Hanging up?

November 17, 2008

I have a friend who is hard to be a friend to.  I have known this friend, who I shall call N, because that is not his name, since the late ’90s.  He is smart and funny and kind and well-read and really quite talented.  He is also kind of fussy, and flighty, and not terribly responsible with anything having to do with money.  He dreams huge, lovely dreams, and his reality is pretty crappy.  He does not have much in the way of family (dead or estranged), and has not had a romantic relationship in I-don’t-know-how-long.  He starts businesses and they crash, leaving him in ever deepening debt.  He likes nice things, living beyond his means, and he makes bad decision after bad decision regarding his finances and career path.

He has been ABD for, I would guess, 10 years, and keeps resuscitating the idea that he will finish.  I have been through many cycles of encouraging him to “get on it, you can do it!  one day at at time!  write first!” etc.,  but he bottoms out more often and more quickly than I ever have.  He is a living example of the kind of person I fear becoming:  the one who repeatedly sets himself up for failure, and, even seeing it, is unable to change his behavior.

We haven’t lived in the same place for many years now, so our relationship carries on through technology.   He used to be closer to RB, but after too many interminable cross-country phone calls where N would list his many problems and RB would offer comfort, support, and suggestions that would be gobbled up with appreciation, only to be totally ignored later when it was time for N to make different decisions, RB pretty much cut him off.

I’m getting to that point now.  How can I stay friends with someone who is a bottomless pit of need?  How can I respect someone who treats himself so shabbily, and medicates himself with crappy food and obscure DVDs he can’t afford?  How many times do I have to say “I’m so sorry” about the latest fiasco with eviction, the unemployment office, or whatever, and yet bite my tongue when he then goes on to say how he went out for some retail therapy on his X-teenth credit card?

It’s no doubt true that I’m not getting the whole story, and I haven’t walked a mile in his shoes, and  I should have a little empathy, etc.  I have a lot of empathy.  Or had.   There but for the grace of maude go I, maybe, but I hope I know enough that the answer to debt isn’t “spend more money.”  And that the answer to a tough job market isn’t “watch more Slings & Arrows.”

I hate feeling judgmental, but I can’t NOT SEE how he’s self-sabotaging.  When I’ve gently tried to mention that maybe he ought to make some big changes (downsize to a smaller, less-elaborate apartment, get credit counseling, get regular counseling, etc.), he says “yeah, I need to do that.”  And then the next message?  Second verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse.


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