By Esther Mann, LCSW
When I met Sandy a couple of years ago, I was immediately drawn to her. She is so full of personality; I couldn’t help myself from wanting to be around her. She is both fun and funny and we immediately became close friends. As I got to know her better, it struck me as odd that she really didn’t have many, if any, other close friends. As far as I was concerned, she was so special and it surprised me that other women in the neighborhood weren’t also clamoring to be her best friend.
We started spending a great deal of time together. She always came up with interesting adventures for us and for our children. Life was never dull with Sandy around. I don’t work and my husband works long hours. It’s easy to become bored and now I found that I was never bored. Just a cup of coffee with Sandy was something to look forward to.
But then the strangest things started to happen. For instance, there were numerous occasions when she just happened to “forget” to put money in her wallet. As I would do with any friend, I would pay for the bill, whether it was for lunch or even just ice cream for our children. She would act all embarrassed and tell me she would pay me back the next time we got together. Somehow, she never remembered to pay me back, and honestly, I’m just not the type of person to ask.
There are other things. She has no problem asking me for favors. I like to do favors. I’m that kind of person. She might ask me to pick up her daughter from preschool or ask me if I’m headed out to the supermarket (which she knows I do every Monday and Thursday) and ask me to pick up a few items for her that she realized she needs, but she can’t get out just then. I’m always happy to help her out. It’s my pleasure. On the other hand, rarely do I ask her for favors in return. I’m organized and like to be self-sufficient and independent. But recently something happened that so totally blew me away that I’m still reeling from it and trying to understand what is going on with this friendship.
Last week I had to go to Manhattan for a doctor’s appointment. Though I thought I gave myself plenty of time to get back and pick up my daughter from preschool, I waited an exorbitantly long time at the doctor’s office. Huffing and puffing, I ran to make my train at Penn Station and missed it by two minutes! I was so nervous, knowing that I would never get to my daughter’s school on time to pick her up.
While I was waiting for the next train, I tried calling and texting Sandy numerous times, leaving messages and texts explaining that I was in a tight situation and needed her help. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t hearing back from her. She does not work and is usually somewhere around the neighborhood.
Finally, as the hour was running late and I knew that someone had to be at the JCC to get my daughter, I called another friend whom I haven’t been as close with lately, since spending so much time with Sandy. She immediately told me to calm down and that of course she would be more than happy to pick up my daughter and keep her at her home until I returned from the city.
I didn’t hear back from Sandy until later that evening. She told me she had misplaced her phone and only just found it and was sorry she didn’t get my message and wasn’t able to help me out. When I mentioned that I also left messages on her home phone, she came up with some kind of excuse of not being at home until late. Somehow, I just knew in my heart that she was lying. I couldn’t confront her with that, since I don’t have absolute proof, but in my heart I feel like I know the truth.
I’m feeling devastated. How could someone who is such a close friend, with whom I spend so much time, lie to me and let me down? Especially considering how much I always do for her.
I’m also feeling confused. Who is this person? Is this a friendship or is this not a friendship? I like Sandy so much and can’t even imagine my life without her, since we have so much fun together. And yet, I don’t feel the same sense of peace of mind. I wonder whether I’m the crazy one here, getting so bent out of shape, or whether I’ve forgotten what a friendship is supposed to be like.
I don’t even know how to approach her at this point. She keeps calling and acting as though nothing has changed and there aren’t any problems between us. I don’t want to go backwards and bring up the day I got stuck in the city, because I have no proof. But how do I go forward? I’m feeling really uncomfortable and confused.
Let me try to “unconfuse” you. I think you are having a problem understanding the dynamics of the relationship between you and Sandy because you are mixing up two important elements of a person’s essence. First, there is something called “personality.” You describe Sandy as bubbling over with tremendous personality. It’s easy to be drawn in by such people, who are engaging and charming and who always keep things interesting.
People with huge personalities often go far as sought-after and highly successful public speakers, teachers/professors, evangelists, and salesmen. The Sandys of the world can charm the socks off of most people, certainly those unsuspecting individuals among us who easily believe what they see, without necessarily digging deeper. And sometimes these “larger than life” individuals are exactly as they appear to be. They are blessed with a special gift of being able to tweak the everyday, ho-hum moment into something quite fascinating. And they can be a joy to be around.
But there is another issue emerging in your description of Sandy and it refers to her character. It can be disappointing and sometimes even downright dangerous to confuse personality with character. These are two distinctly different attributes that people possess. Though one can go hand-in-hand with the other, this is not necessarily so.
I believe a person’s character is his calling card. It is probably one of the most important qualities we possess. It speaks of honesty, integrity, dependability, kindness, consideration, and so on. Someone with good character is someone who can be counted on to show up in an honest way and add a sense of safety to one’s life.
Sandy sounds like she is big on personality and short on character. Since one feature does not ensure the other, there is nothing particularly confusing about her behavior. You have been lured in by her charisma and joie de vivre, and probably at some point chose to overlook all the other signs coming your way, which pointed to a person lacking in basic character.
We all look for different things from our friends. And frankly, it’s not my place to tell you or anyone else what they should be looking for when forming friendships. If any of us are lucky enough to connect with a friend who is not only fun and exciting to be with but also a person who possesses great inner qualities, then we’ve hit the jackpot. But short of that, it’s up to individuals to decide what they feel they need from a friend.
And so you now have to decide what it is that you are looking for. If the “buzz” that Sandy offers you is something that has elevated the quality of your life and is something you can’t see yourself giving up so fast, then at least be honest with yourself and accept the fact that she will use you whenever she can and be OK with it. As long as you are also OK with it, let the party play on! But protect yourself from future disappointments by having realistic expectations from Sandy.
We all find ourselves missing trains (literally and figuratively) and find ourselves in situations where we need go-to people in our lives who can rescue us. If Sandy continues to be your closest friend, make sure you remain connected to your backup friends as well. More often than not, life is serious and demands our respect.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.