QUESTION

Hi Irene,

I am in an awkward situation with a friend whom I'll call Carla and don't know how to handle it. She's noticed that I've been pulling away and wants to get together to talk. We have mutual friends in common and I don't want to make it uncomfortable for them either.

Four of us have spent the last few years together as moms getting our kids together to play. Our husbands became friends and I'm truly am grateful to have them in my life. I feel very close to two of them as we've shared a lot with each other. They've helped me with personal issues and logistical stuff like watching the kids when I needed it, and I've helped them.

They've shown an interest in my life, and tell me they appreciate me as a friend. I feel like I have become a better friend since I find myself doing the same for them.

However the third friend is difficult. This is the type of friendship you might have had in third grade but I'm in my 30s! I need to figure out a way to maintain the friendship but keep it at a distance. Because we have friends in common, I don't want to make them uncomfortable. They've each privately told me they're upset when she does the same things to them, but one bends over backwards to apologize when she shouldn't and the other goes along to get along and will stroke her ego to smooth things over.

I'm just tired of the drama involved in keeping the friendship going. Carla can be a nice person but she's tough to get to know. I've opened up to her many times but she doesn't share much of herself so I don't really feel like I know her at all compared to other friends. She demands more from our friendship than she seems willing to give in return. She needs constant reassurance, which gets tiring. I understand that insecurity is probably the root of the problem, but I just don't want to have to worry about every little interaction. She's very possessive, too. I hate having to feel that I can't even mention something I've done with a friend without her getting jealous. It's exhausting and I'm not willing to do it anymore.

How can I handle this gracefully and so she isn't hurt by what I say?

Signed,
Jill

ANSWER

Hi Jill,

When four people are friends, there are six different twosomes in the group. It stands to reason that you might feel more or less comfortable with one friend than another.

While your group has a lot in common, your personalities are different. Carla may have some personality issues that grate on you even though your friends are more tolerant. If she wasn't a member of the foursome, I doubt you would be friends with her at all.

You want the group to remain intact. You can't change Carla's personality, you don't want to disparage her to the others, nor can you ignore your feelings. My suggestion would be to remain friends with her as part of the group but continue on the path of having less of a one-on-one relationship. You don't need to make it explicit to her or to anyone else.

How should you handle this "talk"? Listen more and speak less. Hear what Carla has to say. Try not to say too much in response. If she complains about you, acknowledge what you've heard and tell her you're sorry she feels this way.

At some point in the conversation, she'll probably be seeking your reassurance. If she says she feels you backing off, tell her that you sometimes feel exhausted by the drama that crops up in the group and that's probably what she's noticing. It might be a good idea to set a time limit for the talk and tell her you have an appointment afterwards.

This is a difficult situation but I think you'll be able to work it out with grace.

Best,
Irene

Prior posts on The Friendship Blog about dealing with groups of friends:

Escaping from a toxic triangle

Junior High Redux: Being bounced from a group

On friendship circles

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