DEAR NATALIE: On a recent girls getaway, I experienced a very upsetting situation. My best friend and I drove an hour and a half to the coast for two days of planned activities to relax, recharge and blow off steam. It started badly. When I arrived to pick her up, she was not dressed, much less packed to go. She was crying and distraught, having been up all night with her new boyfriend. I had to help her dress, pack and get out the door. She spent the drive time venting about the boyfriend’s many faults and announced she was done with him. I gave her support, sympathy, a pep talk and tried to steer her into the present and our trip. It took several tries to bring her into the moment, but we did have fun together overall on the drive. The next day, we drove to a local attraction in the redwoods. Our fun was only dampened a bit when she insisted we go shopping for swimsuits to wear in the hot tub. I was not into shopping or hot tubbing that day. I wanted to walk on the beach and to show her the beautiful sights along the coast. She bought a suit, and off we went on our adventure and lunch. As we returned to our hotel, she was texting and she announced that her boyfriend was meeting her at the hotel with her swimsuit from home. She was going to meet him outside and then come up to our room. She disappeared — for THREE HOURS!!! I got concerned after she was gone an hour and sent her a text. She responded that he wanted to buy her an ice cream cone and she would be back. After two hours, I texted her again, asking where she was. She was at a beach that he wanted to show her and she would return shortly. I was in shock, as we had plans for the afternoon and boyfriend was not included in them. When she finally returned to the hotel room she said that she and boyfriend needed to talk. I was upset and said so because she didn't communicate about what was going on and when she would be back. In all the years we have been friends she has never behaved this way.
I am still angry and upset. It was not a relaxing vacation. She apologized and gave me one of her bargain swimsuits. I didn't want it, but she insisted. We missed out on some of the fun we had planned, and I have been puzzling over her odd behavior ever since. All I can imagine is that she, who was widowed a year ago, was desperate to have a man in her life for companionship and to be able to afford to stay in her house. I understand that. She appears to not be able to control herself or set boundaries for her boyfriend. They are still in the “honeymoon stage” of their relationship. All of us are 70-somethings, not 20! I am afraid I have lost my best friend. She is my favorite person, and we have had many adventures. My husband is a homebody, so she is the person I go with to shows, plays, dinner and fundraisers. I don’t see us doing them in the future, as boyfriend may intrude. Any advice on this situation?
-- UPSET ON THE WEST COAST
DEAR UPSET ON THE WEST COAST: An older woman once told me that your 70s are like a second adolescence. You are reliving your teenage years again, and she was loving it. I always thought that was an interesting way to think about aging, and I do think life comes in stages. Right now, your friend is back to being single again. She’s probably feeling a little lost, too. Being widowed when you have life to live would be both freeing and unsettling, and then compile that with grief over the end of her marriage and the death of her husband, along with financial stress, it’s no wonder she’s not acting like herself. But, don’t panic! Like the teenage years, this could just be a phase. She has to figure some things out for herself. Being up all night fighting with her new partner doesn’t bode well for the future of their relationship, and it is clearly impacting your friendship with her, as well. Talk this through with her. Be clear that you love her and only want what is best for her, but that since her husband died, you have been concerned for her. Regardless of your age, relationships are complicated: They are fun, they are intense and they can be frustrating. What she needs right now is a good girlfriend that she can lean on, someone that she can have fun with, and someone that she can count on to help her emotionally work through things. If you want your friend back, you have to walk this path with her.
Natalie’s Networking Tip of the Week: Dress for how you want people to treat you. If you are at an event, make sure you are dressed in a way that inspires you to feel confident and in control. Others will take note and will treat you accordingly.
Please send your questions to Natalie Bencivenga to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Dr., Pittsburgh, PA 15212. Follow her on Twitter at @NBSeen and on Instagram @NatalieBenci
(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)