Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas

 

I have a friend I get on well with, but she never seems to appreciate what I do for her. I visited her in hospital every day and even took her nightdresses home to launder, I had her to stay – and I get no response at all except occasionally a grudging "thank you". I've tried to show her what manners are, so whenever I go to her flat or she does something for me, I email or ring to say how kind she is, and the other day I said I'd like a sign of appreciation occasionally, but she didn't seem to take it in. I feel so resentful all the time. I feel I'm just taken for granted. Yours sincerely, Lisa

Virginia says... Sometimes I think that to "live in hope" is one of the most agonising and painful ways to exist known to man. Partners of terminal cancer patients "live in hope" that there'll be a cure. Girlfriends "live in hope" that their errant boyfriends will return to them and vice versa. I've spent half my life living in hope that people will behave in ways completely different to how they do behave. Surely my best friend will remember my birthday this year? Surely, having had another friend to supper about 10 times, the next time we go out for a pizza he'll offer to pay? Surely, having told them 20 times I don't drink, and what I really want for Christmas is flowers, my old friends won't give me a bottle of champagne for Christmas, again?

I could go on and on. Sometimes I read the letters I get and I can almost hear the sound of the whole world combining in a great wailing whine of hopeless hope.

Indeed, whenever I read of anyone advising, "never give up hope", I feel like punching them on the nose. Because in most cases giving up hope is probably the most sensible, realistic and honest thing you can do. Why do we hope? It's because we feel it's better to "live in hope" than accept the reality of a situation. And the reality, in this case, is that your friend is never going to show any signs of appreciation. She is just not like that. Good heavens, you've even told her that you'd like more than a mumbled "thank you" and she hasn't come up with the goods. What more to do if you want to hammer the point home?

You have to come to terms with the reality. Now it could be that she's a selfish creep. But it could be more complicated. Perhaps when she was small she was always bullied, by a cruel father, to bow and scrape and say thank you for everything and she associates showing appreciation with being forced to behave in ways that didn't come naturally. Perhaps she had a favoured sister who was always being praised for her politeness and, angry and jealous, she resolved never to be like that. Or perhaps she feels that saying "thank you" diminishes her in some catastrophic way you can't understand. Perhaps she feels grateful, but just can't express it.

Whatever, either accept this strange and unmannered creature as your friend, or drop her. The leopard will never change its spots and nor will your friend change her selfish or, more likely, eccentric, behaviour.

 

Readers say...

Why do you do it?

I find myself wondering for whom you are doing this helping. Is it for the benefit of your friend, or is it to meet your own needs? And on what basis do you judge "the occasional thank you" to be "grudging"? I suspect that the problem is that her ability to be grateful falls far short of your need. In other words, the problem lies with you, not her, and so does the solution: you should seek to address the roots of this need.

Ian Hurdley By email

 

Don't expect thanks

As a wife and mum of four youngsters I often feel completely taken for granted and for a time resented that none of the family showed appreciation or even seemed to notice, let alone acknowledge what I did for them. But I still did the chores and had to ask myself, was it better to do them with a light heart or with an inner voice moaning about being an unpaid cook and cleaner? Kind acts should be done out of kindness. If acknowledgement really means so much to you, you must stop helping your friend.

Angela Elliot By email

 

Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia, Two months ago, I broke up with my wife after ten years, and have nearly had a breakdown I've been so upset. It was all her decision. It's all I can do to go into work. But a couple of weeks ago, I met an amazing woman. I've told her I'm not in a position to say whether this relationship will go anywhere because I'm in a turmoil, but she says she understands and just wants to help me. My friends say I'm mad, and should wait at least a year before getting into anything new, but this woman is making me feel happy again. I'm not being stupid, am I? Yours sincerely, Christopher

What would you advise Christopher to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas @independent. co.uk, or go to independent.co.uk/dilemmas. Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers (finewinesellers.co.uk)

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