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An Awkward Situation

February 9, 2011

Every month, our sweet Relief Society president hosts a birthday dinner for anyone having a birthday that month.  I looked forward to this every year until a situation arose that caused me a great deal of stress, sadness, fear, and anger. 

The short version: 

I had major problems with a sister who is attending, making it tempting not to go, but I decided I need to show up to anything I would normally be excited about.  I also want to support our generous hostess who tries so hard to encourage the building of friendships in our ward, although completely understands my dilemma.  If there are enough people, it won’t be so bad, but just a few of us will make the evening quite uncomfortable because after trying everything I could, I finally had to demand no contact from her.  That didn’t even stop the behavior completely.  The dinner is tomorrow and I am half dreading it.

The (very) long version:

A sister moved upstairs from me years ago and I became friends with her.  I was on crutches and too chicken to go all the way up the stairs to meet her, so she eventually came down.  She told me later how impressed she was by my attitude because she had left her place in a huff due to lack of space and her one child driving her nuts.  My place was a disaster because I hadn’t been able to walk for so long and my boys were 6, 3, and 2, but I was smiling and laughing.  Her husband noticed a change in her demeanor as soon as she returned and she told him she had been humbled by the way I was enduring that trial.  I thought that was a nice compliment and I knew she meant it.  Another day she suddenly came down with dinner for us, which was quite nice and appreciated. 

Everything seemed fine at first.  We would have friendly chats and when she moved into a house nearby, she invited me over for dinner with my kids.  This was maybe my second or third time talking to her husband and I was shocked by the way he talked about her.  She was trying to keep her baby happy while making dinner and as she was getting things out of the cupboards, something started to fall.  She called to her husband for help and he looked annoyed even though he wasn’t doing anything.  Not knowing me at all, he came back outside on the patio and said, “She doesn’t think!  She takes on too much and she doesn’t think!”

I felt so sad for her.  I know I would be devastated if my husband talked about me like that.  If he was comfortable saying that to someone who was practically a stranger, what did he say to her behind closed doors?  She wasn’t making a complicated dinner, so I didn’t understand where the comment came from.  Dinner has to be made.  After he was done eating, she asked him to hold the baby so she could eat and he looked extremely annoyed, taking their daughter begrudgingly.   There were many times I witnessed him being very resistant about helping with anything while she cooked, cleaned, changed diapers, and more.  He kept telling her he wanted her to lose weight, but he wasn’t supportive in watching the kids so she could go work out.  He just expected her to do it at home and not inconvenience him.  If he did get talked into watching the kids, he would just go back to his office and become infuriated if his son acted like the two-year-old that he was.  He just expected him not to do what toddlers do with very minimal supervision, making her feel like she couldn’t leave her kids with him, so she started asking other moms more often to do things that were his responsibility.  She needed a break, but she also wanted her kids to be safe.  I told her I had seen this kind of behavior in some other men.  Because they didn’t want to or didn’t feel capable of watching the kids alone, they purposely did a lousy job in hopes they wouldn’t be asked again.  In fact, I told my best friend to tell her husband, “You do that again and I will leave for twice as long.”  She did and he sheepishly grinned because he had been caught. 

I tried my best to be a friend to this woman while encouraging her to keep working with her husband instead of asking other people to fill in for him.  When they were expecting their third baby, she started talking about asking people in the ward to come over and help for a couple weeks.  I asked her, “Isn’t your husband going to be on paternity leave?”  She said, “Yes, but he won’t help.  He never helps and I need rest.”  I told her, “I don’t know anyone who would be comfortable with that.  I know it would make me furious to see a husband on his bum doing nothing while I’m helping his wife.”  It also seemed like she was always waiting for permission to do things and even though he ignored her all evening, he wanted her home.  I told her that they were his children too, he was just as responsible, and she had every right to get out of the house once in a while.  She did so and joined a gym, which was funny to watch because it kept him on his toes.  He suddenly took more interest in spending time with her instead of retreating to his office.  He seemed threatened by her new independence, but she felt happier than ever.  

I did help her when I felt it was appropriate.  I brought dinner soon after her baby was born, I watched her kids if there were appointments she needed to go to without children, but then it just started to feel like everything was a test.  Just how much did I really love her?  It seemed in her mind, the greater the inconvenience, the stronger the friendship was.  My personal policy is to ask those for help who would be the least inconvenienced and when at all possible, do it myself.  I see people’s time as sacred.  I doubt many people have “extra time”.  If they choose to help me, I am honored and grateful they would set aside the time to do so and am pretty sure there are things they gave up to make it possible. 

She’s not a bad person and can be quite fun to talk to, but she is endlessly lonely and bored, constantly testing the limits of people’s friendship.  I don’t know if it was a matter of feeling so neglected by her husband or if he ignored her because she was a bottomless pit of neediness.  Either way, things got increasingly weird.  I was usually fine with talking to her once a day, but then she started calling me multiple times a day, inventing reasons to call me.  For example, she needed people’s numbers and had lost her ward directory.  Of course, this couldn’t be a brief conversation.  It was a way to get me to talk to her because she was lonely, but I just couldn’t spend all day on the phone with her.

If I didn’t talk to her one day, she would say, “I thought maybe you were mad at me.”  I told her that I go a couple weeks without talking to some of my best friends and if I were angry at her, I would tell her. 

If I didn’t answer the phone, she started calling multiple times in a row.  This was just annoying at first, but then I was making dinner one night when she called.  I had raw chicken on my hands and didn’t want to interrupt what I was doing, so I didn’t answer.  She called again immediately after it stopped ringing, then again, then from her cell phone, then from her husband’s cell phone, and then she drove over to her mother’s house nearby and called me from there.  You would think it was an emergency, but it wasn’t.  Not even close.  At first I thought maybe she was just being silly, but she repeated it and I finally had to get brave and tell her, “When you call me, I need you to leave me one message and I will call you back.  When you call over and over again, it’s disruptive.  I might be napping, reading to my kids, doing my writing, paying bills, practicing music, having an important conversation with my husband, praying, reading scriptures, or maybe I just don’t feel like talking at the moment.  I will call you back.”

She acted like she totally understood.  I was relieved.  But then she started doing it again when she “had a good reason”.  (No, it was not a good reason.)

While practicing a song for my friend’s funeral, she called repeatedly again.  We were on the Enrichment committee together and all she wanted was a question answered about a handout.  Not an urgent matter.  I was pregnant, sick, and had just been diagnosed with gestational diabetes.  I was so stressed and when my phone rang five times in a row, I just about exploded.  I just continued to ignore it though and focus on the love I had for my friend who passed away.

Another day I was composing an e-mail to my son’s teacher because he had gotten in trouble.  Again, the phone rang over and over.  I picked up the phone and snapped, “I WILL HAVE TO CALL YOU BACK!”  She said, “Oh, OK.  I just wanted to talk about this problem I’m having …….” ignoring the fact that I have challenges too that have to be dealt with.  I thought, “Didn’t I tell her pretty plainly to stop doing this?”

One Labor Day, we had plans with my family.  I ran to the store to pick up ingredients for a salad (my salads are almost always a lot of work) and when I got home, my husband looked furious.  He was filling up the canister to our steam cleaner and I asked, “Did the kids spill something on the carpet?”  He said, “No.  ______ is here to use the cleaner!”  I said, “She can’t be here!  We’re leaving!”  He tried to tell her that.  She asked if she could come over at 2 and he said no, we were leaving a little before that.  She said, “OK, I’ll come right now then.”  She hung up the phone and then showed up at the door with her kids.  She asked, “Do you mind?” 

He said, “What was I supposed to say?”  I said, “Tell her that yes, you do mind!  You told her not to come over!”  I went out back where she was using it for the back of her van and told her it wasn’t going to work – she had to go.  She said, “I’ll just do it real quick.”  I said, “There is no real quick with steam cleaning.  We have to be there on time because some of our relatives are leaving early.”  She just kept on using it, meanwhile, her son was throwing dirt at our neighbor’s freshly cleaned window.  My husband got him to stop doing that, but then he threw the dirt through our back door and into my basket of clean laundry.  I was positively fuming and realizing more and more, “She doesn’t really care about me.”

She showed up the next night with a new cookbook for me and offered to take me out to dinner.  I hesitantly agreed and she said she didn’t mean to mess up my day.  I said, “Yes, but you wouldn’t leave as I was telling you you had to go and my husband told you it wasn’t a good time.”  She said she was sorry.  I thought maybe she learned a lesson.  That would be so nice, but no.  I started to figure out that her family’s way of working things out growing up was to give a gift to smooth things over, but without any actual change happening.  I started refusing gifts from her because they were just to buy her way out of trouble.

While I was obviously ill, her daughter ended up in the hospital with a mouth infection.  Yes, that would be stressful, but it was the night before Thanksgiving and she wanted the ward to deliver dinner (an hour away in that traffic) and for me to dig through her things and bring them to her.  First of all, there was no way I was walking into Children’s Hospital sick.  Second, why not send her husband to get their things?  This wasn’t a life threatening situation.  Third, they are well off and knew the parents have a way to get a free meal every day, but didn’t ask about how to apply for it.  She got mad at the compassionate service leader when she told her she thought their family could handle it.  I told her, “I agree.  You both have a lot of family in the area.”  She said, “They’ve been doing a lot and we didn’t want to eat fast food every day.  That’s gross.”  I told her, “It’s not the ward’s job to make sure you don’t eat gross food.  It’s too much to ask, especially being the night before Thanksgiving.”  Still, some poor lady got talked into it only to realize the situation was not that serious.  This sister was also on a very tight budget.

The day after Thanksgiving (still sick), she left me a message asking me if I would come over and watch her daughter while she cleaned.  While her husband does what?  Nothing!  They were having a belated Thanksgiving with her family.

Then came the day she tracked me down at our old Relief Society president’s house.  She had asked me earlier to come over, I said maybe, but then the opportunity to practice suddenly came up, so I went to do that.  The phone rang over there and I just knew it was her.  The RS pres. walked into the room and said, “You know, if I didn’t know any better, I would think she was tracking you down.”  I knew it was true, but I didn’t know how.  When I got home, my husband said she called and he told her I was practicing somewhere.  That’s when I said he just needed to stop answering the phone when she called.  I also felt it necessary to tell my kids never to answer the phone.

Before our daughter was born, we had one last chance to be alone for the weekend.  My parents took our kids and I told this woman that we were going to shut out the world and pretend we were at a bed and breakfast.  She ended up calling and said in her message, “I know it’s your romantic weekend, but I just wanted to drop something off.”  I didn’t call her back.  She then showed up at our doorstep and knocked twice!  Months ago I had mentioned that we were running low on silverware.  She was cleaning house and wanted to give me some, but for some reason she just couldn’t hang onto this bag for the weekend and found it necessary to intrude.  Her husband was with her and she told me later that he said, “Maybe they’re having sex or something?”  DURING A ROMANTIC WEEKEND?!  Yeah, maybe!  The thing is, you can’t call her on that.  If I were to say, “It was completely inappropriate to stop by during that time” she would have turned it around on me and said, “I was just trying to be nice and give you the silverware you needed!”  It was a test.  “Does she love me enough to interrupt her romantic weekend with her husband?”

About halfway through her pregnancy, she called me because she needed to “vent”.  She said she had asked a woman for a baby shower and she told her no.  She said, “Isn’t that totally rude?”  My jaw dropped.  I told her, “I wouldn’t even ask my own sister for a baby shower.  It should be offered.  You and ______ aren’t even close friends.  Most women feel that if you already have a girl and a boy, you don’t need a baby shower.”  She said, “Well I think every woman deserves a baby shower!”  I said, “That’s your personal opinion, but I’m just sharing how the majority of women feel.”  She said, “It helps me with my anxiety to have a baby shower.”  She would not get off of it.  She called around and asked a few more women for a baby shower and wrote the RS pres. to tell her how horrible this woman was.  She asked her, “Am I out of line?”  She wrote back, “Yes, you are out of line.”  She told anyone who would listen how horrible this woman was and this sister did feel bad, but she just didn’t think it was appropriate or another thing she needed on her plate.  So, she basically threw her own baby shower. 

We were having our babies about 6 weeks apart and she kept asking if I would be able to come to her shower.  I said I really had no idea because I might be delivered 3 weeks early.  I was one week postpartum and she kept nagging and nagging.  Two weeks postpartum, she asked me to watch her kids.  Once again, I thought, “Wow.  You really do not care at all about my health or my family, do you?”

She started calling as late as midnight after my daughter was born.  I answered one night and she said, “I figured you would be up because I’m up.”  ?????  What kind of logic is that?  I said, “You know, I’m going to have to take the phone off the hook at night so my baby can sleep.”

Other times she would call and casually mention that she had been crying all day, one time saying that she just had her “first suicidal thought”.  She said it wasn’t a serious thought, just something like, “If I were to kill myself, it would be to this song.”  I told her she needed counseling.  Crying all day meant she had clinical depression.  She said she couldn’t afford therapy.  I said, “Your insurance covers 30 visits per year.”  Then she said, “I’m afraid to go to therapy.  What if they take my kids away from me?”  I said, “If you’re worried your kids will be taken away from you, that’s just more reason for you to go to therapy.”

She was also bent out of shape because she expected me to do the same things as I did before I had a baby and that just wasn’t happening.  I had a health insurance policy we couldn’t afford to use and I wasn’t into bringing my daughter just anywhere and I wasn’t ready to leave her.  I got many a guilt trip about that.  Then one day when my van was in the shop, a new friend in the ward offered me a ride to pick it up.  I was so grateful and enjoyed the visit.  Later I got a phone call from my very troubled friend and when she asked what I was doing, I told her that ____ had just given me a ride.  She said, “I could have taken you.”  I said, “I know.  It was just easier to have her do it.”  She said, “Well I have to go!”  I knew she was mad.  Ridiculous.

When I got home later that evening, there was a message from her on my voicemail and she was yelling at me that she was furious and that I should have asked her instead of ____.  I just sat there shaking and couldn’t believe my ears.  At the end of her tirade, she added, “CALL ME!”

The stress was just too much.  We were looking for a new job for my husband because lay-offs were happening and there was no way we could survive on unemployment.  I was sleep deprived with my new baby and sick because of it.  Normally I would have gone round and round with her, but I couldn’t do it.  My husband said just to ignore her, so I did.  Days later I sent her an e-mail asking for some space, adding that I don’t have to justify who I ask for help and it was completely inappropriate to yell at me on my voicemail.  I thought maybe we would talk in a couple weeks, but she twisted it and said it was just a playful joke as in, “Why didn’t you call me, silly?”  No, it wasn’t.  She was trying to backpedal and somehow prove that I didn’t need space, but she said while we were on the subject, she was hurt I “stopped being her friend” and said because I didn’t bring my kids over to play anymore, I was teaching them to be bullies.  I had explained to her that it was just too stressful and my son was acting out in strange ways after being subjected to her son’s constant kicking, biting, hitting, throwing stuff, etc.  I was not teaching them to bully.  I was teaching them to have boundaries.

After she refused to acknowledge her behavior and turned everything around on me, I just had to be done.  She was terribly hurt.  I cried, tried to convince myself I wasn’t heartless, asked other women to show her a little extra love if they could, and I prayed for her.   Two days after I requested space, she tried to get me to call her by leaving me a crying message that her dad was suicidal and would I call her back with info about the church’s recovery group program.  I felt scared at this point.  I wondered if she was one step away from telling me she was going to kill herself if I didn’t call her.  That’s when I called the RS president.  Things only got worse.  She tried offering us a free couch.  She offered work for my husband.  She left a message saying she had an “opportunity” for us.  She started calling me every two minutes while a good friend chanted, “Get a restraining order!”  I couldn’t take another desperate voicemail from her, so I turned on the fax machine.  That’s when she decided to try another strategy – make me angry so I would call her.  She called a very fragile woman in our ward to tell her she annoys me, but the woman saw through it and said, “I know she’s just trying to get at you in any way she can.”  It was like she didn’t care why I called as long as I called.

After that, the RS pres. sat her down and told her not to contact me for any reason – no phone calls or e-mails.  The original plan was to sit down with her and tell her I cared about her, but she needed professional help and I didn’t want any contact.  Knowing what she had done, she was too nervous to meet with both of us.  Two weeks later, she hung some bags on my van full of empty baby food containers and waited for me in the parking lot after church.  I guess she didn’t understand that that was a form of contact.  I had mentioned a while back that I wanted to make my own baby food.  She said, “I’ve been saving those for you” as she and her husband pulled up behind my van.  I was stunned and didn’t want to embarrass her in front of him.  She said, “I’ll take them back if you don’t want them.”  Not wanting to approach her, I just muttered, “Uh ….. I’ll use them.”  But she saw that as a green light to start calling me again.  When I didn’t respond, she started leaving messages for my husband.  Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!!!!!!!

Others in the ward tried to get through to her husband including a woman who used their company’s resources for her severe depression.  He basically blew her off.  Two months after their baby was born, she was already telling people left and right that she wanted to get pregnant right away and “get it over with”.  Again, her husband was approached and told, “I hope it is a surprise to you that your wife is trying to get pregnant.”  He reacted by getting her pregnant immediately.

This situation only got harder when she started hassling my grieving friend who just lost her baby boy.  The poor woman ended up writing her a very blunt letter about her behavior, telling her to stop commenting on her blog because she had said such offensive things.  She had also chosen the day of the funeral to announce her pregnancy along with everything she needed from people like naps.  I felt guilty.  If I thought a grieving woman would be the one to tell her like it is, I would have done it myself.  Still, it wouldn’t have done any good, sadly.  Up until that point, she has been fixated on this sister too and caused her a great deal of anger towards the end of her pregnancy with her passive aggressive behavior.  As soon as her son’s life was in danger, the woman acted like they were the best of friends, almost as if she saw the situation as an opportunity to get closer to her.  Soon after she announced on her blog not to push her to expand her circle of friends during that time, she left her a long comment about other people wanting to be her friend too, but the worst comment was when the baby was barely hanging on in the womb and she wrote, “Sounds like the doctor should have pulled him out already.” 

Despite all of this, I have thought many times, “If I were to be her friend again, she would at least have one friend.”  But there would be no peace in my family.  She did finally stop calling, but I still get e-mails at random times, usually compliments now.  It’s like she is trying to prove that she is a nice person when that wasn’t the issue.  It was the possessiveness and acting like she just can’t live without me.  My husband said, “If someone would have just explained what space was, maybe she would still have a friend!”  But people did, as it turns out.  She was approaching others to ask if maybe I was depressed and that’s why I took her “joke” wrong, which was just funny to them because I am the least likely person to not get humor. 

I never wanted it to come to this.  I so hoped that she would listen and respect my boundaries.  I didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable at church, but due to her actions involving at least a few other people, it has become very difficult for her to attend.  If no one else is around, she doesn’t try to talk to me, but if there are new people, then she does.  I swear it’s because she’s trying to make me look like a jerk by not answering.

If I thought I could engage in conversation with her without it leading to problems, I would, but after talking to my counselor about the situation, she said I just need to keep ignoring because she will see it as permission to start the behavior again.  How depressing.   I believe friendship is an actual need and it breaks my heart that what she does have is usually given out of pity or obligation.  I think that must be what was so hard for her.  I offered her real friendship.  As women are released from certain callings, it’s as if they also feel this relief that they no longer have to take her under their wing because whatever they did give, it was never enough.  Again, I want to stress that she is not a bad person.  I think she just has some kind of personality disorder and her behavior stems from immaturity.  Still, I had to draw that boundary for my family.  What I wrote is not even half of what I and others have dealt with.

I’m praying that the dinner will go well and that no one will sense any discomfort from either of us.

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