Friday, June 13, 2008

Advice Column #20

Hey Bartender!
One of my oldest friends got out of a long-term abusive relationship about eight months ago. Since then, she's fallen for a sleazy bartender at a dance club- and has become convinced that he's "the one". He'll give her the time of day to drunkenly make out with her, but he tells her that he's really not into relationships right now. She seems to think that if she falls more and more in love with him, that when he is finally "ready" for a relationship, he'll realize that she's also the one for him. I think she's gone off the deep end. What should I do, or say, or drink?

Oh dear, she is really delusional. There are three things that can happen between her and this dude- it can work out, it can suck and not work out, or he could use his position of power over her to really, devastatingly hurt her. What you need to realize about your friend is that she's in a cycle of abuse- she's cruisin' for a bruisin'. The abusive ex-boy was probably not the first abusive person in her life, and will probably not be the last. She's convinced this scum bag is the one, because she's sub-consciously looking for someone who can hurt her more than the last boy. Why? Because the more it hurts, the more she thinks she's in love. Pain is the most comfortable emotion for her.

In all likelihood, she thinks the cycle will end differently this time, that pain will lead to pleasure. But no matter what could happen, the outcome will always be another abusive cycle. If the sleazebag dance party bartender turns out to be a saint in black jeans who truly loves her with all his heart, she's going to push any buttons he has until he becomes every other jerk she's ever dated. That's what people in patterns like this do. The repetition is stronger than their will to change it, if that will even exists. Their greatest comfort is that they make whatever has happened before happen all over again, and they can anticipate the feelings, so nothing scary and new happens.

In the case of dealing with such confused friends, you need to realize that when she figures out that you are not supportive of her messed-up routine, she's likely to turn on you. You have to know this in advance so that when it happens, and it will, you will realize that she only knows these two roles- to be the victim or the aggressor- and until she learns a new way of loving and responding, the lashing out has little to do with you, and everything to do with her. So be patient, and don't take her venom to heart.

Obviously this new Romeo has no intention of making good on his smooches, and your friend will be totally blindsided by his lack of good intentions. Even though it's obvious to us that she should cut and run, she will not be able to hear any reasonable advice that you give her. You can take solace knowing that if she survives the harsh indignities of her love, that she will always remember you as supportive when you said nothing (or nothing terminal), and will show up when she needs you to say either nothing or something else.

Only in her most vulnerable state can the most subtle real advice be given. This will come months from now, when her bruised heart is splattered all over the floor behind her. Then, you can agree with her that the jerk was a jerk, and you can compare his jerk-dom to the previous boy's jerk-dom. You can ask her the first time she remembers someone making her feel that way, and let her talk it out until she sees the pattern that she's been repeating. Maybe she'll have a break-down, and you can get her into therapy to discuss all the negative cycles in her life. That's the patented New York way of moving on, with the help of true professionals.

It's totally reasonable for you to tell her, now, that you hope things work out and that she's worthy of someone loving her the way she loves them. Boost her esteem in any way you can, so she can be strong to fight the battle she's going to pick with this useless boy. But you don't have to watch the bloody slaughter. Getting her back, and being a good friend, doesn't mean you have to hold her hand while she makes her own mistakes. It means you have to be willing to buy her a drink and talk to her when she's ready to listen. Become scarce for a while, she'll call you when the time is right. Until then, make yourself busy.

When the time comes, go to a bar, and order yourself something distinct and strong like a Sazarac. This strong old classic (like the classic old twisted love patterns of the abused) has disputed variations on ingredients. For you, order it with the following: an old-fashioned glass with a lump of sugar soaked in Peychaud bitters, a cube of ice, a dash of absinthe (or Pernod if the bar isn't adequately stocked), a twist of orange peel (your comfort), a twist of lemon peel (your candor), and a jigger of Rye. I'd suggest Pikesville Rye, but that's entirely up to you. With this serious drink in hand, deliver the good news- that he wasn't the one. Then try to offer your friend a way to talk to someone more professional than you, her entirely judgement soaked friend (they all are), get her to an impartial, good therapist. A therapist can teach her how to get out of that rough cycle, and to learn that abuse is not love. Only then will she bring home a boyfriend that will be worth meeting, worth her patience, and won't make you want to stab his eyes out for how she's treated.

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