Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: My friend now won't speak to me and says I betrayed her

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Dear Virginia, My friend told me that she, her boyfriend and their daughter were thinking of moving to Australia, and had started looking at houses on the internet. Unfortunately, when I spoke to her mother and asked how she felt about them emigrating, she was horrified: they hadn't told her. My friend now won't speak to me and says I betrayed her – but she never told me not to tell anyone. How can I make things all right? Yours sincerely, Sandra

Isn't it interesting how much easier it is to experience rage on behalf of another person, rather than to feel it oneself? It is, of course, you, Sandra, who should be feeling furious, not the other way round, and yet it is you who feel irrationally guilty, and you are the one who is trying so hard to make everything all right. I'm the one who's hopping up and down with rage on your behalf!

I'm afraid you've already missed the opportunity for the best response of all. That would have been, the minute you put down the phone from her weeping mother, to have rung your friend and torn her off a strip for putting you in such a horrible position. "How dare you make me the instrument of causing your mother to suffer so much!" you should have raged. "Why on earth didn't you tell me to keep completely quiet about your mad plans?"

In that case, it would have been you who would, quite rightly, be waiting at home for the flowers and the apologetic note, not the other way around.

Think how badly your friend has behaved. Surely, her mother should be the first to know of her plans and not the last... and anyway, the fact that the poor woman has had to hear it from you must make the whole thing doubly upsetting. For a woman to lose a daughter to Australia would be unbearably painful, and to lose a beloved granddaughter as well would only compound the agony. But to hear it all first from a third party – ouch!

Of course, it may have been that, subconsciously, your friend knew in some way that you'd tell her mother. Telling you first might well have been a ruse to wriggle out of breaking the news to her herself. There may an element of "shoot the messenger" about all this, and by deviously getting you to deliver the bombshell, she hoped that some of her mother's rage and initial misery might be directed away from her and on to you.

Of course, if you want to make things "all right" with this woman, you could wait a little while and then write a grovelling letter to explain that you never intended to betray her at all, and that you'd never have dreamt of mentioning it to her mother if you'd known she was being kept in the dark.

And if you want to make things "sort of" all right, without swallowing your pride completely and getting in a tiny bit of revenge as well, you could write an apologetic letter to her mother, but making it clear, without openly accusing her daughter, that the last thing you wanted to do was to hurt her. Indeed, you might add a bit of insult to injury by commiserating with her about how utterly frightful it will be for her, saying perhaps, that if she is lonely in future you, at least, are always "there for her" – the unwritten PS being, "unlike some".

But are you really sure that you want to make things "all right" with a woman whose insensitive negligence has put you in such an unpleasant situation? If I were you, I'd feel like sending her as many web addresses of cheap flights and cheap houses as possible, and hope that the sooner she leaves this country, the better. Good riddance.

READERS SAY

Your friend is ashamed
It sounds as if the friend is livid with herself and taking it out on Sandra. We get upset by those who mean the most to us, and the friend's sins of omission, keeping her mother in the dark and not telling Sandra it was confidential, involve two people very close to her heart. She is ashamed and embarrassed. Right now, Sandra will be the last person she wants to see. All Sandra can do is wait until the friend gets some perspective on the situation. Meanwhile, Sandra could send a little note apologising again for the inadvertent error; say how she values the friendship, and should the friend ever wish to resume it, Sandra would love to hear from her. Name and address supplied

Don't beat yourself up
Presumably, you do not have the gift of second sight. And your friend did not utter the magic words: "I'm keeping this all a bit hush-hush", so there is no need to beat yourself up over this. You let the cat out of the bag, inadvertently upset both mother and daughter, and now the claws are out for you. If you want to make things right, just try apologising – to the Mum for dropping a life-changing bombshell on her and the daughter for pre-empting the news that she should actually have shared with her family before casually discussing it with her friends. Linda Hine, Liskeard, Cornwall

Apologise – then move on
Don't blame yourself. Obviously, your friend's Mum has not taken the news well and, to add insult to injury, she had to hear about it from someone else. I would suggest you leave it for a few weeks to see if your friend contacts you. If not, then drop her a line, saying how sorry you are that this has caused a rift between you, but that she must accept some responsibility for what happened. If she still cannot accept your olive branch, then I would suggest you move on with your life – you will have done your best to heal the rift. Claire Jones, Leicester

You're not at fault
Don't beat yourself up – if anyone is at fault here, it is your friend. She needs a scapegoat for all the upset the news has caused; unfortunately, you are it. Give her a while to calm down; she may come to realise she has treated you unfairly. If you do not hear from her, you could send a note, saying you are not happy about the way things are between you, but I do not think you should have to beg for forgiveness. If she is not prepared to meet you half-way, she is clearly a friend not worth having. Linda Acaster, Leicester

Give it a few days
No real harm has been done. After all, your friend was going to have to tell her mother at some point. Give it a few days for the dust to settle and then pop round with some wine and flowers and tell her that you had not realised that she had not told her mother about her plans. Tell her that you were feeling upset, because you will miss her and hope that all is forgiven. If she refuses to accept your apology, then there is very little you can do, other than wish her luck, and hope that in time she will come to realise how much your friendship means to her. Name and address supplied



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