Dear Friend or Foe, I'm a college senior. I have a friend—"Layla"—who doesn't seem to understand the meaning of boundaries. She interferes in my interactions with waiters, ticket sellers, professors, even my parents. She even has the unspeakable rudeness, obnoxiousness, and nerve to tell me what to eat when we are out! I'm a tad overweight, yes, but I'm an adult! And her nagging and ordering me around only make me want to eat what I've picked even more. I usually allow her to boss me around just to avoid a fight. But I once went ahead and ordered what I wanted, and she ruined my entire lunch by nagging me about it. I'd have a talk with her about all of these issues, but I know she'd never, ever see it from my point of view and will never change no matter what I say. Is this normal? Do people behave like this? Should I maintain my friendship with this woman? Sincerely,
Not Your Damn Husband
Little Miss Bossy Pants types appear as early as nursery school, telling us what games to play, where to sit, even what color to wear—or else! By adulthood, most of us have learned to stand up for ourselves and, in the process, have jettisoned those "friends" who seem to specialize in telling us how to live as opposed to helping us enjoy the living. Only you know if a part of you secretly enjoy having a "mommy" figure in your life. It sounds as if you don't anymore, if you ever did. So you have your own answer: Layla needs to shape up (and shut up) or ship out …
You don't say what outrageous declarations Layla has made to your parents and professors. ("Mr. and Mrs, X, please understand that you're wasting tuition money on your lazy-ass daughter"? "Professor Y, perhaps you're unaware that plagiarism plays a large role in my friend's term paper"?) As for her humiliating you in front of ticket-takers, I can even less imagine what's said. ("I thought you should know my friend intends to scalp these"?) So all I can address is the food issue. If you have any interest in preserving the friendship—and establishing real boundaries with Layla—you need to give her a little of her own medicine. Next time she suggests you send the double cheeseburger back, I'd reply, "Can you please, for once in your life, mind your own frigging business? I don't tell you what zit cream to use!" (Or equivalent.) Good luck.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
Last year, I spent a lot of time hanging out with my friend "Sabrina" and her (now ex-) boyfriend "Tim." We all became close. Since they broke up three months ago, I've been keeping in touch with Tim casually (and with Sabrina's consent). Last week, I hosted an informal, midweek happy hour at a local dive bar. Since Tim lives just a few blocks away, I invited him, his best friend, and a few others, sending them invites on Facebook. I'd originally intended only to invite people who live close by. But as word got out, people from other neighborhoods started inviting themselves. Sabrina found out about it and asked to be invited. So I sent her an invite. She apparently saw Tim on the list of invitees (not even on the "accepted" list) and freaked out.
She said she feels betrayed and doesn't know if she can be friends with someone who would invite her ex to an event and not her. She also made some mean jabs about me not having any friends of my own. (I do.) I thought Sabrina was OK with Tim and me being friends, and now I'm being punished for it. It doesn't seem fair. It's not as if I invited him to my wedding. Plus, I already apologized to her, but she says she's still upset and isn't sure the friendship is salvageable. I'm beginning to think she's right. What do you think? Is my Facebook flub breakup-worthy?
Eviscerated for an E-Vite
If you're just getting a few friends together on a Wednesday night for drinks, why resort to a Facebook invitation? (Maybe I'm just from the wrong generation, but does every small social gesture have to be publically declared?) That turns it into an actual party, as opposed to a random gathering. It also means that everyone is going to find out about it. As such, I can see why Sabrina felt hurt to have gotten a B-list invitation after her ex's A-list one.
Whether the crime is worthy of excommunication is another matter. In the months since Sabrina and Tim's break-up, have you made any effort to see her individually? Is it possible that, from Sabrina's vantage point, this is the last straw in a long pattern of hay? I assume you would have said if you and Tim had become an item or had even taken to flirting. You say that Sabrina gave you "approval" to hang out with her ex; this suggested to me that the subject has come up before.
If Sabrina is your real friend here—and if, despite feeling piled upon, you're keen to repair relations—you need to prove to her that your first allegiance is still to her. Invite her out to dinner and a movie or buy her a thoughtful gift and tell her in a card how much you value her friendship. Hopefully, with time, all will be forgiven. (And next time, if it's just a couple of buddies going out for a beer on the corner, send an old-fashioned e-mail instead.)
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
I became friendly with a man I work with, "Stan," and then his partner, "Rick." They seem to blow hot and cold. Stan won't answer an e-mail/text/phone call; then he will act surprised when I ask him what happened. Once, I invited him to do something and he agreed; later, when I tried to contact him regarding details of our get-together, he told me I was being "pushy." And last week, when I asked whether he and Rick were available at a specific time, he made a vague comment about how they were "not being very social." If they're having relationship problems, it's another story—they're eager to hang out. I've also "come to the rescue" several times when they were in a crisis.
I've always given Stan and Rick a bit more slack because they're guys, and guys are alien beings in many ways. (I probably wouldn't tolerate this kind of behavior from my girlfriends.) Plus, when we do get together, it's fun. I also understand that adults are busy and have many commitments. But when I'm not available, I simply tell somebody that fact. (We're not kids anymore—all of us are in our 40s.) I feel as if Stan and Rick always putting me off because they're hoping something better will come along in terms of a social event—even as they continue to use me when it's convenient. Or are they just flaky and unreliable? I can't decide whether to have a polite confrontation and ask why this behavior persists or just move on and forget about them. Moreover, if this is their mode of interaction with everybody—I don't know whether it is—shouldn't somebody step up and say something?
It sounds to me like Stan and Rick want to be casual friends with you with an accent on the casual. I don't think it's a "guy" issue in particular. When someone says, "We're not feeling very social right now," in response to an invitation—and unless there are known depression or anxiety issues there—it's usually code for, "It's nice knowing you, but not nice enough to actually want to get together for dinner." In short, we're happy to be friendly—and even have you feed the cat when we're away at a funeral—but don't expect an invitation to our birthday. The "pushy" line doesn't bode well, either, since it sound like the details you were alluding to were details regarding where and when Stan should show up to reap your hospitality.
My advice: Take a step back and let him and Rick come after you with real invitations or not. It's not fair of them to treat you like some creaky old aunt and then expect you to come through in a crisis. (And, if you don't mind my saying, you sound like someone who allows herself to get stepped on a little too often; many would have "checked out" of the friendship after the second e-mail wasn't returned.) As for instructing them on the error of their ways, I wouldn't bother. If others get the hot-cold treatment, too, Stan and Rick will learn soon enough that friendships have to be reciprocated or else they'll cease to exist.
Friend or Foe