DEAR ABBY: I am a 73-year-old retired woman who still maintains contact with a number of old and new friends for movies, dinner, museum visits, etc. Until the COVID virus, we did things often. Now, not so much.
Someone in this group told me that on a couple of occasions, a few of them were not very nice when my name came up. (“Why doesn’t she see her grandkids more often?” “She goes out more than most, yet doesn’t want to eat in certain restaurants.”) My husband and I have a good marriage, but many of these ladies are widowed or divorced. How do you handle backstabbing at this age? — MYSTIFIED IN NEW YORK
DEAR MYSTIFIED: Try not to take it personally. Obviously, these gossips have less to occupy their minds than one would hope. You might also consider seeing these particular individuals even less often than you already do in the age of COVID. If you do, it may give them less ammunition concerning what you do (or don’t do) with your time. (c) DEAR ABBY
This reminds me of my mother. Things she’s told me over the years (for absolutely no rhyme or reason):
- “Your grandmother thinks you’re weird. She greatly prefers your older cousin, Shannon, who’s cool and feminine. She doesn’t understand the way your mind works!”
- “None of your cousins like you. Yeah, they’re nice to you at Christmas, but do they make any effort to keep in touch with you? Therefore, their niceness has no value whatsoever.”
- And we have a more recent one: “That wasn’t a mental hospital you were put in as a teen. It was a behavioral health unit because you were badly behaved.”
- When I was a kid: “You let the kitties out to play? Well, they’re not coming back. They’re probably squished under the tire of a car by now.”
So here’s what I’m thinking: the bad guy here is the letter writer’s “friend” (in quotation marks) who’s feeding her this information. It’s entirely possible that the information was gossipped about in a positive way, like so:
“I wonder why she doesn’t visit her grandkids more often? She seemed sad the other day, but she always gets cheered when she visits the grandkids. And she’s teaching them how to cook, which they’re really enjoying!”
I don’t consider that gossip. If it’s not malicious, cruel, private, trash-talking, or that sort of thing, I think it’s okay to talk about people. I also think it’s okay to talk to person A about a disagreement or blowup you had with person B, for the sole goal of working through it (not just to trash person B for the fun of it).
Or it could have been innocuous:
New group member: “Why don’t we ever eat out at Panera Bread as a group?”
Regular group member: “Oh, Lane doesn’t like Panera Bread. She hates everything on the menu.”
New group member: “Well, what about the Cheesecake Factory?”
Regular group member: “Cindy and I both hate that restaurant! But we have a list of restaurants that we all like. Here, check it out.”
Which is matter-of-fact, right? Until the letter writer’s “friend” sinks her claws into it. What a [bleep]!
What I’d recommend is that the letter writer should see how the other ladies discuss people who aren’t around. Do the other ladies speak like I suggested above, or do they get their claws out collectively? Because if they’re all backstabbing gossips, I’d run. But they might not be! We only have solid evidence against one person here.
DEAR ABBY: I began using a wheelchair two years ago. Since then a dear friend of roughly 30 years has become fixated on my disability. While we once shared a deep, close “BFF” relationship, she now speaks to me in baby talk and only shows an interest in my physical limitations. I feel objectified, hurt and disappointed.
I have mentioned to her that I prefer to focus on other things in life, and she responds with platitudes like, “The body is just a shell,” and “All that matters is the heart,” but her actions tell me otherwise. I hate to end this friendship, but I am at the end of my rope. Any advice? — PATRONIZED IN ARIZONA
DEAR PATRONIZED: If you haven’t done it already, tell this person that you no longer wish to discuss your disability and you prefer she stop raising the subject and treating you differently. Period. If she continues to pursue the subject after that, make your visits less frequent, if they happen at all.
It’s tragic when a thirty-year friendship comes to this!
She responds with platitudes […] but her actions tell me otherwise.
Gee, the letter writer makes it sound as if the platitudes are acceptable! “The body is just a shell,”? Really? And, “All that matters is the heart,”? Well, you know what? My heart doesn’t like you. And my shell of a body wants a piece of you, so there.
There’s a hilarious episode of Frasier about this. Frasier’s helping Lana build a popsickle-stick house, and he’s wearing a paper smock when a married couple of househunters shows up to see the house. (Lana’s a realtor.) They smile really patronizingly at Frasier, and the wife says, “Are you having fun with your little house?” And Frasier can’t answer because he has a popsickle in his mouth.
Lana enters the room, and the househunters ask if the house has a flooding problem. Lana downplays it, so Frasier grunts loudly. The female househunter says, “Aww, are you choking on your lolly?”
And Frasier replies: “No. I am choking on something far more dangerous and destructive than a simple sugary treat. It’s a prolific and powerful poison known… as deception!”
And the woman says, “He’s very verbal!” (Which is funny, because Frasier is indeed quite a wordsmith.)
I love that part. Actually, that whole episode is really good.
If the letter writer could do that–plan a wordy, verbiose speech to deliver to her friend–that could be quite nice. She could arrange it on notecards beforehand and master the memorization. That would rock! Or similarly she could recite a Shakespearean sonnet about how the body is not, in fact, just a shell. And she should act like she has all his sonnets memorized, and not just that one.
Oh my gosh, I did something like that once. This was fabulous. I ran into the prom queen from my high school. To give some background, she and I were both nominated, but my nomination was a joke by the student body. Hers was the real deal, so she won.
I’ve never hated her, or anything like that. I enjoyed knowing her in high school. Amy was cool, popular, charismatic, you get the picture; but she wasn’t a brat.
But when I encountered her several years ago, she was being a total jerkface to me. Trying to remember… she lowered her voice and asked if I’m still living with my dad. I said, “Yes, and he’s very companionable.”
She asked what I’d been up to, so I told her very excitedly about my self-published middle-grade series.
She sniffed. “You self-publish? I see.” She gave me a pitying look.
“They’re great books,” I insisted.
“Mm-hmm. Did you know that our valedictorian, Sarah Van, got a book published?” (Her maiden name was Sarah Van Arsdale, so we called her Sarah Van in high school.)
And I replied, “Yeah, yeah, I knew. Uh, Breakfast Served Anytime, April 8, 2014, right? Candlewick Press?”
She flinched, and her eyes got shifty.
“Well, you asked if I knew,” I said. I scratched my cheek and made an innocent expression.
She recovered. “Right. Meg, she got published, like officially published.”
I rolled my eyes and sighed.
I don’t remember much else about it, but that felt like a masterful moment. The letter writer needs to create some of those with her patronizing friend!