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#845: A girlfriend is not a pacifier.

Hey Capt,

I find myself in a delicate situation regarding my best friend of 2 yrs Julie (23f) and her fiance, Jon (23m).

Julie met Jon and became engaged to him this past summer; they’d been seeing each other 4 monthes in a LDR. There had been many issues (Jon was unwilling to commit for awhile, struggles with alcohol, has bipolar and a dark past), so there side-eyeing and lost friendships over the course of everything. At this point, the dust has settled. Julie and I are still close, but there are few she’d call close friends.

Before she met Jon, we were at that comfortable “let’s hang out pretty much everyday in sweatpants or meet up between classes” type of friendship. I figured that we’d get much less time together once she started dating; I wasn’t expecting the engagement, but I tried to be as supportive as I could. She tells me often that she appreciates my support, though I have expressed concerns re: Jon’s past, issues, etc. I’ve read all your darth articles quite a few times.

However, it’s getting hard to do this because almost every time we have plans beyond coffee, Jon is suddenly suicidal or “worried he’s in a bad place” or “more down than usual”.

Julie is very sensitive to this, and will promptly cancel with many apologies. I’m fine rescheduling coffee or lunch. When it’s a day plan though (birthday party, sleepover,etc), that bothers me. Add that to the fact that she’ll be texting with him because he’ll feel ignored otherwise, and I don’t know how to approach this.

It feels cruel to suggest she not tend to her partner when they’re going through a hard time ,but it bugs me that his hard times always fall on days where we’re supposed to be having plans, It also makes me feel like I can’t express frustration or hurt, because how selfish is it to want to see your friend when their SO is in a bad place?

It’s gotten to the point that any time she bails, I can be sure Jon is the reason behind it. I want to support her, and be there if she needs me, but I also want to be able to schedule time without constantly being trumped by Jon’s emotional issues.

What should I do, and how can I talk about this without making her defensive?

Sincerely,
I Miss My Friend

Dear I Miss My Friend,

What would happen, I wonder, if Julie didn’t cancel plans, or if she didn’t remain constantly available to him by text when you are together? Would he harm himself (in which case, this is waaaaaaay beyond Julie’s power to actually help and needs the intervention of professionals) or would he be sad/upset/all up in his feelings (in which case, he needs to learn some self-soothing behaviors and stop using his girlfriend like a pacifier, and Julie needs to figure out how to set and maintain boundaries with him) or would he become annoyed with her and verbally/physically abusive (in which case…RUN, JULIE). Sadly all of the cases are beyond your power to control.

This situation stinks and Julie is probably going to get defensive no matter what you do or say. Jon has her trained to respond to his “I am so sad today, and the only cure is your attention” stimulus. Excessively monitoring a significant other, isolating them from social connections, and expecting them to be constantly available to care for you are all red flags for emotional abuse. You can try saying indirect stuff like “Hey, howabout we both turn our phones off and just enjoy hanging out today?” but she’ll see through it. If it actually works and she turns off her phone, Jon’ll punish her for it by leaving 75 increasingly terrifying voice mails. So your choices are a) ride it out and hope it gets better or b) speak from the heart and hope it gets better.

One way to start a conversation is to ask questions. “Julie, have you noticed that Jon has a crisis every time we hang out?  What do you think is going on with that?” 

She will probably make excuses for him (he is grooming & training her to make excuses for him). But ask her the question and see what she says. Give her a chance to say in her own words what she thinks is happening.

Maybe one question you could ask is, “Does he do this at other times, like, can you focus at work/in class when you’re there or is he texting you all day and asking you to stay home with him then?

Another way to frame things is to ask her, “In a perfect world, where you get everything you want, what would you like to happen? How do you want me to handle things when you have to cancel at the last minute?

You could also say, “Julie, you’re my friend and I will be here for you, even if you cancel plans sometimes. I’m not mad at you, but I am concerned. This thing where we can’t hang out because you’re either tethered to your phone the whole time or where you cancel because Jon is upset is a pattern, and it really bothers me. If he’s so deeply in crisis that he can’t be away from you or out of contact with you for the 2 hours it takes for us to get dinner together, then it’s a sign to me that he needs some serious help. You can love him, but you can’t be his therapist!”

It might not help or change anything to say it. You might go back into the same holding pattern you’re in now. I’m sorry. The Siren Song is hard to thwart.

If you are reading this and thinking, “I’m the ‘Julie’, but my ‘Jon’ is genuinely ill, so how can I tell what is controlling behavior and what is not” try 1) calling the person’s bluff 2) in a way that actually helps. For example, if you’re feeling excessively monitored or need a break from texting, try leaving your phone at home before you go out or saying, “I need to turn off my phone and be unplugged today, I’ll check in with you at (time), though” and then follow through with what you said you’d do. That way the person knows what to expect and (theoretically) it frees up their day not to wait around for you to be available instead of increasing their anxiety as they try (& fail) to get through. With someone who doesn’t want to be left alone at all, maybe call a friend or family member to come hang out with them while you go out. It will give you both a break and give your person a chance to catch up with another loved one besides you. With someone who is feeling suicidal all of a sudden (to the point that they are telling you about it AND want you to drop everything and “help” them in some way, which to me is a sign of a *crisis* vs. a passing suicidal thought or impulse, which I know a lot of us have) = Yes, help them!  At very least it’s time to call the doctor and get meds, etc. checked!

If your “Jon” is genuinely in crisis, reaching out to his/your support system, taking time to care for yourself and be nurtured by your friends, and getting him medical attention are GOOD & CARING things to do that will help the situation in the short and the long term, not evidence that you don’t love him or are ignoring him. If crises only appear every time you want to take some time for yourself or hang with a friend, but suddenly improve & disappear when a “Not You & not your emotional labor & constant attention”-solution is suggested, that’s pretty good sign that at least some manipulation is afoot.

Also, please remember that statements like:

“You’re the only one who understands!”

“You’re the only one I can trust/count on!”

“You’re the only one who gets me!”

“You’re the only one who can help!”

“It has to be you, you’re the only one who can do it!”

…are NOT compliments, especially from a significant other. They should make you wonder, “Where is everybody else in this person’s life?” or “Why is this person so dependent on me?”

 

 

 

 

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151 comments
  1. There is a Jon in my extended social networks as well. Julie was planning to take some international travel coincidentally over a date which was particularly hard for Jon, and Jon “did not want to disrupt” Julie’s plans, even though Jaye (also dating Julie, and going on the international travel with Julie) had suggested that Julie remain behind for Jon’s Hard Day, and catch up later. Inevitably, Jon had a crisis on that day, and then *blamed Jaye* for keeping Julie away during the Hard Day.

    It took Julie quite a while to get sorted out of the situation.

    Jon is now dating Jacky, and Jacky is friends with Jaye and wants to spend time with Jaye. No one is telling Jon, that I know of…

  2. Sleepy said:

    Hi, LW. I was the Julie for a very long time (4 years) and it was a nightmare from which I am still recovering. I don’t have any actual advice for you, but jedi hugs if you want them. She’ll appreciate anything you can do to stick by her, I think, especially if/when she’s starting to feel trapped in the situation but not ready to leave. But! you also can’t and don’t need to be dumping endless emotional energy into a lopsided, lonely friendship. So I don’t know what to tell you.

    • Liz268 said:

      Sleepy, I am very happy to hear you got out! Jedi hugs for you. LW I am also offering jedi hugs if you want them. It can be very difficult watching people being in difficult situations.

    • Turtle Candle said:

      Yes, that’s really the conundrum. On the one hand, when I was in the Julie role, having my friends be there for me and stick around was really helpful in making me feel like I could step away from the relationship (eventually… it did not happen quickly). But on the other hand, pouring emotional resources into someone who keeps canceling on you and not being fully present is draining and painful. There’s a balance to be struck between being there for a friend and taking care of yourself, and to some extent each person has to figure out where they draw the line.

    • me and not you. said:

      I was also a Julie. It was horrible. I hope she sees through it, but rationalization can be a powerful force.

      One thing I discovered once I got to the other side was the number of friends I had had dwindled significantly and I wasn’t really sure where to turn for help. It might be helpful (if going the “I think this might be abusive” and she reacts negatively) to let her know you’re there for her. I don’t really have a good script for that, I just think it would have been good for me to be able to say “O yes, this person who I pulled away from said that I could still contact them if I need help” or something along those lines.

      • anon_for_this_one said:

        I have said to someone in a relationship with an abuser (I was friends with girlfriend 1, and she was girlfriend 2) after we got GF 1 out of the abusive situation: “whatever happens in the next months, and whatever terrible conflicts there will be, and whatever side you or I will take – if you ever have a problem with him or need help, here’s my number. Other Helper and I will do for you what we have done for GF 1 no matter what happened before.”

        She was not a close friend of mine, more of an acquaintance.

        … I think it’s a good idea to make clear that even if (you might be mad at her because of whatever happens in the future/the friendship ends/whatever), you’ll still believe and help her at any point in the future. Out of principle, because we don’t let people in abusive relationships when they want help to get out.

      • I once told a person whose abuser had also gotten her involved in a cult and who had started talking to me only about how nice her cult was and how I should join, “I don’t want to join your religion. But if you ever want to leave your husband, I will help you. Anytime. Email me or call for help with that and I’ll do anything I can, even if we haven’t spoken in years.”

        I then didn’t hear from her again until she left her husband. (She didn’t need my help, but she did remember the offer, and we are distantly-friendly again.)

        Basically, I felt like explicitly telling her “even if you are super isolated and think you have no one to help you get out, you do, no matter what” was something I could honestly offer her (because even someone I didn’t like I would help if I could), and it might, one day, be a lifeline. I encourage anyone watching a friend be Darthed away to say something similar, if you can do so honestly.

    • RR said:

      “Jedi hugs” brought something to mind. Carrie Fisher has bipolar disorder and has her service dog, Gary. LW, suggest that your friend look into getting a pet or service animal for her BF. They can give him affection and kindness when she’s not available.

      • This could be a really excellent idea! I know someone who uses a mental health support dog and she copes SO MUCH BETTER than without.

      • slythwolf said:

        I have not-really-diagnosed anxiety and a not-actually-service dog, and she helps. She is my little cuddlebug.

      • bobaney said:

        If she called her dog Luke then he could give her actual literal sort of almost Jedi dog hugs.

      • Clarry said:

        I love dogs and love service dogs. There is one warning: The dog will need care and commitment. That’s food, walks, veterinary care, training, grooming, cleaning up after. Dogs, while good, are not mind readers. If Jon is as bad at taking care of himself as he seems, he may not be excellent at taking care of a dog who will be wholly dependent on him. I can envision a situation where Julie has to run over and rescue Dog too.

        • espritdecorps said:

          During the year it took to get free of Darth, I became pregnant after he assaulted me. Not continuing the pregnancy was 100% the right choice, Darth would have been a terrible father, but I did want children, and a deep depression settled around that and the assault.

          Being given a puppy brought my world into focus again. She was a rescue, had health problems, needed around the clock care. and gave me many years of loving companionship before she passed on.

          But I was not always the best dogmother. Depressed days often saw me scraping by with the bare minimum of remembering to get out of bed to give her food, water, and a potty break. Manic days we went on long walks to wear us both out enough that I didn’t scream at her for breathing too loudly.
          I didn’t get another dog after she passed because my physical and mental health left me with not enough spoons to cover my existing responsibilities, let alone a new one.

          Giving sole responsibility of a dog to someone who is either coercing their partner, or so suicidal they may need hospitalization seems dicey.

  3. RedCat said:

    I often think it’s dangerous to make *one* person responsible for your happiness/meeting all your needs. It makes that person a crutch, just as alcohol, drugs, sex or whatever can be, and puts enormous pressure on them to be available and accommodating.

    What happens if that person can no longer be in the picture due to death, breakup, illness or just having a busy and full life? I think the Captain is right – Jon needs to learn some self soothing behaviours and should definitely try to learn what’s causing the thoughts that can only be managed by Julie’s immediate presence and attention.

    That’s how small children behave – they get scared, anxious or hurt themselves, and their first instinct is to reach for their parent – whose job it is to scoop them up, kiss them better and make the bad stuff go away. I’ve been Julie, and that’s how I felt – like a mother rather than a lover. In the end, I had to leave the relationship and deal with the torrents of guilt and drama that were directed at me. I felt better for it though.

  4. Dizzy said:

    Honestly, as someone who also has some Serious Business emotional problems, it’s not good *for Jon* that he can’t self-soothe without Julie’s attention. Even if you don’t think he’s abusive (he might be, he might not be) it’s a very dangerous situation for someone to be in if they’re nonfunctional without their partner.

    My abnormal psych professor used to work in a group home with troubled teenagers, and she told us this story. Once, there was a teenager girl whose form of self-soothing was to play basketball. That was the only tool she had. So my professor asked her “What are you going to do if there isn’t a hoop?” “It’s okay, I’ll just bounce it off the wall.” “Okay, what are you going to do if you’re grounded and can’t leave your room?” “I’ll play in my room.” “What are you going to do if someone takes it away from you?” And the girl stopped and said “I’ll probably kill someone.”

    My professor’s whole point was that while the basketball was a good tool, what was this kid going to do if she didn’t have access to it? It can be a tool, but you need a *toolbox*, you need a bunch of options so that not having a single one won’t destroy you.

    I don’t doubt that Jon has a lot of serious problems and doesn’t know how to manage them. The problem is that he’s making Julie responsible for everything. When does Julie get a break? When does Julie get to have time just for her? When does Julie get to be the vulnerable person in her own relationship?

    Also, what has Jon tried that doesn’t involve Julie? The last time I was suicidal, a whole two months ago, I had a lot of tools that got me through it. I had the Veteran Crisis line, I had a bunch of friends, I had my partner, I had my mom, I had my psychiatrist and if nothing else worked, I knew I could check myself into the VA inpatient psych ward again. So if my BFF didn’t pick up, I called my mom; if I couldn’t get my psychiatrist, I called the crisis line. I also had some klonipin for when the anxiety was too much, SAMApp for getting me down from an anxiety attack and started using Booster Buddy because my cute animal friend needs my help to wake up, I can’t let it down! I’ll be honest, not all of them helped every time, and there were plenty of times where I was just so messed up that nothing on heaven and earth could have made me feel better, but they got me through.

    Right now, it sounds like Jon is using Julie for everything. This isn’t fair to Julie and it isn’t fair to you. And it is going to eat Julie’s life. Right now, it’s interfering with her ability to do her own self-care. She doesn’t have time to herself, she can’t spend time with her friends, and even when she is away from him, she’s still focusing on him. I worry that she’s going to turn into LW 311, whose wife had a panic attack every time he tried to leave the house, so he just stopped trying. It’s a sad, lonely, exhausting way to live.

  5. icewindgale said:

    OP, I wish you all the best in maintaining your friendship with Julie. It sounds like she’s in a tough spot, and that puts you in a tough spot also.

    I think the Captain has some great suggestions above, but I’d like to add one more – a conversation focused on “I language.” Reading your letter, I get two major points:
    1. You have had major plans canceled on you at the last minute, repeatedly, and this bothers you.
    2. You are bothered by Julie’s constant texting with Jon when the two of you are hanging out.

    What I don’t get from the letter is how these things make you feel, and I think that may be valuable for Julie to hear – the “When you X, I feel Y (possibly with an “I would like Z” addendum)” talk. For example: “Julie, when you cancel our major plans at the last minute, I feel disappointed. And because it’s been happening a lot, I feel lonely/miss you.” Or, “Julie, when you text Jon while we hang out, I feel unimportant/ignored. I want to be able to have conversations with you where we give each other our full attention.”

    This might even be a good lead-in to some of the other scripts the Captain talks about above, because while Julie might feel defensive/feel that you’re overstepping if discussion goes directly to how she interacts with Jon, you definitely have the right in any relationship to talk about how your friend’s behavior is affecting you. If her response is that Jon will [insert problematic behavior here], that may be a softer way to offer help and support for Julie to get some boundaries in place for herself/identify ways that Jon can seek help without (further) dismantling Julie’s life.

  6. notleia said:

    I have to go sit in a corner and feel weird about myself because Margaret Atwood described my first romance 30+ years before it happened. Who knew bird suits could look like a black leather jacket?

    • Roxie said:

      Oh oh, I love that. I kinda like it better.

      Shall I tell you the secret
      and if I do, will you get me
      out of this black leather jacket?

      So much yes.

    • jeanne said:

      I think she’s got The Sight. Thirty years ago, she set The Handmaid’s Tale in what had been the U.S., almost as if she saw what was coming down the road…

  7. DropTable~DropsMic said:

    LW, I’ve been Depressed Partner and I’ve been in a relationship with Depressed Partner and I can say: it’s not selfish or wrong of you to want to maintain a friendship with Julie without being constantly interrupted by Jon. At best his behavior is inconsiderate, at worst it’s controlling and abusive. Asking your partner to drop everything for a genuine, one-off emergency is one thing; establishing a pattern of “emergencies” that prevents Julie from maintaining other relationships is a form of isolating someone.

    You don’t have to — and shouldn’t try to — fix their broken relationship dynamic, but you absolutely have a right not to get sucked into it.

  8. Courtney said:

    Oh, wow this one hits close to home. *wet dog shake*

    I’ve been Julie way too many times.

    • stellanor said:

      I was Jon as a teenager, although I wasn’t intentionally isolating anyone, I was just messed up and super dependent. I got therapy. Now I am better.

      Teenage me was a giant mentally unhealthy pain in the arse, though, and some people who absolutely should have either shut that nonsense down or dumped me did neither, unfortunately for all involved. I kind of wonder if I might have learned a coping skill sooner if I hadn’t had codependent people.

      • Me too. I’ve been both Jon and Julie. On balance, Julie was harder.

      • olives said:

        Yepp, same here! It was complicated for me to sort out for a while, because I knew I wasn’t *trying* to be isolating / manipulative…and yet, when I paid close attention to what would happen, and paid attention to how I was handling my feelings (i.e., crying out for comfort when maybe I could just have a hot chocolate and a night in and get comfort when the person was free), and that they were often in response to things that the person was doing that felt threatening (like spending all day with other people)…well, it became clear that whether or not I *felt* manipulative, it certainly must’ve felt like control from the other side! Something along the lines of, not controlling myself left the caretaking to the other person.

        Thank goodness for therapy, this blog and others like it, to help me firmly sort out the fact that everybody is personally responsible only for their own feelings, and while when you have somebody close to you, you can heavily *influence* each other’s feelings, you can’t actually force the other person to take responsibility for yours, nor vice versa.

        Learning about that and developing clear communication skills around it in my current relationship have made me a much happier person.

      • ‘..some people who absolutely should have either shut that nonsense down or dumped me did neither, unfortunately for all involved. I kind of wonder if I might have learned a coping skill sooner if I hadn’t had codependent people.’

        Were the codependant people a similar age to you, i.e. also in their teens? Unfortunately setting boundaries around emotional support is a learned skill and a lot of young people simply don’t have it yet. I was a ‘Julie’ to my best friend in school throughout basically my entire teens and it was how I learned. Before that it had never even occured to me that I had the right to not do this. I thought that because my best friend had had a hard childhood and I had had a comparitively easy one, I had to take care of him for the forseeable future, might as well have been forever. (He never directly told me this.) I didn’t have any self-esteem. I didn’t have any idea that emotional labour was real, hard work and that I could only do so much before I burnt out and had to replenish, so I never did this and the situation got so toxic.

        It was only after I finally escaped that I learned about co-dependancy and avoiding being in these situations. I never can truly know what it felt like to be him, of course, but I feel sad when people talk about people who get into co-dependant relationships being the responsible ones who should have done better, and the enablers. In reality, we both did a lot of damage to each other. I know I am fundamentally changed by the experience and I will never know what kind of person I would have been if I had not met him. It is very hard to get out of these situations and I don’t think it would necessarily help someone in a ‘Julie’ situation to be told the other person would probably do better without their enabling. Even if it is true. That person has to get to that position themselves, in their own mind.

        Sorry to dump that on you. I’m glad you are better.

        • stellanor said:

          Yup, similar ages. It was a big old “we don’t know how to cope with stuff” party — the people I depended on basically got their self-worth from feeling needed by someone, so it was kind of a death spiral of codependence. I had one boyfriend who I had a super hard time breaking up with because he didn’t know how to deal with not having someone dependent on him.

          No one was to blame there, it was just people with issues finding each other and hanging around feeding each other’s issues. A mutual enabling society.

        • Jenn said:

          I think maybe the thing is not to blame the person but get them ask themselves ‘am I actually helping’? ‘am I making this situation better’?

          • Ideally yes. Small steps, always small steps.

  9. allreb said:

    Oh man, I wish I had heard something like this during my high school relationship (“You’re the only reason I get out of bed in the morning, you’re the only good thing in my life, I don’t know what I’d do if you ever left me, by the way I hate that you do school activities instead of spending time with me and I hate that you talk to other boys, without you I would be lost…”) or my college relationship (“I’m having a serious mental health issue but I’m afraid to get help so how about instead you come over every night to talk me down when I have a panic attack?”).

    I don’t know that I’d have been ready to *hear* that, especially not in high school, but if someone had compassionately laid it out for me I think that I would have had an easier time admitting, in both cases, when I was finally Done.

  10. allreb said:

    Oh man, I wish I had heard something like this during my high school relationship (“You’re the only reason I get out of bed in the morning, you’re the only good thing in my life, I don’t know what I’d do if you ever left me, by the way I hate that you do school activities instead of spending time with me and I hate that you talk to other boys, without you I would be lost…”) or my college relationship (“I’m having a serious mental health issue but I’m afraid to get help so how about instead you come over every night to talk me down when I have a panic attack?”).

    I don’t know that I’d have been ready to *hear* that, especially not in high school, but if someone had compassionately laid it out for me I think that I would have had an easier time admitting, in both cases, when I was finally Done.

    (Ack, sorry if this double posts, WordPress gives me issues sometimes and my comments don’t go through.)

  11. Nilla said:

    I ended a friendship with Jon recently…it only lasted about 6 months, but I can’t believe how quickly I went from “this poor guy seems like he could use a friend, I’ll try to be there for him and listen and see how I can help” to being overwhelmed with neediness and guilt trips and demands on my time. He repeatedly had emotional crises and suicidal thoughts crop up when I was busy or needed to get some sleep. No one else was ever there for him or understood him like I did. He didn’t like the therapist he saw weekly and refused to tell her about his problems or take his meds consistently or talk to her about med changes when it was apparent the meds weren’t cutting it. He felt slighted when I wanted to hang out with other friends, but was aloof/hostile/nasty/pouty when I tried to include him. He lied to me about how his support network treated him (i.e. “Eric isn’t speaking to me, we haven’t spoken in weeks”; meanwhile, photos are posted on FB of Eric hanging out with him that were clearly taken in the last 24 hours.) He was mortally offended when I gave him the number to a suicide hotline when he was feeling suicidal and it was impossible for me to stay and talk.

    The need was soul-sucking, and made maintaining boundaries and keeping on top of my other priorities incredibly challenging. I was spending unsustainable amounts of time trying to prop him up, and no matter how many hours I talked to him or how much attention I gave him, or how much fun we managed to have, it was never enough, I was constantly being criticized for not being there for him, not responding quickly enough, not responding appropriately to whatever the crisis du jour was.

    The cycle of “I can’t get enough of you because you’re the best, but you’re the worst because I can’t get enough of you” is reality-altering, and if I didn’t have other ironclad commitments anchoring me, I probably would have gotten sucked in worse than I did.

  12. Dizzy said:

    One tactic I’ve used successfully with my friends in abusive relationships is dropping little seeds. The important thing about dropping seeds is that you can’t actually control whether they grow, all you can do is sow them and hope for the best.

    My friend was in an abusive relationship and she wasn’t ready to leave. So every once in awhile I’d say something about it. You ABSOLUTELY CANNOT do this every time you hang out with someone, and it’s really important that every hangout not be A Treatise On Your Boyfriend Who Sucks And I Hate Him.

    So one month I’d mention “Hey, you seem a lot less happy than when you started dating your boyfriend?” A few weeks later, when she would talk about how she wasn’t allowed to have male friends, I’d say, “That’s not an okay thing for someone to do to their partner. Also why does he get to have female friends but you don’t get to have male friends?” Later, I’d say “So that thing you just mentioned? That is pretty much verbatim what my own abusive husband did to me.”

    It meant I had to guard my tongue a lot, since I have Thoughts on abusers. It meant having to soften my words when I really wanted to Force Her To Understand. It meant a lot of me being SO ANGRY that I couldn’t make her leave, because no one could make me leave when I was being abused. It meant, most importantly, that I could do everything in my power and she might not leave him, because she’s the only one who can make decisions for her, and I had to accept that.

    When she finally broke up with him, she told me that all the little seeds I’d sown had sprouted in her head. When they fought, there was my voice in her mind saying that she didn’t deserve any of this and that she wasn’t actually required to spend much time on a man who made her miserable. Having one person who was unequivocally on Team Her gave her the chance to advocate for herself.

    I don’t know if this will work with Julie. I can’t guarantee that it will. But it’s one way to bring up how unhappy she is without alienating her or making her feel too attacked.

  13. Dear LW:

    This is such a hard and messy situation to find yourself in.

    Kudos to you for staying with Julie. Jon makes it very difficult though, and it may get worse.

    I hope you do try talking about how his emergencies affect you.

    If I were in your place, I wouldn’t ask if she’d noticed though: she has, and the part of her that isn’t struggling to make up for his sorrows and prove that she’s good enough, that part is ashamed of how she can’t be a good friend anymore either (ok, maybe it was I who felt that in Julie’s place, but still I think she knows).

    Instead of asking if she knows what he’s doing, I’d try stating, viz:

    Julie, it seems as though Jon has a crisis whenever we plan to hang out. What do you think is going on with that?

    Then, even if she says, No it’s not like that he just is going through a rough patch (and she will say some such) you might say ok, but I miss you. Let’s figure out how we can hang out.

    – Occasionally invite Jon
    – Set up parallel boys and girls nights (if you’re a girl)
    – When Jon throws a hissy go with Julie to sort him out and then the two of you can go off again.

    • I meant to add: Jedi hugs if you want them LW.

    • Does LDR mean they are in a long distance relationship though? I was wondering if the “sorting Jon out” was being done over the phone.

      • I got the impression that it started long distance and is closer now, but that could be wrong.

        • Now I’ve reread the OP I think you could be right. In my experience sorting a Jon out over the phone is way more draining but at least you get a little more free time.

  14. Turtle Candle said:

    Oof, yeah, I’ve been in the Julie position here. The final straw in my case was the day of a concert I’d been looking forward to for months; I was, at the time, flat broke and had had to save up for half a year for the (non-refundable) tickets to go see with my friends. And of course he called right as I was all dressed up and about to walk out the door… with a I Am Feeling Insecure So You Must Talk To Me About Our Relationship Until I Feel Better type call. I tried to suggest talking later when we had more time, I tried to get him to wrap things up, and finally I said, “Seriously, I’m sorry, but if I’m not gong to be late for the concert I have to go now. I can call you when I get back, or tomorrow if that’s too late.”

    There was a long pause and then he said plaintively, “Does that mean that a concert is more important to you than Our Relationship???”

    My stunned silence was, I think, answer enough. I finally managed to say something like, “You know that’s not what I mean, but the conversation can wait, and the concert can’t, and I’ve saved up for it for a long time and it’s important to me. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” (The relationship limped through a couple more months before finally ending, but honestly, looking back at it, that moment where I was standing at the door in my cutest strappy heels with purse in hand just trying to get to this concert, and realizing suddenly that what he was trying to do was yank on my leash and bring me to heel, was when I realized that the relationship was fundamentally over.)

    Sadly, I’m not sure there’s anything you can say to Julie to make her see this. My friends did help, but mostly by sticking around and, when I was ready to talk, listening with pretty gentle commentary. Had they gone “OMG this dude is a needy emotion vampire, DTMFA” at the time, it would have been true and satisfying, but it would have made me defensive–I would have felt stupid for having spent two years with a needy emotion vampire. Instead, they’d do things like, when I said “I’m so tired, he kept me up all night on the phone getting me to tell him that he isn’t worthless and the world isn’t hopeless, and he was still feeling pretty awful when I finally had to hang up at 2am because I had work the next day” they’d gently observe that it’s perfectly reasonable to not stay up all night when you had to get up in the morning. Or when I was freaking out about not being to ‘help’ enough they’d point out that therapists get training and so forth, and even after training and so forth they still can’t wave a magic wand and make someone happy with one long phone call; having him still be upset at the end of the call wasn’t a failure because in absence of magical powers it’s inevitably going to be what happens sometimes.

    But mostly they were just… there. Supportive. And demonstrating via their actions that I was worthy of being loved even if I didn’t spend six hours a night playing amateur therapist, that I was valuable as a person unto myself and not just as some dude’s savior figure.

    (Once I broke up with the dude, incidentally, he got an actual therapist–something he’d resisted all along–and from what I’ve heard, has been considerably more mentally healthy since. Not having me to lean on, I think, pushed him to make actual productive change. I don’t blame myself for having stuck with him, of course; not getting therapy when we were dating was still entirely his choice. But it really turned my guilty feeling of “I have to do this because I’m the only one who can help him!” upside-down.)

  15. Rowan said:

    As a former Julie, I second Mrs. Morley’s advice. My “Jon” also badmouthed my best friend a lot, so I’d tread carefully in case this one is, too.

    The advice to ask about patterns is good. And also this: my “Jon” always had some kind of excuse for how this was temporary (getting over former relationships was a big one) and it would get better if I would just do this, that, or the other restrictive thing for a while. But the funny thing is, I was with him for two years, and it never did get better. So maybe gently ask about that, too: “Hey, Julie, I know Jon says this is a short-term rough patch, but it’s been months — has it gotten better or worse? Maybe it’s time to try something different, like professional help?”

  16. I was a Julie, too, once upon a time. Many a friendship was lost because of it. Now, years later, a do so appreciate the one good friend who would tell me how fucked up my situation really was, but I couldn’t hear it at the time and cut contact. We are on good terms now, though.

    Jedi Hugs for you, LW. You can’t make her stop if she is in too deep, but you can try, try and try. In the end, it’s all up to Julie. As to what to do, I think questions are always better than statements and never ever frame your concerns as an accusation or a demand. I particularly like the pointer to therapy that captain awkward worked into one of her scripts.

    PS: Dear Captain, thank you so much for all that you do!

  17. enigmaticblue said:

    I think that active listening and “I” statements are going to be your friends here. Open ended questions, like what the Captain suggested, as well as statements like, “I really miss our time together when we both unplug and reconnect” are probably most helpful. I don’t want to make any judgment calls, but it sounds like maybe Jon might be jealous of your closeness with Julie, and may be deliberately sabotaging your time together, which sucks, but is also a marker of how important you probably are to your friend. I think you can validate Julie’s feelings, (“I understand how important your relationship with Jon is, and how much he needs you”) while also expressing how bummed you are that he’s eating up all your time with your friend, and how much you miss spending time with her.

    I have a good friend with a husband who has some worrisome habits, and was exhibiting them while he was dating my best friend. There’s really nothing you can do, and badmouthing Jon won’t help. You can make it known that you’re there for your friend and be available to help pick up the pieces if necessary.

    • Yotey said:

      This.

      I have never had any luck with direct conversations when it comes to Darths or angsty Anakins. When I had my own Darth, I was on the receiving end, and while some of them planted seeds, I was not in a place where I could act on them.

      What did help was time away from Darth, where I could relax and be myself, the person I was before Darth. The person who was fun, smart and comically bad at bowling. Having space to be that person and remember how much I enjoyed who I was without Darth gave me the strength to leave. Even then it was a messy, drawn out process where I went back twice, but in the end, I shook free. I suspect that Darths know this, which is why they react badly to their Padme’s forging friendships and having fun outside the Deathstar. If the friendship exhausts you and feels one sided, you are under no obligation to crawl through the ventilation shaft or spend time in the trash compactor. But if you can, leaving the door open and inviting her to parties, group outings, and coffee/lunch in between classes is time well spent.

      The other suggestion I have is to track down and show her some resources that are available to her. If you are both students, there is probably a counseling center, hotline or women’s resource site on campus. You can pass them on to the both of them,

      “I am so sorry Jon is going through such a hard time. It seems like he has been in a bad place every time I see you for the past X months, and I am worried about both of you. Looking after someone who is going through a hard time for so long can be stressful, and I hope you know that you don’t have to go through this alone. X place may be able to meet with you and support you. I also saw Y hotline number in the women’s bathroom. A hotline number from his area may give him someone to call when you are in class or away from you phone. I miss you and even if you are busy I hope you know that I care about you. I know Jon is important to you, and I hope he gets to a better place.” Etc..

      LW, I know it is rough watching Julie go through this, but you sound like you are a wonderful and caring friend. I’ll be thinking of both of you and wishing you well.

    • maybe Jon might be jealous of your closeness with Julie

      From the description, that is very very likely. But dwelling on this when she is struggling to make the relationship work is Friend Kryptonite.

      I love the Captain’s approach of treating the behavior exactly as it is exhibited. “He’s still down? He’s talking from depression again? He can’t be alone? These are serious danger signs.”

      If it is legitimate, he really does need help. If it is a ploy of abuse, he will be shown more clearly and perhaps Julie will be more aware.

  18. staranise said:

    I’ve had Jon’s kind of shit pulled on me by people I love so often in earlier parts of my life and devoted a lot of time to figuring it out. What I realized was, they didn’t even need to be doing this shit consciously for it to be a gross, unhealthy pattern. No thoughts of “their friendships are bad and threatening to me, I must sabotage their coffee date!” necessary. Even if somene has the best intentions in the wooorld, it’s way too easy to get caught in the “my SO is going out to spend time with someone else > think about how much more they must enjoy that person and how much I suck > fall into a black hole of self-hatred and want reassurance that SO loves me” hole.

    But you can’t fix the feelings of sadness and self-loathing, especially not in time to make it to coffee. What has to change is the person’s (Jon’s or anyone else’s) behaviour in consequence of those feelings. Come up with a different plan of action to self-soothe and reassure. “Have fun, love; I’m going to be reading my favourite book and periodically calling the crisis line to tell them a pigeon landed at the window and it scared me.”

  19. Anothermous said:

    LW, I don’t know if your friend is truly in an abusive situation, but it sounds like she might be on her way there. I haven’t read this book myself, but I’ve heard really good things about it from people who have been in your position watching a loved one fall into this kind of situation, and it might be worth checking out: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1580050379/

    Good luck. I hope Julie can get safe soon, and I hope you have a Team You standing by as well.

  20. Saffie said:

    (Note, I’m writing this with the assumption that there is something hinky going on with Jon’s suspiciously timed sadness attacks because I’m not really qualified to talk about the alternative.)

    I was the Julie in this situation for 11 years and I am so, so grateful to my friends who stuck it out with me, while at the same time completely understanding the friends that ultimately bailed.

    At the time, every event was a trade-off – is the pleasure I’m going to get from this outing worth the several days of ‘I’m just so sad because you made me lonely!’ silent treatment I’ll get as a result of leaving him alone for an evening? In hindsight, I can see exactly how screwed up that dynamic was, but at the time I was completely caught up in ‘the person I love is in pain and I am the only one that can fix it’ (Spoiler: I couldn’t fix it).

    Some friends got fed up with my flakiness and faded away. One of my best friends went from a ‘sleep over friend’ to a ‘catch up for coffee when we can’ friend because I couldn’t be relied upon to make it to bigger events. But even just those coffee catch ups were a breath of fresh air to me, because they reminded me what social interaction was supposed to feel like. That meant that towards the end, when Jon started claiming that the only reason I was unhappy was because my ‘angry feminist’ friends were upsetting me, I was able to compare the way I felt at home to the way I felt giggling in a coffee shop with someone who actually liked me and cared about my opinions and go – no, I don’t think my friends are the problem.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s great if you can stand by her while she works through this, but at the same time, you do need to take care of yourself. You can’t live your life beholden to the whims of a friend’s partner. It is okay to acknowledge that your time has value and maybe you can be available for coffee/lunch check-ins, but no longer schedule big deal plans with her.

    You have my sympathies LW, because it wasn’t until I was out that I realised how much the people around me were hurting because of my relationship. Good luck.

  21. TK said:

    Oh god, Julie was me for a good five years or so. My Darth was long-distance. The second we went more than 24 hours without talking, he would become Worried, if I took too long to respond to messages he would be Hurt, and if I dared to be visibly online and not speaking to him, he would be Very Upset. And of course, he had really bad anxiety, and also was on the autistic spectrum, and also was depressed, and also had many other disorders that I cannot possibly understand but must help him manage at all times!!! He NEEDED me!!!!!

    It was exhausting, and I always wanted freedom on some level, but feeling needed is a powerful thing– especially when you’re in your late teens and early 20s, still trying to figure out who you are– and I kept coming back whenever he yanked that leash.

    The Captain’s scripts are all great. Honestly, I’m not sure what my friends could have said that would have made me come around faster, but one thing that’s stuck with me years later is how one of them would ask me what it was that *I* wanted to do. She asked me how I was taking care of *myself* amidst all this Darth-babysitting; did he really expect me to organize my whole life around his needs? Didn’t he want me to have a life outside of him– school, interests, other friends? If he loved me, then couldn’t he take care of me too– why couldn’t he find a way to be alone until I had free time?

    (Side note for any other Julies out there: what did Jon do before he met you? What does he do when you’re truly inaccessible– if, say, he has a crisis when you are ASLEEP? Obviously he’s still in one piece, so why is he so willing to sacrifice your time and freedom? Furthermore, is he actually sorry about what it’s doing to you, or does he just… expect you to go with it? If he doesn’t realize he’s sucking the life out of you, what if you sat him down and told him? Would that lead to him finding better coping methods, or just to a shame spiral (which you must then also fix with your love and attention and sacrifice)? Why are you expected to put in 100% of the emotional labor, not just in the relationship but in his life? And why on earth is he okay with this situation?)

    This comment is already way too long, but I guess what it boils down to is… just try telling Julie what you’ve told us. She’s your friend, you miss her, and you’re concerned for her, so let her know that. You can’t really stop her from being defensive (of Jon), but you can tell her that you’ve noticed that she seems quite low on her own priority list– and possibly on Jon’s.

    • Aris Merquoni said:

      (Side note for any other Julies out there: what did Jon do before he met you? What does he do when you’re truly inaccessible– if, say, he has a crisis when you are ASLEEP?)

      Unfortunately, as we have seen from a few LWs, the answer seems to be “Call their phone and make it impossible for the LW to sleep regular hours, and if they turn off their phone, escalate until it’s a Problem when they wake up.”

      • staranise said:

        Also “have breakdowns and crises that function as terrible warnings of what they do without adequate coping mechanisms.”

      • TK said:

        True, true… mine often kept me up very late hours because he just ~wasn’t okay for me to leave yet~. These people are very good at making it sound like they don’t have a choice, and therefore neither does their… well, to use the Cap’s word, their Pacifier.

        I guess what I meant to say is, there are very obvious logistical reasons why the Pacifier cannot Pacify 100% of the time. Particularly in a long-distance relationship. Most Jons of the world probably do not need a 24/7 caretaker– and if they do, then they should be fucking honest about this fact and actually look for a way to get that need met. A way that allows the caretaker(s) to have some control over their own time.

        I know it’s never that simple, especially when the person in crisis (or “crisis”) is someone you love and worry for, but there’s a point when you have to question how much they actually respect you and your time. I’m probably not phrasing any of this well (hooray brain fog!), but since that realization was one of the major things that helped me get back from the Dark Side, I just thought I’d share.

        • Jackalope said:

          Yes, there are legitimate health issues that require caretaking around the clock, but most of them are found in people moving towards either a nursing home or hospice. This doesn’t sound like either of those cases.

          • staranise said:

            I’ve done live-in home mental health support before. It’s a real job! (We’re even finding ways to do it without institutionalizing people.) And it was the most absolutely gruelling work I ever had. I used to come home from 48-hour shifts and sleep the clock around.

            If that’s the kind of help Jon needs, Julie really needs to be working with a TEAM of people, including trained and paid mental health people, who can help and advise Jon’s support network on how to do it without burning out and running their social lives into the ground. It is not something one woman alone can do with The Power of Love.

        • stellanor said:

          Back when I was a Jon I had NO COPING SKILLS. I was totally incapable of self-soothing. (Interestingly if you ask my mother this was also an issue when I was a toddler…) And because I had a Julie to use as a soothing mechanism, I never really had to learn any coping skills, either. I had my coping skill! It was Julie! And if my Julie was not available I melted down in epic fashion because I didn’t know how to do anything else.

          Ultimately I did not get any better until I was in fact deprived of people I could use as a security blanket. At that point I HAD to figure out some ways to cope for myself.

          Also the Pacifier is just noooooot that effective. I was pretty much constantly about two notches short of CRISIS MELTDOWN DOOM. It was a bad scene for everybody.

          • This is the reason the current vogue for “take a bath or have a walk!! self care!!” mental health advice annoys me to the end of the earth. It misses out the second step: once you are calm, actually start improving your life. Like, do a load of washing up. Or actually draw up a budget. Or meet a friend for coffee.

            Love,
            The woman using the internet as a pacifier because she has too many things to do D:

          • That sounds JUST EXACTLY like my Jon. I’m so glad things are better for you now 🙂

          • actualmeg said:

            Oof, this hits close to home. I too was a Jon with terrible coping skills; when I was panicking, I could not wrap my head around a game plan more complex than “call my Julie and if she doesn’t pick up, freak out and call AGAIN repeatedly until she does.” It was awful. I was awful.

            Years later, I am still mortified about what I put my partner through during that time period. (We are still together, but in the intervening years I spent a lot of time in therapy and on medication and learning very gradually to deal with my own feelings rather than placing all responsibility on a loved one.)

          • oregonbird said:

            No need to put down the ‘bath, walk, yoga, meditate, dance’ schools of therapy. Lots of people regain their interior coping skills through structured physical therapy mixed with practices geared toward building mindful thought processes. It works on a kinetic level, where a lot of creative people operate. Its a fluid practice that every patient can tailor to their personal needs, which engages their interest in the process and improves the odds of sticking with the therapy. Yes, I do; yes, it does. It really does.

        • thathat said:

          ” mine often kept me up very late hours because he just ~wasn’t okay for me to leave yet~”

          Oh. Oh geeze.

          I mean, this whole letter was shades of my best friend/housemate’s relationship with his Very Toxic Girlfriend, but THAT especially.

          That was the first real red flag that I couldn’t just ignore or shrug off as me being jealous or upset that my Best Friend wasn’t spending time with me (and flaked on some really important stuff). It was when he got home way late, looking tired and upset, because when he tried to leave for the evening so he could be up for work the next morning, she burst into tears, and it took him an extra hour to console her…and apparently this was a REGULAR occurrence.

          Those months of watching my best friend slip further and further away because his girlfriend only wanted him with HER and refused to spend time with any of his friends, and straight up hated me and our other roommate (we’d met twice, once when we’d invited her over to hang out, and once when our whole group had gone out for laser tag and invited her along)…those are still some of the worst times for either of us, I think.

          You can’t MAKE someone see how toxic a person is. That’s the worst part, really.

          • CommanderBanana said:

            There’s a reason sleep deprivation is considered a form of torture.

            Interrupting someone’s sleep/preventing them from sleeping/having crises that require immediate attention that all just happen to coincide when someone is about to leave town/has to get up early/has to study/has to go to work or class are all in my Big Codex of Giant Red Flags.

            I dated a very toxic person in college who would always have a meltdown/decide I was cheating on them/insert whatever the crisis du jour is when I needed to study, sleep, or get out the door to go to work. I spent many late nights trying to keep myself awake on the phone while they had some bullshit manufactured meltdown. And honestly, if it WAS a real meltdown, that’s too fucking bad. I also had a life to live and lived in a city an hour away (with no car), so they needed to find their own support system that was not always keeping me up so late I was in danger of missing work or failing a test the next day.

            I have a coworker who unfortunately is still with her Jon who travels for work every few weeks, and EVERY SINGLE TIME she is getting ready to leave, he decides that taking care of her dog (they live together) is just too much and maybe he just can’t do it, and also she’s probably cheating on him on all these work trips, right? And the best time to have a meltdown over that is at 11 pm the night before her flight, right??

            Tl;dr, if you are dating someone who does stuff like this, maybe thing things over.

      • Exactly. I have absolutely known abusers to use sleep deprivation as a tactic.

        • My mother is great at this. I’m terribly sick with the flu right now and having a hard time getting any sleep. Last night she woke me up four times to ask questions about her own health issues. I was BEGGING her to just let me sleep and almost on the verge of tears. Even when I’m not ill she regularly keeps me up to 3 or 4am talking her down from the latest crisis.

          On calling the bluff…my mother also does the crisis while I’m trying to get out the door thing. If I’m going out to get groceries or pick up something for her, she’s fine. If I’m going out to do something for myself, she gets ‘sick’ to the point of laying in bed sobbing. Thing is, calling the bluff doesn’t do much to improve things. I can either stay home or go out and then deal with other emotional abuse and gaslighting for days afterwards. I guess my point is that Julie may be aware on some level that she’s being manipulated, but going along with it is often the choice with less emotional labor.

        • Amidala said:

          My Darth used to obsessively follow the mantra that you should never go to bed angry, which meant that we had to FINISH every fight (even about completely unresolvable issues) before I could go to bed. I don’t do sleep deprivation well, so I’d end up getting frustrated and angry at going around and around in pointless circles, and eventually lose my temper. And then of course he could label *me* as the abusive one for yelling and swearing at him.

          • Oh jeez, mine did that and he was a night owl and I’m not, so he already had the upper hand (plus I’m very conflict averse and terrible at arguing, so he always “won” and left me feeling not only guilty but always with an angry sense of injustice).

            That mixture of anger, frustration and tiredness is pretty horrible isn’t it? I hope you didn’t have to put up with it for too long.

        • BetterInGreen said:

          Oh horrid flashbacks… I had a Darth ex who would actually wake me up to scream at me about whatever point he’d just concocted, mainly because he knew that I would be off-balance and unable to thwart his twisted logic, plus I would be exhausted the next day for the new round of Minefield.

          I still loathe that guy with the fire of a thousand suns.

      • Sleepy said:

        Yup! As a Julie, my answer was “better have your phone on your person and on at all times! even when you are sleeping! and if you ignore the first three calls he will just call you seven more times until the ringing and buzzing forces you out of bed! feat: vague sense that doom will ensue if you put your phone on no-vibrate silent.”

        Actually as a Julie attending college with a Darth who kept pretty regular sleep hours (was always asleep by midnight) the people I was able to stay closest to were people I could hang out with at 1:AM, which was feasible on campus for me and Team Me, but may very well not be for Julie and you. Girl Who Can Only Hang After Boyfriend Is Asleep is tiring to be and be around.

    • ChomolungmaDenali said:

      “Honestly, I’m not sure what my friends could have said that would have made me come around faster, but one thing that’s stuck with me years later is how one of them would ask me what it was that *I* wanted to do.”

      I cannot agree more. In my long and recently-paved road towards ending my marriage to a version of Jon, it was three people asking me a version of this that helped me consider ending the relationship rather than continuing to go along and keep trying because he neeeeeeeeded me.

      My therapist: “Where’s *your* voice in all of this?” –> lightbulb moments
      A new friend, while discussing the issues we’d been having: “What do *you* want?” –> the first time I said the “d” word out loud
      A close friend, while straight-up using the word “abusive” to describe my relationship, in one of the bravest and most honest conversations anyone has ever had with me: “I see *you* getting lost / denying *your* needs.” –> more lightbulbs

      It might not lead to action on Julie’s part – maybe not now, maybe not ever – but planting the seed that SHE MATTERS TOO could be so helpful.

    • MrsLokiofAsgard said:

      (Side note for any other Julies out there: what did Jon do before he met you? What does he do when you’re truly inaccessible– if, say, he has a crisis when you are ASLEEP? Obviously he’s still in one piece, so why is he so willing to sacrifice your time and freedom? Furthermore, is he actually sorry about what it’s doing to you, or does he just… expect you to go with it? If he doesn’t realize he’s sucking the life out of you, what if you sat him down and told him? Would that lead to him finding better coping methods, or just to a shame spiral (which you must then also fix with your love and attention and sacrifice)? Why are you expected to put in 100% of the emotional labor, not just in the relationship but in his life? And why on earth is he okay with this situation?)

      I have a friend who has a son who is a Jon. She, his mother, is Julie. He has her completely convinced that he is incapable to doing anything without her help. It’s sucking the life out of her. She was complaining to me the other day and I asked “if you were to die tomorrow, what would he do?” It honestly stopped her in her tracks and she had to think about it for a second before saying “I guess he’d figure things out on his own”. When I asked her why he wasn’t able to do that now she acknowledged that it was because she took the bait every time he cast his rod. I don’t know what’s going to happen for her, but I hope my Julie stops taking the bait so much.

      LW: be there for your friend. And Good Luck!

    • cruelmistress said:

      if I dared to be visibly online and not speaking to him, he would be Very Upset

      That was how I knew I needed to break up my last relationship– because I felt like Jon and emphatically did not want to act like him. Under the principle, learned here, that Someone Who Likes You Will Act Like They Like You, it had become hurtfully clear that my girlfriend’s feelings for me were not any longer matching mine in intensity for her; this made me feel anxious and ragey** when I wasn’t confused and sad, and just in general it wasn’t a good situation at all. So my choices were: become clingy and demanding in an attempt to appease my low self-esteem monster or cut off its head. After some wrestling, I chose to cut off its head. And? I’m so much happier out of that relationship than I was in it, which makes me feel a whole lot better about the probability that I am secretly a manipulative asshole and I just didn’t know it.

      **to myself, I never threw tantrums AT her, although on occasion I did nervously consult a few close friends like “is this normal behavior? is it ok if I am not ok with this?”

  22. Anisoptera said:

    Oh dear – that’s a super tough one LW. I’ve been in that position, with a friend who’s girlfriend had a crisis half the time we tried to spend time together, and otherwise would text constantly throughout. Due to our history and some context I can see why she might have been anxious and resentful of our time together, and she suffers from serious health problems, both mental and physical so there were real reasons to need help. But wow did it suck. The good news is that it’s mostly abated, as all our circumstances have stabalised and I guess she feels more comfortable with me (I actually quite like her now that I’ve got to know her, so perhaps it helps that I’m not just some mysterious unknown). But at the time? ARGH. It was so frustrating, and I felt constantly rejected.

    The only thing I would say is that this is a choice your friend is making, this is where her priorities currently are. I strongly suggest putting some friendship eggs in other baskets, and building up friendships with people who aren’t her, so that you can handle having a weakened relationship with her for a while without it feeling too painful. It sounds like she might be dating Darth Vader, so there are good reasons to stick by her if you can, but find ways to look after yourself. And forget about the all day things and the big trips. They’re off the table while she has this Darth problem. I’m sorry. Stick to going out for coffee and chatting online, and expect her to spend half of it staring at her phone. I can see why that might be very hard to deal with, and from my own experience I would say that getting some space between you and lowering expectations is a good self care move.

  23. Michelle said:

    Solid advice from the Captain today.

    I was friends with a Julie once. What finally ended things between them was that me, the Julie, and a few other friends arranged a hangout at Julie’s house. The idea was that her Jon got weird any time she went out, so if we were right there, he couldn’t get weird about it. So we planned a board game night. At first he was just huffy and pouty and off in his room, but after an hour or so he started texting Julie. She got increasingly annoyed at the texting, and eventually just called out to him “I’m right here, come talk to me if you’re having problems.” Then he stormed out of the room and started yelling at all of us (minus Julie) to get out of the apartment and leave them (him and Julie) alone.

    The Julie in this case broke up with him pretty quickly after that. Not immediately, she went to her mom’s house that night, but he texted her at least a hundred times with increasingly scary texts until she finally broke up with him the next day.

    People like Jon definitely want to isolate their significant other, and often times they can drive away most of the Julie’s friends before Julie even realizes something is wrong. Just stay on her side, and when she finally sees what he is doing, she’ll be glad to have a friend she can count on.

  24. Jackalope said:

    I don’t know if this will help or not (if it doesn’t then ignore) but I wanted to share my moment of hope with you. I had a similar situation, and I am reasonably sure that my Julie’s SO was convinced that I was competition for her (which it sounds like you are suspicious of too). He did a lot of the same things, and she put up with it for a long time. During that period it was hard to know how to be her friend, but the good news was that she got out of the relationship (after a couple of years; eek!) and today we are still friends. (I am even on good terms with Jon, although more like “friendly acquaintance” than friend, and he has grown up a lot.) So there is hope. I can’t promise that your situation will go that direction, but it might. In the meantime, I found it helpful to keep the door open to my Julie, but invest in other directions. (“Hey, if you want to hang out I’m around, but if not I’m going to go do Other Thing X instead.”)

  25. Msconduct said:

    Eek, alarm bells! I agree with the Captain that the most likely scenario is that Jon is trying to cut Julie from the herd. This is an awful thing to watch when you’re unable to do much to influence it. In terms of talking to Julie about it, LW, I suggest a tactful but direct approach re your concern about what you’re seeing: given that you *are* concerned and not simply justifiably annoyed at her endless bailing, this will have the ring of truth about it and therefore hopefully get through to her. If she’s initially offended, there’s the possibility that nevertheless your words will continue to ring in her ears and make a difference down the track.

  26. LW, you are a good friend. I’m worried about Julie. I’m worried that Jon is manipulating her and isolating her from her friends. Does she have other friends? Is he trying to weasel her away from them, too?

    I would keep trying, if you feel comfortable, because it seems like he wants to isolate her/keep her to himself. His mental health is not on her to support and fix – she’s not a doctor.

    • mehting said:

      And wouldn’t be on her even if she was a doctor-I bless the suicide line caller who told me that he gets paid for doing this, and gets to set hours, and that he tells people who try to make him their unpaid support when it’s more than he wants. He said that while it’s good to try to help when you can, and of course you support those you care about to an extent, I had no obligation to be the permanent unpaid support to someone who wouldn’t get help, and wasn’t responsible for what might happen if I stopped, and began referring them to a therapist.

      I was significantly less trapped than Julie, but that framing (I had called because I was worried about suicide if I stopped being the constantly available pacifier) made a huge difference to me in getting out.

  27. fancifulscientist said:

    I had a Julie, who was with her girlfriend Jon (Jane?) for six years. (I just listed then deleted the red flags, all the things I could see that she couldn’t, on the grounds of being not my story to tell. But “manipulating my Julie into caretaking” which my Julie completely and lovingly consented to was definitely on the list.)

    The things that I did that I am proud of:
    – kept inviting Julie to hang out, to get tea, on roadtrips. She didn’t always say yes, especially at the beginning of the relationship, but as time passed and she started to reclaim herself, these were inv
    – took advantage of all opportunities to help Julie (that were reasonable) – yes, friend, I will drive you to the airport! because I am your friend! I didn’t do it on purpose, but I realize now that offering little friendship helps routinely made it possible for her to know I was on her team when things were really bad.
    – maintained my own boundaries around Jane. She was not kind to me, and I did not want to grin and bear it (and lie to my friend about her partner).
    – listened to (and repeated back to her) Julie’s doubts about Jane when they came up, and gently stated my own opinions (“yeah, if it were me I wouldn’t be comfortable with that…).

    I wish I had asked her directly about the situation, and I am not proud that I never figured out how. I did write half a dozen letters I never gave her about the situation.

    Finally, Julie contacted me to say that she had realized that Jane was emotionally abusive, that she was seeing a crisis counselor, that she was reaching out to her friends. And I was right the hell there, the second I got that email, saying that I loved her and I was glad and what could I do.

    • Saffie said:

      This Julie thanks you on that Julie’s behalf.

    • You are a very, very good friend 🙂

    • @fancifulscientist said: “…and gently stated my own opinions (“yeah, if it were me I wouldn’t be comfortable with that…).”

      That is my default way having those conversations. Though, as a brick thrower, I tend to be more along the lines of “yeah, that behavior is totally unacceptable to me.”

    • Can I just say this is one of the best succinct descriptions of what people can do to support loved ones in abusive relationships? Especially the parts about staying in touch, enacting your own boundaries with the abuser, and reflecting back gently the discomfort your friend expresses.

      It’s really easy for victims of abuse to get isolated. Anything that we can (safely) do to prevent that, even if it doesn’t “solve” the problem immediately, signals to the victim that we don’t blame them and that we will be there for them if/when they need to leave.

    • Sara said:

      I think you did all the right things, fancifulscientist. I wouldn’t know how to ask directly about the situation either.

      I’ve been a lesser Julie in the past, and would have avoided friends who challenged me about my relationship (I was the type of person who never listened to anyone when I was younger).It just helped to have my friends take an interest in me. How was I doing? How was my job going? What did I do for Easter? What would I like for my birthday? Where would I like to go for lunch? Their questions reminded me that there was a ME, because I wasn’t used to thinking about myself–I was always thinking about how I could make someone else happy.

      • johann7 said:

        “Their questions reminded me that there was a ME, because I wasn’t used to thinking about myself–I was always thinking about how I could make someone else happy.”

        This is super important, and IMO the single best way to help friends in abusive relationships of any kind: model a good relationship. The realization may not be immediate, but the contrast between the support and caring present in the friendship and the lack in the abusive relationship serves to show the victim* that ze has value as a person and deserves to be treated well and also to demonstrate what that actually looks like in practice. Abusers thrive on isolation, and ongoing support that doesn’t focus on bad-mouthing the abuser helps subvert the Us Against the World gaslighting narrative.

        *I know some people object to this term, but I still lack a better one. “Survivor” doesn’t work because it excludes people who don’t survive, while I’m referring to them as well; “target (of the abuser)” doesn’t work because it includes people who are targeted but able to avoid the abuse. Apologies to anyone who has especially bad associations with the term.

    • This former Julie also thanks you.

      Direct questions can be really threatening. I was vicious to the friend who asked me directly about my Situation. I’m extremely grateful to her that she accepted my apology later on (after I left Darth Ex), and that she remains my friend. But at the time she asked, I wasn’t able to hear it.

      So please don’t beat yourself up about not asking directly. You were the best friend you knew how to be at the time, *and that’s enough*.

    • fancifulscientist said:

      Thanks all.

      I did not do any of this with a deliberate plan; there were lots of times when I felt like I was failing by not staging an intervention between Julie and the control, manipulation, and co-dependence Jane practiced on her. So it’s really, really nice to know that what felt like Not Enough was probably closer to Right than I thought.

      The other thing I can offer the LW is that, when she started to realize what was going on and was processing the abuse from the other side, most of her friends were ready to bash Jane… and that was actually really challenging for my Julie. Some people leaving abusive relationships are ready to see and own the harm that has been done, but Julie experienced a lot of ambivalence because if Jane was awful and Julie loved Jane, then Jane had incredibly poor judgment, taste, desire, whatever else. It was very destabilizing for her, and at least for the first three or so months she maintained that Jane was a good and loving person who was just very hurt and had poor coping strategies (that Julie had finally seen were harmful). In that period, I tried to be as compassionate as possible toward Jane, even though I was incredibly angry at her, and offered the idea that Jane’s abuse was perhaps understandable but definitely bad for BOTH of them. For someone who had spent so long caring for a damaged, needy person, the perspective that boundaries and ending their relationship was not just good (and necessary!) for Julie but also in Jane’s best interest if she was going to be better in the future – that was helpful and grounding when she slipped back into patterns of care-taking and co-dependence.

      (And that first bullet should read: “…but as time passed and she started to reclaim herself, these were invitations that Julie could use to find refuge and time for herself outside of her relationship.” Oops!)

    • Mary said:

      >>I wish I had asked her directly about the situation, and I am not proud that I never figured out how. I did write half a dozen letters I never gave her about the situation.

      I think you “never figured out how” because there was no way. You were prioritising not alienating Julie, and you couldn’t figure out a way of asking the question without alienating Julie: that is because the question would have alienated Julie, pretty much regardless of how you asked it. This is not a failure to be ashamed of, this is your instincts being 100% correct and I think you should pride yourself on your brilliant intuitive care of Julie, meaning that you were in exactly the right place to help when she was ready to leave!

      • fancifulscientist said:

        Thank you (and everyone else who commented). There were a lot of times when I felt like I was failing by not staging some kind of dramatic intervention between Julie and Jane’s control and manipulation, but it is really – not good exactly, but a relief, to hear that Not Enough was probably closer to Right than I thought.

        The other thing that I can offer the LW is that when Julie finally DID see what was happening, she had six years of care-taking, excuses, and affection for poor, damaged, needy Jane. It was really hard for her when everyone was telling her to that Jane “wasn’t worth it” and didn’t deserve Julie’s work and love – what did it mean about Julie, that she had chosen so poorly and cared so deeply for someone awful? Seeing the former Julie’s comments below about not criticizing Jon, I think that’s right on – and carries over even through the end of the relationship for some Julies.

        It was much more helpful to her when her friends could have compassion for Jane’s needs, while holding firm boundaries about Julie also deserving care, autonomy, and support. A perspective that helped her was that this situation continuing was not just bad for Julie, it was bad for Jane, because it limited her and kept her from learning to care for herself and treat a partner with respect. For someone who had spent so long prioritizing some else, offering her a path where her priorities were actually in sync with what was best for Jane – well, that really helped her stay the course in first few months. (Now I think she’s much more adept at prioritizing herself without that crutch, but it takes time!)

        (Also, that first bullet should read: “… were invitations that she could use to connect with friends and find space outside her relationship.” Oops!)

        • Saffie said:

          “It was really hard for her when everyone was telling her to that Jane “wasn’t worth it” and didn’t deserve Julie’s work and love – what did it mean about Julie, that she had chosen so poorly and cared so deeply for someone awful?”

          Oof, right in the feels. Coming up on a year out of the relationship, this one still gets me because it wasn’t two or three years, it was ELEVEN YEARS wasted on someone that, in hindsight, treated me like shit and what does that say about me?

          (It says that my idea of a good relationship is easily manipulated when you meet them at age 17 and already have some pretty big insecurity and impostor syndrome issues.)

          “There were a lot of times when I felt like I was failing by not staging some kind of dramatic intervention between Julie and Jane’s control and manipulation, but it is really – not good exactly, but a relief, to hear that Not Enough was probably closer to Right than I thought.”

          While I away with my family a couple of weeks ago, my step mother told me that the biggest fight she and my father ever had was as they were driving away from visiting me and my Jon. Apparently she was saying that they had to get my out of there, and my dad pulled over and burst into angry tears because ‘don’t you think I know that! But she’s an adult and she loves him and we won’t get anywhere alienating her by harping on what a tool he is. All we can do is support her until she comes to see it for herself.’

          The same weekend, my mum told me that she had constant arguments with friends who proposed everything from kidnapping me to hiring a hitman. Same thing: ‘I know what you’re saying, but she’s an adult, and it has to be her decision’.

          The messages I got from my parents and close friends were “I will always love you and support you if you decide to stay. But I really want to see you happy and I would love to help you leave when you’re ready.”

          When I finally hit my breaking point and decided to leave, I was shocked at the number of people who sprang into action to get me out. Being quietly supportive throughout and ready to help with the transition when the time comes was the absolute best thing you could do.

          • rhythla said:

            Being a former friend to a Julie, it can be incredibly hard to maintain this quiet support – doubly so because I really cannot stand idly watching injustice happen. (I can only imagine how much harder it is to be a Julie.) I know it is part of the manipulation/abuse, but I just wanted to shake my Julie and say, “Can’t you see I care about you? If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be concerned! I’m speaking up for a reason!” I knew that she would not hear it coming from my heart (and at the time, I was unable to express it in a way that she would be more likely to hear it), so I stopped speaking up. Unfortunately, I also had to cut contact because watching it became unbearable and I needed to protect myself.

            Now they are married and own a business together. She claims to be happy, which I hope she is. I hope that Jon has changed. But it damaged our friendship past repairing.

            I guess I’m saying that I wish there was a way to make Julie see to spare her the heartbreak. 😦

          • fancifulscientist said:

            “When I finally hit my breaking point and decided to leave, I was shocked at the number of people who sprang into action to get me out.”

            And from the other side, I am completely unsurprised – I spent a lot of time planning and strategizing for Julie, figuring out exactly how much money I could offer her, thinking about where else I could stay so I could offer her my subletted room, commenting on her non-Jane fb posts so she knew I was still around. When I moved cross-country and away from Julie, I even spoke with MY partner about whether our spare room could be a place Julie could crash if she needed to relocate to get away, and researched local organizations in her field in case I had to help her get a job. I was helping, maybe, but more than that I was channeling my anxiety and fear for her into something that would be productive and actionable if I ever got the “go.”

            I’m really glad you’re out and safe now! And I bet your friends and family were so happy to be able to finally do SOMETHING that they would have gone to the moon and back to be there for you. Eleven years of pent-up wanting to help!

            “Unfortunately, I also had to cut contact because watching it became unbearable and I needed to protect myself.”

            Oh, so real. I didn’t get all the way there, but I did get the point where I could not attend anything where Jane might be there, even if that dramatically decreased how available I could be for Julie. I was just so, so angry at her, and so frustrated with the way she treated Julie and the way Julie saw it as appropriate relationship behavior. Some of those “quiet supports” involved me staring as hard as I could into my teacup to avoid rolling my eyes at what Julie described as loving or momentous moments, which to me just sounded co-dependent and awful. They were engaged for a while, and I dreaded having to attend – or decline and explain – their wedding, because I just didn’t think I could stand it.

            Being there for Julie is hard, and it’s okay to not devote that time and energy. I think what’s important to understand about being Julie’s friend, though, is that there is no magic combination of words that will restore pre-Jon Julie and make her see, because the rabbit hole is mind-altering. Every friend has to decide whether to prioritize their honesty/integrity/sense of justice wins (attempting to talk to Julie) or their connection/presence in Julie’s life wins (going stealth and holding your tongue). Both are okay choices, but the outcomes are vastly different.

            I hope your Julie is okay, and that you are too, rhythla. It really sucks to lose a friend.

    • syrens said:

      Well done on all fronts!
      Validating her frustrations & doubts, in particular, is awesome. (I had a lovely, but definitely messed up, partner some years ago and when friends would suggest that someone different might be a better fit for me… I didn’t hear them very well. But people going “Yeah, that is pretty shitty” or “Wow. So what do you want to do about that?” was really helpful because it meant that It Wasn’t Just Me, and that someone else trusted my judgement).

  28. gallantqueer said:

    OP, Jedi hugs. The Captain charts a good course.

    One thing to add to the “if you’re ‘Julie’ and think your ‘Jon’ in this situation”

    Sadly, someone can be genuinely ill and not mean to manipulate you. But, the way I see it, it still makes the pattern of relying on you not okay and can end up controlling you. We’re not in court; there doesn’t have to be intent. If someone is manipulating you as part of them being mentally ill, then they’re still manipulating you.

    I say this as someone who has used their partner as a pacifier in the past. In my case, and I don’t think I’m unusual, I am mentally ill (PTSD involving attachment issues) and would “need” my partner to help me calm down. I would do things to try to get him to attend to that need, even though I didn’t mean to manipulate him. It came out of a legitimate issue for me, but it was still a not okay thing to do. I can’t control that I’m sick or what I need when I’m sick; I can control whether I try to get what I need and how I do so.

    In my case, the situation had a happy ending with current partner, but I tell anyone reading as a caution IT WAS REALLY REALLY HARD. This is what allowed us to get through…

    -We had some good hard limits about me not threatening suicide, me not bringing up old fights, me recognizing his feelings mattered, and that I didn’t go for his sore spots and I wasn’t mean except when I was having an emotional flashback. Yeah, I did smallish things that were not okay, like telling my partner I hated him while wigged out. But having a clear sense both from him and internally that I couldn’t cross certain lines made the relationship safer and more pleasant for everyone. The not okay things I have done were able to processed in our relationship.

    -My partner tells me he always had the sense he could leave because we had a fallback plan in place for me to go live with family and because I had specifically said “I’ll understand if you need to leave for your own safety at some point.” My partner probably had more power in general in society as a white dude with a professional job who owns a house then I did as an unemployed womanish looking queer person. Also, I’m younger than my partner. I think if it had gone the other way it would have made it lots harder.

    -I was seeking aggressive treatment for the PTSD, and I made significant improvements on a regular basis.

    And guess what really helped resolve it? I move halfway across the country to live with my super supportive Dad, who’s been able to care for me in ways he couldn’t before because of his own mental illness. And it was still super hard going because yeah, my Dad was my go to support person who I over relied on, but I still used my partner as a pacifier sometimes. Eventually family support + therapy + building good boundaries becoming one of my main treatment/life priorities I was able to learn new habits and use them on a regular basis.

    So, reader in Julie’s position, I want to caution you about the likelihood your significant other is going to change is probably low. They’re both going to have to prioritize it and have the support to actual pull it off. Oh, and do they have a track record for being able to learn to manage their illness in increasingly adaptive ways? As the Captain says, past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. I changed a bunch before I even met current partner partially again because I had the support to do so.

    I don’t see my story as showing that I’m a great person who changed because I followed ten easy steps to not being an asshole flawlessly. I see it as showing one example of everything it took to be able to change a similar pattern in my own relationship. Oh, and I haven’t even talked about all the privilege I bring to the table.

    If its likely that your partner isn’t going to change anytime soon or maybe ever and its hurting you, I’d recommend leaving them. Honestly? I think if my partner had left me it would have totally been a good choice. He says he didn’t because he judged it was to his benefit to stay, not because he thought he should.

    Some of us do choose to use our our romantic relationships as a place where we practice doing really hard things (Its so okay if you don’t do this!) and sometimes even grow (Therapists and older neutral adults and family of origin are all good for this too!)

    I haven’t found a good reason to do hard things with anyone who’s mean more often than not, doesn’t have my best interests at heart, chews in a way I find annoying, doesn’t value the same things I value, and who I can’t make a happy life with. And if I ever do find a good reason, I probably won’t act on it because I’m stubborn and being in a good relationship is just way to much fun.

    Signed,
    Someone who’s glad other people set boundaries with me

  29. tawg said:

    Perhaps you could ask Julie if you can schedule your hang outs during a time when Jon is busy, like when he’s at work or seeing friends in his space. If you can find a time when Jon isn’t going to be texting or calling Julie for whatever reason, THAT is when I would have the talk. And maybe also ask her how she feels about this stuff? It sounds like she’s cancelling a lot of fun stuff to look after her partner, and probably Jon rewards her for that and no one gives her the opportunity to talk about how she feels about missing out on things. There are a lot of subtle pressures against saying anything negative about a relationship, so give her plenty of opportunities to talk about her feelings and impressions in a safe space. If she’s lost friends over this relationship, it’s probably going to be hard for her to say that she’s unhappy – she’s made sacrifices to prove her love and no one wants that turmoil to be for naught.

    • RSVP said:

      Or may the LW could offer to go over to Julie’s place and hang out there from time to time. Jon has no reason to complain that she’s out, and both Julie and the LW make it clear to him that he can’t control her last remaining friendship.
      Since it’s a long distance relationship, Julie should really stop telling him what her plans for the day are – how’s he going to know about it otherwise? Of course, he’s probably manipulated her with some statement about not keeping secrets from him, even things he really doesn’t need to know about.
      Like another poster, I worry that he’s isolating her from her support network as an escalating thing leading to possible future abuse.

  30. A friend of mine is the daughter of a Julie and Jon.

    It didn’t get better over time. It didn’t improve when kids came on the scene; in fact, Jon was then having to compete for attention from his own spawn… no bueno. It didn’t do anything for the social skills and mental health of the children, who never received enough help and attention because they were never the priority. It didn’t improve when the kids moved out. It didn’t improve when Jon retired and suddenly had nothing else to fill his life at all (though, apparently, reading through medical dictionaries and self-diagnosing with all kinds of diseases can be a hobby).

    So the results, 40+ years down the line, are that Julie has never had a life of her own, has no friends, and her kids resent her. Her kids didn’t do terribly well for themselves, relationship-wise. One grew into a Jon. One got with a Jon, but hers Jon turned out to be capable of domestic violence.

    Not saying that things can’t get better for some people. But for those people who never try to change, who never get professional help, who never see the need or responsibility to become more independent… I don’t have much hope for them.

  31. I have been a Julie and for the sake of you, your own Julie and indeed Jon too, I hope this is planned to be a long engagement. It took me more than four months to burn out from being my Jon’s counsellor 24/7 (and we were long distance too), but when it happened it was not nice. The thought of it happening to these guys just after they are married is…pretty horrible.

    What might have helped me at the time could have been a friend like you saying stuff like, “What did he do before he met you? How did he cope then?” to make me think about how much he really needed me, or “What professional help is he getting?” If asked the latter, I’d have said, actually he isn’t – he knows he should, but getting stuff done is one of the things he has trouble with. And it would have been awesome if a friend had then pointed out that I’m not a mental health professional and even if I were it would not be appropriate to work with this guy, and although he always told me how much I helped him feel better, a mental health professional could have done FAR more and also not become emotionally burned out because it was their job and they could go home and be emotionally distant from people like Jon. The key for me would have been “that person could give Jon better help than you can.” I knew this, but if someone had actually said it to me, I reckon I would have told my Jon that it couldn’t be all me any more.

    My Jon was an amazing guy: sweet, romantic, incredibly talented, drop dead gorgeous, an incredible lover and so very charming when he was able to switch off from the demons in his head. And yes, at one point I would have married him. It’s so sad that our relationship ended because I was burnt out from counselling him for several hours a day and he relied on me emotionally to the point where if I even slightly disagreed with him on something inconsequential, he’d blow up and chuck an enormous FEELINGS!BOMB at me and we’d argue horribly. If Julie doesn’t put down some pretty firm boundaries very soon, this could be her and Jon. But only she can decide to do that.

    I can’t say that this will really change things with Julie, but if you keep chipping away at it she might eventually realise that this situation is helping nobody.

  32. Cannibal Queen said:

    Hi OP, I was in Julie’s situation, kind of. My much-loved partner has post-traumatic stress disorder, incurred over many years of service to humanity. It is a real condition – not a put-on to control me – and has caused us both a lot of pain over the years. But over time I did notice that he seemed to experience a crisis whenever my primary focus was taken off of him. It really came home to me when my mum had knee surgery. I had no doubt she would survive the operation, but I was worried that she would be in pain, that she might jeopardise her recovery by trying to do too much, too quickly etc. My partner started acting out in a big way. – going off-meds, drinking heavily (by which I mean, wiping himself out for days at a time), expressing suicidal thoughts, etc. I don’t know how much of this was conscious/intentional, but I really didn’t need the added stress when I was already worried about Mum. And this happened whenever I travelled for work (even though he would always say “Go, I’ll be fine”), whenever I had an important deadline to meet, when I was supposed to catch up with friends, etc. For about 5 years.

    Thankfully, his condition did improve and now manifests as occasional, short-lived episodes, rather than something that rules our lives. But looking back, I still don’t know how my friends could have helped. You sound like a caring person, and I can only imagine how hard it must be to watch Julie going through this. FWIW, the Captain’s advice makes sense, and you could do a lot worse than fanciulscientist’s example. Jedi hugs, and don’t forget to also take care of you.

  33. B said:

    Maybe others can comment – I wonder how one (ONE) talk along the lines of “Dear friend, I am concerned; I think relationships should make us happy and enable us to do more than we might otherwise alone. But it seems to me like you are more worried than happy, and able to do less and less. Does it seem that way to you?”
    And if it gets into territory of “well it should be that way but he Needs me” then maybe “there are a lot of other people out there with a lot of training to help, maybe it would be better for both of you if he started going to them instead and let you guys focus on fun stuff” IDK – it’s tough, there’s no magic script to make Julie see she’s in a bad way and change it if she hasn’t already, but hopefully she realizes it before she’s spends a lot more time and energy on this.

  34. spookycatlady said:

    Another recovering Julie here. I am throwing jedi gift baskets of thanks to all the good friends out there who don’t give up on their Julies.

    I was still surrounded by an amazing support network that did not hold my loyalty and love for the Ex against me when our relationship ended in dramatic and surprising fashion. That is… surprising only to me. Everyone else saw it coming a mile away, including his friends. To quote one of them, “If it didn’t happen now, it would have happened later. Either way, he was going to do something like this. Be strong, it had nothing to do with you.”

    LW– for your own sanity I would recommend not putting a lot of hope that your dates with Julie are going to happen. Have a back-up plan of fun times for yourself when she bails. When I was in your position, the hardest part was the disappointment after being let down. When I started expecting cancellations, getting the once and awhile follow-through made for much happy.

  35. Alice said:

    Hi there. I’m yet another one-time Julie (and long-term silent follower of all things CaptainAwkward). I just wanted to suggest a few other things you might be able to do to help:

    – Probably you’re already doing this, but when you can’t see Julie could you schedule in some talk-time on the phone? Make it lightweight and catchup-focused if you can — it sounds to me like Julie needs some light relief in her life — but tell her about any problems you have too and make her feel extra-good about helping you with them. If one of the needs Jon is answering in Julie (this was certainly true of me and my Jon) is the constant source of Helper’s Highs she gets from him, it might be good to remind her that her love and support are important to you too. I’d advise you to keep it positive, and do not make her feel guilty for not being more available to you. ‘This has been such a wonderful chat! You give great advice, THANK YOU!’ not ‘If only we could have talked about this when we were supposed to meet on Friday — I could really have done with this perspective then’. Make yourself a safe place to come to when Jon’s too much for her, remind her that being helpful and supportive doesn’t have to be emotionally draining, and don’t risk validating, in whatever tiny ways, the idea that you’re a threat to her relationship with Jon (which may be what Jon is telling her).

    – Ask her a lot about what she and Jon get up to. What fun things do they do together? If there are any that you’d like to join in with, say so — ‘ooo that sounds brilliant! Is it totally loved-up coupletastic or could I tag along another time? It sounds like the best fun and it’d be awesome to hang out more with Jon, if he’d be up for it?’ Invite them both to lots of things that you’d like to do with Julie. Most of all, get her to tell you what their upcoming plans are. Do they involve parties? Can you ask her if you could go too? ‘I’ve been feeling a bit lonely lately, I could really do with a party. Do you think it would be cool for me to tag along?’ One of the things I found hardest about my relationship with my Jon was that he was always FINE when it came to going to parties with his friends or to his work events and I was ALWAYS expected to go, and ALWAYS expected to stay unto the BITTER END. God help me if I went home early — ‘why are you so lazy?’/ ‘you’re really antisocial’/ ‘I really needed you to make an effort tonight’/ ‘Everyone thought it was weird that you left’ — but when it came to parties or events with my friends, he was either ‘too anxious’ that day, or he left really early because he was ‘tired and anxious’. That meant that I spent a lot of time with people I barely knew and, to be honest, found exhausting — he never bothered with me much at his friends’ parties, in fact he barely bothered to talk to me at all and got angry if I came to check in with him because that was ‘clingy and embarrassing’ — and very little time with my friends. It would have been a GOD SEND to me to have an ally to hang out with and to debrief about the party with. It would have been WONDERFUL to have someone who, when I said ‘I’m not sure I really like Jon’s friends’, could have responded with some gentle validation of my instincts, or ‘yeah, they’re not super welcoming are they?’ It would also have been incredibly helpful to have had someone on my team to tell me, ‘noooo, you were not being clingy’, or ‘of COURSE it’s ok to go now, we’ve been here four hours’ or ‘no, you weren’t flirting with those guys’ or ‘no, you were NOT drunk, you had ONE glass of wine’ or ‘no, those guys were NOT making fun of you, they definitely thought you were hot’. Jon gaslighted me so effectively that I thought all my impulses and feelings were probably wrong, and since we never spent time with my people, there was no one who had been there and seen what happened who could tell me otherwise. Just insert yourself — in a friendly, breezy way that can’t easily be perceived as threatening to Jon — into as many social situations as possible, and when Julie gives you the opportunity to validate her own readings of situations, do it as cheerfully and insistently as possible.

    – Try the last-minute-plan gambit. Send her a text at 7.45 on a Thursday night when you’re not busy. ‘Hi! Any chance you’re free for a quick drink? No worries if not — I’m supposed to have a quiet night in catching up with chores but I thought it’d be fun to get out for speedy one if you were up for it.’ Another of my Jon’s favourite things to do was spring his last minute plans on me. ‘Oh, didn’t I mention, I’m doing such and such with Bill tonight? Soz, babe, have a nice night at home alone!’ I assumed all my pals would already have plans, and I’d wait around, feeling like a total plonker, at his place because I was pretty much always at his place, cleaning and stuff, so that when he came home in the evening we could spend time together. Which we never did, because he’d always look around, see the chores were done, and decide to play computer games instead. And that’s the other thing — it may be that Julie is finding these sorts of things happening, and, if Jon is cheerfully playing computer games and ignoring her, it’ll be tough for him to say ‘no, I’d rather you didn’t go out for a drink with LW, because I’m having a breakdown’. It might also help LW a lot to know that the occasional last-minute plan attempt is cool with you (so long as, of course, it actually is — I don’t mind this sort of thing at all, but if those are boundaries you don’t want violated that’s a valid choice; you don’t want to make her into your Jon, after all). She might be too embarrassed to try texting you when she finds herself home alone unexpectedly, or she might just assume you already have plans. Show her that this isn’t necessarily the case.

    Best of luck. x

  36. Sara said:

    I can tell you how NOT to handle this.

    In college, I was friends with a boy and a girl who I’ll call Stan and Janet. Both were perfectly reasonable people until they started dating and moved in with each other. Janet and I drove to another town about an hour away, having lunch for her birthday, along with one of Stan’s male friends. (We were all in the same circle of friends and had known each other for a few years.) Stan couldn’t make it because he had a final, but that didn’t prevent him from calling every ten minutes. First he was “feeling depressed”. Then he was suspicious that I was trying to seduce Janet. We spent our lunch listening to Janet say, “We’re just having lunch together,” over and over again into the phone.

    So when I took Janet home, I marched into their house and found Stan drunk in front of a Star Trek rerun (as usual). I told him, “If you’re so worried about Janet cheating on you, maybe you should do something with yourself other than drinking and farting into your recliner.”

    And that was the end of both of the friendships, unfortunately. Even Stan’s friend told me that was “uncool”, but at the time I didn’t care, because it felt so good to say it. (I should’ve told Stan’s friend to grow a pair, but I didn’t.) I don’t think it did much to help Janet’s situation though. She was thousands of miles away from her family and didn’t have anyone to be her advocate. Eventually she got away from Stan, but she didn’t have many friends left by that time.

    If I could go back, would I have done things differently? Absolutely.

  37. This is all a lot of great stuff but I feel like the Captain’s answer kinda fails to cover the very last line of LW’s request. “but I also want to be able to schedule time without constantly being trumped by Jon’s emotional issues.”

    LW, it’s completely fair to have personal needs and standards about your time. There’s a lot of great stuff in all the comments about how to support Julie and ask questions to help her improve her life, but you can also try some approaches that minimize the disruption to your life and schedule purely for your own personal sake.

    Meaning, I think it’s completely fine for you to preface your next larger-timeframe event with a question about possible disruptions and how she’s going to communicate them to you and handle them.

    “Julie, I know your situation with Jon means sometimes there’s unexpected disruptions, but buying these tickets represents all my entertainment budget for the week. Are you confident you’re going to be able to go or should we find something less expensive to do?”

    “This isn’t an event I would go to by myself, so I don’t want to use up my limited vacation time if we might have to cancel. Will Jon have someone else to turn to if he has an issue while we’re away?”

    “I’ve got another invitation I’m declining in favor of this event and once I turn them down they’ll ask someone else. Can you promise me you’re going to make it if I do that?”

    Every one of Jon’s problems and needs could be completely legit and reasonable and you would still be completely in the right to be looking out for yourself and your own needs, LW. A good friend works around the commitments and obligations of their loved ones such that they can still be a part of each other’s lives. But they don’t have to martyr themselves for it and setting up boundaries is completely fair.

    • I totally get what you’re saying, and I agree with the sentiment, but from my personal experience, if my friends had tried to extract promises like that, I would’ve felt so pressured and overwhelmed by guilt that I would’ve backed away from the friendship.

      You know that story from the Arthurian Cycle, where Lancelot has to cross a bridge that’s made of a razor-sharp sword’s edge? It’s like that. Very tricky.

      The friends who were willing to stick around for me but not make demands made a haven for me – the only place where I could breathe.

      • neverjaunty said:

        You’re right that trying to extract a promise – rather than inquiring gently – may be too much for Julie. But it’s also perfectly OK for the LW to decide it’s not her job to paste on a cheerful smile and suck it up every time Julie cancels at the last minute, and to try and gently head off that situation.

        • CommanderBanana said:

          Agree – at a certain point the LW also needs to mind her own oxygen mask, as it were. I have had friends that drifted away from me because of Jons, or other reasons, that led them to constantly canceling plans. I am still always happy to see them and happy to hang out if they reach out to me, but after a while the invitations to them did start tapering off, or they’re only getting invited to group outings where their absence won’t make much of a difference.

          It sucks, but the LW also deserves some considerations of her time and budget.

          • Good point – I definitely didn’t mean to suggest that LW should be a doormat. Thanks for point that out, neverjaunty and CommanderBanana.

    • I strongly suspect that Julie can’t deliver on any promise not to cancel.

      If I were the LW I’d treat Julie’s probable cancellation the way I’d treat meeting a new person for a coffee date, or meeting a frequently late friend: that is, I’d only arrange to do things I’m happy to do alone, in places I’m comfortable alone.

      And I’d add in: meeting at Julie’s home.

      Another thought: asking Julie How would it be for you if we both turned our phones off? It would work well for me, and I hope for you too.

    • BeckyLynn said:

      Love this point. I have a good friend whose anxiety disorder makes last-minute cancellations the rule instead of the exception. Absolutely nothing I can say or do will make her into a more reliable friend – as I’m assuming nothing LW can say or do will make Julie a better friend. (And quite frankly, that’s on Julie and her choices. It’s perfectly legitimate for LW to feel hurt, annoyed, and rejected, and she should acknowledge those feelings before trying to move on with her friendship.)

      What worked for me and my friend was adjusting both of our expectations. We’ve structured our friendship so that her appearance is a happy surprise – for example, I’ll invite her to lunch with several other friends and make it clear that it’s nbd if she can’t make it. I’ve learned to just accept her complicated excuses at face value (in this case, if LW is feeling dragged down by the Jon thing, she could just accept the excuse and change the subject without delving into his emotional issues).

      I hope that LW can think about what she’s getting from her friendship with Julie and find a way to continue getting as much as she’s giving. Is my anxious friend the one I’m going to call first when I need a shoulder to cry on at 2am? No. Is she the friend I bring on road trip across the country? No. I have other friends I turn to for those things. However, my friend is the person in my life who makes a trip to Target the funniest thing I’ve done all week, and the only one who intimately understands my own anxiety and can offer meaningful support. Accepting my friend and her baggage and finding a dynamic that worked for both of us enabled me to keep a really great friend without constantly feeling like a victim. I hope that LW can find a similar balance that can form the basis of a long, fruitful friendship.

  38. Temporary Null said:

    I was a Julie too. My friends told me my partner sucked, but I was sporting some impressive cognitive dissonance. Everything they said was true, but I had manufactured some enormous good to offset all the crap I put up with.

    Badmouthing Jon is a bad move, but listening and validating any frustration from Julie is great. Don’t tell her what to do, but acknowledge that her feelings are valid.

    Hopefully, Julie will realize one day that her relationship is utter horseshit, and she’ll dump Jon’s ass. My tipping point was when “Jon” wouldn’t let me get off the phone for long enough to put in a new tampon. I actually asked him if my constant contact was worth me ruining my pants and he said “yes”. I dumped him the next day, and all my friends commented on how happy I seemed before they even heard the news.

    • Wow. That is a whole new world of self-absorbed bullshit. Glad you got out!

      • zyronife said:

        Rule of Life: You know It’s time to break up with your boyfriend when you realize he’s more absorbent than your tampons.

        • Ariane said:

          +1

    • Holy shit. The term “self-involved dingleberry” doesn’t go far enough.

    • Yes, that’s shocking enough to break the trance — what a hideous way to make you feel!

    • Frankie said:

      Mine was when “Jon” insisted I choose between him and a semester abroad in London. Not nearly as laughably craniorectal as your guy’s demand, but it was enough to snap me out of denial.

  39. First time commenter, long time reader. Oh, how I wish this website had been around 20 years ago!

    OP-I was Julie. For a long, long time. Whatever you do-DO NOT BASH JON! Every time my friends tried to (gently) point out what was happening, I would feel attacked and immediately turn into the Golden Retriever of Marriage. It wasn’t until they stopped-completely-talking about my incredibly messed up relationship that I was able to get the head space to see it for myself.

    It also helped that I went on vacation, with friends that are not in my usual day to day circle, doing things that I usually don’t do. That was different enough to shake me out of my routine and start making the head space I so desperately needed. Is there any way you can invite Julie on a trip without good cell phone access?

  40. jo said:

    Another former Julie chiming in. I was lucky enough to have several friends who just rode it out unobtrusively and waited for me to come to my senses, AND they provided whatever shelter/loans/comfort they could when I ended up needing help urgently after deciding to make a change.

    I had one very dear friend whose longstanding habit with me was to give good, blunt advice, and he was more candid about what he was seeing with me and my Jon. My partner did NOT like this friend one bit, and I was basically told to choose. Of course, being totally under the spell of my Jon’s manipulations, I chose to back away from my friend. Not angrily, or even explicitly. I just stopped calling, and my friend left me alone to wait patiently for things to change.

    My friend died suddenly before that could happen. His death was the trigger for me to start seeing my relationship with my Jon differently. I hope it doesn’t take something that huge to wake up the LW’s Julie, but it definitely will take some time, at the very least, and there is not much the LW can do to speed that process.

    My advice for the LW is to keep trying to be there for her friend and ride it out. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with speaking honestly about what you’re seeing, and to this day I appreciate the way my departed friend spoke out of love, but I don’t see that strategy actually helping. Things could get a lot worse for Julie from here before anything changes. She will have to realize on her own, in her own time, what she has to do to take care of herself. When she does, she will need support, and it will be easier for her to turn to you if you’re still harmlessly nearby in the wings instead of banished. Speaking up may also lead her to fear you are negatively judging her for staying in the relationship (as she may already be judging herself), and that too will make it harder for her to seek your support if and when she ends it.

    And my advice for the LW to care for herself, and not just Julie: Missing your best friend is painful, and you might be missing her for awhile. So maintain your other friendships in the meantime, and/or seek new ones. Talk to them sometimes about what you’re going through, but talk about other topics too, and consider seeing a counselor if you need to hash out the Julie stuff more than your other friends want to hear it. Also stay on top of your other life priorities and pursuits to help fill the void. Just … do all the other non-Julie-dependent things in your life that make you happy and fulfilled.

    • Just want to offer Jedi hugs and sympathy for the loss of your friend.

  41. Solestria said:

    Other Julie’s may be able to speak to the effectiveness of this idea better, but would it be feasible to nonchalantly give her an emotional abuse hotline number “just in case”? It might be easier to admit her situation to herself if she can run it by a completely uninvested third party who has never told her so.

    Kudos to you for being such a good friend, LW, and all the good thoughts for Julie.

    • MellifluousDissent said:

      Another former Julie here – I think this is tricky, and it depends on where Julie is in her “separating from Jon” process. If she’s starting to get to the phase of feeling like maybe something in her relationship is not quite right, but isn’t quite ready to break it off yet, this could work. If she’s still firmly in the land of “everything is great and people who say bad things about Jon just don’t understand our love!”, this will backfire spectacularly and likely get the LW cut out of Julie’s life (especially if Julie tells Jon about it).

      I think the better plan would be to have the number handy (say, saved as a note on her phone or on a card in her wallet or something), and to continue to be an available nonjudgmental ear as much as possible for Julie, so that when the day comes that Julie is ready for this kind of help, LW will (a) be the person Julie calls; and (b) have the hotline number ready for Julie to take.

      FWIW, the friend who most helped me see how I needed to break up with the Jon in my life was the one who was understanding when I cancelled, did what she could to make our friend-dates “easy” for me within the constraints of my relationship, kept her own firm boundaries around not spending time with Jon, and who only brought Jon up when I did (so, mostly, when I was with her, I wasn’t talking about Jon and I was instead being reminded of what it was like to be out in the world as a complete person on my own, instead of a human pacifier whose sole purpose was maintaining Jon’s emotional state).

    • tawg said:

      I do not think this will work. Julies (myself included) often do not see how terrible and toxic their relationship is. It is normal to be there for someone you love! It is normal to put your partner above others! It is normal to compromise in order to support someone you love!! Telling someone who is convinced that what is going on is “Normal!!” and “As relationships should be!!!” that you think they’re being abused is likely just going to make the Julie think that you, person not in this fucked up dynamic, have a really weird and self-absorbed idea of what relationships are like.

      I think a different way to go about it might be to say something like “Hey, I know Jon is going through a lot of stuff and you’re his main support. Are you getting enough support? I’ve used this phone counselling service before when I just needed to vent – there’s no wait or cost like getting into therapy, and because you don’t know the person on the other end of the line there’s no pressure to put on a brave face, you know?”

      And then actually give them a phone counselling hotline, rather than an abuse-specific hotline. Do not put a swifty here. But the staff of phone counselling hotlines will probably be able to spot any red flags that a Julie will bring up, and can talk about the issues Julie finds most pressing.

      • JenniferP said:

        Awesome suggestion. 💜

      • I think you are right. I still can’t see my Jon as emotionally abusive, mainly because he was so sweet and sad and troubled and never, ever meant me any harm. But intentions are one thing and the end result is another. If a friend told me they were scared to make jokes about innocent seeming things they’d never discussed with their boyfriend because chances were it would hit one of his sensitive spots and he’d yell at them stuff like “how do you think you’ve made me feel” for half an hour, or they had to walk on eggshells around him all the freaking time, ended up crying and feeling completely wronged and totally helpless every time they had one of their frequent shouting matches (a lot of gaslighting there), or they were somehow made to feel guilty every time they tried to end one of their three-hour counselling by phone sessions (by the way, I hate talking on the phone) then yeah, I’d want them to call an abuse hotline too.

    • What if LW does not “give” the number. It just happens to be on a magnet on LW’s fridge where Julie can see it frequently.

      • toxicnudibranch said:

        I say this as a former Julie: That seems a bit ill-advised. Jon will see it, too, and will probably use it as an excuse to vomit his FEELINGS all over Julie, or get in some weird, controlling conversation along the lines of “How can you think that about me?! I’m not emotionally abusive, YOU are! Do you have any idea how much you’ve hurt me?!”

        tawg has exactly the right idea. Counseling/support of any stripe is going to be helpful, and making it about her and not about Jon has a better chance of getting her to talk to someone. Also, it’s a lot different hearing from a friend “ugh, your dude is shitty” than hearing from a third party “you sound miserable and what you’re describing isn’t normal”

      • Hostapasta said:

        Something suddenly appearing like that would make me feel like I was going crazy. Also, if Jon is no longer long distance, it could spark an almighty fight if he saw it.

        • Amtelope said:

          Not sure I understand this comment — the suggestion was for the LW to put the magnet on her fridge, not Julie’s fridge. Surely it’s normal for your friends to acquire new refrigerator magnets from time to time? And it doesn’t sound like Jon is hanging out at LW’s house.

  42. JetGirl said:

    Oh, poor Julie. And LW, witnessing it all is so hard. But please try to stick with her, it may make all the difference.

  43. Amtelope said:

    There’s a lot of good advice in comments for how the LW can support Julie. I think it’s also important to say that it’s okay to put some boundaries on your friendship with Julie while she’s in this pattern with Jon.

    If making expensive/elaborate plans and having Julie repeatedly cancel is becoming a problem, it’s not being a bad friend to only invite Julie when you’re doing something you’d also be fine with doing alone. Julie may be a better “Hey, I’m going shopping, want to come?” or “Want to hang out while I watch my favorite show?” friend than a “Let’s buy non-refundable theater tickets!” kind of friend. I appreciate that you want to be there for Julie, but I think you can do that while being realistic about how likely Julie is to follow through with plans.

  44. emdashing said:

    Oh, gosh. I have been the LW and I have been Julie. Jedi hugs to you both. There’s not a lot bystanders can do when one is as far down the rabbit hole as Julie sounds like she is. Oh the intoxication of being that “special” someone who can keep another alive. If you are up for it, I think it’s a great idea to let Julie know you’re a safe space for her to go to no matter what happens with Jon. I’d also add that you might have the opportunity to help her realize her own cognitive dissonance. I have no idea how I would have responded when I was a Julie, but in retrospect I wonder what would have happened if someone had said something like “Being his support system must be super hard. Are *you* okay?” It’s not that friends and family didn’t express caring, but it was mostly couched in negative things about Jon. You know, lots of “you deserve better.” “It’s not fair to you.” “How can he behave that way?” Those sorts of well-meaning things we all say to people. In the moment, however, they just made me defensive and seemed dismissive of what I saw as Jon’s genuine need for help. I can make no promises, but I know that when I finally began to see the light about my own Jon it wasn’t because I suddenly realized he was awful (he was genuinely suffering and using me as a crutch, not actively malicious) it was because, basically, I ran out of my own spoons.* I couldn’t do what I needed to do in my life and help him with his. There may be no way to help your Julie see that before she’s ready to see it, but I think it might be worth a try.

    Looking back, even though people disapproved of my relationship with Jon there was still a lot of implied acceptance of my feminine caregiver role. The problem was him needing “too much” help, not my lack of boundaries around giving it. Since I believed then (and still do) that people DO need help sometimes, it was very easy to stay in the “they just don’t understand” frame of mind. Instead, it might have gotten through to me if someone had said something closer to “yes, he does need help, but are you equipped to give it?” or, as the Captain suggests, helping her see that his needs are blocking her from things that are important to her. It can be very hard when you are young and in love (and if you are like me and many Julies I know, not entirely sure of your own worth) to hear and understand that when people say things like “He’s taking all of your time and he shouldn’t,” they mean “because your time is important and valuable.” It’s even harder to believe it and internalize it and act on it, especially if that message is always buried under negative talk about Jon. If you decide to address this directly with Julie, I would avoid talking about Jon as much as possible–talk about *her.*

    *Spoon theory summary: http://thespoontheory.tumblr.com/post/44757754831/faq (in case anyone isn’t already familiar)

    • I think this is a fantastic reminder: complaints about Jon are not the point, caring for Julie, IS.

      And yes, it can be malicious, but the person can be genuinely sick, too. Which is also not the point if someone is just digging a hole that is getting too deep.

    • Minister of Smartassery said:

      ACK, I was a Julie, but in a platonic, same-gender friendship, and somehow that made it so much worse. Being a bad girlfriend is one thing, but being a bad friend? Well, that just made me a horrible person. Why couldn’t I be there for “Johnna?” Why was I so selfish? How could I go out on dates, or to parties or hang out with other friends when Johnna needed me so badly? I was the only one who could talk Johnna out of her dark places! I had to tell my friends/date to drop me off at Johnna’s right that minute! At first I believed it, believed that my friend would hurt herself or even die if I didn’t drop everything I was doing and run to take care of her. And yes, on some level there was a feeling of being special, but mostly, it was the fear that I would be responsible if she died. And that guilt and fear wore me down a lot more quickly, I think, than it would have if it had been a romantic relationship. I lost my larger friend circle because they got tired of our plans being interrupted and they were hurt (rightly so) than I would abandon them so easily. So if I didn’t meet Johnna’s demands, I lost one of the few friends I had left.

      And Johnna’s mom made this situation by calling me, demanding that I come to their house right that second because “Johnna will only eat if you’re here, you don’t want her to starve, do you?” and “Johnna won’t stop crying unless you’re here.” If I wanted to spend time with my boyfriend? I was selfish and awful for putting a boy before my friend. If Johnna found out I’d been out with other friends? The calls were hysterical and accusatory and abusive. And then it was time to apply for colleges (yeah, did I mention I was seven-freaking-teen at the time?) and I realized, holy shit, what am I going to do about Johnna? She didn’t want to go to the same school I did. In fact, she was thinking about deferring for a year and staying home. Would I be expected to abandon my own college plans just in case she needed me? Would I not be able to go to college at all? And then I realized, holy shit, this is too much responsibility to put on a teenager. I had no more spoons left to give (though I didn’t know to call them spoons then) and that is a sad freaking state for a teenager.

      So I told my parents. They knew Johnna had a lot of problems and commanded a lot of my attention. And it seemed weird that Johnna’s mom was dropping me off so often, but they assumed it was because Johnna had been with my group hanging out. But I hadn’t told them about how abusive and demanding Johnna’s mother had become. Because I thought Johnna’s mom’s rants were my fault and my mom would agree with her and also find me selfish and awful. I know, young me was sort of an idiot. Mom called Johnna’s mom and used her scary calm voice.

      The bottom line was that Mom made it clear I was not responsible for Johnna’s emotional well being and that we were taking a three month break from each other while Johnna got the help she needed. There would be no calls from Johnna’s mom to my phone. If I was out with friends or dates, that time was sacred and I would stay out until those plans were finished. No more running to Johnna’s house. The minute Johnna wrote me or approached me and started trying to make me feel bad for “abandoning her,” the timeout got extended. I apologized profusely to my other friends and spent more time with them. After a couple of attempts, Johnna never spoke to me again but she got counseling and she ended up leaving the state for college.

      My point is, the Julie-Jon dynamic can only thrive in a vacuum, if the Julie is isolated. Because if she’s isolated, there’s no one there to assure her that she’s not an awful, selfish person who is solely responsible for the well-being of Jon. As painful and frustrating as it is, you can’t give up on her.

      • emdashing said:

        Seconded–I left out the part where my Jon’s mom called me after I broke up with him (and he threatened to kill himself) to tell me that this was all my fault and I should come over right now and fix it. I declined, but only because I had a great support network in place to tell me it was unequivocally not my fault. If I’d been by myself, I might have caved and then who knows how long the cycle would have continued.

  45. lizinthelibrary said:

    I love the captains scripts. I would also worry about if he is impacting her ability to go to class/study/go to work. These are things that could really really really impact her long term success and make it so she never gets too independent/successful away from him. When asking questions about patterns, ask gentle leading questions about if he is letting her study/work without distracting her and if he isn’t what the impact that is having on her. How would he react if she turned off her phone for a three hour library study session? Or what not. My first worry on this letter is that if he is isolating her then he could be sabotaging her this way too.

  46. chi type said:

    Just the thought of being clung to that hard makes me itchy. Geez

  47. Michelle said:

    My previous comment didn’t seem to go through, so!

    Captain has some good ideas here. Ultimately, being there for Julie is what will help the most, because eventually she will (hopefully) realize what has been going on with Jon, and she might need a friend then.

  48. thebearpelt said:

    LW, if your friend is able to come to you for advice on how to handle this, I find its very useful to remind people that THEY CAN NOT BE THEIR PARTNER’S THERAPIST. If she doesn’t know how to tell him that, I suggest, “John, I can’t be your therapist because I’m your SO and I’m not trained to do this and this could really wreck our relationship and I don’t want that. Let’s figure out how to get you a therapist.” (Of course, this is IF your friend asks for advice on this.)

    I think tentatively broaching the subject and, if Julie doesn’t respond super positively to it, focusing on the “how do we hang out more” aspect could work really well cuz then it brings the focus back to your friendship rather than feeling like a criticism of John.

    And for sure, this pattern is worrisome. I’m actually struggling with my own anxiety and depression right now and found that, whenever my boyfriend goes out of town for family stuff, I tend to always fall apart (even tho I totally thought I’d be fine each time). I’ve discussed it with him, tho, and when it does happen, I try to talk to others and text him and maybe call him if I’m feeling particularly bad, but the focus is on not preventing him from visiting family. That’s where John’s focus should be, I feel, NOT on getting Julie to come back over and over again. :/

    And again, LW, I think folks’ suggestion of making sure she knows she can come back to you at any time, even if she hasn’t spoken to you in a while, would do a world of good. Just knowing that lifeline is there can do so much if things get worse. Good luck, LW.

  49. Lily said:

    Don’t know how you feel about it, OP, but at least where I live there are several places where there’s just. no. cellphone. access. And it’s not always the small villages – some cafes etc just happen to be somewhere without it.
    Or, let’s say, swimming pools/spas/etc, where one leaves the phone in the locker?
    Maybe just invite her to the cinema?

  50. kemmi said:

    Just want to add—the thing is, Jon can be utterly sincere in all of this. It could genuinely be a situation where the fact of being on his own – of knowing the person that, for him, feels like the one thing keeping him going, is out there with friends that can give her fun, joy, support that he doesn’t think he can—is a trigger for those crises. He can be utterly sincere in everything he says, it can feel like the absolute truth to him—not something that he’s saying out of a desire to manipulate, but because he has a huge panic attack.

    None of that mean that the situation isn’t harmful to Julie. None of that changes the fact that she can’t be his One True Saviour, the only thing he has to make it bearable. It doesn’t mean that he’s right when he thinks that she’s the only one that can understand him (his other friends might, support lines, therapists can), or that the world really will fall in when she leaves. Feelings don’t equate to facts. The relationship is harmful to her, isolating and damaging,, because of things that he’s doing. There’s a whole world out there of relationships which are damaging, toxic and harmful, even without either party wanting to be a cause of pain or suffering to their partner. Effect trumps intent every day of the week.

    Of course, he could all be doing this deliberately. If that’s the case, then you can’t do anything to stop him, but you can at least show that the new normal he’s trying to establish, the one where he’s always the only thing for her? That’s not How It Has To Be because: Relationship. It’s a wrong track, something to get back from.

    In practise, at this point? It’s probably best to approach this from a position of, “it’s really worrying that John can’t cope without you for this long. Can we, together, make it so that he can? What if he does X when we’re meeting up? Can one of his friends stay with him? Does he have a support number?” Framing it that way can help establish that you’re a) on her side (which for her is still their side) and b) that him not needing her at those times is a goal. Him needing her constantly is a bad thing that can be managed—that both of them should be looking to manage, rather than treating as a method of treating whatever the latest crisis point is. That may be something he needs to learn (if he’s willing). It may be something for both of them, to know that sometimes it may be worse when she’s not there, but that actually, that’s not reason enough for her not to go—that “worse” and “unendurable” are not the same thing.

  51. Oof, that really sucks. Jedi hugs to you.

  52. One thing of note is that reasonable privacy is not keeping secrets. I say, occasionally, that I have no secrets, and that’s true in that nothing in my past could hurt me permanently or irreparably if someone cruelly framed it in the worst possible light and put it on a billboard for all to see. However, that is not to say that I don’t have many things I keep to myself, and keep private, and THAT IS OKAY. Everyone requires privacy to a greater or lesser degree.

    Consider that you might tell your best friend absolutely everything, but you would be really pissed if he or she found your diary/journal and read it without your permission. The same info is likely to be in there, but there’s a reason you decided to write it down in a private way.

    One area of privacy most people enjoy is the freedom to spend time alone without being held accountable to anyone else. If a Julie (or Jules) has Jon (or Joan) demanding an accounting of what s/he did when not communicating directly with Jon (or Joan), that is a bad sign. And if Julie (or Jules) says something like “I was napping / taking a long bath / grocery shopping / knitting / playing with a pet / lolling about gloriously doing nothing and happily staring into space and doodling and daydreaming / Sweatin’ to the Oldies / (absolutely whatever!)” and Jone (or Joan) has the NERVE to criticize how s/he chose to spend free time, that is a really bad sign, IMVHO.

  53. 3b said:

    Another former Julie here (7+ years).

    I am not reading all the comments right now but agree with suggestions to NOT bash Jon.

    Potentially more helpful frameworks include:
    – it must be hard to have a partner who needs a lot of help the way he does; are you getting support for yourself around being his support person?
    – if you are not taking care of yourself you won’t be able to be a good partner for him (put on your own oxygen mask first etc)

    . . . okay I am out of ideas. But these things helped me. Also yes – just talking about her, how she is doing, what does SHE think of [thing] – stuff to remind her that she is valuable beyond being someone’s pacifier.

    The issue I have with the Capt’s advice of “someone who is feeling suicidal all of a sudden (to the point that they are telling you about it AND want you to drop everything and “help” them in some way, which to me is a sign of a *crisis* vs. a passing suicidal thought or impulse. . . Yes, help them!” is that someone like my ex can have these crises repeatedly, and the crises will control your life as this person’s partner.

    And that is not okay.

    I don’t really know what else to write but yeah it is a pattern and Julie probably feels very special and important because she gets to help someone she loves and that is so hard and confusing to get out of.

    Ultimately Jon needs to be able to take care of himself and she is NOT doing any favors to him by letting him be dependent on her.

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      OOh seconding your helpful framework! That would’ve worked on me as a former Julie in a way I never realized. One thing that helped me start the ending process was that my Jon kept saying I was soo much smarter than him and I was going to be the breadwinner of the pair of us and I was sooo amazing. I thought well, if I’m going to be the breadwinner, then I really need to focus on my studies and get good grades and get a job in my field ASAP so I can gain some job skills so I can actually “earn” this high praise and take care of him better.
      Suddenly he was really pissed at me for putting him “on the back burner.” It was a strange sort of awakening to see me really try and give him everything and have it make him so angry.

      • 3b said:

        YEP SIMILAR: “Well maybe you should take a break from school because this is so hard and I think we need to focus on our relationship.”

        (In our case it wasn’t that I was smarter – just that I *wanted* to be the breadwinner and he *wanted* to be the stay at home parent.)

  54. servogirl said:

    Oh lord, I have been the LW with one of my closest friends. My Julie (James, in this case) came to me after a giant fight with his Jon and asked me point blank “Should I break up with him?” and I said, “well, do you really want to know what I think?”

    So I told him, then he went home (I thought) to break up with Jon, and instead Jon talked him out of breaking up and convinced him I was a terrible friend (since James was like, she said to dump you!) and Jon didn’t allow him to talk to me for months. It broke my heart to lose my friend.

    The good news: James broke up with him six months later (finally), and we were hanging out and talking again within days. I’m glad I have my friend back, and even though it sucked at the time, I’m glad I told him the truth, and so is he, for what it’s worth.

    Generally, I think people in a bad relationship know on some level that they’re in a bad relationship, but no one wants to hear it when they’re not ready. If Julie asks you a direct question about her relationship and what you think about it, tell the truth, but otherwise, I’d try to keep your discussion of her relationship to how it impacts your time with each other. Making people defensive or pressuring them about their bad romantic choices has never, in my experience, lessened those bad romantic choices — it can make people double down on trying to make it work to prove everyone wrong.

    (This is all assuming it’s standard bad relationship stuff…if your friend is in physical danger that’s another story.)

    • tawg said:

      I think also… Johns (and a lot of social/cultural stuff about not “airing dirty laundry” and that gentle pressure to never say anything negative about a partner etc) do a very good job of presenting things as normal. Maybe not perfect, possibly not ideal, but “relationships aren’t meant to be easy they’re meant to be about love and I LOVE YOU SO MUCH”. I know when I had so, SO many talks with my shitty ex about how I wasn’t happy and didn’t want to be in that relationship, he always wanted reasons. And at the time he made it sound like he wanted to understand me, but really he wanted to tear holes in my reasons and cement the dynamic where I needed his permission to leave. No reason was real or good if I couldn’t explain it to him, and nothing could withstand his probing and logic-powers and it took a long time for me to realise that, hey, I do not actually need someone’s permission to break up with them! (Thank you, Captain Awkward.)

      Anyway, I bring all this up because I think this is what happens in like 90% of conversations where “my friends think I should break up with you” gets uttered. Someone is pressured to justify why they are unhappy, and their own feelings and experiences don’t count, so they bring in this other evidence that, hey, people are noticing that I’m miserable? This is actually happening and effecting me? I am getting a lot of anecdata that actually relationships don’t have to be like this??? And then of course the John tears holes in that, and usually also has plenty of counter-arguments of “didn’t you and your friend have a fight one time seven years ago? How can you trust them? They don’t know what things with us are really like! Why are you saying such bad things about me to your friends – no wonder they hate me. The problem here is actually you, but I love you and want to help you…”

      And this can be applied to friends, family, counselors… advice sites, too!

      • CommanderBanana said:

        Yup.

        Beware the person who tells you stuff like “relationships just take work” when you tell them you’re unhappy. Yes, relationships need time and attention to flourish, just like hobbies and pets do, but if your relationship starts resembling working in the salt mines, it’s time to rethink stuff.

        And yes a bazillionty times to “I want to leave” being a good enough reason to leave.

        • I wonder at the acres of damage done by “relationships are work.”

          Especially since, as far as I can tell, this is not what men are being told. They get told “women are just like that.”

          It is slowly changing for the better. In fact, I often wonder if the damage to complementarian marriage (strict gender roles) by same sex marriages is the real reason they are so dead set on oppressing it.

  55. Does Julie realize that she is “the on-call care person” besides being “the girlfriend”?
    Because there are books out there, and web-sites, and support groups, for people who for-real are the caretakers of people who can’t take care of themselves. (sick, elderly, broken hip…) And all of them, every site and book and support group, tells the caretaker to take TIME for self-care also. Or they will burn out and then Sick Person will have no care at all.

    What would happen if the LW pointed this out to Caretaker Julie?

  56. syrens said:

    As someone who is occasionally the “Jon” in this story? This suggestion here:

    “If you’re feeling excessively monitored or need a break from texting, try […] saying, “I need to turn off my phone and be unplugged today, I’ll check in with you at (time), though” and then follow through with what you said you’d do.”

    …Helps *immensely*.

    Knowing that “I will hear from So-and-so at roughly X time”, with or without the addition of “They have [Activity/Interaction] right now” gives me something I can use to short-circuit my Brain Weasels when they start howling. Because, yes, I can tell myself that stuff – that So-and-so may have left their phone at home, is busy with Activities, has a date, whatever – but having So-and-so actually tell me “I will call at X time” and then follow through with that? It tells me that all of my self-soothing work isn’t just me bullshitting myself.

    So, yeah. Highly Recommended!

  57. Knayt said:

    I’ve been an almost-Julie, in a situation where it was just a very close friendship and not a relationship, and there were a few other almost-Julies in the mix. The friend in question also had some pretty nasty mental issues, in her case exacerbated by extremely emotionally abusive parents. It ended up with her burning all her bridges, all of us almost-Julies extremely stressed out, and just general nastiness. It wasn’t good for anyone then, and it’s not good for anyone now. If Jon isn’t just lying in an attempt to control, then he’s still in a place where he could use actual professional help and should go see about doing more of that and less of leaning on Julie all the time.

    I’ve also had my own run-ins with fairly severe mental stuff, and it’s not like it magically went away for periods of my life when I was in a relationship. So, from that inside perspective, I can say that having severe mental illness doesn’t make you behave like Jon, and that there’s absolutely something else going on, and that it’s a problem. Given the details in the letter, and the vague matter of there being a mess, the dust settling, and Julie coming out with a lot fewer friends, I suspect that Jon is very controlling. He doesn’t get a pass on this just because he’s bipolar; if anything him using his illness to do this is a spit in the face of other people who deal with the same stuff without being jerks about it.

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