On the face of it, all this hoo-ha is like a school row - when the person you thought was your "friend" suddenly picks someone else to hold hands with in the crocodile and you're left having to walk beside the teacher. The pain, the humiliation, the post-mortems, the anger: "But I thought you were my friend!" - it's all too much to bear.
But these are adults. And on the whole grown women are pretty generous with their friends. If you introduce one woman friend to another and they get together and do things with each other, you don't feel jealous. Instead, a woman usually feels pride. It's rather like match-making. "I knew they'd get on," you think. And you feel frightfully smug about your intuition hitting the spot. It's only if their friendship seems at the expense of your own relationship with them, that you may feel hurt.
Friendships with women you've met through other people aren't hampered, initially, by the etiquette you find at dinner parties. I still think, if you meet a couple at someone else's house, it's polite, the first time you have them over, to invite the people you met them with. I've twice been rung by guests wanting the phone number of someone they met at my house to invite them to dinner, and when they've not asked me, too, I have to admit I've felt a pang of hurt.
But surely Sally's reaction in this case has to do with her widowhood. She's programmed to see everything that happens to her in terms of abandonment and loss. I bet she can't even see the sun go down without wanting to cry. I bet if her local greengrocer closes, she worries herself sick that she'll starve to death. Every little loss brings back the agonising feeling she had when her husband died.
People who get upset and jealous usually do so only because they feel insecure, or because they see, wrongly, everything that they're not involved with, even if it's not deliberate, as a sign of rejection. Helen goes to the local movies with Ann. They see it purely as a pleasant evening out with a neighbour. Helen, however, is back at home blowing the whole thing out of proportion. She thinks she's going to lose two friends, not one - and that, in her view, is just the tip of the iceberg. Soon all her friends will leave her. She doesn't imagine that Ann and Helen, mooching along to the movies in jeans and having a coffee afterwards, talk about kids. She imagines them sitting in a glamorous restaurant over roasted rocket and champagne, discussing only one topic - how much they can't stand her, Sally.
Sally was good to Helen when she got divorced. Helen must try hard not to express her natural feelings of being pissed off at Sally's reaction. She must reassure her she values her friendship, and see her a bit more often for a while. She should, perhaps, ring her up more, and invite her over to join herself and Ann. It's a bore, but if Helen can see Sally's reaction in terms of her pain rather than petty control-freakery, she may find it easier to put things right.
Sally's feeling insecure
I suspect your friend Sally is neither immature nor a control freak; she's insecure. Perhaps she's still grieving over the death of her husband. Think about sitting down with her and assuring her that your relationship with her needn't suffer because you have other friendships - there is a philosophy that says the more you spread your love around, the more you have to give - and from time to time the three (or more) of you should get together, despite the distance, and there's a chance it may dispel her fears of being abandoned. When you can't see her, phone her, or send her silly notes in the post. If she still has problems with it, back off. Sometimes, when all else has failed, you just have to accept that the friendship is over.
Use a little white lie
Why does Helen need to tell Sally that she intends to see her new friend alone? This situation seems to be a justifiable case for the use of the occasional little white lie. And perhaps, if Helen manages to keep Ann out of the conversation, Sally will calm down a little and then they can continue their friendship - after all, it's not as if she's living close by.
Next Week's Dilemma
I recently met a 12-year-old girl who is a budding clarinettist. She really impressed me with her enthusiasm, and I was appalled when I heard that she was unable to take a trip abroad with the school orchestra simply because her instrument is not good enough. I would give anything to give her a proper clarinet for Christmas, but I hardly know her and have never met her parents. I feel that everyone would be extremely uncomfortable if I, a relative stranger, were to buy her something worth so much money - the cheapest seems to cost about pounds 400. I hear her parents are very proud and don't like the idea of charity. I also don't want to be seen as a Lady Bountiful. What do you think I should do?
Yours sincerely, Cathy