Tell Me About It

I feel as if an old friend is taking advantage of me

I can either leave a friendship that has given me much, or I can continue in a one-sided relationship that costs me a lot

PROBLEM: Here is an issue that has troubled me for years. I have a friend who lives abroad. We go back decades and we have a good friendship, except that I always get an email or a text saying “I’ll be home from X to Y”, and I’m expected to make the arrangements.

In the past 18 months, I have entertained my friend and his partner at dinner in a good restaurant. I have also had my friend to dinner in my home on three occasions.

There is zero reciprocity. (About eight years ago, my friend did ask me to dinner. It was to a fairly ordinary place – which I did not mind – but what floored me was that I was offered “a glass of wine”. I offer my guests good wine, and not by the glass.)

I am fed-up. I do like my old friend, but I feel I am being exploited. This has now become corrosive.

On my friend’s last visit, I said, “Let’s have coffee”, as opposed to “Let’s have dinner on me”. Who paid for the coffee? Me, of course.

I have a choice. I can leave a friendship that has given me much. Or I can continue in a one-sided relationship that costs me a lot. I don’t care about the money at all. I just don’t want to be taken advantage of.

I don’t know what to think.

ADVICE: My guess is that you have put up with this situation for so long because you value this friendship. However, not speaking about the one-sidedness of the relationship has been corrosive for you, and now you have reached the tipping point.

You need to challenge your friend and have an honest discussion or you will have to gradually let this relationship go. Having coffee instead of dinner is already a step towards making this person more of an acquaintance.

It seems that you and your friend have built a routine over the years, and this habit is hard to change or challenge. You feel that an unfairness is now built into your socialising; speaking about this will be the point at which the friendship becomes stronger and more real or is brought to an end.

An option might be to suggest that, the next time your friend is home, you organise to meet and tell him that you want to discusses something important. Perhaps a walk in a park or on a beach might be the best option, as face-to-face can feel very intimidating for something like this.

You must ask that your friend’s partner not be part of this discussion, as this is about your friendship and is therefore private.

You can start the discussion by saying the reason you have suggested this conversation is because this is an important relationship in your life and you do not want to lose it. Then you must ask if it is possible for both of you to be truthful and if the friendship can withstand this. If you get a positive answer, then you have to be really clear and to the point, because your friend is clearly not capable of picking up hints.

Having this conversation is a very difficult thing to do, and you need to be very clear about the aim of the discussion: is it to forge a long-lasting relationship or to get an apology? If your aim is to get an apology, then you might need more time than a short trip home allows. This situation cannot be mended in a once-off conversation. Can you continue the discussion over email, phone or Skype?

Often it is hugely difficult to have these engagements outside of face-to-face encounters, but you could agree to have a follow-up phone call if there is no other option available. Are you prepared to travel to meet your friend where he lives: this would show how important the friendship is to you and might allow him to offer hospitality?

Your friend will no doubt have a reaction to the idea that he is not generous or caring in the friendship, and his reaction might be to withdraw in hurt or to become angry and blaming. He might need time to absorb the impact of what you are saying, and therefore allowing for the possibility of a further conversation is important.

A friendship that has lasted decades is not one to let go of lightly, and yet there are times when you do all you can and it is not enough. If you make the enormous effort of setting time aside and speaking honestly to your friend, and he is unable to hear or take you seriously, then you will have no choice but to let this friendship go. Allowing yourself to feel used and taken for granted does not seem like an option for you from now on.