Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: Busy body

A busy, new friend keeps cancelling their arrangements. Is she trying to tell this reader something? Or is our reader just feeling insecure?

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia,

Six months ago I made what I thought was a new friend. Since then we've met up a few times, but each time she's either late or she cancels at the last minute or wants to rearrange things. When we meet it's clear she enjoys our meetings just as much as I do, but I'm starting to wonder why she behaves like this. I keep thinking I must have done something wrong, or that she doesn't really want to see me. I don't want to make a fuss because I know she's busy, but should I have it out with her? I feel so second-best.

Yours sincerely,


Which of us has not felt like you at some point in our lives? I have a kind of Greek chorus in my brain that sings, after every imagined slight: “What have I done?” “Is it my fault?” “What can I do to make it better?” “I didn’t mean it.”

The Greek chorus is wrong. Firstly, it assumes that everything centres around you, that you are, somehow, the centre of the universe. Even if an earthquake were to occur, there’d be a bit of you that would be wondering if it wasn’t in some way your fault.

Having spent, as I say most of my life listening to these unpleasant voices, it’s only recently dawned on me that actually it isn’t me. It’s everyone. Your friend behaves like this – to everyone. It’s not “just you”. Nearly every impression you have of someone, however brief – that they’re remote, sly, warm, aloof and so on, – is 95 per cent certain to be shared by everyone in their circle, at work and at home.

Secondly, perhaps she really is busy. Can’t you just accept that? Don’t demean yourself by putting yourself into a hierarchy by calling yourself “second-best”. Once you give yourself status in people’s lives, you’re bound to be disappointed. She’s very busy and she tries to fit you in because she likes you and sometimes it doesn’t work out.

But if you can’t help feeling you’re second-best, again so what? Perhaps you are second-best. Perhaps there is a whole raft of friends who feel they’re third- and fourth-best. Second best is just where you fit into her hierarchy  of friends.

When someone complained to me that I was busy and didn’t have time for her, I answered honestly. “Yes, I am busy and I don’t have time for so many of my friends that I’d love to see more of,” I said. “It’s a pity.”

And what do you do when work comes up that interrupts a plan you have with friends? Do you put them first? Most of us can’t afford the luxury, particularly if we’re self-employed and it could well be that she is. And if it annoys you her being late, why don’t you try being late now and again and see how she reacts?

In truth, I doubt very much if your friend pays a great deal of attention to what you feel or do. She’s a busy person who enjoys seeing you now and again. She behaves like this to everyone. No more nor less than that.

Readers say...

Try saying no

Your new friend is unreliable, controlling and rude. She may appear to be kind and friendly but needs your company on her terms. Ask yourself if you need this kind of dominance that ends in disappointment and a feeling of unworthiness. It is fashionable today for people to be self-centred, always on the lookout for what they think is something better than what is on offer. They use people. Try saying no when she changes a plan.

Lesley Hogg, by email

Why does it hurt so?

You do sound as though you are second-best. Or third-best or even lower if you are being stood up a lot. You could complain that she is often late, but she won’t change her priorities because you don’t like them.

The question for you is not: why am I not important to her? but, why is she so important to me? Are you very lonely? Are you romantically drawn to her? What does she mean to you that you should care so much? Are you living for the times when you see her and bitterly disappointed when you don’t? And if so, why?

Look into your own heart to find what you want and use your mind to plan how to get there.

Sally Eva, by email

Next week’s  dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I promised my father that when he died I would destroy all correspondence between him and my late mother. He’d kept all the old love letters and it used to comfort him to read them through. But now he’s died and before getting rid of the letters, I read them. I realise I have a wonderful set of documents. They are touching, funny, charming… and I feel sure I could get them published. No one else knows of the promise I made. I could really do with a bit of money, but wonder if I should keep my promise or try to get them made into a book?

Yours sincerely,


What would you advise Ellie to do?

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