My best friend broke up with her boyfriend. They hadn’t been together very long – I think she realized she didn’t have the same feelings for him as he did for her, and he was always really busy with work.Well, he didn’t believe her on the reason for the breakup and is doing everything he can to make it work. Including emailing me for “advice.” My friend made it clear (I thought) that she didn’t feel strongly enough about him to continue the relationship. She also asked that I respond to him, reiterating this point. How do I do that nicely?Concerned Best Buddy
Nicely?! He “didn’t believe her” – there’s nothing nice about that.
Don’t “reiterate this point.” Your friend is the one who has to have the clear last word: “Respect my decision, and stop contacting me and my friends. Thank you.” No one responds from then on.
I was recently out to dinner to celebrate with a close friend who has been treated for breast cancer and has received a clean bill of health. She included her live-in boyfriend in the celebration.I noticed he was bumping my leg. I simply moved out of way the first and second times. After the third bump, I realized he was intentionally rubbing my leg. I had to move about five times.I have socialized with the two of them on many occasions and frankly do not have a good impression of him in general. I believe my friend deserves better, but have kept my mouth shut because it’s not up to me to comment on her choice of a partner. If it works for her, then I respect that.But his behavior with me at dinner was personal and therefore has crossed a line with me. I want to tell my friend what happened, but not after she’s gone through such a traumatic experience. But I feel keeping silent is a tacit way of protecting him. Should I tell my friend what happened?J.That’s what you say. Out loud, at the table, in front of your friend.
No time travel necessary; if he’s as bad as you say, then he’ll do this or something like it again next time you see them.
The beauty is that “Please stop rubbing my leg” bypasses the whole mental back and forth about your responsibility with respect to your friend’s choices – because “Please stop rubbing my leg” is about your body right now, that’s it, and is entirely your responsibility.
You also don’t “ha[ve] to move about five times” to help conceal anyone’s bad behavior, for anyone. Your friend beat cancer; she’ll manage this.
If he responds by feigning ignorance or blaming you, then you stand your ground quietly, calmly and without apology. “Say what you will. I just want you to stop rubbing my leg.” Simply leaving also makes a powerful statement.
It just so happens that doing what you need for you will give your friend all the information she needs to make her own decisions – but that’s the bonus, not the point.
My partner “Suzie” and I have been together for over two years, and we’re mutually happy and relatively carefree. Lately, however, I’ve started to worry that Suzie is growing frustrated and apathetic. She has her bachelor’s and is overqualified for her current position, but doesn’t know what to do next. One day, she wants to be an artist. The next day, a nurse. It’s all over the map. My anxiety is worsened by the fact that she moved to a new city to be with me, so I (however unhealthy it may be) feel it’s my fault if she doesn’t succeed.I try to be a supportive girlfriend – encourage her to take opportunities, offer to edit applications, cheer her up after rejections, etc. – but I don’t want to annoy her. She’s fiercely independent.How do I let her be herself but also push her, while letting go of the anxiety that it is somehow my responsibility?PartnerThis highlights the advantage of not being personally involved when assessing a situation: I see Suzie’s struggle as a good thing. Or, at least, a necessary process toward a good thing.
It is really, really hard to find the right path in life. The people who find it quickly tend to be: really lucky; really passionate about or uniquely skilled in a specific field that pays well; or generally content and not too worried about life’s specifics.
The rest of us must sift through what can seem like unlimited choices, ones we can’t just try on for a month at a time. We either have to commit to years of education in it, or land one of the rare entry-level jobs that open up in it, or find some other way to feed ourselves while we get an unpaid internship in it, or or or.
That Suzie is taking on this challenge will ultimately be to her benefit, because the alternative is for her to settle for where she is – which only works if she doesn’t see it as settling. Her trying on and discarding different ideas is actually useful, despite the inevitable frustration. If you don’t know what you want to do, then find out what you don’t want to do.
Seeing this process as a positive one, I hope, will help you let go of your anxiety. It’s not your responsibility, burden or fault. She’d be struggling with this wherever she lived. Right? Yes, her anxiety splashes onto you, but that’s being affected by it, not responsible for it. A very different thing.
There is also no need for you to “push” her, because that’s not your job, either. Your job is to sympathize; to point out (judiciously!) that her struggle will ultimately reward her; to tell her you’re confident she’ll get through this with a much better idea of what suits her. One of the things she tries on will eventually fit ... or she’ll find she’s happier on a winding path, or she’ll settle into unhappiness – which you’ll have to reckon with, but she will fully own.
Another thing you can do? Be the happy distraction. Reminding her of what she does enjoy will even help her calibrate and recalibrate her judgment throughout this spell of self-doubt.
I have had the month from hell. I discovered my husband has a porn addiction that could have bankrupted us had I not caught it by sheer happenstance. The crisis has been averted and we are both in therapy.But the strain of these events has taken a toll. I can’t hide my discomfort about being with my husband, and friends are noticing. There hasn’t been any overt nosiness, just gentle inquiry about my well-being.I don’t want to hurt my husband by broadcasting this mess, never mind my personal embarrassment, so how do I respond to well-meaning questions?StrainedI’m sorry you’re going through this. Your marriage is hardly the first or last to be swamped by online temptations of some sort – so even though I doubt I can talk you out of your embarrassment, I hope I can at least assure you that almost everyone you know has been or knows someone who has been affected by the scourge of addictive media.
As for how to respond: The rules of deflection are the same as always, even when the degree of hell feels hotter than ever before. “Having the month from hell – I’ll manage though. Thanks for asking.”
Carolyn Hax is a syndicated advice columnist for The Washington Post. She started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.