Dear Carolyn: I switched jobs last year but remained friends with three co-workers. I’ve stayed very close to two of them. Today I met up for lunch with the third, “Rachel,” and she spent the whole time making very negative comments about “Becky.”
Becky is one of my closest friends, and believes she’s good friends with Rachel. Rachel not only complained about her mistaken belief that Becky is lazy, but also complained that Becky likes to tag along with her to Jewish social events. Rachel and I are both Jewish; Becky is not. I have occasionally extended an invitation to Becky, since I don’t see these events as exclusive.
Rachel isn’t mad at me for inviting Becky, but is livid that Becky would even consider showing up. I find this extremely discriminatory.
Should I drop Rachel as a friend? We don’t have much in common, but she’s gone through a really rough time with the death of a parent, and I’d feel horrible abandoning her. I’m also not sure if I should tell Becky what’s being said about her – I don’t want to meddle, but I also don’t like that someone she trusts and cares about is so cruel to her. – Dumping a friend
When someone bad-mouths your closest friend and believes things you find “extremely discriminatory,” it’s hard to argue for maintaining the friendship.
However, if Rachel’s behavior today doesn’t square with her attitudes and actions of the past, then consider giving her a second chance, on the theory that her grief was also at lunch with you today, in the form of uncharacteristic and misplaced hostility.
Another argument for another chance: It’ll allow you to say what you apparently didn’t this time. “Rachel, I’m not comfortable with this topic. Becky is one of my closest friends, and I know she thinks highly of you, too.”
That would have been a three-way solid, good for you, Becky and Rachel, since it would have clarified your loyalties – to Becky, to kindness and to transparency.
It also would have presented Rachel with a choice: Be more politic about her complaints, or prepare for them to find their way back to Becky.
I suggest you make that connection explicit, by urging Rachel, “If this is really how you feel about Becky, then please talk to her about it directly. If she raises the subject with me, I won’t lie to her.”
If Rachel neither backs down nor comes clean with Becky, and you remain Rachel’s friend, then she’ll effectively have deputized you in betrayal. Rachel’s grief matters, but principles matter more.