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Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

I have a ‘friend’ who, despite being 30 years old, lives with her parents and continues to act, at all times, like a melodramatic child. I will call her Mary.

Mary and I met at university. She was a bit batty but she could be jolly good fun. However, as the years passed and her frustrations at her ailing career and love life grew, she became increasingly histrionic and volatile, lashing out easily over what she perceived as any slights against her, which in turn resulted in my cutting our contact down to a bare minimum.

We broke off our youthful friendship, rather dramatically, in our early 20s, after I found a very expensive make-up compact of mine sitting, totally unconcealed, on the sink in the bathroom of her parent’s home. Mary had been with me when I discovered it was lost, and she had seen me turn my place totally upside down looking for it. It was a gift from a dear friend who lived interstate and I was gutted to have lost it.

And yet there it was, several months later, obviously heavily used, in Mary’s bathroom. It was a collector’s item and I knew for a fact she did not have the same one. I confronted her about it, with the compact in hand, and can you imagine what she said?

Without a beat or an inch of shame: “Well I’m glad you took it back, I thought the colours looked cheap on me anyway.”


I was livid. And worst of all I was stuck overnight with this thieving loon as her parents lived a few hours away from my home. I left the next day, vowed not to see her again, and didn’t, for years.

Eventually we both got older and, putting down that incident to a wild time in both our pasts – we did tend to party a lot in those days – I started to chat to Mary again as we had mutual friends.

Boy, I did I regret it. I quickly learned she had zero manners – zero – where my newly-purchased apartment was concerned. At first it was small things, like dropping food over the couch and on the floor and leaving it there, staring at it, but not picking it up, and ashing her cigarettes all over my house. And then it got worse.

She’d pick up ornamental jars of vintage candy I had placed in my kitchen and, despite being told to put them down, shake them repeatedly like a kid at Christmas. I pleadingly explained that I had spent some time arranging the candy wrappers inside the jars just so, but she became obsessed with shaking them the second I turned away, and would just do it again and again. Once, she even quickly ate some of the candy, which was over sixty years old.

On one particularly irritating day, against my better judgement I had Mary over to dinner. She insisted on making dessert and so brought over some chocolate, custard and cake to make into a quick trifle. However she cut the chocolate and cake into pieces on my bench top, with no chopping board, leaving long, chocolate-y cuts all through the wood, and then she’d thrown the chocolate encrusted knife straight back in the drawer. She’d also made a wild mess by pulling a bag of crushed nuts upside down from pantry and just leaving the trail behind her. Naturally she served this dessert in my antique champagne glasses even though I’d left out dessert bowls.

After that experience I was rather lax in inviting Mary over again, but one day I sadly relented, having fallen for her wailed excuses of feeling down following a break up.

We got to talking, light heartedly, about our failings in relationships, and she listed some of mine. It was a harsh but true comment, so I laughed and agreed. I then told Mary that her main failing was a lack of self-awareness – she often didn’t notice she’d pushed people a little too far.

Suddenly, she turned ice cold, got up, spun on her heel, slammed the door, and left.

Obviously, I had offended her. As she’d said something just as candid to me, I let it go and decided my relationship with this woman was truly, truly was done.

The next day my buzzer rang and there was Mary at the door, calmly telling me she’d left her sunglasses behind the night before.

She hadn’t, but I let her in to look, and what followed I can only describe as lunacy.

Mary stalked around my house for a time, then settled at my sunroom window and lit a cigarette. She began talking, her voice etched with barely held-back rage, growing ever louder, about what a sick and cruel person I was. She raved that by pointing out her failings the night before, I had done what she compared to “poking a cancer patient over and over and screaming: ‘You’re sick! You’re sick! You’re dying!’”

Now she was screaming. I told her she was being melodramatic, but that was the last word I got in. For the next hour, I was treated to wailing, screaming and stamping as she recounted every last thing I ever said or did in our history that she considered cruelty I’d inflicted against her. That was the best of it – the rant soon descended into gibberish, and at one point she pulled her own hair and slapped her own face while screaming about various people that were apparently conspiring against her.

At this point my housemate arrive home and he could not believe what he was seeing – this blubbering, screaming lunatic taking over our home. He immediately suggested I call the police but I truly didn’t want to get my crazy old friend arrested. So, with a big hoist, he pushed my friend out the door and threw her bag after her.

She banged on the front door screaming obscenities along the lines of, “How could you do this to me?”, and actually asking, “Why have you thrown me out?” Then she suddenly stopped.

The next day, we realized she had stolen our doormat.

Needless to say, I never spoke to Mary again, though here is the kicker – she still texts me from time to time wanting to catch up, just like nothing happened. 1115-11


I am a very tenacious and loyal friend who will overlook immaturity, odd behavior and eccentricities in the hopes the person will eventually grow out of them.  You seem to be the same in that you don’t give up on friends easily.  Unfortunately we discover that some people aren’t worth the investment we make in them and that the time has come to starve the relationship into withering away.

{ 89 comments… add one }
  • J's Mama November 17, 2011, 10:15 am

    Are you sure your friend isn’t mentally ill, or using drugs?

  • Just Laura November 17, 2011, 10:19 am

    This was written very well – thanks, OP.
    If it makes you feel better, I’m sure the color of the doormat looked cheap at her place anyway.

  • Cherry November 17, 2011, 10:29 am

    You clearly have a great deal more patience than I do. If she was a “friend” of mine, she’d have been OUT the second I found the make-up compact in her house.
    But there is patience and there is being a doormat. This woman treated you and your belongings appallingly for a very long time, and showed no signs of being willing to grow up. She is a selfish, hypocritical thief and quite frankly from the sounds of the last incident I would suggest she speaks to a professional.
    I only hope that this experience will act as a lesson to you for other friends.

  • Wink-n-Smile November 17, 2011, 10:29 am

    I believe in second chances. For some few, whom I love (for some inexplicable reason), I’ll give a lot of chances. The heart chooses where it chooses, and I’ll put up with a lot from someone love.

    However, there are some lines that are simply not to be crossed.

    I’m glad you found yours.

  • ElegantErica November 17, 2011, 10:35 am

    I keep going back to the line where she ate 60 year old candy!

  • Jojo November 17, 2011, 10:41 am

    Ouch. I can’t believe you haven’t blocked her phone number, email address and Facebook! It’s the least you can do to give yourself a well deserved break from this selfish brat.
    I agree that being a kind and considerate even when others do not behave in their best light is just part and parcel of building great friendships but this girl looks to have taken a loan of your generosity and should never have the opportunity to weasel back in.
    I have my own childish friend who I dropped last year after a couple of particularly difficult Christmases. I recently discovered that she’s very ill and a mutual friend ambushed me by trying to bring us back together so that she at least has some support. ( The mutual friend is genuinely the only friend she has left)
    The fact that I am dealing with a number of difficult personal issues this year myself and simply don’t have the time or energy to devote to said ex-friend was completely overlooked. So now I have two ex-friends who can play high school dramas out together all they wish while I can concentrate on having adult relationships with people who respect me and genuinely care about my welfare.
    I wish OP well in her future friendships with the lovely people she deserves.

  • ferretrick November 17, 2011, 10:42 am

    This person does not have an etiquette issue. This person has a mental health issue and needs help. (Not that you are required to be the one to provide that help).

  • Mippa November 17, 2011, 10:49 am

    This behavior sounds a great deal to me like this poor girl is not well. Even so, unless you are a licensed practitioner or the individual has been diagnosed and treated, I’m afraid there has to be a limit to our generosity and patience…for the sake of your safety and those around you.

    Poor girl. I sincerely hope she gets help someday, but at this rate, it seems unlikely.

  • Daisy November 17, 2011, 10:59 am

    Your “friend” is obviously more than a few sandwiches short of a picnic! She needs to see a psychiatrist, but there’s nothing you can do about that. You have way more patience than I do; I’d have cut her off after finding my compact.

  • Serenity S November 17, 2011, 11:00 am

    I agree with J’s Mama. Are you sure that Mary is not mentally ill? It is abnormal to obsessively shake candy jars over and over again, slap one’s own face, and pull one’s own hair. I am not trying to justify Mary’s actions but her behavior and her lack of awareness of how her behavior is inappropriate really makes it sound like she is not mentally well.

  • Bob November 17, 2011, 11:00 am

    I obviously hesitate to diagnose mental illness based on a second-hand internet report, but… I’m pretty sure your friend is mentally ill. This doesn’t sound like someone who needs a refresher course on wedding invitations — it sounds like someone who needs a complete and immediate check-up by a mental health professional.

    Which isn’t to say that you have any responsibility here — unfortunately, when a friend is mentally ill there is sometimes not much you can do. It might be worth asking her to seek help, if you feel comfortable doing so (and want to). But otherwise…well, I hate to say that you should abandon someone with a mental illness, but there’s a limit to how much friends have to tolerate — and I’d say you tolerated as much as anyone could ask.

  • Wendy November 17, 2011, 11:06 am

    You should have called the police. You say, “but I truly didn’t want to get my crazy old friend arrested.” Friend? You made clear before this statement that she wasn’t, really, a friend. She’s someone who’s a couple french fries short of a Happy Meal, but certainly not a friend. The fact that you’ve put up with her antics as much as you have says a great deal about you (good things!) but enough is certainly enough when you’re being subjected to verbal assault.

    I agree with those who said you need to block her number and any other forms she could use to contact you…and should you happen to see her, stay away!

  • LovleAnjel November 17, 2011, 11:10 am

    EW! Using someone else’s eye makeup? Eating sixty year old candy? From the description of the final fit (screaming incoherently, self-injury) it really sounds like she needs to be checked out by a professional. The OP was very generous allowing this friend back into her life so many times.

  • Rhonda November 17, 2011, 11:11 am

    did I regret it… And then it got worse… against my better judgement… but one day I sadly relented but I let her in to look…For the next hour…but I truly didn’t want to get my crazy old friend arrested…

    It’s one thing to overlook the occasional weirdness. It’s another to be a doormat, again and again. Following the makeup compact issue, you should have been very careful with Mary, meeting her only on neutral grounds until you were convinced she had matured.

  • Xtina November 17, 2011, 11:14 am

    Wow. Just–wow. What a story, OP. Mary is truly off her rocker. I strongly suspect that she’s got some mental and/or bi-polarity issues that are untreated. Nobody that is right in their head behaves this way.

    As for you, OP, I am glad that you were good enough of a friend to give her another chance, but after the first time she came over and mishandled your things and was rude, you should have left well enough alone and not ever allowed her in your home again–and certainly not socializing with her again would have probably been a good idea as well. She and you apparently just don’t mix.

  • Carol November 17, 2011, 11:25 am

    This situation sounds very similar to a situation I went through with a friend of mine. We were friends in college and afterwards, then she moved away and we lost touch. When she came back to town, she was totally out of control, and our relationship devolved to the point where she was sending me rant-y text messages at all hours of the night. It turns out she had undiagnosed bi-polar disorder. She has since gotten on meds, and our relationship has mended. If the letter writer can contact her friend’s parents, she might suggest that her friend needs to be evaluated. It will make her and everyone in her life a lot happier.

  • Elizabeth November 17, 2011, 11:25 am

    THis sounds like a mentally ill person. Frankly, it might not have been so terrible to call the police. I’m not sure she would have actually ended up in jail, rather she might have been brought to a psych ward where she could have been diagnosed.
    I just can’t picture a world where even a socially unaware 30 yr old acts as she did.

  • Hemi Halliwell November 17, 2011, 11:28 am

    I think your (ex)friend really has some sort of mental illness. I hope she gets the treatment she obviously needs.

    It seems you did your best to forgive and forget, many times. The compact incident would have been the end for me. She knew you were upset about it and even watched as you looked for it while she had it the whole time. Friends just don’t do that to each other.

    I hope you find real friends, ones that care about you and respect you. I hope you never have to deal with Mary again.

  • many bells down November 17, 2011, 11:34 am

    Uh yeah … there’s something mentally wrong with Mary. Like schizophrenia-level wrong. My stepmother has schizophrenia and her behavior is not even that extreme (but that may be because she is medicated).

    I’m with J’s Mama. She is mentally ill, or she is abusing some substance.

  • spartiechic November 17, 2011, 11:36 am

    It sounds as if Mary is incredibly unstable and has some underlying psychological problems. I wouldn’t blame you if you cut off your friendship. Advise her to get some help, but know that it may fall on deaf ears if she does not believe she has a problem. If I were doing some armchair psychology diagnosis, not knowing anything else about her except for what you wrote, I would say she may have borderline personality disorder. She needs psychological help. The kindest thing you could do for her is be supportive (within reason) and point her in the direction of help.

  • Tyler November 17, 2011, 11:44 am

    There’s eccentric, and then there’s insane. Mary sounds like she’s got a few (or several) loose screws.

  • Twik November 17, 2011, 12:33 pm

    I can only second J’s Mama – this goes beyond etiquette into illness or drugs.

    However, whatever the cause, there is no reason why this person should be ever allowed back into your home. She cannot be trusted to behave as a sensible person. Be glad that when she finally lost it she turned to physically abusing herself, not you.

  • nannerdoman November 17, 2011, 12:39 pm

    This lady isn’t only manners-challenged. She is BATS! I hope she gets the help she so evidently needs.

  • Elanorah November 17, 2011, 12:42 pm

    It’s stories like these that I read, where the protagonist’s behaviour is so extreme, that I’m reluctant to cast them straight to e-hell and instead recommend a visit to a health professional. You are to be commended for your patience and entertaining writing style. I’m sure it’s no small comfort, but the stolen doormat got a genuine chuckle!

  • Gee November 17, 2011, 12:48 pm

    I would have cut all ties after the first theft. That’s a line that’s not to be crossed. And then to complain about the item you stole??? That’s just unreal.

  • Avisse November 17, 2011, 1:04 pm

    You’re certainly a very patient and forgiving person, but you need to be careful and watch out for the warning signs of people who are too far gone.

    Hopefully Mary will get a clue and stop contacting you for a meet-up. But for her being that oblivious and self-absorbed, could it be she is mentally ill? Maybe her family ought to know of her strange erratic behavior so they can help her seek counseling or medical help, though it will be tricky doing so since no parents would appreciate outsiders telling them their child is unstable.

  • Ashley November 17, 2011, 1:14 pm

    Good grief…after that incident I would have blocked her phone number and called it a day.

  • Stacey November 17, 2011, 1:15 pm

    I find it almost impossible to credit that anyone would submit to having their reputation, their peace and their property abused with such regularity before ending the friendship. This history is either an example of the mad consequences of disregarding normal boundaries in relationships or heavily slanted and embellished. Either way, it strikes me that the original writer had no impetus to suffer through the chaos her “friend” imposed and that she reaped the consequences of her own poor judgement by opening her home and her life repeatedly to a very toxic influence. Etiquette can be a defense against such intrusions, inasmuch as failing to meet any standard of acceptable conduct excuses one from the graces of association with other human beings who actually like order, peace and conviviality.

  • Gracie C. November 17, 2011, 1:21 pm

    Mary sounds like a piece of work and the OP, imo, tolerated her behavior far too long. Once a person steals from me, I would never open my house up to them again, for fear that I would have to count all of my belongings again and again every time they left. When she was mishandling property and not stopping at first request, I would have asked her to leave. I appreciate giving people second chances, I draw the line at people with no boundaries or respect.

    I do want to mention the line about Mary living with her parents. While I agree that the goal for most young adults is to strike out on their own, many people are finding, especially in this economy that it’s just not affordable to do so. Further, many are finding that their parents are struggling as well and that sharing accomodations (as long as both parties are able to respect each other) is a mutually beneficial solution. There are also often cultural reasons why people live with relatives. While I’m not living with parents, I have a sister and a handful of friends who do for a variety of reasons, and I find it annoying when people look down on that sitation, often with no understanding of the circumstances. I have a friend who is constantly looked down on for living with her parents. She lives in her childhood home, and people act like she is a failure. What she doesn’t point out, because it’s nobody’s business, really, is that she owns the home. Bought it from her parents during tough times to save them from losing it. Essentially her parents live with her, but it makes no difference to those who decide to pass judgement. I have no way of knowing Mary’s situation, and the OP likely does, and perhaps Mary is a lazy lout with no job and no means of supporting herself, but I’m tired of seeing “living with family” tossed around like some insult. It’s rude, and mean spirited. And with a few unfortunate incidents (major health problem, job loss, divorce, etc.) it’s a situation many people can easily find themselves in.

  • Celeste November 17, 2011, 1:27 pm

    That was very entertaining to read, but having a dear friend who is prone to dramatics I do feel for you op. You did the right thing just letting the friendship go.

  • Anonever November 17, 2011, 1:30 pm

    OP, I’m puzzled as to why you would allow Mary back into your home after the first instance of theft.

    Personally, I would be able to forgive the theft after a cooling period, but would not forget that Mary had the potential to do something like that. I think the fact that she mistreated your house and belongings proves that she really hadn’t matured that much. Are there not places where you live where you could have hosted her outside your home? I understand that money may have been a factor, but maybe you could have gone to coffee someplace or hung out at some other inexpensive location. That way you could still be friends with her and would be able to walk away from the crazy.

    At any rate, you can chalk this experience up to a lesson learned. Good luck with your friendships in the future.

  • Psyche November 17, 2011, 1:33 pm

    I made the mistake of befriending a girl when I was in daycare who I felt sorry for because nobody wanted to be her friend. I finally shook her off when we went to middle school (keep in mind, this was before Facebook), and later made the mistake of reminicing with a mutual friend about her, wondering if she had changed at all. The mutual friend gave me her number. (I later figured out that Mutual Friend hated me *and* the daycare chum and this was probably a form of revenge. This is important).

    I had always suspected as a child that she was nuts, but spending time with her as a teenager, I knew for a fact she was. Only now, I couldn’t get away from her because she had my number! Eventually, I shook her loose yet again when I got a cell phone number. Never again.

  • bansidhe November 17, 2011, 1:43 pm

    This doesn’t sound like rudeness or lack of etiquette to me. It sounds like Mary has some serious mental problems and should be seeking help.

  • Leslie Holman-Anderson November 17, 2011, 1:52 pm

    This is more than mere drama, I fear. I think this poor woman is mentally ill. That said, though, OP is not required to allow destructive people into her life just because they’re pitiful. Ex-friend steals not only OP’s property, but her time, energy, and peace of mind. Good riddance.

  • Elizabeth November 17, 2011, 2:03 pm

    This person is mentally ill (borderline personality disorder with narcissistic tendancies comes to mind at the end of paragraph #2).

    I question your willingness to tolerate this behavior. I find her reaction to your confronting her about the compact theft truly disturbing. She’s moved toward passive aggression with the candy jar.

    Your last interaction with her leaves me speechless and I’m unsure if it was because of her behavior or your tolerance of it.

  • sv November 17, 2011, 2:22 pm

    This does not sound like the behaviour of a rational person. It is not your responsibility to take on Mary’s burdens, but maybe you might want to consider contacting her parents, telling them what happened, and saying that her actions concerned you. Perhaps if the parents have also noticed bizarre and erratic mood changes that will be the confirmation they need to help her.

    And remember….the friends we have when we are at one stage in our life isn’t necessarily the friend we will have at all stages in our life. She clearly does not fit in your life anymore, and some of it may be etiquette, but it sounds like a lot of it isn’t so simple.

  • Gloria Shiner November 17, 2011, 2:27 pm

    I agree with ferretrick: these are not the behaviors of a sane person. You may need a restraining order some time in the future if you continue to re-connect with her.

  • VM November 17, 2011, 3:15 pm

    If “as the years passed… her frustrations at her ailing career and love life grew”, and if she were the type to paper over those frustrations and the bouts of self-loathing they prompted by exaggerated gestures of self-entitlement, this could well be the result. (She compared being criticized to “poking a cancer patient over and over and screaming: ‘You’re sick! You’re sick! You’re dying!'” — kinda argues she knows she has issues, like a patient knows he’s ill.) The dessert-preparation fiasco I can easily excuse as cluelessness or a kind of ADD (my dearest husband is the soul of consideration but he can be oddly blindered about those kind of things, and he was one of the first Ritalin patients). But the stealing, the shaking etc, sound to me like insecure resentment of your well-run and full-of-nice-things life, and her desire to make herself feel better by both claiming a part of it for herself and disrupting your just-so order. Mentally ill? Possibly. Toxic? You betchum. Avoid from now on at all costs!

  • Lucy November 17, 2011, 3:19 pm

    1) I’m with everyone else who thinks this girl sounds like she needs help. Real help.

    2) Stop being so nice. It’s one thing to forgive things, it’s another to be a doormat.

  • Cashie November 17, 2011, 3:34 pm

    i really take exception to some reader~s labeling of the mentally ill as nuts or batty. Mental illness has enough stigma attached to it without further disparaging remarks. Many mental illnesses are treatable and with treatment thhose so afflicted can lead a normal life.

  • Ann November 17, 2011, 4:00 pm

    If you’ll forgive the armchair psychiatry… and carrying on from what Spartiechic wrote, it does sound like a personality disorder. That OP would maintain contact with this person suggests that she’s been trained to put up with such behaviour by someone very close to her with a similar disorder (eg: a parent). Good for her, though, for finally imposing some boundaries.

  • Sarah Jane November 17, 2011, 4:11 pm

    This poor lady needs help. It certainly isn’t your responsibility, but is your relationship with her parents such that you could mention it to them?

  • Kitty Lizard November 17, 2011, 4:21 pm

    The thing that strikes me here is that, knowing what a loon Mary was, the OP not only let Mary
    back into her home, she let her get her hands on a knife. Bad move. One does not let unstable
    “friends” back into one’s home and hand them sharp objects. The damage she did with the
    knife (to the kitchen counter) was bad enough. She needs to count her blessings that Mary didn’t decide to have her little breakdown later while she had the knife in her hand.


  • Rachel November 17, 2011, 4:50 pm

    I get the whole second chance years later thing, but why on earth after the candy incident did you invite her over again? It was really obviously going to end badly, and I’m not sure why you’re surprised. I don’t think you really are surprised and just want to be a victim here..

  • Rug Pilot November 17, 2011, 4:58 pm

    I know people like this. They have bipolar disorder, narcissitic personality disorder, or borderline personality disorder. Your continuing contact with her may spur some future criminal acitivity. When she comes over to your house, call the police immediately. They will take her in for a psychiatric hold and examination. Then she will get the help she needs.

  • TheVapors November 17, 2011, 5:26 pm

    My first thoughts were that she was just willfully rude and selfish…

    …but with her “Pièce de résistance” ending, I’m thinking she either abuses a substance or is mentally ill. As others have said, as well.

    I think it’s commendable that you tried to turn the other cheek for the sake of friendship. However, enough is enough. This woman sounds like she could eventually grow to physically hurt someone with her behavior.

    I would block her numbers from all my phones. She had her chances. Many of them. Don’t be the victim to her behaviors in the future.

  • Otter November 17, 2011, 5:39 pm

    Once a “friend” is found stealing from you, things can only go downhill from there. Forgive and break off all contact forever more.

  • Allie November 17, 2011, 5:54 pm

    Friends don’t take pleasure in stealing, damaging or destroying your things. I’m glad you’ve finally (and I hope it is really final this time) ended this toxic relationship. From the sound of it, this person could be dangerous. Quick question… why would you keep 60 year old candy arranged in jars “just so”? That sounds really strange to me, but to each his own.

  • Spuck November 17, 2011, 5:59 pm

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with the OP having kept the friend in her life for that long. Everyone has THAT person who tramples there boundaries and pushes them to the edge. At least the OP person wasn’t family. This is merely the extended story of a person learning to establish their boundaries. Everyone goes through t.

  • Sara November 17, 2011, 6:17 pm

    I’m going to echo the previous comments: this sounds like a person with mental illness, not a person with poor etiquette. You are not responsible for getting her the help she needs, but I do question the posting of behavior on an etiquette website which is (to me, at least) so clearly indicative of a person who is not in control of her actions.

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