By Lucinda Rosenfeld
From Double X
In the pantheon of bad friends, the "Instant Best Friend" ranks high. You meet at a party, or on a mutual friend's sofa. Within an hour of over-animated conversation, it's as if-her words-"I'm listening to someone talk about my life!" By the time you get home, she's already e-mailed twice to follow up on various conversation points. And also, "I'm still freaking about that serial killer in the corner who was staring at us the WHOLE TIME!" Soon after that, she begins to b---- to you about her friend Sarah, complaining that she's "great" and a "really old friend," but "I always feel like she's judging me," whereas you just "get it without me having to explain to myself." But "please don't tell anyone what I just said."
The "top secret" confessions continue from there. First there's the sexual transgression that she's admitted only to a "few people in my life." Next she relays more information than you ever needed to know about who said what at couples counseling with her boyfriend-and "do you think I should leave him?" Later, it's her schizophrenic sister whose tragic tale is passed on to you in strict confidence. In these and countless other ways, she makes you feel like her closest pal in the world.
And then one day, without warning, she casts you aside for having betrayed her by telling your mutual friend Cynthia that she's on a juice diet. "Did I give you permission to tell her that? No, I didn't. Honestly? I'm just not sure when I'm going to be able to trust you again."
A few years ago I fell victim to an IBF -my (now former) friend, Alison. The charge, when it was finally delivered, at the end of a wedding, was murky yet scathing: She told me I "peddled in gossip and drama." And if I "didn't get it," then she "wasn't going to explain it to me." The charge hit a nerve, but the lack of specifics also made me suspicious. Moreover, I didn't recall having said anything about her that I wouldn't have said to her face.
Later, I found out that Alison had discarded scores of other BFF's before me. Their "crimes"? One had cancelled dinner. Another had made a jokey remark about Alison being a "star f--- er." Even Alison's oldest dearest friend-whose children Alison had been made the godmother of-eventually got the ax. Her crime? She'd allowed her husband to go on vacation with Alison's ex boyfriend. (The two men had developed a friendship over the course of Alison's relationship.)
The IBF is not, however, the only type of friend to be avoided at all costs. She shares honors with the Time Energy Suck (TES) and the Husband Boyfriend Snatcher (HBS). The TES is the friend who dins and sniffles in your ear for hours at a time about first dates who never called again and ex-lovers with whom she broke up eight years ago-"it's just still so hard." You feel sorry for the TES. You also dream of her moving to Buenos Aires. You welcome the HBS into your home. Later, you realize she intends to make friends with the whole family-and then some. At which point you dream of punching her in the face.
In "Friend or Foe," Double X's weekly friendship column, I'll be exploring not just bad friends and what to do about them, but also how to repair the damage when you've acted like one. How did I become interested in the fine points of friendship? After writing two novels about romantic relationships with men, it dawned on me that the women around me spent more time talking about each other than they did their boyfriends/husbands/whatevers. "Have you seen X?" "Poor thing's gained, like, twenty pounds since she went back on the meds." And "did you hear about Y?" "She wants to give up divorce law and open a yarn store-how hilarious is that?" And did you hear what Z said to X about Y? Apparently, she's been disinvited from the wedding."
I started off last week, answering questions about how to handle a friend who turned into a yuppie zombie and the proper etiquette when dealing with an evil ex on Facebook. I want to hear more about your particular friendship dilemmas, so email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions will be considered for publication unless otherwise marked.
Illustration by Jason Raish