Dear Carolyn: My cousin “Dara” and I have been lifelong friends since we were born, three weeks apart. The friendship has had its natural ebbs and flows, but I can’t think of a time when we didn’t see each other at least once a month, even though she is a busy professional and I’m a stay-at-home mom.
My second child, born last fall, had some health complications, and I turned to Dara for help figuring out medical stuff since it’s related to her field. At one point, I (being rather emotional, as you would expect with a sick baby) felt she was being patronizing and snapped at her. I apologized when I calmed down and all was well. I thought.
Unfortunately, it happened again when she was trying to explain the surgical/recovery process. I was overwhelmed and having a hard time giving my consent, and she said I was being illogical. I answered that she couldn’t understand how a mother would feel, etc.
After my baby came through the surgery and all was well, I tried thanking her for her support and I apologized for being short-tempered but I again felt she should cut an anxious mom some slack. Dara said she “wasn’t put on Earth to regulate my emotional temper” and has pretty much indicated she doesn’t want much to do with me anymore. I cannot believe she would let two small incidents (neither time did I even raise my voice) cancel out a lifetime of friendship.
Where do I go from here? Try to get our moms to intercede? Give her some time and space, or try apologizing again? I really do feel bad about this, but I also feel she’s overreacting.
Alienated My Cousin
Alienated My Cousin: Whenever an apology isn’t working, cherchez le “but.” (Not everything is prettier in French.)
You miss Dara, yes, but you might as well shout to the world that you believe you did nothing wrong. Here are your self-justifications, some emphasis added: “being rather emotional, as you would expect with a sick baby”; “I felt she was being patronizing”; “it happened again,” passive voice vs. the more accurate “I did it again”; “I was overwhelmed”; “she couldn’t understand how a mother would feel” (the A-bomb of maternal defensiveness, by the way); “again felt she should cut an anxious mom some slack”; “small incidents”; “did[n’t] even raise my voice”; “feel she’s overreacting.”
If this is your style, then “small incidents” could easily be last straws.
Some people can have it both ways, where they apologize with a but-you-wronged-me-too asterisk. Since Dara hasn’t budged, you’re not one of those people.
You either have to agree with her that your behavior was out of line, period — which now includes not just biting the hand that held yours through this nightmare, but also blaming her for not being okay with that — or accept that you and Dara are finished as close friends.
I am completely sympathetic to your stress; baby + surgery = primal terror.
That terror has passed, however. And your return to full possession of your emotional faculties makes this a fine time to admit to a loved one, if you’re so inclined: “You tried only to help me, and I thanked you by being a complete ass to you. I’m sorry.” No asterisk in sight.