My Friend Treats Me Like I’m Her Therapist

Advice on sticky friendship dilemmas.
Dec. 13 2011 6:34 AM

My Friend Treats Me Like I’m Her Therapist

And I’m sick of it.

Friend_Or_Foe_standingIllo

Illustration by Jason Raish.

Dear Friend or Foe,

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.

I’ve known my best friend “Dahlia” since we were freshmen in high school, which was eight years ago. I love her dearly; our friendship has been one of the most important relationships of my life. However, over the last couple of years she’s become a completely different person from the one I befriended. Namely, she seems to have developed psychological problems. In truth, I’m not surprised since she comes from a troubled home with a severely bipolar mother and sexually abusive stepfather. While I’m perfectly open to her expressing her emotions about these and other issues in her life (her horrible relationships, money problems, etc.), ALL she ever talks about are these topics. I no longer feel that I’m her friend, but her therapist.

Our greatest shared hobby is choir. At a concert a few months ago, Dahlia completely lost it and started acting a lot like her mother. She was in an advanced manic state, yelling at people, pacing around the room pre-concert, and rocking back and forth when she had to sit. She was also talking nonsense. It was horrible. Since then I’ve been avoiding her, not because I don’t like her anymore, but because I feel hopeless. Several times, I’ve suggested she get professional help and she agrees. Then, the next time I talk to her, she says she doesn’t really need it. I don’t want to lose the friend I had but it’s emotionally exhausting being there for her. Plus, I’m not getting any pleasure out of the relationship, anymore. For the record, I don’t believe she’s a danger to herself or anyone else during either her manic or depressive states. What should I do?

Sincerely,
I Need a Friend, Not a Patient

Dear INAFNAP,

Nearly all of us are guilty at one time or another of using our friends as free therapists. Who wants to spend the money—or leave the house—when you can corner your old buddy who already knows the back story, right on your living room couch? So I’m not going to tell you that Dahlia deserves to be banished to Friendship Siberia for the crime of leaning too heavily on your shoulder. Moreover, if all you say is true, especially regarding the molester stepfather, she’s been dealt a lousy deck of cards in life. It’s all about degrees here. If the misery and myopia on her part is constant, then you’re going to have to keep repeating your own mantra (i.e. “You Need Professional Help!”) until she complies.

I suspect that a good part of the reason that people who need psychological assistance don’t seek it is that they don’t actually know whom to call (or how to pay). If you want to be a real friend, find out what kind of insurance Dahlia has and do the ground work for her, ascertaining what, if any, benefits she’s entitled to and whether her HMO has in-network psychotherapists or social workers. If she doesn’t have insurance, many hospitals offer sliding-scale payment options for people in need like Dahlia. That way, the next time you sit her down, you can hand her a piece of paper with an actual name and number on it—and deprive her of any more excuses. Good luck and keep the Hallelujah’s coming.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,

I've lived in a number of different places before, some overseas, and never had any problems making friends. When I moved to a medium-sized city a couple of years ago with my husband, I took it for granted that it was only a matter of time before I built up a similar network.
Well, it's been three years and I've made only two friends, neither of whom is close. I've attributed it to not meeting the right people. Besides being married, I also work from home, and I guess I'm a tomboy. So my hobbies tend to end up as couples' trips—backpacking, rock climbing, hiking with dogs. I've tried Craigslist ads, talking to people at the gym, and hanging out with the wives and girlfriends of my husband's co-workers. Everyone is nice at first, but nothing ever pans out. Whenever we go to parties, I participate in conversations and have fun, but I'm never "one of the girls" or invited to "girls' nights." I've shown up to functions without my husband twice, and both times spent the whole time answering questions about where he was.

I'm starting to think that I might be mean, or socially awkward, or insecure, or that there's something about me that turns off possible girlfriends—even though my girlfriends assure me (long-distance) that there's absolutely nothing wrong with me. Am I really abrasive? Are my skirts too short? Even if there was something wrong with me, how do I find out what it is and how to fix it?

Sincerely,
Still Looking For Friends

Dear SLFF,

Well, are you really abrasive? Only you know—and I suspect you have more of a hunch than you’re letting on. (I, of one, hear bells going off when I’m being a huge bitch.) But it seems to me just as likely that you’re not sending out the right signals. Friend-making, just like mate-attracting, requires that we make ourselves seem available to outsiders’ advances. Maybe you’re sending out self-sufficiency vibes instead? Another possibility is that you’re only meeting girly-girl type women, who immediately and correctly perceive that their invitations to ladies’ lunches and mani-pedi parties will be met with horrified stares. To that effect, what about joining a club for outdoorsy types like yourself, or even just taking a class in a related field like rappelling? Also, maybe you can deepen the bonds between you and your two new (casual) girl friends by inviting them on an outing or expedition? There’s nothing like getting attacked by insects/lost in the wilderness with no cellphone reception to cement lasting memories. Alternately, invite them to a party at your house and encourage them to bring friends. Here’s another idea: what about pursuing platonic male friends? We’re all grown-ups here—right?

All this said, I admit that that “short skirts” line at the end of your letter threw me. Here I was imagining you in head to toe Polartec. Is this your one ode to girliness? If so, cute! And I sincerely doubt other women are rejecting you because your hem-lines are wrong—unless, of course, you regularly flirt with their husbands (a fourth possibility). Only you know the answer to that one, too …

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,

Shortly after my partner “Denise” and I first started dating three years ago, she introduced me to one of her close friends, "Bunny." At the time, I thought Bunny was insecure and a little paranoid. But in my starry-eyed, newly-in-love state, I was able to overlook her flaws. As my relationship with Denise progressed, Bunny and her husband became mainstays in our lives. I still find her annoying, but in the name of relationship harmony I keep our interactions cordial, if short. I’ve also mostly kept my opinion of Bunny to myself (although Denise knows I’m not her biggest fan).

Later this month, my partner is celebrating a milestone birthday, and I'm throwing her an intimate but fancy party. We discussed the party details with Bunny on numerous occasions and sent her a "save the date" card about a month ago. Two weeks ago, I sent out the actual party invitations but inadvertently neglected to stick a couple, including Bunny's, in the mail. (They got stuck on something at the bottom of my briefcase.) Last week, I realized that the invites hadn't gone out on schedule, and I popped them in the mail and also sent an apology email to those who hadn't received them yet. Bunny emailed me back saying that, since she hadn't heard from me about the final details, she and her husband had arranged to go out of town the weekend of the party. She also mentioned that she'd heard from another person (who isn’t invited) that the party had been canceled.

I know Denise will be sorely hurt that Bunny is missing the event. I also realize I'm partly to blame, since I mishandled the invitation mailing. But I’m angry that Bunny didn't bother to check what was going before she made other plans. Nor is this the first time something like this has happened. Bunny usually RSVPs in the positive, then cancels at the last minute, often for reasons that seem trivial. Should I confront her about her rude and inconsiderate behavior? Should I let Denise know that I'm ready to end the friendship or try to salvage it for Denise’s sake? I'm the one who ends up consoling my nonconfrontational partner when she’s disappointed, since she’ll never say anything to Bunny!

Sincerely,
Sick of Partner's Rude Friend

Dear SOPRF,

Talk about Freudian slips. (Stuck at the bottom of your briefcase—really? Like stuck in your copy of The Book of Black Magic?) It sounds to me as if Bunny may have as many issues with you as you have with her. In my book, a “save the date” card is as good as an invitation. Nor do I think that a proper invite sent out a week before the date is so very amiss. The “friend who told her it was canceled” line sounds like another oblique and undermining dig at your best efforts at Martha Stewart-ing. I’d also wager a guess that Bunny isn’t as good a friend to Denise as Denise would like to imagine. In friendship as in love, chronic cancellations are usually a good indication that the other person just isn’t feeling it—unless the cancellations are only a way of sabotaging your best-made plans (i.e. she has a particular problem with you). I think you need to find out.

Tell Bunny just what you told me—that you really wish she’d checked in with you before she made plans to go away for the weekend and that Denise is going to be really hurt she’s not there. Is there any way she could move her weekend plans back? Moreover, you feel like she’s always canceling out of invitations you extend to her. Is there something else going on? Have you offended her in some way? See what she says. If she refuses to give an inch, I think you’d be in your right mind to tell Denise what you really think of her old pal. Feel free to add the opinion that a good friend wouldn’t casually blow off a milestone birthday party, so maybe Bunny isn’t the best buddy that Denise thinks she is. Maybe the real question here is why Denise cares so much.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe