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Carolyn Hax: When a bestie’s best friend is her phone

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Dear Carolyn: My best friend has for a variety of reasons become attached to her cellphone. It has gotten so bad that I don’t like dining out with her. Her phone dings with messages and calls constantly. She feels compelled to respond to each ping. Calls are generally from telemarketers, but she will answer “because it might be important.”

I have suggested she refrain from responding during our meal, but it doesn’t seem to get through to her. My husband and I took her to a lovely, upscale restaurant on her birthday. She was still scrolling, her meal half-eaten, after we finished and we were patiently waiting for her to finish.

Consequently, I have shied away from accepting invitations because I have visions of grabbing her phone and flinging it across the room.

Can you suggest how to request that she turn the blasted phone off during our meal, without insulting her? I really miss our conversations, but I don’t want to lose her friendship over the issue.

On Hold: Are you always this much of a mush?

“Put your phone away, please. I did not come out with you to watch you scroll.”

If the phone is going to end your best-friendship, then at least let it happen that way, with the kind but firm telling of truth, instead of in toothless, sad little increments of “[shying] away from accepting invitations.”

Phones are loaded with psychological manipulations that are a scourge upon us all, particularly the vulnerable and those who love them, yes.

But the unwillingness to assert ourselves and say what we mean has been around a whole lot longer, and can still cause its share of analog havoc. So you’re hardly off the hook here.

The primary point is that your friend is mistreating you and wasting your time; her chosen method is secondary. The answer, therefore, is to stand up for yourself. Plainly, kindly and with love for this friend: “Please put your phone away. I’m here for you, not the top of your head.”

If she refuses: “I’m leaving. I love you, but won’t compete with your phone. I will gladly stay when you’re ready to put it away.” Leave for real if she won’t put the phone away-away, no peeking.

Her compulsion is a problem, yes. But so is your submissiveness, and the answer to that is you.

Dear Carolyn: I was a serious problem child but not so much of a problem at 70 (finally). Failing grades through school. Didn’t bother with college, of course. Anger issues, failed relationships — on me — blah blah. Hurt a lot of people in my life but not physically, at least.

I have three successful, stable siblings with great families who are nice people. I’ve always been/felt like the loser.

How do I let go of my “role” and stay in touch with my quasi-estranged siblings (again, my doing) before we’re dead? Possible background issue: I was 2 when my 4-year-old sib died.

— Near the End of My Trail

Near the End of My Trail: I love this question, thank you.

I don’t love how painful your life has been, especially the trauma at such a vulnerable age. But your honesty and willingness to try something different are rare.

You didn’t leave much room for someone like me to suggest improvements. So I’ll say only this: When it comes to seeing you only as the problem child, your sibs probably won’t be able to help themselves. Assume it’s not personal, but emotional habit.

You know the person you have become. If you let that be enough, then it’s all a bonus from there.

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