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In recognition of how important friendships are to us, Ladies' Home Journal's popular "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" now extends into the world of friendship with "Can This Friendship Be Saved?"
Cara, 40, a graphic designer: "When Melanie and I met at a party eight years ago, I was single and working -- unhappily -- as a travel agent. Melanie, six years older than me, was a successful saleswoman, married to a wonderful man and stepmother of two grown kids. She was organized, efficient and assertive -- all qualities I wished I had. But she was also a kindred spirit; like me, she was searching for real meaning in her life beyond work. And we always had so much fun together, whether we were going to yoga classes, movies, or plays.
"Melanie helped me in many ways. I was an art major in college, and she encouraged me to start my own design company. I did; now it's thriving. She urged me to stop seeing men she thought were wrong for me, and thanks in part to Melanie's tips on dating, I met my husband, Paul. He's a lawyer, and we just celebrated our third anniversary. And I know I enriched her life, too. She often said that my influence taught her to be less shrill, and to grow emotionally and spiritually.
"But several months ago, when she was telling me over lunch how to expand my client base, I told her I wanted to stop focusing so much on my career and have a baby. I expected her to say, 'How fabulous!' Instead, she said, 'What are you talking about? After all the help I've given you?' Stunned, I blurted out, 'I want to be a wife and mother -- and I don't like your telling me what to do!' 'I don't like your attitude,' she responded coldly. Then she put some money on the table and walked out. We haven't spoken since. I'm still terribly upset. I don't want a friend who can't accept the choice I've made -- especially such an important one. But I miss Melanie and would hate it if our relationship is over for good."
The counselor's response: "In hindsight, Melanie's outburst was not surprising. A hierarchy existed in this friendship from the beginning: Melanie was the teacher/mother, Cara was the student/daughter. The intensity of Melanie's anger speaks to just how threatening Cara's decision to have a baby must have felt. She may have feared losing her place in Cara's life as well as the admiration that went along with it. On the other hand, Cara may have announced her intentions more harshly than she realized. Deep down, she may have begun to resent her friend's advice-giving and may have been overly critical.
"If Cara cares about Melanie, she should pick up the phone or send a note saying, 'I feel terrible about what happened. Can we talk about it?' Then she could express her feelings while taking care not to blame Melanie. If they can resume their friendship -- and it may take time -- Cara and Melanie will need to hammer out future guidelines. Are certain subjects best left untouched? And if Cara's efforts are rebuffed, she will at least know that she tried her best and can move on."
This story is true, although names and details have been changed. This month's counselor is April Lane Benson, PhD, a clinical psychologist in New York City.