How Do I Help My Friend Get Over Her Obsession With a Loser? Ask Harry and Louise

Our husband-and-wife team advises a woman who’s concerned her friend is throwing her life away over the wrong man.

By: Harry Jaffe, Louise Jaffe

Dear Harry and Louise:

One of my very best and oldest friends—let’s call her Sarah—has essentially put her entire life on hold for a guy who is a total jerk—let’s call him Ben. Sarah and Ben began dating several years ago. All of Sarah’s closest friends, me included, immediately worried about her involvement with Ben. He was always rude to us and, more important, was not thoughtful or respectful toward her. He would show up sloppy drunk to group outings, pick fights in public, etc. After one particularly offensive incident, I spoke with Sarah about my concerns, and she stopped speaking to me for nearly a year.

Fast-forward to now. Ben dumped Sarah three years ago, but she still refuses to move on. She has not dated anyone since Ben. She is clearly depressed. She spends money to feel better, to the point that she’s racked up considerable credit card debt. Ben recently moved in with another woman, and word is the new girlfriend is pregnant. This still doesn’t seem to deter Sarah, who still openly expresses her desire to get back with Ben. It didn’t help that until Ben moved in with this other woman, he would “booty call” Sarah whenever it was convenient for him. She would drop whatever she was doing to be with him, and, of course, Ben would go back to ignoring her the next morning. This has been really disturbing to watch, but I’ve held my tongue since she cut me off the last time I expressed concern. Another friend suggested to Sarah that she talk to a therapist, to which she responded that therapy is only for crazy people.

My friends and I are at a total loss. We don’t feel like we can sit by and watch Sarah throw her life away over this loser, but every time we’ve tried to weigh in, she’s been unreceptive and defensive. Help!

A Fed-Up Friend

• • •

HARRY SAYS:

Wow! Can you say obsession? Sarah seems to fit the definition of “crazy” and could use therapy. Sarah is lucky to have you as a friend. Most of us would have walked away years ago and abandoned Sarah to her fate of unrequited love. The fact that you care for her and have tried to intercede is a testament to your deep friendship. As a guy, I’m tempted to suggest you keep your distance yet stay close enough to respond if Sarah reaches out. That’s the safe course—but you’re asking for more.

Ben has established his credentials as a first-class jerk, but have you considered appealing to his better side, if he has one? Perhaps he harbors a selfless section in his pinkie, and you can convince him to tell Sarah he’s moved on and she should find another man. On second thought, nah. Bad idea. He would rat you out.

Your best course would be to gather your friends and approach Sarah as a united front. Call it an intervention, which seems appropriate since she shows all the signs of being addicted to this guy. Pamper her. Tell her you love her. Promise to be there for her when she suffers from withdrawal.

If that fails, take the guy route: release and hover. She needs you.

• • •

LOUISE SAYS:

Let’s switch gears from looking for a way to bring Sarah back to the world of the living to thinking about a way to bring her back into your friendship. She is defensive and unresponsive because she can’t get past the fact that you were critical of the guy she loved. All your arguments on the “Ben is not good for you” list were no doubt valid and voiced because you cared about Sarah’s well-being. Doesn’t matter. Sarah was lit up and you were bringing her down.

Offer Sarah this: an all-expenses-paid afternoon and evening with you. This time together will include eating, walking, looking at beautiful art, and lots of talking. Sarah talking. You need to refrain from voicing your negative opinions about Ben and her life choices as you allow Sarah to completely unload. Promise her you’ll listen to everything she has to say about her past few years. You can’t promise to agree with her or to share her perspective. You can only agree to try to understand where her headspace is these days. Sarah needs to know you’re on her side, even when you despise the certain someone in her life.

Before you counter that there’s an air of phoniness to this arrangement, let me qualify. At the end of this evening, you will attempt to rephrase Sarah’s perspective back to her. This isn’t easy but is always reaffirming to the speaker. Once you have done this, ask Sarah’s permission to speak frankly. If she says yes, then let loose. If she says no, then keep your opinions to yourself. She knows where you stand. When the evening is over, she will also know that you are her loyal friend who wants only good things for her. She will be more likely to reach out to you. She will more likely to think of you as someone she can trust. You may be right about the depression, in which case only a qualified therapist can help her regain her perspective. That is not your job. Focus on bringing her back to you, and then she may be responsive to your suggestions about seeking further help.

• • •

HARRY SAYS:

Men can’t compete at this level of sisterhood. Way too much football, baseball, and hockey to watch or play. This sister might have to be roadkill on Friendship Highway. Or maybe Sarah just needs to have sex with another guy. Got one?

• • •

LOUISE SAYS:

Again with the jumping in the sack remedy?! I like the style of the gents who gather to watch football as a way of revealing they have one another’s back. This is the message Sarah needs.