Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Back in the saddle, and "HTT, my friend 'found' herself and has become annoying about it"

So, I took a few days off. The film festival was generally amazing, but it turns out my attendance didn't leave much time for blogging or advice giving. Then, I lost power for about a day and a half because of the crazy wind storm. I had to toss the contents of my fridge, but after watching four days' worth of films about man's inhumanity to man (to say nothing of news coverage about Virginia Tech), I was able to keep the loss of a few Lean Cuisines and frozen fruit bars in perspective.

On to my next letter....

Dear HTT,

I have a good friend who has become involved in a series of time-consuming, expensive workshops designed to teach her, as she puts it, how to make her dreams reality. I'll admit she has dramatically adjusted her outlook on life, becoming more direct about asking for what she wants but also revealing a lack of self-confidence I hadn't noticed before. When she doesn't get what she asks for, or when people simply treat her badly, she blames herself for not expressing her needs clearly enough.

One evening, in a state of what sounded like manic giddiness, she phoned to tell me she wanted me to take the same workshops. I declined (for the second time that week) and she pushed: "What's standing in the way of you realizing your dreams?" It was hard for me to say, but I told her I missed her and thought poorly of the workshops. She tried recruiting several friends in our circle, even offering to loan everyone the money for the fees. No one obliged, and once the series ended, she stopped recruiting.

Fast forward a few months. I'm making an effort to pretend she didn't violate our friendship (it felt like she did, anyway; did she?) and am having a hard time with her newfound directness. She recently emailed a large group of friends to reschedule a gathering she had organized ("Check your schedules for next month. I'm going to the mountains instead!"). I probably wouldn't have minded had she softened the request with a simple "sorry, this is the only weekend we could go"; instead, she softened it with "Please join us!" Surely it wouldn't be hard for me to tell her when I'm free next month, but I'm finding myself trying to concoct reasons that I'm busy every weekend. Any suggestions on how I might overcome my annoyance, accept her new happy self for who she is, and move on?


Dear Anti,

At one time or another, most of us enthusiastically proselytize about something, whether it’s an author we love, a cause we support, or the best nachos in town (The Federal). So, I can’t fault your friend for extending the initial invitation. The workshops changed her life. She wanted her friends to benefit from them as well. Fine.

But she continued pushing after you declined. Not fine. I imagine also that you bristled when she chalked up your disinclination to attend the workshops to some deficiency on your part. I would have.

And while I’m fueling the fire, I’ll add that I find it annoying when people self-actualize at the expense of good manners, as your friend did in cancelling your gathering. I had an acquaintance who frequently cancelled plans at the last minute, with no apology, on the grounds that she “needed to take care of herself.” It’s not like she had a dialysis appointment.

So, what to do depends on your capacity to forget and forgive. If you can let go of any lingering bitterness about your friend’s recruiting tactics, just focus on the present. If she does something that upsets you, talk to her. But leave her self-actualization out of it, even if you think her new philosophy might be a cause of her behavior. You aren’t going to win by likening the workshops to a cult or suggesting that they had a detrimental effect on her personality. She feels strongly that they helped her and could take your criticism as sour grapes or a lack of enlightenment.

If you remain upset about the way she pushed the boundaries of your friendship (and yes, I think she did do so), you might just have to air those grievances too. Again, I’d be careful not to criticize the workshops themselves, but instead address how you felt pressured by her insistence that you attend.

Depending on how long ago she finished the workshops, it could be that time will mellow the way she applies what she learned. For now, maybe some distance between you wouldn’t be a bad idea. If you don’t want to go to the rescheduled gathering, don’t make excuses about it. Just follow her model of directness and say, “why don’t you schedule it without me this time, and I’ll make the next one.”

Finally, since you and your other friends declined her invitation, your friend is sure to sense your disapproval. Whatever discussion you have with her will be better received if you can truly imagine ways the workshops—despite what you think of them personally—may have helped her.

Take care,