This is the story of a friend who tried to tell me for years that she just didn’t like me very much, and how I ignored her very strong messaging.
Barbarosa—not her real name—and I were high school friends. She had a boyfriend; I did not. Her boyfriend was great, and the three of us hung out together all the time. I think her parents didn’t like him, but if I was there, acting as a de facto chaperone, it was okay. Back in the day, I thought they just wanted to hang out with me. We got along great. I didn’t like him that way, so it was very amicable, and we laughed all the time. They were pretty much my entire social life through high school.
When Barbarosa went to college, she’d invite me down for the weekend, especially if there was a party, and proceed to ignore me at said party. I’d find myself alone, trying to talk to strangers who were not my classmates, while Barb talked with fellow students. It was awkward. She went to a very prestigious college, and when people found out I was not a student, they’d move on, more interested in talking to their fellow brainiacs.
But it was nice, wasn’t it? I’d tell myself. At least she wanted me there. I’d invite Barbarosa to my college, too. She never came. She broke up with her boyfriend, who moved to another part of the country. I was mad at him on her behalf, so I never wrote or talked to him again.
After college, she took a job in a very tightknit community, and she loved it. She lived just 20 minutes from me. Being that she was my best friend, I figured we’d hang out all the time. But every time we got together, she’d have one of her fellow coworkers with her, and they’d talk about issues in the community, issues that I could not weigh in on because I didn’t work there. If she threw a party, she’d invite me, and once again, I’d be the odd one out. When I asked if we could hang out just the two of us, she’d say yes, then turn up with a work friend. It’s an awful feeling, being left out, especially when you’re with an alleged friend.
Still, when my father died, she was wonderful. She came to my wedding a few years later. I went to hers. I loved her parents, especially her father, who taught me to parallel park, a skill I’m still proud of to this day.
Then a job opened up in her community, a job that was perfect for my skill set. How great it would be on all levels! A super job, with the added benefit of being in Barbarosa’s world! We could be close again I interviewed. They loved me. They told me that I was the most qualified candidate they’d had, that I was perfect for the job, and they’d call the next week. You know that feeling when you hit it out of the park? That was me. A grand slam.
Barbarosa invited me to a night out that week. There were lots of her work friends, including the wife of the big boss. I had once babysat for her kids years before. When Barbarosa had told me the big boss’s name, I said, hey, small world, I babysat for them once. The little one had had a meltdown, and when I reported this to the parents at the end of the night, the mom had flatly denied that her child would ever do that. Even though I was a babysitter who was much in demand, they never called me again.
Obviously, I wasn’t going to bring this up.
Barbarosa did. She told the big boss’s wife that I was up for a job, and then, in excruciating detail, she told the babysitting story. She repeated the words the wife had said to me—her kid did not have tantrums. I sat there, horrified and shocked, and watched the wife’s face change. Barbarosa brayed with laughter like it was a great story everyone would enjoy. She had never had a great sense of humor, and I remember believing she just didn’t realize it wasn’t funny.
Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. I stopped calling Barbarosa to see if she was free. I was always the one to initiate, and I was tired of it. She could call, I thought. But she didn’t.
She did let me know when her father died. He’d been in the hospital for a long time, a fact I didn’t know. I was so sad I didn’t get to say goodbye…he was one of those adults whose friendship and encouragement meant the world to me. I went to his funeral, grateful that at least I got to do that.
It was the last time I saw Barbarosa. I’d run into her mom occasionally, and after I got published, she would say that she and Barb had wanted to come to one of my signings, but, well, you know…life was busy. Her mom always looked so embarrassed that they hadn’t come.
The sad thing is, it took me decades to realize that Barbarosa had never liked me that much. It took me decades to realize she’d invited the boss’s wife to that night and told that story with the exact intention of tanking my job chances. Once, I had served a purpose—chaperone, security blanket, whatever—and when that service was no longer needed, our friendship was over.
I have better friends now. I’m faster on the uptake. I’d like to say that this one friendship opened my eyes, but nope, I’ve made plenty of friendship mistakes since then. It took a therapist to tell me that I was allowed to be discerning, and this wasn’t a bad thing. I’ve learned so much in the past decade or so, things I wish I’d know way back when.
Writing an advice book on friendship…making a podcast about female friendship…it’s been therapeutic. It’s been wonderful to hear people say, “Oh, my gosh, me too!” and tell Joss and me their stories. It’s been wonderful to talk about what we deserve as friends, and how we don’t have to waste time with people who aren’t the true blue type. It’s been cathartic to acknowledge the times I myself haven’t been a good friend, or made mistakes. It’s been amazing to make space for the women who really show up, really love me and are deeply, deeply loved in return.
So I hope you’ll buy our little book, which Joss and I think is packed with good advice and stories of women who’ve been as baffled as we’ve been. I hope you’ll write to our podcast or tune in and listen, laugh with us and save yourselves the time and heartache spent on the Barbarosas of the world.
To buy the book (which would make a great gift, just saying): www.bitly.CFtheBook.
To listen to the podcast: www.crappyfriends.net.
Take good care, my friends! Don’t settle for anything but the best in people, and give them the same.