When I moved to my block a while ago, I knew right away that I would never be good friends with Chanie. She is the type of person who talks nonstop about everyone else, asking invasive questions—a total yenta—and also will ask for any kind of favor, at any time. So from the beginning, I kept my distance. Not that I was more brilliant than my other neighbors; I think that, in general, most people stayed away from Chanie. She wasn’t the type of person who inspired friendship.
Sadly, not too long ago, she had a miscarriage very late in her pregnancy. Naturally, we all felt very sorry for her. One day, my husband came home from shul and told me he had been speaking to Chanie’s husband who told him that Chanie was very depressed, not doing well at all, and barely getting out of bed to take care of their other children and the home. I decided, with my husband’s encouragement, that despite the fact that I didn’t care for Chanie, I would see what I could do to help her and her family.
I made it my business to stop by and chat with her for a bit; sometimes I just listened to her talk about all sorts of personal things that she seemed anxious to share. I also asked her what kind of errands she needed me to do for her, whether she needed me to take or pick up her kids, and, in general, I made myself as available as possible to her. I don’t work—I am basically just busy with my own children and home—and knew I was capable of being there for Chanie. It didn’t look as though too many other people were stepping up. Occasionally, a neighbor would drop off a dinner or take a child for a playdate, but I was definitely the main helper.
I would say that about a month ago, we could all see that Chanie was getting back to her old self. She was getting out and clearly capable of being responsible once again for herself and her family. So I decided it was time to go back to my old relationship with her, basically consisting of being cordial to her when I see her but keeping a safe distance. But it seems that during this time, Chanie decided we are best friends. In fact, when someone stopped by her home recently when I was still there, she talked about me, saying how wonderful I am and that I am her best friend!
Though I don’t stop by anymore, she calls me constantly, asking me what I’m up to and whether she can join me in whatever I’m doing. It’s a nightmare. I don’t want to spend time with her. It pains me. When I was involved in helping her, it was purely an act of chesed. Nothing more. I simply have a hard time being around her—and now she thinks we are the best of friends!
I feel really stuck. Chanie will drop by my house on Shabbos and even during the week. The calls don’t stop. I have no idea how to get myself out of this. I think I am a good person with a good heart, ready to do an act of chesed, but I’m not so terrific that I’m willing to take on a friendship with someone who really rubs me the wrong way, nonstop!
Any suggestions for where I go from here? Or, as the saying goes, I made my bed and now I have to sleep in it?
I’m not so sure that the phrase about making your bed and having to sleep in it must reflect your entire life moving forward, but the phrase “no good deed goes unpunished” does come to mind. Either way, it’s all just noise if you want to take control and decide what your future relationships will look like.
You did something very special. Let’s not forget about that. During a terrible time in Chanie’s life, you were the one person who was capable of putting aside all of your feelings toward her, and you enabled her to get through the terrible tragedy she endured. For that you should always feel proud, and Chanie should always feel grateful. Never regret what you did. It stands alone, and however you proceed at this point, it should always be a source of pride.
When we help another person, we do create a bond that inevitably has strings attached. The strings are not always made of gold. Often they are blemished and kind of corroded. In this case, Chanie was easily and happily able to assume that you cared deeply about her as a person and as a friend, as you showed up consistently and not only helped her out in a concrete way, but sat with her and listened to her talk. That added tremendous value to her life and possibly was the only time she was able to experience something so wholesome and nurturing. You listened, and maybe no one else in her life ever really listened! That’s not something she is going to be so quick to give up.
So though I understand your desire to run for the hills and go back to the previous non-existent relationship you and Chanie had, it can’t hurt to ask yourself whether there is anything you are willing to offer her at this point. Not because you have to or are required to or should feel guilty about not doing something, but simply to see if there is anything you can add to a life that clearly is void of much-needed healthy experiences. If the answer is “nothing,” because Chanie makes it just too difficult to be around, I can accept that. Some people are really hard and often impossible to love or even like. But decide whether there is any slight way in which you can tolerate Chanie’s involvement in your life, so that she has a stable friend to grow from. Maybe you can make it clear that you are no longer available to do her errands for her, but you’d be happy to stop by for a cup of coffee once a week. If the conversation is all about talking about other people, you can confidently tell her that you are not interested in listening to that. But maybe she’ll use the time wisely and keep it real.
If you believe that there is no way you can be around Chanie at this point, then you have to start weaning her out of your life. I don’t think you can suddenly change your phone number, grab your Purim mask, and become M.I.A. But you can gradually reduce the amount of times you take her calls, answer the door for her, or make yourself available to her. I’m sure it will be very stressful for you to do this, but no doubt it’s much less stressful than allowing Chanie to monopolize your life in a way that feels unbearable to you.
Bottom line, you have control over your life and are allowed to create healthy boundaries for yourself. You did a tremendous mitzvah, but that does not mean that you’ve made a bed for yourself that you cannot get out of. As we look back on the various chapters of our lives, they don’t necessarily all have to bleed into one another. The chapter in which you came through for Chanie can stand alone and was very beautiful in itself. The chapter you now find yourself in will be one you create, reflecting your present needs.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at email@example.com or 516-314-2295.