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Dr. Mona Knows What To Do When Friends Fight

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Q: My best friend and I are feuding. We met in grade school, went to college together, married around the same time and sort of raised our families together. We've quarreled in the past, but for some reason we cannot seem to get past this one. I think she has finally been revealed as selfish and she says I am the one who was always more demanding.

It all started when our kids were applying to college. They both wanted to go to the same school. Her daughter has always done better academically, but my daughter was the more rounded student, captain of the girls' basketball team while also being involved in political campaigns in our village. I told my friend that I believed the college both girls are seeking would prefer the total package -- in other words, my daughter. All I wanted to say was, let's be honest about who our kids are and analyze their college choices realistically. It was just a way to help our girls deal with reality and, inevitably, the coming disappointments.

My friend just blew up. She said I was always putting down her children, her marriage, and her lifestyle. She said I am bossy and controlling and she often finds herself just biting her tongue, restraining herself. She said that she and her family are always giving in to what my family needs and wants. She thinks that I am upset that because her daughter has better grades, she will be picked over my daughter for the college they both want. This is my way of lashing out and continuing to put her down.

WOW, I was blown away! I am shocked, confused, and angry. I don't think I can ever get over this. What do you think?

A: I don't think there is a question here. There isn't one specific path to take. Since you have been friends for such a long time, your continuing friendship will depend on the determination of each of you to communicate honestly. The important issue here is to be honest about your own feelings and to listen to what your friend appears to be saying and is actually saying -- the two are not necessarily the same.

Ask any professor, lecturer, or actor -- anyone who performs in public -- about their audience and they will tell you that no matter how consistent they are in their presentation, the audience often reacts differently. The professor will tell you that each student seems to grasp a different part of a theory and it then becomes important to understand not what has been said, but what has not been heard. And the actor will tell you that the line that gets a laugh one night is greeted with silence the next -- same line, different message.

So, in the case of you and your best friend, you both approached this moment in your friendship from a different angle. You carried different baggage and you had different goals in mind. Let's be honest and say that while each of you has a strong love for the other, it pales in comparison to what you feel for your daughters and, maybe more to the point, to the way your daughters are proxies for what is now a long-standing friendship-rivalry. You may not be talking of your children as their own entities, but rather as extensions of yourselves. Perhaps after many years, your friendship has taken too much for granted. The old role playing worked most of the time, but what was ignored were the burdens, the deficiencies and the resentments that built up over time.

Let's go back to the matter of what is being said and what is being heard. You think you're proclaiming the resplendent virtues of your daughter - athlete, budding politician, probably a buoyant personality -- but what you are also saying is that you --You! -- are tired of being seen as less intelligent.

As for your friend, she has her own grievance. She'd like to be appreciated for her activities, for her personality, for her buoyancy. She would like to be seen sometimes as the energetic one, the one who directs relationships and attracts the action. It's about time she became homecoming queen!

All these issues and grievances, unstated all these years, camouflaged by smiles and hugs, have now come to a boil. They're being played out through your children, who you rush to protect as a lioness does her cubs. But lion cubs really are chips off the ol' block. Your daughters may not be. More than likely, they are their own people and not mere projections of their mothers.

Out of respect for the length of your friendship, call for a sit-down. Open up. Admit your fragilities, your insecurities. Discuss the roles you both have been playing. Let's hope your friend will be able to not only respond, but reciprocate. A friendship like this is an investment, something to be cherished and, just as with a marriage, it has to be renewed from time to time. This is a wonderful opportunity -- a gift from your daughters. GOOD LUCK!!