Dear Dr. Levine,
I'm a mom of two girls, ages five and nine. I met another mom at the playground in May and we hit it off quite well, though my 5-year-old was a little slow to warm up to her 5-year-old. Since she and her family had just moved, she had not yet made friends in the area.
We had similar interests so we kept up the friendship. She began to depend on me for her social life. Because I felt badly for her, I introduced her to friends and later found out that she'd been asking some with similarly aged kids for their phone numbers so they could get together for playdates.
I had invited her to join a newly-formed book group that I started and introduced her to my other friends there. Again, she started calling these friends for playdates without including my 5-year-old or me. Tonight, she carpooled to the book group with another friend of mine without even asking me. I felt so uncomfortable in the group that I started!
I don't know what to do or how to process this. She volunteers weekly in her daughter's kindergarten classroom yet she makes no attempts to cultivate friendships for her daughter with her classmates. I understand that she wants to connect with others and she admits that she doesn't have the best social skills, but at the same time I am feeling so uncomfortable with her dipping into my and my daughter's friend pool without trying to branch out on her own.
Everywhere I turn, she's making playdates left and right with my friends, granted some are not as close as others. We live in a small town but it can be just as hard for me to make friends around here. I am not a hugely social person by any stretch of the imagination and my first instinct is to pull away from these friends and her. I feel so upset. Do I talk to her about it? Is it likely she'll even understand? Do I just try to let it go?
The etiquette governing female friendships is pretty murky. That's because the rules aren't really spelled out anywhere leaving a lot of room for interpretation and confusion (In my book, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, I try to provide a roadmap to help women negotiate these complex relationships.)
In your situation, you were very gracious in welcoming this woman to the neighborhood and in introducing her to your friends and their children, and then by inviting her to your book group. In return, you were poached, not once, but repeatedly.
It's understandable that your new friend wanted to make friends, and she may have felt some special connection with one of your friends but she did this repeatedly. She may have justified it to herself by saying that she was doing it for her daughter. But this pattern of poaching multiple friends suggests that you are dealing with someone who is narcissistic, insensitive, and disloyal. I can imagine how hurt and disappointed you must feel.
These are my suggestions:
- Tell this woman how hurt you felt about the carpooling incident. This situation is, perhaps, the clearest example of her transgressions and it may cause her to back off a bit. Maybe she wasn't aware of what she was doing.
- Don't introduce her to any other friends or acquaintances unless she apologizes and changes.
- Back off from spending time with her one-on-one too. The odds of you ever having a healthy friendship with her are slim.
- Don't pull away from your other friends. They haven't betrayed you in the way she did and my suspicion is that they will tire of her soon.
- Lastly, you may want to think about whether you were too welcoming too soon. Maybe you should have gotten to know her better before you involved her in various realms of your life.
I hope this helps you deal with this messy situation. Remember, she is the one who should feel awkward, not you. I've written about the topic of friend-poaching before but that post is focused on describing the occasional phenomenon rather than dealing with someone who Is a persistent poacher. Thanks for giving other readers and me the opportunity to think about this.
I hope this is helpful.
Have a question about female friendships? Send it to The Friendship Doctor.
Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. Her new book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, was recently published by Overlook Press. She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog and at PsychologyToday.com.