BEWARE: The Friendship Thief

By Lisa Barr

A friend called me up a while back and said, “I need to talk to you. Lunch? Today?”

She sounded upset. I canceled my wax and I met up with her in a sushi restaurant off the beaten track.

“Hannah,” I said, foregoing the small talk. “What’s wrong?”

She rolled her eyes and sighed deeply. “This is going to sound so stupid, so totally Junior High-ish. I’ve been really hesitating to say something to you BUT … this woman — do you remember Jennifer?  Basically, she’s gone after all my friends and tries to steal them … I feel like she’s stalking me, and I’m afraid you’re next on her hit list.”

“How do you know she’s going after me?” I asked. “And who is Jennifer?”

“Well, she met you and your husband briefly at my son’s bar-mitzvah, and she asked me for your phone number. She wants to go out with you guys and ‘fix’ her kids up with your kids because they are all around the same age.” Hannah looked embarrassed. “I kind of ignored it. You know, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but you are my ‘GO TO’ friend, and honestly, this is the fifth or sixth person in my life that she’s gone after.”

She put down her chop sticks: “Okay, it’s one thing to say ‘Hey, let’s ALL get together’ — but THAT GIRL makes these ‘side plans’ with MY friends and leaves me out. It’s making me crazy, and it’s just too much.”

I gave Hannah a hug, and said, “I TOTALLY understand. I’m onto her. And no worries, I’m YOURS.”

And so goes THE FRIENDSHIP THIEF … she is out there, lurking, ready to pounce on your friends — close friends, mommy friends, history friends — those people in YOUR world who belong to YOU. There are so many scenarios but all have the same consequence: It hurts.

My motto, and perhaps yours, has always been: You can take the shirt off my back, knock the coffee from my hand … but if you touch my best friend — I will have to kill you.

I spoke to another friend of mine, and he said, “My wife talks about this subject all the time. It kills her. ‘How did they get to be BFFs? They just met. It is so irritating.'” His voice lowered. “It sounds like it’s a Girl Thing, but it’s not. It happens with guys too. Believe me.”

“It’s one thing to steal a friend,” he added. “But it’s another to steal them and then to exclude you from plans … I mean C’mon – I was the hub, don’t I get a little nod or right of first refusal?  I feel silly saying this but, there is a bit of a strange feeling that borders sympathy and anger – where the only words that seem to come to my mind are: “What … you can’t make your own friends? You need to glom onto mine?”

Tom rolled his eyes. “And Facebook only exacerbates the issue when you see the “Newlyweds” frolicking publicly with XO’s and OMGs and LOVE YOUs … YOU LOVE THIS PERSON who I just introduced you to at a cocktail party?”

* * *

Friendship Thieves are ageless and timeless. A big “hit” that stood out in my life was when I was in college, and a very close friend of mine traveled with another friend (a Reknown Friendship Thief) to California. The two of them met up with my good friend’s boyfriend (who I had fixed her up with) and my ex-boyfriend who I still hadn’t gotten over (who she fixed up with The Thief  for the weekend). That secret trip was a potent combo of thievery and “friendship murder” — the betrayal with that Friendship Thief cut too deeply and ruined our relationship for good.

Most cases are not as “severe” — it usually hinges on a Friendship Thief moving in on YOUR friends and asking them for plans without you, leaving you with the hollow feeling of “but she is MY friend … I can’t believe they are going without ME.”

A Girl Bond, especially at our age and our level of busy-ness, is irreplaceable and sacred. It’s the phone number you don’t want to give out because it’s precious. A Thief-in-Action can almost feel as bad as someone hitting on your husband.

But what if The Thief is a New Girl in the neighborhood and she needs to make friends? How does she start? And how do you not block her from meeting new people AND not letting her move in on your PEEPS simultaneously?

As my shrink might say, let’s examine this with the wisdom we have accumulated. I would define “wisdom” as a “collection” of years of experience beginning with Junior High Alpha-Terrorism, High School Bitches, Sorority Back-Stabbing, 20s Tug O’ War Dating (The I Saw HIM First factor…), 30s Mama Drama (no need to be defined), and now in our 40s … the so-called wisdom has landed.

We might just want to look at a Friendship Thief through different lenses:

A Friendship Thief is lonely. 

Perhaps a Friendship Thief earns her reputation because he/she has a hard time making friendships on her own. And many times, the Friendship Thief is someone really nice but insecure. My advice: Help the Friendship Thief walk away with “something”  — a few pearls but NOT the Family Jewels.

First, communication is key. Hannah, though embarrassed, shared her feelings with me. She trusted me enough to know that I would hear her out, and help her find a solution. Say “Jennifer” did call me without telling Hannah first. This is what I would say:  “I would love to meet you for coffee BUT let’s invite Hannah too. It would be a lot of fun.”

The “stealing” is thwarted, and you have established a boundary. I like you, but I will not hurt Hannah, no matter what.

If Hannah says, “I can’t make it that day — but you two go have coffee anyway.” Then, it was Hannah’s choice. If Hannah says, “I can’t make it, so let’s reschedule.” You Reschedule.

Back to Tom.

Facebook is great in so many ways but it is truly where the fakest of relationships reside. Be aware that Facebook is the stomping grounds of Friendship Thieves — all those cyber-relationships just waiting to be taken. Remember, whatever you “Comment” to a friend’s friend — your REAL friend is going to notice, read … and feel.

Beware if YOU are an Un-KNOWING  Thief — making the moves on your friend’s friends, and not realizing how much that could hurt her/him. If you are open with your friend and say something like — “I met Liz, and she is also in advertising. Would you mind if I called her to have lunch?”  I would bet nine times out of 10, if your friend is consulted … no one feels “robbed.”

Above all, remember that real Friendships — the good ones — can’t be bought or sold; they are earned, unbreakable, and truthfully, if they are worthy, they simply can’t be stolen.




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