Friends, the people you trust and hold close to your heart — just the place where a fake friend can cause the most damage.
Friends are a relationship that is often highly under-rated. If we look at our email address book, chances are our list is overflowing with friends — new and old — with a few lovers we want to reach out to and touch again. As singles, friendships are even more critical. They are our safe harbor; our new family, those we turn to for a soft shoulder and who help us take a hard look at ourselves.
I helped a “friend.”
I got screwed. Big time.
I’ve been an advice maven for over three decades as both a practitioner and administrator, including a long stint in criminal justice working with killers, terrorists and serial killers, among the more garden variety criminals. I’ve been through many a “war” as a rebel, smashing glass ceilings, challenging government procedures and psychobabble, then creating new, lasting programs and changes. I was a tough, cheeky “broad” who could take one look and knew intuitively when to hide under my desk and when to risk jumping into the fray. I’m also a writer of advice, relationships, history, humor, science fiction, and was nominated for an Emmy for my work on a soap opera.
Yet, I got screwed by a friend. Big time.
The names are changed, but here are the “low” lights.
Jane, an actress who appeared in the soap I wrote, showed up at my door in Las Vegas one day. Despite her mega success in a major cult film, despite coming from a blueblood family, she looked like someone you’d cross the street to avoid — bloated, filthy, homeless and in rags. She wanted help.
As my heart broke, my intuition said, “Quick! Shut the door.” My emotions, the personal me, opened it.
She moved in. In her mid-fifties, she was still charismatic, bright, lithe, educated, hysterically funny, a fascinating companion — and an alcoholic. She also discovered another addiction: gambling.
She had “gone through” her Los Angeles friends. Her stiff-necked blueblood family had disowned her. Her famous friends were now “out of touch.” I was her last stop.
Her stories and explanations were well-crafted and pitiful: horrid childhood, bad yet powerful husbands, strange criminal charges, orders of protection against her which, among other things, prevented her from seeing her children. She had been on the streets for virtually 20 years, give or take a few marriages/relationships/rehabs. I was horrified, wanting to believe we could untangle this together. As a pro, I knew better. As an old “friend,” I wanted to believe I could do something to help her.
I went to work on her behalf, emotionally and financially. She was owed a great deal of money from her first divorce from a sitcom actor. She never bothered to collect it. I stepped in. She got a huge check. She also received a pension from her union and residuals from her huge cult film. Next step: to set up her own business as an acting coach and fine artist — she still had ardent fans — it was a natural.
During the third month, I noticed money I had hidden in the house was gone. Confused and anxious, I confronted her. She denied all. Then other things went missing. My anxiety and suspicions grew. I started wearing a fanny pack. I slept with it. I hid things with increasing fear and skill. Somehow, she managed to find them. Again she denied with elaborate scenarios of “what could have happened.” Her moods swung wildly: from fun and charismatic, to frightening and threatening.
I was afraid, yet running on hope. I questioned myself, evaluating the mess I had gotten myself into. She started borrowing. After all, she did return my first loan. But when I refused more, she became menacing and demanding while justifying her “house cleaning” as “working for me.” I tiptoed around her, positing the positive future I thought we both envisioned. Then at night, found her on top of me while I was sleeping, trying to unzip my fanny pack.
It was crazy-making. My personal reality was deeply conflicted.
She devolved, growing increasingly bizarre. She threw her money wildly into slot machines, started to become hostile and aggressive toward me, and grew increasingly irrational, even dangerous. The drugs she took caused her to run on wild binges, often going without sleep for days at a time. One day, ranting, she grabbed my car keys. I was shaken, panicked and even more uncertain of my own personal reality. Having spent the early part of my life in criminal justice, I was less worried about the physical, but felt I was in a horror film. “Misery” came to mind.
I called the police but they said it was a “civil” matter – until one day they saw her dancing around naked in the garage. Yet, they were afraid of being “sued” and took no action.
I requested she leave. She refused, insisting upon her rights as a “roomie” which required me to formally evict her. Getting an unlawful detainer to evict is a hellish process that costs and takes several months. We were at war. It was a stand-off.
Suddenly I was a “victim” – a role I deplore. I felt alone and quickly shifted to survival mode. She was broke and desperate. She fought over leaving, stole, pawned, or destroyed my property, at times with no logic, for example, my old high school pins. More bizarre, when she stole, she left “little friendship tokens.” One was a cheesecake. Another was a lovely “M” charm she put on my door.
My official diagnosis? She was nuts. And yes, dangerous.
Ultimately, I was the one who had to move out until the formal eviction process played out. The house I was renting had been sold. She was forced back to the streets. Her addictions worsened. As of this writing she’s still in Las Vegas, stealing what she can, using drugs, drinking constantly and growing more emaciated.
Her final blow was identity theft – mine! She hacked into my computer and was able to get the information she needed to throw my finances into chaos. It’s taken months to restore what she ruined.
How can a trained counselor get that screwed by a friend?
A “friend” is not a client. We all come into friendship with personal expectations and hope. On a personal level, we make bad choices based upon our needs and beliefs. We choose to hope we’re wrong when we suspect the worst. And the death of hope is more difficult to deal with than the death of a loved one. In hope, the disbelief, the grief, continues, along with the wish. It becomes a hellish cycle; one that ultimately and necessarily leads to failure and self-recrimination.
Do I loathe her? No. I’m angry. I was betrayed. I still feel empathy, however that empathy has boundaries now. She can never be a part of my life. Period. The two can co-exist. It was a $10K lesson.
What are we to do when our intuition screams “run” and our heart counters with “try?”
What are we to do when our values are steeped in “helping” – and we’re torn by intuition that says stay away?
What are we to do when friendship is a priority and a friend betrays us?
- Get in touch with you. If you’re particularly lonely, a bit depressed, a “fixer,” or are indulging in wishful thinking, face it. Own it. Realize this will affect your judgment.
- Trust your intuition, not your empathy when your gut raises serious red flags. Listen to the roar of that intuition when it screams, “I will be overwhelmed.” “The risks to me are too high.” “I probably can’t ‘fix’ this.” Again, empathy and taking care of yourself can and must co-exist.
- Look at patterns in your friend. If, like “Jane,” others have tried and failed, and you see a cycle of “wanting help” while running from it, your friend is more invested in failing than changing. Believe it! When someone is invested in staying “unfixed,” there is nothing you can do to help them.
- When in doubt, limit your promises to help. Decide what is reasonable and weigh the risks of “over-giving” if you’re wrong. For example, know that if you offer shelter, you may wind up at the sheriff’s office filling out forms while your “friend” claims tenancy rights despite never paying rent.
- Don’t trade hope for bitterness. You will heal. You will learn more about your needs. Forgive yourself. Much of what you did was to help, which is admirable. Forgive yourself for not seeing or acting on cues buried in the basement of your subconscious.
I once wrote: “Good friendship is rarer than Vanya silk. Treasure it.” I followed it up with: “Life’s a messy affair, if you’re doing it right.” Believe that even those who cry out for help may be crying wolf. They could be too invested in their rotten choices. Believe that no one has ever changed via your heel print on their backside.
Also believe it’s far nobler to reach out and fail then stay safe, close down and wonder “What if?”
Copyright © Marnie Macauley / 2019 Singular Communications, LLC
Advice guru Marnie Winston-Macauley — therapist, author, speaker — has been a radio, TV, and syndicated advice columnist and counselor for over 20 years. Witty, wise and totally irreverent with a self-professed loathing for psychobabble, she’s written over 20 books and calendars, along with hundreds of relationship columns and features for prominent publications. She has her MS degree from the Columbia University School of Social Work. In media, her work has garnered her Emmy and Writer’s Guild Best Writing nominations. She is widowed and now living single. For personal advice, you can also find Marnie Macauley all over the Google and onThumbtack/Las Vegas. She invites you to join her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.