Rhonda is professionally successful, but her personal life has turned messy. She recently separated from her husband and began an affair with a married student. Plus, the economy has hurt her business. Was I too harsh in cutting her off?

Sincerely,
Apparently Not a Genius

Dear ANAG,
Whether or not Rhonda is having a hard time, you answer your own question by admitting that you feel relieved to be done with her. The basis of friendship is companionship. If you don't enjoy spending time with the woman—and find her bossy and obnoxious—there's no good reason why you should try to make up. Whether or not her comments are offensive and deserving of excommunication is another matter. You don't cite specific comments she's made about the various named religious and ethnic groups—I admit I'm curious as the bent of her anti-French smear ("you know those frogs and their love of wine and cheese"?)—but the fact that you've even noticed a pattern here sets off certain alarms.

As for the cited dig at docs, it sounds as if you're oversensitive on the topic—if for good reason. I'm glad to hear that you've had such a positive experience in therapy and with pharmaceuticals. But it sounds as if Rhonda might have a complicated history here as well. Why else would she be blaming a stranger's suicide on his doctors, as opposed to his depression? In any case, given the mess she's currently making of her personal life, this might be the time for her to find out more about the mental-health profession for herself. I'd leave it to someone else to make the referral, however.

Advertisement

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,
I moved to a different country at the beginning of this year and reignited a friendship with "Kate," a woman I'd gone to college but didn't know very well then. This time around, Kate and I became great friends. I'd recently gotten out of a long relationship, so we talked a lot about that.

Fast forward nine months: Kate moved out of the country, and I started casually dating a man, "Doug," I'd met through a new friend of Kate's, "Nick." A couple of months into our courtship, Doug told me that Kate divulged to Nick that I hadn't had sex in six months—and that another mutual friend was a virgin. Doug felt it was inappropriate information for Kate to have shared, and I totally agreed. Reconstructing history, I also figured out that Kate had told Nick about my sexual history within two weeks of meeting him.

After a lot of thought, I also told the virgin, who already had a difficult friendship with Kate, that this information had been disseminated. We both now feel betrayed. Kate continues to stay in touch via e-mail and Skype. I like her enough not to want to cut ties completely, but I also know I won't ever see her again unless I actively choose to do so. In the meantime, I feel as if I should say something about how I found out she'd been spreading "classified" information behind my back. I also think I should give her my two cents for the good of her future friends. Or should I just let it go and learn my lesson that not all female friends are to be trusted with personal information? Two extra facts about Kate: She's never had that many close female friendships, and she's a very sexual person.

Sincerely,
Feeling Exposed

Dear FE,
OK, that's embarrassing. But it's not that embarrassing. And, jeez—six months—what's the big deal? (Clearly, neither of you have ever been married—joke!) But, really, I guess I don't see the point of dredging up the matter with Kate except for the cheap thrill of being able to act like the Righteous One for a few moments in time. Kate has a big mouth. Probably you do, too, sometimes. More to the point, it sounds as if you and Kate might never see each other again. So why bother? Also, if Doug was so convinced it was inappropriate for Nick (via Kate) to have shared this information, then why the heck did he share it with you?

Moreover, what possible motive did you have for sharing with Your Friend the Virgin the far more delicate matter of others openly discussing behind her back the fact of her virginity? You imply that you thought she should know. But why? She already disliked Kate. There's good gossip. Then there's "stirring the pot." Sounds as if both you and Doug are giddy practitioners of the latter. Hey, it could be a match made in (needless drama) heaven!

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe