ROSEMARY HARRIS: It started with her texts. Followed by his call. Clearly the couple was in trouble.
I’d known the man for decades, the woman for the 10-12 years that they’d been partners. Something was up and it wasn’t good.
Although the man and I were childhood (teenhood?) friends we’d never shared the intimate details – good or bad – of our relationships. It was beers at bbqs, punch at holiday parties and the annual kayaking or x-country skiing outing. We’d welcomed the new love interests, celebrated triumphs and bucked each other up over setbacks in an arm-punching, buddy-like fashion.
In many ways maintaining a friendship with a man is easier than with a woman. The absence of a sexual relationship takes the pressure off. (Unlike the Billy Crystal character in When Harry Met Sally I do think that men and women can be friends.) And there aren’t the unconscious (or conscious) comparisons..boyfriends, jobs, husbands, houses, dress sizes….
I tried to be as supportive as possible during the texting phase (her side of the story) AND during the long, uncomfortable phone call (his side.) But the dialogue was ratcheting up. Other friends were taking sides. Perhaps unsurprisingly all the males were on his side and all the females on hers. I felt like the swing vote.
Interestingly enough, the woman admits to behaving badly. Not to be too mysterious about it, it was not infidelity, it was a shopping addiction that resulted in massive credit card debt. But either would be a betrayal of trust. This one is just going to take years to get over even if they do split up.
I know they may get back together, in fact, I’m rooting for it. But staying neutral has been hard. And it’s made me feel like I’m not being a good friend by not revealing my true feelings.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: AH, taking sides. IMPOSSIBLE. Someone always gets the friends. It is so difficult. I try try try to stay out of it, you know? I try to --listen. Just listen. But people always say: "Aren't I right? Don't you agree?" As if they're accumulating ammunition. Which they are. And it blows up in everyone's face.
A shopping addiction? I think--Hank answer here, but a real one--it depends. Could be medication-needed manic behavior. Could be psychological-treatment-needed behavior that's filling an emotional need. I mean--she's lying, hiding behavior, got to be feeling guilty, putting something SHE wants over what her family needs. Hope she's in therapy.
LUCY BURDETTE: Hear, hear Hank on your interpretation of shopping addiction. If it's gotten to the point of massive credit card debt, best to consult a professional to help understand WTF happened!
I think Ann Landers had a Q and A about taking sides sometime this past week. A person in pain should have a friend or two who aren't neutral. Who can say, you're right, she/he did you wrong. But if there's a chance the two might get together again, how about saying exactly what you said Ro? "I'm rooting for you guys to get back together. I hear you're mad and hurt but I'm uncomfortable taking sides"--or something like that.
ROSEMARY: I guess the woman has always been the "and one" for me. Is that horrible to say? And I have a hard time thinking of a shopping addiction as a serious ailment or condition.
I told her she needed to get help and I would help her try to find substitutes for the shopping (which she says is the only thing that makes her feel good about her life.) And I told him if he loved her and wants to spend the rest of his life with her, that he had to forgive her. They'd have to work together to get out of this incredible hole though and she seems to think "he's the man, it's his fault I did it, so let him fix it."
HALLIE EPHRON: I'm not a big confider or confidee, I confess(!). But I'm fiercely loyal to my friends. Individuals. Not in pairs.
But I try not to badmouth a friend's jerky boyfriend/partner because honesty is not really what the friend is looking for. Learned the hard way: I once lost a dear friend who asked me if I disliked her husband and I told her the truth.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Oh, that's so right. When someone is in the throes of the relationship, anything you say can and will be used against you. Someone very dear to me was involved with a horrible jerk at her college. I mean, this guy was an inch shy of being outright abusive. All the people who loved her could do was remind her over and over that she was good, smart, pretty, and loveable. Did it give her enough sense of self to dump him? Dunno. They did break up, after she left the state for a job, and THEN we all told her what he thought about him.
Ro, I'd think that if shopping is "the only thing" that makes your friend feel good about her life, she needs professional help, pronto. That's not someone with poor money management skills or a lust for designer clothing. That sounds...broken.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, I hate these things. I try for the "You have to do what's best for you," approach, because you cannot bad mouth a friend's partner without it coming back to bite you. Even if, like Julia's friend, they eventually dump the partner and you think NOW I can say what I really thought, they might get back together. Even after a divorce. And I've seldom come across a break-up (unless there was abuse involved) where it was strictly one partner's fault.
I should qualify the above by saying the one exception to the "neutral but supportive" position is a situation where there is physical abuse. Then you have to say what you think, regardless of the consequences, even if it ruins your friendship.
On the shopping addiction, I'm with Julia. It may not be a chemical addiction like drugs or alcohol, but there is something seriously wrong and this woman needs professional help.
ROSEMARY: So Red readers, please weigh in. Is it ever a good thing to get involved in this kind of conflict? Also, do you think a shopping addiction is a real disease or is it just an explanation for irresponsible spending?