I live in New York and have been in the same group of friends since graduating from college 25 years ago. We get together once a month in the city for lunch or dinner. Cynthia, one of my favorite women in this group, remarried about a year ago after a very unhappy 16 year marriage and bitter custody battle that lasted almost 3 years.
Her new husband is a successful investment banker. They aren’t extremely wealthy by New York standards, but let’s just say they are doing very well and she is certainly more well-off than in her previous marriage or since she divorced (she is a teacher so does not earn very much money). Most of the ladies in our group are middle to upper-middle class.
While I am very happy for Cynthia, she has developed a habit that I find frustrating and distracting: name dropping and brand and price dropping. She is continually chatting on about her new fancy friends who are fairly well-known in NYC social circles and pointing out the brands and prices of clothes, purses and shoes she wears to our monthly get-together. She is also constantly shoving her iPhone in everyone’s face to look at her vacation photos or shots from her big new kitchen remodel of his home in the Hamptons.
Robin, Cynthia is from a working-class family in Ohio. She was never like this before. Everyone is now rolling their eyes and wondering if we should extract her from the group or at least confront her at our next lunch. What is your opinion?
Plain Jane in NYC
Some people don’t know the difference between value and cost. At first blush, it appears Cynthia may be one of those people.
However, because I have more holistic process than any other advice-givers out there, I had a series of email exchanges with you a couple weeks ago to delve a little deeper. It is odd that a woman of 44 would make such a sudden shift in her valuation paradigm.
You gave me more details, including:
1. Most of the marital assets were spent on legal fees and your friend struggled to stay afloat financially for years after the divorce;
2. Cynthia lost her custody battle because she was drinking too much during the divorce and did some things I won’t go into here that greatly impacted the case in her husband’s favor. Cynthia is not normally much of a drinker but this is how she dealt with the pain of her family breaking apart.
She got her shit together (back to just the occasional drinks) and was recently able to negotiate 50/50 parenting time with her ex-husband, but for several years she only had her kids roughly 35% of the time.
3. As you mentioned, she grew up in a working-class family and for years felt intimated by women who came from more monied backgrounds, including several gals in your group. Her father died when she was in high school and her mother worked two jobs to put Cynthia and her brother through college. She usually wore clothes from a second-hand store and worked at night for three of the four years of college.
Jane, I think you need to cut Cynthia a little slack here. From what you told me she has always been a good friend and a down-to-earth woman. This venture into Bitchy Rich Bitchland is more likely a temporary detour than a final destination.
You women sound a bit heartless to me, seeing as how the two options being considered are freezing her out or “confronting” her en masse. What is it about groups of females that often turns them into a vicious pack of blood-thirsty hyenas? Have their cycles synched and everyone is PMS-ing simultaneously? I’ve seen this time and time again – it’s always someone’s turn to be the odd gal out and now it’s Cynthia.
In fact, you told me you heard some of the women were gossiping about your recent weight loss last year (“is it cancer? is she having an affair?”), and a few years ago a rumor started that another member of the group was cheating on her husband because they saw her having lunch with her boss in a hotel restaurant. Apparently you all chit-chat via email when you aren’t lunching together, and the chains can get pretty salacious and accusatory.
Yikes. You guys need to grow up and start being nicer to each other. Have you considered auditioning for The Real Housewives of Petty Bitch Junction?
Below, please behold my advice. I think it will work and everything will go back to normal, or your little Mean Girls’ Club version of normal anyway.
1. Invite Cynthia over to your home for a cocktail. Normally I would suggest wine, but since I just gave up wine for 28 days I can’t suggest anyone else drink it or I’ll have jealous fits.
2. Make and memorize a list of specific examples illustrating Cynthia’s new annoying bragging habit. You owe it to her to be very direct but in a kind way.
3. Leave the other women and their opinions out of it. Nothing will make a person more defensive and less likely to absorb your words than pulling that grade-school bullshit. If those women want to speak for themselves, they should. But this conversation should be about your reactions to Cynthia’s new obsession with social status, things and money, not anyone else’s.
4. Tell Cynthia you don’t really think she is this shallow and make some inquiries. How is she adjusting to her new marriage and custody schedule? How are the kids and her husband handling the changes? Does she feel insecure around the new group of wealthy women that came with her recent marriage and with whom she needs to socialize because of his job? Is it weird for her adjusting to such a different economic situation?
In other words, ask her questions and listen to her answers. Instead of coming at her with “you are doing this and it bothers me,” try “you aren’t acting like yourself and I’m concerned about you – what’s going on?” Remind her that you love her for who she is, not what she has. I think you’ll get to the bottom of this fairly quickly, along with the bottom of the vodka bottle.
5. Call her a cab to take her home, because drunk driving is stupid.
6. Tell the other women you are not interested in an accusation gang-bang nor in excluding Cynthia from the toxic stew of jealousy, resentment and judgey-ness that comprises your lunch group. Feel free to share that you intend to have a private conversation with Cynthia and everyone can judge for themselves what road to take if the obnoxious price-checking and name dropping continues unabated, despite the magnificent pearls of wisdom I hath delivered unto you.
7. If she is open to your dialogue and discontinues the brag-fest, great! If not, you need to decide whether the positives this woman possesses outweigh these new negatives. Nobody’s perfect, and sometimes good friends are worth keeping even if they have characteristics that drive you a little crazy. Ask my two friends, they will concur.
Please check back and let me know what happens!