The Friendship Doctor

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“Growing Up” and Outgrowing a Needy Friend

Based on your report, your friend isn't very friend-worthy.

QUESTION

Dear Irene:

My best friend and I have been teachers at the same school for over twelve years. I am 37 and she is 58, which makes her older than my mother. Through many of her life's challenges, I was there for her. I brought food when she was hungry, accompanied her to see her daughter in jail (I had never been to jail to see anyone), spent many days away from my own family with her and her granddaughter in the hospital, helped her study for graduate school (she would not have graduated without my help), decorated her classroom and completed school paperwork and report cards each year that she was ill, and so many other major favors, none of which were ever reciprocated.

Despite the fact that the school is just two minutes away from her home and an hour away from mine, for years, I would stay late helping her get organized for the next day, while my mom picked up my two young children from school and kept them until I got there. The principals and many of our co-workers never liked her, and she was in no position to loose her job. Many of the times, I sacrificed precious time with my husband and children. When I didn't want to help, she would throw tantrums and it seemed that her world would come to an end.

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There was always a crisis, and her family didn't care for her that much. When she was younger and married with kids, she always thought that her family was better than her sisters' families as well as her in-laws'. Her children had better toys, clothes, and cars than all of the other family members. Her kids couldn't associate with others whose parents were "renters" and not "original owners" in her subdivision. She talks about poor people and despises those who are from the "ghetto". Admiring her good qualities, I always overlooked her arrogance.

For the past year, I've seen a major change in my friend's behavior towards me. She started embarrassing me every chance she got at work in front of a crowd, including falsely accusing my husband of beating me in front of our boss, later saying that she was just kidding. Four months ago, I got a tummy tuck. Every time we were in the presence of others, she would say how bad I looked. Everyone else was pleased with the results. I thought my friend would celebrate my success, but it's been to the contrary.

Prior to the tummy tuck, I was in an accident and was bound to a wheelchair and crutches for months, which caused me to gain over 80 pounds, especially in the abdomen. For this reason, I decided to have the belly fat removed. She's told everyone at work that she knew that I couldn't afford the surgery, but she recently received a large cash settlement. I didn't expect her to give me a dime, but if she thought that I was in need of money, why wouldn't she help? I had paid her electric bill for several months when she was ill and on sick leave.

Speaking of sick leave, my friend has gone out on sick leave for four years consecutively, each for a different reason. Sometimes when the pressure was on her to do her work, she would simply go to the doctor and go on sick leave. To avoid her getting in trouble for neglecting job duties, I would simply help, but looking back, no favor has ever been returned.

Fast forward to today: I've grown up. The last straw was when she told a group of co-workers, including our boss, that she didn't know what "ghetto" was until she met me. You see, my parents were teenagers when I was born. My mom was a 16-year-old, tenth grade African-American girl and my dad was 18. My grandparents made her drop out of school and get a job, because they didn't believe in welfare. Despite the odds, my mom went back to school when I was in elementary school. She became a 911 dispatcher and my dad a high school principal. Not repeating the pattern, they made sure that I graduated from a top university and became a teacher.

I am very proud of my parents' accomplishments and have not frowned on my past. It's made me who I am today and allows me to touch so many lives. Unfortunately, each chance that my friend gets, she calls me "ghetto" and makes fun of the high school where I graduated from and people from my
side of town.

Last year, my friend was diagnosed with cancer, which was treated, but I found out that the cancer is no longer there. She never told me that the cancer was gone but continued using others and me by maintaining that the cancer is still there, in an attempt to gain sympathy and favor. Since I uncovered the truth, it only sealed my decision to maintain my distance. Today, I am still helping her adult children, but I don't talk to her. I tried to express my feelings to her about our friendship, but she became confrontational and explosive. I even emailed her, but she put everything on me, saying that I made her cry. For the last few months of school, she did everything within her power to aggravate me and tell others that she didn't do anything to me.

As the summer comes to a close, I am regretting going back to work to be antagonized by her, and getting another job is out of the question. I am not angry with her. I have just grown up and decided to end our season. How should I deal with her when we get back to work? It's been hard ignoring her, and talking to her is out of the question. At work, I totally focus on my students, but I still have to see her in the hall, at meetings, and other transitions. Please advise.

Signed,
Angela

ANSWER

Dear Angela,

Based on your report, your friend isn't very friend-worthy. In fact, she sounds like a "user" who is self-centered, ungrateful, manipulative, insensitive, and has been abusive to you beyond belief.

Perhaps you developed an excess of sympathy for the underdog because of the circumstances of your own upbringing. However, this is clearly a case of too much of a good thing. You really went overboard in making sacrifices for someone who has treated you like a doormat. I'm not sure what attracted you to this friend initially or what made you hang on for so long. Fortunately, it appears that this one-sided, dysfunctional relationship has completely lost its luster for you.

You have every right to be proud of your upbringing and accomplishments---and you shouldn't allow anyone to treat you this way. I'm so glad that you finally had the self-confidence to face this situation squarely and decide you need to move on. Be proud of yourself for "growing up" as you put it.

What next? Remember that your job is your livelihood and has to be your first priority. Focus your energies at school on your students and on your colleagues---be professional and cordial in the workplace with your "friend" but don't engage socially with this frenemy any longer. Try to meet other friends outside the office who can fills the holes in your life and provide you with friendships that are more mutually supportive.

Best,
Irene

 

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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