Dear Friend or Foe,
For the past six months, I’ve been letting my roommate and best friend since middle school—“Deirdre” —drive my car to work every day. She’s a single mother with no help from her 5-year-old's deadbeat dad. Plus, she has no other way to get to work. (I can easily ride the bus to my job.) However, I’ve tried getting my car back a few times, only to be told that she'll lose her job and has no other way to get there. Other times, she tells me she can't wait to get fired and sometimes doesn’t show up for work, which makes me angry. I recently found out that Deirdre’s new boyfriend (of three months) introduced her to cocaine. We’ve both lost friends to drug abuse. Deirdre has even seen her own brother go through the recovery-and-relapse cycle, over and over again. I told her that I disagree with what she’s doing and that she’s never allowed to use it near me or in the house. I also said that if I found out she had it around her kid, I'd call Child Protective Services.
Last week, I threw a mutual friend's birthday party at our favorite bar, and I invited Deirdre. I walked into the ladies’ room and found her and her boyfriend running into a stall together. I laughed and said they better not have sex in there. As I was leaving she said, “No, we're about to do a bump. Do you want some?” I blew up, saying that I’m not friends with junkies and that I don’t want to live with them, either. Now I don’t know what to do. If I move out, I'd be leaving both Deirdre and her daughter homeless and carless. (She can’t afford the rent herself.) However, I feel as if I’ve sacrificed a LOT for her and it’s not OK that she can’t heed this one request. I also feel hurt, betrayed, and angry. All she’s said is that she wants me to apologize for calling her a junkie.
Blissfully Ignorant (Till Recently)
OK, I agree that having a roommate who’s a single mother with a coke habit (who won’t let you use your own car) is far from ideal. And yes, you’ve sacrificed WAY more than any roommate should have to sacrifice. But if you want to get technical, Deirdre agreed that she wouldn’t do coke in the house or near her child, and she lived up to that part of the promise. I’m not condoning the habit. But I’m also not convinced that the 3B’s incident—by which I mean, doing Blow with the Boyfriend in the Bathroom—should represent the final straw. What if you make it a “final warning” instead? You two have been friends since you were kids. And no one wants to be responsible for sending a 5-year-old and her mom to a shelter.
If I were you, I’d sit Deirdre down and tell her that you’re sorry for calling her a junkie. You were upset when you said it. You don’t want to see her mess up her life. You don’t expect perfection. You also know how hard it is being a single mother. But since you share a home, her life affects yours. And there’s only so much messing up you can handle. To that effect, if you ever see her “bumping” again, you’re packing your bags. (Also, you wouldn’t mind being able to drive to the mall once in a while.)
That said, if you’ve outgrown Deirdre and her semi-functional lifestyle, you have every right to jump ship. In that case, I’d explore a back up living arrangement for Deirdre. Does she have a parent or other close relative she and her daughter could live with for a while? While the child is not ultimately your responsibility, I think you’ll feel better about leaving if you know that Deirdre has reinforcements.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
My best friend—“Tilda”—has always been mildly anxious, obsessive, and hypochondriacal, but she's recently gone off the deep end. She thinks she has HIV. A few months ago, she slept with someone and used protection, but she assumes she contracted the disease anyway because she was tipsy and might have messed up the contraception. Her sex partner was a semi-professional athlete who has frequent and thorough health screenings. He also assured her he's been tested for STDs. But she constantly checks for symptoms, "researches" the disease on the Internet, and "confirms" her worst fears by worrying herself into becoming sick. Then she concocts scenarios in which she has to tell her parents she's dying of AIDS. The fear makes it hard to eat or sleep.
This has happened before. A year and a half ago, she had a similar (safe) encounter and spent six months obsessing. She rejected a negative HIV test at three months, saying it was too early to be accurate, then rejected a second negative test at six months, saying the nurses botched the job. After more than a year, she relaxed. I don't know if either of us can handle another six months of this, but I don't know what else can be done. Her doctors tell her she's fine, and I finally convinced her to go to a counselor. But it only helps for a day or so after her sessions. Then, she reverts. She also said her medical plan only covers a limited number of sessions. I love Tilda even when she's being a lunatic, but this isn’t healthy for either of us. Any suggestions?
Exhausted by a Hypochondriac
Well, let’s look at it backward. Instead of seeing the hypochondria as the problem, what if it’s the solution to some other internal conflict that she can’t seem to resolve? Maybe Tilda suffers from deep feelings of shame about her sexuality, and believing she’s contracted AIDS absolves some of the guilt, allowing her to feel appropriately punished. Or maybe her real fears have nothing to do with sex and imagining that she’s contracted the disease is a great and welcome distraction from some other, far more realistic worry. Alternately, do Tilda’s neuroses extend to other areas (i.e., does she think that every mosquito that bites her is carrying malaria)? In any case, I think your buddy needs a shrink who can actually medicate her—benzos, anyone?—since this sounds above and beyond your average garden-variety neurosis. If you want to be a real friend, get her some numbers and names.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
I coach an after-school activity in Manhattan. One 8-year-old I oversee—“June”—has all the makings of a mean girl. She gossips with another girl about kids who aren't there. She tells me about things she finds "shocking," clearly seeking adult disapproval. When a new foreign language-speaking student arrived at her tony private girls’ school, she and her friend expressed horror that this girl said the F-word in her native language, an accusation that I doubt was even true. She also seems hypersensitive about fairness. We have some smaller kids who participate in the activity I coach, and we move them around so groups are disadvantaged equally over time. When June sees that she’ll be with one of these kids, she gets very angry and either whines or demands to have the kid moved. (None of the other kids complain.) I've explained to June that, this way, everyone wins and loses. More generally, I avoid rising to the bait when she tries to get me to sympathize with one of her positions. But I don’t see an hour a week with me influencing her behavior. Nor does she come with her mother (or even baby-sitter). So there’s no one else I can talk to about her behavior.
My real fear is that June is neither well-off nor attractive enough to make it as a mean girl in Manhattan once she hits middle school. (The kids at this school are 10 or 5 percenters, not 1 percenters.) And while she's a totally cute kid, she’s chubby with freckles and in need of braces. I'm sure she'll be pretty, but she's not going to be Grace Kelly. I worry that when she gets to the "big leagues" she’ll either be crushed or engage in risky/self-destructive behavior to make up for not being perfect. Although responsibility for her well-being clearly rests with her parents and teachers, I feel that if I ignore her tendencies I'm doing June a disservice. Moreover, some adult is clearly encouraging the behavior—and I suspect it’s her parents. Should I confront them? Or should I just keep trying to get June to behave better while she's with me?
At a Loss
I’m afraid I’m at a loss too—as to what your point is. First, you express horror that this brat you coach has the makings of a mini Eva Peron. (Fair enough.) But then, in the second paragraph, you express worry that she’s not going to make it in the Big League of Bitchy Girldom?? You then go on to conclude that, should such a fall from grace occur, June might end up harming herself or suffering permanent psychological damage? Maybe it’s just me, but I’m way more concerned about the mental health of that foreign language speaker—never mind, those undersized kids with the audacity to do extracurriculars—whose fate it was to end up at a school filled with privileged little know-it-alls like, well, June. (Sorry, 5 percenters still count as rich in my book.)
You don’t say what the activity you coach is. But I suggest taking a day off practice and exposing all your pupils to the real meaning of “unfair.” Take them to see a housing project, or, even just a public school! As for dealing with June herself, I don’t think it’s your job to approach her parents about her petty complaints and righteous tone. Instead, I’d keep offering my two cents (about tolerance) in a loud and clear voice. Who knows—maybe a kernel of something you say will spring to mind next time she’s about to rag on someone who doesn’t look or sound like her. In any case, should your prediction come true—and June ends up getting tossed out of the “inner circle” of Gossip Girls for having thick ankles and freckles—it seems to me that it might actually do her some good to find out what it’s like to feel victimized and/or left out.
Friend or Foe