Whenever he comes by for an evening, it takes him days to leave

All our friends gather at our place, but one of them thinks he lives here.


Cary Tennis
April 28, 2006 2:47PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

My fiancée and I live in an apartment together and are remarkable in that respect among our peer group because we A) do not live with our parents and B) have no other roommates. Accordingly, most get-togethers among our friends happen here. We have couch space, so we typically open up that space for anyone who can't or doesn't want to make it home after a soirée. One of our friends, whom I'll call B, tends to overstay his welcome sometimes.

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Over a recent weekend, we had a party on Saturday night and B left on Monday night. B is one of our best friends and we love it whenever he can come over. But he has motivational issues, and the same inertia that keeps him living at his parents' house keeps him on our couch. I've been known for being tactless before and I don't want to offend my sensitive friend. Last weekend, I tried dropping hints by going about my business, cleaning, paying bills and even leaving the house for a period, but he was still camped out when I came back.

In his defense, he was sick after the party on this occasion, but he was feeling well for a long time before he left. And this is a recurring problem -- he gets sick after every party. I know I have a right to ask him to leave, but I don't want to seem a boor.

A Friend With Limits

Dear Friend With Limits,

When you were a kid, did you ever have a mysterious child appear at your door? Sometimes in my neighborhood that would happen; a random child would show up and hang and you'd wonder who they were, what they wanted, why they were there. Eventually someone would show up and take them away and that would be that.

But no one shows up to take this friend of yours away. How sad that is. No one is taking care of him.

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It seems strange, doesn't it, to have this person hanging around your house, like a mysterious child who won't go away. Where are his parents? you might ask yourself. What is he doing out all by himself?

Sometimes children who hang around have a secret to tell. It may be a shameful secret or simply something they've been thinking about and don't know how to express. Maybe they tell you or maybe not; you never know with kids. Maybe your friend has a secret. Maybe his secret is that he is unhappy. Maybe his secret is that he can't control his drinking.

Or maybe his secret is simply that he needs to be mothered. Notice his complaint that he is sick. It is as though he has gone to the nurse's office. You probably do not want to be his nursemaid, nor is there any reason you should be. It's not appropriate for you to be his nursemaid. It is appropriate, however, for you to understand what is going on with your friend -- particularly because your friend is probably not aware of any of this.

I can't avoid the feeling that this is a great opportunity to reach him on some deeper level. It is very hard to reach people who are acting out of needs they don't even know they have. But one thing interests me: What is his home like?

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So here is an idea: When it is time for him to go, how about saying, OK, let's go over to your house now. He will protest. He will say there's nothing at my house. You don't want to go there. But you do. Tell him you want to. Get in the car and go to his house. That accomplishes several things. No. 1, it gets him out of your house and into his own house. It moves him physically, while not abandoning him or throwing him out: You are still doing something; you are going somewhere together. So in a way he is still being taken care of. And yet it also demonstrates to his brain that your house leads to his house, that your house is not an escape from his house. And if there is shame attached to his house, it may also relieve some of the shame if you are pleased to go to his house. If you like his house, or pretend to like his house, it may help him see that his house is not so bad.

Now, you don't have to do that. You can just tell him when it's time to leave. But something about the idea of going with him to his house appeals to me.

And if you are alert, you will solve the mystery; you will sense what is going on with him and his house. Why is he still at home? What is it like there? Are his parents taking such good care of him that there is no reason to leave? Or is home some dreadful sump of a place, some dreary bog where once you get in you cannot get out, a place that no one would want to stay in and that saps your strength when you are there. I suspect there is something demotivating in the atmosphere, in the family, in the relationships. There is something in his home that makes him stuck. Perhaps also there is drinking and sickness there -- the same drinking and sickness that he repeats when he flees the house and seeks refuge with you.

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Such a visit, or series of visits, may tell you why he seeks you out, why he wants to stay in your house, why he is afraid to leave your side. Perhaps he seeks you out and stays at your place because his own place makes him sick. Perhaps you are the antidote to what truly ails him.

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