Don’t Let Friend’s Unhappy Relationship Ruin Your Friendship

Ask Demetria: You can’t fix your pal’s problems if she’s not willing to help herself.

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Dear Demetria:

My friend of many years has been in a relationship for 15 years with a guy she is not married to. She tells me all the time that she wants this next step, but he always says, “When this happens” or “Not before that happens.” I am annoyed because she keeps complaining but does nothing. They even had a child together recently. How do I address this? —Anonymous

Your friend is going to have to accept that her man does not want to marry her. He likes her well enough, if he’s stuck around for a decade and a half, but either he doesn’t believe in marriage—despite making a lifetime commitment to deal with her as the mother of his child—or he doesn’t see her as “the one” to be his wife.

It’s fine for a woman or man to want to accomplish certain goals before tying the knot, but if that can’t be done in 15 years, it’s not likely to be done at all. Your friend is dealing with the relationship equivalent of dangling a carrot in front of a horse being led around a track.

At this point, she’s going to have to decide if she wants this man or marriage to someone else, because being married to her current long-term boyfriend doesn’t sound like a realistic option.

That said, this is not your place to say or, perhaps in your case, repeat to your friend. However old your friend is, she’s grown. And if she wants to stay in a relationship with her child’s father that likely is not headed to marriage, that’s her choice.

She has invested a lot of time and love into this relationship, and she has probably convinced herself that if she just keeps hanging in there, eventually she will get what she wants. She may also think that the child they have together is a way to get him to commit for real. (It worked back in the day but doesn’t have the same effect now.) Whatever she is thinking, at this point, just let her.

It’s hard to watch friends engage in “complicated” relationships—especially when they are constantly complaining about how unhappy they are—but choose to remain in them. Rightfully, you’re tired of hearing about her drama—there’s always drama in a situation like this—and hearing her express angst over her conflict all these years while still doing nothing. She has a tough decision to make, and you can’t make it for her.

As a friend, you want someone you care about to be happy. But until your friend decides to accept her current situation for what it is and make peace with it or leave, there’s nothing you can do. Surely you’ve tried to listen and soothe for years. But I know from being the friend in a similar position that hearing someone complain about the same thing can be exhausting and can put a strain on the friendship. (In my case, it was a friend with a job that she hated, but she refused to send out résumés or look for other work.) It’s doubly bad when the friend asks for advice and then never takes it.

You’re going to have to stop listening to her complain. That is a choice you can make. When she comes to you with the next story about how he’s putting her off, listen long enough to get the gist and interrupt—because you know how it ends—to ask, “So what are you going to do about it?”