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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?"
Pamela, Web designer: "Adrienne and I met twenty years ago at college. Later, as we weathered one life crisis after another, we were there for each other, even though I lived in Chicago and she in San Francisco. When I moved to California two years ago, Adrienne, who'd been begging me to come, said I'd be 'part of her family.'
"But though I call all the time now, she's always too busy to make plans. If we do see each other, I'm just tagging along on her errands, like going to her kids' soccer games or the salon so she can get her hair highlighted. Not my idea of fun. We last saw each other two months ago -- I invited her and her two kids for dinner to celebrate her birthday -- and it felt like old times, but these moments are few and far between, and I'm beginning to think our friendship is over.
"Looking back, there has always been something about the relationship that has made me uncomfortable. Adrienne is brilliant and everything has always come so much easier to her; sometimes she doesn't seem to understand how hard I've struggled. Also, I've gained about 40 pounds since college, and she routinely makes snide comments, such as 'Why are you stuffing your face with cake when you want to lose weight?' I know she's a single mom and busy with her consulting practice and her boyfriend, but I don't understand why she treats me this way."
The counselor's turn: "Pamela and Adrienne's friendship has always had its ups and downs, but it might have continued without any major crises if it had remained long distance. Lots of people say, 'If only we could live close by again.' But Pamela's move to the same city as Adrienne brought out more differences than similarities in their personalities. As we grow older and cope with the demands of family, romantic partners, and career, there may be a tendency to give up too soon on friendships that require 'work.' Abandoning a friendship where there's a shared history and a mutual underlying concern might offer temporary relief, but it would likely lead to long-term regrets.
"Pamela needs to realize that Adrienne's family and work obligations make it harder for her to find time for their friendship. If Pamela feels Adrienne has been unsympathetic, especially about her weight challenges, she certainly has a right to let her friend know that. But what Pamela sees as criticism may actually stem from Adrienne's concern about her friend's health and self-esteem. Pamela should hear her friend out before she comes to ironclad conclusions. Most importantly, these two old friends need to create new memories. Since the birthday party seemed to work out well, Adrienne and Pamela might consider other fun activities -- with or without the kids -- that would offer them the chance to reconnect.
The story told here is true, although names and other details have been changed. Jan Yager, PhD, is a sociologist and friendship expert based in Stamford, Connecticut.