My Friend Won’t Shut Up About Her Kids. What Can I Do?

Advice on sticky friendship dilemmas.
Nov. 15 2011 7:09 AM

My Friend Won’t Shut Up About Her Kids

She used to discuss other topics, but no longer. Can I stop listening?

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Dear IW,
I think it’s too late, and you should give up your Pygmalion fantasies of turning Candace into a  functional member of society. From what you’ve described, the woman’s problems go way, way beyond laziness. (The hoarding tendency is the tip-off.) Instead, I suspect she suffers from some form of mental illness that makes her able to exist outside of an institution but only by a thread. You clearly see Candace’s mother as enabling her dependence. But it may be that her mother knows better and is supporting Candace precisely because she suspects that, left to her own devices, her daughter would be on the street. More to the point, it sounds as if you’ve already tried to get Candace to seek employment or some other form of livelihood—and have gotten nowhere. She’s also in her late 40s and hasn’t done a single day’s work in the 10 years you’ve known her. What makes you and your friends think that the 11th year will be the charm?

Candace is right about one thing. She’s probably not even hireable at this point. Having a skill set is one thing. Showing up, clean and on time and day after day, is another. It’s not clear to me Candace is capable of either.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

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Dear Friend or Foe,
My friend” Hilda” has always been a little bit of a gossip, but two years ago she crossed a line and made me wonder, “Gee, what does she say about me behind my back?” I told her I had trust issues concerning her and explained why I was backing off. But she said “I'm not like that anymore, I'm a trustworthy person.” Fast forward to eight months ago, when her live-in boyfriend of 13 years broke up with her and asked her to move out. Two months later, she took up with a married man who has since left his wife and children to be with her. I’ll be the first to admit that I feel judgmental and concerned about her choices. And I expressed my concern for her well-being over lunch. But she blew it off and explained that “things are better than ever.”

Over the next few months, her behavior was so erratic and impulsive that I avoided her. She was eager to push her married boyfriend on everyone. And, quite frankly, my husband and I had no desire to meet him and forge a friendship. After a month went by with no contact, she called to    say that she hasn't been to work in three weeks due to a mental breakdown. She's been in outpatient therapy at a psychiatric facility and explained that her breakdown was the reason she’d been behaving strangely. I feel some level of compassion about her mental health issues. But I don’t believe this breakdown came out of thin air. I believe a lot of her life choices led to this. How do I explain that I’m no longer interested in continuing the level of friendship that we once had? To be honest, I have no guilt about ending this friendship as I feel I have nothing left to offer.

Sincerely,
I'm Over It

Dear IOI,
Well, if you have no guilt about ending it, why not just tell her to go to hell? But then, I suspect you care more than you’re letting on, or you wouldn’t have written asking me for advice about how to dump the woman. Which is to say, I think what you’re really looking for is permission to cut bait. Here’s what I think: You’re combining apples with oranges. First, you say Hilda is a gossip who, you suspect, talks about you and other supposed friends behind your back. (Fair gripe if true.) Then you say Hilda got dumped by her de facto husband of over a decade and, on the rebound, hooked up with a married guy and then had a mental breakdown—which proves just how untrustworthy she is. But Hilda’s personal problems, even if they involve home-wrecking, do not make her an “untrustworthy person.” They make her a person who has suffered serious personal setbacks that caused her to make some stupid decisions and ultimately put her in the hospital.

Which leads me to my next point: You seem to be blaming the woman for having a breakdown. (As if having one were a choice one makes simply to be selfish and annoying!) Bottom line: Ditch Hilda because you don’t enjoy her company, don’t support her choices, and can’t deal with the drama anymore. But if you do so, please exercise a little compassion. What about just being busy when she calls? The last thing the woman needs right now is for an old friend to sit her down and tell her she’s a lying piece of crud.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

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