What do I do with my friend?

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Q:  She’s drinking too much, overspending, overeating, having sex with too many guys.  Do I say something or not?

A:  If this is the way she’s always been and she likes it, then no, I wouldn’t say anything.  You might just have different opinions of what “too much” means.  She’d probably be offended, you run the risk of sounding judgmental (even if you’re well-meaning), and it’d wind up a big old mess.  If there have been consequences as a result of her behavior (like she can’t pay her rent or she’s not being safe and gets an STD), you could let her know those worry you.  Or if she ever expresses doubt about her choices, you can let her know what you think. 

But if this represents a sudden change in her behavior, then yes, I think you should absolutely call her attention to it in a loving way.  Let her know it’s the change that has you concerned, and that you’re wondering if anything’s happened to cause it.  That way, it doesn’t come off like you’re judging her and she knows she has your support.

When to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em

Q:  My boyfriend told me recently that he’s had a gambling problem for years and that he’s in a lot of debt.  He just started going to Gamblers Anonymous to get help and that’s why he’s telling me now.  We’ve talked about getting married and if we did, his debt would be mine, too (not to mention that I’m really mad that he’s been lying to me.)  I think the smart thing is to break up with him, but I don’t want to lose all those years of my life either. 

A:  I really feel for you.  You’re in a hard and painful position right now.  The first thing you have to admit (and it sounds like he’s already admitted this, by going to a 12 Step program) is that he’s an addict.  Addictions are messy, and recovery is rarely straightforward so there’s a pretty good possibility that he’ll have relapses in the future.  You need to decide if you can live with that possibility.  The second consideration is the sense of betrayal you must feel.  I’m sure he’s told you a lot of lies along the way (for example, telling you he’s one place when he’s really at a casino or a card club.)  Maybe you can find forgiveness and rebuild your trust with him, but maybe you can’t.  It doesn’t make you a lesser person if you can’t get around this.  It’s important to be truthful with yourself about your own limits, and not try to convince yourself you can deal with something you really can’t.  If you tackle both of those and still want to be with him and the main sticking point is the debt, investigate debt management and credit counseling options; there may very well be ways to protect yourself financially if you do get married.  And let me just say that I firmly, FIRMLY believe that time spent with someone you love is never lost time.  There are tough choices ahead, but regret is the real waste.

Revolving door

Q:  I’ve been involved with someone on and off for the past three years.  I know he’s not good for me, we always break up for the same reasons, but when he comes back around, I always cave.  What’s that about?  How do I stop?

A:  I don’t know.  What’s it about?  Great sex?  Loneliness?  Boredom?  An addiction to bad boys?  Not feeling like you deserve someone better?  A misguided desire to turn him into the man you really want?  Doomed love?  All of the above?  Often, women have that one person who seems to exert some sort of pull over them, but the pull is made up of a lot of different things and you need to figure out what it is for you.  Unfortunately, sometimes it’s that the ways he lets you down correspond exactly to the ways other people let you down (for example, one or both of your parents) and you’re subconsciously trying to heal yourself by getting a different outcome this time around.  But by having it hurt you in just the same way, you’re actually doing more damage to yourself.

That’s just a theory, though.  Let’s look specifically at what’s happening for you with this guy.  Think about that moment when you first hear his voice again, and all the emotions and thoughts that race through you.  There’s information there.  Then, if you think the two of you might be able to create a healthy, fulfilling relationship, go to therapy together and see if you’re right or just deluding yourself.  If you already know you don’t have a shot in hell, treat this like an addiction: Cut off all ties, have your friends and family support you (and intervene if necessary), and if you have a relapse, call it that and end it again immediately.  Remind yourself constantly of why this is wrong for you, and why you deserve better.  If you’re not sure you do, that’s where your work is.

Children of Divorce

Q: I’ve been with the same guy for over 6 years and we’re pretty happy.  However when the subject of marriage comes up he keeps asking for more time to make sure he isn’t “making a mistake” and marrying the wrong person. He doesn’t believe in divorce, and comes from a family where his mother is still legally married to his father and lives in the same house together (with his younger siblings), but isn’t married in any other way. I know that this enviroment had affected him, and his mother constantly tells him to take his time and uses her marriage as an example of “being stuck”. In the meantime my parents are constantly after me to either get him to commit to marriage or leave him. We both know that we love each other and don’t want to give up, but after some time of this we are both feeling the strain. My question is how do we approach the subject of marriage and come up with a solution? How can we both feel good about making this decision?

A:  From your letter, I wasn’t sure how you feel about marriage yourself.  It sounds like your parents definitely want it for you; how much do you want it for yourself? That’s a good place to start.  If you’re okay with staying together with marriage somewhere on the distant horizon and it’s just your parents who aren’t, I think it’s important that you assert yourself with them and let them know that while they may be well-intentioned, they’re not actually being helpful.  If you do feel strongly that you want to be married and have a time frame in mind, your boyfriend should know that.  Sometimes people say they need more time, but aren’t actually using that time in a productive sense.  In this case, using his time productively would mean that he gives serious consideration to whether you have the qualities he wants in a wife and whether your relationship is the kind he can imagine being in for a lifetime.  If there are things that need improving and that’s why he’s hesitating, then the two of you can work on those and see if that gets you any closer to marriage.  It sounds like right now, he might be focusing more on his fears about divorce than on his own hopes for marriage, and he really needs to confront these in an honest way so that the two of you can move forward in your lives.

I have a crush on a good friend/Friend or more?

Since these two questions have some overlap, I’m going to include both questions with one answer.

Q: There’s this guy who I’m really good friends with, but who I also have a big crush on, only my friend also likes him (and I’m worried I’ll hurt her feelings if she knows I still like him too) and he likes some other girl, even though me and other friends have told him that liking her is just a lost cause. But he won’t hear any of it and continues to like her even though she has a boyfriend.

Also, I just graduated from high school and the guy in question is a senior this year, so we won’t get see/talk to each other as often as we used to when I was still in school.

Lastly, the guy told me that he just likes me (and the friend who also likes him too) just as friends. And I thought I had accepted that fact and can move on and just continue to be good friends with him, but I still catch myself getting excited whenever he sends me e-mails or talks to me online and I still really like him as more than a friend! :( What should I do?? PLEASE HELP!!

Q: How can you tell if a guy is interested in being just your friend or if it’s something more?

A: Women have a tendency to make men more mysterious than they need to be. Sometimes we do this because we don’t like what they’re telling us directly, and sometimes it’s because we figure we know them better than they know themselves, and sometimes it’s because it gives us lots to think about and talk about with our girlfriends. But when a guy tells you straight out that he likes someone else and that he only wants to be your friend, believe him. Go on and feel hurt, sad, disappointed, or whatever else you feel, but believe him and start looking around you for the people who like you as more than a friend. When someone really likes you, it won’t stay a secret for long. Some clues: He seeks you out more than other people, he gives you a lot of focused attention (especially eye contact and paying attention to when you enter or leave a room), and if you hint that you’re interested in him (or ask him out yourself), he’ll be really happy.

Kissing a lot of frogs, or waiting for the prince?

Q:  Holly, which camp are you in? Do you think you need to “kiss a lot of frogs” to find your prince or are you of the belief that if you find the ‘right’ person at twenty or eighteen or even fifteen, that you should stick with that person? Do you think it’s even POSSIBLE to find the right person at such a young age?

A:  I  believe that if you find a person at 15, 18, or 20 and they still feel right to you at 50 or 100, you’re in a truly lucky minority.  There’s a huge difference between unlikely and impossible, and there are some couples out there who get together young and then somehow grow together in just the right ways.  And if they need some tweaking along the way, well, there’s always therapy.  For some people, kissing a lot of frogs makes it easier to spot the prince, and others just get jaded and confused.  You’ve just got to know yourself.


Q:  So I’ve been great friends with this guy most of my life and a few months ago something changed and since then we have seen each other differently and started to take the relationship farther.  We talk all the time, but we live far apart so we don’t get to see each other as much as we’d like to.  Every time we spend time together we have so much fun together and just are different than we ever have been and it’s wonderful!  But after every time we are together he gets distant, I don’t hear from him for maybe a week and he questions what we are doing, whether it’s a good idea or not.  I just don’t understand.  Is he just scared? Or could it be that this just isn’t meant to be and isn’t going to go any farther?  Should I just end this on and off again whatever it is we’ve got going?

A:  The best place to start is by questioning yourself.  What do you really want out of this relationship (i.e. short-term fun or something long-term and committed, maybe even leading to marriage and kids)?  If it’s short-term, you’d have a different evaluation process than if you’re looking for a life partner.  And if you are looking for a life partner, does he have the qualities you’d want in that person?

Since I don’t know him, I’m hesitant to speculate about the reasons he might be distant or what his feelings are for you.  I think it’s important that you have a conversation with him where you say what you’ve noticed and ask him what it means.  If his flip-floppy behavior is really upsetting you, tell him that, too, since respect for each other’s feelings is pretty much the cornerstone of everything.  By going into that conversation with some clarity about what you want, you can see whether his vision is aligned; if it isn’t, maybe the best thing is to end it.   

Saying “I love you”

Q:  I’m in love with my new boyfriend, and I think he’s in love with me, but he hasn’t said it yet.  My friends are telling me to wait and let him say it first, and I can see their point, but I’m starting to go crazy.  What do you think?

A:  My first thought is, How new is your boyfriend?  The first few months of a relationship are full of projection (meaning, we project onto the person everything we hope they’ll turn out to be, sometimes missing who they actually are).  Those months are also full of heightened sensations and buzzing chemicals and if you’re lucky, great sex.  All of that can conspire to make you feel you’re in love.  And you may very well be, but the only way to distinguish infatuation from love is time. 

If it’s been longer than a few months and you’re sure of your feelings, you’re probably anxious to hear that they’re returned.  The thing to remember is that he could be feeling exactly what you are, but he’s being cautious about calling it love (for reasons of his personality, his history, etc.)  If waiting for him is really making you crazy, you might want to think about why you’re placing quite so much importance on the words rather than the experience of loving.  Is it that you imagine hearing ”I love you” would fix problems with your self-esteem, or bring you reassurance in an insecure relationship?  If it’s neither of those things and just that you’re a forthright, expressive person who likes to say things as you feel them, consider saying it yourself and hope for the best.  That’s what love is, right?

Couples therapy?

Q:  I’ve been in a relationship for the past six years.  He’s a good guy, but I’m just done.  He really wants to go to therapy to try to work things out.  Should I just go to a few sessions, figuring the therapist will help him see that it’s over?

A:  They say about half of all couples therapy involves couples where one person knows he/she wants out and is just trying to leave the other person with a therapist to clean up the mess.  I don’t know about half, but I’ve seen it often enough.  I’ve got to say, I’m not a fan.  I know there’s often an element of caring and concern to it (maybe you want to ensure that your ex will have someone to help him through the loss), but there’s also an element of dishonesty.  If you agree to go to therapy to work on your relationship with no intention of actually doing that, hoping that the therapist will read between the lines, that’s not fair to anyone involved.  It’s not the therapist’s job to help your boyfriend see that the relationship’s over, it’s yours.  The best way to do that is by being honest so that he doesn’t hang onto false hope.  If you can’t imagine being that clear with him, suggest that you see a therapist together to talk about ending the relationship in as healthy a way as possible, to get “closure,” as the buzzword goes.  The kindest thing (and maybe the hardest—darned if they don’t often go together) is to let someone know when they’ve got no shot, so you can both move on. 

“The One”?

Q:  I’m wondering what you think about this theory of there being “the one” out there—someone who is “fated” for me and who I’ll eventually meet once the timing and circumstances are right.  What do you think?

 A:  It’s a romantic—and thus, appealing—idea.  As with all ideas, it’s important to know how (or if) it’s serving you.  For example, if you choose to believe “the one” is going to cross your path through no efforts of your own and so you just cloister in your house and figure he’ll find you, that could be detrimental.  If believing in “the one” allows you to be more open to the people who do cross your path, that could be helpful.  And if you’re already with someone and declare him the one, perhaps you’re willing to work harder when times are rough or just hum-drum; if you’re with someone and you’ve been beating your head against the wall for years because you decided in the first month that he was “the one”, well, not so good. 

Since this is a somewhat philosophical question, I’ll invoke a little bit of pop philosophy that I’ve always liked.  Some philosopher (if you know who, feel free to post!) said that while we’re going through our lives, it can seem random, patternless, purposeless, but when we get to the end and look back, we can see how one thing led to the next with a clear sense of design.  I always took that to mean we should have faith that it all adds up to something, even if we can’t see it at the time.  I think “the one” is kind of like that: If he/she exists, we won’t know until we’ve spent a lifetime.