Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Knowing he's bad for her doesn't keep her away
Toxic: I'm going to see someone this weekend who I know is toxic for me. I feel slightly guilty about it because I've done well at staying away for the past few months. But the problem is that I still care about him and I don't have a lot of other friends in the area. Is it possible to have a healthy relationship with him?
I'm not even sure what that means. He is my friend. I'm in love with him. He isn't in love with me. We both know the facts but still do this friends-with-benefits/pseudo-relationship thing from time to time. I'm worried it's keeping me from other relationships, but I also haven't found anyone else I want to be with. So what's the harm?
Carolyn: The harm is that seeing this person underscores the worst elements of yourself: It highlights that you feel lonely; it highlights that you're not strong enough to resist the short-term high of something you know is destructive in the long term; it highlights that you don't think enough of yourself to tell him no thanks, you deserve better than to be someone's plaything.
It highlights your desperation, that you're more willing to rationalize this arrangement as healthy or harmless than you are to put it in the compost heap where it belongs. You are being toxic to yourself.
It's actually possible, in a very narrowly defined way, to see this person and have it be an expression of strength — for example (at the risk of fueling new rationalizations), if you were in this solely to get your physical needs met, just as he is doing with you. However, you aren't seeing him on those narrow terms. You're going with high hopes of getting your emotional needs met, a clear surrendering of what you believe to be your better judgment.
Do right by your sense of self-worth and stay home. Fix the holes in a healthier, more lasting way — develop more rewarding interests, make the effort to cultivate new friendships, give of yourself in ways you can trust to give back. Maybe most important: Don't fall into the trap of seeing the world as binary, where people are either paired off or alone. Your words don't betray your outlook, but your actions do.
Put dignity and desperation aside to have frank discussion
Crisis in Real Time: Late last night I was accidentally privy to a conversation. Apparently my fiance is having second thoughts about our upcoming wedding and is thinking about asking me to suspend it indefinitely.
He doesn't know what I overheard. My heart is broken, and I can't decide what to do with this information. My dignity wants me to confront him and bow out voluntarily before he has a chance to deliver the blow. But the other part of me desperately hopes he can psych himself up. What is my duty here?
Carolyn: Dignity and desperation both can get in the way of your best interests. Please just tell him what you overheard. If it doesn't lead to a conversation (maybe not on the spot, but when emotions settle) that is both your most difficult and best ever, I'll be very surprised.