My Friend Treats Me Like I’m Her Therapist

Advice on sticky friendship dilemmas.
Dec. 13 2011 6:34 AM

My Friend Treats Me Like I’m Her Therapist

And I’m sick of it.

Friend_Or_Foe_standingIllo

Illustration by Jason Raish.

Dear Friend or Foe,

Lucinda Rosenfeld Lucinda Rosenfeld

Lucinda Rosenfeld is the author of four novels, including I'm So Happy for You and The Pretty One, which will be published in early 2013.

I’ve known my best friend “Dahlia” since we were freshmen in high school, which was eight years ago. I love her dearly; our friendship has been one of the most important relationships of my life. However, over the last couple of years she’s become a completely different person from the one I befriended. Namely, she seems to have developed psychological problems. In truth, I’m not surprised since she comes from a troubled home with a severely bipolar mother and sexually abusive stepfather. While I’m perfectly open to her expressing her emotions about these and other issues in her life (her horrible relationships, money problems, etc.), ALL she ever talks about are these topics. I no longer feel that I’m her friend, but her therapist.

Our greatest shared hobby is choir. At a concert a few months ago, Dahlia completely lost it and started acting a lot like her mother. She was in an advanced manic state, yelling at people, pacing around the room pre-concert, and rocking back and forth when she had to sit. She was also talking nonsense. It was horrible. Since then I’ve been avoiding her, not because I don’t like her anymore, but because I feel hopeless. Several times, I’ve suggested she get professional help and she agrees. Then, the next time I talk to her, she says she doesn’t really need it. I don’t want to lose the friend I had but it’s emotionally exhausting being there for her. Plus, I’m not getting any pleasure out of the relationship, anymore. For the record, I don’t believe she’s a danger to herself or anyone else during either her manic or depressive states. What should I do?

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Sincerely,
I Need a Friend, Not a Patient

Dear INAFNAP,

Nearly all of us are guilty at one time or another of using our friends as free therapists. Who wants to spend the money—or leave the house—when you can corner your old buddy who already knows the back story, right on your living room couch? So I’m not going to tell you that Dahlia deserves to be banished to Friendship Siberia for the crime of leaning too heavily on your shoulder. Moreover, if all you say is true, especially regarding the molester stepfather, she’s been dealt a lousy deck of cards in life. It’s all about degrees here. If the misery and myopia on her part is constant, then you’re going to have to keep repeating your own mantra (i.e. “You Need Professional Help!”) until she complies.

I suspect that a good part of the reason that people who need psychological assistance don’t seek it is that they don’t actually know whom to call (or how to pay). If you want to be a real friend, find out what kind of insurance Dahlia has and do the ground work for her, ascertaining what, if any, benefits she’s entitled to and whether her HMO has in-network psychotherapists or social workers. If she doesn’t have insurance, many hospitals offer sliding-scale payment options for people in need like Dahlia. That way, the next time you sit her down, you can hand her a piece of paper with an actual name and number on it—and deprive her of any more excuses. Good luck and keep the Hallelujah’s coming.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,

I've lived in a number of different places before, some overseas, and never had any problems making friends. When I moved to a medium-sized city a couple of years ago with my husband, I took it for granted that it was only a matter of time before I built up a similar network.
Well, it's been three years and I've made only two friends, neither of whom is close. I've attributed it to not meeting the right people. Besides being married, I also work from home, and I guess I'm a tomboy. So my hobbies tend to end up as couples' trips—backpacking, rock climbing, hiking with dogs. I've tried Craigslist ads, talking to people at the gym, and hanging out with the wives and girlfriends of my husband's co-workers. Everyone is nice at first, but nothing ever pans out. Whenever we go to parties, I participate in conversations and have fun, but I'm never "one of the girls" or invited to "girls' nights." I've shown up to functions without my husband twice, and both times spent the whole time answering questions about where he was.

I'm starting to think that I might be mean, or socially awkward, or insecure, or that there's something about me that turns off possible girlfriends—even though my girlfriends assure me (long-distance) that there's absolutely nothing wrong with me. Am I really abrasive? Are my skirts too short? Even if there was something wrong with me, how do I find out what it is and how to fix it?

Sincerely,
Still Looking For Friends