Best Frenemies Forever or Mind Your Own Effing Business?
September 19, 2010 4:19 PM   Subscribe

How to handle my mother's 'friend' who behaves more like a frenemy and who's been trying to pry into my personal business. I've been trying to take the high road (and my mom's tactic is to ignore these comments). But it's also completely NOT appropriate for somebody who's supposedly her friend.

Really pissed off at the moment & not sure what to do about it. My mom has this longtime friend/neighbor who the rest of the family has never really liked. My never-talks-shit-about-anybody dad used to refer to this woman as "The Village Voice" for being the neighborhood gossip and always needing to know/get into other peoples' business. I've pretty much always disliked her for being nosy and tattling on me to my mom because one of her kids was in detention with me during high school. Oh and making snide comments to my mom during that time because I'd died my hair purple.

In the time since my dad died, she's done some nice things for my mom like flower arrangements and taking her out to lunch on her birthday and the 1 year anniversary of his death. But she's also made a lot of inappropriate and frankly, mean underhanded comments:

+ When my dad's obituary ran in the newspaper, she called my mom up to tell her that she'd seen it and "Gosh it was rather long."

+ At the reception after his service (where we included the obit in the program and I spoke for the family), she came up and during some general conversation about how to handle the service, made the same comment again about the obit. Everybody else has said how impressed they were with both my writing (I wrote the obit) and my eulogy (which I also wrote). She started to imply that she knew better than my mom about obituaries, like my mom is an idiot who blew too much money on the obit. My oldest (since childhood) friend was standing there, and as politely as I could, my response was "Yes, it's a shame how much money papers overcharge for this sort of thing." She tried to make another snide comment along those lines and as politely as I could I told her "You know, that's really not an appropriate thing to say."

Lately she's been dropping these comments to my mother about seeing my car by the house during the week and when I answered the phone at lunch time one time, she's been on this "what's the Gov doing over at your house?" My mom actually asked me to not be at the house when they went out for the birthday lunch in order to avoid these questions. Which I did because I'd been planning a day trip for that week.

Yesterday they were on the phone and afterwards my mom was like "Well, we'd better clear out the junk in the garage." Not because it's years of accumulated crap and we've nagged her about it. No, apparently Helen Lovejoy has taken it upon herself to drive by the house during the week and "just happened to notice" my car parked out front. And asked about it?! When I heard this, I about blew up - Who the fuck does this woman think she is? I'm sure she's dying to find out that I've lost my job and am staying with my mom, so she can gossip about it. And she's probably pissed that I politely told her off at the service.

I told my mom that we need to clean the garage out anyways, but that this woman's behavior is bullshit. If I had to guess, the junior high antics point towards somebody who's insecure and feels like she has to "prove" her superiority. Her husband's a retired state civil engineer and none of her kids (one of whom is estranged from her) have made it past high school. It sounds fucked up, but my honest reaction is that seeing as how my dad's obit and service pointed out all of his accomplishments and popularity in the community, she's jealous of my mom. Actually when I told my mom that, she mentioned that her doctor (they go to the same doctor) said the same thing to her awhile ago: "She's jealous of you."

If there's time this week to finally pitch all of the accumulated shit out of the garage, I'm fine with doing that. But seriously - fuck this woman and her Gladys Kravitz/Helen Lovejoy antics. I don't even give a fuck what she thinks of me. She's never liked me because I'm supposedly a weirdo with purple hair who gets in trouble at school (hey I'm a weirdo with purple hair who got better grades than her kids and went on university). But seriously FUCK HER for trying to act that way towards my mother. My mom has her faults, but she's a genuinely kind person who's a bit of an introvert and not always socially confident. Oh and FUCK HER for pulling this bullshit on somebody who's in grief after losing her partner of 50+ years. I'm really tempted to go over there and ring the doorbell and be like "I understand you've been asking around about my personal business," but that would totally mortify my mom.

I'm trying really really hard to take the high road, because obviously this woman is full of shit and just jealous of my mom. But I also feel like maybe she needs to be called out on that behavior so she knocks it off. But at the moment ,all I feel like doing is kicking her ass for trying to embarass my mom.
posted by gov_moonbeam to Human Relations (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Does your mom like her? If she does, leave well enough alone. Old folks tend to have a hard time making friends and she might like this lady despite her shortcomings.

If your mom only tolerates her to keep the peace, then maybe telling Village Voice off wouldn't be such a bad thing. Talk to your mom; this isn't really about you.
posted by hjo3 at 4:25 PM on September 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Why bother? If your mother's not fussed, you shouldn't be on her behalf. Mixing it up with the woman will only make things worse. Calling her out isn't going to stop her. She won't "knock it off" because you get into a slanging match with her.

Who cares about her kids and your high school hair? Ignore her.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:29 PM on September 19, 2010

There are two issues.

One is this woman's relationship with your mom which is, sad to say, basically none of your business. If your mom wishes to continue it for whatever reason, that's your mom's decision. It doesn't really affect you and you need to let it go.

The second is your relationship with this woman. You sound like you need to get some things off your chest. I suggest you calm down first, make a list of the woman's errors, and then go over to her house and speak your piece. My suspicion is that if you select that course, you'll realize that you're basically pissed off at a pathetic old biddy with bad manners and you'll get over it.

I think your primary issue is that you're laid off and living at home. That's enough to freak anyone out; I know because I'm in the same boat and I'm 41. The gossipy bullshit of your annoying neighbor can't possibly matter that much.

Best of luck to you.
posted by goblinbox at 4:29 PM on September 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm not really sure why you're so involved with this situation.

As I understand it, your mom has a nosy neighbor. You don't like her. She is weird with your mom. Your mom takes it.

How do you fit into the picture?
posted by k8t at 4:30 PM on September 19, 2010

To be honest, from the details you've given here, my read is that she's either a bit nosey and/or grasping for conversational straws. That is annoying but you seem to be taking this REALLY personally. Why do you think that her comment about the obit or your car being in the driveway are anything other than awkward, ill-advised conversation starters?
posted by lalex at 4:35 PM on September 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Why doesn't your mom just tell her you're living at home instead of going through all of the trouble of cleaning out the garage so you can "hide" your car in there? Who cares if she's the neighborhood Gladys Kravitz? It sounds like she's relatively harmless, sometimes socially awkward/inappropriate, and sometimes even nice. She's a Nosy Nellie but for some reason she's your mom's friend, so try not to let it bother you so much. I don't get a sense that your mom is upset by her, only that right? You don't like her and your dad didn't like her, but it seems that your mom likes her. If you're upset and defensive on your mom's behalf, I totally understand, but from these details I'm not parsing that your mom needs a champion here.
posted by iconomy at 4:42 PM on September 19, 2010

She sounds annoying but honestly not so bad. If your mom isn't bothered then let it go, she lost her husband and needs her friends.
posted by amro at 4:47 PM on September 19, 2010

Best answer: I think the recent loss of your father has made this woman's inappropriate (but really harmless) comments loom much larger than they should. The next time she makes a comment, just say "Oh Gladys, you are so cute to care so much about that..." (implying she's spending too much time thinking about things that are not her business) -- and then let it go.

Seriously: let it go. Any ranting or raving on your part will backfire -- you'll feel good for about 2 seconds ...and then she'll burst into tears, and THEN you'll just feel horribly petty. And she'll have even more to say about you! Perhaps your mom feels that she is doing her charitable, "Love thy neighbor"-ish duty. Say "Mom, I know Gladys can be a pain, so I hope you have other friends who help you feel great."

Your obit and eulogy were fabulous, and you know it, and many other people know it, and it was a great tribute to your dad and did honor to his memory for your mom's sake. One person's petty jealousies and silly comments should have no bearing on how you think of those things.

It helps, when small-souled people like this cross your path in life, to just think "Oh, the poor thing..."

I am so sorry for your mother's and your loss.
posted by mdiskin at 4:48 PM on September 19, 2010 [11 favorites]

Comments like

But seriously FUCK HER for trying to act that way towards my mother.

don't provide any help or context for people trying to answer your question, and in fact contribute to a reading of the situation in which your mom's friend is not the most unbalanced person in view.

You need to take a deep breath, step back, and disentangle your own relationship with this person from the relationship your mother has with her.

(Knowing whereof I speak: My mother is close to a number of people that I don't care for. I have mastered the art of quickly but lightly changing the subject and moving on when she brings up their latest gossip or doing in conversation. Should I ever encounter one of these people directly, I am civil but not forthcoming with anything more than bare courtesy.)

Your mother is an autonomous person who deserves to form her own opinions of people and maintain whatever connections she sees fit. Disengage from her friend and do your best to mind your own business.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 4:49 PM on September 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

If your mom has made the decision to continue to socialize with her, there's not much you could do to Helen that would have the effect of telling her off without also embarrassing your mom. So that's out. However, you do have the option of saying to your mom, "I know you've made a decision about how to deal with Helen, and I respect that. But it stresses me out to hear about her comments, so from now on if she says something snide and you choose not to call her out on it, could you just not tell me about it? If it were me, I'd confront her about it, and that's how I feel when you tell me that she commented on my car or the obituary I wrote--I want to confront her and tell her off, but out of respect for your feelings, I don't. So please, next time she makes some bitchy remark to you, don't tell me about it."
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:55 PM on September 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Honestly I think that if you go over there and read her the riot act all you'll be doing is giving her the go ahead to start telling people that you've moved home because you have anger management issues or some such nonsense.

Do not engage with this woman. Any interaction with her will be giving her fuel for her gossip fire. She will find things to talk about during the most mundane conversation. Go over there and yell at her and you'll be giving her gossip material for years. "Speaking of Gov Moonbeam's family, did I ever tell you about the time Gov came to my house and yelled at me for being his mom's friend? Can you believe it?! After all I've done for that sweet woman, I mean I even took her out for lunch when none of her other friends would. I tell you that Gov is crazy, did you know he had purple hair in High School? He was always in trouble back then, I knew he'd never amount to anything good."

Obviously it would be best if your mom screened calls and avoided this 'friend' but if she isn't willing to do that then you are just going to have to accept it. You're actually kind of lucky, the people in my life who act like that woman are all related to me. When they make comments to me the only thing I can do is what you did with the obit comment "That's totally inappropriate, please don't say things like that about me." and move on.
posted by TooFewShoes at 5:03 PM on September 19, 2010

Yeah, any move you make to engage with Helen will only be validating her in her own eyes, and your mom's, as someone whose opinions and actions matter. Leave the situation alone for now, and if your mom brings up to you the things this woman says, feel free to roll your eyes and dismiss it as crazy Helen being crazy again.
posted by Bardolph at 5:08 PM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would not interfere, except that I would not honor any requests from your mother to hide your own existence. That's unreasonable to be asked to pretend you don't live there so the bitchy neighbor won't know.
posted by elpea at 5:23 PM on September 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

This may help you feel better....every neighborhood has one of these kinds of women in it. They are useful, however....if anyone suspicious comes into the neighborhood, etc. this woman will be right on it. This may turn out to be quite useful for your mom.

It's best to stay friendly with these types. Yup, they do gossip, but you are better off to be on their good side than not, and honestly it's not the end of the world if she finds out you are there and why. Heck, she may even have a job lead for you!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:32 PM on September 19, 2010

(But I do understand your anger. I'd be ticked myself.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:32 PM on September 19, 2010

Response by poster: Man, I really should know better than to start talking about something when it's making me feel very cranky. Apologies for the F bombs and rantings.

Ya'll are right. Even if I feel protective of my mom, she's an adult & free to chose who she's friends with and the dynamics of those relationships. Just like how I'm sure she had to grit her teeth over some of my choices, I have to show her the same respect and keep my trap shut.

mdiskin, thank you so much for the "small souled" comment. I am in fact part of a family of Southerners and this woman is exactly the sort of person where you'd say "Why bless your heart." Instead of getting my back up, I should just remind myself to be compassionate.
posted by gov_moonbeam at 5:41 PM on September 19, 2010

This kind of shit happens all around us constantly. It's only when we're weak or in pain that we take notice of it. We can't handle the inchoate uncertainty and discomfort inside us, so we attach it to an external object.

Grieve. Fix your life. The more you do those things, the less this sad person's hate will press down on you.
posted by felix betachat at 5:42 PM on September 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

You'll provide the neighbor with absolutely delicious fodder for her neighborhood gossip if you tell her off, or act as though you are perturbed in any way.

But if you were truly trying to take the high road, you would never have written this question, and you would dismiss her as a pathetic neighborhood gossip, and not given her another thought. The "fuck her! I ought to tell her off!" stuff makes you seem as petty and unbalanced as her.
posted by jayder at 5:43 PM on September 19, 2010

I may be ungerous, and if so, sorry, but your mom can do what she feels like doing, as has been noted a few times, but I would tell the woman off if she made a snotty remark about me to my face. Simple and direct.
posted by Postroad at 6:04 PM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your mum obviously gets something out of the relationship - when this lady is pissing you off, remember that it possible she's helping your mum get through what's no doubt a very tough time for her, and that regardless of what an idiot she is, that's gotta be worth something.

It's interesting that you say she's jealous of your mum because her own kids are fuck ups, etc; I think your insecurities about being unemployed and (only superficially) a "bum", might be playing into this, such that you might be subconsciously a little worried that you or your family are "descending" to her or her childrens' level.

Don't sweat it. You're great, your mum's great. If she can handle her husband passing away, she can handle a gadfly like this (she might even welcome the distraction), and so can you. :) Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 7:03 PM on September 19, 2010

I wouldn't worry about this woman's opinions. In fact, the thing that stood out most in your post is that, in her graciousness in handling this neighbor's backhanded comments and helping you out while you're having a tough time financially, your Mom is pretty damned awesome.
posted by xingcat at 7:36 PM on September 19, 2010

It's quite possible your mom feels sorry for this woman; she obviously has troubles, and if she's so obnoxious, your mom may be the only person in the whole neighborhood who still talks to her. So if your mom is being saintly, there's not much you can do. Except maybe encourage her less awful friends to come over more often.

However, there is also the chance that this woman is one of those controlling, emotionally manipulative people, and she has more power over your mom than she should, and I guess that would worry me if I felt that were going on. Those kinds of friendships can be really destructive. And she's your mom, so it really isn't your call, but you care about her, so it wouldn't hurt to keep an eye on, for example, whether your mom feels like she can't see other friends because Gladys doesn't approve. I don't know if you can help if that's the case, it really depends on your relationship with your mom.

And don't be hard on yourself; you've got the loss of your dad plus your job going on, and that's a hell of a one-two punch. Is there any low-cost counseling you could get? Because my dad's death wiped me out emotionally, and looking back, it probably would have helped me a lot. In all this mess, try to take care of yourself--it will help you be there for your mom too.
posted by emjaybee at 8:10 PM on September 19, 2010

I have always been of the belief that if "they're" going to be talking, might as well give them something to talk about. I would not change my parking habits. I might even put a "question authority" or some such bumper sticker that will piss her off on my car. I also think the best defense is a good offense in this case. Whenever you see her start asking her questions. "Are you ok? I haven't seen your car around lately." "Is everything ok between you and mum, because I have not seen your number on caller ID lately." "How is your son doing? Did he ever go to university? How is his job stocking shelves at Walmart?" "What is you husband doing now that he is retired? I have not seen his name associated with any of the local worthwhile organizations. Is he just sitting at home?"

Those sort of things. Like she does to you and your mum.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:42 PM on September 19, 2010

remember this: some comments require what my Mom called "withering silence". It takes some practice..but should Helen level any more judgmental statements in the future....just look her square in the eyes ..count to 10 slowly in your head and leave the room. She'll be baffled but if it happens more than once she'll start "getting it". It is a classy way to say what you want to say..."F U"!
posted by naplesyellow at 8:58 PM on September 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oooohhh, yes! The next time she gives you crap, simper and coo "Bless your heart". The well-bred southern way for "Get stuffed!"
posted by brujita at 9:27 PM on September 19, 2010

You know, I think you should be careful and watch this woman carefully. When my father-in-law died, there were several people who tried to behave the same way with my mother-in-law. She tolerated these people, but eventually a line was crossed - these folks would usually ask for money. My mother-in-law said "forget it!", and so things were all right.

Several years ago mother-in-law suffered a serious stroke, and she has been hospitalized ever since. She lives in Japan, and we live in Canada. Several relatives and acquaintances offered to help with various things, and each time there were problems - these people would overstep boundaries, and, once again, there were issues with people trying to get at money. Things have settled down, thankfully.

On this side of the Pacific, my own grandmother, now in her 90s, lived until recently on her own in a different town. She has always been a popular fixture in her community, and due to a combination of her good health and helpful friends and acquaintances, she lived a full life on her own.

In recent years she has been afflicted with mild dementia. While at one time she would pay friends to help her shop at the store, these "friends" started to milk her for money - $100 to go to the liquor store, $50 to go grocery shopping.

When my parents finally got her into a home (the government social workers resisted this for 2 years), someone actually tried to forge her signature naming power of attorney. We had to bring in the police.

So, I would be watchful of this person. Probably your mom can handle things herself, but you yourself need to stop any and all interaction with Helen. It just gives her an additional way to get into your mother's life.

Ignore her. Do not acknowledge her existence.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:42 PM on September 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Perhaps your mom feels that she is doing her charitable, "Love thy neighbor"-ish duty. Say "Mom, I know Gladys can be a pain, so I hope you have other friends who help you feel great."

In my experience, there's always a Gladys out there, sometimes on the periphery, other times way too close. The strange part is how often irritating, annoying, clingy, certifiable Gladys ends up "being there" for you at some unexpected moment. It takes all kinds to make community.
posted by philip-random at 9:49 PM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding that you should refuse to hide, but also to not get any further involved.
You might also ask your mother not to repeat to you the negative things Gladys says about you. Tell her you need positive thoughts to get your life back on track, not negative ones that piss you off!
posted by Omnomnom at 2:19 AM on September 20, 2010

As to why you're over there? Your dad has passed away, you are there to help your mom around the house. End of story.

I want to give her benefit of the doubt, and it is totally possible that being this nosy and opinionated gives an insecure, jealous woman some emotional control over her less fortunate circumstances. I immediately thought of the same things that Kokuryu did. In our family, there have been a few instances of strangers taking advantage of an elderly relative and, except for one time, it has always been a neighbor.

I wouldn't hide the fact that you are living there. In fact, I'd be outside cleaning the gutters, mowing the lawn, trimming the bushes, sweeping the sidewalk. I'd always have a tool in my hand. What a wonderful thing that you are close to your mom! That you are such a help around the house! That you can mow her lawn and trim the bushes! Why bless your heart, nosy biddy, for inquiring and everything over here is lovely. (Curious eyebrow raise that communicates non-verbally what a strange comment/question she has just delivered.)
posted by jeanmari at 4:16 AM on September 20, 2010

(And I am very sorry for you loss.)
posted by jeanmari at 4:16 AM on September 20, 2010

I'm guessing she really hurt you by appearing to criticize your father's obituary. It sounds very disrespectful to his memory, and I would be hurt too in that position. I'd guess lingering pain and anger you have over your father's death, as well as some dissatisfaction with your employment situation, is getting channeled onto this woman.

Don't let her get you so defensive and insecure. Focus on your emotional stuff, and ignore hers.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:37 AM on September 20, 2010

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