I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

Lucinda Rosenfeld at Double X answers a woman who was slipped a Mickey and was abandoned by her friends:

Wow, that’s a tough call. A spouse or even a boyfriend? Yes, it would be his or her duty to haul ass to said hospital at 4 a.m. But your single female friends who are already, presumably tucked in their beddy-bies? I have to admit that, if I got a call like yours (or your mother’s) in the middle of the night, I’d do what I could from home, but would be hard-pressed to jump in my car until morning.

For one thing, it’s not even necessarily safe—depending on where you live and how far you live from the hospital—for a woman to head out alone at that hour. For another, presumably, by the time your mother called you were out of danger. Yes, overnights at the E.R. are the opposite of fun. So are disastrous drug trips. (I had one in my twenties, which pretty much sealed my fate as an illegal-substance ninny.) But only nuns make it out of youth without a few ambulance rides.

Here’s a little secret. BFFs are great when you’re upset about a boy/sick cat/whatnot. But there are limits to friendship—limits that don’t apply to our romantic partners or close family members. What I fault your friends for is not driving you all the way home the next morning, or at least following you there to make sure you got through the door on two feet. I also wish they’d been a less critical of what was, by your account, a freak incident. Why were they so unforgiving? I’d wager a guess that they think you’re lying about the mickey, tales of which are sometimes used as a cover for irresponsible behavior. (Only you know the truth.)

If your buddies refuse to believe your account, it might be time to reexamine the friendships.

Jezebel:

Ouch — apparently if you’re single, and don’t have a willing mom, you are SOL if you need middle-of-the-night help. Or, as commenter L.S. Newfarmer eloquently puts it, “The message of your advice seems to be: if you expect to have someone there for you, find a boyfriend or live close to your mother.” I have to admit, when I’ve been in relationships, I’ve tended to dial my boyfriend first if I need a difficult favor (like a ride to the hospital late at night). That said, I’ve also relied on my friends during both single and non-single periods for everything from midnight reassurances to last-minute apartment visits in faraway cities, and I think this might actually be healthier.

While it’s nice to have someone who will drive you to the ER at 4 a.m., this isn’t necessarily the best basis for a romantic relationship. Plenty of people, myself included at times, are willing to stay with a partner for the safety he/she provides — but friendships can provide this safety too. And being the only person your significant other can rely on creates a lot of stress in a relationship. Maybe one reason for the famed isolation of American life — and the equally famous (if slightly specious) excessive expectations American place on marriage and coupledom — is that too many people believe, like Rosenfeld, that you can depend on a boyfriend but not a friend.

Commenters at Double X responded. Rosenfeld responded to them:

I’m sorry I offended so many people with my response to “Drugged” (Friend or Foe, October 12 ’09). Reading through the comments this evening—as I tried to make sense of the outpouring of fury—I was struck by how many readers seemed to be hearing echoes of date rape or sexual abuse in “Drugged’s” story. I have to admit, I did not think of that at the time. There is no evidence in her letter that she was a victim of a sex crime. And I believe that if she had been, or thought she had been, she would have alluded to it in the letter. All we know is that something she drank caused her to pass out. Moreover, had I believed for a second that she’d been assaulted, I would have responded in an entirely different manner.

It seemed to me that, by the time “Drugged” called, she was out of physical danger and simply frightened and upset. This doesn’t mean that she did not deserve sympathy—only that her friends were not being asked to sit vigil as she hovered between life and death (in which case, yes, they definitely would have needed to be there, no matter what the hour). Why am I so sure she was out of danger? Not only did she place the initial phone call, but there is no mention of her having her stomach pumped—only that she was in the emergency room and, presumably, being watched, in a safe environment, by medical professionals.

I suppose part of me suspected that I wasn’t getting the full story, and that colored my answer. Why? The fact that “Drugged’s” friends were described as “angry” the next morning made me think that there might be a back story we weren’t hearing. I’m not suggesting that the writer is lying about what happened. But possibly she has asked favors like this more than once or twice in recent years. Otherwise, there is no reasonable explanation for why her close friends would be anything less than sympathetic for what was, by all accounts, an awful night. Unless they’re simply nasty people. Which, in turn, begs the question: How did they become “Drugged’s” best friends?

I know many of us assume we would jump out of bed after that call. But how many of you would actually, honestly get out of bed and get dressed at 4 a.m. and drive to the hospital to keep your close friend company while she recovered? And it is not really clear what she is recovering from. It’s hard to tell from the letter. Some of you would be there no matter what, I’m sure. But definitely not all of you, in every circumstance, for every friend. At least if you’re being honest with yourselves.

I was being intentionally flip in suggesting that girl friends are best when your cat is sick, etc. The point I wanted to make is that there are limits to what you can ask of people who are not related to you. (Or, at least, you can ask—but you might well get a “no.”) I don’t actually believe that commiserating over sick pets is all close friends are capable of—far from it. Apparently this little joke did not translate. I’m sorry about that, too.

Finally, to those calling for my dismissal, all I can say is: If you don’t like the column, don’t read it! I sort through scores of letters in search of ones that will provoke debate on the site. Apparently, this one has done exactly that. So maybe I’ve done my job, after all.

Jezebel

Lindsay Beyerstein:

The self-proclaimed feminist website Double-X shrewdly hired noted sociopath Lucinda Rosenfeld to write its friendship column. This is precisely the kind of fresh, contrarian perspective we’ve come to expect from the Slate/Double-X brand.

Double-X racks up a lot of hits by hiring anti-feminists to diagnose the ills of contemporary feminism. Retaining a psychopath as a friendship guru is the logical next step.

Before taking the gig at Double-X, Rosenfeld produced a substantial body of anti-friend literature, including a novel about friends who despise each other (the official website even lets you stick pins in a flash voodoo doll!). She’s also the author of How to Dump a Friend (2001) and Our Mutual Friend: how to steal friends and influence people (2004). Clearly, she’s perfect for the job.

If the letter-writer were asking me, my utterly predictable, non-controversial response would be to tell her to get some new friends. Plodder that I am, I’d repeat the received feminist wisdom (/ethical person wisdom) that it’s very, very wrong to shrug off the abrupt disappearance of a friend.

As for the ER, well, I warned you that I’m really boring. Basically, if you know me well enough to remember my number, drunk off your ass in the middle of the night, I’ll come get you at the hospital. Heck, if my number is even in your phone, you can bet I won’t just leave you at the county general. Then again, I was raised by hippies and steeped in annoyingly traditional values like loyalty and community. Snore.

Rosenfeld isn’t afraid to turn the conventional wisdom on its head. Her advice: Harden the fuck up, loser. Don’t expect anyone to rescue you from the ER unless you’re related by blood or exchanging other bodily fluids on a regular basis. Please understand that if your rational, self-interested friends seem a little hostile, it’s only because they sense it’s your fault

Ann Althouse on Beyerstein:

But who would want to read a column that simply counseled people in the obvious? You should be a good and caring friend — which Beyerstein hastens to tell us she sure is. Beyerstein acknowledges that the advice she’d give the letter writer (whose friends abandoned her when she was in need) would be boring. So you’d have to find a different letter to write about, wouldn’t you?

You have to come up with something surprising for the column to be readable. Here‘s the Rosenfeld column in question. Not that I’m interested in reading advice columns, but I do think female friendships are a fascinating subject for incisive analysis. It’s a feminist topic, but I’d like some analysis that’s scarily honest and unlubricated by feminist treacle.

Spencer Ackerman:

Here’s a little secret, Lucinda Rosenfeld: you are a horrible human being. Dear everyone who thinks Lucinda Rosenfeld is his or her friend: never ever rely on his wretched woman for anything ever. If Lucinda Rosenfeld has any pets, for their own sake, I hope they manage to escape.

Rosenfeld later sort-of apologized, but managed to make things worse in the process:

“Reading through the comments this evening—as I tried to make sense of the outpouring of fury—I was struck by how many readers seemed to be hearing echoes of date rape or sexual abuse in “Drugged’s” story. I have to admit, I did not think of that at the time. There is no evidence in her letter that she was a victim of a sex crime.”

Raise your hand if probable sexual abuse was the very first thing that occurred to you when you read this poor woman’s account. But Rosenfeld isn’t actually interested in other people. She’s interested in retracing her thought process and finding… nope, she did everything right. Here Lucinda Rosenfeld signs off:

“Finally, to those calling for my dismissal, all I can say is: If you don’t like the column, don’t read it! I sort through scores of letters in search of ones that will provoke debate on the site. Apparently, this one has done exactly that. So maybe I’ve done my job, after all.”

She did her job! With a playful exclamation point, silly! What could possibly have gone wrong? How could you be upset by what she wrote? What’s the matter with you? Don’t you believe in provocation and open debate?

What’s amazing is that someone edited this column. Possibly more than one person. No one had a problem with printing this.  This is what Double-X wants its website to be.

Julian Sanchez:

Via Spencer and Lindsay Beyerstein, apparently Double-X has hired some kind of sociopath as a “friendship advice” columnist. And by “sociopath,” I mean the sort of person who thinks that it’s too much to ask that putative friends (a) not ditch another friend who mysteriously vanishes in a state of obvious distress on a night out, and (b) actually go to pick her up at the hospital when she calls to let them know she’s been roofied—which, unless there’s some fad for using incapacitating drugs as random pranks that escaped my radar, tends to be a prelude to sexual assault. Because “there are limits to friendship”.  Friendship?  Jesus, that’s the minimum I’d do for someone I barely knew in a situation like that. Hell, it’s the minimum I’d do for someone who’d taken some drugs on purpose in an attack of poor judgment. It’s what any remotely decent, adequately socialized person would do.  How on earth could you hire someone to whom this isn’t just gobsmackingly obvious to write an advice column about friendship?

[...]

Ok, I can’t help myself. So in the apology, she excuses herself for not seeing the obvious “potential sexual assault” angle because she assumes that if the writer had been sexually assaulted, or had waken up in a state of drugged confusion understandably uncertain about whether she had been, surely she would have said so explicitly.  I guess because it’s inconceivable that someone might have trouble putting that down on paper. But she’s totally willing to read between the lines and infer that there’s some other side of the story her correspondent is leaving out—like, you know, maybe she does this sort of thing all the time!  Humanity FAIL.

James Joyner:

My grad school buddy Wayne, a retired Green Beret, says that men make what he terms Bozeman, Montana friends.  We may move across the country and fail to keep in touch but, if we were to get a phone call in the middle of the night from one of them after not hearing from them for three years saying, “I’m in jail in Bozeman, Montana and need you to wire me $2000,” our only question would be about how to get him the funds and we’d be on the phone to Western Union two minutes later. Women, by contrast, tend to make more intimate connections and to be more likely to held grudges over things like not having heard from somebody in three years.

I think that’s right in the aggregate. But, surely, most women would come to the aid of gal pals who have been drugged and taken to the hospital.  No?

Mary Carmichael at Newsweek:

Reportedly, some other Double X staffers are preparing a follow-up post to the initial column. I’ll be watching the site closely for it to post, and when it does, I hope it acknowledges this simple truth: the proper response to a woman who thinks she’s been drugged, then left passed out on the sidewalk, then abandoned again by friends who can’t be bothered to visit her in the hospital is not “Suck it up, if you’re even telling the truth.” It’s “I’m so sorry.” It’s “You should get some better BFFs.” And maybe it’s “Watch your drink—and your drinking—more carefully next time.”

I’m sure Rosenfeld would have said all these things if the woman in her column had been a personal friend. But the actual woman who wrote to her deserves that kind of courtesy, too. So do all of us.

UPDATE: E.D Kain at The League

UPDATE #2: Scott Lemieux

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