08/07/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dear Abby, America Is Recovering From A Bad Relationship

Dear Abby,

I have this friend that I'll call "Mary" and she has a major relationship issue. I'm afraid that her past relationships are sabotaging her future happiness and, as someone that cares about her deeply, it's painful to watch.

Mary is just getting out of a relationship with George that was a trainwreck. He lied to her, spent all of her money and (this is difficult to talk about) let's just say that his neglect has literally scarred her deeply. Now this once beautiful creature that used to be so full of life and opportunity seems almost self-defeating.

I think at first that she just wanted to believe the best in him. George didn't have the best track record, but he was outdoorsy like she was and came from a well-respected family. He promised to take care of her and his laid-back nature appealed to her. By the time she knew what she was in for, it was too late to stop him. One by one George alienated her from her friends. He and his buddies just seemed to take over every aspect of Mary's existence and, before we knew it, there was nothing of her spirit left.

I'm painting her as a bit weak here, as if George was just walking all over her. To be fair, I think Mary's troubles go back a while. Years ago she was vibrant and thought anything was possible. There was another man in her life then. John was his name. Just watching him speak caused her to catch her breath. He brought out the best in her and promised to give her the moon if she asked for it. She was head over heels in love.

Then, in a moment I don't think any of us will ever forget, John was tragically taken from her. In an instant she was changed somehow. It was like she abandoned that idea of reaching for the stars and instead...well, she settled. I mean, some of the men that came and went were okay and treated her decently, but it was never the same after John.

So here's why I'm writing - something has happened. I don't know exactly when it started, but I can tell that Mary is different. She's starting to act like herself again, more optimistic and just excited about the possibilities. She's starting to create again and wants to clean herself up. I know part of it is just getting out of her toxic relationship, but I think she's actually falling in love again.

The trouble is that Mary is keeping this new love at arms length. I've heard her use every excuse - it's too soon to feel this way; her family won't approve of him; that it's not appropriate to have another "love affair" - but these are just obstacles she's placing in her own way. In fact, everyone else seems to love her new beau too. Recently he went out of town to meet some of the friends she grew up with and even her mother (who can be a bit stodgy at times) welcomed him with open arms. They all see how much better her future could be with him by her side.

Mary has a big independent streak and insists on making her own decisions. Normally I respect how she handles things, but I am worried about her. I want what is best for her -- we all do -- and I don't know how to show her that happiness is right there for the taking. How do I help her get past her fear and her hurt to embrace this new love and give it a chance? How do I show her that it's not naive to hope and to want to make herself even better than she already is? That she doesn't need another man to "take care of her", but needs the man that will embrace who she already is and enable her to take care of herself?

Anxiously awaiting any advice you could provide,

A Patriot