I’m guessing that you’re all in academia. As such, I’m dying to know what blackmailing even looks like in the lofty world of scholarship. Did Brooke ruin so-and-so’s chances of securing tenure at Harvard by sending an anonymous email to the chairperson of the search committee, threatening to reveal that her prize-winning account of midwifery in 17th-century Bulgaria was heavily plagiarized? (Or was someone enjoying extramarital relations with the head of the linguistics department who shouldn’t have been?) Whatever the case, my sense is that you’ve gotten yourself overly worked up about this Sarah person who, despite her vindictive and duplicitous streak, is likely not quite the Dr. Evil you make her out to be. Does she really have that much power?
Before you present the prosecution’s case at your private Nuremburg Trial, I’d be inclined to take a chill pill and/or one of those yoga class where you learn how to breathe again—and try to rise above the fray. You have no hard evidence that Sarah is the source of the alleged crimes, and unless she’s caused you particular harm—the details of which you can provide your mutual friend, Brooke—you’ll run the risk of sounding like a paranoid gossip. Moreover, it’s clear that your esteemed colleague has already formed her own judgments about Sarah, and it’s in the positive camp. As such, you’re unlikely to change her mind.
You say that you’re going on the job market this year. If I were you, I’d direct my energies at trying to get myself hired—and Seditious Sarah be damned. Though if you can’t seem to blow off the steam, a few off-handedly catty remarks to Brooke (about Sarah’s proclivities) probably won’t do any harm.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
During my first month at my new college, I met "Lindsey," who had the same major as me, was also a commuter, and had recently transferred as well. We also shared two classes. It seemed like fate that we should be friends. Soon after we met, she began inviting me over to the apartment she shared with her boyfriend. She insisted he meet my boyfriend as well so we could all become "best friends." I found this request strange and even more so when, the following day, she requested a spot as one of my bridesmaids when I get married. I laughed it off—even after she assured me that, the following year when she marries her boyfriend, I'll be a bridesmaid in their big wedding. But it should have been my first red flag. (It wasn't.)
As the semester progressed, Lindsey began calling and texting me constantly. I’d casually mention shows I enjoyed watching and, suddenly, they’d be her favorite shows too—and she’d text me plot points as she watched her way through. On days I worked, she'd text me so much that I'd have to turn off my phone. On school days, she'd start calling in the morning to beg me to skip our shared classes and come over. Near the end of the semester, she must have sensed me pulling away and put on the full-court press. During a Christmas party for one of our classes, she butted into conversations I was having with other classmates until they walked away. Then she’d list why they were a) ugly, b) stupid, c) useless, or d) probably gay—in earshot of them, no less.
Now I want out of this toxic friendship, but Lindsey has fixed her class schedule for the new semester so it matches mine. If I make any alterations, I won't graduate on time. What can I do to put as much distance between myself and her without hurting her and without her hurting me? I’ve seen how those who cross her are subject to verbal abuse on a daily basis; under those conditions, having classes with her for an entire semester would be brutal.
Fearing Wrath of Friend
I have two syllables for you—one is “stalk” and the other is “er.” First and most importantly, you need to change your phone number and disable the old. Then you need to open a brand new gmail account that’s just for family and friends. Thirdly, put your head down and study. Imagine Lindsey is a fly—annoying when it buzzes near your head or lunch, sure, but no one’s ever let the presence of one ruin his/her life.
If Lindsey herself starts ranting and railing, in the politest and vaguest terms tell her you’re really busy with work, school, and other stuff and can’t keep up with all your commitments—you’re so sorry. She’ll be furious and insulted but far less so than if you spell out the truth. Which would be to say, “Lindsey, you are a complete psycho—please leave me alone.” If you’re still feeling stressed, ask your boyfriend to walk you to and from class. If she makes actual threats, you can always file for a restraining order. But my suspicion is that, within the semester, she’ll find a new “insta-bridesmaid” with whom to live out every moment of the emotional roller coaster that is Celebrity Wife Swap. There are lots of lonely people out there in the world. Hopefully for you (not for her NBF), Lindsey will soon meet one.
Friend or Foe