From the tiniest, fluffiest teddy to the most glamorous Rolex watch, gifts are rarely quite what they seem, especially if they come in a flat envelope. And perhaps Linda should first of all query her own motives in trying to bail out her friend.
Was getting rid of pounds 1,000 of her windfall a way to alleviate the guilt she felt on receiving it? Did she feel badly about herself, and think that she didn't deserve the surprise gift of money, and could make herself feel OK only if she gave some of it away? In which case, giving her friend the pounds 1,000 wasn't quite as generous as it appears.
Or was it a way of making herself feel superior? In other words, was Linda saying, at some level, to Teresa: "Here you are, my poor friend; take this paltry gift which means nothing to me and would mean so much to you. I am groaning with money while you, poor ragged creature, are scrabbling for pennies in the dust"? Or did she give it to her to shut her up? Sometimes people can't bear the pain of close friends and will do anything to "fix it" to stop the continual moaning.
Now, it may be that none of these motives applied in Linda's case. But it's quite possible that Teresa interpreted the gift as being given in some way that made her feel uncomfortable. And by blowing the money on a holiday she's really expressing her anger to Linda. She's saying: "See how much I think of your wretched gift. I'm just going to squander it on a holiday." Or she resents the fact that it came with strings to pay her mortgage. She wants to show Linda that she's free to spend it how she likes. She won't be dictated to.
Teresa, anyway, with all her "pride" about not lowering her prices and not pursuing her child's father for maintenance, sounds as if she herself has masses of hang-ups about money. Unfortunately, if you're too proud to take what's owing to you or too proud to lower your prices to get more work, you have to pay a price, and sometimes that price is poverty. In other words, it looks as if Linda's been funding her friend's hang-ups, and feeding her self-destructive habits, rather than being a real friend and delivering plain and honest advice.
It would have been better by far than a cheque to have sat Teresa down and made her see that not asking her ex-husband for money was a bad move all round. It's unkind to the father, because it denies him the chance to face up to his responsibilities. It's unkind to her children, who should have their mum fighting for their rights - for if she got maintenance, their lives would be better, too. It has nothing to do with pride and a lot to do with cowardice, I suspect.
Linda may not be able to repair this damage in her relationship with Teresa. But she will learn to examine her motives very thoroughly before she gives money away again. There is nothing as pleasurable as giving from the heart. It's a high like none other, almost a spiritual experience. But sometimes something funny happens when the cheque changes hands, and horrible thoughts such as "I shouldn't have given it", "She doesn't deserve it", start reproducing in the brain like cancer. Linda will have to learn that gifts given with any other motive than pure generosity won't be accepted with real gratitude. And sometimes they won't be received with gratitude, even if they are.
You misjudged your role
I have a friend like Linda's. She rings me regularly, usually at peak times, detailing how dreadful her life is, how little money they have, etc. I used to come off the phone after 40 minutes of this, panda-eyed with concern and worry. I had been in the same boat, but all my constructive and practical suggestions were ignored. The money for her much-needed divorce was spent on a car, but still the phone calls came, with her on the other end sounding so desperate.
Then I realised that she just uses me as a pressure valve. She and her new partner are quite capable of sorting themselves out if they wish. So now I just listen, let it go over my head and forget about it as soon as the phone goes down. I suggest that Linda gently tells her friend she thought the money was going on debt repayments, not a holiday, but that she must call it the way she sees it. And then, just let it all flow over. Be there to listen, but don't get involved. We all have problems of our own. Let the friend sort hers out in her own way.
A holiday is helpful
Don't worry too soon that you've done the wrong thing giving your friend this money. You obviously wanted to help her out and although a holiday wasn't quite what you expected, look on the positive side. A holiday may be just what she needs. She may come back rested and renewed. Often a holiday gives us the opportunity to put things in perspective and make new plans. You may have done your friend a much bigger favour than you now think.
Money is not the issue
It seems that the money itself is not important, that Linda could clearly spare the pounds 1,000; even her husband was not bothered about it. Perhaps she needs to accept that once she has given a gift, she's relinquished all ties with it. I would advise her next time to find a more deserving cause for charity. It seems odd logic for Linda to respect someone who won't lower their prices for work, or ask their ex for money, but will accept a handout from a friend (and then blow the lot on a holiday).
Alternatively, maybe she should ask Teresa about her motives. Her friend may have assumed Linda did not mind how it was spent. So, "Where did I go wrong"? It could be any combination of lack of communication, poor judgement and misplaced sympathy.
Next Week's Dilemma
For five years I was happily married, and my husband was a marvellous stepfather to my three girls, then 13, 12 and eight. But when spring-cleaning I found a hole in my eldest daughter's cupboard - my husband had built it. I'm afraid I immediately looked through his things and found he'd taken photographs of her undressing. I was so disgusted I threw him out. My girls were very upset. However, he's always kept in touch with them. The eldest is now getting married and wants him to give her away at the church. I don't think I can bear it. But if I told her what he'd done, surely it would ruin her life?
Yours sincerely, Nicky
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