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June 29, 1998   CONTINUED e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


Dear Breakup Girl,

Here's the scenario. "Harry" and "Sally" are longtime friends in uncannily similar lines of work. Harry, who's oozing unrequited smooches for Sally from every pore, finally busts a move just as Sally leaves for a job abroad for several months. She decides this is plausible, goes along, and they long distance it quite happily for awhile. Then they spend the summer working together, are actually in the same place, and Sally gets the wiggins. They travel through Europe together, on a Eurailpass to emotional hell, and eventually Sally pulls the plug. This being the real world, Harry's seriously bruised--not the Billy Crystal kind of cutesy angst that ends in a charming speech that woos her back. Rather, they avoid each other for the better part of the year, then slowly start becoming friends again. But Harry, underneath the bruises, still oozes. (Vile, I know, but you know what I mean.) He's a man of infinite braveness, so he starts blurring the ol' friendship lines. Sally's not sure what to do: she's spooked about ending up alone, Harry is indisputably a great guy, and on paper it should be perfect. Yet: wiggins, which sometimes lift when she just enjoys hanging out with Harry, or sometimes return when she gets critical for him or starry-eyed for some perfect Mr. Right who'll make her melt. Sally's now out of town for the summer, there's still no resolution, and Harry's still twisting in the wind. AND...I'm the one whom Sally calls for a shoulder to be confused on. What do you think she should do, and how, as a friend, might I effectively help guide her in that direction?

-- ABC

Dear ABC,

How kind of you to ask. First of all, let me say that friends/confidants have a funny role in these matters. Many advice-seekers aren't seeking actual advice; rather, they want to hear themselves talk -- and in the best cases, this is a good thing, because if they actually listen, they will tell themselves what to do. Plus, the fact remains -- I've said it before, I'll say it again -- that you can't tell people what to do. You can say what you want, but they're going to do what they want. (And if it is what you recommended, they will take credit for having come up with it.) True story: a dear friend calls me to ask, he says, for "my advice." Since he asks, I give it to him. I say, "Okay, here it is. I really don't think you should start dating Woman B yet because you still have so many completely unresolved issues about Woman A." Two days later, he calls me again. "Hi, so I'm kind of seeing Woman B. And I need your advice about something."

Then again -- as we saw in the anecdote about my buddy Shannon, above -- sometimes it's friends/confidants who, even without realizing it, say The One Perfect Thing that somehow makes the fog lift.

Ha! No pressure.

Seriously, though. The Shannon thing didn't happen because her friend was brilliant and inspired, it happened because Shannon was willing and ready, at that moment, to hear what her friend said. One another day in another frame of mind, her friend's comment might have glanced off her consciousness and dissolved into thin air.

So. Really the best you can do is be supportive, listen, and -- instead of struggling to offer The Answer -- be content to ask questions, even if you're just repeating back what she just said with a "?" stuck on the end. Let her hear the answer in her own voice.

But if you would also like to season the stew with some astute observations, here's a few you can borrow from Breakup Girl:

We're all familiar with Beer Goggles: how about Fear Goggles? As in, you're worried about "winding up alone," so the guy who's ... there --superb and excellent though he may indeed be -- looks better and better. Or, at least, makes you worry more and more about why you're not consistently interested and what fate will thus befall you (i.e. as Bridget Jones so daintily sees it, that you will "end up dying alone and found three weeks later, half-eaten by an Alsatian"). But, frightening as it may be to let go of someone great, it's just not a great idea -- caution: heinous psychobabble ahead -- "to come froma place of paucity" and thus attempt to force a fit as if he were the last man on earth. I mean, she's wigged about being with him, like, at all -- not about whether to say yes to any really, really, really binding popped question. Not a good sign, much like the fact that everything seems to fall apart anytime they're together for more than an hour or so. Also, remember that Harry is a an active player in this, too. He may be twisting in the wind at the moment, but -- even though it's no more His Job than it is yours to set her straight -- he's also perfectly capable of and entitled to the issuing of some sort of policy statement. As in: "It's not working for me to be left hanging; let's talk once and for all about what we think will work." It's not right of her to leave things up in the air forever, but again, for what it's worth, he's not a passive pawn.

That is what I recommend doing and saying. Even if friends don't take "advice," they do appreciate your taking the time. So whether or not anything you do or say does click for her, go ahead and take the credit.

Breakup Girl



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