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Dear Robin: Should I Ditch My Selfish Friend?

Monday, October 27, 2014


photo credit: iStock

Dear Robin,

I have been friends with "Mary" since college and I love her dearly but she has a very annoying personality quirk: she is really selfish.

Maybe selfish isn't the right word, but I'm not sure how else to describe her so I'll give you some examples: she is quick to ask for a favor but just as quick to decline a request for one; she cancels plans often and usually at the last minute; she never hosts me at her home though I have her over all the time, and often when I invite her to do something she doesn't even respond to my email or text - not even to say thanks but no thanks!

In addition, we share a locker at our gym and she uses all my products but never replaces them even though I've asked her to. Finally, when I got divorced last year she was nowhere to be found.  I asked her why and she said she just didn't know how to react.

We've been in the same group of friends for over 20 years and I want to keep it that way but something has to change.  How would you recommend talking to her about her behavior without coming across as attacking her?



Dear Sam,

Wow - Mary sounds like a real hoot.  Please be sure to give me her phone number, because I've cut contact with some really lousy friends over the past few years and I'd like to befriend her so I can do another flush.

Mary isn't just selfish, she's an insensitive and self-centered jerk who hasn't the first clue about how to be a friend. These are not personality "quirks," they are personality defects. However, of the two people in this relationship, Mary is not the most screwed-up one.

It is because of people like you that people like Mary continue to act in the manner they do.

Let me explain, lest you think I am attacking you because that is not my intention. Having been there before I empathize with your situation and yet I feel it is my duty to tell you this:

Complaining about a thoughtless friend like Mary, one you have held onto for over two decades despite the unsatisfying nature of your relationship, is akin to complaining about a really bad restaurant you keep frequenting over and over and over again.

Have you complained to management that your Friendship Chicken had a plethora of hair in it and tastes awful?  If so, and if you keep going back, you deserve all the fuzzy poultry you get and the resulting emotional diarrhea.  If you think you deserve better, go to a better establishment.

Look in your sock drawer for a moment.  Are you one of those people who holds onto socks that have no match for years and years, optimistically hoping that one day the missing half of the pair will turn up?

They never do, do they?

In the meantime, those one-sock useless pairs are jamming up your drawer, taking space where new full pairs could go.  And maybe there is an old pair in there that keeps getting pushed to the back of the drawer as you repeatedly search for that missing sock.

"I'm here!" the old pair is crying out, "Try me on for size!  I still fit!"

Terrible writing and tortured metaphors aside, it's time for you to accept the fact that while Mary may be a terrific friend to others, she is a terrible friend to you.  Stop with your invites and your favor granting and get a new locker partner.  You've tried being straight with her so I'd say it's time to cut your losses.

Make room for the complete sets of socks in your life drawer and some new ones besides.  If you are anything like me (and I hope you are, because I'm fabulous), you may be drawn to those who pay you the least attention.

It's time for you to learn the lesson I did a couple years ago and one that will set you free from this friendship angst: chasing after people for time, love, reciprocity, and affection is one of the least-rewarding activities in life. There is no upside for you.

Toss the single socks in your drawer, pull out the old pairs and go get some new ones. And don't forget the most important thing: wear them with cute boots, because it's boot season!

Dear Robin,

I am in a very unsatisfying career in finance (10 years in) and want to get a teaching certificate and follow my dream of becoming an elementary school teacher.  My wife is very supportive and makes a good salary but I am worried that starting over at the age of 34 is crazy.  I am thinking I might wait until I hit my 40th birthday to see if I can find some love for my career but she thinks I should go for teaching now.

Part of me feels guilty because I make pretty good money and I know this will impact our lifestyle.  What do you think I should do?



Dear Ted,

You know what's crazy?  Pumping six more years into a career that you have already spent a decade in and are sure isn't for you.

Finance is your Iraq War, Ted.

Maybe now you think you are just going to be there for a little while longer, perhaps until you win the war (love your job) or decide to leave that screwed-up country (chase your teaching dream), but as each year goes by you get further and further mired in a place you obviously don't want to be.

How wonderful that your wife supports you in your dream and encourages you to chase it NOW.  I too spent a long time doing something I was neither suited for nor passionate about and like you, I was reticent to change careers for fear of the financial impact it would have upon my family.

It's been a year since I left lawyering and began writing and although I have yet to match my former salary I can tell you that the emotional dividends are outrageously superior to the money I used to make.

Go for it, Ted.  You are still so very young with a host of opportunities in front of you. Please write back to let me know how things are progressing.  And kiss your wife often and well, because she sounds like a winner.

Former Portland lawyer and current Portland big mouth Robin DesCamp is the Velvet Sledgehammer of Truth, smashing through socially acceptable niceties to tell you how to live your life, and why. She blogs at www.askdescamp.com. Write to her at [email protected]


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