Dear Captain Awkward,
I am a psychotherapist, and a friendly colleague who is also a psychotherapist said she would like me to take a room in a three-room office she was acquiring. This plan didn’t work out because the sale fell through. She then bought a two-room office and the idea, always an idea in consideration not a formal offer, was that I and another colleague of hers might share the second office. (I never ever asked after or pushed for any of this.) I considered this a viable-if-not-sure plan and accordingly waited many months for sales to go through etc.,while adjusting my practice because this office was in another part of the city (basically not marketing in my area and gearing up for a change). It reached the point that we all met, discussed final furnishings and hours in the room and rental fees, and I and the other colleague stated we were happy to go forward.
Two days later my ‘friendly colleague’ told me that she was separating from her husband and needed the space to herself, that she had felt very ill over sharing it, that she was sorry. She then pressed me to meet her for a coffee. We met, I asked how the other party had taken the news, and she told me that the other person would be using the room as she had made a promise to her. Never in any of this was the disparity in promise level shared with me. ‘Friendly colleague’ (!) then pressed me for an ongoing time we could meet up as friends. I don’t wanna! Thoughts? Am I being a bad sport?, or is it a sensible decision to cut my losses with this colleague and how to say so if pressed?
Hi there, thanks for your question!
How awful and stressful for you!
It seems like your friend’s “let’s meet for a friendly coffee” invitation (and pressure about that) is skipping past an extremely important conversation, the one where you acknowledge that you’re PISSED OFF and DEEPLY INCONVENIENCED by her choices. Your friend apologized, but she wants you to reassure her it’s okay and rush ahead to the part where everything is cool and friendly between you again. It’s okay if you’re not ready to do that skipping, and also okay if you’re not in the mood to reassure and comfort and listen to someone who just did something that throws a massive wrench in your life, even if you can acknowledge her difficult circumstances.
You know yourself and your friend best, so what would happen if you were to say something like this to her?:
“Hey, friend, I’m gonna pass on that coffee for now, and I need to get something off my chest.
I have so much sympathy for you and [spouse] splitting up, of course you need to do whatever takes care of you during a difficult time, but I have to confess: The abrupt change in the business plans we made together has been extremely disruptive professionally and financially, and the news that you’re moving ahead with our other colleague but not with me has hurt my feelings quite a lot. I’m not sure why it was okay for you to break a promise to me but not to [colleague], but it doesn’t sit well.
I never asked for this “shared office” plan, but I went forward in good faith based on the discussions we had. This sudden reversal is making me wish now that I’d never agreed to any of it. I’m not going to pressure you to reverse your decision, you need to do what’s right for you, but I also need some time to rethink my professional situation and make a plan B for where to take my practice. I’m not in the best place to hang out in a fun way or be a listening ear quite yet.
What I’d like very much to do is to put this whole issue behind us for now so we can each focus on getting ourselves back on track, and I’ll call you in a few months when everything’s more settled and we can catch up then, how does that sound?”
Would she hear you out and give you some space, and accept a call graciously down the road when and if you’re ready to make it? Does your friendship only work if it’s all at her convenience or all about you supporting what she wants? Has she ever offered you any compensation or help in response to the inconvenience to you in changing plans? Would she read needing some time to yourself as being unforgivably unsupportive of her? Would being able to express how upset you are and ask for some needed space make you feel better, even if it won’t resolve things between you and your friend? Instead of having a big conversation with her is it better for you to say “I can’t meet up for coffee right now, I’ll get in touch when I have time” without more explanation (and then let whatever time is the right amount for you go by before getting in touch).
You’re in a field where you help people have hard conversations about their own needs and set boundaries, so this is me encouraging you to do some of that for yourself. This lady is clearly putting herself first, your third friend second, and you dead last, so it’s more than okay to put yourself first in the aftermath of such a big messy crisis. It’s not petty or a failure to be a good friend, especially when it’s clear that no one else will prioritize you! You know already that you can have sympathy for someone dealing with something hard (a sudden divorce would be a battering ram in anybody’s business plans) without taking their problems on as your own or at the expense of your own well-being.
Say no to coffee. If that makes you “a bad sport” then be a bad sport. Take some time if you can and regroup: What will it take to rebuild your practice? Is this the right time to move offices, even if it’s solo or you decide to share with another practitioner? (My physical therapist shares space with a pair of lone-wolf attorneys and a travel agency/event planning firm, it works great for them and together they an afford a more centrally-located address and nicer amenities than any of them could swing alone). Revisit what, if anything, was good about this proposed arrangement for you [the prospect of working more closely with other people, sharing rent and admin costs, a shorter commute & better location for you & your clients, ease of making fluid referrals between your practices, changing up your schedule to certain part-time hours] and see what could be replicated on your own now that you’ve got momentum to move behind you.
I think when the dust clears, you are going to be relieved not to have your livelihood and professional well-being tied up with the plans of someone who would reverse course on you so abruptly. Also, in the future, you’ll have learned some lessons like: Make a habit of getting any plans that affect your finances and your business in writing ahead of time, put a clear structure for making decisions, a structure for communicating, a set of financial remedies and plans for exactly what to do if things change so you aren’t bearing those costs alone in writing ahead of time. Money stuff goes in writing. Nobody spends money, signs paperwork, breaks leases until everything is in writing. Even with friends. Especially with friends. Especially with this friend, who might suggest revisiting this idea someday in the future, at which time you’ll say, “Thanks for thinking of me, but I don’t want to mix business and our friendship in that way.”
You can’t go back, so go forward in a way that takes care of you. That’s what your friend did, and I believe that you can do it, too. Very best wishes.