My friend has lost all reason

She married a man in desperation. Now that they've broken up, she still gives him money.

By Cary Tennis
August 24, 2005 8:01PM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

Thank you so much for being a voice of reason. I am hoping that you can provide a new viewpoint on whether I can continue to be friends with someone I feel has taken a sharp turn toward unreason. By friends, I mean that we eat lunch together at least once a week, sometimes call each other at other times, and sometimes call each other when life has gotten too much to handle without a friendly voice. We have known each other for 10 years.


The background story is that she is in her 50s and has been scared for a while that she will end up partnerless in old age. About a year ago, she met someone in a bar, fell in love with him, dated him long-distance, helped him move to our city, married him, and finally separated from him. The reasons for the separation include excessive whining on his part without possible reciprocation on her part, excessive drinking with driving involved, extreme moodiness, borderline physical violence (pinning her down forcibly), downright emotional violence (making fun of everything she does, including what chair she likes to sit in), and finally, leaving a dead, coiled, beheaded rattlesnake in her freezer (in a bag, so that she didn't know what it was until she had it in her hands).

In the beginning, I was thrilled that she had met someone because I often felt badly that I was happily married and mostly unavailable on the weekends when she was the most lonely. But soon red flags started going up -- even before I had met him. One, that he so readily uprooted himself from his own city and, two, that he had two ex-wives who were supposedly "total bitches." There were more, but that was enough. I was very saddened when she began to tell me during our lunches that things were not going well. But as the data started to roll in about what he was really like, I wanted her to get the hell out of Dodge as soon as possible.

So now they are separated. She gave him $1,400 to set himself up in an apartment across town from her. She remains very loyal to his good qualities, which is commendable.


All this was fine, but since they have parted ways, he calls her up, screaming drunk, threatening to commit suicide, either with an overdose or a shotgun. She called me once during this, wanting to know what to do. I directed her to a suicide hotline, and they told her to call the police and ask for a welfare visit. Since then he has switched tactics and berates her for what a hell his life is. He has no friends, he has no wife, he hates his apartment, he hates his job, so on. She now wants to save up money to give him at least $1,000 more so that she doesn't have to feel guilty about the breakup. To me, this seems unreasonable, and I voiced this opinion, asking her to imagine what she would feel about him if instead of her, he was doing this to her daughter.

She keeps muttering about how guilty she feels since she vowed to keep him in sickness and in health. I'm afraid I will not be able to keep my mouth shut if she brings this up again.

Do I tell her that this is one subject that we just should avoid? I feel like somewhere down the line our friendship became damaged and I'm not sure how to mend it. Silence? A separation? Help!



Dear M,

I can indeed sometimes be the voice of reason, I suppose, although there are those who would say that I am quite firmly otherwise. Reason, in any case, is not a cause or a banner that we carry down the street, chanting for its dominion. Reason does not wither without our support; like the stars, it shines whether we notice it or not. We do not need to be concerned about letting it down any more than we need concern ourselves with carrying the sun across the sky. What we let down, rather, when we discard reason, is each other.


We do not let each other down merely when we discard reason, however, but also when we neglect feeling and sentiment, for these things, too, exist whether we campaign for them or not. We must work with them as they are.

Reason alone cannot change the heart, any more than it can change the stars. If reason could change the heart, we would rejoice at the loss of lovers, for there would be one less place to set and dish to wash, and we could have an empty seat next to us at the theater where it is possible to place a coat and purse. Your friend, in spite of what reason might say, is lonely and scared about the future. In marrying this man she took a courageous step. And now while reason would surely suggest that she not give this guy money but instead do all she can to end her association with him, it cannot be easy for her. Giving him money comforts her; it allows her to delay facing the facts.

And this of course is often what we mean when we say reason: We mean let us face the facts, however unreasonable they may be. The fact is that he did not turn out like she thought. He put a dead rattlesnake in the freezer. Ideally in their courtship phase he might have disclosed to her that he is the type of man who every now and then might put a dead rattlesnake in the freezer. Alas, like many women, she had to find certain things out only after they were married. And now eventually she must turn again to the circumstances of her life: She is in her 50s and single again; she is lonely and afraid about the future.


But it cannot be easy to face that. Nor are these things that reason alone can conquer. So if I were you, I would continue to try to be a friend to her as you have in the past. Do not hold back what you think. Tell her honestly what you see her doing. Do it in a way that takes into account how it might make her feel to hear it. Tell her that you care about her, and you recognize that what she is doing she may need to do for her own reasons. But tell her of your concern, and warn her that by giving away her money in this way she is endangering the very thing that marriage was supposed to provide her: a happy and secure future.

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