How can I help my friend get over losing his girlfriend?

She was much younger, and she has really left him, but he thinks she's coming back.

Published August 6, 2007 11:05AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I have a friend who is 41 years old and has had this girlfriend for about four years now. She is 23. She has recently moved out of his house, claiming she wanted "her space," since she has never lived on her own before. (She lived with her parents before she moved in with him.)

Then a couple of weeks later she announced she is leaving him. She wants to go out with her friends and date other people. That's normal for a 23-year-old. However, he is heartbroken and wants her back and seems to think there is a chance of that. Also, she has a 7-year-old child. She said to my friend that one of the reasons she is leaving is she didn't think that he loved her child. Is that a bullshit accusation or what? He is a nice man and he did indeed love the child. I could tell just by how he spoke about the kid. He set up a room in his house for the child to stay in even though the child lived with the girlfriend's parents most of the time.

I don't think she will go back to him, and truthfully I hope she does not because I don't think they are right for each other. In light of that, I am having a hard time saying the right things to make him feel better. I was wondering what your thoughts were on this type of situation. Is he hanging on to false hope?

Probably Overly Concerned,

Dear Overly Concerned,

Yes, if she has moved out, he probably is hanging on to false hope.

So if you want to be a good friend to this person I would not concentrate so much on trying to make him feel better, odd as that might sound. I would concentrate on trying to help him accept what has happened and look at how he is going to move on. I would not drink a lot with him, or sleep with him to make him feel better, or give him a blow job, or try to fix him up with other people right away, or buy him a membership to a strip club. If this has been a serious relationship for four years, he is going to have to mourn. That means first of all that he has to accept what has happened. She has gone. So the longer he works on schemes to get her to come back, and the longer his friends feed his false hopes or try to make him feel better by distracting him from the facts, the longer he is going to put off the mourning, and the longer it is going to take him to begin recovering.

So if I were you I would just remind this friend that she is really gone, and talk with him about how he is going to change his life now. For instance, the room he has kept for the child: What is he going to do with that room now? It is probably time to put a drum set in there, or a shelf of encyclopedias. And what about the dress she has left there? (I can almost guarantee she has left a dress there somewhere, probably an old dress she doesn't want anymore.) If I were you, I would offer to go through the closets and remove everything that belonged to her, except maybe if she gave him any specific keepsakes. If you want to be a good friend you can get rid of the random stuff for him. It may be hard for him to get rid of it. But it should be gone.

I would also suggest that he not drink a lot of alcohol while he gets over this. Lots of guys drink a lot when a woman leaves them. It makes sense in a lot of ways. You have all these feelings come up so naturally, you get a bunch of beers and drink them all. Or you buy a bottle of whiskey and drink a lot of it. At least for some of us it seems like the right thing to do. But it's exactly the wrong thing to do. Not because drinking is bad. I mean, whether you have a drinking problem or not isn't important. The thing is, when a woman leaves you it's time to feel something so you can learn about yourself and change. You can't do that if you're drunk. So you want to drink less when a woman has just left you.

Maybe he will want to go out and get drunk a few times, and maybe he will blow off some steam and repressed anger that way, and that might be OK. But in general, another favor you can do for him is, like, don't buy him a bottle of Jack Daniel's.

I'm writing this really quickly. I probably spend too much time writing these really long, wrung-out responses anyway. So I'll keep it simple: Be a good friend to him, but don't lie to him or help him evade the truth. Help him with the tangible stuff like cleaning out the closets and rearranging the child's room. Don't buy him a bottle of Jack Daniel's or a membership in a strip club. More like, go to the movies with him. Do nice, simple stuff like that. He might be a little sensitive for a while, and he might seem tired at times. That's OK. It's normal. He'll get through it, and he'll appreciate your help.

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