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February 28, 2000   CONTINUED e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


Dear Breakup Girl,

One of my dearest friends started dating her future husband at 22, married at 30, divorced at 32, and met me at 33. She has repeatedly stated that she never loved her husband and wants to find a relationship with passion. Fast forward to 1999, she's 40 and meets a cab driver who tells her that he's married but that he'd like to have an affair, how 'bout it? She reasons that it'll be fun because she won't get emotionally involved with him because he's married, but two months later she's head over heels for him and is desperate for him to leave his wife. Over the last six months, they've broken up and reunited numerous times, and it turns out that he's an alcoholic, a bit of a liar, and a Republican to boot. Also, he likes Rush.

I really do not like this guy. Aside from the fact that he's married, I think he's sleazy, telling her things like, "Oh, this time next year we can have our own His & Hers embroidered bathrobes!" and tripe like that, before he pulls on his boots and heads home to his wife. Clearly, my friend is getting something she needs from this relationship for her to keep yo-yoing back into it. My question really has to do with me, and how I can continue being a supportive friend to her when I think that this situation is absurd, emotionally abusive, and generally a really bad thing. She claims that I don't want to hear about him, and she's right, I don't. I think he's a moron, and I find it increasingly difficult to keep my mouth shut on this score. She will call or e-mail the latest details of their involvement but has made it clear that she doesn't want to hear any kind of critique of the relationship. I don't want to lose her as a friend, but when she's involved with Mr. Wonderful, she is usually so hysterically upset and obsessed such that she no longer functions as a friend. So please, BG. Help me help myself, and maybe my friend as well.

--Bungling in Boston

Dear Bungling,

Okay, I know everyone thinks I'm going to develop that one mention of Rush into a series of insulting yet illuminating metaphors. Well, but my first Big Deal Boyfriend was a huge Rush fan; I thus I have many giddy mirror-ball-speckled memories with "Closer to the Heart" as the soundtrack. So no: some things are just too sacred.

Back to Bridget, then. When Jude announces that she's marrying Vile Richard -- and inviting Bridget's nemesis to the wedding -- Bridget and Shazzer basically go on friendship strike. Cold shoulder and all that. Ultimately, it's not about Vile Richard (who eventually proves his epithet inaccurate); it's about how [temporarily] willing Jude is to mow over her truest loyalties in the name of bridal and social registries. And Jude does get the point (Cf. her speech, above).

Meaning what for you? That unconditional friendship can, in its own way, include conditions. So what are your options?

  1. A strike. Taking an "I'm not talking to you until you dump him" position is radical, but it does send your message loud and clear. One could argue (and you may have to) that it's a strong position on your feelings for her, not on your selfish sickness of hearing about him.
  2. Boundaries ("subdivisions," if you will. Okay, couldn't resist). A modified strike. You could issue one final statement about why you think this cab ride is dangerous, and then tell her that henceforth you will be delighted to talk/e-mail with her about anything but. You don't want to hear it, she doesn't want to hear what you think about it, so put It off-limits.
  3. Nothing. Uh-huh. You see, wrassling with her over this provides some of the gas she needs to keep the drama cylinders pumping. As in: "What I'm doing is wrong in the eyes of moral and faithful society, and in the eyes of my friend! …Va-va-voom!" So bite your tongue -- cover your ears and play Tomb Raider while she rants if you like -- and offer only the most neutral, passive feedback. It's sort of the friendship version of "acceptance therapy," the "Oh! When you quit trying to change them, they actually sort of do!" approach that, if experts are correct, is currently keeping couples together at an alarming rate. Put another way: in the same way that kids quit tantrumming when they realize no one's listening, she may also start to hit empty.

Choose as you will, but there's something to be said -- if you can bear it -- for the final option. You can most certainly tell her how you feel, but you can't tell her what to do. And As Bridget's non-smug-married friend Magda observes: "People's relationships are quite mysterious. No one from the outside ever really understands what makes them work."

I mean, she did find "a relationship with passion." Even His & Hers stompy fallouts are passionate -- as opposed to indifferent -- just the way a friendship strike is still friendship. Good luck.

Breakup Girl



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