Life & Culture

Ask Hilary: My toxic ex-friend is bullying me!

Hilary Freeman helps a reader who is being targeted on social media


Q: A former friend turned on me when I had business problems and made things ten times worse. As if that wasn’t bad enough, since then she has continually used social media to get at me, writing nasty, personal and very insulting things on a public forum, sometimes using obscene language.

She never names me but it’s obvious who she’s talking about. It’s been going on for several years and I’m so sick of it. I think she’s jealous of me because I have a new job, a partner and a fulfilling life, when she is alone and bitter. What should I do?


A When Oscar Wilde said “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about,” he had not foreseen the rise of social media. As anyone who has been trolled or harassed online knows, it hurts a lot. Perhaps the worst thing about it is that it’s so intrusive: it’s in your home, on your laptop, your phone, your tablet. There’s no escape.

What your ex friend is doing is just bullying/harassment by another name and it’s a crime, even if she doesn’t overtly name you. Presumably you’ve reported her to the website — although they are notorious for doing little in these cases. You do have a right to go to the police and report her and they will take it seriously, and could arrest her. You’d need to record the dates and times of incidents, and take screenshots of anything she writes. But you need to ask yourself if this is what you really want to do. It could inflame the situation. It will certainly show her that you are reading what she writes, and that’s she’s hurting you — thereby giving her the attention she craves. She may not want to be your friend anymore, but she doesn’t want you to forget her.

You’re right in your assessment of her. She clearly has deep-seated problems and is consumed by anger and jealousy. A happy person would not do this, especially after so many years. Perhaps she’s hoping to inspire a reaction in you, to push you to anger so you respond in kind. That you don’t respond, despite the provocation, must annoy her beyond measure. Could you try not to read what she writes (if you feel it should be monitored, ask a friend to do so for you)? Perhaps the best “revenge” you can have is to make it clear she doesn’t matter, and to live your good life without her.

Q My 14 year old daughter is so shallow. She seems to only care about make up and selfies and has no interest in anything academic or cultural. She never picks up a book and moans about school every day. She’s a lovely girl and very bright. How can I influence her to be less of an airhead?

A If you can’t be shallow at 14, when can you be shallow? Your daughter is behaving perfectly normally for her age. For her, using makeup and taking selfies are new and exciting ways of showing that she’s virtually an adult. They make her feel older and cooler — which is pretty much all many teenage girls want.

Lovely, bright girls do not stop being lovely and bright just because they get into makeup. Sculpting her cheekbones won’t make her an airhead. Have her grades fallen significantly? If not, you really have nothing to worry about. She will eventually come out of this phase, just like she came out of the one for collecting My Little Pony, or asking you to read the same story 100 times. Eventually, her obsession will fade and other things will become more prominent in her life.

Liking makeup and books are not mutually exclusive. Makeup vlogger extraordinaire Zoella runs a book club. Your daughter probably knows about it already. At this age peer pressure rules. What her friends think will matter to her a lot more than what you think. In fact, show her that you disapprove of her interest, and she’ll probably just pile on another layer of foundation to spite you. But remember, you have been influencing her all her life, and the chances are that underneath the slap, she shares your values. So why not stop getting annoyed about this, stop being critical and show her you’re not the enemy. You could offer to take her out shopping for some makeup, have lunch together and a good chat, and maybe do something cultural too. Rather than putting her down, she’ll respond to you better if she feels you’re on her side.


Contact Hilary via email at:, anonymously or not. Or write to her at 28 St Albans Lane, London NW11 7QF


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