What are reasonable expectations of looking after an unwell friend?
August 27, 2014 9:56 AM   Subscribe

I’m having troubles working out if I’m being unreasonable in the below scenario.

I have a friend, let’s call her Friend A, who I have known for years and would consider a close friend – we lived together in the past for 2 years and no longer do but keep in touch regularly (messaging every other day or so, and see each other every week or so).
I recently went with Friend A, to another Friend B’s wedding, which happens to be abroad and is a very small group only (15 guests who were all close friends of the bride/groom). Note, Friend A was my plus 1 but knew the couple who were getting married through me.

The wedding took place over a weekend, and we stayed a few nights only in a guest house. Day 1 was the wedding, and on Day 2, the bride and groom had arranged a day trip with us, they hired two boats to take us all for lunch on a nearby island, to return in the evening.

The night after the wedding Friend A was sick – similar symptoms to food poisoning. She was up at 4am, in and out of the bathroom. I felt bad for her and stayed up with her on and off from 4am to 9am while she was in the bathroom, getting her water etc.

I went to the pharmacy to get her medication that she requested, and asked her if she wanted me to stay with her that day. She said yes, she needed my help and wanted me to stay. I was quite surprised (I generally like to be left alone when ill and she didn’t seem THAT bad – but obviously she was sick, there’s no denying that) but I agreed, and I let friend B know that I would not be able to attend her day trip (which was due to leave in ten minutes) as I had to look after Friend A.

Friend B called me immediately and after describing Friend A’s symptoms, Friend B said she thought friend A was overreacting, and being selfish expecting me to sacrifice half of my weekend away, and a special day out that was organised as part of Friend B’s wedding to sit with her in the guest house, as it was not a case of life or death and Friend A could look after herself. Friend B said she wanted me to be with her on the day trip as I was a close friend and it was her gift to me for helping with wedding organisation (she didn't have any bridesmaids but I arranged her hen night and helped her wedding dress shopping etc so was quite involved and was probably her closest friend in the group).

I agreed with her rationale, so I told Friend A I was going on the trip as Friend B wanted me to be there, and to call me if things got really bad. I felt awful for leaving her but text her after a couple of hours asking how she was. I got a one word reply “Bad”. I didn’t reply. I figured either she was dying (unlikely) or just wanted me to worry about her.

I then received a message in the evening saying I needed to come back asap as she had locked herself out of the guest house and the owner wasn’t around. I couldn’t come back asap as I was in a town half an hour away so I told her that and did try to hurry everyone along to get back (we all had to get taxis together and were about to leave anyway).

By the time I got back the owner had returned anyway, and she was in the apartment and asleep. The next morning she was fine, and was giving me the silent treatment.

In the end she called me up on it and said she was upset that I left her that morning without even making sure that she was ok, that she ’needed’ me, that she would always stay and look after a sick friend etc.As a side note, Friend A is generally an emotionally dependent person and has a long term illness (c. 3 years ongoing) that appears to be psychosomatic (daily headaches, no cause found so far) so is always unwell to an extent. Therefore this incident is part of a wider issue I’m having with Friend A related to how much I can really be there for her with her ongoing illness (and these one off incidents) as she needs and expects a lot of emotional support on an ongoing basis and to be honest, I’m not really that kind of person – I tend to look out for myself and don’t expect much from others and never have done. She knows I’m not a ‘helper’ by nature but I do try to be there for her.

I feel bad that I’ve fallen out with Friend A over this but don’t feel it’s fair of her to guilt trip me about wanting to spend time with Friend B on her wedding weekend. Am I being unreasonable? How do I manage her ongoing dependency issues and expectations that, as a good friend, I should always be there for her? I already feel a bit like we message/see each other too often and I need a bit more space as when we see each other it’s usually her staying over at my place and I find it quite intense for various reasons that I won’t go into now as this post is already too long! She’s very sensitive/fragile so talking to her about it is a possibility but I really don’t think it will go well at all.
posted by pennywise_1 to Human Relations (49 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Friend A's request was unreasonable.
posted by flimflam at 9:59 AM on August 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You shouldn't have offered if you didn't mean it. But that aside, yeah, the better thing for her to do would be to say "thanks for the Gatorade and Immodium and for taking care of me last night, now go have fun."

It doesn't matter that I think she was unreasonable, though. The better question is what you think and what you're willing to put up with in this friendship.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:05 AM on August 27, 2014 [19 favorites]

If you're sick enough to need to be attended then a hospital is the correct place to be.
posted by ftm at 10:07 AM on August 27, 2014 [24 favorites]

We offer to do things all the time in the interest of being polite, expecting the other person won't take us up on it. It sounds like this was one of those cases. So you can chalk this up as a learning experience. Don't offer to do something for Friend A that you're not really comfortable following through on.

We don't really know how terribly off Friend A was that day, but we do know she didn't die, and she wasn't so unwell that she couldn't leave the guesthouse (and lock herself out). So yeah, she was probably being dramatic/needy/whatever in asking you to stick around.
posted by adamrice at 10:08 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

She's being unreasonable. In my mind I would expect a friend in your situation to get me whatever I needed from the pharmacy and make sure I had plenty of water and ginger ale to get me through the day. Maybe get me some crackers. I would be very grateful my friend got me these things and then I would want her to get out because the last thing I want when I've been throwing up for 12 hours is for someone to see me that state of total grossness.

She wanted a parent figure or maybe even a pseudo significant other. That isn't fair to you or reasonable. I think it's good the bride called bs on the situation.
posted by whoaali at 10:09 AM on August 27, 2014 [12 favorites]

This is part of Friend A's personality and it's unlikely that a difficult chat will change anything. She was unreasonable in wanting you to stay and miss an important event just so that she had some company while being sick. You also probably shouldn't have offered to stay after getting her whatever medications she needed.

Make the space that you need by not being available when you don't want to be. You do not need to be endlessly available to mask her lack of self-reliance.
posted by quince at 10:09 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Am I being unreasonable?

Not really. She certainly sounds far too needy for my taste.

But, I will say that you could have handled things much better when Friend A was sick. You should not have asked her if she wanted you to stay unless you were 100% willing to stay, and then, after agreeing to stay, you should not have changed your mind. So, while Friend A was indeed unreasonable with her behavior, I can sort of see why should would be upset (though her reaction is immature and totally over the top).

How do I manage her ongoing dependency issues and expectations that, as a good friend, I should always be there for her? I already feel a bit like we message/see each other too often and I need a bit more space...

Start replying to her messages a bit more slowly. Suggest hang-outs less frequently, and accept her invitations more judiciously. Look for things you can do together that are out of your home, shorter in duration, and/or less intense in some other way. Make yourself less available, and see what happens. IME, however, if you have to talk about this issue with her - she doesn't get your hints, and forces a conversation - you are likely to lose her as a friend. Probably not the worst thing in the world, but a thing to be aware of.

Also, as a migraine sufferer and child of two migraine sufferers, please don't write off daily headaches as psychosomatic. Sometimes finding the right balance of medicine and lifestyle changes to manage migraines is challenging and takes ages.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 10:13 AM on August 27, 2014 [35 favorites]

Passing up an important event to keep a sick person company at home (because you are not her doctor, so it is more about company than anything) is something a parent would do for a child. Not something a friend should expect of a friend.

if she had been having a stroke and needed you to take her to hospital stat, that would be different. This was not that situation.
posted by third rail at 10:14 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Friend A is generally an emotionally dependent person and has a long term illness (c. 3 years ongoing) that appears to be psychosomatic (daily headaches, no cause found so far)

I think this is likely the real reason this has turned into a big deal: She most likely has a real medical condition. She often feels unwell. She is not sure how sick she really is and people are being dismissive and unsupportive. She is scared in part because she has no answers and in part because people are acting like she is imagining things. And that makes it doubly or triply scary. Because what if she really is just imagining things? Then she is like CRAZY! But what if she is not and people are just dismissing her? Could she die because no one bothered to believe her?

So I think that's the crux of the matter and you need to be more generally sensitive. This includes not making polite noises you didn't really mean about being willing to take care of her when it appears to have taken relatively little to sway you to do otherwise.

If you remain friends with this person, you have to take her undiagnosed medical condition seriously and take it into account when deciding what kinds of promises or offers to make.

I am sorry this happened. I can see why you would be kind of sideswiped by this incident and why you would feel she is being unreasonable. But I lost basically all my friends when I was extremely ill and doctors were essentially dismissing me as crazy. So I can very much understand why she would make such a big deal of it.
posted by Michele in California at 10:14 AM on August 27, 2014 [41 favorites]

Sounds as though you might've played it a bit better -- giving her the idea that you'd be able to stay all day wasn't great, as it turned out, but then hindsight is always 20/20 -- but at worst you were considerate.
posted by mr. digits at 10:15 AM on August 27, 2014

I would never ask a friend to stay at my house while I had the stomach flu. I am having trouble imagining anyone I know asking for this, even the neediest of my friends and relatives. What did she think was going to happen that she needed you around for? This is a bizarre request.
posted by something something at 10:15 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Am I the only one who thinks that the "B" in Friend B stands for a bit of Bridezilla? Pennywise_1 offered to stay with Friend A (shouldn't have offered of you didn't mean it), and the bride should have been gracious, said they would miss Pennywise, and wished Friend A a swift recovery. I don't blame Friend A for being miffed.
posted by Dolley at 10:16 AM on August 27, 2014 [18 favorites]

You asked. She answered. If you didn't want to look after her, you shouldn't have offered. That you did and then went back on it adds fire to this.

But we often don't make the best, most rational decisions when we're ill. You say they're in her head and you don't really know that. But it does reveal that you have some manner of contempt for her already because you don't believe her.

Apologize for walking out on her. Then never room with her ever again.
posted by inturnaround at 10:17 AM on August 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

You offered to stay with her, she accepted the offer and you then didn't come through and left her anyway. Your friend has every right to be upset and a sincere apology is in order.
posted by tecg at 10:17 AM on August 27, 2014 [15 favorites]

Also, I will add that she was on this trip because you invited her. So, in some sense, she was your guest. If you don't want to be responsible for her welfare and you know she has "issues" that you don't really want to deal with, then do not basically impose upon her to go someplace with you. For an unwell person, that can be a burden.
posted by Michele in California at 10:20 AM on August 27, 2014 [7 favorites]

You offered to stay and then didn't. You asked her how bad off she was and when she replied, you didn't answer her text. You behaved shabbily and would not be my friend anymore after this.

It's not true that someone who needs to be attended must then need to be in the hospital, as suggested above. Or that attending is something only parents do for children.

Being abroad and very sick is a big deal. Becoming dehydrated despite ones best efforts can also be a big deal.

If your measurement of whether or not you'll do a kindness for a friend is whether she's dying or not -- you're not a very good friend.

It sounds like you don't like her very much. Do her a favor and step back from this friendship.
posted by vitabellosi at 10:23 AM on August 27, 2014 [25 favorites]

I'm firmly with A here.

1. She was your guest and you had a responsibility to make sure she was OK. As your guest, the two of you were in this together unless she explicitly told you to go.
2. You made a commitment to A to stay with her, and then you reneged. You proved you aren't good on your word.

The lesson here is never to offer something you're not willing to do wholeheartedly.

B sounds like a bridezilla.
posted by mochapickle at 10:27 AM on August 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

This is a hard one.

If you offered to stay, and then changed your mind, that's kind of shitty. I do agree that Friend A shouldn't have asked you to stay. But she did.

I've been there. I hate going anywhere without my car because you never know when someone will strand you. I let a very good friend talk me into driving me to a party. A the party she became VERY ill. Vomit, diarrhea and feeling terrible. So I waited. And Waited. And Waited. At about 2:00 PM, she decided she was too ill to drive back, too ill to let me drive and only wanted to crash in the guest room. That left me on the sofa, in my party clothes. Uh. No. I insisted that I drive her car back and go home. The party throwers could drive her home.

We're still friends, but she knows that I'm driving and I'm leaving when I say I'm leaving. It's kind of a joke, that I'm the unsympathetic one. And I'll accept that. I'm okay with it.

So meet with your friend, apologize for giving her mixed messages. Here's a script:

"Alicia, I'm sorry you felt abandoned by me in Ibiza. I shouldn't have offered to stay with you. I'm not much help with sick people, and frankly, it didn't seem to me that you were so sick that you needed me to be with you. I'm uncomfortable in that role and it was a lot to ask. I did offer however, and then I reneged and for that, I'm sorry."

Just know that if you travel with her, that she's like this, and then you move forward.

FYI, when traveling with the above friend, she asked us to reschedule our flight to a red-eye to avoid potential weather issues (turbulance) and THEN she cried all through the flight because it was bumpy anyway. Also, you know that thing where flight attendants heat wet paper towels in the microwave and put them in cups to help with pressure? Yeah. That. I looked over at her, crying with the cups and I just said, "you're a freak, you know that?"

As I said, we're still friends.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:29 AM on August 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't think anyone here is going to win any gold medals for behavior. Friend A sounds unreasonably demanding, and it doesn't sound as though she was so sick that she needed someone to hang around all day attending to her needs. Adults get stomach illnesses all the time; while they're unpleasant, they're not life-threatening, nor do they render a person so incapacitated that she's unable to care for herself. Seems like this whole thing was mostly about her need to be the center of attention.

However, I do think that you were in the wrong by offering to stay and then changing your mind. As others have said, once you agreed to stay, you were bound to keep your word. Not only that, but you put yourself in an untenable position of having either Friend A or Friend B rightfully get mad at you no matter what decision you made; had you just made sure Friend A had enough medicine, water, etc. to get her through the day and made clear to her that she could call you in case of emergency, you would have been in the right and in the clear.

I would apologize to Friend A but then try to back off this friendship a little, if possible. She sounds like an emotional vampire.
posted by holborne at 10:29 AM on August 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

So Friend A was ill, staying in a guest house as opposed to a full-service hotel, and out of her home country? That's a stressful situation and you should have stayed with her.

Then after you reneged, you told her to call you if she was bad off. She messaged you with an actual non-illness problem (locked out of the strange guest house!) and you didn't return any earlier than you would have.

If I were Friend A I'd be upset, too. She was your guest and I think you treated her poorly.
posted by kimberussell at 10:30 AM on August 27, 2014 [13 favorites]

OK, I think your claim that friend A is always pretending to be sick (or has psychosomatic symptoms) is problematic here, because you said that you could tell she was very sick.

But I would feel really crappy leaving my friend (who didn't know anyone) in a foreign country, sick, alone where I was not easily accessible. You should sincerely apologize to Friend A.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:33 AM on August 27, 2014 [7 favorites]

How do I manage her ongoing dependency issues and expectations that, as a good friend, I should always be there for her? I already feel a bit like we message/see each other too often and I need a bit more space as when we see each other it’s usually her staying over at my place and I find it quite intense for various reasons that I won’t go into now as this post is already too long! She’s very sensitive/fragile so talking to her about it is a possibility but I really don’t think it will go well at all.

This is the real problem and its what fed into you abandoning your sick friend and not really looking after her. You need to be upfront and set some boundaries so that you have emotional space to be there for her in more dire situations, if you choose to be.

You need to take care of yourself before attempting to take care of someone else and it doesn't sound like you've been doing that in this relationship.

Good luck.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:39 AM on August 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

What if Friend A's condition had turned serious? She was in a foreign country, could she speak the language?

I had symptoms like hers while I was away, and I wanted NOT to make a fuss, but it turned out to be a burst appendix.

My point isn't that there's a theoretical possibility that Friend A could have been dying and that danger of death is the go/no go criterion for whether she was being unreasonable or not. My point is, I'm not a doctor, you're not a doctor, Friend A is not a doctor, Friend B is not a doctor. Friend A was in a foreign country, sick, and you offered to assist her for the day, I'm not surprised she took you up on it. At home, she might have said no as you were expecting she would, but under these exceptional circumstances, you got the unexpected answer.

And maybe Friend A is just a whiner who fakes/imagines headaches every day because that's her personality, but once you've started thinking this about her without sufficient evidence, your opinion of her has dropped too low for it to be considered a respectful friendship any more. For all we know, Friend A really is suffering from headaches every day and the constant pain is making her needier and more fragile than she would have been without them.

So whether or not A was right in her assessment of whether she needed someone to stay with her all day, it's not for you to say. You offered to stay with her, but you didn't mean it, and now you're asking us to confirm that A didn't need what she said she needed. My answer is: doesn't matter, you offered and should have followed through.

As for B, like I said, she is not a doctor, and she should have said "Oh, that's terrible, I hope Friend A gets better soon. [bonus response: What can we bring you back from the island?]" And they should have called during the day to make sure you and Friend A were doing all right, at a minimum. She should have said this even if she didn't believe a word of it.
posted by tel3path at 10:42 AM on August 27, 2014 [13 favorites]

I came up with a new rule for life about six or eight months ago that has served me very well. If I find myself writing out a long post about an interpersonal relationship? That interpersonal relationship is over. Too much work. I can't think of anyone in my life who is worth that much storm and stress. Especially not friends - the function of friendship is to have people that don't cause you difficulty in your life, not to make your life harder and more difficult to navigate.

How do I manage her ongoing dependency issues and expectations that, as a good friend, I should always be there for her?
You don't. That is her job to manage for herself. She's an adult. She needs to be self-sufficient.

I can't help but think that if this was a one-off - your friend got really sick and was like, "Oh, I need you here today," that you'd be fine with it. I think you're only at this point because your friend, as you describe her, is sensitive and fragile and your friendship already feels a bit like it is smothering you.

I think that her wanting you to stay with her was less about needing medical care and more about needing emotional support. Sometimes we cannot be available for that much emotional support. Sorry. She can get a therapist for that. It's not a friend's job, not when it gets all-encompassing like this.

I had a friend who was way too close to me - she wanted to do everything together. It was, in a word, smothering me. I tried to talk to her about it but like with your friend A her sensitivity and inability to actually listen to what I was saying made talking with her impossible. That whole "I'm sensitive" thing is really a smoke screen, I think - it's a way to control the conversation and the outcomes. "I'm too sensitive to be an accepting, mature adult about this" isn't an excuse. People who do this aim to control the outcomes by punting on the real issue because of their sensitivity.

I'm sorry this happened to you. Try not to beat yourself up about it. And stop spending so much time with A. Get super, super busy with a new hobby. Do the slow fade with A. Make a new friend or two, and pay attention to how they treat you and how they behave before you get close enough to invite them on weekend trips etc. That will prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future.
posted by sockermom at 10:43 AM on August 27, 2014 [11 favorites]

It was nice of you to offer to stay with her but you shouldn't have offered unless you would definitely stay with her if she said yes. She shouldn't have said yes though I can understand why she did. Being sick sucks but being sick and alone sucks more. Being sick, alone, and in a different country sucks even more. The bride shouldn't have gotten bent out of shape about you staying with your friend.

I am generally healthy but I get semi-frequent headaches, occasional stomach trouble, etc. I feel like a loser when I say that I don't want to do something because my head or stomach hurts - no one can see how much pain I'm in. As far as people can see, I'm flaking out because I'm a flake, not because I'm in distress. But when I'm actually sick enough that I'm throwing up, I almost feel happy about it because it shows (not that anyone wants to see) that I'm really sick, that being sick is not just in my head. It probably sounds super weird but it's oddly comforting to be able to "prove" that I am actually sick.

I'm guessing that your friend has a lot of people who are like, whatever, she's a drama queen when she doesn't feel well so in part, she may have felt like, dude, I am truly sick this time, you know it, I know it, so leaving is not the nicest thing to do. You are obviously not responsible for her getting sick but it was rough to ask if she wanted you to stay, then left her after she said yes. It's even rougher to say, let me know if you feel really bad, then when she does let you know, you were too far away to help.

That all said, I'd take a step back from your friendship. Are you getting anything out of it? No friendship is all sunshine and roses all the time. Everyone has times where they need to lean on others and let others lean on them. If she's been sick-ish since you met, I'd back away but if this is a relatively new thing, I'd make a little distance but not so much that you can't pick things up where you left off if/when she starts to get better.
posted by kat518 at 10:46 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Friend A was being a dick. If you respected her, you would've taken her request much more seriously (i.e. if you didn't inherently think she was unreliable you either would've stayed with her or arranged some kind of medical care/supervision). In other words, it doesn't sound like it's worth your time to keep alive a relationship where you think the other person is a bit of a dip. I cannot imagine interrupting someone else's wedding proceedings like that for no good reason... she was sick, but she wasn't THAT sick and she sure got better quickly. Everybody gets sick.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:46 AM on August 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Seems like there are very differing opinions. I agree that I shouldn't have offered if I was then going to be swayed otherwise, I've definitely learnt from that.

Just to clarify when I say psychosomatic I do not mean pretending. I mean a real physical illness either caused by or made worse by emotional/stress factors. It is definitely real physical pain and I'm in no way suggesting otherwise.
posted by pennywise_1 at 10:47 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

But yeah, I also agree that you should step back from the friendship. You do not talk about this person like you respect or enjoy them.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:49 AM on August 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

My reading is that you were in a very difficult position and did the best you could. You were clearly very sincere in your offer to stay with Friend A and didn't expect Friend B to push back, so I think those who say you made an offer you didn't intend to keep are being unkind to you. I think both Friend A and Friend B acted in surprising ways. In your situation, I would've expect Friend A to push you to go on the day trip, and after that didn't happen, I still would've counted on Friend B's (disappointed but understanding) acceptance that you were staying with your Friend A. The pressure of doing exactly as a bride-to-be wants is very real and can be very overwhelming, so Friend A really ought to take that into account.

I would apologize to A, but I wouldn't really go overboard. Being alone in an unfamiliar place while you're sick can be scary and I get why she wanted you to stay with her, so you can apologize for unintentionally minimizing how she felt or being unable to prioritize both her needs and Friend B's needs, etc. You can certainly say you've learned from the experience, as you wrote above. But if Friend A's way of dealing with her anger is to childishly give you the silent treatment, she may be expecting some weepy, I-did-everything-wrong apology and not a reasonable one. If this is the case, tell yourself you did the best you could and move on from the friendship.
posted by pineappleheart at 10:57 AM on August 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

"no cause found so far" does not make something psychosomatic.

My condition is genetic. So I was born with it. I was not diagnosed until right before I turned 36. And, god, the assholery I had to put up with prior to being diagnosed. My entire life I was assumed to be merely "lazy" and "exaggerating" and "overly sensitive" and shit like that.

I am not trying to give you a hard time. I am trying to tell you that the way you describe your friend fits very much with my experiences prior to finally getting a proper diagnosis. And the degree to which I had to walk on eggshells because people thought I wasn't really sick and the degree to which I got treated like I didn't really need the extra care that I did, in fact, really need was a huge and chronic stress point in my life. So I can understand why your friend reacted so strongly.

That doesn't mean "she is in the right, you are in the wrong and you should fall on your sword." That means if you cannot deal with the way she is in an effective and considerate manner, then, yes, perhaps it is time to reconsider this relationship.

I have become pretty socially isolated over the years. I am working on reversing that but I absolutely do not miss the drama that went along with people expecting me to go to theme parks and the like with them and not understanding how miserable I was and feeling like I was just a party-pooper and crap like that. I hope that as I rebuild my life, I can succeed in arranging to not participate in things that are a problem for me and only participate in challenging situations under circumstances where the people I am with really get it that I have special needs and if I am properly taken care of, I can be a real asset to them, but, no you can't act like my special needs are "just being unreasonable" or something.

It sucks when this kind of thing happens. I do really truly understand why many people often think my needs and my issues are too much or not worth it. But, also, a lot of those people got a helluva lot out of me, so I very much resented it when they acted like it was unreasonable for me to feel like I also deserved to get my needs met when I was clearly doing a lot to enhance their lives.

So, you know, if you really, truly think the friendship costs you more than it's worth, then cut her loose. But if you really do not want to cut her loose for some reason -- which may be that you are getting something out of it -- then you need to reconsider how you handle her so-called "psychosomatic" problems. Because regardless of what you think is causing them, they exist and are not going away any time soon. (They likely won't improve until she does get a proper diagnosis and that can take years and years.)
posted by Michele in California at 11:01 AM on August 27, 2014 [7 favorites]

don’t feel it’s fair of her to guilt trip me about wanting to spend time with Friend B on her wedding weekend. Am I being unreasonable? How do I manage her ongoing dependency issues and expectations that, as a good friend, I should always be there for her? I already feel a bit like we message/see each other too often

If Friend A were my friend, I would have gladly stayed with her and watched movies for the day. Big deal, boat ride. Bridezilla. OTOH, from your comment quoted above, you are tired of Friend A and don't want to be her friend any more. It appears you've gotten your wish. So it's over. You got the result you wanted, although you didn't fully realize at the time that that's what you were after. You can move on now.
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:02 AM on August 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Ugh I think both A and B were being unreasonable. A for asking you to stay and B for not respecting your prior agreement with A. And by agreeing to stay with A and then bailing, you didn't really handle it well.

So, everyone is wrong, it happens, whatever. Apologize to those who need apologizing to, forgive those who you need to forgive. Make better decisions next time.
posted by mskyle at 11:13 AM on August 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

You shouldn't have offered if you didn't mean it.

I strongly disagree with this, and other similar sentiments.

I don't know your cultural background, but there are a lot of places where it's expected that one will make polite offers that will in turn be politely declined. Japan is classic for this: it's a social faux pas not to offer "n", and perhaps a greater faux pas to immediately accept an offer.

But I think we still have elements of this in the US.

You were right to offer. Your friend was not right to take you up on it & then pressure you or guilt trip you to stay home.
posted by kanewai at 12:04 PM on August 27, 2014 [7 favorites]

Friend A is in a cry wolf situation in large part because of her dependency issues and your lack of boundaries. It's not her illnesses. It's your frustration with someone consistently demanding more emotional support than you have to give.

Friend B has her own drama, but Friend A showed up as the guest of guest at a small wedding and then spun drama that lasted through the wedding weekend. Carrying the grudge/silent treatment was the line she crossed. That's drama-mama manipulation right there. Sick and needing assistance is not a problem. It's the emotional manipulation that's the problem.

You two are not a good fit for a close friendship. You just aren't. She demands things from you which you do not have. The longer you let this go; the bigger the resentment will be.

Slow fade.
posted by 26.2 at 12:09 PM on August 27, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I had a (now former) friend who dealt with ongoing illnesses by making every conversation about her illness, taking any help I gave for granted and/or not being satisfied with it, and not celebrating/sympathizing with my good or bad news. For years I told myself I was being a "good friend" by swallowing any annoyance and going along with what were unreasonable demands, or clearly just childish behavior (i.e. if I proposed evening plans that she didn't like, she would insist that we change them to plans of her choosing, otherwise she would be 'too sick' to come -- but magically she would be perfectly healthy once we changed the plans to what she wanted to do). Then, I snapped, and we had a huge falling out.

I tell you this because my friendship with her did not necessarily have to become toxic or end in a big fight -- it because I didn't set boundaries, then snapped, that the friendship ended in fireworks. She asked me to do things, I did them, and stored up resentment. What if I had said no at first and made my own choices about how to spend my time instead of constantly covering up my feelings to go along with hers? We might still be friends today.

In order to be a good friend I needed to set boundaries of my own and check in with myself before saying yes to a request from a friend. That way I would only do the things I was comfortable doing and I wouldn't build up resentment. It sounds like you are having trouble setting boundaries with both Friend A and Friend B and are easily swayed by whoever has the strongest personality. It also sounds like you were torn between wanting to be a "perfect friend" to Friend A, and resenting her for potentially making a fun situation "all about her" -- and you didn't have the skills to deal with it head on so you backed out of a commitment. This should be a wakeup call to you to work on the vital skill of saying no, and to work on asking *yourself* what you want to do and what you feel comfortable with. Good luck.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 12:12 PM on August 27, 2014 [12 favorites]

Since Friend A is in poor health overall, I'm not surprised that she'd need more care and be more freaked out by suddenly getting really sick (according to you *and* her) than you or some other overall healthy person would while abroad.

I mean yeah, if she were generally healthy and happened to fall ill this one time, you'd think that she'd want to be alone, be able to use her general physical reserves to power through, etc. But that's not the case, she's already having health problems that affect her daily life, so it's likely too much for her to have those chronic things going on WHILE acutely sick and in the helpless, exhausting position of staying on someone's private property (the guest house) in a foreign country and as someone's plus-one rather than as an invited guest or with her SO or family herself.

I would think that she left the guest house because she needed to go to the pharmacy or to get food or run a necessary errand like that, which you could have taken care of for her if you'd been there, and then it wouldn't have turned into some horrible thing when this person who'd been vomiting all day and no doubt had a migraine on top of it had to be standing there with no key and no way to get inside the guest house and basically left alone to figure it out herself. That she ended up just flopping into bed and going to sleep and then not wanting to deal with you that night is completely understandable to me.

I don't think her expectation that you actually meant it when you offered to skip a boat ride to help her when she was really sick were unreasonable. I don't think that her honest reply that she was feeling "bad" when you asked her how she was feeling was unreasonable. I don't think that her being exhausted and not wanting to deal with you at the end of a day of vomiting, headaches, getting locked out and without help, while you were having fun on a boat ride, was unreasonable. I don't think that her assumption that as the person who invited her in the first place, that you'd have her back if something went wrong, was unreasonable either. Maybe she's got a dramatic personality or whatever in general, but none of her behavior here sounds out of line or irrational in the least to me.

It sounds to me like you're being incredibly unsympathetic to her and that you're being goaded on to be even less sympathetic by Friend B. I don't think that it was unreasonable of Friend A to think that the person who invited her to a foreign country and who offered to stay with her when she fell really ill and who she apparently thinks of as a close friend would dump her in a time of need to go on a freaking boat ride.

I think you definitely need to apologize to Friend A, and you should consider what Friend B would do if *you* needed *her.* Think about who the fair weather friends are in this scenario. I think you behaved as one toward Friend A, but at least you felt bad about it and had the impulse to offer to stay and stuff. Friend B seems to think it's perfectly fine to be a fair weather friend and if I were you, I wouldn't be planning to be able to rely on her in the future.

Look, if you're looking for reassurance that you shouldn't feel bad about this, and that what went down is somehow Friend A's fault, then I have to say that I do think that you should feel bad about it and that it wasn't Friend A's fault. But I also think that you guys sound close in general and you'll be able to smooth things over if you own up to being a fair weather friend on this trip, and promise to think about that in the future, and that this isn't a friendship-ender necessarily.

And I don't think you should feel absolutely atrocious or anything, I think that if Friend B hadn't pressured you into leaving Friend A, you probably wouldn't have, and it sounds like you maybe would also have left to help Friend A earlier after she said she needed help if Friend B and everyone hadn't dwadled. So if I were you, I'd basically try to make up to Friend A, who basically just got sick and needed help and asked for it and was upset with you when you reneged on giving it to her, which all sounds pretty much fine to me, and I'd wonder about the friendship with Friend B, who sounds callous and selfish, and like she's not the best influence on you because she pressures you to be more callous and selfish and you give in to that pressure.
posted by rue72 at 1:00 PM on August 27, 2014 [10 favorites]

(i.e. if I proposed evening plans that she didn't like, she would insist that we change them to plans of her choosing, otherwise she would be 'too sick' to come -- but magically she would be perfectly healthy once we changed the plans to what she wanted to do).

I am absolutely not saying this particular friend was not being a jerk and not abusing the situation, but I absolutely can be too sick to deal with X thing but not too sick to deal with Y thing. I have thought long and hard about how I can try to arrange my life going forward so as to set people's expectations appropriately concerning "I am the friend who is totally up for doing Y with you, even when I feel crappy, but, nope, no can do on that X, not even on a good day, because that's actually a problem for me due to my medical handicap."

I am really, really not trying to say Friend A is justified, etc. I am just trying to say that it's a really hard problem to solve and it is mostly situational. This was hardest when I had no diagnosis. Getting a diagnosis totally changed my life in the most wonderful way possible. It was hugely, hugely life enhancing to know wtf was actually going on.

When I took a class on "Negotiation and Conflict Management" (or resolution?), one of the points made was that when you have a situation where there is a very narrow set of conditions where both sides benefit, the negotiations will be very hard and both sides will tend to feel like the other side is "being an asshole." I always try to keep that in mind in the face of dealing with difficult people or difficult social settings: Both parties have needs and both parties have limitations and so on and sometimes it isn't really that either party was being unreasonable, it was just a hard situation and maybe the bandwidth for where a good deal could be struck, one that worked well for all parties, was just super narrow or even non-existent.

Now that I have a diagnosis, I am keenly aware that anyone who wants to really be close to me and a big part of my life, especially if that closeness is going to occur in meatspace, will have to deal with a fairly large number of restrictions and expectations -- not because I am being an ass but because that is the only way for me to not be simply deathly ill all the time. I have two sons who can and do put up with those restrictions and are loyal to me. I don't know if anyone else will join the short list. I hope I can re-establish more of a social life in meatspace in the future, but I am aware it has inherent challenges.

Those challenges are tough enough with a proper diagnosis. When I did not have one, I am sure a lot of people thought I was just a pain in the ass -- and, for my side, I felt mistreated a lot and misunderstood and so on. And your friend has no diagnosis. So that's where she still is. It's just a really, really hard place to be in, practically, psychologically, emotionally and socially. It's a really frustrating, scary crazy-making space, made all the harder by other people failing to understand the parameters of the problems in part because the problem has not been properly identified and defined yet.

So if you can't cope with that difficult space, you and she would likely both be better off if you went your separate ways. Losing all my friends was, in some ways, embittering. In other ways, it was enormously freeing. I am saying that not to accuse you of anything. I am saying that in hopes that it helps free you up to make a decision and feel okay about it, even if that decision is to DTMFA.
posted by Michele in California at 1:09 PM on August 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am on A's side here. Being sick in a foreign country, at someone else's house, can be quite scary. If she ended up so sick that she needed an ambulance or emergency care, being alone would be awful. I don't like being around people when I'm sick, but I would feel differently if I was in a different country.

The unknown is whether A just wanted you there for comfort and to wait on her or if she actually felt like she needed you there. I'm more inclined to err on the side of the compassionate view - that she wanted you there because she was very concerned about her health.

I think B was behaving very poorly. The only acceptable response from her should have been, "I'm sorry to hear that. In case there's an emergency, here's the number for the ambulance and directions to the nearest drug store."
posted by parakeetdog at 1:21 PM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

People who try to make other people's weddings about themselves usually are not pleasant people to be around. She's a grown up. If she didn't think she could handle the trip without the support of a family member or loved one, maybe she shouldn't have gone.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:46 PM on August 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Dear A, I had a conflict with 2 friends asking for my time, and made the best decision I could. I'm so sorry you were unwell and felt let down. I value our friendship and I miss you, my friend. Let me buy you dinner tomorrow evening.
posted by theora55 at 1:55 PM on August 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

I value our friendship and I miss you, my friend. Let me buy you dinner tomorrow evening.
That's very sweet, but it's not honest. The person asking this question feels smothered by A: "I already feel a bit like we message/see each other too often and I need a bit more space as when we see each other it’s usually her staying over at my place and I find it quite intense for various reasons."

Don't ask people for dinner if you want space from them. I think that the first part of this statement is the best thing you can say:
Dear A, I had a conflict with 2 friends asking for my time, and made the best decision I could. I'm so sorry you were unwell and felt let down.
And then let it go. A is going to continue to cling to you until you stop letting it happen.

I don't know. I've lived my whole life with a chronic illness. Part of this is temperament, sure, but I absolutely refuse to make it an issue in my friendships as much as I can. I will say things like "I am tired and can't go out" but there's a huge difference between that and "I'm tired and can only eat Chinese food and see the movie Boyhood tonight and anything else? I'm just too sick for." You know what I'd say? "I really don't feel like having Mexican food and seeing Guardians of the Galaxy tonight. I would love to see Boyhood and have Chinese food, but if we're not going to do that, I'm going to stay in." I wouldn't even mention the fact that I'm tired or feeling ill because it isn't germane to that situation. Being chronically ill means that I have to be very careful about how I spend my spoons and that's my responsibility. It's no one else's business, problem, or burden to deal with unless I'm literally in the hospital, going to the hospital, or getting out of the hospital. And even then, I'm incredibly careful about it.

As a result, guess what? I don't have that many friends. Guess what? I also don't give a hoot that I don't have many friends. I don't want people in my life that place more demands on me than I can handle. Maybe that's part of the price I pay for having a chronic illness (Lord knows that I've paid a lot out to my disease) but it's my responsibility to realize "hey I can't do this thing" or "hey I probably can't do that thing in the future so I'd better not commit to it now" and to plan accordingly. There's a vast difference between being a selfish flake and being aware of my own limitations. My illness is already enough of a burden to myself and to others. I don't need to make it part of the public calculation every time I beg off of doing something.
posted by sockermom at 2:06 PM on August 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

Although it was not ideal to say you would stay and then back out on that agreement (which you already know), I do think you were in a very tough spot. There is a lot of cultural pressure to be there for a bride during her wedding, especially since it sounds like you were a de facto bridesmaid (in role if not in name). I am getting married next year, and I would be extremely bummed if one of my bridesmaids decided to back out on major wedding events if they were not, themselves, personally very ill. I would understand, and would try very, very hard not to throw a fit about it, but I would definitely be upset about it. So, I don't think it was out of line to change your plans when the bride asked you to.

All that said, this is not a one-off incident but an ongoing dynamic with your friend. I think a couple of things are in order.

1. Apologize for backing out on your agreement, even though you were in a tough spot. You can acknowledge that you were in a difficult situation being torn between two friends' needs and also apologize that your friend was upset about the situation.
2. Going forward, think about how to avoid similar situations. I have a wonderful friend who I would never, ever, not in a miilion years take an international trip with. Different issues than your friend, but I just happen to know it would be a huge ordeal for all involved and would probably end in us having a big fight. We are still very close friends and love each other to death, but that doesn't mean every type of trip/activity/event is going to be awesome for our friendship. Try to think about the places, events, situations, activities, etc. where your friendship works well, and those where it works poorly. Big trip to another country during a high pressure event where you are expected to play a pretty major role? Bad idea. A monthly brunch date at a place you love to go anyway? Maybe a better option?

Think about the strengths of your friendship and where you think it works well, and play to those strengths. It's okay to say no to invitations where you smell trouble brewing or know from past experience you will not have a good time. I have (a different) friend who is perpetually late. I was horribly offended and inconvenienced for a long time (I am the sort of person for whom it's a point of honor to always be a little early), until I realized he does it to everyone, he's not going to change, and it's something I needed to work around if our friendship was going to continue. Now we do not do things where I might end up waiting around outside a restaurant for an hour or missing a movie because he's late. We plan things like: going to each others' houses to hang out where the timing isn't so crucial, group meetups places like parks, festivals, or cookouts where it does not matter if people arrive at different times, coffee dates at cafes where I truly do not mind sitting and reading a book for 30 minutes if he's late. What might be these type of activities for you and your friend? It is okay to say: "I've decided to take a break from hosting houseguests for a while, because it is making me feel overwhelmed. Let's meet up at restaurant X/your place/this concert/the movie theater/etc. instead."
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:12 PM on August 27, 2014 [7 favorites]

To all those defending Friend A:

WTF. Seriously. I know (way too many) people with serious, chronic illnesses, and they are adults and can handle their shit. If my friend who has a severely compromised immune system after a bout of lymphoma has to bail on plans, I get it. If she needs someone to help her out with something, she's careful to not impose. My aunt with severe asthma is also limited in what she can do, but she doesn't make her illness the star of the show.

Having a chronic illness does not make someone a whiny pain in the ass. Plenty of cool, capable adults are out there working within the bounds of what they can physically handle. Friend A sounds like a whiny pain in the ass. Passive-aggressive, one word text messages, locking herself out, silent treatment, and all.

And seriously - what was the OP expected to do? Gently pat Friend A's head with a washcloth? Rock her to sleep with a lullabye? Either you're sick enough to go to the hospital, or you need to be okay with not having a mommy figure holding your hand.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:44 PM on August 27, 2014 [9 favorites]

I defended A because OP reneged on her word.

It doesn't matter if A is the most whiny, awful person who ever lived. It doesn't matter if A was faking it the whole time. OP blew it on three counts:

1. She promised A she'd stay, and she didn't
2. She promised A she'd hurry back in case of any problems, and she didn't
3. She brought A with her to an event, where etiquette dictates your loyalty is to your guest

I agree A was passive aggressive and annoying and immature. And I'd probably never invite A anywhere again if I were OP. But that doesn't matter. OP is responsible for her actions and her actions alone, and she left her girl behind. It's a personal integrity issue and the focus should be on OP.
posted by mochapickle at 3:13 PM on August 27, 2014 [8 favorites]

Agreeing with mochapickle here.

It doesn't really matter what kind of person Friend A is, since the OP knows Friend A through lengthy personal experience. If the OP knows Friend A has always been like this, maybe it wasn't such a good idea to take her to a destination wedding as a plus-one.

You're responsible for who you invite to stuff and it's your responsibility not to invite Drunken Duncan to your baby cousin's christening knowing that he is likely to moon the vicar during the ceremony.

Similarly, don't invite your sick friend as your plus-one to a destination wedding knowing she is likely to throw a wobbly like this.

Your friend didn't ask you to stay in with her, you offered. Yeah the offer wasn't sincere, but you made it.

You then promised to provide support from a distance, which by definition you couldn't do because it was a boat trip.

I agree, taking the OP's account at face value, Friend A is a bad friend. Taking the OP's account at face value, the OP is also a bad friend who extends bait-and-switch offers and then blames people for accepting them.

So which of these two bad friends does the OP have more control over?
posted by tel3path at 3:37 PM on August 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

OP did you kidnap Friend A and force her to go to the wedding? Friend A could have declined an invitation that she didn't feel she could handle. If Friend A is so fragile that she can't be trusted to make her own decisions then we have a really different problem.

Being sick isn't the same as being incapacitated and we shouldn't assume that someone ill is helpless or lacks agency. Here's another way to handle the lock out: She could have asked if anyone had the innkeepers phone number. I'm betting the bride had that. Friend A was well enough to be outside. She had her phone. The OP wasn't the only possible solution to that problem.

OP you were in a tough spot. Don't make it worse by rewarding a needy behavior which you resent. Other people might be okay with it, but you said you aren't good with it. Find a way to be friends who respect each other or find a way to fade out of the relationship. Pretending that she's helpless and you are her caregiver is not the right path.
posted by 26.2 at 6:11 PM on August 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

You are all wrong! You offered to stay with A when you already had prior plans, set in stone for a while and A really shouldn't have been requesting company at the expense of said plans. B should have respected your decision as she was not witness to A but she went all bridezilla.

You flip flopped like a flake, A needs mommy, and B was a bridezilla. Flag and move on from this mess.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:31 AM on August 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Well from your question and from the best answer you ticked, I think you sound like a really considerate person and a good friend. Lucky A, that you haven't dumped her yet. I'm glad B was there with a reality check on this occasion.
posted by glasseyes at 10:03 AM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I got a one word reply “Bad”. I didn’t reply. I figured either she was dying (unlikely) or just wanted me to worry about her.

Exactly right, and since she atent dead, you are confirmed in your reading of the situation. Your own judgement is here proved to be accurate.
posted by glasseyes at 10:08 AM on August 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

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