Dear Friend or Foe,
I've known "Michelle" for three years, but we only became close in the last year. We're also the only two single girls left in our group. By default, we spend a lot of time together. Over the last two months I've found myself incredibly annoyed by everything she does and says, to the point where I become stressed and upset when I spend time with her. Not only does Michelle boss me around, but she makes snide remarks to me that she doesn't make to our other friends. Sometimes I call her out on it. Other times, I'm so shocked by what has come out of her mouth that I say nothing.
It all came to a head a month ago when we traveled together to a friend's wedding out of town. From the constant analysis of the dysfunctional texts her "boyfriend" sent, to the comments about how good she looked in her dress and how unattractive I looked in mine, I was ready to punch her. She also insisted I not let her eat french fries after midnight. So when she tried to drunkenly order them at 2:30 a.m., I reminded her of her own rule. Her reaction? She took my head off. At another point, she talked nonstop for 20 minutes about how cool she was in high school. (I muttered a few, "Oh really's" at various intervals.)
I probably would have written Michelle off long ago if it weren't for our large circle of mutual friends; my lack of other girl friend options right now; and the fact that she has a good heart. Last fall, I suffered a medical scare and had to go to the hospital multiple times for MRIs, spinal taps, and other tests. Michelle was the only person who offered to accompany me: She drove me to the hospital, held my hand through the procedures, and took care of me at home after. She never expected anything in return and simply did it because that's what friends do. So ending the friendship seems extreme. But if I keep hanging out with her, I might explode. How do you suggest I make a change in this friendship?
High Maintenance Friend Wearing Me Down
Well, I was about to suggest you leave Michelle to monitor her own french fry consumption in perpetuity. But your description of her selfless behavior during your medical scare made me reconsider. Your so-called tormentor was also the only one of your friends to volunteer to accompany you to the hospital? It sounds to me like Michelle is, in fact, your bff—though you don't describe her as such—and you need at least to try to repair this relationship before you relegate it to the dump.
Here are some ideas: Next time Michelle starts talking about how unattractive you look in your dress, instead of mumbling, "Oh really," tell her right then and there that it really hurts your feelings when she says things like that. And when she starts reminiscing about her glory day as prom queen, cut her off midsentence with a declaration of how much you hated high school and how glad you are that you're all grown up now. As for the french fry incident, in Michelle's defense, no one likes to be told what to eat. It's true that she asked you to follow her rule. Your mistake was not to tell her on the spot that you don't feel comfortable monitoring her calorie intake. And finally, when Michelle begins to go on and on (and on) about herself, try jumping in with, "So, anyway, back to me. …" (Maybe she'll get the picture.)
If after a month of intervention, there's no change in Michelle's behavior, you have my permission to slowly slip away. But give her a chance to be less annoying. A friend who's there for you in a crisis is not someone you should toss aside casually. It's also possible that Michelle feels resentful that your other friends have abandoned her for coupledom and she's taking it out on you.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
For as long as I've known my friend "Susan," she's been terrible with money. We met on the job 20 years ago when we were both just out of college. We got paid about the same paltry amount. I got by all right, but she was always broke. Years and other jobs later, it's the same story. She spends money on house wares, clothes, restaurants, CDs and DVDs, and the latest electronic gadgets. When a setback happens, such as a big car repair, she quickly goes broke. She's borrowed money from her parents and siblings, which has created a lot of stress. She has also tried get-rich-quick schemes.
A couple of years ago, Susan lost her job and moved in with her boyfriend (now fiance), who has a good job and a small apartment. She's still collecting unemployment and going to school full time. Yet the poor judgment about money continues. The last time we got together, she was full of excitement about the wedding and laid out some elaborate plans. Who's paying, I wondered? I hinted that maybe they should scale things back, and Susan started to get defensive.
I can tell this is an issue with her fiance as well. She has repeatedly bemoaned to me her fiance's small apartment and how overstuffed it is—while he's sitting right there. Then she mentions that she'd like to get more stuff. Her fiance gently reminds her they can't handle new purchases right now. I worry that a big blow-out is imminent, both with him and with her family, over the wedding. And if not the wedding, what about the future (i.e., house and kids)? How do I bring up this issue gracefully and without upsetting her—and what do I say?