I have a longstanding group of friends that does regular birthdays and girls’ nights out. One person only ever wants to pay her portion of the bill, but then she wants to pick off everyone else’s plates. At birthday celebrations, she always questions whether or not she has to pay. I tried to address it a few years ago. Everyone else complains when she’s not there, but no one wants to confront her. I removed myself from the group because I just can’t do it anymore. Now I feel like I am the one on the outs and everyone else is OK with the way things are. How do I move forward?
Anonymous / New York
Your options seem to be either moving forward with a new group of friends or accepting the terms-of-service of the group you dropped out of. Which, to this hard-bitten veteran of the bill-splitting skirmishes . . . well, kid, let me take a long drag from my cigarette, peer steely-eyed down a narrow alley, and say I’ve heard worse. Perfectly good Bolognese slandered so that someone can get their bill comped. Three-figure bottles of wine ordered without consultation and then a suggestion that you split the check evenly. A little birthday whingeing and appetizer poaching is minor.
What is it that bothers you most? The one woman’s bad bill-splitting manners? The hypocrisy of the rest of the group, willing to carp behind her back but not confront her? The sheer stasis of it all? If your irritation is a symptom of a deeper discontent with your friends (or humanity in general — it happens), keep up your hiatus and try to dig into that feeling and find out what it’s telling you. If it’s a small annoyance that you happened to feed after midnight that one time and now it’s a gremlin, swallow your pride and rejoin your group. What if you looked at the check dynamic as sort of an endearing tradition, an absurd, sitcom-Beckett motif of your friendship?
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.