The Vine: June 16, 2010
I am having a bit of a family drama that I am hoping you can help me resolve. Here's a little background: I have a cousin, let's call her "Marie," that I grew up side-by-side with. We lived in neighboring towns (big city + suburb) and I am an only child and our fathers are very close, so we spent most of our childhoods together. She's essentially the closest thing I'll ever have to a sister.
We drifted apart during high school because we went to different schools and had entirely different social circles. However, once college rolled around we reconnected, and have become close in the last 5 years. I consider her one of my closest friends and I know she feels the same.
Another note that will be important to this question: Marie has always been very sensitive to criticism of any kind — you cannot jokingly tease her about anything because she will take it seriously and she will be offended/upset. This is fine — I've adapted to that over the years. She is also prone to living a bit in a fantasy world — whenever she does anything, she only thinks about herself and doesn't seem to see how things affect others, or how they feel about the situation. These particular parts of her personality are making it hard for me to bring up the issue at hand, which is this:
In the past 6 months, Marie and I have made plans to spend time together on two separate occasions. We're both really busy with work/family/other friends, so we don't see each other as often as we'd like. Both times, Marie has flat-out forgotten that we made any plans and has simply not shown up.
The first time it happened, I was sitting around my apartment waiting for her to come over (we were going to have a game night at my place). About 1.5 hours after the appointed meeting time, I gave her a call, worried that she'd been in an accident or something had happened to her dad or something. Nope — she was at home playing video games with her brother. She was only mildly apologetic when I confronted her on the phone — I mentioned that if I had known she wasn't coming over, I could have made other plans but it was pretty inconsiderate for her to simply not show up. Her response was "Well, what else would you have done?" Not. The. Point. Due to her habit of living in a fantasy world, I let it go and moved on. She's family, after all, and I need to cut her some slack — we're all forgetful from time to time.
Fast forward to two weeks ago. Marie called me all excited about her new boyfriend and, since she was in my neighborhood, wanted to stop by for a girls' night of gossip and dinner. I had plans so I suggested we do it the next week. We agreed and that was that. One week later, Marie once again didn't show up, didn't call, nothing. Again, I called her and this time I left a somewhat bitchy message that maybe was a bit harsh, if somewhat justified. I got a vaguely apologetic email the next day where she said she was sorry and that we'd talk soon because she misses me and really wants to catch up. She also added that she hoped I had fun doing whatever else I did instead. Except I didn't do anything else instead — I once again spent my night waiting for her to show up! Grr.
So my question is this: How do I talk to her about this without deeply offending her, particularly as she takes offense so easily? I want to get my point across that this is really inconsiderate of her and she can't just keep forgetting me just because I'm family and "will always be there." Or do I just avoid making any plans with her unless she instigates it? I feel like that would be the easiest, most passive-aggressive way to go but I also feel like she won't see a problem with this behavior unless I bring it up. Any advice you (or the readers) could give would be appreciated.
Sick of being stood-up by a 27 year old without a calendar
You tell her, "Marie, I understand that people get busy and forget things; it's not the end of the world, or our relationship. But it inconveniences me and hurts my feelings, and it makes me feel like I'm not worth your effort to remember."
And if she gets offended, well, she gets offended, but telling her that it hurts your feelings when she blows you off is not "teasing" her; it's shit she needs to hear if you're to have a legitimate friendship. What you have now is not exactly that, because you tiptoe around her oversensitivity.
She's 27. She can put things in Google Calendar, or write them down; if she can't do that, she can take the consequences, namely that you set aside time for her and get annoyed when she doesn't make it important. You can in fact handle her reaction, and so can she. Stop handling her with kid gloves.
I've been contemplating sending this letter to The Vine for a while, but I've had a hard time figuring out what my question for you actually is. I guess I would just like your thoughts on my situation.
I'll try to be as concise as possible. I met my husband, "Nick," about seven years ago while I was overseas doing a work abroad program. (Nick is a citizen of the foreign country.) We went on a few dates, and we kept in contact when I returned to the U.S. to finish my last year of college. At the time I just thought we'd send a few emails before moving on, but we ended up emailing each other every day and basically falling in love over email and some phone calls. We visited each other a few times, and then I moved overseas in the fall after graduation to be with Nick.
My visa was only for six months, and those months went by pretty quickly. My employer tried to get a visa for me, but the application was rejected. Because there were no other visa options and we wanted to stay together, Nick and I decided to get married.
I was very much in love, but I knew I wasn't ready to get married. I was only 22, and Nick was the only guy I had ever dated or slept with. (I'm a shy person who never dated in high school and only had drunken make-out sessions in college.) I was pretty freaked out about getting married, but I was more freaked out by the idea of us never being able to be together. So we got married.
To be honest, I was able to go through with the wedding because it didn't seem very real to me — we just got married at city hall with some co-workers as witnesses, no wedding dress, no reception, no engagement ring, no real honeymoon, etc. I told myself that if the marriage didn't work out I could just chalk it up to being young and foolish. I was actually so worried about what my parents would think that I emailed them only two days before the wedding to tell them about it, which I regret now because it hurt their feelings, but at the time I thought they might try to talk me out of it.
Anyway, we lived overseas for about two and a half years after the wedding and then moved to the U.S., where we've been now for almost three years. We get along well and hardly ever fight, but over the course of the relationship I've often felt trapped — not because of anything Nick did — it's just more of a feeling that I'm permanently attached to someone. I had just graduated college the year before and had the freedom to do whatever I wanted and then tied myself down. I had assumed that I would date and sleep with several people before getting married, but that didn't happen.
Added on top of these issues (which I realize are all in my head) is that I don't think I'm in love with Nick anymore. He hasn't done anything wrong; it just seems like my feelings for him have slowly faded away. We're like good friends or roommates now, and our relationship is very boring. We don't have many friends in the area, so we don't have much of a social life, which adds to the boredom. I worry that my issues from getting married too young have tainted the relationship — after we got married, I felt like there wasn't really anything to look forward to relationship-wise anymore. We don't want to have kids, so it was like we'd zoomed past all the milestones and were just left with decades of time ahead of us.
I guess my problem is that I'm conflicted: I have days when I fantasize about breaking up and being on my own, and there are other days when I fantasize about buying a house together and settling down further. Nick is a good person, and we get along well. Probably all relationships get boring eventually, and I wouldn't want to throw away our relationship just out of boredom or regret that I didn't sleep around before I got married.
I guess my questions are: Do you think that my urges to cut and run are just due to getting married when I wasn't really ready? Or are they a sign that this relationship has run its course? I gladly accept any insights you have to offer.
At Least I Didn't Marry Gerard Depardieu
I can't really say which it is; probably, it's a little of both. I do think you need to see a counselor, on your own, and talk about the pessimistic attitude that pervades your letter. "Probably all relationships get boring eventually"…"I felt like there wasn't really anything to look forward to relationship-wise anymore"…"if the marriage didn't work out I could just chalk it up to being young and foolish." On the one hand, you married Nick primarily because the other options for keeping him in your life seemed too daunting and difficult — but then the idea of actually working on your marriage, or facing the realities of a committed relationship, seems too daunting and difficult too.
And it is difficult. Relationships evolve; the initial fog of romance burns off to reveal something a little bit different in the sunlight, and if you want to keep that something, you do have to work on it. A long-term partnership is not a set-it-and-forget-it proposition, unfortunately, and while dating around before you get married is not absolutely necessary for giving you that perspective, it can help.
You need to get counseling, on your own first and then probably with Nick, to figure out whether you can save the marriage, and when you do, try to focus on taking it a little more seriously. And by "it," I mean everything: what you actually want from your adult life, and your own goals. Nick's feelings about the relationship, which you don't mention here. The fact that marriage is in fact a contract — not that you shouldn't get a divorce if you've fallen out of love with him, obviously, and there's no shame in that. People make mistakes. But you kind of treat the situation like a dull movie you'd like to return, not a relationship with another person or people involved: "We'll just get married, it's easier than exploring the visa options separately." "We'll just tell my parents two days before, it's not a big deal."
It…actually is. It's not life-and-death end-of-the-world, but it wanted more thinking through than you gave it in the beginning, and you'll have to do that thinking now, about whether you love him, whether working on the relationship with him will save it, and whether you can accept that "I thought I would get to sleep with a bunch of people, but I didn't" is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for not taking your marriage seriously.
Again, if you really feel trapped and ripped off by not getting to experience more men, well, you feel what you feel. Variety is the spice of life, everyone gets a little bored in their relationships now and then; it is what it is, and getting a divorce is not the end of the world. But your actions have consequences, and you seem somewhat estranged from that idea, before and after those actions take place. You can handle figuring this out, and whatever you do figure out won't make you a bad person — but you do have to handle it.
I am writing for advice about a friend who is my currently my employee and flatmate and, I believe, an alcoholic. I want to ask her to leave my house but I don't know if I am just being selfish. I feel I need to go to the beginning to explain it properly.
My friend has been in my life for about four years or so. I went to high school with her but we weren't really friends then. I met up with her outside of high school when I was about 23 and we have been friends since then. I met with her at a time that was really quite bad for me, and I have difficulty making friends, so I was grateful just to know her at the time. I live in Perth, Western Australia, and all of my immediate and extended family have moved to another state or overseas, or live in country/rural areas. So although it's great being the base where the whole family come back to when they want to get together, it's kind of lonely when you have limited friends.
So we started hanging out and she is a really kind-hearted person so it was nice. Then some things started happening. She would cancel whenever we were supposed to get together. I didn't mind so much. But one time I was supposed to go see her when she was living on-campus at her university, she called me and told me she was out and would be late, to come an hour later. I came an hour later and found her almost passed out on her bed. She told me she had taken a bottle of some painkillers and drunk like a bottle of vodka or something.
I called my dad who is in the medical profession and he told me to call the poisons information line. I called them and they told me that if she was conscious, to drive her to the hospital. If she was unconscious to call an ambulance. She was conscious so I drove her to the hospital. After being in emergency for quite a while, they told me they were going to keep her overnight and to go home. They contacted her parents.
Friend's Mother came up to Perth from the country to take over. Friend's Mother put friend into a voluntary mental hospital. Friend called me from there and asked me to come and bring her some sweets and cigarettes. I came, and talked to her a lot there. She asked if she could live with me, and go away from this mental hospital. I said okay. She wanted to leave that night, and so we left.
The next day we talked to her mum and she promised she would stop drinking and that she would not hurt herself again. This is when I found out that she had been drinking a lot in the university housing and had apparently upset a fellow student by getting drunk and going to his room. There's more to it but I don't want to write about it here because I am not exactly sure what happened. The end result is that Friend was not allowed to stay in the university housing.
When she came to live with me things were okay. She drank a lot at night but I didn't think too much of it. Then my cousin came to live with us as well. We had pre-arranged this a year before because she was living in a country area and was coming to Perth for university. Because my cousin was also at university she did not work everyday, and she saw Friend during the day. She told me that Friend was drinking during the day, and also that she had burned herself with her cigarette on her arm in three places. When my sister came from Sydney to stay with me for a while, she also said the same thing. Cousin asked me to confront Friend, because Friend was very messy when she was drunk, and it was becoming an issue.
I talked to Friend and asked her if she was drinking during the day. She denied it completely. Eventually Friend and Cousin started arguing a lot.
In my work, I manage a small office. The upper management are all in the Head Office in Melbourne. I was having trouble finding a suitable employee, and Friend was having trouble finding work. She worked as a customer service assistant at a video store halfway across the city. I told her I would give her a part-time job, but she had to find somewhere else to live, because it would strain our friendship too much to work and live together. She agreed and she moved out.
At first it was a disaster. Friend was sick all the time. She came to work vomiting. I knew that it was because she was still drunk or hungover and it made me furious. I am the kind of person who gets very passive-aggressive plus I had no proof so I could not make an accusation at all. Eventually Friend managed to get herself together and things became smoother. She has never managed to perform to the level that is expected of any other employee, but everybody loves her because she has a lovely personality and I protect her from upper management at any performance review by lying and saying that I have her doing other things for me.
Friend's boyfriend broke up with her once and she took two weeks off work. They always fight about her drinking. They have since got back together. Near the end of last year she came to work a couple of days in a row vomiting all the time, saying it was because of stress. I had to forcefully tell her to go home and not come to work like this. Of course Friend is not vomiting because of "stress." I know this much.
So we have been working together for about two years now. I achieved my goal of buying a house in February 2010. So I am now the proud owner of a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house and a mortgage that is more than half my salary each fortnight.
On settlement day, the day I bought this house I am living in now, Friend's Mother called me at work (while Friend was at lunch) and told me that Friend's father had been killed in a car accident. She wanted me to tell Friend. I had to tell her when she came back from lunch. It was awful. She kept screaming at me "what are you saying?" and her eyes were just not comprehending. She kept looking in my eyes asking for confirmation and I had to give it, over and over again. It was like telling her ten times in a row. I felt I had taken her whole life which was one way, and ruined it. Totally and completely ruined it. I called her boyfriend and he came and took her home.
I of course tried to be there as much as possible. A couple of days after the funeral she sent me a message asking if she could live with me. Her message was, "Please please please can I live with you?" because her lease on her current place was running out. Of course I said yes, how could I say no?
I should mention that I have a fiancé. He is the only person I have here in Perth aside from Friend. And I find more and more that I really need friends as well as fiancé. I love him but I really need some other adults to talk to. Since Friend tried to kill herself years ago, we have not had really much of a friendship. Occasionally we have a good time but mostly I feel like I have to take care of her. And lately more than ever. Even before her father died, mostly it was me comforting her about something and her crying.
But since she has moved in with me (now for the second time) I feel like all my patience has run out. Just this week past, she had sick days from work on Thursday and Friday. Each day when I came home from work she seemed out of it. On Saturday I witnessed her drink all day. She hid it from me but she asked me to take her to the shop (she doesn't have a drivers licence or car) and she was completely out of it, unable to follow our conversation past one sentence. She went to the bottle shop and then the supermarket. She came out of her room twice on Saturday (in her pyjamas both times) and that was for less than 10 seconds each time.
I made a pretense to go into her room (to see if she would stop me) and she ran in front of me telling me I couldn't go in there. Her boyfriend told her she needs space. He has eventually accepted her today so she has gone off to his place, so I checked her room. I know I shouldn't have but I wanted to know that I was not crazy. She has four empty bottles in there. One whisky, one vodka, two wine bottles.
This is going to sound absolutely horrible but here goes. I just don't want her around anymore. I want to ask her to move out but it's never a good time! Plus fiancé says that I can't ask someone to move out after such a short time because it cost a lot to move all of her stuff here. I want to point out that I am charging her $50.00 a week when rent in Perth is $300.00 a week minimum and I never asked any bond money.
Sars my questions are: Am I being a heartless bitch? And also can I ask her to move out now? I have five months till I marry but I don't feel like I can wait that long.
Oh my dear Lord, where to start.
…Okay, I'll start with this: Friend is a troubled girl. She's not a bad person; she's sick, and she needs professional help — substance-abuse and grief counseling, just for starters.
You are not a bad person either; she needed help, and you wanted to provide it.
With all of that said, and you really really need to hear these things: 1) the kind of help she needs is completely beyond your abilities, through no fault of either of you, and 2) you need to admit this to yourself and her, right now, because enabling her is only making the situation worse.
Letting her fuck up at her job, a job you got her, to the point where it puts your own job in jeopardy because she's incompetent, and you have to lie for her? Signing her out of a psychiatric ward without seeking the doctor's advice? Acting in loco parentis to inform her that her father had died? I understand that you feel bad for Friend, but do you understand that this stuff is way above your pay grade? Do you understand that you aren't a doctor, or her mom? Do you understand that she's not the only one who needs a therapist, because all you seem to do is take care of, subsidize, and apologize for Friend?
Let me direct your attention to a few portions of your letter:
Since Friend tried to kill herself years ago, we have not had really much of a friendship. Occasionally we have a good time but mostly I feel like I have to take care of her.
Well, yeah — because you've unconsciously engineered the situation (or both of you have) so that that's the relationship. Even her mother defers to you as the primary parent. You don't think Friend can stand on her own, so she doesn't, because nobody is requiring her to. That isn't a friendship. You are a caretaker. Worse, it isn't working.
Of course I said yes, how could I say no?
The subtext here is that you think that, if you deny her anything, she'll try to kill herself again. The thing is, she's already doing that with the boozing, whether she knows it consciously or not. She hates herself. She's trying to disappear from her own life. She's not an alcoholic because you haven't made her take responsibility for her own shit, obviously, but…what's her motivation to start? She's got a job she can show up puke-drunk to and barely pays rent. Why straighten herself out?
Again, I'm not blaming you. I just don't think you hear yourself.
Her boyfriend told her she needs space. He has eventually accepted her today so she has gone off to his place, so I checked her room.
I can't tell if that's a typo and you actually meant to write that "he needs space." Either way: "He has eventually accepted her today"? …"Accepted"? This is her boyfriend; this is…fucked up. Even if he did say that she needs space, what he's really saying is that he can't deal with her anymore.
And neither can you, because she won't deal with herself, and that is okay. It is okay for her to need help, and it is okay for you to tell her that she is required to go and get it, period. It's time for an intervention; it's past time. Get her mother involved and do not take no for an answer: Friend needs rehab, pronto. If she goes, you will support her, you will visit her, and you will help her get leave from work — but if she doesn't go, you won't stick up for her or lie for her at work anymore, and you can't have her stay with you anymore. She goes to rehab, and stays there, or she's out of your life.
You are not being a heartless bitch; you can tell her to move out anytime you like, as long as you didn't sign anything saying she can stay for a year or what have you. It's your house. The only question is why it took so long for you to get fed up and feel smothered by feeling like you and Friend are each other's only lifelines. I mean, don't you think you could make other friends a bit more easily if you spent less time dealing with Friend's illness and drama? Don't you think your fiancé would appreciate not having a third person, an adult child you don't allow to fend for herself, in your relationship with you?
It's scary, but you really have to do it, for Friend's sake even more than your own. She's sick, and you have to separate from her so she can get the help she needs — and so you can get some help untangling why you felt obligated to parent and enable a non-functional alcoholic for years on end. Enough already. Call Friend's mom and boyfriend and get them in the loop, and then give Friend the speech: you have a serious problem with alcohol, and I can no longer enable you. I do not judge you, but I can no longer lie for you at work, and I can no longer let you stay here. If she threatens to kill herself, call emergency and tell them she's a danger to herself; either she genuinely is, or the disease is trying to manipulate you, but either way, it's a problem for professionals, and you have to let professionals handle it.
I know it's hard, but you've done everything you can do; needing to stop doesn't mean you don't care. It means you need to stop before she drowns you, too.
Tags: boys (and girls) friendships the fam