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The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

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The Vine: June 16, 2010

Submitted by on June 16, 2010 – 4:25 PM28 Comments

Dear Sars,

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

Dear Cal,

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.

Dear Sars,

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

Dear Gerry,

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.

Hi Sars,

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.


Dear Heart,

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.




  • cv says:

    For Cal, one less confrontational idea might be calling to confirm a few hours or a day before you’re supposed to hang out. It sounds like both of your examples were times when arrangements were made week or more in advance. A call to say “Hey, are we still planning to hang out tonight?” or “Did we say 7 or 7:30?” or “Can you bring the dessert for dinner?” might clue her in. No, you shouldn’t have to do it, but it might be a relatively low-key way to deal with the problem.

    I deal with this all the time at work. I’m an admin for a really busy person, and so I send out a little email a day or two before his appointments if they were made more than a week in advance confirming time and location. Maybe 10-15% of the time I get back something indicating that the person forgot, or wants to change the time, or we realize the location won’t work for some reason, or whatever. Some people are consistently flaky, some just have an off moment, and sometimes I made a mistake scheduling. Better to just address the issue than to get upset when the inevitable mistakes occur. It’s why your dentist calls you two days before instead of expecting you to remember an appointment you made six months ago.

  • ferretrick says:

    @Calendar: I have a similarly flaky friend. I don’t disagree that this habit is maddening, and it shows disrespect for you and that there’s no reason a 27 year old can’t remember their social calendar or get a Blackberry. But one strategy that has worked for my friend is to call or e-mail 24 to 48 hours in advance of the plans and confirm they are still on. Call is probably better, as not everybody checks their e-mail every day. Sometimes he still flakes, but if I know in advance at least I can make alternative plans and not have to do the staring out the window looking for his car dance. I agree that you shouldn’t have to remind adults of their appointments, but if its that or the aggro of being stood up, probably worth the phone call.

  • phineyj says:

    @Heart, my sister rented a room from a woman who turned out to be an alcoholic. Gradually, my sister got more and more involved to the point where the woman’s family (who lived hundreds of miles away) were pretty much treating my sister like it was her responsibility. None of us in our family knew what to do as this was so totally outside our experience. Fortunately my sister’s best friend took charge of the situation and made my sister move out, offering her a place to stay in the meantime. Like Sars says, you have to step away now and let professionals help her.

  • MsC says:


    I don’t mean to be harsh, but you seem really really keen to let her off the hook on this, and it’s not clear why. You do, in fact, want her to take this seriously. If she really does have the wonderfully charming characteristic of not thinking about how her actions affect others you might need to spell it out for her. Like how one consequence might be that you (and others) stop making plans with a flake who shows so little consideration for other people’s time or feelings.

    I agree with the suggestions that it is a good idea to follow up a day or so before hand. And next time, don’t give her an hour and a half. If she’s not there after 20 minutes, call her to ask if she’s stuck in traffic. If not, get on with your evening.

    I do understand that a lot of us have ‘that friend’ who is always a little late and if we love that friend enough maybe we even say ‘let’s meet at 7’ knowing full well friend will get there about 7:30. But if friend doesn’t bother to show up at all and doesn’t care that she wrecked your evening, that person is not actually a friend.

  • SE says:

    @Heart-I second the advice from both Sars & phineyj. Having both lived with an alcoholic and then later realizing I was one myself I empathize with your situation. It can be really hard not to get caught up in enabling someone with this disease. I think this is especially true if you’re the kind of person who has a tendency to be a caretaker in the first place. Also, alcoholics are extremely good at manipulating people and situations (there’s a number of reasons for this from their early home environment, personality, their own drinking experiences, etc etc). More often than not the person isn’t even all that aware that they’re manipulating people or putting them in extremely difficult situations.

    Your intentions were good and the way you feel now is completely understandable but you can’t continue to live in this situation. Your roommate does need help but she has to realize that for herself-this may be the kick in the pants she needs to get into treatment or get help. The most important thing however is doing what is best for you (even if that causes you some anxiety). You may want to look into Al-Anon meetings where you can find more information on how living with an alcoholic has impacted you. General Al-Anon information Al-Anon in Perth

    A few resources for your roommate: AA Australia AA Perth

  • Jen B. says:

    @Heartless: Your letter reads like it’s right out of “Addiction and Co-Dependency 101”. It seems to me that you would be doing yourself a HUGE favor to learn more about addiction. Please, please, please go to an Al-Anon meeting. They’re free and convenient, and I promise it will change your life for the better.

    In the meantime, I honestly think it would help you to start watching episodes of “Intervention”. ( I suspect that they will give you perspective on your role in all this, including your “addiction” to your flatmate’s drama.

    Between these two things, I think you’ll start to understand an important idea: refusing to assist her any further is the OPPOSITE of being heartless. It’s what you need to do when you care enough (and know enough) to stop enabling her destructive behavior.

  • Jen S says:

    @Cal: I agree with others that a reminder is perfectly appropriate. Call her and say, “Are we still on for tonight?” Let her know that it’s okay if you AREN’T still on, but you do need to know either way. If she still stands you up, then you read her the riot act, She keeps doing it because she thinks it’s no big deal and you aren’t bothered by it. If you ARE bothered — as you should be — you have to let her know that.

    My patience with flaky people/wimp-out-of-plans-at-the-last-minute people is EXTREMELY limited. The second time you stand me up and leave me sitting home alone, that’s the last time I make one-on-one plans with you. Also, **I** AM the person that people have to tell 7 when they really want me there at 7:30. Even though I know that people make allowances for my very tacky chronic tardiness, I make a point of calling/texting as soon as it’s clear that I won’t be there at 7, precisely so they don’t think I’m standing them up (ESPECIALLY if we have one-on-one plans, and it’s not like the party can start without me). I do this because I like my friends and I value their time, and I want to continue being invited places with them ( … even if I get there late). Standing people up? Not the best way to get that to happen.

  • Cyntada says:

    Cal: I’ve been that fantasy world person that no one could tease or confront, and let me say it from her side: if you love her, stop walking on eggshells around her! She “doesn’t see” how her actions affect others because people tiptoe away instead of handing out perfectly normal consequences. She does see, but you’ve never expected her to like a grown-up before. Why should she suddenly bother now?

    Having been on both sides of the coin, please consider handling this like you would if any other voting adult had stood you up, and stop managing her reactions. She chooses her feelings, and if she chooses “hurt” and “offended,” that’s her problem. That’ll go away quickly when she stops getting the mileage out of it. Whenever that happens, is up to you.

  • Maren says:

    @Gerry, it’s scary how many similarities there are between your relationship and mine. I also got married a year out of college, to the only guy I’d ever seriously dated or slept with, and for immigration reasons, although it was to keep him in the US. The major difference is that we’d been dating since freshman year of college, and planning to get married for almost as long… and yet I still have struggled a lot in the last six years with boredom, the worry that we’re more like good friends/roommates, and that feeling of loss when you trade what you thought were going to be your sexy, free-wheeling twenties for a monogamous marriage.

    I’ve never really thought about relationship milestones as being something that keeps people together, but I think that’s a good way to put it. We’re planning to have kids, and that probably does make us closer. But there are lots of other little things that we work on together, like upgrading our living quarters, traveling, our careers, etc. Kids might be the biggest or most traditional “couple” milestone, but there are lots of other things that are more “life” milestones that the two of you can be working towards together.

    I guess that’s maybe what it boils down to — are you a team? I’ve gone through stretches of extreme dissatisfaction/boredom and some brushes with sorta-not-really-cheating and “oh god what have I done why did I get married at 22?”, but when I think about leaving and going through my adult life alone, it always makes me stop. It isn’t that I’d never find anyone more awesome (and there are definite areas that I would like improvement), but that I feel like we make a good team and are working for the same things in life

    So yeah, Sars is right (natch) when she says that Nick’s feelings are what’s missing here. Are you on the same page? Do you like the same things? Do you want the same things? And if you do have the same plans in life and are working together to get there, is that worth trading to maybe get to have more-awesome sex with someone new? That’s simplistic, I know, but it’s the way I put it to myself whenever I’m having to think about it seriously.

    Hopefully I haven’t put this in a way that’s either smug or unbearably depressing. I’ve just found that my mental approach to my marriage is what makes it worth, and that I think in the long run I’m getting more than I’m giving up. Good luck with your own exploration (and I definitely hope you’re able to talk to a counselor about this and find some answers)

  • RC says:

    @ Gerry
    To me this sentence is the crux of the matter
    “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.”

    Which means that even then, you thought there were good reasons, and they might well have talked you out of it. You knew going in this was not wise, not well thought out. It would be surprising if it got better from that beginning.

    @ Heartless
    you aren’t heartless; you are afraid that someone will consider you heartless for not doing everything to help your friend and co-worker. Well, you have already done everything you can do. It is well on its way to screwing up your life, too. You need to learn about codependency, tough love, and not enabling anymore. Your friend hasn’t really been your friend for a long time. Does she need help?
    Yes. Are you qualified to give her the help she needs? No. Do whatever you have to to do to get her into rehab. Then step back and out. Even if you can NOT get her into rehab, you have to step back and out. ONLY if she is perfect after rehab should you consider employing her. Even so I consider that risky, because you could so easily get back into the protective role.
    She should never move back into your home. Well, maybe with 5 or ten years sobriety, but even then, I have my doubts.

    You don’t have the power to keep her sober, properly employed, or alive. Giving her a home, a place to drink, and a job that lets her be massively irresponsible does not help her or you. She needs to be on a path that has some hope of getting her well, healthier, sober, responsible. That path is not with you.

  • Profreader says:

    Cal: I had a friend like this. I agree with the other commenters that suggest confirming the day before. Also: I started only making plans with that friend that involved me going to his place (so I wasn’t waiting at my place/at a restaurant/etc.) In other words, forcing him to get involved in plans, versus thinking of me as the event planner.

    But frankly, until you blow your stack at Marie, you’re just telling her that her behavior is just fine with you (and the rest of the world.) She’ll never change until she sees some consequences from her actions. Think of it as helping her to grow up.

    Gerry: counseling, right away. What does Nick think about all this? There’s no need to get all blame-y about your past actions — like whether or not getting married in your particular situation was a wise thing to do — but you do have to face some possibly unpleasant realities now. Namely — there is another person involved here. He moved to the U.S. He’s got a stake in this and deserves to know what you’re thinking. In the meantime: do what you can to make some friends, both as a couple and individually. In my experience, no single relationship can take the burden of being your *only* relationship. Having some time apart — even a night out here and there — can make you appreciate your partner more.

    Heart: what everyone else said. You are not helping her now. This is a situation which requires immediate action. Get her out. You have only enabled her, and continuing to do so is only going to give her permission to continue her behavior, until it destroys you both. It’s a disease, and it isn’t logical or rational.

  • @Cal – I just went through this with a friend of mine and we managed to work things out so there is hope!

    I think, from what you’ve written here, you feel guilty about telling her how you really feel about all of this and frankly, that needs to stop. The world won’t end if you admit your true feelings to someone.

    Call her on her shenanigans. Tell her you like hanging out with her, but being dumped or forgotten about is insulting. When you make plans with her, you’re expecting her to be there, and if for some reason she can’t be, a courtesy call is required ahead of time.

    Also, you are not the “field trip co-ordinator” of the friendship and you shouldn’t be treated as one. Get her to instigate things and make the plans. Maybe that will help outings stay in her head a little better if she knows she’s responsible for organizing them.

    She is a 27 year old adult. Being adult means taking responsibility for your $h!t and part of that involves keeping your word and showing up on time.

    If you value the friendship, you need to say something about it. Otherwise, your resentment will eat away at you and eventually you will end up getting in a huge fight your relationship won’t be able to recover from.

  • attica says:

    Cal, I’m another one with a flaky friend. She’s tons of fun, but absolutely cannot be counted on to honor a commitment. Fortunately, I don’t take it personally; I know it’s who she is. But what had to happen did indeed happen. My friendship with her throttled back. I don’t count on getting together with her, and I essentially decided to let her be the one to be ‘field-trip coordinator.’ (Hee! great expression, girlonthepark!) When she steps up to that plate, we get together and have fun. Otherwise, we go on about our lives.

    So my advise beyond what Sars suggests is to do an inventory of yourself, and check to see if you’re more invested in the friendship than she is, and adjust accordingly.

  • Jane says:

    Heart–other people have made the salient point already. I’ll suggest that you see if you can extricate yourself from her at work. It’s clearly a very bad idea for you to be her supervisor–you’re not supervising, for one thing–so can you reassign her, saying you’ve realized that your personal relationship makes the supervisory position difficult? Honestly, it’s either that or you have to fire her. People undoubtedly love her less than you think, and they will almost certainly love a successor who actually performs the job even more. Use work’s inherent structure to structure some distance from her. She needs to stand or fall on her own, and you won’t let that happen; send her over to somebody who will.

    And yes, that *is* on top of asking her to move out, and doing so within whatever parameters are necessary in WA to make it a legal cessation of the lease. What you think is helping isn’t; you’re just pouring your life down the drain with hers. Time to cork up your bottle, even if you can’t cork hers.

  • RJ says:

    @ Heart – GAD, Sars is so very right. You have gone above and beyond the call of duty here – unfortunately, to the point of enabling your friend’s behavior. (And you should definitely NOT have been the one to tell your friend that her father had died – I can’t imagine why her mother would put that on you!!!)

    You cannot be responsible for this girl. She is seriously ill, and no one can change that for her or make it better for her unless she realizes and accepts that she is sick, she needs help, and is willing to get help. Lying for her, covering for her, allowing this to continue under her roof, changes nothing. It only makes things more difficult for you in the end.

    I really hope you are able to reach her somehow, but if you don’t, please try to accept that it is not your job to save this girl from herself. Only she can help herself, and she has to want to.

  • Jane says:

    P.S. to Heart–tell your boyfriend to can it, unless he wants to live with her. And at the rate you’re going, that’s going to happen.

  • @Cal — My brother sounds a lot like your cousin. He’s hyper-sensitive to criticism, and when he screws up, he can be incredibly unpleasant if anyone calls him on it. He also has a history of blowing off or forgetting plans he’s made with family.

    I agree with everyone else. If Marie doesn’t show up for your plans in the future, tell her that being blown off and forgotten makes you feel annoyed, frustrated, and crappy, like you’re not worth remembering.

    She may get upset or be offended. That’s OK. You will both survive. My brother’s response to being called on his flakiness was “Gawd, over-react much? This isn’t a big deal. Why can’t you just cut me some slack for once in my life?” Not exactly the “I’m sorry, I’ll try to do better” I was hoping for! But the next time we made plans, he showed, on time. He’s gotten much, much better at keeping his commitments over the past few years, and I think it’s because we (his family) stopped letting his forgetfulness slide and started telling him how annoying it was when he blew us off.

    So I guess my message is this: there may not be a way to bring this up without offending her. That doesn’t mean you should just suffer silently. Offending her might be the only way to make her see how annoying her behavior is.

  • Melissa says:

    Cal: Exactly what attica has said. I had a friend like this and I knew there was a problem when she had cancelled on me so many times that I started believing it was normal behaviour and to expect it from everyone. I’ve cut way back on social committments with her, letting her be the field-trip coordinator, and my relationship with her, while not nearly as involved, has much less stress.

  • Cora says:

    @Cyntada: word. Also, I have to wonder: instead of making A Thing out of it, what if, when an oversensitive person starts acting like a toddler over criticism, you just looked Person in the eye and gently said: “Grow up.”? Especially with others present who also deal with the gratuitous drama. If brevity is the soul of wit, maybe conciseness is the soul of instruction.

  • ferretrick says:

    @Heart: In addition to what everyone else has said about getting your friend help, I suggest you read some books on codependence, and take a look at yourself. You have endangered your own career for this girl-and you are getting something out of doing that. How much of your own sense of self is now tied up in being her caretaker? Talk to a therapist and/or attend Al-Anon to sort out why you have enabled her for so long and how you can break the cycle.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Hey, there’s another one of me on here! Thus the slightly altered sobriquet.

    Today’s theme seems to be loneliness and where it can lead you.

    In order:
    Cal, you know that horrible clenching you got in your stomach when you realized that Marie wasn’t going to show, and how you told yourself you were overreacting? You weren’t. I think you may be a bit oversensitive to being “accused” of that, since you’ve seen Marie overreact and know it’s unpleasant to be around. But there is a whole spectrum between “eh” and “I TORCH YOU WITH MY WRATH” that is known as normal reactions! What you’re worried about isn’t Marie’s freakout, it’s how the freakout makes you feel, and once you manage to, well, manage that, I think you’ll have either a more even freindship, or a more distant one, but one that doesn’t make you tense and pissed.

    Gerry, I agree that the telling sentence in your letter was “I was afraid they’d talk me out of it.” Your whole situation is the reason I wish TPTB would black box romantic comedies that involve strangers falling in love in an exotic land–not because the feelings weren’t real, but because the situation was one that set up a lot of stressors that aren’t around in your normal life, and those clearly contributed to the “marry or die!” mentality that was the beginning of your life together. I think you knew that back then, but were convinced that somehow your feelings weren’t legit if you weren’t willing to “go all the way” with the marriage plans.

    You’re not a bad person for having second thoughts, now or then It’s your actions that will determine that–as so many have pointed out, Nick is involved here, too, and is ironically in somewhat of the same spot you were back then. What’s his legal status? How does he feel about living in your country of orgin? These are real issues, and you need a counselor to sort them out.

    Oh, Heart, there’s nothing I can add to the good advice already here, except that I will once again recommend Caroline Knapp’s “Drinking: A Love Story” for essential reading. Her descriptions of the depth of need an alcoholic has for alcohol may help you realize what you’re up against, and while the situation is not hopeless, it’s NOT up to you, or her mom, or boyfreind, or job, or whatever else. It’s only up to her.

    None of you are bad people, you’re in difficult situations, with difficult solutions, and the solutions may not make you feel good, but they will end up doing the most good in the end.

  • Jacq says:

    Regarding Heartless: I agree with everybody’s ‘get her out now, this isn’t your problem, call her mother and don’t take no for an answer’ comments, but not necessarily the theories about her codependency and what this says about her. I think it’s reasonably easy, sometimes, to get sucked into other people’s drama if you’re fairly kind-hearted and inclined to be helpful and responsible, even though you know that it isn’t a good idea for you. I don’t think that this signifies some deep-seated need to be needed: this kind of thing can creep up on a person. In other words, try to avoid being quite so helpful in the future, but don’t beat yourself up about what has happened. Your heart was in the right place.

  • Heather says:

    @Cal – I too second what attica said. I see that little reminders have worked well for lots of people, and that may work for you too, but I think you also need to prepare yourself for the possibility that you’re the only one willing to do the work to get together, and whatever consequences that may have.

    My best friend from high school was flaky in a similar way – she didn’t forget plans entirely, but she would cancel or just be so late as to miss the whole night about 95% of the time. This went on from when we were in college (and lived a couple hundred miles apart) until well after that (when it was more like a couple thousand). She’d be home for the weekend, or I’d be home for Christmas, and I’d call and we’d make plans. An hour late, she’d call and say that she’d received word from her uncle about a last-minute job ushering at a concert, and decided to do that instead. Or she’d call and say she’d be even later, over and over, until it was basically to the point of, “OK, let’s just do this another time.”

    Eventually, I got so irritated with it all that I started to… well, stop. I got tired of making plans and having them not materialize, I got tired of hearing “I’ll call you back in an hour” and never getting the call, all of it. So I stopped – I stopped making plans with her and stopped expecting her to be in touch when she said she would be. If she called me and set up plans, then we’d make them, but otherwise, no.

    And what happened? We stopped getting together, for the most part. Now, I see or talk to her maybe once a year, if that – which was sad at first, but I couldn’t go on doing ALL the work in that friendship. It sucks that once I stopped, it all stopped, but my view on it now is basically that if she really valued our friendship, she would’ve been willing to put some effort into it too, and for whatever reason, she wasn’t.

    You say that your cousin has only done this to you twice in the last 6 months, so it’s totally possible she’s just in the midst of a flaky phase – but if things continue on like this even with reminders, I would urge you to steel yourself for the fact that she may not value you as much as you value her. You deserve friendships that aren’t just one-sided.

  • Lis says:

    “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.”

    Heart – Please, please, please hear this. I was in a very similar situation not too long ago. A very dear friend of mine whom I had lived with in the past needed a place again, he moved back in and acted very strangely for the month and a half he was there. I shook it off to his crazy work schedule and just being tired. He’s a bad sleeper, I knew this. I did suspect perhaps he was also on something… but I thought it was not a big deal. He went home for thanksgiving, overdosed on heroin and died… I had to clean out his room. There were syringes and baking soda everywhere.

    Not only did I loose someone I loved like a brother because I didn’t want to hurt him by either kicking him out or confronting him on his “possible” drug use. I could have potentially lost my job, or even gone to jail. You can go to jail for possession of narcotics even if they aren’t yours if they are in your house. You can be fired for that too. I vacillate between being so mad at him for doing something so stupid and being mad at myself for not doing anything about it. It has torn my life apart. Please get her help, and get yourself help too.

  • Dorrie says:

    Cal, I also had a friend who went through a particularly flakey period, and basically after she forgot lunch twice, the next two times she tried to make a plan, I told her, “OK, next Tuesday it is! But will you call me the morning of to confirm? OK, great!” This way I put it on HER to call ME to confirm, and guess what? She forgot and forgot, but it was no big deal to me–I just did whatever I wanted at lunch and wasn’t pissed anymore. I should say, though, she was just an OK friend to begin with, so that’s why I didn’t care so much. We ended up losing touch after this period. Epilogue about this friend? It turned out she had become addicted to cocaine. (I think she is in rehab now but don’t really know.)

  • Sarah says:

    As an often-flaky friend, I would urge you NOT to take this personally. I know it can seem like you value her friendship more than she values yours, but from the flake’s perspective, everything in her life is just completely unmanageable. She’s not trying to be late; she’s not even indifferent about being late; she’s probably trying to be on time and finding it impossible to do so and then feeling embarrassed and defensive about being flaky. It doesn’t mean we don’t love you; it means we, for one reason or another, cannot get our shit together. Please, if you can bring yourself to, work around us by calling to confirm; if you can’t, that’s fine, too, and we reap what we sow, but please don’t think it’s a slight. We know it’s rude; but we feel like we can’t help it.

    (That said, I was 90+% cured of tardiness tendencies by a summer program in Croatia where everything happened 10 minutes early. If you showed up to dinner 10 minutes late, all the french fries–and most of the other food–were long gone. If you were running behind and got to the ferry a minute before its scheduled departure, you would literally be RUNNING BEHIND it, hoping to get on before they took the ropes off the dock. About ten days of this, and I stopped being late. It’s been 4 years and I’m still pretty punctual.)

  • Jacq says:

    I cured a flaky friend of bad timekeeping by refusing to wait for her. If she was late for lunch (before the days of mobile phones, because I’m THAT old), I would wait for ten minutes and then head off. When we shared a flat and were going out for drinks, she’d get ten minutes of waiting time and then we’d tell her that she had to come and find us at the bar. It was fairly effective.

  • Dr. Sarah Tonin says:

    Consequences are a gift. It’s unkind to let someone treat you, or themselves, badly.

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