Did someone slip DoubleX's advice columnist a mickey?

DoubleX's Lucinda Rosenfeld gives some stupendously bad counsel, and readers push back, with advice for her removal

Published October 15, 2009 2:16PM (EDT)

Let’s say you are a young woman who goes out to meet your two closest friends at a rock club late at night. While you are there, someone slips something in your drink. You wake up alone in the emergency room. A police officer tells you they found you lying unconscious on the sidewalk. You remember nothing. Later, when you reconstruct the evening, you figure out this much: At some point you went to the bathroom. Your friends figured you were gone, so they ditched you. According to them, you called them from the street, sobbing and asking for their help. They called an ambulance, presumably the one that found you unconscious on the sidewalk. Your mom -- who lives 2,000 miles away -- calls your friends and asks them to meet you at the hospital. They refuse. Finally, the hospital calls them and says that you can’t leave without an escort. They drive you as far as your car, then insist you drive yourself home alone. You have been best friends with these girls for more than 10 years. And what you want to know is: Are these still my friends?

Well, what the hell do you think?

As many readers of Lucinda Rosenfeld’s “Friend or Foe” column in DoubleX now know, the advice columnist responded, “Well, that’s a tough call.” According to her, the duty to “haul ass to said emergency room at 4 a.m.” is obligatory only if one is a “spouse or even a boyfriend” of the patient. But “single female friends” who are “already tucked in their beddie-bies” need not disturb their beauty sleep -- even if those friends are the same ones who ditched you at the bar in the first place. "It's not even necessarily safe" for a single woman to drive -- or cab -- her way to the emergency room in the middle of the night, says Rosenfeld, who apparently thinks it’s perfectly safe to be passed out on a city sidewalk (or at least proper punishment for wayward drunkards). “Yes,” she concedes, “overnights at the E.R. are the opposite of fun. So are disastrous drug trips (I had one in my twenties, which pretty much sealed my fate as an illegal substance ninny.) But only nuns make it out of youth without a few ambulance rides.” Friendship, according to this woman who writes about it for a living, is good for “when you’re upset about a boy/sick cat/whatnot.” Besides how do they know you aren’t lying about someone slipping a drug in your drink? After all, don’t many women use such “tales” as “cover for irresponsible behavior”? In case you didn’t get the hint that Lucinda Rosenfeld is totally not buying this whole date-rape drug story, she adds: “Only you know the truth.” 

The only proper response to Rosenfeld is: Come the fuck on. It’s hard to know where to start to unpack all the layers of wrong, but ever since her column appeared on Monday, bloggers and hundreds of commenters have done a pretty good job of taking apart every conceivable angle. Jezebel pointed out the folly of implying that the only people responsible for taking care of you in case of an emergency are those to whom you are related by blood, or with whom you are exchanging bodily fluids. They write: “Apparently if you’re single, and don’t have a willing mom, you are SOL if you need middle-of-the-night help.” Mary Carmichael at Newsweek points out “the ludicrous idea that a woman would lie to an anonymous advice columnist (what incentive could she possibly have?)” before going on to relay her own story about a night when she and her friends flipped out a few sips into their second drink -- they started vomiting and hallucinating -- and concluded that their drinks may have been spiked. Sure, she concedes, it’s hard to know if one has in fact been drugged, and some women lie about how much they’ve had to drink. “But none of this means that a given woman who says she’s been drugged, like the one in Rosenfeld’s column, is lying. None of it means that women are never drugged, any more than the murkiness of sexual assault statistics and the occasional false accusation means that women are never raped. And yes, rape does need to be mentioned here -- because we don’t know what happened to the woman in Rosenfeld’s column before the policeman found her on the pavement.”

After a day or so of accusations, Rosenfeld printed a second response. If anything, she made it worse. She claims she saw “no evidence in her letter that she was the victim of a sex crime.” Well, except for the fact that the whole point of spiking someone’s drink with an illicit substance is usually to incapacitate them and that the letter writer says she doesn't remember what happened. (A point neatly summed up in this Jezebel headline: “Advice Columnist Doesn’t Know What Roofies Are For.”) By the time the woman placed the call, Rosenfeld says, “she was out of physical danger and simply frightened and upset.” Well, yes, because she had been found passed out on the sidewalk, a state that seems significantly more dangerous than that of friends hopping in their cars or into a cab to go directly to the emergency room. How is she so sure the letter writer was not in physical danger? Because “there is no mention of her having her stomach pumped” -- never mind that this is the proper response to alcohol poisoning, not date-rape drugs -- and she was being watched over by medical professionals. Then she admits what we already know: That she didn’t believe her in the first place. “I’m not suggesting that the writer is lying about what happened. But possibly she has asked for favors like this more than once or twice in recent years.” So she isn’t “suggesting” she is lying; she is actually making up information that isn’t in the letter to justify her response.

To their credit, the editors at DoubleX realized that their columnist’s response was still inadequate, and yesterday editor Samantha Henig posted her own response to the column. 

It is a stupendously callous move for an advice columnist who receives a letter from a girl who claims to have been drugged at a club to automatically assume that the girl is a liar who can’t be trusted. To further assume that the only explanation for her friends’ appalling behavior is that the girl has a past history of drunken shenanigans -- even when no mention of them is made in the letter -- is uncomfortably similar to the outdated scenarios of defense attorneys who question rape victims about their clothing and past sexual histories.

But as far as I’m concerned, the friends’ crappy behavior began the moment they ditched the letter writer at the club. Three friends show up to a crowded bar, late at night, where intoxicating beverages are served, and two of them leave while the other girl is in the bathroom? In what universe does this make sense? In the universe I live in, when my friends and I meet up at bars, no one goes home until everyone is accounted for. Even at our local bar, which is located five blocks away from my house and where we know just about all the bartenders and the regulars, putting people in cabs or matching them up with an escort is an automatic end-of-the-night ritual. This goes double when, as seems to be the case in this story, cars are involved. I wouldn’t leave a drunken friend in the bathroom if he were male and a 300-pound linebacker without at least taking the time to make sure he had a safe ride home. And if that person were a single woman, my best friend of 10 years, possibly looking a little or a lot tipsy, and carrying a set of car keys in her purse? Hell, no. Even -- perhaps especially -- if that friend were doing shots and willingly snorting lines in the bathroom. I have put complete strangers into cabs many, many times; sometimes with cab fare collected from myself and other complete strangers who notice that a person is in need of help. That’s just what you do. Why? Because you don’t want to be the person who gets the call from the emergency room at 4 a.m. to find out that your friend is hurt or has hurt someone else. And if you get that call, you fucking go.

Unless, apparently, you are Lucinda Rosenfeld. In her second response, Rosenfeld asked, “But how many of you would actually, honestly get out of bed and get dressed at 4 a.m. and drive to the hospital to keep your close friend company while she recovered?” That’s right, Lucinda, you caught us. The rest of us are just deluding ourselves. Except among the hundreds of comments are dozens upon dozens of examples of people citing specific times they did just that: Friends who showed up at the hospital in the middle of the night, in a snow storm, bearing gifts; friends who pretended to be the patient’s sister so they could wait by her hospital bed; a guy who says he would pick up someone at the hospital “EVEN IF THEY WERE SOMEONE I DIDN’T LIKE”; and, my favorite, a woman who writes about carrying a total stranger, whom she found passed out, off the subway, finding her address in her purse, and putting her in a cab home, which she paid for herself. (The last time I was in the E.R. was the night of my own birthday party, when my best friend cut her ankle on a broken beer bottle. Not only did I take her to the E.R., but I sat by her hospital bed for the next six hours, because while the medical professionals were competent enough to stitch up her ankle, only I could hold her hand. Also: she is my best friend.)

It is frankly despicable that Lucinda Rosenfeld managed to turn a letter from a woman who believed she was drugged into an interrogation of the woman’s own behavior. But it is equally troubling that she seems to feel that leaving a friend alone on a sidewalk is the proper way to teach her a lesson about the dangers of drinking alcohol in a venue expressly designed for that purpose. Friends don’t leave friends in the bathroom. Friends don’t let friends end up on the sidewalk. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. Friends who have friends with a chronic habit of abusing substances might confront them in the morning and perhaps refrain from inviting them to social events that take place at venues that serve intoxicating substances. But as one commenter on the DoubleX site put it: “This was the ultimate softball question: ‘Dear Friend or Foe: Should true friends help each other if called from the E.R. in the middle of the night?’ ‘Yes. As a general rule, they should.’”

Lucinda Rosenfeld has written three novels, the last of which, “I’m So Happy For You,” was about the ferocious rivalry between best frenemies. She has written many essays, including one about “How to Dump a Friend” and another “Our Mutual Friend: How to Steal Friends and Influence People.” You might say she has a certain expertise in all the ways female friendship goes awry. You also might say that the rest of us might take a nice long healthy pause before considering her to be a person whose idea of friendship we wish to emulate. I have often admired her writing, and often been frustrated with some of it as well. But perhaps that advice gig is not quite her thing. Some DoubleX readers have concluded the same -- and started a petition to have her removed. 

By Amy Benfer

Amy Benfer is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y.

MORE FROM Amy Benfer

Related Topics ------------------------------------------