DAME’s Friendkeeper has advice for helping someone come clean, and weighs in on a badly behaving woman who pulled the cancer card.
A couple of years ago my husband and I were introduced to a family with a daughter similar in age and personality to our own quirky child. The two little girls hit it off right away, and became BFFs (in the way only 5-year-old girls can). We’ve also become friends with her parents and have invited them to holiday get-togethers, camping trips, birthday parties, etc. So it seems like a perfect friendship … except, they have absolutely terrible hygiene habits. They live off-grid in a small yurt with limited running water and solar/generator power (this is not uncommon in the rural community where I live). Sometimes when they come over I think they may not have bathed in days. They have animals that wander in and out of the house, and I think that plays a role.
Every time their daughter visits, I find a way to get the girls into the bathtub, and I immediately wash her clothes. When the weather is dry, we often offer our shower to the family with the excuse that this way they “don’t have to use up their water.” It is a lot for me to clean up after an extra family: I literally have to scrub out streaks and rings of dirt in the tub after they are done. I work two jobs, so I admit sometimes I get annoyed and wish that they would just take better care of themselves.
However, I am very concerned about the children (they also have a teenage son) because I remember how cruel kids can be to the “smelly kid” in the class. I have never been inside their house as they do not ever have guests over, but my husband has been there to help with some repairs and told me that the tiny space is overflowing with piles of trash, recycling, and clothes, and it smells terrible. They are pregnant and getting ready to have another baby, and I am worried about them having a newborn there. My friend is a very sensitive person so I don’t know how—or even if—I should handle this. They are very kind and generous people, and can be a lot of fun to hang out with. I don’t know how to tell someone that they really need to work on their hygiene, which also seems like it would involve cleaning out their house and doing many other chores. Am I just being too judgmental?
The Nose Knows
“Yurts,” “living off the grid,” “not using up their water”—I don’t think I could be any more out of my element than if you had written that you reside in Atlantis and one of your mermaid friends is always shedding scales on your seabed. Alas, like the Wizard of Oz who had nothing in his bag for Dorothy, I will be forced to take you back to Kansas myself! (Although unlike him, I won’t leave you because I’m too inept to figure out how to drive my balloon.)
In all seriousness, I have thought about this quandary for longer than I usually think about these letters. You can’t be the smelly kid, and it’s very hard to even be friends with the smelly kid. If you talk to any adult, they can immediately recall the smelly kid from their youth. And generally the smelly kid did not come from a high-functioning home. The conclusion that I’ve come to is that you have done everything you can. How very kind of you to try and help in the ways you have. But you cannot say anything about this to them because they see you as friends. But someone can—a school official, a clergy—someone who is not a friend, but in a position of some authority. Maybe the school guidance counselor or nurse or the child’s teacher. Someone who is empathic and understanding. You have to use your superpowers of all-knowing to find the right person. Go to them and tell them the situation and your concerns and ask them to talk to the parents. Maybe even ask them to instruct the children about hygiene and such. Beyond that you have done all you can. If it comes to them needing to use your shower, tell them you’re happy to let them use it, but here’s some Ajax and a sponge for when they’re done (even clean people have to clean showers). I admire you for caring about your friends.
I’ve been attending a regular exercise class for a few years and have become friendly with a group of women there. I’ve hosted these women for annual holiday lunches, get-togethers with their husbands, and developed what I thought was a really supportive group of female friends. This summer my husband and I attended an out of town event with one of these women—let’s call her Doreen. During this event, Doreen and her husband proceeded to make fun of others, brag about money non-stop, were rude to restaurant servers … you get the idea. To top it off, Doreen spent the entire weekend complaining about how much weight she’s lost, how “awful” it is being a size zero, and refusing to eat anything other than a piece or two of chocolate. Needless to say, we had a rotten time.
Now, I could give a hoot about my “friendship” (#snort) with Doreen. As they say, she’s not my people. But Doreen came home from the trip and knowing I’d out her snotty and anorexic behavior, proceeded to pull the “cancer card” among our friends. Before you think I’m awful for saying that, let me clarify. Doreen had cancer years ago; at the time she told no one, not even her husband and kids, and has always bragged about her silence. Suddenly she’s telling all who will listen that she’s had cancer. I recognize that I might be a little touchy about the cancer thing as we just lost a family member to this dreadful disease, but c’mon, isn’t it obvious to others?
The net/net is she’s successfully made me look like the bad guy. It’s also quite sad and uncomfortable for me to return to the class now, much less hang out with these women. With the exception of one lovely woman, nobody “wants to get in the middle,” which makes me wonder—are they even really my friends? Should I return to the class before I lose them all? Should I just ignore Doreen even though being around her makes my skin crawl? Help Julie, help!
Stumped in Scottsdale
You know my whole thing is trying to see the other side of every situation—I never automatically side with the person who writes the letter because that’s not how life is. But OMG I hate Doreen. I wish I could meet her so I could snub her. She sounds like every evil, manipulative bad-movie bitch.
So if I’m getting this, you told your other friends how awful she is and she said “but I had cancer.” And now you’re out of this crowd. Did you see Bridesmaids? That’s what this sounds like to me. You are Kristen Wiig at the bridal shower. If you want to go to the exercise class, go. If anyone gives you middle-school-esque shit, don’t take it; turn that giant cookie on its side. Consider this an exercise (see what I did there?) in being direct about what you feel happened and if the women aren’t receptive they can go eff themselves. And if Doreen is their Queen Bee, then you don’t want to be with them for sure.
Go back, face it. It may have all blown over, but if it hasn’t I think you need to take a big break from all of them because there is too much toxicity around. If they are smart, sensitive people worthy of your friendship, they will see her for what she is. In the meantime, join some other groups. You can always get together one on one with the nice woman. Life’s too short to spend it with people who make your skin crawl and brag about being a size zero.
Got a platonic problem of your own that could use the Friendkeeper’s advice? Fire away: [email protected]. No situation is too uncomfortable or too small and all details are kept confidential.
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