My geeky freaky stalker girl

She's my friend but if she were a guy she'd be a super creepy dude

By Cary Tennis

Published March 30, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I'm a very geeky girl and I'm lucky enough to live in a small city that has a very large, active geek community. I've met all my friends through LARP (live action role playing) and games like Dungeons & Dragons. Because of this most of my friends are male but the majority of them are socially intelligent people who are capable of having healthy relationships with the opposite sex. (OK, some still struggle but they're generally just younger and less experienced.)

However, one of my best friends, who is also female, whom I met through gaming, is not socially adjusted when it comes to men. In fact, and this is where I'm really struggling and feel like a hypocrite, if she were a man I would have cut off ties with her years ago. If she were a man, she'd probably have restraining orders against her and probably have gone to jail at least once. But because she's an extremely petite female, she seems to get away with it. I don't know what to do.

The ex-boyfriend before last she physically attacked. Granted, she didn't really hurt him, but that's not the point. Normal people don't try to assault their exes. I also don't understand all her theories about their sex life. She seemed adamant about telling me about the sex. Am I abnormal for thinking, even when it comes to exes, that stuff stays absolutely private? Especially if the things you have to say or think about the experience (after the fact) aren't kind?

With her most recent breakup she has admitted to a number of behaviors that have horrified me. (The ex essentially broke up with her for someone else. He didn't cheat on her. Considering his own issues, especially with mental health and gambling, I was actually sort of impressed with the mature way he tried to handle it.) Since then my friend has admitted to stalking him, telling her ex (who has had suicidal tendencies) that she hopes he kills himself and today admitted that she left a death threat in his voice mail. Thankfully, he moved out of state weeks ago to be with this other girl. I don't think she has any intention of actually driving to another state to hurt this person and if she did, I would call the police.

This is on top of the constant angst, telling me she can't sleep because they're not together anymore, telling me about the constant dreams she has where they're together or nightmares about how he's with someone else. I normally consider myself an empathetic person, but I don't understand this at all. Breaking up sucks but relationships, even marriages, drift apart. That's supposed to be part of life. Change is good. (Insert more clichés here.) I try to tell her that she needs to like herself first and be comfortable with being alone before she can really expect to be in a long-lasting, healthy relationship and she looks at me like I have two heads.

Why have I put up with all this terrible behavior? If a guy had a reputation for being obsessive, stalking, assault, death threats -- there is no way I would associate with this person. But because this friend is an 85-pound woman, it's like I have a mental block that won't quite let me wash my hands of her. We've known each other for 10 years, our birthdays are coming up this weekend and we've always celebrated them together. I just don't know what to do. Another friend and I have tried to convince her to see someone and get help for depression. After several years of trying to convince her it's OK to get help (and I think part of the reason she has finally agreed is she was there when a couple of years ago I got help for anxiety and depression) she's finally made an appointment and I'm very supportive of that. But the depression and how she treats men strike me as two separate things (or maybe not?) and the way she treats men is NOT OK.

I don't know what to do. Do I break contact with her as so many other friends have? She doesn't take advice well. She makes excuses and ignores when you try to tell her something she doesn't want to hear. When she admitted to the death threat via voice mail (because the ex is wisely not taking her calls) I told her that's something he could go to the police with. I don't think he will. I sort of wish he would, if only because I don't really know how to get through to her.

Please help.

Friend of Freaky Geeky Girl

Dear Friend of Freaky Geeky Girl,

I'm glad your friend has made an appointment to see a licensed psychotherapist. She may have the beginnings of a mental illness. Let's hope she can avert any more serious problems by getting help now. Sometimes behavior that seems extreme can eventually disintegrate or spiral out of control.

Your experience is not so terribly unusual, especially if you include among your friends the more brainy and extreme of the population. When I was younger my social group included some people who were a little more than eccentric or extreme. They turned out to have psychiatric problems. It's a difficult situation when you like someone but fear they may be going over the edge.

It is hard for a layperson to predict when a friend is headed for psychosis or paranoid schizophrenia or some other clinical illness. If the person's view of reality seems basically skewed to you, in some way you perhaps cannot define, that is a clue. But you and I are not psychologists.

You cannot cure her or force her to stay in therapy if she decides it's not for her. So I suggest you manage the friendship as well as possible for now, and support her in her search for help. See her one-on-one but be wary of  bringing her into any new circles, where she might embarrass or disrupt the common enjoyment, or frighten or offend people who are meeting her for the first time.

Be honest with her, as you apparently have been. Tell her that while you are a geek and you like and accept eccentric people, some of her behavior is beyond what you can approve or tolerate. Be clear that if she goes beyond certain norms, you will leave immediately, right then and there, and that if she seems a threat to herself or others, you will call the authorities.

She is probably not the last person you will meet who is a little unbalanced and in need of help. So this is an opportunity to learn firsthand how to handle a difficult friendship, to get a glimpse of someone who may be headed for serious psychiatric problems, and to experience just how little control we really have over others, even those closest to us.

Cary Tennis

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