Hi Alison and Tony: I have a friend, I’ll call her “Marilyn.” We met through work and we’ve gotten pretty close over the past couple of years. Marilyn is one of those women that gathers groups of friends. She is a real people person and she’s a lot of fun to be around, She is good at her job, and the boss loves her, as do the people who work with her. When it’s time to go out for lunch or after work for drinks, Marilyn always gathers an eager crowd. In fact, Marilyn seems to go out almost every night with her friends or co-workers (she has a husband and a son but we rarely have seen either of them). On the surface Marilyn appears to be my close friend, and we do spend time together doing girl stuff like shopping or brunch. But lately, I’ve had this growing sense that our friendship is one really sided. In fact, I’m beginning to feel that Marilyn doesn’t care about anyone but herself. She will ask for lots of favors from people, and they always help her. I have personally done plenty for her including lending her money and even covering for her with the boss. But the few times when I have asked for a favor, she hasn’t followed through. In fact, she seemed unconcerned that I might really be in a bind and needed her help. What kind of good friend would treat me like that? And, if I’m having a real problem she will listen for a second, but then she will visibly show her boredom or irritation and change the subject. Marilyn spends a lot of time focusing on what makes her happy. She spends plenty of money on herself, but she never spends it on anyone else. I am beginning to realize that she somehow manages to get people to like, even love her, but she really isn’t a nice person. she is really selfish. How does a person get away with that? I could just accept that she’s like that and enjoy her company, but I’m starting to really resent her behavior. If I call her on it, she will deny it and it will be the end of our relationship. But if I don’t, I might really start to hate her. What do the two of you think about this?
Alison’s Take: Is Marilyn really your friend? From what you described, I don’t think so. Friends have to be at least minimally invested in one another’s lives, and they need to be willing to support one another. Really good friends provide the type of priceless nurturing and support that sisters offer. They’re the precious connections that make the world a bearable place. Your connection to Marilyn is a shallow one, first of convenience, because you work together, and secondly, of amusement, because you like her company. I don’t think Marilyn would know the meaning of the word “friend” if it jumped up and bit her in the butt. She may be able to gather a crowd, and she may be able to get them to do things for her, but when you scratch the surface, what you find is a woman who does only what pleases her, and who cares little for what others need or want.
Apparently, Marilyn is a bit of a seductress. She can attract people with her gestures and words, and they’ll willingly believe that she likes or even loves them. She makes them want to love her, and then she can ignore their needs, because she has them convinced that deep down, she cares about them. That is how she gets away with being so selfish. But actions speak louder than words. What do Marilyn’s actions say to you? I think that’s obvious. She hasn’t helped you when you have asked. She isn’t interested in your life. She spends time with you, but only on her terms.
If you want a real friend, it’s never going to be Marilyn. So just enjoy Marilyn’s companionship, accept it for what it is, a shallow connection that is amusing, but not substantive. There’s no point in resenting her, because she won’t care and you won’t get anything more out of the connection. Let her amuse you, and enjoy it. Just don’t call it a “friendship.”
Tony’s Take: Well we have a classic queen bee syndrome here. It’s too bad the show Gossip Girl is off the air . You could have spent each week looking at exactly the same situation and seeing how different people responded while being entertained and amused. Blair Waldorf of that series is the epitome of the queen bee making the social world revolve around her, getting everyone else to do things for her, while actually being a pretty bad friend to everyone. As with that series, the only time a queen bee will ever change is when they actually do need you on more than just a superficial level. Sadly, when personal tragedy strikes in their life, they will finally start becoming more human.
There is nothing you can do to force her to be a better person other than distancing yourself. She can’t understand distancing, so if you’re still in her sphere, she will try to get you back and she will treat you somewhat better. But if you give in too easily, she’ll fall right back into treating you as she did previously. If you are her very good friend, you are actually very precious to her, because she has very few close friends even if she treats them badly. She exists on having a plethora of acquaintances which is how she manages her hive, and she exists on the adulation of those masses of acquaintances much as an actress exists on the adulation of the masses of anonymous fans.