DEAR CAROLYN: A few years ago, I got very chummy with an old acquaintance. We knew each other socially for years, but the closeness is new. She can be a fun person ... shopping trips, meeting for coffee, etc. I allowed it to grow into a lopsided arrangement where she calls every few days to check in, shares facts and gripes about everyone in her life. At a recent luncheon, she blurted out — to people I don't know — a few things about me that I shared with her. It finally dawned on me that this is part of her DNA. She just can't keep anything private. I doubt it is malicious, she just has to tell what she knows ... to anyone and everyone. I have minimized contact, respond "nothing to report," always claim busyness when she calls, etc. I feel I need to address this clearly with her, and I really want to end the friendship. I am a very private person and can't trust her with any information. I am at a loss as to how to handle this without causing a blowup.
Bad Boundaries Girl
BAD BOUNDARIES GIRL: Truthfully: "I've been dodging your questions and invitations, which is unfair. I owe you the reason.
"I was really upset at the luncheon when you shared X, which I told you in confidence, with people I don't even know. This is after [another example or two].
"I don't think you did this out of malice. I just think we have different ideas about privacy. Regardless, I am no longer comfortable confiding in you. I am sorry about this — I enjoy your company."
Then see what she says.
Or: don't, and instead (pending post-pandemic normalcy) just keep sharing coffee and nothing deeper than that. Fun can be enough.
DEAR CAROLYN: My aunt and cousin both were diagnosed recently with serious illnesses. I would like to send a card when I hear of things like this, but my mother seems to want to be the contact person, not have our family bother them, etc. It feels wrong not to acknowledge individually something so big-ticket to them and their family members. I ask my mother and she tells me to wait, and then finally months go by and I think our side of the family looks like [glass bowls]. Do I just give her a heads-up I'm doing my own thing?
ANONYMOUS: Yes, this time.
And the next time your mother asks you to wait, please ask, on the spot: "Wait for what, exactly?" That way, she can tell you if the person, for example, asked your mother not to share the news, or requested no contact. I realize history says she has her own, controlling reasons to wait, but given how common it is for people to share health news in confidence or with certain requests or disclaimers, it's still important to confirm you're at liberty (in the eyes of the afflicted) to act on any information you're given.
Once she makes it clear it's about not "bothering" someone or about her wanting to be the contact person, then say you're going ahead anyway with expressing your concern directly and will make sure you keep a low profile. A card or letter, after all, is about as unobtrusive as caring can get.