Ask Amy: Faux friendship has an ominous downside

Dear Amy: “Mary” and I were acquaintances in college. We didn’t talk for years after graduating but would see each other sometimes at bars and say hello.

In 2020, she decided that she wanted to develop a friendship with me.

I quickly realized how unstable she is. She goes through cycles of sleeping with new people, posting them all over social media, the relationship ends, then she starts up with someone new.

She has also behaved unethically in her profession.

Almost every weekend now, Mary asks me to go out drinking.

I never message her first. I’ve been making up excuses because I don’t feel comfortable telling her that I find her actions problematic.

In between texts asking to hang out, she would tell me how good of a friend I am and how much she cares about me.

Amy, I would see this person once every few months.

Last weekend, I finally left her text as having been “read” but I haven’t answered. Just now, I just got a text from her telling me she misses me.

I’m scared to tell her that I don’t want to be her friend.

I don’t know how she’d react, and there’s a good chance I would see her around my small city.

Should I continue not to respond to her and hope she finally gets the hint?

— No Chaos

Dear No Chaos: If you are genuinely afraid of “Mary’s” reaction to any statement from you, then yes — I’d suggest a continued light ghosting. She will text you, you will read her texts, but you won’t respond unless you feel the need to answer a question. (For instance, if she asks you to meet her at a bar at a certain time, you should respond: “Sorry — I can’t make it. Hope you have a good time.”)

If things come to a head and you feel boxed into a corner, then keep your statement simple: “I don’t party like I used to, but I’m sure I’ll see you around town at some point. Take good care of yourself.”

Dear Amy: I recently visited my mother-in-law in her home.

It was a nice and cordial visit except that I think she called me a liar without so much as saying those words.

I was in her kitchen cooking a meal for her and other family members when she stated: “Do you know how the silverware got mixed up in the drawers? Not that I care, but I was just wondering.”

I told her: “No, I’m not aware of how that happened.”

Then she said, “Well, if you didn’t do it, I wonder who did? I know that ‘Susan’ (her daughter who had visited the previous month) didn’t do it.”

I just let the subject drop, but then started thinking: Did she just accuse me of lying?

Am I making too much of this? I don’t want to bring this matter up with my husband (her son), but it is certainly bothering me.

— Mixed-up Drawer in Michigan

Dear Mixed-up: You may have heard of the “non-denial denial,” brought into popular culture during the Watergate era. This refers to denying an accusation without actually or specifically denying it: (“That doesn’t sound like something I would do…”)

Your mother-in-law’s comment falls into a classic mother-in-law category: The non-accusation accusation.

Of course this bothers you!

And yes, you should do your best to drop it.

Dear Amy: May I weigh in on the question from “Bay Area Stepmom Cook” the woman who refused to leave onions out of food, even though her son-in-law had an aversion to onions?

I am a retired professional chef.

Cooking is the art of making food delicious to other people. A true artist (and mature human being) rises to meet challenges with zest.

Many people have potentially lethal allergies, religious taboos, health concerns or simple aversions and preferences that should be respected.

The artist in the kitchen — and the generous host — will encounter ingredient changes with the joy of triumphing via creativity.

There is a proverb, “A guest is the jewel on the cushion of hospitality.”

It is also an unappetizing idea to start an ego war in your family.

Bon Appetit!

— Mary Birnbaum, Boston

Dear Mary: This question continues to receive a robust (zestful?) response.

This speaks to the importance all of us attach not only to food and nutrition, but to notions of hospitality and generosity.

Thank you so much for your sensitive and wise response.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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