Don't Be Afraid of a Little Tough Love

Dear Dategirl: What do you do with a friend who's stuck in a bad relationship? He knows she sucks, because he constantly vents to me about how bad things are and asks for advice, but then he keeps going back for more! She's a psycho and all his friends hate her guts. My girlfriend told him flat out she won't listen to him anymore, but I still feel bad for him. Where do you draw the line between being a good friend and putting your foot down? —Sick of It All It sounds as though your friend is aware he's hitched his wagon to a kook, which is good because the first step to getting over a problem is acknowledging you have one. Here are a few tips that might help you, and eventually him, get through this: • Be careful about bashing. You might think it's OK to pile on once he starts talking about the way she says "hyper-bowl" when she means "hyperbole," but chances are it'll quit being so funny the minute you mock her hideous lisp. A knowing nod or noncommittal "hmm" is the safest road. • Don't play therapist. When a friend of mine started dating a serial philanderer, she was positive theirs was his first affair. Ms. Smarty Pants Advice Columnist scoffed and blabbed that, in her expert opinion, it sounded as if he'd been stepping out on his wife for a long time, and that my friend was but one in a long line of side pieces. Turned out I was right, but there are more important things than being right. Like keeping your friend. • Hire a professional instead. If being his sympathetic ear starts to wear on you (compassion fatigue!), you might gently suggest that he find other venues wherein to vent his anger/frustration. A shrink is a great start, though a warning—when I suggested this to the married-guy-dater, she was so furious she quit talking to me. • Employ robotics. Author Michael Malice's buddy was upset about his on-again/off-again girlfriend, so he forwarded Michael a g-chat transcript of their most recent conversation to get Michael's take on it. Michael's opinion had long been that the girlfriend was a manipulative cow, but his friend wasn't so quick to agree. So Malice went to and animated their g-chat, verbatim. Watching their conversation played out by cartoon characters did the trick, and Michael's friend ditched the bitch. Please note that your own friends' reactions may vary; Michael's friend was halfway to DumpHerVille anyway. • Just say no. Do not allow yourself to be suckered into spending time with her and, inevitably, being thrust into their psychodrama. There are limits to anyone's kindness and patience, and a casual beer is far too enjoyable to have the experience sullied by a Heinous Cunt of Misery. • Don't be afraid of a little tough love. When I was dating the Sociopathic Closet Case, my friends were at their collective wits' end. He was, no exaggeration, one of the worst people on earth. Yet due to a lethal combination of loneliness and extremely low self-esteem, I stayed with him for a few months. My pals were mostly silent as they watched me self-destruct, but one day an e-mail between two friends ended up in my inbox by mistake. They were discussing what an idiot I was being about this asshole, and they were right. It hurt, but they were completely correct. I didn't break up with him immediately, but I never forgot their words. As long as your friend isn't delusional (and it doesn't sound as though he is), he might appreciate your candor. Just make sure you address it to him.

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