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 Friend or Foe:

My fiancé and I recently moved to a new city and into the same apartment building as his cousins, "Anne," "Jack," and Jack's wife, "Jill." The cousins' friends, "Sue" and "Sam," live across the hall. When we moved in, Jill warned me that Sue was "a wolf in sheep's clothing," but Jack said she was being silly. So I wasn't worried. One evening, over wine with the gang, I asked to see some pictures Sue was showing Anne. In the photos, Sue was wearing a fancy dress next to a guy in a suit. When I asked what it was, she said, "My debutante ball." The only female friend I've had from the South hated her deb ball. Plus, my hipster friends are always holding fake '80s prom nights for laughs. I was also possibly nervous. In any case, my first reaction was to giggle. Also, it didn't occur to me that a woman in her late 20s who owns her own business would be trotting out an old picture of her cotillion.

Sue looked at me, annoyed, and said, "Is there some inside joke? Why did you laugh?" Embarrassed, I said, "So, that's really your debutante ball? I had a friend. …" But she abruptly cut me off and ignored me the rest of the night. And in the two months since, neither Sue, nor Sam, nor Anne has stopped by or contacted us. (Jack and Jill have since moved cities.) Now I'm afraid that Sue thinks I was laughing at her. Or that I'm mean. Sue and Anne are close. So I'm also worried that I ruined my chances at being close to my fiancé's cousin. Should I bring what happened up? Apologize? Ask Anne about it? Pretend nothing happened? Due to shyness, I have trouble making friends. So I was really counting on becoming close to these people. What's more, we all have a lot in common and got along well—until now.

Sincerely,
Debutante Neighbor Hates Me

Dear DNHM,

Lucinda Rosenfeld Lucinda Rosenfeld

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.

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You say you're shy, and I believe you. But is Sue the Prickly Deb really your only friendship prospect in the whole wide city? Isn't there anyone at work? And, if not, what about joining a community group? Or maybe your hipster friends back home know someone you can ironically drop in on while wearing a taffeta number with shoulder pads? You say that you and Sue's gang have a lot in common. But—without knowing your lines of work or outside interests—I'm having trouble coming up with anything you share except a casual friendship with your fiancé's cousins, who have since moved away. (Sorry, that's not much of a connection.)

What's more, if Sue is that thin-skinned about you giggling over an old photo, imagine what she's like when it comes to making memories in the present tense. As for Anne, you don't tell me anything about her except that she's blown you off, too, ostensibly out of loyalty to Sue. Which doesn't speak all that well of her, either. My advice: Be friendly as you need to be to Anne, since she's about to become a member of your extended family, albeit a peripheral one. But let the wind from Sue's dissing direct you to new people. In the meantime, you have your husband to chat with when you get bored. A final note: The ability to laugh at oneself as one appeared at the age of 18 is a great quality. You need to find some new friends who feel the same way.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe 

Dear Friend or Foe,

Two years ago, my best friend "Kali" had a traumatic medical experience in which they thought she might have a brain tumor. But it turned out that hormones were to blame. She was advised to stop taking birth control and get counseling to deal with the mood swings and emotional trauma of her unhelpful parents. Instead she ended up with a psychiatrist who seemed to dole out pain killers and anxiety drugs like candy. During this time, she was also romantically involved with a nice man ("Jim"), who is not her equal mentally. He had already filed for bankruptcy, but treated her like a queen. (Though she paid for everything.) She and Jim wed last year.

Around the same time, she mentioned she was taking more controlled drugs than meth addicts she'd seen on a documentary. After I voiced my concerns, she kicked most of the meds, got divorced, and started feeling good for the first time in a long time. But Jim continued to live in her house. And they continued to go on vacations together, as she said she needed someone to take care of her. (She's a star at work, but says the stress is killing her.) Then she had another health scare which remains undiagnosed.

Instead of dealing with the testing (last time was horrible), she has now run back to the psychiatrist. I live across the country and feel powerless to report the doctor or to intervene regarding Jim (who runs her to the pharmacy for more drugs). Is there anything I can do? I don't want to see Kali ruin her life like this. Once, she was fun, intelligent, eccentric, and artistic. Now, when she comes to visit, she says she feels sick and is "probably dying." I also fear that she's holding onto Jim for fear of being alone, which is not like the person I once knew.

Signed,
Bestie is a Druggie