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15 May 2007

Friends can be such a pain, sometimes...Long, possibly ranting story inside [More:]I've had a friend, "Vicky" for over 22 years. Vicky's always been a meme-whatever she wants, she has to get her way. We started off as the girlfriends of two best friends, so the four of us always hung around together. We've all gone on to marry other people, but we all still remain friends through the years. Vicky used to swear she'd be married by 25, but didn't meet the right guy until she was in her 30's. They had a daughter, then a son (which took negotiations as her husband "Pete" would have been happy with one child). Then she called last fall to tell me she was pregnant with #3. That she had threatened, literally threatened, her husband to give her one more baby. She told him that "he owed her" because he had been unemployed for the previous year and a half. I went with her to an early ultrasound because he didn't want to take too much time off from his new job, and they'd seen something strange on the first ultrasound and so sent her to a specialist. She lives an hour from me.

Life has been a bit rough lately for us. My father-in-law's illness has been taking a toll. Still, when Vicky called and asked us to help her move her childrens' playroom from one area to another, so they could bring down the office upstairs and make that room their son's room, we went. Well, not only did she expect us to move a ridiculous amount of toys (which she complained all the time that the parts weren't kept together - her nanny's idea of picking up toys is to sweep them in a pile and toss them in bins or wherever), she expected us to help rip down the walls in the former playroom because she wanted her husband to put doors in so they could lock the family office. Then she gestured to the eight bags - bags! of baby clothes on the floor of the dining room and said maybe I could come back on one of my days off and help her go through them and sort them by size and gender. While my husband and I are moving toys, and then ripping out sheetrock, she and her husband are "planning" in another room! I felt like a hired hand. It's not the first time. We left after 1 because we had to pick up our daughter from work.

She called me about three weeks ago, on a Sunday. Crying. Hysterical. Pete was not finished with the room, she was supposed to be handling the kids but they were acting up (they are 2 and 4) and he simply HAD to work on the house stuff. She'd called family members and other friends and everyone had things to do. Well, so did I. We were in the middle of our spring cleanup, mulching, planting, edging, and constructing a new shed. We were dirty, and we still had things to do. So while I gave her as much emotional support as I could, I did not drop everything to rush to her side.

Well, I called her yesterday, to see how she was doing. I got a chilly reception. She told me that I haven't been there enough for her. That apparantly when she was having a break down, my flower beds were more important than she was. So I came back with the thought that she didn't want emotional support - what she wanted from that phone call was someone to come take over watching her kids. She tried to blame my husband for wanting to leave early the day we had gone to their house. My retort was that no one told us we'd be needed for demolition (we would have dressed differently if we'd known) and we did have an obligation to pick up our daughter from work. WE have kids, too, you know. Basically, she tossed at me the fact that I've spent time with my dying father-in-law, my recently widowed friend, and my MOM - but OMG, I apparantly don't have time for her. She said she thought it would be so nice if she and I could have gone through the baby clothes together, la la la. No, I said. Because she'd have expected me to wash, sort, fold, and organize all while she tells me how tired she is, how she can't bend over. I never realized that she only seems to count friendship by how much people do for her.

What gets me is that I've been there for: The end of her first engagement two months before that wedding; back spasms; sick cats; moving from her overfilled townhouse to a four bedroom Colonial which is now even more overfilled; man-troubles; buying a $300.00 bridesmaid dress that I couldn't afford for her wedding; listening to her make comments about the $35.00 skirt I chose for her to wear at my wedding; her mom's unexpected death; putting up a border in her nursery and painting a mural for her; her miscarriage; birthdays; holidays; everything. I say no, once, and now I'm forever damned. It's almost aggravating enough to not bother with her again. But what will I do with this baby blanket I've been knitting as a surprise for her?
I'd support your decision not to be with her. And someday you will know another baby to whom you can give that blanket. The baby crop never fails.

Nothing has done as much for my happiness as realizing I have to be just as careful in choosing my friends as I would with a partner. I used to have asshole friends, which meant lots of drama and blowups and me taking garbage. Now I look high for friends. Ideally my friends would all be more together and nicer than I, and inspire me to be as good a person as they. I do have friends with problems, but my rule is "no using problems as an excuse to act like an asshole" (for both me and them), and so even my most messed up friends are lovable and undemanding and I can help them without feeling drained or resentful.

I have excellent friends these days, and several of my closest friendships have passed the decade mark without a single fight.
posted by Orange Swan 15 May | 10:33
And, I meant to add, when you have great friends, it's endlessly wonderful how much they add to your life without ever detracting from it. You don't go around feeling angry all the time. You can go to them for support, quote their anecdotes and advice to others, and keep coming across tips or perfect Christmas presents that you want to give back to them.
posted by Orange Swan 15 May | 10:38
Exactly! I have another friend whom I've known since kindergarten. We don't keep "tabs" on who does what for whom, and we've been known to have a year or more go by without talking, just because we get busy. But when we do reconnect, it's like we never lost touch. I've gotten to that point in my life, I guess, where I don't need people who bring me down or make me feel less than who I am. Finally!
posted by redvixen 15 May | 10:43
I've finally cut ties with the 'friend' I talked about here before, I just haven't emailed or phoned her and she hasn't contact me either. I don't want to have fair-weather friends. I feel I'm not that kind of friend - like you and your friend, I've dropped things to help out or offer support and found that it's rarely reciprocated.

There's an excellent thread on the green along similar lines today - how some people always seem to be the caretakers but never seem to get it back when they need it.

Your friend sounds very selfish and from what you've described, it seems as if that's her personality and can't be excused by pregnancy hormones. Friendship has to be a two-way thing. What are you getting out of this friendship, apart from resentments?
posted by essexjan 15 May | 11:09
In my experience and opinion, real friends simply don't do this shit. IANAShrink, but she sounds like a pathological narcissist (I've known a few in my life, and this is chillingly similar to things I experienced or saw others experiencing) -- particularly the sense of entitlement ("you owe me!"), taking advantage of others to achieve her own ends ("move all these toys! I can't bend over!"), and the lack of empathy ("I don't care about your dying father-in-law -- what about me?"). This kind of self-absorption, couple with an endless sense of entitlement and the need to control or blame, is malignant.

Personally, I'd finish the baby blanket (that is, if I could knit!) and find a worthy charity to donate it to (perhaps your local children's hospital?), and walk away from this woman who has taken so much of your goodwill for granted, evidently without a shred of real appreciation or grace. You need and deserve better people in your life than that.
posted by scody 15 May | 11:15
one more thing: Orange Swan's advice here is absolutely sage:

Nothing has done as much for my happiness as realizing I have to be just as careful in choosing my friends as I would with a partner. I used to have asshole friends, which meant lots of drama and blowups and me taking garbage. Now I look high for friends. Ideally my friends would all be more together and nicer than I, and inspire me to be as good a person as they.

Letting go of a couple of toxic friendships of my own, and cultivating positive, trustworthy, loving friendships in their place has improved the quality of my life immeasurably.
posted by scody 15 May | 11:29
Thank you all. I wavered a bit before posting this, because it's so long and I left some small things out. Thanks for the link, essexjan (and your comment therein) because that was a well timed post I would not have seen. I guess I'm finally getting fed up with her ME FIRST attitude. This is just not the kind of friendship I want to grow old with, if someone's keeping score on who's done what for whom, and when, and how often. Especially at how casually she brushed off my father-in-law and my bereaved friend. That, I suspect, is the catalyst.
posted by redvixen 15 May | 12:21
Vicky sounds like an "emotional vampire." I'm proud of you for saying no and cutting her out of your life.

As for the blanket, try googling Project Linus, or check out this charity knitting search engine.
posted by Luminous Phenomena 16 May | 01:18
I've gone through some friend pruning over the last few years, and another benefit I've found is that I've become a much better person for it. As Orange Swan intimated, having friends who inspire makes you strive to be the best friend you can. Having friends who, well, suck (energy, time, sanity) makes (me at least) neurotic and bitchy and hard to be around, while all the help and support one may give just ends up sucked in their giant black hole of neediness without a noticeable difference. Another benefit of pruning out those friends: I swear my shoulders are about an inch or so further from my ears than they used to be.

Good luck, redvixen. People like that can be hard to get rid of, especially if you're as big-hearted as you sound.
posted by elizard 16 May | 01:23
She's imposing this crap on you knowing full well what's going on in your life--AND she has household help? That's no friend
posted by brujita 16 May | 07:47
It's the 2nd most wonderful day of the year! || This Onion AV Club bit about Jeff Tweedy