If you accept, you are being generous and big-minded, it's true - but are you also being a bit of a lowly worm? If you reject the olive branch, yes, you are standing up for yourself - but aren't you also being mean and grudge-hugging?
These were the options that faced Harriet, who came back from holiday to find that what she thought was a good friend had snitched her job behind her back. Now, six months later, Harriet had got a better job in the same business, and the 'good friend' had asked Harriet to lunch. To confuse the issue, Harriet realised she might still be a good business contact professionally. Should she accept?
No, said Anne Crocker of Bath, who stressed that the stomach would be a good barometer of what the right option should be. 'Food shared with a recent betrayer is enough to choke anyone and give them indigestion,' she wrote. 'Only a foundation of long affection or deep love can support forgiveness of treachery. Unless Harriet really wants this woman's friendship, she shouldn't waste her time in cultivating any development. Notions of 'future help in her work' are risible on the evidence and not a healthy basis for burying a hatchet.'
But Jane Williams of Norwich disagreed: 'Replying to her friend's letter or accepting an invitation to lunch would not be demeaning to Harriet,' she wrote. 'Her own dignity would remain intact; she could think of it as a business lunch, and nothing to do with past matters.'
And Roz Bennetts of Muswell Hill, north London, pointed out that 'it takes two to tango . . . It was also very underhand and rather cowardly for Harriet's company to take this decision while she was away on holiday, so she should vent some of her anger on them . . .
'One may raise the question of ethics but the fact is that people play company politics all the time to advance their own position at the expense of somebody else. An individual may decide not to use these tactics for moral reasons, but to pretend that others share the same values and wouldn't stoop to such levels is nave.'
Gillian of Sturminster Newton, Dorset, favoured the bitchy approach. She recommended writing a letter like this: 'Thank you for your congratulations. This really is the job for me - and I have you to thank for it - you didn't realise when you pinched my job what a kindness you were doing. I congratulate you, too, on the way you got the job you were after. Good work] Thanks for the invitation to lunch, but I'm always too busy at that time, meeting friends.'
Were I Harriet's 'friend', I think I might almost prefer such an obvious attack to the scrupulously fair and pained letter that Frank McManus of Todmorden, West Yorkshire, suggested, one which would make me squirm with guilt. 'I might mention that I was pained to find, on returning from my holiday last year, that you had become installed in what had been my job. Against my wishes I found myself unemployed for six months and I do not understand how this came about. Please can you enlighten me? For I don't want to think unfairly about what happened.'
Confrontation, but delivered in a 'being kind to be cruel' way, was also recommended by Natasha Roderick-Jones of Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire. 'If Harriet writes, she should say she feels 'disappointed' in her friend's behaviour and generally let down. Specifically using the word 'disappointed' would help because on one level it's not overtly aggressive and it's also a powerful word which goes to the child in us, since our teachers and parents used to express 'disappointment' in our behaviour.'
She added: 'I think avoiding confronting this issue would be wrong. Oh, we all do it, most of the time, pull in our horns and slope off in our shells muttering mutinously, but from personal experience I think when you feel sufficiently wronged and can summon the energy, you should challenge people whose behaviour you believe to be wrong.'
I think this is the only way. But were I in Harriet's shoes I'd suggest buying her friend a drink instead. It would be awful to open up a frank talk over the rocket salad starter, find the friend had no excuses before the seafood crepe, and still have to chomp through a couple of icy sorbets and coffee making small talk, before deciding whether to fork out, or have to thank a betrayer for the meal. A drink, however, is easy to walk away from, and the buyer always has the upper hand.
There has to be a meeting in order for the olive branch to be examined but a meeting doesn't necessarily mean forgiveness. It does mean that Harriet could understand the situation better. Whether the explanation satisfies her or not is something that only she can decide.
I have a horror of getting old and this week I will be 30. While everyone else is looking forward to the new year, I just count my wrinkles and wonder who on earth will want me. I have always dreaded being 30, and now that it is happening I don't know how I can cope. Do any other readers suffer like I do, from a fear of ageing? And if so, do they have any ideas of how to cope with it?
Best wishes, Michelle
Please send your comments and suggestions to me at the Features Department, the Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB; fax 071-956 1739, by 4 January before noon. And if you have any dilemmas you would like to share with readers, let me know. I will report back on Thursday 6 January.Reuse content