Sunday, April 15, 2007


I need to end a friendship with someone who’s been a fairly close friend since I was in my mid-20s. Really, I’ve known I need to do it for well over a year, but being the conflict avoider I am, I’ve been in denial about it. This friend, Y, is self-employed like I am and is more or less in the same business as I am.

Unlike me, she has never devoted time and effort into developing a solid client base. Unlike me, she misses deadlines routinely. Unlike me, she spends entire paychecks the moment they come in, never setting aside money for health insurance, savings, or even taxes (!). Unlike me, she flies into a panic if a check is late because she has no funds to get her through even the briefest of dry spells. Recently, she sent a client’s accounts payable department an e-mail demanding, in shockingly unprofessional terms, “a staright [sic] answer” about when she might expect her check—a check that in reality was only a few days late. In short, I run a professional, responsible business and she does nothing of the kind.

The other day, I finally reached the end of my tether with her. I’d just finished up a series of projects and planned to take the day off. One of the first items on my to-do list was to respond to a bunch of personal e-mails that had been stacking up including one to Y. In my e-mail to her I happened to mention, among other things, that I had no work at the moment and was “trying not to panic.” Big mistake.

Within an hour of sending the e-mail, the phone rang. It was Y. The first words out of her mouth were: "We're in the same boat!" She went on and on about how the kind of work we do is drying up everywhere and that she hasn’t had more than a dribble of work in the last few months, blaming everything from the Internet to George W. Bush for her lack of work. I actually think she found it reassuring that I didn't have any work, because it could be viewed as evidence for her theory that forces beyond her own control were responsible for her predicament. In other words, she wouldn't have to take a long hard look at the way she operates.

Lately, the work situation is the only thing she ever talks about and it makes me so very uncomfortable. I always feel that, if I were a "real" friend, I'd be offering her some kind of financial help. I also feel that without coming out and asking point blank, she’d like me to share some of my clients with her. The work I do is for a niche market, and Y doesn’t have the experience or qualifications to do it, although she thinks she does. It irks me that she thinks that what I do is something she could just “pick up.” But all that aside, I would NEVER recommend someone as unreliable and unprofessional as Y to any of my clients. I’ve worked too hard to earn their trust and loyalty and to build my own reputation.

Anyway, after talking to her that morning, the rest of my day off was ruined. I felt like she was trying to drag me down into the boiling-over cauldron of chaos that is her life.

The problem is that for years I’ve been less than honest with her about what I really think of the way she runs her business and, more importantly, her life. She is a traveler. Whenever she can scrape together a bit of money (which is a lot easier to do if you don’t put any of it into health insurance premiums or savings), she’ll take off for a place like Mongolia or Siberia and live there for months.

She’s an expert at getting kindly people she meets on her travels to offer her free lodging, food, and transport, and she always takes them up on it. To be fair, she’s also the ultimate shoestring budget traveler, and on several occasions she's shown the same type of hospitality to foreign travelers on her own turf. In a way it’s sort of admirable that she has all these amazing experiences and doesn’t just fritter away her life working, but I’ve finally realized how very much she depends on other people to support her travel habit and extract her from harrowing scrapes. For example, she was once stranded in China with no money to get home. Some “Russian businessman” she had just met lent her the money for a plane ticket back to the U.S.—probably close to a thousand dollars. I didn’t delve too deep into exactly why he was so willing to lend money to a total stranger. I wonder if she ever paid him back.

Anyway, I just cannot imagine living my life the way she does, but I’ve always tried to play the role of the supportive friend. I haven’t spoken up when I thought she was about to make a foolish choice.

For example, a couple of years ago, she married a man she met in another country so that he could come live in America and avoid being drafted into his country’s army--a marriage that, predictably, has proved to be a disaster. Not because the guy’s a shit heel. Not at all. He works long hours at minimum-skill jobs, and she treats him like an indentured servant. Not long after they married, she took off on one of her months-long trips, leaving him to pay the rent on her apartment, take care of her cats, and figure out on his own how to navigate the intricacies of life in a big American city. Is it any wonder the guy resents her—BIG TIME—now?

I’ve misled her in other ways, too. One of the reasons she thinks “we’re in the same boat” is that I never tell her about lucrative assignments I’ve gotten or successes I’ve had in landing new clients. When she called I didn't tell her that, though I was taking that day off, I have several projects lined up that will be starting in a few days. It’s my own cowardice. I’m afraid if I were to reveal that my business is doing just fine, it would prompt her to ask for a loan* or for work leads from me, and (see above) I don’t want that.

Also, she’s always telling me how much she hates living in Chicago (even though she’s not even there all that much), and I’m terrified that she’ll decide to move to Portland. When I talk to her I play up Portland’s gray, rainy weather, knowing she hates rain. I pretend I hate it, too (even though I don’t), just to make extra sure she gets the message--"It rains a lot here; you would hate it." I’ve never mentioned all the lovely sunny days we have or the gorgeous springs and summers. Isn’t that fucked up of me? I mean, I’ve often dreaded her phone calls and I don’t want her to move out here, so what kind of friendship is that? Heck, I don't even want her to come visit! Clearly, I don't want her encroaching on my life or trespassing on my time anymore, but I'm afraid to tell her. I really should take some blame for contributing to the dysfunction of our relationship.

I now wish I would have been honest with her, because it’s going to make “breaking up” with her that much harder. It will seem to her like a bolt out of the blue. Time and again she’s told me I’m a “true friend” especially as I’ve hung on so long, while almost all her other close friends have suddenly and inexplicably (according to her) cut ties with her. I guess I'm the last one to catch on.

Ugh. Will this post never end, you may be wondering. You may also be wondering why on Earth I didn’t ditch her long ago. She does have some good qualities, and it's all just so much more complicated than even this extra-long blog entry can convey, but, yes, she’s toxic and I’ve had it with her refusal to take responsibility for her problems and her negativity and blame laying. I’m sure there’s some self-help book out there that has a name for people of her ilk.

I’ve been mulling over how to rid her and her poison from my life without it seeming like I’m kicking her when she’s down. Her financial situation really is dire right now (albeit entirely of her own making) and her personal life sucks, too. But I can’t let that stop me or delay me. My sister, who knows Y and is not a fan of Y’s (my sis caught on to Y’s m.o. long ago) gave me this point-by-point strategy for disengagement:

Stop giving her your time and don't make her a priority in your life. If she emails, don't respond immediately, let it sit for a few days or a week. Then keep your response as short , succinct and neutral as possible. Don't offer sympathy and solutions. If she calls you, tell her you're very busy with work (whether you are or not) and can't talk. Not can't talk long, just can't talk period. Keep her at arm's length. She's not stupid--she'll catch on. Wait for her to ask you if something is wrong, don't initiate a discussion of her foibles. Let her call you out, then tell her that she has exhausted your patience and that you just cannot shoulder the burden of her problems anymore and that discussing her troubles is not a good foundation for friendship and she's going to have to get along without the benefit of your sympathetic ear. Don't go into details, don't let her try to patch things up, just end it. Believe me, she'll find someone else to accommodate her needs. You've had more than enough. You don't have anything in common with her. She'd like to think you're in the same sinking boat, in which you're bailing frantically while she throws the oars, compass and food supplies overboard.

I love how my sis put her own spin on Y’s boat metaphor. Very apt. My first reaction to my sis’s strategy was that it was too harsh. But I’ve been thinking about it (I actually printed out her e-mail and have read it over half a dozen times in the past few days—that’s how much this whole thing has been preying on my mind) and, you know what? I’m going to follow my sister’s strategy. To the letter. Y is not a good friend and doesn’t know how to be. I need out of this relationship—now.

*I did lend her some money once. She got herself into the position where she couldn't pay the rent on her Chicago apartment. About six months after I lent her the money, she e-mailed me to excitedly tell me about this cross-country road trip she was about to go on. She has money to go on a trip, but not to pay me back? WTF? I sent her a terse e-mail asking when she might be thinking of repaying me, and she did send me a check the next week, but if I hadn't asked I'm sure she would have blown that money (my money) on her road trip.

Edit: I remembered today that I'd blogged previously about some of my issues with Y (using the pseudoinitial "C"). Here's the post. It's interesting how much more slack I was cutting her a year ago. Totally in denial about the situation. Plus, I know for a fact I omitted some of the harsher criticisms I had even back then. No more.



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