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November 15, 2017

Help Me Uncouple From My Friend

Hey, Bonita…

Hi Bonita,

I've got a childhood friend who leads a very different lifestyle than I do. For instance, she is still in our hometown, got her GED, didn't go to college, works kind of sketchy blue-collar jobs, lives with her (fairly controlling) parents and is about to become a single mom. In general, we get along well, but are very different culturally, socially, etc.

Since her pregnancy, she's started to rely on me pretty heavily emotionally (lots of phone calls and messages). With all of our lifestyle differences, the distance between us is more than physical. I've been her friend for around 10 years, somewhat off and on, but never an argument or anything. Yet I have been feeling uncomfortable with some of the pressure she's been putting on me—“Have a baby so they can grow up together,” calling me "auntie" or “for-real baby daddy,” urging me to move back home for no reason, asking if she could move in with me, etc.—as well as some of the life choices she is making for herself and the baby, from diet to child discipline/socialization.

I know some of this stuff is just her joking, but it's getting tiresome, and some of it she is serious about. I don't want to make decisions for her, and I respect her ability to lead her own life. Although we would make many different decisions, I don't think any of the decisions she's making would put her or her baby in (serious) harm. I want to be a good friend and supportive, since she is about to be a single mom. However, I don't really want to associate with someone who makes the types of decisions she does. I also have my own issues to work through, and don't feel ready to deal with anyone else’s. (I've been single for a year, trying to continually work on myself, etc., plus I just got a biological niece.)

My current relationship with her stresses me out, makes me worry and takes a lot of my time/energy. (Phone calls are often around or more than an hour a day, and it's hard to get her off the phone.) I feel guilty for wanting to dissociate from her, but don't know how else to stand it. I worry that if I say I want to work on myself, she will get offended, since her problems are obviously more intense/immediate than mine. How do I be a supportive, good friend, but keep my mental health? How can I deal with her without offending her or ruining the friendship?

Regards,

A Wannabe Good Friend

Hi Good Friend,

You're in a tough spot. I can gather a lot about you based on the way you describe your friend, and it's clear that she likes you and envies you pretty intensely. I'm sure your life seems beautiful and carefree to her, with your obviously not-blue-collar job and no parents in your home. I think she's living vicariously through you, and that's why she keeps such regular contact.

But she's stressing you out in a major way, and you need to draw a line. Don't drive yourself crazy for someone who wouldn't do the same. To me, this sounds like a relationship that is mostly maintained out of obligation, and while I believe that you care about this person and her well-being, I don't think you have the desire to remain in contact with her. Y'all gotta break up.

How? First, you're gonna have to do something that I suspect you don't really want to do: You need to come clean about the state of your life and her impact on it. Talk about yourself and what you need right now. Let her know that friendship is not off of the menu, but you need space to get your life together. If she's as invested in your health and happiness as you seem to be in hers, she'll hear you and take a step back. And also, she's an adult. If she can get pregnant, then she can make some local friends and build a more complete life for herself. Take a deep breath, and then take your space.

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