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?
Here's what you say: nothing. Why? Because even if your intention is to help, Susan is bound to feel reprimanded and patronized—and, as you already experienced, grow defensive and angry. It would be one thing if she'd come to you, complaining that they couldn't afford the wedding. But Susan isn't (yet) at a stage where she recognizes that there's a problem in the way she handles moolah. So consider yourself powerless.
The good news is that Susan is not marrying another irresponsible spendthrift like herself. This also means that she and the fiance will undoubtedly have a major fracas about money in the near future, if they haven't already done so. That might be a positive development, as well. It sounds as if your friend needs someone to talk straight to her about what is and is not possible while living on one salary and unemployment checks. And who better to do the deed than her future-husband, with whom she'll presumably be sharing a bank account?
Here's something you can do to help, however: Make budget-conscious suggestions regarding the wedding. For instance, send her a link to a beautiful (second hand) bridal dress you just happened to come across on eBay in just her size.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
I have two co-workers, "Sonia" and "Eric," with whom I usually take breaks and lunch. We all live within minutes of each other as well. Once a month, "Sonia" and I like to double date with our significant others. Numerous times, we've invited Eric and his wife to join us. But every time we ask, we seem to get the cold shoulder, or he says they can't afford it. Sonia and I have even invited him to nights where we just get a pizza or make dinner and bring movies that we already own to each other's houses. But he still says no. However, I once made the mistake of skipping inviting Eric, and he explained that he was hurt by that.
Recently, Sonia and I organized a date night to the local bowling alley. But when we asked Eric if he and his wife wanted to go, he said they only had $20 to their names until payday. Come Monday, however, when asked about his weekend by another co-worker, he said that they went out to dinner and bowling with his best friends. I'm no genius, but I don't think $20 went THAT far. At that point, I admit, I was was irritated. Why couldn't he just say he already had plans? And do you think Sonia and I are asking too much and being pushy? Maybe joining us for a date night is not what he and his wife want to do. Or is there more to the story?
Well, nearly everything you describe suggests that Eric digs hanging out with you and Sonia on the job but doesn't want to continue the friendship outside the office. Or maybe it's his wife who puts the kibosh on chilling with couples she feels she doesn't know well. (In many marriages, it's the female half who organizes the couple's social life.) She could also be jealous that her hubby has gotten so close to other females. In any case, I think you and Sonia need to accept that Eric is a "work friend" who—while providing companionship and camaraderie during the day—will never translate into the outside world. The only question is why Eric continues to want to be invited to your evenings out.
Given the inconsistency here, I think you'd be within your rights to ask him yourself. Tell him that you don't want to put him on the spot, but you've noticed that he always turns down your and Sonia's invitations—but then he also seems to want to continue being invited. What gives? Does he still want you to invite him? (You won't be hurt if he says no.) I suspect he'll mutter something about his wife making other plans. I also suspect that this has nothing to do with money (as evidenced by his bowling and dinner date with other friends). The $20 line is probably just a cover. A bummer, maybe, but it doesn't sound as if you lack for company after work.
Friend or Foe
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