Ask Helen

Treat online friends like real people

Dear Helen:
I recently discovered online bridge. At any hour of the day or night there are 10,000 active tables. A randomly assigned partner complimented my playing. We had compatible values of fun and fast play. I gave her my cell, so we could text to set up games. As “friends” we also see when the other logs on. She “replaces” my partner of many years who died of breast cancer six months ago. My new partner started out great, but recently I’ve had to prompt her with a “P?” when it is her turn to bid or lead. This now happens far too often. We tell people we are fast and friendly, but lately, in addition to lapsing out, she has made bids that have both opponents and me scratching our heads. Should I change my online name? What should I do?

No Trump

Dear No Trump:

Online friendships are different from in-person ones, but in both cases there are real people on the other side of the relationship. If you changed some settings on your computer and cell phone, she might think you had vanished off the face of the Earth. That’s cowardly and rude. Instead of disappearing into the mists of cyberspace, be the kind of friend you likely were to your former partner. Even if there is a medical reason for her lapses, you probably won’t cook her chicken soup or drive her to chemo appointments the way you would a close friend. But simple courtesy suggests that you treat her like a real person with real feelings and not like some imaginary robot.

Send her a simple text that says, “Are you OK? The last few weeks you have seemed slower and more distracted than when we met. I am uncomfortable telling opponents we are fast and then not playing that way. I also feel weird prompting you. Please tell me if there’s something that explains it or how we can get back on track.”

If it’s temporary, accept the inevitable apology. If it persists, tell her you want to diversify your partner base. The cyber world has both limitations and advantages. Distance is a double-edged sword.

Dear Helen:

My friend had major surgery three months ago. Once she was allowed to get back on her feet, her doctor told her to exercise daily, starting with walking. “Told” means instructed, encouraged, advised and threatened that if she did not, she might not realize the benefits of the procedure. She has settled into a habit of walking a half a mile every day. I may be biased about how much is enough, because I am trying to walk 10,000 steps each day (about five miles) and am happy if I do half. How can I be supportive of her and at the same time get her moving for more than 15 minutes at a slow pace? She regularly asks for my praise for her (paltry) efforts.


Dear Buddy:

Leave the threats to her doctor. Most people respond better to encouragement than to chastisement. Tell her how proud you are of her for starting a regular exercise program. Ask her if her doctor set any specific goals for her in terms of how long she should walk, measured in both distance and time. If she claims ignorance, encourage her to contact the doctor via phone or email to ask for goals given how long she has been post-surgical. The idea is not just “What do I do today?” but also “What should I be able to do in two months?”

Tell her the true-enough story of a former co-worker (I had one whom I will happily lend you), who, upon learning that you were using walking for exercise, handed you seven books and insisted you read them. The single most important lesson to remember is this: Each day do more. Walk one minute further, past two additional houses … just more. If you can motivate that, and perhaps walk some steps with her, she’ll meet her doctor’s goals and her own.

A resident of Eugene since 1981, Helen is a member of Temple Beth Israel, where she studies and speaks on Torah. She claims to have black belts in schmoozing, problem-solving and chutzpah. She’s a writer and an artist (

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