Irene S. Levine, Ph.D.

Irene S Levine Ph.D.

The Friendship Doctor

A frenemy next door is too close for comfort

One woman's worst nightmare

Posted Nov 09, 2009

QUESTION:

Dear Irene:

I have been friends with the most needy, self absorbed, delusional person for nearly eight years. This woman can be absolutely toxic to the point that I have panic attacks when I feel trapped into interacting with her lately. Ours has never been a 50/50 sort of relationship.

I tend to be a loner by choice and I'm quite content to be with my husband and three kids with minimal, if any, social interaction. My friend knows this but doesn't understand that it also applies to her. Of course, as these things go, I am her ONLY friend.

This is the "balls to the walls" bizarre part that has thrown this relationship into Crazy Town. She just moved from three states away and bought a house DIRECTLY across the street from me three months ago. Yes, she's 20 steps from my front door!

My life has become a nightmare. I'm completely trapped in this beyond ridiculous situation with a woman who treats me passive-aggressively and is intensely critical. She is completely obsessed with me and I feel stalked. I hardly, if ever, initiate contact but she's always calling to say she's hungry, tired or bored or whatever else meaningless B.S. is going on with her. She is completely uninterested in how I feel or what I think about anything. Oh, except for fashion: That we can discuss ad nausea, during my forced weekly Project Runway viewing.

After three months as neighbors, my "friend" knows my daily schedule and injects herself into my basic errands like shopping trips and jogging, rudely and forcefully. She'll decide that WE MUST make such and such for dinner and won't take no for an answer. I eventually give in though sometimes it takes days for her to wear me down to a particular commitment. I'm strong but with this woman, I don't stand a chance. She'll persist and become hostile when I don't comply.

I have yet to erect any meaningful or lasting boundaries in this relationship because she's unbelievably mean and evil when things don't go her way. She's known for sending her military husband out like a rabid dog to crew out anyone who crosses her (of course, he's a victim too---quite a delightful man actually, poor guy). I felt trapped before when she called me everyday from across the country now I don't know what to do. She calls sometimes 5-10 times a day and sends upwards of 20 texts.

I love the life that my family and I had built here at our home of two years. She has nothing here but me and I need to get away from her. I can't just up and move away from my life, my family, my husband's job, kids school, everything. She may just follow me wherever we go anyway so the effort may be completely futile.

I feel absolutely helpless. Please, if you took the time to read this, take a moment to send a prayer or a positive thought my way. I could certainly use it.

Signed,
Helpless


ANSWER:

Dear Helpless,

You are as helpless as you make yourself feel. Such an extremely noxious situation calls for blunt and decisive action. Obviously, your "friend" is extremely intrusive and oblivious to your feelings and to any subtle social cues. It shouldn't come as a surprise that she has no other friends.

This woman is not a "friend" in any sense of the word. If you are feeling so uncomfortable that you are having panic attacks, you need to be firm and make a clean cut. Your emotional health and that of your family is at stake. In an extreme case like this, my thoughts are as follows:

* Tell her point-blank that you can't maintain the relationship any longer. Take responsibility for the decision and don't allow her to make the conversation about her. This is about the way you are feeling.

* Explain your needs and those of your family for privacy without going into specifics that she'll poke holes in.

* Don't shroud your words in kindness. She'll misinterpret it as you leaving a door open to further negotiation.

* If she calls, emails or texts you, tell her that you can't really handle a relationship with her at this time. You'll let her know if things change. If she continues, don't answer or hang up.

* If you see her in the street or in a neighborhood spot, just nod and say hello and keep walking.

* Stop watching Project Runway.

My guess is that once she sees that you are unambivalent about cutting off the friendship, she'll quickly find another easier target, maybe her next-door neighbor. Stay strong.

I'm so sorry that she lives across the street. I know this won't be easy at first but you'll start reaping the rewards of getting rid of a very toxic friendship and your life will become more normal over time. Hopefully, she'll move on to greener pastures.

Best,

Irene

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