Dear Amy:

We have a friend in her mid-twenties who has been dating a middle-age man for the last 18 months. They have talked of marriage and living together, but his "rules" for the relationship leave our friend continuously anxious and depressed.

He is a sportsman, and he has commitments to his friends that enable him to see her only twice a week at most -- the visits can't be planned but are arranged at the last minute to suit his schedule.

She can call him only at specified times, and although he lives in the same city, she is barred from drop-in visits, which he considers intrusive.

The only time he comes to her home is to pick her up for a date.

When they are together, they cannot talk about his work (too stressful) or her work (not of interest) or the relationship (too much pressure) or anything personal (he is a very private person). When he's angry, he cuts off communication with her for days with the explanation that he needs to clear his mind.

We are reluctant to tell our friend that this relationship doesn't seem very caring, because she really loves this man. She believes that he just needs extra love and support to become a more sharing person.

Meanwhile, she has put her friends and her interests on hold, in case he might call or want to see her. We do not want to jeopardize her chance at happiness, but we are seriously concerned about her mental health.

What role are good friends supposed to play?

Walking on Eggshells

Friends don't let friends disappear into the sinkhole of an abusive relationship if they can help it.

This guy has some classic characteristics of an abuser -- he is controlling and secretive. You should convey your concerns to your friend but step lightly -- you don't want your friend to drop you altogether in favor of this creepy relationship. You need to be supportive of her while being honest about your concerns.

Some of this man's secretiveness could be because he is married or leading a double life. You should ask your friend what she actually knows about him and whether any of his assertions have been verified. Tell her that you are worried about her because she has changed and seems unhappy since she has been in this relationship.

Be loyal to your friend, stay connected to her and urge her to get help. If she will seek help for her anxiety and depression, a thoughtful therapist could help her to uncover the reality behind this unhealthy relationship, as well as her underlying reasons for staying in it.

Dear Amy:

This is for "Pining to Be a Grandmother," the woman who wanted to have a special relationship with a child. She might want to consider becoming a mentor, which would offer an ongoing relationship with a child.

I'm a mentor with For Love of Children, in Washington, D.C.

I've been with my mentee for three years, and it's really wonderful -- for both of us.

Terri Lewis

Thank you for the plug for mentoring. I'll run more ideas in future columns.

Dear Amy:

In response to the letter from "Confused and Scared," who had found porn sites on his or her father's computer, let me suggest another possibility.

This week I attended a workshop with a friend who works in teacher education. She had done a perfunctory search to see how easy it was for young people -- for anyone -- to access porn. Sure enough, she found an abundance of it.

She told me, "If something happens to me, do something to my computer. I don't want anyone to think I was looking at these sites!"

A Possibility

As I pointed out to "Confused and Scared," anyone who had access to this computer could have been looking at porn sites, including her father.

Write to Amy Dickinson at or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

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