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This is sort of a third-wheel letter, but I'd like to get to the bottom of why the writer is so upset.
Q: This isn’t my love story, but it deals with matters of the heart. I am at a loss and sincerely would like some advice on what to do (or not to do) regarding my friend, “C.”
C moved to the Boston area from the south for an internship with a non-profit organization. During her internship, C started dating “R,” who was her director at the time. The non-profit frowned on the situation, but C and R were very discreet about things. At the time, R had just left his wife of some years who was pregnant with their first child. He explained it to C that he just wasn’t attracted to his wife anymore. Also, they were not (and still are not) divorced, however, because R says he can’t afford the process at this point.
C’s internship ended, and she was offered a position at the company; as this meant her internship housing was done, R offered to let her move in with him. About this point is where I met C, as I started a new job at the same organization. We became friends relatively quickly. I could tell C would benefit from having a gal friend.
As time went by, and C confided in me more and more, she described how up and down her relationship with R was. He’s 36, believes he knows everything, and is completely content with mediocrity. C is 26, beautiful but hugely insecure, with big goals and desires. Actually, I’ve watched C morph from someone who knows her own mind and what she wants from life, to someone who has let herself compromise things to match what R wants. Since C is not a very strong individual, she would constantly allow herself to be talked into seeing things R’s way: he would always win.
It gets better. I tried for a long time to convince C to move out of R’s apartment; I thought it would be healthy for her to have some space and to show some independence in the relationship (any suggestion of a break-up was NOT an option.) R actually applauded this idea. C eventually moved out; I was so proud of her, and excited to see some further growth and progress.
R then had a discussion with her where he explained that he didn’t want to be with one person for the rest of his life: he would never get married again, did not want any more children, and didn’t even want a “partner.” C used to want marriage and children; she had compromised these things away, and settled for the idea of a partner—essentially a boyfriend for life.
Finally came the point where R said, ok, it’s time, and he officially broke up with C. She was devastated and cried constantly. One week later, R came back to her saying he was so unhappy without her, he didn’t want to be broken up anymore. He would rethink his stance on a long-term exclusive relationship, so long as there were no expectations, no promises and no pressure. C said that they have been so happy ever since.
What do I as the friend do? I am so torn by this it’s ridiculous. I cannot stand to watch C wasting her life with a guy that is so selfish and manipulative. I don’t want to alienate her, or try to make her life my business. But when you’re a friend, don’t you have some responsibility to say “WAKE UP! HE’S A LOSER AND YOU CAN DO BETTER!”?
–Outside Looking In Wanting to Scream, Boston
A: OLIWTS, C has problems and R is a major jerk. But let’s talk about you and why this is taking over your life.
Some readers are going to wonder why I posted this letter. After all, it’s not your love problem. But in some ways it is.
When you spend a good deal of your time hearing about someone else’s love life, you can project -- you can start to feel as though the fate of that person's relationship dictates the fate of your own situation. Perhaps C’s horrible broken-record behavior is making you doubt your own romantic life (or lack thereof). Perhaps it’s making you feel hopeless. If you’re drowning in someone else’s negativity and you begin to internalize their problems as your own, it’s bound to make you feel anxious and sad – and maybe too invested in the outcome of their decisions.
If you’re going to live vicariously, take some time to notice other people’s relationships. If C’s bad situation is all that you see, the world is going to look pretty bad when it comes to love and respect.
Also consider that your feelings of empathy are really feelings of annoyance. You're fed up with C’s routine, and that doesn’t make you a bad friend. It’s draining to be the go-to person for one friend’s advice, especially when C is doing the same stupid thing over and over again.
Be honest with yourself. If this friendship is making you miserable, you’d be teaching her a lesson by telling her you’ve hit your limit. C should probably know that she has become a drain. She might consider that if she stays with R, no one is going to want to be around her.
Be selfish. Think more about yourself. C is C, R is R, and you no longer want to be OLIWTS.
Readers? Can this letter writer fix her friend’s problems? Is she really just projecting her own concerns? Or is this about the sadness that comes with being on the outside looking in? Wouldn't "This Isn't My Love Story" be the great name of a country song? Share here.
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Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.