Virginia Ironside's dilemmas: Working together has affected our friendship

"She has clearly got the wrong end of the stick about your financial arrangements, and doesn’t value the history of your friendship enough to explain herself"

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia,

I employed an old friend on a freelance basis for some creative work in my small consulting business. I was able to secure some interesting contracts, which we worked on together happily for three years. Our fees were fixed in advance – not much, but it was interesting work. Then suddenly it became clear she thought I was exploiting her in some way and she left. Now she has pretty much cut me dead. My children miss someone they loved. And I miss a friendship that lasted more than 40 years. Is this the end of the road or is there something else I can do?

Yours sincerely, Jean

Virginia says...

Either your friend has had some kind of breakdown or there’s been a misunderstanding here. I wonder if’s she’s heard from some third party that, rather than eking out a living, you were actually raking the stuff in and carrying it off to a secret vault by the bucketload? Or perhaps she has been misinformed that you’re an exploitative type? Or could she have been told something you said about her? There could be all kinds of muddles.

The other thing to consider is whether she has a reputation for doing this to her friends and colleagues after a certain period. I had a friend who divorced seven times, until he saw an analyst who explained that he always left his wives after three years because he himself had been left by his mother at the age of three. He left his wives just before the three years were up, to avoid them leaving him. Once he understood this, his eighth marriage lasted till his death.

Has your friend got some kind of switch in her, triggered by some old memory, so that, after a certain time, she feels she is bound to be left or betrayed so she is compelled to invent reasons to get the betraying and leaving in first?

Have you discussed this with mutual friends to whom she may have unburdened her grievances? Has she got a husband or child who might be able to speak on her behalf, or have you been painted as a monster by the whole family? Have you actually been round to her home and asked if you can discuss this face to face? You don’t say how old your children are, but presumably old enough to drop her a line saying they miss her and asking her over to tea. Letters in childish hands are rather difficult to resist.

If, after making a final push to get her to tell you what’s wrong, you get precisely nowhere, I would give up. It’s just not worth banging your head against a brick wall. And if I were you, I’d feel angry. Here is a woman who clearly has got the wrong end of the stick about your financial arrangements, who doesn’t even value the history of your friendship enough to explain herself or tell you what her gripe is. She is prepared to sacrifice 40 years of friendship because she is unwilling or, more likely, too frightened, to tell you what’s wrong. Do you really want someone like this as a friend? A moral coward, a pitiful tortoise which, the minute something goes wrong, retreats into its shell despite the array of tempting lettuce leaves waggled in front of its dim little head?

It’s sad, but sometimes friendships have to be left to wither. Either we, or the other person, become too complicated to make the relationship work. Trying to resuscitate it becomes counterproductive because the angrier you get as you fail at reviving it, the more the anger erodes it – tainting it, even if, in the end, you do succeed.

Readers say...

She can’t forgive you

Yes, it seems as though you will have to accept your friend’s decision to end your friendship. However misjudged she may be, she is clearly very hurt by what she views as your “exploitation” of her as a friend and colleague. I am guessing that you have tried to explain your position to her through your emails, but, to feel so greatly taken advantage of by someone you believed to be a friend takes a lot of forgiving. Your friend is not yet at a stage to forgive you.

Bev Hughes, by email

There’s more to this story

Forty years of friendship seems an awful lot to throw away over a misunderstanding. Are you sure there isn’t more to it than that? She clearly feels very strongly about something in order to just disappear off the radar and not return your calls, without letting you clear things up. Maybe you could call round to her home and speak to her face to face to see if you can sort it out.

Angela Laird, by email

You should apologise

You say that your fees were fixed in advance,  and that they weren’t much but the work was interesting. But it was your business, so unless you were under-pricing to a large extent, you must have been raking in substantial profits. If this is the case, your former colleague is right to feel that she has been exploited, especially as you were relying on her creativity.

The solution is to say sorry and offer her a fair share of the profits. If you and your friend were the only ones involved in creativity, then I think one-third would be a reasonable percentage. If your profits were not very high, you could explain that you had not been exploiting your friend, but nevertheless you feel she is entitled to a profit share, even if this is a meagre figure.

Malcolm Howard, by email

Examine your conscience

You sound very sure that you are in the right in this dispute with your former friend. I’m sure you value her opinion, as you’ve been friends for so long, so I think you need to put yourself in her shoes and think long and hard about whether she might actually have a case and you have been unfair to her.

S Wang, by email

Next week's dilemma

My girlfriend is pathologically late for everything. Oddly, she is always on time when she’s working, where it’s important that deadlines are met, but with me and her close family she is often up to an hour late. I’ve tried changing the clocks at home, and even changed her watch, which worked for a week, but long-term, nothing works. I’m trying to live with it because I love her very much and she loves me, but sometimes I get so exasperated. We always get to theatres five minutes after the curtain’s gone up and recently arrived at the interval. She doesn’t seem to be able to explain it. Can you?

Yours sincerely,


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