Am I being a good friend or being taken advantage of?
August 15, 2014 5:25 PM   Subscribe

I had to back out of a paying gig that a friend and I had agreed to work on together. I backed out because of health complications, but she was very upset, so I agreed to try and help get the project finished in any capacity that I was still able. It's now turning into a much bigger mess, and said friend is expecting more work from me. I want to help my friend, but I also feel like I'm being a sucker.

The project means a lot to this friend. We agreed to work on it together many months ago. I had the same illness, but thought I had better control over the symptoms. This summer though, things got worse, so I had to tell her I couldn't do the work.

She has people counting on her, so I feel like an ass for putting her in that position. Because she was so upset by me backing out of the project, I told her I'd try to help out where I could. But now I feel like I'm roped into doing paying work for free. And I feel a lot like she's not being very understanding of the problems I'm dealing with. I understand she's in a tough spot, but so am I, and she's asking a lot of what little I have to give.

To complicate matters, several things went wrong with the project before I backed out, like delays on her end. While that didn't really impact my needing to back out, it did mean that some time was lost that would have helped find a replacement. I started working on the project in good faith, figuring I could power my way through the problems, but I two weeks in, I realized that I just could not.

I did have a sense things weren't going to go well, but I was seeing some new doctors in hope of getting some relief before my part had to start. In retrospect, I got to that point BECAUSE I didn't want to let her down. She also convinced me to do the work for less than I normally would because the client was a non-profit. So hiring someone to replace me under the clients budget is proving difficult. But another party was hired to do the work I was supposed to do, only that person did a half-assed job and didn't finish it, is asking to be paid for partially finishing the work, and so we're back to her asking for more help from me.

In the process of all this, I spoke to a mutual friend at how gutted I was about having to back out of the project and how I was trying my best to help with what I was able, but I just was feeling like more and more of it was piling back onto me. This friend told me she was feeling frustrated by what the first friend was doing before she even spoke to me, and when I called, she said it confirmed her feelings that the first friend was really not being very understanding. She said something similar happened with her and this friend friend years ago before I knew them both, and she felt guilted into doing things she didn't want to do, and was subsequently really angry about it.

Now, the more I think about it, the more I feel like I'm being guilted into agreeing to do more than I am able to do. I really have bigger things in my life to deal with. I do want to help, but I feel like every time I draw a line in the sand, I'm pushed to do more. I also am frankly upset that she isn't being very considerate of the physical pain I'm in or that much of my time is spent at doctors and in physical therapy. (There was a day where she was really upset that I didn't respond to some email right away, but I was at an appointment.) The mutual friend I spoke of above reminded me of a number of times I bent over backwards to help the first friend with other things in the past, (her suggestion being that is why I shouldn't feel bad about this.) I'm having very conflicting feelings over this.

But we're friends and friends help each other, right? Except this isn't the first time I've found myself working "for free" on someone else's project. So I don't know if I should draw a line in the sand and go back on what I said and say "I was wrong, I can not do this." or if I should be a good friend and help her out? Conversely, my hesitation could be over the fact that I have been taken advantage of in the past, and therefore am overreacting to a perceived slight that isn't there. Or that I might be subconsciously trying to make myself feel better for dropping the ball.

I'm not completely innocent either. I agreed to do it, knowing I had limitations (but thinking I could manage them). I wanted to do it because it sounded fun and seemed like an easy project to ease back into. I didn't consider the possibility that I might get worse when I agreed to do it.

I'm lost. I could use some advice from the hive mind.
posted by LANA! to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"I'm sorry. I had a different understanding of my health situation when I initially agreed to take this on, but now, it won't be possible. I need to focus my energy on my health."
posted by SillyShepherd at 5:39 PM on August 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

"I didn't consider the possibility that my health might get worse when I agreed to do this project. I am sorry, but it's too much for me. I am in a lot of pain and physically cannot finish this."
posted by ohisee at 5:43 PM on August 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you still feel guilty, add, "I tried really really hard to help you out, but I just don't have the energy and I feel terrible knowing that I'm making promises I can't keep. I keep saying I can power through, but I can't and I need to be honest about that."

Your friend will probably be mad about it, but honestly up front is better than trying really hard, pushing yourself, compromising your health, and still not being able to get it done. Give yourself a break and give yourself some time to deal with your illness.
posted by ohisee at 5:47 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

If this is a paying gig and you're under contract, I would strongly recommend finding someone else to finish your end of the work. If you went in on it together and you needed to back out, that's fine, but you should be looking to have someone fulfill your end, unless this is a skill area your friend can do. But I don't know the terms of your contract. You may need to tell her to sub out your work.

(That being said, medical reasons are a perfectly acceptable reason to back out.)
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 5:47 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Lines in the sand might not be working because she doesn't yet accept/understand that she needs to find a way that she can finish it without you. It sounds like right now you're still a key component in her plans to finish, she's accepted a reduced role and is fighting to minimize that reduction. She is not yet acting like someone who needs to figure out another way to do this thing. (This also makes it more likely the project will fail, and also that more of the resulting blame will be laid at your feet by her).

Drawing a line in the sand might still be implying "You can count on me to do X much work", when she needs to accept "You need to drop ALL assumptions that I can still contribute anything, else this project will fail, because [reasons people have said above]".
posted by anonymisc at 5:50 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't worry so much about her feelings, you can't control it. I'd be REALLY honest with her. Ask to meet with her over coffee and just say what you feel:

Eileen, I feel terrible that my illness has hampered my ability to work with you on this project. While I want to help, I can't afford to work for free, and right now, even if I wanted to, my health isn't going to allow me to continue. I know this puts you in a bad spot, but there's no way I could have predicted how this played out. I've put in X hours, and I'd like to come to an agreement about what's fair for the work I've done so far. Then I need to stop, I'm in a lot of pain and unless you've been injured/ill as I am, I just don't think you can appreciate how hard this is for me.

She's not trying to hear this, but oh well. At some point you have to put yourself first. After all, she clearly doesn't give a rat's ass. What would she have done if you had been hit by a bus? She'd get back with whomever and say, "My partner has been hit by a bus, it's totally unanticipated. I need to push out our deadline and find someone else to help with the project."

Shit happens. You don't have control over your illness, and she doesn't have control of you. I would file this away in the back of your mind. This 'friend' is unsympathetic and perhaps not a person you need to have in your life right now.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:51 PM on August 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you do tell her you need to stop helping, be prepared for objections and the same sorts of comments that have been guild-inducing up to now. Force yourself not to explain or defend yourself. You can repeat that you're sorry, you wish you had known, you know it's hard for her. Then stop talking. Even if she tries to keep talking about it, don't engage. She'll run out of steam -- if she continues, end the conversation or leave. Of course the blame isn't all yours, but she'll berate and guilt you because that has worked for her up to now.
posted by wryly at 5:56 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

You are feeling overburdened and resentful because she is trampling your boundaries.

She is trampling your boundaries because you are letting her.

Illness and physical incapacity is an unimpeachable reason to bail on a project. Any reasonable person would hear you saying you can't do it and let you off the hook.

Your friend is not a reasonable person. Maybe she's narcissistic, maybe she's just panicked. But she obviously is not in possession of normal empathy and respect.

She will continue to steamroller over your faint pleas until you tell her NO, and back up your words with your actions.

She comes across as a villain in your story. But the only power she has is the power you are giving her.

Call on another friend who is brave and plain spoken. Ask for her help in finding and practicing the conversation where you quit the project. Resist the impulse to offer conditions. Practice your speech until you can deliver it with conviction.

Tell her you're done, then stop working on it. That's really all it takes.
posted by ottereroticist at 6:09 PM on August 15, 2014 [12 favorites]

"I am ill. I can give you five hours a week, maximum, and only for the next month. Prioritize what you need me to work on. After September 30, I would like you to procure tax write off paperwork from the nonprofit for any further work I perform because I am donating my labor."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:21 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

All of the above, plus: if necessary, I'm sure your doctor would back the fact that you shouldn't be using what little health/energy you have on WORK right now, but on trying to feel better!
posted by stormyteal at 7:24 PM on August 15, 2014

I do want to help, but I feel like every time I draw a line in the sand, I'm pushed to do more.

Yes. She pushes you because every time she does, you abandon your line in the sand and do what she wants. You give in when she gets upset, which means that she can use being upset to control you. This will continue until you stop letting her manipulate you. She's not a good friend, you're not obligated to her, and it's time to cut off this project. No guilt!
posted by medusa at 7:28 PM on August 15, 2014 [12 favorites]

I would make every effort to help see that the commitments you and your friend made are honored. You can worry about your feelings of balance when the project is over. That's a fine time to work through whatever issues you all have.
posted by cleroy at 7:46 PM on August 15, 2014

What would she do if you dropped dead?

Tell her you're sorry - your health has deteriorated to the point that you can't do any more work for her. Be prepared to return any funds you've been paid that you haven't yet worked - and hope she's mad enough at you that you won't have to deal with her again in the future. This isn't a friend - she's a professional boundary-breaker.
posted by summerstorm at 8:17 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your friend is managing this project poorly and apparently slacking off herself; you're working for cheap (or free?) and she's incurring delays herself. She needs to get her shit together if she's serious. She can't just foist every problem off on you, that is shirking her responsibilities and possibly setting the stage for her preserving her relationship with the non-profit, which is sociopathic. Yes, you agreed to help her, but she has apparently changed the terms multiple times since then and has not held up her end of the bargain; she can't just play CEO and boss people around.

Think back to the original agreement, tell her that that's what you committed to, and that any problems outside of that are her problems to deal with. Suggest that she either push out any deadlines, to set expectations with the non-profit, and/or reduce the scope of the project if she wants any help at all. She seems to need a Come To Jesus talk, and though she simply may not have understood what she was getting herself into, you are working for her and the employment arrangement, such as it is, is unfair and not working and hey, besides, you have a medical problem so if she can't work within your boundaries she can find someone else.

It will show you care but aren't about to sacrifice yourself for her bad performance. There is an aphorism, "poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part."
posted by rhizome at 8:19 PM on August 15, 2014

Please take care of yourself. It sounds like you are having some major health challenges. Focus 100% on getting better. Don't let this person steal your chances for the best possible recovery. This is the time to focus on healing. She will find her own way. You don't need to carry her while your health isn't good. You shouldn't ever have to carry her.
posted by quince at 10:27 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are people who take advantage of friends. It sounds like your 'friend' is one of them. Second friend has had similar experiences with 'friend' so it seems you're not alone in this. You have to say no and mean no. However you do it, with or without hard feelings, your 'friend' has to make other arrangements to get this project done. Part of life is saying no. Say no.
posted by Anitanola at 11:27 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

With respect to how you should feel about your friend, she might not necessarily be consciously being a bad friend to you. A lot of people (almost all people?) seem absolutely, completely unable to really understand and internalize what health problems mean when they're not personally affected by them. They think they can, but they can't. Especially if your problems are not readily visible. They'll know, intellectually, that you've got a problem, but you look normal to them and so they imagine you as your normal self, maybe just a bit under the weather. They work when they're under the weather! After all, you're doing the work; they can't actually see the effect it has on you. They have no clue.

I think, in your place, I would agree to finish some not-large amount of work within the next week or two, and no more, with an emphasis on the no more. That gives her some more time to find a replacement. If she can't handle that, or asks you to do more, then you're pretty much done. How to handle telling her depends on how you want your relationship to continue: if your friendship is important to you I'd do my best to explain the effects the work is having on you and how you really, really just don't have more to give, and you know the situation this leaves her in, and you would do it if you could, but you absolutely can't. Tell her that for you being a friend means pitching in as much as possible to help when needed, and you've always done your best to do that; but it needs to go both ways, and you need her help and her understanding right now: you need your friend to help you get through this period. Again, if she can't respect that, I'd basically wash my hands of it.

Good luck. Her behavior is obnoxious but also understandable, in that this is probably a big deal for her, she has absolutely no real clue what you're dealing with, and she doesn't want to feel bad about how her own delays contributed to the problem. You don't say whether she would have taken on this project if you hadn't agreed to help, but if she would have passed on it it makes her attitude possibly more understandable (though less so, if she would still have taken it on.) But in the end, none of that matters. Your health is more important than any project and she needs to be your friend right now.

In the future (assuming this is realistic in your field) don't work on friends' projects at all.
posted by egg drop at 1:37 AM on August 16, 2014

But another party was hired to do the work I was supposed to do
That is when your responsibility for this project ceased, however much

only that person did a half-assed job and didn't finish it, is asking to be paid for partially finishing the work, and so we're back to her asking for more help from me
happened. Not your problem! Let her chase up the person she's paying. Who, even perhaps, has the right idea about how to work with this person.
posted by glasseyes at 2:04 AM on August 16, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Your health is the most important thing in the world for you. You need to say that you catagorically can not help her any more. You've tried being reasonable and said you'd help her a little bit and she's abused your good will by dumping more on you. She's also being a terrible friend, as a true friend will consider your health and well being more important than making you work on their project.

For instance my old friend had Fibromyalgia, was taking mass quantities (1000mg per day before the op) of morphine and struggled with migraines. I suffered with ME at the time as well. We would often arrange to meet up and do things. Probably eight times out of ten one of us had to cancel due to ill health. Whoever was canceled on just said to the other to take care of themselves and not to worry, that their health is more important. That's what a good friend would do. Even if it is an inconvenience or dissappointment for them.

Just tell her that you can no longer do any work for her, not even a small amount, as your ill health is making just living your life hard. If you've tried telling her this in person and she keeps guilting you into back tracking then do it in a way that stops her from doing that. Send her an email stating everything you need to. If she calls don't answer, just respond to her via email until she gets the hint that you're not working for her any more. It may sound harsh, but I know what it's like when you're ill and in pain, you want to help someone and you don't want to back out but you HAVE to for your own health. Yet other people often don't understand, even if they are in pain too, and try to persuade you to keep helping them. So you need to give yourself permission to tell her in whatever way you find easiest and that prevents her guilting you.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 5:36 AM on August 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I spoke to a mutual friend ... She said something similar happened with her and this friend friend years ago before I knew them both, and she felt guilted into doing things she didn't want to do, and was subsequently really angry about it.

Now, the more I think about it, the more I feel like I'm being guilted into agreeing to do more than I am able to do.

What exactly does this person do to "guilt" people into doing things? Is she being actively manipulative, or is she just asking for more help than other people may be willing and able to give?

If the latter, this might be an Ask vs. Guess Culture disconnect -- she's an Asker, you and the mutual friend are Guessers. You just need to give Askers a firm no.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:04 AM on August 16, 2014

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