What Do I Do About My Selfish Friends?

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Social Q’s

I am a 40-year-old woman who is sort of shocked as I consider the selfish behavior of my boyfriend and my allegedly close friends. I work hard at my job and on my personal relationships. But lately I can’t help noticing how one-sided they all are. My friends and boyfriend sit back and talk about themselves nonstop without ever asking me a question about my life. It’s even fallen on me to initiate plans and make all the arrangements. How should I complain to these people (or back away from them)?


I have never worked the land, but growing up in Vermont gives me a free pass, I believe, to use farming metaphors: The best way to figure out what crop we’re growing is to check our wheelbarrow at harvest time. A bushel of turnips doesn’t just materialize. We cultivate them, like your relationships. I don’t believe that all of your friends (and boyfriend) suddenly morphed into selfish monsters. I bet they didn’t start that way, either. Let’s consider the main thing they have in common: you!

Selfish people abound. But it seems more plausible to me that, like many of us, you aren’t comfortable with floodlights of attention. So you deflect. “How are things going at work?” your pals asked. To which you replied, “Fine” (whether they were or not) then quickly turned the attention back to them: “How about you?” Over time, this redirecting can become habit. And from there, it’s a short hop to making all the dinner reservations.

Rather than ditching all your friends or reading them the riot act, claim some limelight for yourself, even if it’s a little uncomfortable. (And it may be more than a little uncomfortable, at first, if you’ve shied away from it before). Push yourself to tell your friends about challenges at work or troubles with your sister, whether they ask or not. You don’t need an engraved invitation to take the mike. Simply start talking. If things aren’t better after six weeks on the take-charge diet, get back in touch, O.K.?

No Problem Here

My husband and I were recently married. We didn’t live together beforehand. So I am slightly stunned to learn that he has a 10-minute phone conversation with his mother every day. It’s usually after breakfast, before we leave for work, but not always. Do you find this as strange as I do?


In the scheme of post-marital surprises, this one barely registers as a blip on the radar. (For a true shocker, check out the second episode of “Lilies,” the BBC drama streaming on Netflix, with its genital homage to “The Sun Also Rises.”) So far, you haven’t sketched out a problem. Are these calls interfering with your time with your husband? Is he discussing things you wish he were talking over with you? These are issues you can resolve through discussion with him. But on its own, chatting with his mom every day does not constitute an offense. (I wish I could still speak with mine.)

Sound Him Out

I live alone in a small apartment building. Last night at 11, there was a loud knock on my door. My upstairs neighbor, whom I had not met, was upset that my TV was too noisy. It was unintentional. But he was angrier than I would have expected, and confrontational: He didn’t introduce himself and huffed off. Obviously, I’ll keep the volume down. But I am uncomfortable with our interaction. I want to be a good neighbor and don’t understand why he was so upset about something so minor. Should I write a note, mention this to my super, or leave it alone?


If your proposed note would include quibbling with your neighbor over the reasonableness of his anger, I would skip it. The same goes for mentioning the episode to your super, unless you felt physically threatened by the interaction. (It’s hard to tell from your email, and I want you safe.)

Being a good neighbor sometimes entails smoothing ruffled feathers. So, while leaving this alone (and keeping the volume down) works fine, I love your idea of a note: “Sorry we got off on the wrong foot.” It paves the way for more pleasant meetings in the lobby.

Walk the Walk

I am a dog walker. I often use my dog-walking time to catch up with friends on the phone. The problem occurs when other friends see me and want to chat, not noticing that I am on the phone (and using an earpiece). They start conversations and I become confused. Do I drop the person on the phone or the passer-by?


As a dog owner, I vote for your paying more attention to the dogs, which you are being paid to exercise. It is safer for them, you and other pedestrians. But should you run into a pal (in person) while speaking (on the phone), simply smile and point to your earbuds as you say: “I’m on the phone. Let’s catch up later.” And remember, not even a gold-plated cellular plan lets you evade poop-scooping.