Do you have any suggestions to help us deal with the
guilt of having to end a friendship?
My husband and I started hanging out with another
couple of similar age and interests about two years
ago. At first we really liked them, but over the last
18 months we’ve stood by and watched them make one bad
decision after another and right now their lives are a
mess. We respect their right to make decisions for
themselves, but can no longer stand by and watch, so
we are trying to remove ourselves from the situation.
It has been difficult.
The problems started when they decided to move to what
they consider a more desirable area. All they could
afford is a lot in the worst neighborhood, and they
thought they’d save even more money by building a 650
sq ft home for their family of three, doing most of
the work themselves. They hired people to frame, roof
and plumb the place, which took about a month, and
then they’d do the electrical, siding, tiling, etc.
themselves. They have no previous construction
experience—she’s in landscape design, he’s a
geologist. It’s now been eight months, and they
haven’t finished any of the jobs they intended to do
themselves. We’ve gone to the lot to help,
but they are so disorganized and unfocused that it
takes five hours to do two hours of work, and we don’t
have that kind of time. But they don’t seem pressured
to work, either—they have time to go fishing several
times a week, go out on weekends, leave town for
mini-breaks, go to sporting events, etc. They also
had the money two months ago to hire a contractor to
build a garage so they can keep a boat—they don’t have
a boat, and can’t afford one, but they want a garage
for some future boat. Unrealistically, they also keep
expecting the house to get finished in another three
months—they’ve just finished another lease at another
short-term rental. Last month they planned to move
into the finished garage, but they fired the
contractor half-way through that job and the garage
sits half-built as well. This weekend we helped the
wife and daughter move into a 30-year-old travel
trailer they hastily rented and parked on the lot.
The husband was out of town for work. The wife and
daughter were visibly upset about the move into the
trailer, but the husband, who is the primary
decision-maker, doesn’t seem to have a problem with
it. Actually, he seems to resent advice or suggestions
from others to the point where it seems as if he does
the opposite of whatever you suggest. The husband
rejected the offer of a friend to give them a
month-to-month rental, changed his mind two weeks
later and is now angry at the friend because the
rental is no longer available. He also rejected my
offer to connect him with a retired electrician.
In the meantime, the wife is on Lexapro and the
10-year-old daughter has attended four schools in the
past two years, and is not only bringing home failing
grades but also demonstrates emotional and behavioral
problems. She had several serious conflicts with
other children. Our friends blame the parents of the
other children involved—those parents are “snobs” and
“social climbers” who won’t let their children play
with the daughter.
This is just the tip of the iceberg--they never had
the lot surveyed, started wiring the house without a
permit, and hired a new neighbor to roof the garage
for cash under the table and he fell off the roof and
was injured. As friends, my husband and I feel like
we should be there to support them through tough
times. But we also have a hard time feeling too much
sympathy—they aren’t the victims of circumstance as
much as their own decision-making. We don’t want to
butt in and force our opinions on them, so we’re trying
to get some distance. In the response, they seem more
aggressive about spending time with us. We feel
Do you have any advice? Are we doing the right thing?
Dear Friends of Bad-Decision-Makers,
It certainly sounds like your friends are making construction decisions that are probably illegal and definitely dangerous. On top of that, they seem to feel no remorse about squandering their friends’ good will and offers to pitch in. When my friends and I help each other tackle home projects, we agree upon a strict time limit for the activity, and the helpee does all project prep work before the helpers arrive. Plus, bagels and coffee are usually on hand during these Saturday morning tasks.
But do you actually need to end the friendship? Do you enjoy their company under other circumstances? If so, I wonder if it’s possible to remain friends with them, but to remove yourselves from any discussions about the house. And definitely stop volunteering your time toward never-ending, ill-fated projects! If you like them enough to give this a try, I’d be really honest about your boundaries. You could say something like, “We have very different ideas on how these sorts of things should be done, and we don’t want to cause any hurt feelings by constantly offering up advice or suggestions that run contrary your plans. We want to support you, but maybe it would be better if we just didn’t discuss the house together any more.” If this tack can work for disagreements among friends over politics and religion, surely it could work under your circumstances as well.
If that plans falls flat, and if the friendship has few other redeeming qualities, then I suppose ending the relationship, or at least withdrawing from it for now, is all you can do. If they were very close friends, I suspect you wouldn’t have written this letter; you’d have just sucked it up and supported them the best that you could without losing your sanity. Most friendships go through rocky periods. At one time or another, we’ve all probably wanted to shake a friend for making lousy decisions. Good friendships survive those times; casual ones might not.
If you legitimately feel you've done what you could for this family and for your relationship with them, then you should try to let go of your guilt. Like doomed romantic relationships, some friendships just aren't meant to be.