Dear Friend or Foe,
My very close friend "Janette" is desperate to have a biological child with her husband. Because her husband has a genetic disorder, they're doing IVF and testing to ensure that any potential child doesn't get the same disorder, which would result in severe retardation. So far, Janette has gone through seven unsuccessful rounds of IVF. While she has the financial resources to try as many times as she's physically capable, lately she seems to have reached a breaking point. She insists she doesn't want to adopt but also insists that she can't bear the strain of continuing with IVF—yet she continues.
Janette has shared her fertility struggles with only a few close friends, including me. And we've tried to be there for her through the roller coaster. The problem is: I have young children, as do many of our mutual friends. Whenever the topic of conversation turns to anything regarding others' pregnancies, babies, etc., Janette becomes emotional to the point of tears. So we avoid mention of our kids at all costs. If we try to empathize, she says she doesn't want any "advice" because "no one understands." This leaves us listening to her agonize in silence. My friends and I have also tried to point Janette to online groups where she might be able to meet people in similar situations. But she still insists that no one can comprehend what she's going through. As a result, we've ceased to invite her to hang out as frequently as we once did.
Now I'm conflicted. On the one hand, I feel I should be there for my friend in her time of need. On the other hand, I don't feel it's much of a friendship if I'm walking on eggshells every time we talk. Please advise.
Want To Be a Good Friend but …
Dear WTBAGFB …,
There's something intrinsic to infertility that leads some of its sufferers to believe that nothing else in the world matters but their empty wombs. Every human being under the age of 18—an unavoidable sight on every street corner—is a painful reminder of a perceived failure. In short, I suggest cutting Janelle as much slack as you can muster. If you and the girl gang are going to get together and share potty-training horror stories, by all means leave her out of the loop—no guilt attached. But instead of completely cutting off joyless Janette, why not propose that the two of you do something fun together that has nothing to do with pouring her heart out? Invite her to play miniature golf—or to go see some semi-watchable Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy involving mistaken identities. (Though you might want to avoid the recent one about the turkey baster.)
All this said, I suspect that Janette's misery (and also yours) will be over sooner than you think. If Janette's doctors are even halfway respectable and the IVF isn't taking, they'll steer her in a new direction before she hits her tenth try. At which point Janette will either give up trying to conceive and throw herself into the adoption process. Or—if money is no object—she and the hubbie will hire a surrogate. Or maybe someday soon (i.e., Round 8?), she'll "miraculously" get pregnant.
To be honest, I'm a bit surprised that, assuming the main motivation for IVF is so the docs can "select" undamaged sperm, the process hasn't worked already. (If Janette had fertility challenges of her own—perhaps she's already over 40?—I assume you would have mentioned them.) I'm also somewhat baffled as to why a couple facing that kind of risk would insist on using their own genetic material. But then, the desire to create mini-mes and the concept of reason occupy wholly separate plains of existence.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
My friend "Michelle" and I have known each other since we were little children. Now that we're in our 30s, we both live in the same city again. She used to be thoughtful, kind, and a good friend. But lately, whenever we get together, she rambles for an hour straight about the difficulties of being a professional singer in the theater and of being single. This is less a conversation than a worry dump, as I rarely get a chance to talk. We have also fallen into a pattern where I always pay (because I have a steady income), and she doesn't even say thank you. When it's my "turn" to speak finally, she starts BlackBerry-ing.
What's more, when Michelle comes over, it always feels as if she's there because she wants to use my kitchen to cook for some party with other friends, or because she needs to use my computer, or because she needs a place to stay (she regularly sublets her place to save on rent)—not because she wants to spend time together. I've certainly played a role in this, giving her designer purses that I no longer wear and expensive appliances because I received multiples as wedding gifts and, until recently, letting her stay over. How do I now tell her this dynamic has to change without ruining my oldest friendship?
I've tried being subtle and telling her, for example, after hours of listening to her complain, that deciding between a gig singing with a prestigious company in Europe vs. taking a great full-time office job here in the United States is a good problem to have. But my comments don't even seem to register with her.
Tired of Being Used
I'm surprised that, given the chance, you didn't make a forceful argument in favor of Michelle taking the highly prestigious singing gig in Europe. Would your problems not be solved if she took the next plane to Paris—and stayed there? You could still hang on to the fantasy of her being your "oldest friend in the world" without having to endure either her mooching or her perorating. There's Skype, of course. But you can always click "hang up" and claim a faulty configuration that you really need to get fixed—every time she calls.
Alternately, if you can't convince Michelle to leave for Europe, I suggest you simply stop being such a great friend. Every time she starts a new monologue, tell her you'd love to listen but you have to go pick up your dry cleaning. Every time she invites herself over to make use of your rice pot, tell her that, unfortunately, you're cooking a 10-course meal. And every time she asks to use your computer, tell her your network is down. Eventually, she'll get the message. If and when you see her thumbs making discrete semi-circles in her lap as you try to tell her what's new in your life, fall silent until she stops. Yes, multi-tasking has become commonplace in our culture. That doesn't make it any less rude.
All this said, if Michelle finds a measure of stability in her life, it's possible that she'll resume being an actual friend as opposed to a World Class User. With that hope in mind, I wouldn't end the friendship—just put it on the back burner until further notice.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
I'm concerned that my roommate/best friend, "Gary," is a psychopath. This isn't a conclusion I've arrived at casually. Rather, I've been doing some extensive reading on the subject, and his symptoms match the classic case. I've always known he's a bit narcissistic, but lately he's been referring to himself in a divine way and announcing that he manipulates everyone around him—it's for their own good, he says. Even more concerning, he's been having "visions" during the day that are more vivid than dreams. He also has trouble separating his dreams from reality. Beyond that, he has a history of jobs and relationships ending suddenly and badly, and now he's told me about his personal vendetta against them all.
Most recently, he's claimed that everyone around him has started to turn on him (which I don't see at all). It was this declaration that prompted my research. I've been seeking advice online for the last few days but everything just says to get away. I can't just leave Gary, though—he's like family to me. How can I help my friend without him thinking I'm turning on him? He occasionally has bouts of rage, which I'd like to avoid. Any advice besides "run" would be appreciated. I'm a male reader, by the way.
I'm a writer by trade—not a doctor. So my advice to you centers on the urgent need to get this guy into professional medical hands. Being a Fake Psychologist Par Excellence, however, I'm happy to share my fear that your buddy may be suffering the first stages of schizophrenia with its accompanying delusions of grandeur and paranoia. If you know anyone in Gary's family—or can even come up with a family member's phone number—this is the place to start. Call and say you consider Gary one of your best friends in the world and that you're worried about him. He's been acting erratically lately and saying worrying things, and you feel strongly that he needs medical attention.
If his family refuses to believe you and/or blows you off, you'll have to try and convince Gary yourself. Tell him that you're worried he's not distinguishing between reality and dreams—and that you want to take him to see someone who will help him do so. (For a referral, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness's toll-free help line, 1-800-950-NAMI.) Unfortunately, just as you perceive—and since Gary's paranoia already apparently runs deep—he'll likely interpret your attempts to help him as invasive. Hopefully, he'll be able to thank you later. But even if he doesn't, it's a testament to your worth as a person that, when Gary started acting strangely, you didn't think only of yourself and simply get the hell out of Dodge City. (Keep up the "nice guy" work.)
Friend or Foe