Dear Friend or Foe,
My friends "Bill" and "Carl" are part of the same social group. Bill is irreverent and talks smack almost constantly. I've never been bothered by it, even when he targets me, because nothing he says has ever felt like an actual insult. Carl is almost as irreverent and is very quick with a friendly verbal takedown. In one of our group emails, he told a guy who hadn't joined us the previous night that we'd all discussed whether he was gay. He also claimed there had been a vote. As with Bill, when Carl "targets" me, it doesn't bother me, and usually I forget about it just as quickly.
A few months ago, another friend from the group, "Alan," called me because Carl told him he was offended by Bill's behavior. I was shocked because I hadn't detected Carl's displeasure, but I agreed to speak with Bill. When I did, Bill was taken aback and agreed to tone it down. And he did. But it seemed as if Carl became more aggressive afterward, ridiculing Bill in our email discussions. Then, over July 4th weekend, I invited all my friends to join my visiting family for fireworks. Carl asked who would be there, and when I said Bill would probably show up, Carl said, "No offense, but I can't hang out with Bill anymore. If I keep hanging out with him, eventually we're going to fight. Why don't you come over and hang out with the rest of us instead?" After a second invitation from Carl, I responded that I was going to relax with my family. His response was "OK, your choice."
After that, I canvassed others to see if they, too, were offended by Bill—and no one was. Even Alan confirmed that he doesn't have any issue with Bill's behavior; that Carl was taking things too seriously; that Carl consistently engages in the same kind of trash-talking that he dislikes in Bill; and that Bill could crush Carl should Carl start a fight. We also agreed that Carl's implied ultimatum threatens our upcoming charter-boat fishing trip and was out of line. But I know Alan considers Carl a closer friend than Bill (Carl was best man at Alan's wedding). They're also neighbors. So it's not inconceivable that Alan would reduce his contact with Bill, even to the point of excluding Bill from group events. I don't want to have to choose between Carl and Bill or otherwise prevent Bill from knowing about events to which he's not invited. Nor do I want Alan to exclude me because I'm friends with Bill! What should I do?
Caught in the Middle
Well, it's good to know that, for grown men, just as for grown women, high school never really ended. Though when women fight, their mutual friends don't usually come to the conclusion that one could crush the other's skull with her bare fists should things get really heated.
Here's the thing about Bill. He sounds like a dick. And here's the thing about Carl. He sounds like an even bigger dick—as well as a sensitive one with a manipulative streak. You invite the guy over to watch fireworks with your family. He declines the invitation, then guilts you for not abandoning your own flesh and blood to watch the spectacle at his place? Not cool. That said, I don't think you can be angry at him for not wanting to hang out with Bill anymore. Really, it's his business—unless, of course, he expects you to turn in your fishing rod and start excluding Bill, as well.
As for the possibility of the group splintering into two factions—i.e., Carl and Alan vs. Bill and everyone else—why don't you deal with it if and when it happens. In the meantime, hang out separately with Alan and Carl, or Bill and the others. If questions arise, say you refuse to choose sides. A final note: You seem to want me to agree that both Carl and Bill's trash talking is harmless banter. Since I'm not a guy, I'm not as familiar as I might be with the nuances of male-to-male victimizing. But the fact that you don't take any of their comments to heart is not necessarily a sign that it's benign. It might just as easily be evidence that A) you're a supremely confident guy; or B) you were teased mercilessly as a child and have long since internalized the ridicule.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
"Anna" and I were sorority sisters in college, and we ended up in the same city after graduating. We're 27 now. We've had a lot of great times together, and she's a loyal and good friend. But this year, she has started having temper tantrums while she's drunk (on vacation, at concerts, at bars, etc.). She acts like a 5-year-old when things don't go her way or she's not getting enough attention. She also makes comments about how if I don't get totally wasted then I'm not having fun. It's getting really annoying. I mean, we aren't 22, anymore!
Things came to a head this past weekend when I left her party early to go see another friend on her birthday. Later, she sent me a text that said "I think you are a shitty friend." I called her out on it a few days later (after receiving no apology), and she said how sorry she was but that she didn't remember sending it. Though she remembers being drunk and upset about issues with other friends. Her response didn't make me feel better.
We're supposed to go on vacation in a few weeks along with another friend, and I really just want to bail because I know she's going to want to get wasted every night we're there, which will no doubt result in more drunken/emotional outbursts and drama. Is there any good way for me to get out of the trip and dump her as a friend? Or am I being too harsh? I'm just so tired of having to walk on eggshells around her and also her judging me for wanting to live my life.
The Sisterhood Is Dead,