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Dr. Irene S. Levine

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Watching a Good Friend Make Bad Decisions

Posted: 12/13/09 10:52 AM ET

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

My friend Michelle, whom I've known over ten years, was a late relationship bloomer. She broke up with her first serious boyfriend about a year ago; they were together for three years. It destroyed her. But less than two weeks later, she was talking to him again. He didn't want to rekindle the relationship; he just wanted sex.

So for the past year she has had sex with him, but she isn't emotionally strong enough to have a friends-with-benefits relationship. She spends most of her time with him and his family but they all take advantage of her. She babysits his sister's kids for free and calls them her niece and nephew. She completely downgraded her career path so she could work part-time with two members of his family, whom she drives to work. She drives him around because he doesn't work. She invited herself to their family camping trip in the summer; then they made her drive.

I have talked to her about how unhealthy a situation it is for her to be in, but she refuses to see it. She never let the relationship feelings go. He gets sex without any of the effort of treating her like a girlfriend, so I don't think he'll make the change. I should also mention that the family has made nothing but poor financial decisions; they have declared bankruptcy multiple times and right now the whole family is living in a rented home, using credit to buy things that they don't need. Since she met her ex, she works as little as possible and at 25 years old had to declare bankruptcy herself. Unfortunately, she hasn't learned anything about money since then, and I can see her making the same mistakes.

I love her so much and she has been one of my best friends since we were 14, but it hurts me to watch her throw her life away. I don't know what to do. Is there something that can help her see what's going on or should I cut her out?

Signed,
Laila

ANSWER

Dear Laila,

As you point out, Michelle has been sucked into this family that seems to be headed on a downward spiral. I suspect that she has such low self-esteem and is so needy for her boyfriend's affection that she is willingly doing whatever she can to remain involved with him.

As her friend, I understand how you would be concerned about her. I'm sure you've expressed your feelings about this situation to her more than once. Unfortunately, she seems to be "stuck" and is making a series of bad decisions regarding her career, finances and social relationships.

You can do two things for her as a friend: 1) Try to engage her in positive experiences with yourself and other people from time to time so her world isn't limited to that of her boyfriend and his family. 2) Suggest that she may benefit from some counseling to help her become more confident and independent.

She's an adult. Even if you were her mother or her sister, you couldn't do much more than that. Whether it's drinking, gambling, work, or love, people often make bad decisions that are painful to watch for those who love them. If the friendship is too frustrating for you to sustain, you may have to tell her so. But leave the door open so she can come back to you if she is able to dig herself out of this pit.

Hope this is helpful.

Irene

Have a question about female friendships? Send it to The Friendship Doctor.

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. Her new book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, was recently published by Overlook Press. She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog and at PsychologyToday.com.

 
 
 

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