Category Archives: Friends

Flabbergasted

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

For years we have been friends with former neighbors who moved to
Hawaii. We mourned when they relocated. We have been there twice
in ten years. They have come to visit twice most years and three times
more than once, and early on we were happy to have them. While I
understand Hawaii is considered more desirable than our small town,
having guests is not merely a break in routine but burdensome and
expensive.

 

This time they gave us very little warning before they
arrived, never asked if the dates were convenient, and when we told
them we needed them to leave by Sunday morning latest, laughed and
said, “Oh we planned on Tuesday.” I didn’t want to be rude, but I was
under a massive work deadline. I just said, “I’m on deadline so you’re
on your own for meals,” and stayed in my office. After returning home
the wife sent me an email that said in essence, “This is not turning out
to be the exchange we expected. Please look for alternative
accommodations on your next vacation.” How do I reply?

Flabbergasted

 
Dear Flabbergasted:

Economists have this notion of “sunk costs” which leads to the idea
that it’s not worth throwing good money after bad. What’s past cannot
be changed, but it can provide you with lessons for the future when
dealing with other guests. Common courtesy suggests asking the
hostess if dates are convenient, agreeing on length of stay, amenities,
expectations about food and access to vehicles, and any household
peculiarities such as rising/bedtime quiet, etc. A gift of food, wine, or
something for the house, taking the hosts out to a meal, or another
thank you is common. Any potential guests who doesn’t meet that
standard gets a polite, I don’t think those dates will work for us.

 

In this case, it seems clear that the friendship is both one-sided and
not particularly close anymore. I would reply simply, Our views on
what this exchange has been are very different. I warned you I was
under deadline and was more accommodating than I should have
been. Your note suggests a sense of entitlement that makes it easy to
agree that this exchange is over, and overdue for that. She will take
umbrage no matter what you say, so sit on your email for 24 hours
before sending; if you feel better than worse after rereading, hit send,
or edit accordingly.

Walkies

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I go walking with a friend several times a week. She has two dogs and
I have none. Usually she holds them both, and she is very
conscientious about bagging their poop when we walk in urban
neighborhoods. She is also unashamed about asking me to carry the
poop bags while we continue on our walk, until we can deposit them in
a receptacle. Honestly, I find it rude and a little disgusting. I don’t
have a dog anymore and prefer not to do it. Is there a polite way to
decline? I otherwise enjoy her company.

Walkies

 
Dear Walkies:

This is situation where a simple No should suffice. Since she hasn’t
heard it if you said that, or if you are not ready to be quite so blunt, go
for the cheerful, helpful alternative. You can do this yourself if you can
sew, or perhaps you can find it already made by googling. But imagine
a small cloth bag with a Velcro strap that would fit around your friend’s
dog leash. When she scoops up the poop into a bag, you can hold the
leash while she puts the plastic bag in this receptacle and attaches it
to the leash. I would find or make two of them, and present them to
her with a roll of plastic bags, saying cheerfully, Look, I solved your
problem of poop control!

 
Most folks would get the message, but you might need to just say No
thanks when she hands you the bag. Or else find a new walking buddy
and meet her for coffee and schmooze instead.

Cut

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I am an intelligent person with professional training beyond college,
various degrees and certifications in my field, and generally regarded
as well spoken, articulate, and worth talking to. I have a new friend
that I met in a recently formed book club organized by a mutual
friend. This woman (I’ll call her Hannah) and gravitated towards one
another very quickly and bonded on literary taste, politics, and
becoming movie buddies. We’ve taken to checking in with one another
several times during the week by text, sometimes to make plans and
others just to trade hellos and good wishes, accompanied by pictures
from a walk or home, recipes, and Face Book posts or jokes. In the
last month she has chastised me several times for what she calls
“incomprehensible texts.” Once she was correct: I had used the
dictation feature and failed to check its interpretation of my voice. But
the other three times she has pulled rank from her retirement as a
professor of communications. Frankly it rankles, but the one time we
got into a conversation about related matters it turned sharp and
brittle very quickly. Is there a way to handle someone with sharp
edges, whom I would otherwise enjoy as a friend?

Cut

 
Dear Cut:

There are several ways to communicate with person who likes to feel
superior to others. One is not to give her anything to criticize, and see
if she reflexively needs to critique you anyhow. That would give you a
lot of information about her personality. If it remains sharp, I
personally would limit the friendship as well as the texting, regardless
of whether we ended up discussing it. Another is to limit your texting
to visual images, and one-word or one-sentence replies. It is a little
punishing, but she might get the hint.

 
The most honest is to say, It feels like a put down when you correct
me. I’m not your student and I don’t want to have a friendship in
which we’re not equals. I’ll do my best to communicate clearly, if you’ll
do your best to communicate kindly. Does that seem fair? Then see
what she says and trust your gut on how to proceed.

Concerned

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m worried about a friend and I need some insight. Sarah is a smart
retired professional. On the surface she has a wide circle of friends,
but we have all noticed that she says, “I need down time” or “alone
time,” “unplugged time,” “retreat time,” and other variations on that
theme more and more often in the past year. He health seems fine
and she still complains about “those twenty extra pounds” so it is
unlikely she has a severe diagnosis. When I last visited I saw a stack
of Amazon delivery boxes “ready for recycling” that was three feet tall!
She seems to be cocooning at lot and even though she had three
different invitations for Thanksgiving, chose to spend it alone, going to
the movies and then watching football at home. I know Sarah has the
right to make decisions about how she spends her time, but is there
anything I/we should say or do, or should we just let her pass through
this phase?

Concerned

 
Dear Concerned:

You are a good friend. This may indeed be a phase, or it may be you
are observing early (or not-so-early) signs of depression. In either
case there are things you can do, without impinging on the friendship
between adult peers who like and respect one another. Let’s give her
the benefit of the doubt for the holiday, and consider that she may
truly not have wanted to be around other people’s families. Ditto for
needing more alone time, at least in spurts. But if you are not the only
one noticing her patterns, they may signal a behavioral change that
goes beyond the norms of privacy and a desire for more solitude and
quiet.

 
Ask her to tea or a meal at a time of her choosing. Without saying
anything close to “People are worried about you,” might would easily
and reasonably trigger shame and defensiveness, ask how she is
doing. Say you’ve noticed how much more frequently she is choosing
her own company over being social. Ask her how she is enjoying it,
whether she misses being with other folks, and whether she is feeling
okay or if she is in any way down or troubled. Listen to her answer,
assure her that she can always talk to you, and that you want her to
know how much people like and respect her. Then make a date to do
something a week or so later. Perhaps a movie or another meal. Give
her space. If her patterns persist, tag team another friend to do the
same. Winter is a time for hibernation even among humans. But if her
patterns intensify, up the ante by having two of you talk to her.

Horrified

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I am not a germophobe, at least most of the time. But I do have a
particular phobia against hanging out with people who have bad table
manners, like slurping or chewing with their mouths open. I serve on a
committee that often meets over lunch when we are at the tail end of
our agenda. Last week one of the members (who is from out of town)
brought along a friend from home, as they had a day of activities
planned after the meeting. The friend helped with the committee
chores and we all went out for Chinese food, served family style. The
friend had a wracking cough that she seemed very conscientious about
covering, but never explained. My assumption was that she was on the
tail end of something but I didn’t ask. At lunch she repeatedly licked
her chopsticks and served extra portions from the common dishes
!!!! Not once but repeatedly. I was so stunned that I was speechless. I
know I should have spoken up right away but having failed to do so I
just avoided where I saw her serve herself. Should I say something to
the person who brought her or just avoid eating with her again?

Horrified

 
Dear Horrified:

You are correct that the time to have said something, as quietly but
firmly as possible, was the moment you saw it. You could have said,
Excuse me but I’m trying to avoid germs, could you please use the
common serving implements if you want more? That doesn’t focus so
much on how unsanitary her behavior is but gets the point across. And
since no one else said anything, you have no idea if they were
bothered as well, but if they would likely have been relieved to hear
someone intervene.

 

 

I would say something to the mutual friend. The woman might have a
medical condition that is in no way contagious. But no one who hears
her cough would know that. When she’s with strangers, she could
learn to say, Please excuse the cough. It’s not anything contagious
and it’s a pain to live with. Then germaphobes or not don’t have to
fret. But the bad table manners are unsanitary and she’s better off
hearing about them from a friend.

Semi-Recluse

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Four of us go drinking every couple months, and have done so for the
past dozen years or so. I’ll spare you the internal group politics, but
despite minor tensions and annoyances most of the caring is sincere
and ongoing. I am the only retired person, and generally
accommodate the needs of the other three, who are all younger and
still working. But after six weeks of trying to get us together I gave up,
because everyone’s needs were so specific that it just seemed
impossible. The outlier for each date texted “Go ahead without me”
but I’m a traditionalist and don’t want to see the group bonding
weaken.

 

Then they came up with a date that I could not do because I
have jury duty and this was smack dab in the middle of it. When I
explained why I couldn’t, one of the friends (the one I speak to almost
every day), texted, “Sure you can. I have two jobs and I will make the
time.” I felt angry and shamed, and resentful that my needs didn’t
seem to count as much as everyone else’s, which is what I replied. I
also said they should go ahead without me and I would come if I
could. I’m sure I will be worm our and sick of people if I have to serve,
and not particularly chatty or social. Am I being reasonable or not?

Semi-Recluse

 
Dear Semi-Recluse:

A lot depends on how important this group is to you. As someone with
finite patience for chitchat, I am empathetic. But I also value long-
term friendships, and would suggest they’re worth the stretch. I would
follow up with a second email response saying: I truly have no idea if
my number will be called or if I will have to spend all day in court. I
suggest you go ahead without me, and unless I am seriously pooped
and cranky, I will show up. Then leave it to them to decide what to do.

Trumped

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My name is Sadie and I am a bridge addict. Specifically online bridge,
which since my beloved husband of forty years died, has become a
form of personal connection as well as a way to fill up the long empty
hours. I found an online site and at the flick of wrist I can be happily
engaged for hours with people who share my interests and with whom
I can chat and hone my brain. But having “friended” so many people,
it is hard to choose whom to play with when. I like the newness of
random “take me to the first available seat” and have no compunction
about leaving a table where people are rude. But in my eagerness to
set up games with people like myself (lonely widows, sigh) I find that I
have overscheduled and my in-person human friends here at home
have been saying they feel neglected. How do I find the happy middle?

Trumped

 
Dear Trumped:

Only you can decide what to do with your time. But favoring online
cocooning instead of live humans is a poor choice for a woman who
still sounds cogent and vital. You need to find the happy middle by
being honest not just with your friend but also with yourself.
Are you lonely for friendship or for relationship? Assuming you do not
want to become re-partnered, you can skip a large focus of energy and
attention by not adding dating to the mix. But do not assume others
will not try to date you or set you up. If you just want something to
while away the hours, consider volunteering in an after-school
program, teaching bridge to a younger generation who may not know
the game and love it as you do. There are of course the usual lunches
with friends, social engagements to theater and movies, and
volunteering at your synagogue.

 

My vote would be to take a class in
something you know nothing about but would like to become a novice
at doing. You will be surprised how quickly your obsessive streak can
shift to a new and engaging activity. Limit your pre-set games to a few
a week, and trust the fates to connect you with new people who will
interest and challenge you. Your job is to show up and leave room for
that to happen.

Nanette

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Do you have advice for how to graciously fend off a persistent suitor?
He is everything I am supposed to want in a date, but I find myself
putting “shields up” whenever I am around him. There’s nothing
specific I can put my finger on that should make me feel this way, but
it is consistent. The more I say no, the more he tries to woo me with
invitations or appearing in places that I am. It is not stalking yet, but it
feels like it. Short of being abruptly unkind, or threatening him with a
court order, is there a No, No, No that will work?

Nanette

 
Dear Nanette:

Yes, Yes, Yes. But here’s the rub: If you seriously want to get through
to Mr. Clueless, you are going to have to be firmer than you have
been, and risk his ire. If you are willing to be less polite you can
accomplish this. Decide that first.

 
When you are ready to go, plan a multi-pronged approach. Send him a
note that says, I am flattered by your attention and have seriously
considered whether I want a social relationship with you. The answer
is No, I do not. Please stop asking me out and trying to be in places
that I am. My answer will not change. Thank you for respecting my
choice. Then share the note not only with your own friends, but ask
them to convey the message to his friends that he is making a fool of
himself and that there are lots of other fish in the sea, as my mother
used to say.

 

Ask your friends to serve as allies in situations where he
tries to come near you. They should stick to you like glue, or be in
close enough range that if he does approach you directly (which most
people would stop doing after your note), that they can insert
themselves into the situation. If he does ask you out again, and they
are present, you should just say No, and they should say, in a slightly
louder than polite voice, What part of No don’t you understand? It
shouldn’t take more than once or twice to deter him. But if it does not,
talk to an attorney about what your rights are to request a restraining
order.

Trying to Get Fit

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have recently started attending Silvers Sneakers classes at my local
gym. My Medicare plan gives me virtually free membership and the
classes are a great mix of strength, cardio, and balance training. I’m a
newbie in a class of 50-60 folks that look like all my friends, with the
same graying hair and assortment of limps and leans. I am happy to
be polite but don’t need new friends, and I don’t want to be seen as a
negative new member. Frankly I just want to come, work out, and
leave. I resent the idea that people have “their” spaces and that when
I get there early try to sit up front near the instructor because I am
trying to learn the routines, I am being told”You can’t put your
chair/equipment there because it is So-and-so’s spot.” Do you have a
polite answer? Sometimes people try to hold 10 or more places and it
has begun to move past annoyance to anger. That is exacerbated
because the specific woman in question is a very loud evangelical with
bad politics who annoys me just by existing. I don’t want to yell but
I’m paying dues too, in my fashion.

Trying to Get Fit

 
Dear Trying:

You can try being polite with the offenders over the seating but I
would avoid a public tangle about evangelism or politics. Stick to the
immediate turf issues, and start with, I’m sure you like to work out
with your friends, but this isn’t a theater with assigned seats. We all
like to be close to the instructor, so I suggest that your friends come
earlier if they want to sit up front.

 
If that doesn’t work, then say something to the instructor and ask her
to make an announcement saying club policy allows a member to hold
their own seat and one for a friend, but no more than that. If it’s not
the policy, it should be. You might also ask the instructor about moving
around the room when she teaches. But newbie or not, hold your
ground, and smile and chat a little with the folks who are not part of
the clique. I’m sure you’re not the only person who is annoyed by
them.

Private Gal

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I just made a new friend from my neighborhood association. She came
to visit and check out my deer fencing and we just clicked, even
though we are decades apart in age and I am retired and she is
working mom. She’s asked to visit, but her timing and mine are very
different. I protect my creative time zealously, even from close friends,
because I am a writer who is very involved with a project that I do not
want to distract attention from. Can I convey this nicely without losing
access to someone I would otherwise enjoy?

Private Gal

 
Dear Private:

Friendships that endure require mutual investment of time. That
almost always involves compromise. It’s certainly worth making a new
friend at any age and of any age if you click, though with person
whose life is radically different the constraints of infrequent contact
may inhibit developing a long-term friendship. It’s certainly worth a
try.

 
Start by email contact with a summary of your regular schedules and
when the best times to connect are. Say you’re happy to make her
schedule apriority given that she has children, but caution her that you
have a busy and overly scheduled life too. Perhaps suggest meeting at
a park or somewhere where the children can play while you cat, and
explore whether there is enough there there to keep investing time.
It’s also good to connect on social media and see if you have any
friends in common. That will help you get a handle on what else you
might share. Tell her what you like about your writing, but (as a
writer) my general advice is to keep your project close to your vest
with people you don’t know well and save a lot for a true unveiling
when it is finished.

Boundaries!

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My neighbor has allowed a family of wild foxes to nest under her shed,
which borders my property. I have spoken to her several times about
the vulnerability of neighborhood cats, the dangers posed by their
bringing rodents into the area for their young to practice hunting, and
the possibility that they or their prey are carrying various diseases and
fleas, ticks, etc. My husband says I have tried being reasonable, and
my neighbor blew us and another neighbor off saying we couldn’t tell
him what to do on his property. Ideas?

Boundaries!

 
Dear Boundaries:

Start by talking to the state and county wildlife control agencies. My
guess is that there are very strict laws about what you, or your
neighbor, can and cannot do. So educating yourself is phase one. The
agencies may come out and enforce whatever regulations are in place
so you will be just another citizen adhering to their policies. If they say
the neighbor is within his rights, ask if you have the option of live
trapping and relocating the foxes, and what if any specific procedures
are mandated. My guess is that if they do not take care of the problem
directly, that they will refer you to a qualified professional trapper who
knows far more than a typical urban dweller about how to handle what
may be cute to watch outside a zoo but are in reality wild animals who
do not adhere to boundaries that you or your neighbor might want to
impose. For your health, and the health of local pets, sooner rather
than later seems like the right timing.

Typos

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My neighborhood has a FaceBook page. People post everything from
neighborhood alerts re thefts, look for yard help or babysitters, sell big
items, announce garage sales and rentals, etc. I posted a question
recently to try and help a friend’s son find a rental in the
neighborhood. Somehow the spelling got screwed up and one of the
neighbors tore me a new one trying to correct my posting. I thought I
had proofed it but apparently it didn’t happen. (For the record I’m
convinced that auto corrupt–as I call it–is toxic and changes things
after one proofs.) In her response she had misspellings and weird
words too!! LOL. When I pointed out that hers also had misspellings
her answer was “cheap shot!” I have had no prior dealings with her
incur such enmity, and I don’t want a feud in my neighborhood but I
felt cold the pot calling the kettle black was only fair. Did I do wrong?

Typos

 
Dear Typos:

As someone who has only recently, and I suspect belatedly, discovered
the dictation feature on my smart phone, I am empathetic with
attempts to be efficient. Ditto for trying to help a friend’s son. But
sometimes when we are trying to do too much too fast, things can go
kaflooey. And what is efficient for you may impose unforeseen costs on
others.
In my universe, self-righteous people get what they deserve if their
own foibles are exposed to be the same as those they are pointing
fingers at. If she committed exactly the same error that she accused
you of there’s no problem holding a mirror up and pointing it in her
direction. The high road of course would’ve been to let her mistake
stand in public. But I neither blame you nor do I suspect I would’ve
acted differently. I would add a comment that apologizes for the typos
and be exceptionally careful the next few times you post. Most people
have short memories, and unless this neighbor comes at you again
with anger I would consider the incident in your past. But if she does,
send her a message and ask why she seems to be so angry with you.

Altruist

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I am a veterinarian who works with rescue organizations in cases of
major emergencies and natural disasters. In my time in Texas the past
few weeks I have witnessed acts of great heroism and great cruelty
and indifference towards pets. I’m proud to say that I helped a great
many helpless, abandoned creatures that might otherwise have died.
What do I say to my clients and neighbors here who are accusing me
of abandoning them in their time of need and “running off to help
strangers when I needed you!”? I value my clients and my neighbors
in Florida. When I got assigned to Texas no one knew what would
happen here. I trust that my professional peers who were not in Texas
will be just as heroic and diligent as I was when they work in my
community. How can people learn that we are all connected and
should care for one another rather than hoarding and blaming and
being only out for themselves?

Altruist

 
Dear Altruist:

It always fascinates me during periods of great crises, natural disaster
or war, how human nature tends towards the extremes. Hard times
bring out the best in many, even thankfully most, of us, and the worst
in a few who make all problems worse. Compared to physical violence,
looting, and threats and coercion, emotional guilting is a relatively mild
form of acting out. But it speaks to the same limited consciousness
and selfishness as the worst of the bad extreme.

 
You are to be commended for volunteering to go into danger zones.
The whiners should be chastened but I suspect that is not your nature.
I’d like to think they would find greater compassion once they are out
of imminent danger, though sadly that’s likely not going to happen.
Give them a pass for now, and send an email to your clientele both
now and just before you deploy next time. Remind your clients that
you serve a wide population in need, and that if they need help while
you are away, they should contact so-and-so. Wish them good health
for themselves and their critters and remind them of your years of
service. If they choose to leave your practice, wave at their departing
tushies and seek out kinder folks. This is the season to heal the world.
Thank you for doing more than your share of the heavy lifting.

Boundaries Needed

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a friend with whom I run hot and cold. I suspect she feels the
same about me. For years we were close, but the friendship eroded
over a variety of factors, from disapproval about who was dating
whom and how that impacted the friendship, to matters of synagogue
politics, and because of misunderstandings of a small nature that felt
bigger because we cared less about one another. Nothing fatal but we
drifted apart, except for monthly movie/meal evenings and
conversation between plays watching football. Her house is being
remodeled and she has taken to sending me texts saying, I’d like to
come watch the game, the Emmys, etc etc, without asking if this is
good for me or even suggesting that she will bring anything for the
meal that occurs during those times. I know she is not trying to be
rude, but I feel very taken for granted. In the spirit of the season,
what should I say?

Boundaries Needed

 
Dear Boundaries:

In the spirit of the season you should be honest and also welcoming.
In the Tree of Life there is a very intentional balance between chesed
(loving-kindness) and gevurah (boundaries/discernment). It is fine to
apply both to get to a balance. Tell her you’re glad to be a hostess to
her during her dislocation when it works with your schedule. Ask her to
give you as much notice as possible so you can try to accommodate
what she needs, and say you will alert her asap if her timing doesn’t
work for you.

 
When you have opened your home to her, and are sharing a meal (to
which you may or may not choose to ask her to bring something she
could pick up easily along the way), tell her that you are happy that
you two are closer again, and past the difficulties of the past. Tell he
you enjoy her company when you connect, and, in the spirit of the
season, want to be sure that any past elements of disagreement have
been resolved. That conversation will either bring you closer or less so,
either of which will shift where you place your welcome mat.

Concerned

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Four of us have been friends for about twenty years. We’ve seen one
another through divorce, chemo, bankruptcy, job changes, and house
buying, selling, and remodeling. Along the way there have been any
number of misunderstandings or arguments, but like the four
musketeers we have stuck together through thick and thin. Now one of
our number (I’ll call her Sarah) seems to be falling under the weight or
collapsing systems in her life. Her marriage has been in trouble for a
while and one of us is pretty certain that her husband is having an
affair. They have gone bankrupt once and now she is unemployed
after complaining for years about how much they struggle even on two
incomes. We all spent today at an arts festival. Three of us spent no
more than a food-cart lunch, but (you guessed it) Sarah donated
almost $100 to the local economy. None of us said anything but you
could feel the silent sound waves. Do we just mind our own business
or should one or all of us step up and tell her what we are seeing: a
friend in a tailspin who needs help?

Concerned

 
Dear Concerned:

You should most definitely not all turn on her as a group. If you do,
you will see only defensiveness and withdrawal. Yes, clearly your
friend is hurting and struggling. Retail therapy of $100 at an arts
festival is not enough cause for alarm that you need to stage an
intervention. But context matters, and if she is clearly in distress you
are obligated as her friends to pay attention and not stay silent.

 

Usually in a friend group there are dyads that are closer than other
combos. The one who is closest to Sarah should take point on this,
scheduling lunch or coffee at her earliest convenience. I’d recommend
doing this at home as opposed to in public. Without poking her sore
places too hard, encourage her to get emotional. Crying is far better
for healing than retail therapy. Once she has unburdened the top layer
of pain, help her develop a strategy for coping: counseling for her;
marriage counseling for them; help finding work; financial counseling;
and perhaps a one-time consult with a divorce lawyer so she knows
where she stands. Secure assurances from the other two friends that
they will play tag team in a support system for her until she is through
this hard spot. And then help her rebuild her life in whatever direction
it goes.