Home Life & Style Carolyn Hax: Pleased to make you an acquaintance: Demoting ‘a terrible friend’

Carolyn Hax: Pleased to make you an acquaintance: Demoting ‘a terrible friend’


As soon as the immediate crisis passed, said acquaintance was in the wind, even when I had serious surgery that she knew about.

I receive the occasional email every few months, always with the disclaimer, “I know I’m a TERRIBLE friend, but I’ve been too busy, but do want to know how you’re doing,” which normally wouldn’t bother me except that she posts constantly on a forum I visit, so she’s obviously not all that “busy.”

I know it sounds juvenile and rather tit-for-tat, but I feel hurt. I was corresponding constantly with this woman, 24/7, during her crisis. Literally talking her off a ledge sometimes.

Every time she sends me one of her “terrible friend” emails I want to spit; instead I’ve just been responding, “Doing fine,” and that’s it.

She’s not a friend and not important to me at all, so why does this bother me so much? And how can I stop letting it? I have better things to be bothered about.

Bothered: I think we all have better things to be bothered about.

Which is why I want to write this answer.

The big stuff is inevitable and in many ways immovable, so we count on the small things to lighten the burden, make us smile, keep us focused, remind us how worthwhile it is to bear up and labor through the difficult times.

So when a small thing we thought we could count on utterly fails to lift us up — and not only that, but also proves to be a psychic burden of its own — it can weigh on us disproportionately, even to a “ridiculous,” “juvenile” degree.

I’m going along with your assessment of this as small, by the way, because hers is merely an every-few-months, e-mail-only presence in your life — but I actually disagree with both of us in this assessment. Our connections and how they affect us are neither juvenile nor ridiculous. They matter.

Anyway. I felt I needed to say that, and not only to justify the length of this answer.

Lopsided relationships like the one dogging you tend to have two basic emotional consequences: dismay at the other person for the weak effort to reciprocate after taking so much of our best efforts, and dismay at ourselves — shame, even — for allowing ourselves to be so grimly exploited.

If that’s the case here, then please start by erasing the shame. Giving is a measure of strength, not weakness. Plus, the shame would be on those who exploit, if there were any to dole out, but I think it’s more useful and humane just to say that her profound need to be heard happened to match your need to be needed. Boom.

You’re both on the other side of that now, which is good. So you can address the second consequence — your dismay at her plainly disingenuous overtures toward friendship.

You have a couple of options, from merely ignoring her to spelling out your objections. A middle ground might suit you best, though: “I’m glad you’re doing better. I’m glad I was able to help. Please don’t feel obligated to check in on me, though — we’re good.”

In other words, “Have a nice life,” but with the circa 1990s Gen-X sarcasm buffed out.

Hi, Carolyn: My wife retired from her teaching career outside Philadelphia two years ago and has been “on call” since our daughter gave us our first granddaughter five years ago. Since then, our daughter brought us two more beautiful girls.

I have since retired and we decided to make Florida our permanent home. This was not met with enthusiasm by my daughter and son-in-law, but with concern, for obvious reasons. We sat down with them and explained that we have enjoyed 40 years of marriage and parenting and now it is our turn to decide the next phase of our lives. We plan to make multiple trips north each year.

Are we being overly selfish? Do we not deserve to be untethered again, as we were when first married?

J.: Of course you do, and I hope you enjoy every bit of it. Suiting yourselves is not selfishness.

It could be shortsightedness, though, if you haven’t fully reckoned with the two main consequences: that you won’t be as close to your grandkids, physically or emotionally, and that your daughter and son-in-law won’t be as close to you if you need them. Almost too obvious to mention, but also tempting to minimize, and significant. Buhbye-er beware.


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