My Ex-Sorority Sister Acts Like a Drunken Toddler
She drinks too much and freaks out if she doesn't get her way. Should I cancel our upcoming vacation?
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,
You have my permission to skip out on what is sure to be the Holiday From Hell—unless, of course, waking up in a gutter is your way of "getting away from it all." You and Anna will always have Greek letters in common, but you needn't have a drinking problem as well. Before you dump her in perpetuity, however, I think you owe it to her as a friend (and "sister") to explain yourself. If I were you, I'd contact the third buddy you were supposed to travel with and, together with this other person, confront alcohol-challenged Annie.
Instead of going nuclear, couch your critique in terms of getting Annie the help she needs. Begin by telling her that you're worried about her—and that having a good time doesn't have to mean getting so drunk that you do and say things you can't remember the next day. Next, tell her that if she doesn't address her problem, she could wind up hurting herself as well as losing the people she cares most about. Finally, break the news that you're cancelling out of the trip—not because you don't care about her but because you do. You don't want to spend your whole vacation stressing about her doing something dangerous. That's not your idea of relaxing. For you, down time means reading juicy novels on the beach.
I take issue with your letter on only one count. From where I sit (hello, 41), the difference between 22 and 27 is pocket change. Though if you mean to imply that things that seemed quasi-acceptable in a frat house don't fly so well in regular houses—which is say, houses that do not have two-day-old vomit on the floor—I'm happy to agree with you there.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
My best friend, "Reece," whom I've known since our stroller days, is relationship dependent. She hasn't been single since she was 15. But this latest guy, "Donald," has somehow turned into a real pain in everyone's ass. He seems to enjoy breaking up with Reece approximately once every two weeks, just to see what happens. Every time, we all try to remind her that this has happened before and that he'll probably want to get back together in a couple days, but she fully believes it's real, every single time. And understandably so: He is really cutting and mean and seems as if he's purposely burning bridges. Why they do get back together is totally beyond all the rest of us. How can we comfort her during those breakup times and still be true to ourselves? Obviously we can't bash him (they'll be back together in a week), and it seems both condescending and risky to say he'll get over whatever it is in a couple days. It's gotten to the point where we feel stupid for saying, "You'll move on and find someone amazing" when we all fully know she's going right back to him in 48 hours.
Stuck in a Break-Up Groundhog Day
We've all been there— that is, we've unthinkingly parroted our friends' fury at their skittish or runaway boyfriends and partners, believing it would help our friends "move on," only to watch the two of them reunite for eternity—and wish we'd swallowed our tongues rather than utter the lines, "Honestly, he's not the brightest bulb out there," "All I know is that you can do way better," or "He has a weird shaped head, anyway."
In your friend's case, however, something makes me think that, one of these times, it's going to end for real—and badly. And so, while I don't usually advocate nosing into others' affairs of the heart, I think you'd be within your rights to say something critical about the guy. Wait until the two are back together again. Then try something along the lines of "Reece, all your friends want is to see you happy. But your relationship with Donald has put us all in a difficult position. It seems as if he breaks up with you for sport, every couple of weeks—and is mean for no reason. And we hate seeing him hurt you. So when you get back together a week later, as you always do, it's hard to be excited for you, because we know he'll just do it again." See what she said. No doubt she'll defend his behavior. But maybe she'll think about it later.
Friend or Foe
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.