Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Let Toxic Friendship Fizzle Out

DEAR HARRIETTE: Every time I encounter a certain woman I know, I become sick. I try to have civil conversations with her, but it never works out. We find a way to disagree about everything. I find it disturbing because I can get along with just about anybody I meet. She has invited me to her house for a barbecue. I haven't responded. I guess I don't want to hurt her feelings by not attending, but if I go to her house, I run the risk of being sick. I have painted myself into a corner, and I don't know what to do. -- Why Can't We Be Friends?, Memphis, Tenn.

DEAR WHY CAN'T WE BE FRIENDS?: Attempting to be a people pleaser does not work. It is impossible to make everybody happy all the time. Clearly there is something about this woman that does not work for you. If you literally become ill when you are in her company, listen to your body and stay away.

Saying you will not be able to attend her barbecue should not be a prescription for hurt feelings. Leading her on and trying to act like you are her friend when you are not is more likely to be hurtful. You do not have to tell her not to call you again, but it would be wise for you to stop calling her. Let the friendship fizzle out. No need to tell her that she makes you sick, either. That would only hurt her feelings.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My mother's good friend just had two hip replacements. She did well with the first one -- she followed the doctor's directions and healed well. The second time, though, she seems sad and unmotivated. My mother told me that she sits around a lot and doesn't do her exercises. My mother, who is in her mid-80s with her own health concerns, is a real go-getter. She doesn't give up for anything. She can't figure out what to do to help her friend do the right thing. I'm worried that my mother is going to get too stressed out trying to help out her friend. -- SOS, Washington, D.C.

DEAR SOS: My research shows that it is not uncommon for people who have had hip replacement surgery to experience depression. For many people it does not last, but when in a state of depression it can be terribly difficult for the person suffering and his/her loved ones. Suggest to your mother that she recommend that her friend visit her doctor and describe what's going on. Maybe your mother could even take her to the doctor. Your mother's friend may need to see a therapist or even take medication for depression to help her through this tough period.

Your mother, as a caretaker of some measure for her friend, needs to take care of herself, too. Encourage your mother to go out and do things independent of this friend. Suggest that she pamper herself in some way on a weekly basis. Regularly check in with her to gauge her state of mind. Invite her to spend time with you, perhaps even a mini-vacation that will ease her emotional burden.