Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Case of the Sometime Friend

Consider this post a gloss on my prior post, The Case of the Angry Young Woman.

In that post I explained that when you express anger at someone, you should be trying to accomplish something. Expressing anger should have a purpose. And I said that the best purpose, when someone’s offensive behavior has angered you, is to elicit an apology. Your anger should show the other person that he has offended you. His moral sense should tell him to apologize.

Soon after finishing the post, I chanced on this column by therapist Lori Gottlieb. The woman who writes to Gottlieb has a much better sense of what is required than does Polly. In the end, she even has a better sense of it than does Gottlieb. Letter writer Michelle understands that her friend owes her an apology for a grievous offense.

Here is the letter:

A friend of mine asked to rent a work tool of mine (namely, a high-end camera) in order for someone to photograph her wedding. I happily obliged, but then was shocked to later realize that not only was she not inviting me to the wedding but that she had failed to tell me so before she asked to use the camera.

My question is: How do I get her to give a sincere apology and admit her wrongdoing in asking for the camera in the first place, especially without an explanation about not inviting me? I don’t even know how to start this conversation and neither of us has said anything about it.


Gottlieb suggests that there may be a misunderstanding. She is correct to consider this possibility:

My guess is that your friend probably hasn’t said anything because she doesn’t realize you’re upset. You say that she asked to “rent” the camera, which seems less like a personal favor between friends and more like a business arrangement between acquaintances. And if she’s renting a camera from you, it sounds as if she isn’t hiring a professional photographer and is working with a limited budget—which might mean that the guest list is small, and that you aren’t part of a tighter inner circle that would be included on that list.

In other words, there might be a mismatch between her idea and yours about the nature of your friendship. Maybe to her, you two are friends, but not close enough for her to include you in her wedding celebration—or even close enough for her to ask to borrow rather than rent the camera. It’s highly unlikely that she’d have asked for the camera if she knew that you would be hurt if you weren’t invited to the wedding. She probably assumed that you didn’t expect to be there.

Surely, this is better than being extremely rude. It may well be the case that the friend is having a small wedding at City Hall. And it is also true that asking to rent a camera is not the same as asking to borrow it. The friend engaged in a business transaction, not an exchange of favors between friends.

On the other hand, Michelle is quite correct to note that the friend  should have had the courtesy to say that she was not going to invite her to the wedding. This egregious lack of respect should not go unanswered.

Even if, as Gottlieb suggests, the two women have completely different understandings of the nature of the friendship, this does not excuse the bride from saying something about wedding invitations. 

In truth, if she did not want to invite Michelle, she should not have asked her to rent the camera at all. If it’s about renting a piece of professional equipment, you can find a business that specializes in that. Besides, if the camera is an expensiv, what happens if it gets damaged or broken at the wedding? Who is responsible?

Gottlieb errs when she suggests that Michelle should confront her friend and ask her what’s up. Here is her advice:

Before you broach the topic, though, it’s important to adjust your goal for the conversation. The aim should be to understand more about your friendship, not to accuse her of having done anything wrong or pressure her to say something she doesn’t feel. You might say, “Hey, I’m thrilled that you’re engaged and I’m happy to rent my camera to you. I know this might be uncomfortable to talk about, but we’ve been friends for X number of years, and when you asked to rent my camera, I assumed I’d be there to celebrate with you. I’m not asking for an invitation at this point, just a better understanding of what’s going on between us.”

Gottlieb proposes open and honest communication. I do not. Under the circumstances, nothing could be more awkward than a face-to-face confrontation, one that will likely do more damage than good.

My proposal, for what it’s worth: Michelle should communicate her dismay to a mutual friend, in order to ensure that the bride hears it. Then, it’s up to the bride to apologize. Or not. If the bride does not feel very close to Michelle, she should not have asked to rent the camera in the first place. If the wedding is very small, then she should apologize for not explaining it at first. If all of their mutual friends are invited, Michelle should feel excluded. Normally, the women would have friends in common... and thus Michelle should not have too much difficulty researching the subject.

As she says in her letter, Michelle should receive an apology. The bride owes her an apology. Gottlieb skirts past this element of the letter and thus distracts from the issue at hand.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If someone asked to rent my expensive camera for her wedding, I would think, "I'm not invited." Who asks a wedding guest to rent out their camera? Nor would I rent my camera, not knowing who is going to use it. As to an apology, it's not worth it. I would just learn that the woman is odd and be glad I wasn't at her wedding.