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Damage control

Don't punish a real friend for the slight of another

From Friday's Globe and Mail

THE QUESTION

About two years ago I had major back surgery - it took me a year and a half to recover. I could not work. I was isolated and cut off from my world.

I am healed now, but to this day I am troubled by two of my girlfriends. I have known them for more than 30 years. One of them is a better friend to me, let's call her Mary. During the recovery, she was often by my side, calling and bringing food, flowers and so on. The other, let's call her Elspeth, was disaffected by my situation. I did not hear from her - ever.

Mary has kept up with Elspeth and keeps me posted on their get-togethers. When I pressed Mary about Elspeth's behaviour, she said she couldn't talk to her about it. I have decided to distance myself from Mary, as I see she is also disaffected by my feelings, and I see no other way of dealing with this. Mary accepts Elspeth's behaviour, regardless of how it hurt me. For now, I have stopped talking to Mary. Is ending this 30-year friendship with Mary the best option I have?

THE ANSWER

The short answer, madam, is no.

The long answer is, umm ... no.

But before I drop the advice proper upon you, please permit me a couple of general observations.

I'm in my 40s now, and one aspect of growing older that I'm most emphatically not enjoying is the increased frequency of friction, tiffs, rifts, hissy fits and miffed splits between old friends.

It started in our 30s and seems to be happening all around me now. People cutting each other off: "That's it! I've had it. I just can't take it, or rather you, any more. We're through!"

And according to a slightly older, slightly jaded friend of mine: "By the time you get into your 50s, everyone hates each other."

Which is just so sad, and awful, and too bad.

Generally speaking, I'm opposed to the extreme measure of turning one's back completely on an old friend.

I'd usually say, hey, if old friends become obnoxious, unpleasant, unethical, untrustworthy or perhaps even all of the above, your best bet is to put them in "the penalty box" for a while. Let them cool their heels for a bit, then maybe you can resume relations six months or a year down the line.

But I recognize, too, that sometimes the penalty box is not enough.

Sometimes, perhaps because of over-familiarity, a relationship can just go off, like a piece of meat left on the counter too long. A former BFF can become toxic to you, like kryptonite to Superman; sap your vital force, neutralize your powers, weaken your will and stick a pin in your bubble of self-esteem.

Or perhaps there's been an overt act of betrayal, something you know you can't forgive.

In such cases, sometimes it can be an extremely positive and liberating thing to say: "You know what? It's time to pull my spaceship out of your orbit."

But, madam, I'm forced to observe that none of the above applies to your case.

In fact, I had to read your question a couple of times before I realized it was Mary you wanted to turn your back on, not Elspeth.

That makes my job easy. Should you turn your back on someone who visited you frequently during your convalescence, brought you food and flowers, and stood by your side?

As I said at the beginning, absolutely not.

I can understand your anger at Elspeth. And even why you might want to turn your back on her.

But it's too much to expect your mutual friends to turn their backs on someone just because you're having problems with her.

That's the price you pay, I'm afraid. She may be "dead to you," but she continues to exist for others, to laugh and sip chardonnay in the sunshine with your mutual friends.

You have to inhale and exhale and let that be.

So I know this may not be what you wanted to hear, but why don't you try to mend fences with Elspeth while you're at it?

You don't have to be BFFs all over again, but why not offer her an olive branch such that you can at least be pleasant and civil when you encounter one another.

It'll be a relief, trust me. A burden lifted from your soul. And it will relieve Mary from the burden of having to choose between the two of you when it comes to drawing up the guest lists for parties.

You should try to kiss and make up with Elspeth for that reason alone - to reward Mary for being such a good, true and loyal friend.

David Eddie is a screenwriter and the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad.

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