Mary confessed that she has a specific fear of getting lost on the subway and not being able to find an exit, and feeling like she is trapped underground. She even occasionally has dreams about it. Mary has several other fears as well that came up when we were discussing what she is and isn't ok with as for travel - she will not drive anywhere where she has to park out of view of the entrance unless it's somewhere she's very familiar with. This includes further back than the first 4-5 spots at the mall parking lot. She will not drive by herself after dark outside of very familiar areas. She will not take the above ground light rail because it goes through "bad areas." She talked about her fear of muggings, carjackings, and kidnapping. I didn't realize how much her mobility is impacted by her fears.
I didn't say much in reaction to all of this, mainly just listened. But now I have more questions - is there a polite way to tell Mary that her fears seem excessive and limiting? She said she has other friends who are even *more* fearful than her, as if she was trying to justify her views as being normal or reasonable. And more importantly, if Mary's fears come into play in the future, how should I handle it? For example, if a spot in view of the entrance isn't available during a busy time at the mall, and she wants to drive around until one opens up (which could mean wasting up to a half hour)?
LadyL, did Mary indicate that these things are still problems for her when she's with someone? When I read them, I interpreted it as her telling you of additional things she was afraid of doing by herself (maybe with the exception of going through dangerous areas). If so, you needn't be concerned that it might affect your plans with her in the future. For example, *if* you've been to the mall with her before and never noticed these quirks she's mentioned (because she only has them when she's alone), you don't need to start worrying about them simply because you now know they exist.
*If* she indicated that these are things she fears when she's alone, I would tell myself that I need not worry about any of them affecting me. The very fact that she isn't alone would keep those fears at bay. If she's driving, and the fact that you're with her means she doesn't have to be able to park where she can see the entrance, it's not going to be a problem for you. If you're driving, same thing -- you could park wherever you want. And, if each of you are driving yourselves there, you park where you want, and she parks where she wants.
Many people have phobias. Some are more public and embarrassing than others and therefore people are judged more harshly for having them. People who are afraid of caterpillars or clowns are much more fortunate than those afraid of public speaking or dogs because there is less chance of people discovering their fears.
Your friend was in a situation where she felt she had no choice but to reveal a potentially humiliating fear for which she might be badly judged (and she was). It sounds like you've been friends for a while and have always either traveled to and from places together, or met at places where Mary is able to drive herself.
It seems that, if not for the fact that you had other plans afterwards, you would have taken the return trip on the train with Mary and might never have learned of this phobia of hers. You might just as easily have had a friend who's fine taking the train by herself, but considers your previously established "traveling to and from" time when attending an event together to be part of the outing, looks forward to discussing the event on the trip back as usual, and was disappointed to learn you would be parting ways before the ride home.
I would go forward (outwardly) as if you had not learned about this phobia and continue making plans with Mary where you travel together or meet at places she is comfortable traveling to alone. I would be kind in keeping it in mind when I'm the one planning events, but not bring it up or suggest therapy, etc.
I would treat this as if you'd asked her, "Mary, I heard about Great New Restaurant, do you want to go there next Friday?" to which she happily agreed.
Then, if you called her a day or two before Friday and casually mentioned, "Hey, did I tell you the cool thing about Great New Restaurant is that all the waiters are dressed as clowns?" and she confessed that she's afraid of clowns and would rather not go, I'd simply accept that you now know something about her she probably wishes you didn't, and there's no need to bring it up again.
Just as you could enjoy going to Great New Restaurant with other people, you can invite a different friend to events that require them to travel home alone on the train afterwards from now on.