Should I Dump My Flaky Friend?
Once she bailed on dinner plans because she had just painted her nails.
Dear Friend or Foe,
Since we were kids, my friend—"Dana"—has been chronically late. Over the years, my close-knit circle and I have learned to order at restaurants without her and never to depend on her to fetch us if we're stranded somewhere. We've put up with the behavior because she's always been there for us emotionally. She's also a lot of fun when she does eventually show up. Since we graduated from college a few years ago, however, the problem has gotten out of hand. There's always another excuse—e.g., she just painted her nails and doesn't want to drive.
I live in a different city than the others now. A few months ago, I took the train to their city and we were all supposed to meet for coffee, then move on to dinner at a location to be decided. Half an hour after the appointed meet-up time, Dana texted to say she wasn't coming because she needed a nap after work, but she'd come for dinner and to let her know once we'd decided on a location. She then decided she didn't like the restaurant we chose and asked that the three of us come to her instead.
It hurt that Dana wouldn't come out over the choice of a restaurant. (Though she made it to the other events we'd organized for the weekend—and acted as if nothing happened.) But I've learned not to take it personally; she does this to all of her friends. I roomed with her for a year in college and she was late to every class. More recently, she was upset that a co-worker stopped carpooling with her after she made him late to work every day. My friends and I have tried to talk to her about this, but she just laughs it off and says that's just the way she is. My friends and I love Dana. But how do we get her to see that people who are "just like her" ultimately find themselves without friends like us?
Finally Fed Up
You don't say if, at Dana's insistence, you agreed to cancel your restaurant plans that night or not. But in terms of teaching Dana a lesson, refusing to accommodate her selfish whims would be a good place to start. For that matter, if I were you, I certainly wouldn't have gone out of my way to keep Dana abreast of the weekend itinerary after she'd already sabotaged Friday night. (She needs a nap? Find me someone who doesn't!) People like Dana need to recognize that if they hold up every train, eventually they're not going to be invited to get onboard.
It seems to me that you and your friends—at least until now—have been far too forgiving of Dana, indulgent, even. Next time you make plans to come visit, I'd go so far as to leave Dana off the list of dinner invitees. If she finds out and protests, tell her that last time you came to town she didn't seem to want to make the effort to come out. So you just figured you'd "leave her alone" this time. Maybe she'll start to get the message.
A shrink once told me that chronic lateness is an aggressive act. It might be passive-aggressive, but it's no less maddening (and hurtful) for the people who are standing there twiddling their thumbs. Why? It sends the message, intended or not, that the Late Party considers both you and your time to be essentially worthless.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
For two years, my high-school friends "Lisa" and "Tim" had a drama-filled relationship. Then Lisa decided she wanted to date someone from her college ("Vincent"). When she and Tim broke up, it caused a strain in our social group, as Lisa and Tim's sister, "Susan," were also very close. But we all got through it. After college, Lisa and Vincent went abroad to do volunteer work, while Tim stayed behind and began dating "Laura." Eventually, Lisa and Vincent got engaged. My friends and I thought this would finally put to rest all the unresolved tension between Tim and Lisa—tension that was evident every time Lisa came home for the holidays.
Not long ago, Lisa returned from abroad for good. She chose to call Tim to arrange a get-together for the group. Throughout the party, Lisa kept finding excuses to switch her seat around so she could be close to Tim. I wasn't the only one who noticed the flirty vibe between the two—and felt uncomfortable. We even heard Lisa say she wanted to stop by Tim's new house after the party to check out how it all got redecorated—alone.
Should we say anything to Lisa or Tim (who's currently ring shopping for Laura)? I know all four are adults and don't need a baby-sitter to monitor their behavior or judge what is appropriate. But Laura and Vincent are both great people, and I feel horrible that this is going on behind their back. I also know that I'd be really hurt if I knew my boyfriend was meeting up with an ex-girlfriend at a party and inviting her back to his house. Or am I reading too much into things?
Not Sure Whether To Speak Up or Back Off
It's Lisa and Tim who are your old friends here and therefore command your loyalty—not Vincent and Laura (the potential victims)—so I'd leave the tattle-tailing to someone else. More to the point, if Tim's and Lisa's respective marriages turn out to be shams, that will become evident within a year or two's time after their nuptials turn nasty and without you doing or saying a thing. Bottom line: Whatever happened that night while Tim was giving Lisa a guided tour of his new duvet is their business. It's also feasible that Tim and Lisa were just flirting and, if so, so what? Nearly everyone has a first love that she or he has never entirely gotten over. Getting married to someone else is not about renouncing those feelings but about putting them in a safe place where they can't hurt anyone. Whether Tim and Lisa have unlocked the door, only they know. In the meantime, don't you have wedding gifts to buy?
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
When my old friend and former roommate "Ashley" was looking for a new place to live, I didn't hesitate to invite her to come live with me, rent free. At first, it was great having someone else in the house with whom to share responsibilities. Six months ago, I began to see less and less of her. She wouldn't answer my phone calls, declined my invitations to do things, and was unpleasant to everyone I had over to the house. She even neglected to tell me that she was leaving town for several days. When I confronted her, she claimed only that she was really busy. Finally, I got her to admit that she'd been avoiding me because she doesn't like my boyfriend.
I'm upset, of course, that Ashley feels this way. But I'm more upset that she a) waited six months to reveal her feelings, b) didn't feel like she could talk to me about it, c) shut down any opportunity to hang out, and d) has not been a supportive friend. My view is that she's my friend, not my boyfriend's, and that she should be pleasant to the guy even if she dislikes him. She also admitted during our heart-to-heart that she'd given up on our friendship. But we agreed to try to reconnect. Her time living with me comes to an end early next year, and I don't want to be another former friend to whom she no longer speaks. (There are already two.) At the same time, I can't help feeling as if I've been used. When she's being pleasant, these days, I'm not sure if it's because she wants to be my friend or she just wants to keep living in my house for free.
Tired of Feeling Like a Doormat
It was great having someone else in the house with whom to share responsibilities—just not the rent? File this one under "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished." Or maybe the more apt tried-and-true saying is, "Beggars can't be choosers." The woman is living gratis. Yet she can barely be bothered to speak to you for the mortal sin of having—hooked up with a guy she doesn't like? Unless there's something else to this story you're not telling me, it seems to me that the only thing you need to reconsider is your hesitation to join the list of Ashley's Former Friends.
If I'd heard anything good about this woman, maybe I would feel differently. But your letter suggests that she's not just a user but a psycho who turns on all who dare show generosity toward her. If I were you, I'd get in touch with her other excommunicated roomies and find out what their "crimes" were. (Not ironing Ashley's clothes?) You might begin to see a pattern. At which point you might also want to send Ashley a bill for the previous six months of mortgage or rental payments. If she refuses to pay, tell her the "living free" part of the deal was dependent on her not making your life a misery.
Friend or Foe
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.