Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Unwanted Emails Damage Friendship

DEAR HARRIETTE: Over the past few weeks, I have received some unsolicited, racy emails from a married woman who I know from my neighborhood. The emails included illicit pictures and intimate details about her marriage. She told me that she is no longer happy with her husband and she is thinking about getting a divorce. I told her that I would not be the reason for her to divorce her husband. We have the same mutual friends. I do not want to cause any trouble. How do I navigate through this situation? -- Dot-Com, New York City

DEAR DOT-COM: Do not respond to the emails at all. Delete them. If you have her phone number, call her and tell her that you are sorry that she is in an unhappy space but that you cannot help her. Tell her that you find her emails offensive and ask her to stop sending them.

Be clear that you cannot fix her situation and that you absolutely will not engage in a relationship with her. Wish her well with her situation and step back. If you see her in the neighborhood, definitely speak to her, but do not touch her. Also, refrain from telling other people about her emails. Do not spread news that you would prefer didn't exist. Stay neutral and stay away from her.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I enjoy your column. My wife and I faced the same situation as "Friend in Deed" many years ago when my best friend fell on hard times. My wife and I helped him get back on his feet financially with a fairly large monetary gift. We never looked at it as a loan. We never asked for it back. But over the following 10 years or so, we would get a card or a note every once in a while from my friend, and it would always include a check for anywhere between $10 and $100, along with a heartfelt thank you. It took 10 years, but he repaid all of the money we gave him. He's still my best friend and would be even if he hadn't paid it back. Your advice was spot-on. Never look at money given to a friend in need as a loan, but as a gift with no strings. That friendship is far more valuable than money. You can always make more money, but once a friend is lost, that friend is usually lost forever. -- Still and Always My Friend, Aurora, Ill.

DEAR STILL AND ALWAYS MY FRIEND: What a wonderful story. I strongly believe that, whenever possible, when you help folks in need, especially those who are close to you, you make your offer as a gift, not a loan. That way, you are not emotionally attached to being repaid, and your friendship doesn't have to suffer.

It is not always possible, however, for one to make a financial gift as opposed to a loan. If you find yourself in that situation, be mindful not to give so much that it creates a hardship for yourself. That is unwise regardless of how much you care about the recipient.