Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR AMY: Our group of friends has been close for a long while. We are all in our early 30s and have been friends over 12 years. Issues are beginning to emerge with one of the friends, "Pam." Pam falls fast and hard for guys, and she ends up scaring them off. She quit one job because she believed she was too good for it, and then was laid off from another because she inflated her qualifications when they hired her. She also has started making horribly mean comments to and about some of our friends. She usually plays them off as jokes, but many times her "jokes" cross the line. These comments are the type that you can't imagine your worst enemy saying about you. Because she's going through a tough time, we've given her a lot of leeway. Now, however, we're starting to worry. If we don't talk with her about her behavior, then aren't we enabling her? Will she just continue to think she can treat people this terribly? And how will this affect other areas of her life that she would like to change? If we do bring it up to her, we are honestly concerned about her state of mind. She sometimes seems so down on herself and depressed ... but it's almost immediately followed by lashing out at others. We want to help her, but we don't want it to come across as an attack on her -- which will just cause her to shut down. Can you help us help our friend?
DEAR STRESSED: Your friend might be struggling with any number of emotional and/or mental health issues, and your kindness compels you to be gentle. You are also intimidated because of her volatility.
However, everything you fear might happen will happen if you never talk to her about her behavior toward you. With your "leeway" and silence, you are basically reinforcing her negative behavior and even (possibly) making her feel like more of a loser. It's as if you are assuming she is incapable of behaving like a decent human being.
You should let her know that you expect more of her. She may be a basket case in other areas of her life, but she should treat you with respect.
You could say to her: "Pam, I'm worried about you. You've become so negative and you've said some really hateful things lately. I don't like that. Are you getting some professional help? I think you should. No matter what you decide to do, I want you to know that I'm on your side -- but you need to be nice to me."
DEAR AMY: Over time I have received repeated invitations for dinner, a play, a special event, etc., from acquaintances whose company and activities I don't enjoy. If I meet them on the street or in the neighborhood, a few minutes of pleasant conversation is fine. Otherwise I find them boring, high-pressure and totally involved in things I don't care about or want to spend my time on. If I accept invitations I feel an obligation to reciprocate, which is annoying. I don't enjoy their interests (opera, travel, expensive trips, constant socializing and their high-octane chatter) or company, so is it reasonable just to say, "That's not something I really enjoy and need to pass up at this time. But thank you for thinking of me"? It seems harsh but I am tired of making lame excuses that serve no purpose long term.
Dreading Those Invitations
DEAR DREADING: Your suggested wording is so much less harsh than your estimation of these people that I'd say go for it.
DEAR AMY: I am writing in response to "Dejected," who was desperate for her husband's compliments. Women need to examine how they respond to their husband's compliments. When I compliment my wife, she usually deflects it by making some negative remark about her body. It creates a negative experience and doesn't encourage me to compliment her again. Women do this more than they realize.
DEAR HUSBAND: I think you're right.