Once upon a time, a kind reader wrote in for advice about her friend, “Mary.” Mary just cared about the Letter Writer SO MUCH, you see, that she felt entitled to advise her on any and all of life’s challenges, kiss her on the top of the head, take over in the kitchen, recount a complete record of the LW’s mistakes, and rewrite any of the Letter Writer’s feelings according to what Mary was working on in therapy that week.
What We Do In The Shadows hadn’t introduced me to Colin Robinson, Energy Vampire yet, but I recognized the vibe, writing this at the time:
“The clutching and kissing especially feels like the kind of vampire shit that led my Yia-Yia to carry raw garlic in her bra and festoon it around all the windowsills in case something followed her from the old country so it could drain her life force. Mary doesn’t suck your blood but she does suck your agency, joy, attention, autonomy, trust in your right to set boundaries, or ability to express any authentic emotion in her presence without her feeding on it somehow.”
In the discussion thread, the Letter Writer gave us several updates that took the situation from “Yikes” to “What you are describing is a hostage situation, actually,” and then emailed me privately at some point to say that “Move Out, Mary!” plans got derailed when she broke her leg and Mary volunteered to stick around take care of her. (Threat level: True Crime Podcast.)
That reader has fortunately written back with new update, with permission to share it with readers. Good news: She is healed up and Mary-free at last. Bad news: Our collective worries about Mary escalating from cloying, to scary, to extremely hostile were more than founded. Here’s lovely LW #1208 in her own words:
I wanted to offer an update on the whole Mary saga at long last. Obviously, things really didn’t go according to plan but, at long last, my house is Mary free!
I said it before, but I want to say it again: I am so grateful for the help and advice offered by your blog and the readers. Thank you so very much.
The long and short of it is, I ended up having to enact the safety plans I had made on you and your readers advice. After I was finally recovered from my fall and broken leg, I finally, *finally* convinced her to move out again. I really, really didn’t want to have to take her to court so it was a lot of catering to Mary’s hysterics and gray rocking her until she finally gave up. I would set a date for her to get out and then another crisis would happen and she would go crying to our social group about how horrible it was that I was kicking her out when [her great, great, grand-uncle twice removed died] / [she started maybe looking at applications for going back to school] / [whatever else] and I kept rolling over and letting her stay another month, and then another, and then…Well, it took far longer than it should have, but she was going to move out at the end of March. We had packed up her things.
Then, the pandemic hit. And Mary decided to go up to the epicenter (at the time) of the pandemic for a “”vacation”” that apparently involved a whole lot of really risky behavior during a global pandemic. While she was gone, our state imposed a moratorium on all eviction actions, and she decided that meant she did not have to leave after all.
I had to get out of my own house for my safety at that point. Luckily, I had a plan already in place, so it was done in the course of an afternoon and Mary came back to a clean, empty house. I told her she needed to follow through on her move out plans and she agreed, but said that the pandemic meant she couldn’t move out just yet…
Six months later, she, at last, moved out. After living without Mary, it was like a breath of fresh air and I relished my Mary-less life, even if I was living on a pull-out mattress. Then, I went over to my house to move back in and found out that Mary had completely trashed it.
Over the course of six months, she had managed to destroy every single piece of carpet, scuff, and scratch, and dent the walls, and there were piles and piles and piles of trash, rotting food, and animal feces (yes, really!) on nearly every surface. She tried to blame me for it, saying the house was a mess when I left it (it wasn’t) and tried to gaslight me and everyone else involved—but it didn’t work this time, since there were more witnesses than she could gaslight.
I’ve joked that it turns out when I used to feel as if I was the only person doing any cleaning in the house, I was correct. It took a month of going over almost every day and cleaning just to make the house *livable* again. She did nearly $10,000 worth of damage to my property, and that is with a considerable amount of DIY repair. It was genuinely horrifying, I think Mary is very sick.
But, finally, I am back in my own home again. Roommate-free and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve finally stopped flinching every time I do something that used to set off Mary’s hysterics. Mary has been blocked on every platform she could reach out to me on, my locks have been changed, and I’m fortunate enough to have a strong group of friends who have pushed back on any of Mary’s attempts to get around those blocks. Once I told my social group a little bit more about what had been going on and they suddenly realized all the lies that Mary had been feeding them, they were all horrified. I was scared to tell a lot of them, but I had enough evidence that Mary’s lies crumbled so quickly.
I’ve been in therapy to deal with both my own issues and with the residual trauma of living with Mary. You and your readers were so correct about how dangerous Mary was, and I am so, so glad that you were able to help me see that.
I felt it was time to write an update. I know it’s been a long time, and it probably took far too long to get here, but I am so glad I am here at last. It feels really good.
Thank you so much again!
Letter Writer, ERMAGERD!!!!!!!!!!! THANK YOU for the update, I am so relieved that you are okay and were able to reclaim your house and life and cooking and facial expressions and emotions at last!!!!!!!!!!! Exclamation Points!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I always, always, want to be overreacting whenever I offer a “Make a safety plan and GTFO” recommendation to a given Letter Writer, but there are certain lines that, once they are crossed, create a situation where no matter how much you care about the other person and want to hope for the best, you are just not playing on the same team anymore and survival means both re-assessing everything you think you know about them and planning for the worst.
It’s the same reason it’s good idea to quietly consult a lawyer when you’re contemplating divorce even if you think the person you’re leaving will be fair and reasonable. The possibility for things to become adversarial is baked into the act of dissolving a legal and financial relationship (evicting someone, in this case), and the potential for damage is so great, that having someone on hand who isn’t emotionally entangled to run the “They probably won’t do that, but if they did, here’s how you can take care of yourself” scenarios is a strong protection.
When someone punishes you for saying no to them, and for having your own needs and feelings the way Mary did here, I don’t think there’s a way back from that that’s possible from inside the friendship (or family relationship, or romantic relationship). Someone like Mary may eventually get the right sort of help, come to terms with the horrible things she did, and figure out how to not be so toxic in the future, but when you’re enmeshed with a Mary, when you’re the target of a Mary, when you live with a Mary and see her every day, you can neither make that happen nor afford to wait out the possibility that she won’t ever fix her heart. Your best chance for stopping the harm she’s doing is to disengage completely and remove her access to harm you. I hate that you had to move out of your house, Letter Writer, and temporarily abandon it to this vengeful, punishing person, but I’m so proud of you for trusting your gut and putting your safety first. Destroying someone’s possessions is an escalation of violence and often a prelude to destroying the person. Going was absolutely the right thing.
Comments are open for encouragement and love for the LW, more cautionary tales, updates from other letters, what have you. Let’s process this one together. ❤
P.S. Edited To Add: I’ve seen several comments (and Twitter replies) suggesting that the Letter Writer could take legal action against Mary to recoup the costs of the damage to her home.
I see why! It’s incredibly unfair that the LW should have to pay so much money to restore her home, depending on what jurisdiction everyone lives in, Mary may indeed be liable for said costs.
However, and this is straight from The Gift of Fear (usual caveats re: DV chapter & victim-blaming apply), suing somebody who refused to leave you alone, after you’ve successfully gotten rid of them, invites them right back into your life. I am not a lawyer, so this is not a legal definition but a qualitative one, but a lawsuit basically says: “You harmed me in _____ ways and therefore owe me _____ money. I am going to take you to court to prove it, and either the court will make you pay the money you owe me (a judgment), or you will decide that it’s such a nuisance to deal with the suit that you’ll agree pay me all or some of it to make the problem go away (a settlement).”
I did not get the sense that Mary has $10,000 lying around, so even if the LW sued and got a judgment in her favor, it would (legitimately) take Mary a while to pay the money back and probably require multiple rounds of collections/enforcement/court orders to get any of it from her.
Meanwhile, Mary, a person who has shown she will do absolutely anything to get the Letter Writer’s attention, gets invited back into the Letter Writer’s life in a way that stokes her sense of persecution and grievance. Mary is a dangerous person who will destroy a person’s living space to punish them for not giving her the attention she wants, what do you think she’s capable if she thinks actually has an axe to grind and a guaranteed way to access the Letter Writer’s time, money, and attention with drawn-out legal proceedings?
It is completely unfair, but $10,000 in this case was probably the cost of getting Mary out of her house and her life. Once you disengage from someone who is so dangerous and so fixated on controlling you, inviting them back in as a clearly designated adversary can only get more expensive from here.
That said, if anyone wants to give me, The Good Shepherd, and Commander Logic millions of dollars to set up The Small Quiet Room Foundation, a no-questions-asked emergency housing and living expenses fund for people fleeing abusive homes, I’m incredibly open to that idea. Fully half my inbox could be solved if everybody in the conflict had someplace else they could go. ❤