Carolyn Hax: Charting the best course through a friend’s emotional tempest

Carolyn Hax
Columnist December 19, 2013

Dear Carolyn

For the past few years, my friend, L., has been receiving personal training from K. They have a long, strange history that until recently had normalized.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

In the last year they began to be intimate again despite his recent engagement to a woman in Texas and against my advice. The last time they saw each other, they were intimate but did not address his upcoming wedding or their situation.

Now six weeks later, he is married and they are involved in a dispute regarding fees that has devolved into ugly messages and calls. L. is thinking about sending evidence of K.’s infidelity to his wife.

I find this ridiculous and hurtful to everyone and am advising her to forgo the money and move on, but it seems like her anger is about more. How can I convince her this is the worst approach? I’m trying to stop a petty dispute from escalating uncontrollably.


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Please Withhold Name

Her anger is about more, clearly. It’s not, however, just about money + wounded feelings over his marrying someone else.

This is about your friend’s emotional chaos. K. was the one betraying someone (presumably; who knows what the fiancee knew) and therefore is easy to point to as the whole problem, but you’re not K.’s friend nor are you asking me about him. You want to know what to say to L., and therefore you need to focus on the fact that L. is now a year, at least, into a sequence of choices that are unproductive at best, and at worst self-destructive.

Does she have any awareness of her own emotional health? Do you and she have any history of honesty about the larger meaning of such high-drama entanglements, be it with K. or with others, since surely there have been other dramas?

If you do, that’s where you start — with a reminder that you and she have been down this unhealthy path before, and that she has managed to get herself off it before (right?).

If you don’t have that precedent with her, then you need to start from scratch by pointing out, kindly but firmly, that her getting sucked into all this — the messing with a soon-to-be-married man, the “ugly messages and calls,” the idea of spite-bombing this new marriage — means she needs to take a deep breath and ask herself who she wants to be.

Does she really want to be vengeful and destructive? Does she want more of this marriage’s blood on her hands than she already has (especially given its chances of imploding naturally)? Does she want anger making her decisions for her? Or would she rather be guided by decency, courage and love?

Since there’s no guarantee L. will listen, you’re as much the target of this message as she is. While your intentions sound good, you also have been sucked in to the point where a deep breath would serve you well, too. Is an effort to “convince” someone not to be spiteful and petty really the best use for your energy? Is this who you want to be?

Certainly people lose their way sometimes, and certainly good friends help steer them back. Back to what, though, is worth noting, as is how far into the weeds you’ve been dragged.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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