Dear Dr. Saltzman,
I found your website on a google search, and I was wondering if perhaps you could give me some advice or tips on how to deal with a very difficult situation I am confronting.
For the last four years, I have been in a consistently "on and off again" relationship with my now best friend. For privacy purposes, I will refer to him as Jason. I would say that our relationship first began on a sour note, being that we had both jumped out of relationships and jumped into one with each other almost immediately. I did not know a lot about Jason before becoming intimately involved with him, and in retrospect I really wish I had because I would've known to stay away from him. Anyway, we had a very difficult relationship in which I would get very, very bored with him, break up with him, and then go back out with him. The problem was that he never wanted to do anything fun or interesting with me; he constantly sulked about everything, had a very depressive, negative outlook on life, and I always felt like his attitude dragged me down and made me feel bad. I can honestly say I never had one moment of happiness with him. For those reasons, I broke up with him a lot, only to have him beg and plead for me to come back. When I did, things would change for a couple of weeks. He would cheer up and want to do fun, interesting things with me. He would be a completely different person. Then, as weeks went by, he would revert to his old self.
Last year, we finally broke up "for good," or at least I'd hoped so. We stayed in almost constant contact, and even though we were "only friends" and had no intimacy, I think that he perceived our friendship as a romantic relationship. I lived close by and we did a lot of things together. Recently, I moved, almost out of state, and have not been able to see him as often. I warned him of this change, well in advance of it happening, but whenever I brought it up, he wanted to change the subject, saying that it was too painful for him to discuss. Now that the change has taken place and I've been living away from him for the last month and a half, he has become more co-dependent and depressive than ever. He constantly wants to spend the night at my house, calls me all the time, and wants to be in contact and know my whereabouts at all times. I have tried to "wean" him away from me by not answering his calls and emails as much, but when I do speak to him, he is so depressed that I start to feel guilty, like the situation is my fault (even though I know rationally that it isn't). I know that this is an extremely unhealthy friendship that I am hanging on to, but I care about him deeply. At the same time, I want both of us to move on with our own lives. I feel that it is high time I get on with my own and start a relationship with someone new. However, he is always in the back of my mind, and I always worry so much about how hurt he would be, even though I harbor no romantic feelings toward him, and haven't for a very long time.
When I talk to Jason on the phone, he acts like his life is hopeless and often implies that he is suicidal. I always ask him if he's okay and he responds, "I guess" -- maybe I'm reading too much into that, but I always have this bad feeling that he is going to hurt himself, even though he hasn't said so directly. I have talked to my parents at length about this situation (I am 23 and so is he) and they both say that I should permanently cut ties with him. They believe that it would be the healthiest route for both of us, and I agree wholeheartedly. However, I am terrified that Jason is going to hurt himself in my absence, and I don't know how I would cope with that, even if it isn't my fault. I still feel somewhere in my heart that I am responsible for his feelings. Please help me to sort this out and see it for what it really is. Should I remain Jason's friend or leave this situation for good? If so, how should I go about doing it? Should I permanently cut the ties between us or should I slowly drift away from him?
If you do not take the bull by the horns in this matter, you may spend a long time laboring to fill in the empty places in Jason's world while ignoring your own needs, and that would be a shame in my opinion.
I cannot advise you about whether or not you should remain Jason's friend. That is a decision that only you can make. However, in general, honesty is the best policy in relationships. Perhaps you could begin to discuss your feelings with Jason in an accurate and open fashion. In other words, begin by telling him that you, personally, are ready to move on in a new direction, but are concerned that he may be terribly hurt. Then, after listening to him express his feelings, you might say that you understand how he feels, but cannot really continue to help him, since you have decided that you must move on. You might then recommend that he seek help from a professional for his depressive feelings. If these measures do not seem sufficient to assuage your guilt, then you might take the further step of offering to help him find a therapist.
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