You may have tampered with the balance of power with this couple, says Mariella Frostrup. Is there something you are not divulging?

Caucasian woman sitting in armchair holding legs
 ‘I was flattered by their attention and enjoyed helping them out.’ Photograph: Jamie Grill/Getty Images

The dilemma For the past few months I have been befriended by a lesbian couple who welcomed me into their lives as family. I am a 40-year-old single, straight female and was greatly flattered by their attention. I enjoyed helping them out, unasked, financially, as I often do with family members I am close to. After spending a terrific week together (at their invitation), I left for my home overseas promising I would be back in six weeks to join one of them on a trip they had begged me to take with them, although the planned activities were not my choice. Upon landing I received a stilted note from the partner I shared the most with, cancelling the trip with no explanation. My response was simply: “You’ve got to be kidding. Is this a prank?” She replied: “No, it’s true.” Since then they have stayed silent. I am beyond hurt by this sudden cruel behaviour when I have always exhibited the utmost kindness towards them. I now dread that I may never hear from them again.

Mariella replies You’re pushing me into uncharted waters here. Not because your friends are a lesbian couple, or because you’ve helped them out a bit with money, or because they’ve cancelled this impending trip without explanation – but because you consider these elements as trigger, motive and insult. It suggests you have an instinct about what might be the cause of this upset and perhaps pride, shame or self-righteous incredulity are hampering you from accepting what you sense but won’t confront.

I have no idea what your friendship was based on or what the dynamic was between the three of you. Describing a relatively new friendship as family rings warning bells, though, and your outrage at the trip’s cancellation seems overwrought. The fact that the trip may have been causing issues between the partners is perfectly plausible. Why would you dread “never” hearing from them again? I have an overriding feeling that you’re aware of why they have made a decision to turn down the heat and the line of defence you’ve taken in your letter is to convince yourself you’re not at fault.

Give this couple some space and keep your money to yourself

Having had one of the most enduring and rewarding friendships of my life with a lesbian couple I shared a country home with for five years, I’m sure the fact that your buddies are in a same-sex relationship isn’t particularly relevant. But let’s start there for the heck of it. Three can definitely be a “crowd” and friendships require careful management just like any other relationship. Your being “greatly flattered” by their attention suggests a misplaced thrill. Friendships require full disclosure and honesty if they are to be meaningful and long-term. There’s little place for empty flattery. Often what’s best about your pals is that they aren’t family and don’t come with quite so many already taut emotional strings attached.

If your interest in the relationship, and indeed theirs, was sparked by impulses that went unspoken then that would certainly complicate matters. I’ve no idea if your financial contributions were the lure you seem to suggest, but the golden rule with money is never give it unless you’re sanguine about losing it. The ability to use it as a weapon is way too strong and the sense of power it provides the giver and resentment or shame in the receiver are two of the strongest polluters of relationships.

It’s perfectly feasible that you’ve tampered with the balance of power between this couple, using your charm, your money or the favouring of one partner over the other. You mention that your stilted note was from the partner you shared most with. Could you have shared too much, creating discomfort in her girlfriend? There aren’t many heterosexual couples that would withstand the pressure of one of them holidaying with a “friend” of the opposite sex and there’s no reason why this lesbian couple should be any different.

I do smell something fishy when you bring up your financial generosity. You don’t explain why it should be relevant, but raising it confirms it’s a potentially contributing factor. Another unsettling element is your stuff about family. They aren’t your family and while I agree that, increasingly, friends are as important as blood relatives, it takes more than a few months for a relationship to reach that elevated status. You sound as if you’re looking to be adopted and that’s not a healthy impulse. Most of us are overwrought and trying to shed responsibilities in adulthood, not add new ones.

I suggest you take a step back and let this upset be a catalyst to look at where you are in your life. This shouldn’t stand out as a seismic event, so there must be something you aren’t divulging. My sense is that you are projecting your own insecurity on to a situation and therefore over-complicating it. Take a breath, give them some space and keep your money to yourself. Then have a think about why you’re looking for “family” and whether you’re chasing it down in the wrong places. Like so many of life’s problems, I think the buck here may stop with you, not your pals.

If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to mariella.frostrup@observer.co.uk. Follow @mariellaf1 on Twitter

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