Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bosom Buddies

Dear Mr. Steichen,

I have a question that's been on my mind for several years! Here it goes:

I have been friends with a girl I met in college for about five years now. We were fairly close in college and always hung out with the same group of people. However, towards the end of college I started to realize what a crappy friend she is. She constantly made plans with me and canceled at the last minute (using excuses like she was tired or didn't feel like going out anymore), she would agree to meet me at a particular time and be 30+ minutes late, she was growing increasingly materialistic, and slowly I realized what a shallow and insecure person she was. After college, she moved away and I did not make a special effort to keep in touch since I felt annoyed by the way I was treated, but we did see each other once or twice when she was in town.

Then about 6 months ago I found out she had a complete mental breakdown. Our mutual friend told me she actually suffers from bipolar disorder and she had stopped taking her medications. I called her during this period to let her know I was here for her and to show her I cared. Fortunately, she is now back to normal and working well at her job. She moved back to the city I live in about a month ago and is now looking to rekindle our friendship. The problem is, I don't know if she was so flaky before because of her illness or because of her true personality...which in this case I'm not sure how to separate the two! I still feel like our personalities don't mesh well together, but I also feel bad for her and don't want her to be alone in the city. How should I approach this friendship?

Personally, I would give your friend another chance, given all that she's been through, and given that some of her past inconsiderate behavior towards you was indeed probably due at least in part to her personal instability. Call me a cock-eyed optimist, or just a pushover, but I think it's always better to take the high road and give people that second (or third, or fifteenth) chance.

Reverse the roles for a second. Imagine how much that kind of reaching-out would mean to you if you had been through what she has been through and you found yourself in a new city? My take is that there but for the grace of [insert Higher Power of your choice] go I. If I'm in a position to reach out to someone, I sure as h*ll better do it, because who knows when I might need it down the line...the proverbial what-goes-around-comes-around.

But speaking of karma, just because she's been through a lot doesn't mean she should get carte blanche to treat you like crap again, and also don't expect years of tension to resolve themselves instantly. Remember the end of the Cold War? Reagan and Gorbachev weren't doing Madlibs and playing with the ouija board at a special State Sleepover as soon as the Berlin wall fell. It took some time to bring things back together. (And you know, it was really awkward when Reagan wanted Gorby to braid his hair and Gorby would get all self-concsious and want to go home. But then they'd just do another quiz from Seventeen and all was forgiven. Fun fact, they reportedly never could agree on who was the cutest member of NKOTB, but those records are sealed for only another twenty years, so stay tuned...)

For your little "detente" or "glasnost" or whatever fancy term you want to use for your act of hatchet-burying, start small. Bring your friend out with a group to a bar or a party, or if you're having a large-ish gathering at your house invite her to come...just the way you would with any old friend with whom you had lost touch. Test the waters, and if it seems right, keep hanging out. As with any relationship, let it rise or fall on its own strength--you're not doing yourself or her a favor if you try to force it out of pity for her. And if the old behavior starts to resurface, you will obviously know to slow things down, if not let them come to a halt. But you could be missing out on a good friendship (you obviously were friends way back when for SOME reason) and you won't know unless you extend the proverbial olive branch. Both you and your friend have nothing to lose by this, and in fact stand only to gain.

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