Dear Carolyn:

I've been friends with a co-worker for a year and we've started to get closer in recent months. We have been flirting a bit lately -- innocently, because he's engaged to his high school sweetheart. However, he often gives me the impression that he's not looking forward to getting married, making comments about how he "couldn't do any better" or just proposed because "that's what she wanted." Other friends have noticed this also, and one suggested I shouldn't flirt with him because I might be contributing to it. I understand that, but I also kind of feel that if he's so uncertain, a little flirting could push him over the edge, in which case he's making a mistake he still has time to fix. What is the best thing to do as a friend who's truly concerned about his well-being?

Well-Intentioned

Right now, with my own two little hands, I am going to forge you a medal, for Bestest Most Self-Sacrificing Friend of Aaall Time.

But first I need my index finger to make the universal gesture for "barf."

You want this guy. He wants you -- either in lieu of his fiancee, or as a warm-up act for his wedding. The flirtation is neither innocent nor helpful, it's exploratory. Your letter has more bull than "The Sun Also Rises."

And while we're barfing -- please, when he says, "I couldn't do any better," or, "I proposed because that's what she wanted," gagging is the only proper response. The poor Poopy, having to humor this pathetic girl, whose life would cease to have meaning without him! Has it occurred to him, or you, that she'd rather be wanted than humored? Or that maybe she's outgrown him, too? Or that you're cozying up to a guy who, if he had any (fortitude), would be talking to her directly and not to her competition in flirtatious self-pity code?

Once you're honest with yourself, I doubt you'll still care about him or his flaccid engagement. But in case you do, being honest should help you there, too. If nothing else, at least one of you will actually know where at least one of you actually stands.

Dear Carolyn:

My friend is in love with an awful woman and none of us can stand her. She does things to him that, if it were me she was dating, would have my friends on the line to a domestic violence hotline, or least taking me to a therapist. I have always really liked my friend, but I'm starting to lose respect for him the longer he insists he wants to be with this girl. I don't know what to do. It seems silly to end a friendship over another person, but I'm at my wit's end having to deal with her.

D.C.

So, woman victim, man loser?

Yoo-hoo. You've parked your double standard in an unloading zone.

Your friend is in no less trouble than you would be in his place. Come on, you know this. Abuse is abuse. And gender bias is ugly.

And, a friend is a friend. Put literature in the guy's hand, put a phone to his ear, put a hand on his shoulder. It may not work, and that may frustrate you, but don't be the one to cut ties.

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