Tuesday, August 31, 2010

This LW should not appear on "You Can't Do That On Television"

From today's Dear Prudence live chat transcript:
I'm a 23-year-old female, and I was at a party this weekend with my 26-year-old best friend/roommate. She can be kind of zany sometimes, and for some reason when I came up to her on the dance floor, she poured an entire glass of whiskey all over my head! I was obviously mortified, upset, confused, and angry; I left the party immediately in tears. She wasn't drunk, and I know she just meant it as a funny joke. Needless to say, I didn't find it especially funny. I spent the night toweling off at another close friend's house because I just couldn't stand to deal with her. My problem is that I'm really upset about the fact that she hasn't made any effort to apologize, explain, or offer to pay for dry-cleaning of my soaked clothes or the blowout that I had just gotten that day at the salon. I know she doesn't think it was a big deal, and I'm sure if I ask her, she won't think it necessary to pay for anything. I hate confrontation, but I know that I can't just let this go! Do you have any advice on how I can talk to her and feel reciprocated?
Prudence finds the zany friend's behavior equally appalling.
I'm wondering if your roommate is the grown-up version of the girl who pees on her aunt's wedding dress. There is zany, then there is deranged. Are you sure your roommate doesn't have a smoldering mental problem? In any case, it would be crazy on your part to let someone dump a drink on your head and not call her on it. You have to tell her what she did to you was deeply disturbing, and your living arrangements and friendship are in jeopardy if she ever does something like that again.

Ashley: I guess I don't see the big deal. It was dumb, but that's what you get when you go to a party with drunk people. Although she did say the friend was sober.

Lulu: The thing is, if your friend is the kind of friend who thinks, "I will dump whiskey on her head!" and then does it, and she is sober, at what point is she going to think "I will apologize and offer to pay dry cleaning"? It is clearly an unreasonable expectation of this person.

Ashley: Because a person who would apologize for that behavior is not a person who would conduct it.

Lulu: Precisely. I don't understand how you can think "It is proper protocol to apologize and make amends after that sort of behavior!" because there is no proper protocol for that sort of behavior because it is not proper protocol!

Ashley: Is it bad that I think dumping whiskey on someone's head is kind of funny? Even if it's my head.

Lulu: That too. I definitely wouldn't call it "deeply disturbing." I can see, in the moment, being like, okay, that's weird. Like, what the fuck, dude. And I can see how this incident might cause you to be on your guard because it's an indication that she doesn't think before she acts, and that could be a problem if you intend to tell her a secret or lend her something or be near her when she is holding a steak knife. But, I mean, it's not like a betrayal. It clearly wasn't planned. It is clearly a crime of passion from a person with poor impulse control.

Ashley: And of ways poor impulse control can manifest, this seems fairly benign.

Lulu: It could have been acid. Or spiders. Or fifty-ton weights.

Ashley: I guess if the measure of friendship is whether or not they drop fifty-ton weights on your head, we're being pretty lax.

Lulu: To some extent, though, it's kind of on you to choose not to be friends with the fifty-ton weight-dropping person. People don't owe it to you to behave the way you want them to, even if all you want is what you think is within the bounds of common decency. Not everyone is commonly decent.

Ashley: I'm back to "it wasn't that bad." Running off in tears? It seems like an overreaction.

Lulu: My interpretation of that is that the girl is upset because she thought her friend was one way, but really she is another way? It's not about the drink, it's about trust: when you think someone is predictable (to you) but they aren't. That can be painful.

Ashley: But she does say that her roommate tends to be "zany."

Lulu: Right, I would assume that, as her best friend and roommate, the LW has had indications of this kind of behavior in the past. Although, as noted, she does seem to persist in assuming that this person will act like a normal person against all evidence to the contrary.

Ashley: It's a theory of mind problem. It's about being aware that other people are different from you.

Lulu: I think so too. Though, rereading her question, she does seem very much concerned about the financial aspects. Her clothes, her blowout.

Ashley: If she's concerned with the money, she should ask for it - the friend isn't going to offer.

Lulu: I agree, it's standard friend and/or roommate business transaction.

Ashley: "When you go to do your dry cleaning, just add this shirt to your stuff, since you did dump whiskey on it." I mean, if the roommate had borrowed it and spilled whiskey on herself, she'd clean it. Presumably.

Lulu: I think that has the best chance of working--preserving the friendship and possibly getting the money. If the roommate refuses a request like that, then it's a bigger problem. But the LW seems like she is angry and she wants to have it out on principle, to show that her roommate's actions have consequence and that she finds it unacceptable to be treated this way.

Ashley: She "hates confrontation," so her roommate probably doesn't even know that this is a problem!

Lulu: Well, now is as good a time as any to let her know. And that's a way to go--I don't think it's a way to go that will result in them continuing to be friends, and she should be prepared to stop partying with her and possibly move out, but it may worth it to her for her money and her dignity.

Ashley: Sure, but this is her best friend! You would think they would have enough history that something this minor wouldn't destroy the friendship.

Lulu: Maybe they have plenty of history. Bad history. Maybe this is the last straw. Sounds like they might be a bad fit, and maybe they'd like each other better in small doses.

Ashley: Are you trying to tell me something?

Lulu: To be honest, though, I don't know if I really believe the roommate is financially culpable for paying for her blowout.

Ashley: Can I just mention that blowout is a silly term? Bloooowout. Blowout?

Lulu: She should contribute some reasonable amount toward dry-cleaning the clothes because more-than-usually messed-up clothes are a reasonable consequence of dumping whiskey on someone's head, but is it the roommate's fault the girl has expensive taste in hairstyles? Maybe when you ruin someone's hair/clothes, you take your chances with it being expensive, but hairstyles are so transitory anyway... I don't know why I am weirdly pro-dumping liquid on people.

Ashley: Likewise. It's not something I do, but I'm not opposed.

Lulu: I mean, I have never had it happen to me, so maybe I would feel different, but I take showers and stuff... voluntarily!

Having looked at the problem two ways, we're going to cop out and offer two possible pieces of advice. The LW, who will never look at this, can take her pick.

1. Decide the friendship is worth the hassle but recognize that this friend requires some special handling (wear old clothes and be prepared for anything). Go ahead and ask for money to repair her wake of destruction, but don't expect much and don't take it personally.

2. Decide your values are too different, the friendship cannot continue as-was, and it's time to transition into just roommates. Nobody's fault, just begin hanging out more with other friends. Either way, she is who she is and it seems like it's not personal.

The other takeaway I suppose is that you can feel free to dump your drink on our heads.


  1. Here is what actually happened -

    The LW walked up to her "zany" (seriously, what is with odd word choices in these letters?) and also quite drunk friend on the dance floor because she was concerned over how whackadoo and out-of-sight she was being. Zany then dumped a drink over the LW's head because she was being a total square, and also because of how blitzed Zany was.

    Doesn't that story make way more sense than a dead sober person dumping a drink over somebody's head for no reason at all - which strikes me more as the behavior of somebody divorced entirely from reality rather than the whacky antics of Partygirl McHilarity.

    As an added bonus piece of knowledge, having a drink dumped over your head and having a cup of whiskey dumped over your head are different offenses. Liquid dripping into your eyes is annoying, whiskey dripping down into your eyes is like getting maced!

  2. Hah! It's so good to have a knowledgeable perspective... Lulu and I have a purely academic knowledge of drunken behavior.

  3. Darnell -- I will add to your obviously insightful response that few people with a glass of whiskey in their hand on the dance floor are stone cold sober.