Addicted friends, debutantes, babysitting woes—Friend or Foe offers advice at Slate.

Advice on sticky friendship dilemmas.
May 3 2011 6:59 AM

The Case of the Prickly Debutante

Did I ruin a potential friendship because I laughed at photos from her teenage cotillion?

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Dear BIAD,

Your friend Kali may indeed have had a health scare. But she seems mainly to be suffering from some kind of mental disorder in which she imagines herself to be sicker than she actually is—in order to justify the desire for pain killers and other escapist and addictive drugs. Little surprise that she won't kick out Jim, as he functions as her round-the-clock nursemaid/enabler/hanger-on, giving truth to her lie. I also wouldn't be surprised to learn that, in exchange for his pharmacy runs, he helps himself to the spill-off, pocketing whatever pills or cash he can. Also, when you say that "they" thought she had a brain tumor, who exactly is they? (Likely, Kali and Jim.) Doctors routinely give brain scans to those who come in suffering from chronic headaches, weak limbs, blurred visions, and other such symptoms. To receive one of these tests is not to be told, in so many words, that you're dying—unless this is the message you hope to hear.

Someone needs to uncover why your friend doesn't actually want to be well or to stand on her own two feet. If you want to try and be that person (again), go for it. Though I wouldn't expect any magical results. If you're really motivated, I also don't see why you can't call Kali's shrink and, as a worried friend, voice your concerns. (At the worst, he'll thank you and hang up.) But sometimes the oft-used expressions say it best—in this case, there's only so much you can do.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,

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My good friend "Denise" is pregnant with her first. I'm pregnant with my second and am essentially a stay-at-home mom—though I work up to 14 hours weekly at a low-key, mellow job that I genuinely enjoy. I plan to take a break for a month when my baby is born. Denise is currently working full-time at a high-earning, intense job that caters nicely to her driven, ambitious nature—and will also take a month of maternity leave. Since becoming pregnant, at every instance we talk, she proposes that I be her baby's nanny when she returns to work. I know she's worried that childcare is incredibly expensive. But I don't want to watch her baby and, at every turn, have deflected her offer. She, in turn, won't let it go.

"I'll pay you better than your job," she promises. And, "You're going to be home anyway," and "I want our babies to be friends from the beginning," and "You won't want to go back to work." She also argues that her baby will probably just sleep most of the day, so it won't be hard, and that she would do it for me. With every new argument, I grow more insulted and more convinced that Denise doesn't take my time or the direction I've chosen as seriously as her own. She also seems clueless about how much work it is to raise a baby. The problem is—I know Denise will be deeply hurt if I tell her (again) that I can't take care of another person's infant, too, no matter how close I am to his or her mother. What should I do? I'm more than happy to sit on occasion, so she and her "fella" can have the night off. But just the thought of my house filled with two bawling infants and my own energetic young child makes me antsy.

Sincerely, 
Nanny Not For Hire

Dear NNFH,

If Denise would do it for you, why doesn't she? This seems to me to be the perfect retort to her nagging. Tell her you're thinking of going back to full-time work yourself next year—and maybe you can cut a deal by which you cover the first six months in yours babies' lives, and she does the second. (Make you a bet she has a really good excuse.) Here's another idea: Try the four simple words, "Not going to happen." If she's "hurt," too bad. But really, what she's asking is simply way beyond the call of friendship. Nor is it even a good idea. Find me someone who thinks asking for overtime or vacation pay from their B.F.F. would be a fun conversation.

If I still haven't convinced you to stop worrying about Denise's feelings, you could also go with something along these lines: "Denise, I really can't handle three kids under three. I'm sorry." And, "It's making me really uncomfortable the way you keep bringing this up, since I've already said I can't do it. As you'll soon find out, it's totally exhausting and consuming taking care of an infant. You think they sleep all day, but they actually don't." Then hand her a list of local daycare agencies and their contact info.

Good luck with baby No. 2!

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

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