Dear Friend or Foe,
I'm a 34-year-old certified doula and the proud mother of a 1-year-old daughter. For many years, my friend "Ellen" has been a caring, compassionate friend. A few months after my daughter was born, Ellen became unexpectedly pregnant. We were excited about the prospect of being new moms together. I told her my door was always open if she had any questions or concerns. The first thing she wanted to know was why it's not OK to eat undercooked eggs or cold cuts. I explained why Listeria is dangerous for pregnant women. We went out to brunch three times after that and twice she ate eggs benedict. The other time she had a club sandwich.
Now her son is here, and he has terrible colic. When my daughter had colic, I stopped eating dairy, soy, and spicy food for six months, and it went away completely. I know many lactation consultants, and they all seem to agree that the protein in cow's milk is the primary cause of colic. Recently, Ellen mentioned to me that her son's colic is so bad he screams for hours every day. Immediately, I suggested she give up dairy for a little while to see if that makes a difference. She said I wasn't the first person to make that suggestion, but that she couldn't because dairy was "too important" to her. I argued that she has the ability to end his suffering. She told me she was dealing with "a lot" right now, and couldn't stand the thought of any more change.
Ellen is 36, and I know her parenting choices and what she chooses to feed herself (and her son) are none of my business. But her behavior seems incredibly selfish to me. How can the fleeting sensation of cheese in one's mouth be worth listening to your child scream in agony for hours a day? It hurts me to think of her little boy living with pain that could possibly be prevented. Also, every time we talk, she brings up his fussiness. I thought motherhood would bring Ellen and me closer together, but now my skin crawls when I think about her. Is it time to let go of this friendship, or am I overreacting?
Obsessed With Someone Else's Breast Milk
I think you said it best yourself when you wrote: "I know her parenting choices and what she chooses to feed herself (and her son) are none of my business." Exactly. I understand that, as a new mother yourself and as a professional doula, you have babies on the brain (and then some). But you need to separate. Tiny Tim (or whatever his name is) is Ellen's child, and Tiny Tara (or whatever her name is) is yours. Moreover, if I read your letter correctly, Ellen never actually came to you seeking advice about Tim's colic. Rather, she complained—as any new mother would—about his chronic wailing. You put in your two cents—or, really, it sounds like four cents. And she chose not to take them. If you can't deal with the defiance you should separate yourself for a while from Ellen. But ending an old and good friendship because your buddy won't stop nibbling on Camembert sounds, well, kind of stinky to me. (One can only imagine your wrath had Evil Ellen chosen to—gasp! —bottle-feed her little one.)
Now it's time for a confession. I was one of those selfish breast-feeding mothers with a wailing, regurgitating infant who couldn't be bothered to give up dairy, either. (I love breakfast cereal too much.) However, I did take other "known" steps to soothe, such as giving up gaseous-producing vegetables like broccoli and putting Chamomile tea in babe-ala's bottle. Eventually, the nights went from horrific to less so—as they always do. No disrespect intended to the doula profession, but no one knows for sure what causes colic, or what cures it. In your own case, who is to say that it wasn't the soybean strike that saved the day? As for Ellen's dereliction of Listeria duty, let's agree now that smoking cigarettes—as half of my generation's mothers did while pregnant—presents a far higher risk factor than a few goopy egg yolks on a Sunday morn.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
"Rene" and I started as business associates but became close personal friends. Recently, I received a very hurtful e-mail from "anonymous" telling me that Rene actually doesn't like me—she just puts up with me to avoid confrontation. The e-mail went on to say that nobody likes me because I'm condescending and abrasive. My first reaction was to forward the e-mail to another friend and get her help in trying to figure out who would have sent such a thing. I immediately suspected a mutual acquaintance—"Claire"—with whom I've had some semi-public disagreements. My friend concurred that "Claire" was the likely culprit.
However, as I did a little more digging to try and prove it, I discovered a horrifying thing: The e-mail from the anonymous person came from the same IP address that Rene uses. I know that IPs can vary, but there are also specific details in the e-mail that very few people would know except Rene and Claire (whose IP address does not match). Without outright accusing Rene, I told her what I had found out, explaining that I didn't want to keep secrets from her. She accepted my explanation, and we agreed that our friendship could survive. But now I don't know what to do.
The e-mail was hateful and mean, and I've never seen any indication that Rene has tendencies like that. (And my heart is adamant that she can't be the author.) Yet every fact in the case implicates her. At this point, if she'd admit that she sent the e-mail in a flash of anger, I could forgive her.
I Thought I Left Fifth Grade 30 Years Ago
Since your question hinges on a technical matter, I decided to consult my brother-in-law (Oxford, computer science degree), who explains: "The apparent originating IP of an e-mail can be misleading. It can be, say, a server at Gmail, not a person's actual IP address. Also, all addresses that start 192.168. are private addresses (i.e., don't identify anyone), as are addresses that start with 10, and some others. You can't read anything into their values. Often, when an e-mail is sent, the actual public IP address of the sender doesn't appear in the trace at all. In short, unless the letter writer is Pretty Darn Techie, she might not be identifying the sending IP address correctly. On the other hand, in many cases, the true originating IP address is visible in the e-mail headers. And if two e-mails have the same originating address and it's not a private address, then it's pretty likely they are from the same machine, or at least the same company or premises."
You say that there are details in the e-mail that only "Rene" and "Claire" (who has an actual reason to feel animosity toward you) would know. You also say that your heart is telling you that Rene can't be the author. I'd trust that instinct—as well as your first hunch that Claire is the culprit. The IPs may not match up, but—as my B.I.L. explains above—that proves nothing. If you're still determined to win a confession, confront Claire with the e-mail. Tell her that you have reason to suspect she's the author and, if she has a problem with you, you wish she'd come to you directly. See what she says. I'd also take Rene out for a nice dinner and apologize again.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
Although my friend "Jennifer" and I don't have a lot in common (and no common friends), we share a few specific interests that bring us together a couple of times a month. My problem is that, while she regularly offers to pay for my portion of things, she doesn't like it when I return the favor. Which makes me uncomfortable. She'll even pay for things behind my back (after we agree to go Dutch). But if I do the same for her, she'll get upset and even cry. The most recent incident involved a party and live music performance at a winery. Jennifer agreed to drive there with the understanding that I reimburse her for gas. But at the end of the event, I discovered that she'd paid for all of the drinks. She wouldn't accept gas money, either. I was really irked and told her so. She got upset, and we haven't talked since.
We both make about the same amount of money in our careers and have about the same financial obligations. So it's not like one of us requires a little more financial charity than the other. On a side note, Jennifer—despite being nice—seems to have trouble staying friends with others. I also suspect that she behaves this way with everyone, and that this is not a problem directed for me alone. Is there anything I can say to her to keep things on the level (financially), or do I just have to accept her for who she is? Also, if I choose to enforce my turn to pay, how should I handle the inevitable tantrums?
Tired of Arguing Over the Check
The alarm bells did not go off when I heard that Generous Jennifer liked to pay for your cold beer. (I was inclined to tell you that we should all be so lucky as to have such "terrible friends"—especially during a recession). However, they sounded at the mention that, when her cash is refused, Jennifer sometimes cries. This is not normal adult behavior and—coupled with your "side note" about the woman having few friends—suggests that something far less pretty than generosity is motivating her behavior.
Perhaps Jennifer has such low self-esteem that she believes no one would possibly want to spend time with her unless she's paying. The question is: Do you? If the friendship is valuable to you, I'd sit her down and tell her that the reason you get agitated when she doesn't let you pay is because you feel like she's trying to "buy" your friendship—and that she doesn't need to. You enjoy spending time with her no matter whose credit card is in play. In fact, when she pays too much you feel indebted, and that's not a sound basis for friendship. You might also mention that her overpayment makes you feel bad, even guilty, since you presumably make the same amount of money. Hopefully, she'll take your words—if not your wallet—to heart.
Friend or Foe