Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: My best friend has started seeing her ex-boyfriend. Again.
She has a history of not being able to make a clean break. For five years, she was on and off with a sexist pig who would make her take off her pants for his friends so they could see how hot she was. Then she dated a man for two and a half years who married someone else while they were together, the whole time holding out hope he’d leave his wife to be with her.
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Anyway, this guy she’s with now spent their first two months together prowling for other women. She dumped him, but they continued talking. He kept telling her he wanted to be together, all the while still trying to sleep with other women, which she would find out about. He lied to her about why he and his ex-wife split up (he cheated on the ex).
The other day, she posted pictures of them on Facebook. They went on a day trip together. I can only imagine she didn’t tell me beforehand because she knew what I would say. Every single fiber of my being wants to slap her upside the head. Can I say something, and what?
— When to Speak Up?
DEAR WHEN TO SPEAK UP?: If “she knew what I would say,” then you’ve said something — many times, no doubt. Now, it’s time to get at the bigger problem than these men: “I cannot bear to watch you treat yourself so poorly anymore, and cannot talk to you about this boyfriend — or any other who helps you mistreat yourself — as if it’s a typical, healthy relationship. I hope you’ll get help. If you’re not ready, then I will be at your side whenever you are, at every step.”
Hold that line. The specifics of these men only distract from the fact that she’s the common denominator, and unless she tends to her own emotional health, any breakup will only bring up the next guy in her Pez dispenser of disastrous choices.
So, be clear — you are not her shoulder for incremental weepings, you’re there only for the big cry that moves her to change. Until then, “I’ve said my piece on this. Can we please talk about something else?”
I can’t express fully how lousy this will feel in the moment, but, long run, she’s wiping out most of your other options with her self-destructive choices.
DEAR CAROLYN: I’m in love with someone who is a really good, kind person. He just wants different things ultimately than I do (the big things like children, marriage, location). I get that intellectually. But how do I get my heart and emotions to understand and accept this?
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Without the mess of grieving and pining and reliving and regretting, you mean? You don’t. Hearts need to be whacked with the reality of it, and then left alone to heal. There’s no magic to it; there’s just the business of living and of giving the heart new things to love when it’s ready.