Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: The perils of playing peacemaker

A well-meaning friend finds herself in the precarious role of peacemaker. It's a wobbly tightrope, says Virginia, and there's no easy way down.

Share

Dear Virginia,

I’ve got two friends who I really like, but they often find it hard getting on with each other and are always falling out. Elisa showed me an email she’d written to Valerie, written in the heat of the moment – but luckily she hadn’t sent it – and I said she couldn’t possibly send it and I re-wrote it. She sent it off and now Valerie has received this email, and has asked me how to reply. In one way I feel pleased with myself to be playing the role of peacemaker, but in another way I'm feeling I’m betraying both of them and wish I hadn’t got involved. Can you advise?

 

Yours sincerely,

Eleanor

Virginia says...

Playing the role of the peacemaker is precarious.  It’s as if you’re walking a tightrope between the two antagonists, and either one has only to shake a bit their end and you can easily fall off. My feeling is that you should extricate yourself from this role as double agent as soon as possible. It’s time, perhaps,  to advise Valerie to do absolutely nothing and leave it at that.

The problem with so many friends, I find, is that it is so easy to understand their point of view. When there’s a falling out, you can clearly see why they’re outraged by the other friend’s behaviour. But then, when you hear the story from a different angle, you can sympathise completely with the views of the other person. So you’re in the horrible position of being on both their sides, and understanding completely why each one is in a rage,

Stop this conciliatory letter-writing, which will, in the end, result in your writing emails to and from yourself. Imagine the terrible charges of betrayal that would be lobbed at you if either found out what you were up to. It’s not worth risking. You’d lose two friends at a single stroke and, who knows, they might gang up on you. True, you’d have brought peace between them at last, but at what a price!

Instead, might it not be worth trying, very gently, while still sticking firmly on each of their sides, to point out how the other person feels? Once they can put themselves in the other person’s shoes, then usually the whole situation cools down. It’s like adding butter to flour and milk. The butter can “understand” and get on with both the flour and the milk separately, though the ingredients themselves can’t get on with each other. Think of yourself as the butter in the middle, and put the other point of view, hoping, of course, that it won’t sound as if you’re being disloyal.

“It’s mad, of course,” you can say, “and I abhor what she’s done, but bear in mind her father’s just died, that she’s just moved house, she’s completely unhinged…”

By trying to make each more compassionate and understanding you will, actually, be putting each of them in a position of power, turning them both into mature, paternalistic characters who are worldly wise and full of forgiveness, rather than hysterical children who are hurting and squawking. In the end, this is always a preferable position to be in. It makes people feel good about themselves.

Readers say...

Leave them to it

You might feel flattered that your friends are relying on you but it’s likely that both of them are trying to get you to pick sides. By confiding in you about these emails, they’re sending the message that they’d rather form a team with you than build a bridge between themselves.

The fact that you re-wrote the initial message suggests that it’s suiting you quite well to be pulled between them. Perhaps you're afraid that if they sort out their differences they’ll get on too well, and you’ll be left out. It can feel pretty unsettling to have potentially nasty emails directed at you (especially when they’ve been written by two people). It’s not your place to meddle in their friendship. If they can’t sort things out, see each of them separately and don’t talk about the other.

Sarah Rudston, by email

It’s time to own up

You're now risking losing two friends rather than reconciling them. Admit to what you’ve been doing and explain you only wanted to help but now feel disloyal to both. This situation will only become more complex and liable to end badly the longer you keep up the charade.

Alvin Tannenbaum, Glasgow

 

Next week’s  dilemma

Dear Virginia,

My cousin, who’s in her forties, is a devoted follower of a very questionable guru who gives her a feeling of wellbeing as he tells her she is saving the world etc. as she raises money and support for him and his teachings. She needs a car to do this. I get on very well with her, but she refuses to spend money on her car insurance and instead gives it to her guru. She said if I thought it was wrong I should organise lifts for her!  I feel I should report her behind her back, but I know that if I did our friendship would be over. What can I do?

Yours sincerely,

Lee

What would you advise Lee to do?

Email your dilemmas  and comments to Email dilemmas@independent.co.uk. Anyone whose advice is quoted will  receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers.

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you familiar with the sayin...

Recruitment Genius: Hospitality Assistant

£6 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker

£6 - £7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

Should Eleanor stick it out as a peacemaker?

Read Next
A Protein World advert displayed in an underground station in London which says  

Protein World’s advert 'not offensive'? Try telling that to the 70,000 people who signed the petition to ban it

Anna Cafolla
A Palestinian child screams in pain at the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip after she was hit by shrapnel during an Israeli military strike near her family house  

As a surgeon who worked in Gaza last year, hearing that 511 Palestinians died after their ambulances were obstructed doesn't surprise me

Ghassan Abu Sittah
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most