Dear Wayne and Wanda,
My best friend has gone back to her ex-boyfriend multiple times over many, many years. When they first hooked up, we were all in our mid-20s. They made it official only because she pressured him because he was seeing other girls too. At the time, I didn't think he could give her what she wanted (stability, an actual relationship). Turns out I was right: they broke up when he said he wasn't ready to be serious.
She was heartbroken and I figured she would move on. She didn't, and never has. They have probably gotten back together six or seven times over the last eight years. It's always the same. After time apart, one of them gets sentimental or lonely and reaches out. Casual hookups accelerate until they're back on again. They eventually part ways when he isn't giving her what she needs.
Now they've started up again, spending nights together, going to dinner and the movies. I begged her to just stop, move on, telling her she will get hurt again. She insists she has learned her lesson and it's just sex. What can I say to get through to her? As a side issue, this is definitely impacting our friendship. I find myself judging her for her choices and avoiding spending time with her because I don't want to watch this dysfunctional cycle yet again. How can I be more sympathetic?
Sleepovers, dinners, movies — it doesn't sound like "just sex" to me. In fact, It sounds an awful lot like dating. What is "just sex," anyway? It's literally meeting up purely for physical gratification and then parting ways. Cold, clinical, heartless? It can be. It can also be an agreeable situation between two or more adults who don't have space or desire for a larger commitment.
Clearly your friend wants more, and after years of waiting, she still wants it with someone who has demonstrated he simply doesn't. Surely she's hoping he will come to his senses. Odds are he won't — simply because he's already got a solid lock on his senses and needs, which are that he's not presently relationship material. This doesn't make him a bad dude; it just means he's the wrong guy for her, at least for now.
It's hard to watch our friends make irrational decisions, especially ones that we suspect will make them unhappy. If we won't have gentle-but-tough talks with them, no one will. It's totally in your job description to express your concern over the cyclical disappointment you've observed all these years. Just know that it may not change anything, and this far in, she may be the only one who can break this pattern, regardless of well-intentioned input.
Speaking of breakups and makeups, maybe you should consider breaking up with your friend. If her actions are affecting you so much that you're constantly unhappy at the sight or thought of her/them, it's time for something to change.
I know: she's your best friend. I know: you love her. I know: this is pretty harsh. But how often have you two really been tight over the past eight years anyway? During stretches when she's on the outs with the on-off boyfriend and needs a drink and a shoulder to cry on? That isn't a best friend; that's a rebound. And when she is with him, it sounds like the relationship is all she talks about, which drives you crazy, too. Fun! And what are you getting out of this friendship? Stressing out. Banging your head against a wall. Wishing she could just snap out of it.
Well, how about you snap out of it instead? This isn't about her anymore; it's about you. You've done your best and it isn't enough for her or you. Your gut is already leading the way – you don't even want to be around her/them anymore. So, take the next step: jump off their roller coaster and leave the carnival. When she comes back around — and she will — explain to her that she can live her life but you just can't do it anymore. Then keep her at an emotional arm's length for good.
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