Monday, July 2, 2007

The Tangled Web Indeed

Dear Jane,

We've been trying to conceive for a little while now - long enough that some of our friends have conceived, carried, and delivered not one but two consecutive children and are thinking about number three. Mostly, I try not to stomp all over their happiness with my grief.

However, I recently got an email from a friend to say she is moving in with her new boyfriend, and I bet I know what's coming next.
A little history: after we started trying, this friend decided she wanted to get married and have kids, but unfortunately her then-boyfriend didn't agree. So she "accidentally" got herself pregnant, and when he left in disgust she had an abortion. A couple of months down the track they got back together and she did it again. This time, after the second abortion, he didn't come back.

Obviously, you have to be pretty fucked up to run your life like that, so I do feel for her. On the other hand, her actions make me kind of ashamed as a woman. I thought we dropped the dishonest manipulation when we got the vote? In any case, it doesn't seem fair that she should be able to fall pregnant with her new boyfriend when we're still trying.
So my question is this: when (if) the announcement comes, do I really have to be happy for her?

Signed, How Do My Green Eyes Look To You

Dear Green:

Let's start out with the note you shouldn't send back when the announcement comes:

Congratulations! Looks like the third time is a charm!

Listen, you said it--not I--she is the embodiment of dishonest manipulation. And while Jane would certainly approve of resourcefulness, I think if we left the two of them alone in a room, Jane would kick her ass twelve ways to Sunday for marring the name of womanhood with dishonesty and cruelty. When you read her books, you can just tell that Jane Austen had mad ninja skills when it came to protecting the sisterhood.

That's what Jane would do.

But what should you do?

First and foremost, the worst thing you could do if that announcement comes would be to do nothing. You have to be proactive if you want to save yourself from the highly-uncomfortable "why aren't you happy for me" email or phone call that will come if you linger too long over the decision. Because what are you going to say? "Actually, I'm really not that happy for you because you have no business being a parent with your fucked-up ethics."

Truthful, but not very ladylike. Even Jane bit her tongue from time to time.

I don't know how much your emotions actually have to do with jealousy over her fertility and how much they have to do with your own cognitive dissonance over being friends with someone who is so untrustworthy. There are two pieces of information missing from your letter: why you two are still friends and do you feel comfortable confiding in her about your own situation.

To figure out your own course of action, you need to think about why you still have her in your life. I'm certainly not saying to drop-kick her as a friend. Camus (who perhaps isn't the best philosopher for thoughts on friendship considering his falling out with Sartre) said, "Friendship is not so simple. It is hard to get and takes a long time, but when one has it one cannot get rid of it, one has to face it."

And talk about having to face it--I mean, what's more in your face than a big round baby bump the third time around?

The fact that she is still in your life after everything she has done speaks loudly to the fact that there is probably more history here than you have shared in the letter--either she is part of your circle of friends and therefore comes with the package or she has been a friend for so long that your lives are too deeply entwined to simply cut her off with a simple snip of the garden sheers. I think you need to establish what you are still getting from this friendship before you can chart your own reaction.

If she simply comes as part of the package with a larger collection of friends, I would take her immediately to arm's length. If she's untrustworthy towards her boyfriends, she's probably not someone you feel safe confiding in with highly emotional information. When the announcement comes, offer a terse but pleasant congratulations. Don't ask more questions than necessary to be polite. Beg off baby showers and trips to maternity clothing stores with prior commitments. Send a gift or a response quickly when necessary. It cuts off many of the opportunities for your friend to push the issue about the genuineness of your happiness and it holds her firmly at arm's length.

It gets more complicated if she has somehow overcome the lack of trustworthiness to remain within your inner circle. At that point, this comes down more to you and how you see yourself. A fellow blogger once wrote a long post about why she writes thank you cards even though she never gets them in return for her gifts. She was the type of person who sent thank you cards. And it felt right to send thank you cards. It didn't matter what anyone else said or did in return, she sent them simply because they were part of who she wanted to be. If she is in your inner circle, this begs the question of what sort of friend do you want to be. It makes life a lot easier when you base your own reaction not in their worthiness or what they've done but in the person you want to be.

If you're the type of person who sends onesies the second the announcement comes and plans everyone's baby shower, I think your largest source of discomfort when the situation comes to a head will come from the fact that you are not behaving like yourself. When that happens, you're going to turn the anger onto yourself rather than the woman who has brought out this reaction in you. Screw that! You have enough on your plate to also be angry with yourself at the same time.

Remind yourself how you usually act, grit your teeth, and proceed to lessen the chance of cognitive dissonance. If you're the type of person who sends back a congratulations email and the requisite gifts but rarely becomes more involved in other people's pregnancies, I think you can do your bare minimum and feel good knowing that you remained true to your own vision of yourself. Again, this time, it may take some teeth gritting to be yourself, but if she is part of your inner circle and you don't want to lose the friendship, you need to extend to her the same actions and words you would anyone else in your inner circle.

If she knows everything that you're going through and she still thrusts her pregnancy information upon you, add freakin' insensitive to dishonest and manipulative. Beg off by pointing out your own situation. It's sort of like inviting someone who just lost their hair to chemotherapy to your big make-over party with an expensive stylist. Why the hell are you dragging them through that emotionally?

If at the end of all of this advice you realize that she is someone who can easily be cut from your life, it may be in your own best interests in the sense of self-preservation. I can't imagine that you get as much out of this relationship as she does knowing what you know. You don't need to make a big deal out of the ending of the friendship if she's far enough on your periphery of friends. A lady doesn't burn bridges when she's not forced to light a fire. Slinky slink away and sigh a deep breath of relief that you're not her boyfriend--past, present or future.

Now you (yes, you--I'm talking to you. The one reading this advice column) need to weigh in. Put yourself in Green's shoes and employ a what would Jane do attitude to give her advice on this situation. Leave a comment for Green elaborating or contradicting my advice--just do it in a ladylike or gentlemanly way.


Michell said...

The advice sounds pretty good. I have to admit that I would have a very difficult time being nice to someone like that but I hate dishonesty and plus the pain of someone being able to so easily achieve what I wanted so badly and then to so easily throw it away would just be too much.

Anonymous said...

I think you really nailed it when you said that you sometimes have to grit your teeth and be the person you want to be. Of course, that assumes that we have a fixed notion of who we want to be. Still, while it may vary in shading, the basic colors of how we see ourselves and how we ideally want to behave don't change too drastically.

I do think it is important, after "Green" has chosen her course of action to find an additional outlet for her (well-deserved) anger. She may not want to unload on her friend, but she should find a way to express that frustration in some purgative way -- exercise, gardening, large timber chainsaw carving.

All in all great advice!

kirby said...

Okay, so I think you should be the upstanding courageous woman.

Me? I would drop-kick her to the curb. There are friends and then there are people that inflict themselves upon you. Know when to say when.

Sunny said...

I would smile and say, CONGRATS! And then avoid her like the plague. As long as you aren't next door neighbors you don't need to hang out with her or call to check on her.

IF a shower invite comes in the mail, burn it and have drinks!

Anonymous said...


Starfish said...

I'm of the "kick her to the curb" mindset. My own struggles were enough to bear, I couldn't stand having to pretend I was happy for someone when I wasn't. To preserve my sanity I just steered clear. If she is really a friend (assuming she knows) she'll understand. I never understood why I was expected to be nice because someone else was irresponsible.

LJ said...

I agree that there can be many other factors. If she is a one-off friend with no other ties, it's an easy curb-kick. But since this was a request for advice, it probably is more complicated.

I'd say, do the minimum that you feel comfortable with and can look in the mirror for. Not the minimum that is expected, but the minimum you are comfortable with...

bleu said...

I loved the advice. I think being true to yourself is key in how you will feel about it all in the long run.
I am the type of friend who speaks up. I have had friends cheat on husbands and I have informed them that the behavior was not ok with me and that they need to come clean or I would, or I would simply not remain friends with them. I have had friends with addiction problems and I have confronted with love there as well.
I have had friends call me on my shit as well, and they are the friends I cherish most. I want my friends to know what a good soul I have and hold me to it. Yes we can all make mistakes, and do, but over and over intentional unhealthiness and I will be speaking up. I sleep better at night that way.

Stacie said...

Could you say non-commital, general statements like "A wanted baby is always a blessing and a joy" with a smile on your face?

Green said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Green said...

Are you an advice columnist or a psychic? You have correctly deduced that this friend comes as "part of a package" of friends, hence the reason I still see her (although I have not told her about our situation, for reasons I think are obvious). Also, how do you know what I look like and what I'm wearing???

The plan to hold her at arm's length is a good one. Your suggestion to minimise interaction by acting normally - except busier, much busier - makes sense. Causing a scene will only increase my level of contact, and I don't need that. I was also inspired by your recommendation to make my actions reflect the type of person I am, rather than the type of friend others deserve. Although I do admit I'm tempted to meet both those objectives at once by using your congratulations note. Or maybe Stacie's comment.

I'd also like to thank Anonymous for pointing out the chainsaw sculpture option, which is worth looking into, and Sunny for suggesting I use the baby shower invite as a taper light for some sort of flaming cocktail, which is much more polite than the use I would have come up with on my own.

And bleu - I totally agree. Friends don't let friends drink and drive, let alone use their fertility as a weapon of evil!

Tuesday said...

See, in my old age, I've become more and more 1. judgmental, 2. cranky, 3. intolerant, 4. cranky, 5. annoyingly passive-aggressive.

I wouldn't talk to her, return her emails, return her phone calls, or respond to inquiries by other friends. I wouldn't hang out with friends when they were hanging out with her, wouldn't go to parties where she was, that kind of thing.

She sounds like a really confused person that Green doesn't need to be around until she sorts her shit out.

(I know Green already came by and posted, but I got here late and wanted to join the party.)