Advise please: How best to help a messed-up friend? (Long)

A married friend of mine in her mid-40s has confided in me, over more than a year’s time, about an intense, reciprocated, long-standing emotional attachment/physical attraction to someone besides her husband. She’s acting like a teenager with a goofy crush. It’s painful to watch; no doubt worse to experience.

Details follow, but it all boils down to: as a friend, do I give her a place to vent without judging? Or do I tell her “damn, you are so f**d up, get a grip?!?!”

I’m going to go light on specifics because, in some circles, she (I’ll call her Laura), her husband (I’ll call him Hubbie) and Crush Object (I’ll call him Crush) are quite well known and could potentially be identified from what I write. So, I am going to “change details to protect the guilty.” Everything below is true in terms of explaining what kind of situation this is, but literal facts may be changed to obscure identities.

Laura, Hubbie, and Crush are all artists in a small but world-renowned artistic community where everyone knows everyone else and gossips madly. Therefore, Laura must be incredibly circumspect and cannot talk to anyone in that community. Laura can talk to me because I occupy an unusual in-between place: I know the people and the art, but am not an artist myself, so am outside the inner circle. My friend can confide in me without worrying that in 24 hours the entire group will know, because she (and to a lesser extent Hubbie) are the only ones I have contact with.

No one else can serve the role I do for my friend. I am - and this is important - her ONLY CONFIDANT. Friends in the art circle would gossip. Friends outside the art circle would not have a clue what she is talking about.

My friend has been with her husband for nearly 20 years. For a long time he was the light of her life.

Then, she got to know another artist who is far more magnetic - he’s younger, far more dynamic, intellectual, moving the art world forward, etc. etc. Her husband, on the other hand, is part of a passing artistic tradition and is languishing, not willing to try to advance his art.

She serves the role of amenuensis/personal assistant to Crush, a role almost no one in the world could replace because it requires rarefied linguistic, artistic, managerial, and networking skills that almost no one else has - she books all his international appearances, translates for him, etc. So saying “screw this, I can’t handle this emotionally, I’m not having anything more to do with Crush” would have serious repercussions in terms of Crush’s career and the preservation of his unique artistic contribution.

But, she is madly in love with him and torturing herself! He tells her he feels the same, but that if they slept together it would ruin their artistic relationship and it isn’t worth it. (Whether he’s telling the truth or simply trying to spare her feelings, either way he’s got the right idea - sleeping together would be a lousy idea.)

He’s a bit of an oddball and their relationship is up and down, up and down. Recently he got offended with her and wouldn’t talk to her – so she sent him 50 SMS messages over the course of 2-3 days and finally called people she knew he was with, saying “Did Crush leave his phone at home? I’ve been trying to call?”

Anyway, she’s an emotional wreck and as far as I can tell needs two things:

  1. To GET A GRIP ALREADY. Regardless of what she fantasizes, the longed-for sexual entanglement ain’t happening. Crush made it clear. Besides, she doesn’t want to cheat on her husband, and if she did the whole artistic community would know instantly (you can’t keep secrets there). Plus, she is acting like a 12 year old. Geez, what 45-year-old sends 50 text messages in 2 days to someone? But if I told her that, (a) brutal language probably wouldn’t help, just hurt her; and (b) it could destroy our friendship, which both of us value.

  2. TO HAVE A SYMPATHETIC EAR. The poor woman has no one she can talk to, except me. She’s been dealing with her feelings all alone. It seems to me that everyone deserves a non-judgmental friend who listens sympathetically and doesn’t respond with “Okay, now I’ll tell you what you should do…”

If you were me, would you tell her she is screwed up? Or would you listen and sympathize non-judgmentally? (She has no time or opportunity for a therapist, or I’d suggest that.)

If it were me, I’d gently tell the friend that the situation is messed up and that she’s risking her marriage needlessly, and that I don’t approve. However, having said that, I’m willing to listen and not judge (unless she wants me to ride her about it). It’s her life to mess up. I figure it’s my job to let her know she’s heading down the wrong path, but not to push it.

The last thing I’d want, when the dust settles and she’s left with nothing, is for her to say to me, “Why didn’t you tell me how screwed up I was?”

Mid 40s? Could this just be menopause hormones going haywire?

I think I would ask her if she wanted my advice. If yes, say everything you’ve said to us, but kindly.

I admit, I don’t really “get” art, but this is causing a massive “so what” reaction in me.

I agree with Dung Beetle. Is the preservation of Crush’s “unique artistic contribution” :dubious: more important than her mental health or marriage? If she thinks so, her marriage may be doomed anyway…

Chances are if she’s been sending several messages and calling people he may be with, the rumor mill already has started churning. I wouldnt hesitate to mention this to her.

Have a firm talk with her - and if the friendship ends, then it wasnt a strong friendship to begin with.

I would say she needs to see a therapist. She needs to make time for it. I know you’ve changed professions and all but I’m guessing these people don’t run in a world where therapy is taboo – if she’s not willing to go for professional help then she’s also probably not willing to actively take control of the situation, in which case it probably doesn’t matter what you do or say.

So I would tell her she needs to see a therapist and limit my participation to listening to her vent.

I also question this (and of course I only know what you’ve written, not the RL story):

IMHO there are very few employees that are irreplaceable, and it doesn’t sound like this is on the list. Seriously, companies loose top level execs all the time, they manage to keep the ship afloat. Maybe you can’t find someone who will take the same pay, but that’s not anyone’s problem but his. The only roles that can’t be replaced might be “spouse” and “mother” (well, actually you can replace #1) but she is neither of these to him.

It sounds to me like both Laura and Crush are enjoying themselves immensely and get all of their needs met for Drama and Masterpiece Inducing Deep Emotions. If I were you, I’d listen to Laura and not worry too much about her.

You sound like a good person and a thoughtful friend. In my view, you’d be a good friend to give her a sympathetic ear, but you’re under no obligation to let yourself be played. In other words, if she’s honestly looking to talk and looking for help or at least a friend, then listen to her. But if all she really wants is an audience for her drama, then I think you can cut her short.

Rather than giving her advice directly, consider asking her questions as she’s venting: “How do you intend to deal with this situation?” “How do think your husband would react?” Etc.

Well, you’re describing the situation to us just fine, aren’t you? I think the relationship aspects of this drama are perfectly understandable to the laity, and I don’t think it’s really necessary to have an educated view of the esoteric artistic issues to understand your friend’s difficulty.

Is this your friend talking or you? It strikes me as a bad sign that their marital relationship is being described in terms of his career. Do they still love each other? Is his personality changing (is he depressed)? Or was she always more attracted to his career success than to him?

Like others here, I find this assertion hard to believe. It may be that he is telling her this sort of thing because he enjoys the drama that ensues from her continued presence, and the adulation that she apparently feels.

Remember guys that “art” is probably not what these people actually do. It’s something else because Carol doesn’t want to reveal to many details. Feel free to mentally substitute botany, advertising, professional sports, crab fishing, or what have you, whenever you read “art”.

Hmm, tough one. Does your friend know that married people have crushes all the time, that it’s part of being human and interacting with other humans, and it doesn’t have to be acted on or mean much of anything? The fact that Crush is a single young guy and doesn’t want to get it on with the willing older woman suggests to me that he is all about her working for him, and is not all that attracted to her (which suggests heartbreak for her if she does something irrevocable for him).

Like I said, crushes come and go, but if this one is too hard to let go and she does want to save her marriage, sometimes you just have to not be around the object of your desire. I think I’d give your friend someplace to vent, but it wouldn’t be strings-free - I would give her some advice and point out a few things to her, too (like she’s endangering her marriage).

Yes, I wonder if that is part of it.

I knew this question would be raised and there’s no real way to convince anyone it matters if they don’t think it does. But keep in mind, this is not just my friend’s perception of what’s important, it is a real phenomenon. If she were to walk away from Crush, people literally all over the world would be pissed, because she’d be leaving them in the lurch. Plans for exhibitions start a year or more in advance and she is the one who is in the middle of it. Yeah, yeah, I know … no one is irreplaceable. But that’s not always true in the short term. Imagine Steven Hawking didn’t have the technology that allows him to speak, and had a blinking system that only one person in the world understood both from a communications aspect and a mathematical one. Imagine that Hawking is in the middle of developing the GUT that seems to be true. Would you want that personal assistant to walk away from Hawkings because she had an unfulfilled desire to sleep with him? No, you’d say “take a deep breath, accept reality, and get to work.”

Gotta run, time to walk the dogs. Will be back later to address the comments of others and amend what I rush-wrote above if it is incoherent or not what I meant…

I think she’s living in a soap opera and needs to change roles. She should devote her energies and talents to helping Hubbie “advance his art;” he obviously needs her help much more than does Crush. Doing so might even cause Hubbie to once more become the light of her life. Crush is exploiting an older woman’s interest in him; if he had any honor as an artist or a man, he would terminate their relationship instead of prolonging her pain. Unless, of course, he is an attention whore.

How about telling your friend that you don’t believe she’s doing the right thing, but you’re not going to tell her what she should and shouldn’t do, because she is a grown adult and can make her own decisions in life.

I’m just having a hard time believing this is all taking place in Indonesia.

Erm…woosh? :confused:

You nailed that one - He IS!!!

But, although many people are weighing in offering variations on “your girlfriend needs to do x or y” (actually, she has done everything in her power to help her husband advance his art, LouisB, and he’s still moping around the house), in the end I’m not asking “is my girlfriend right or wrong?” … we ALL agree, generally speaking, that this is a messed up situation. The question is, what is MY role: non-judgmental friend who helps by listening but bites my tongue, or reality-test engineer who says “girl, this is so messed up, you just stop it, right now.”

I’ve gotten some good, middle ground ideas from everyone’s input and will try to use them.

Either you’ve never hung out with a bunch of Javanese, or it’s a whoosh.

Your friend is YOKO ONO??!!

I would say that, out of a selfish desire for Hawking to succeed, no matter what the cost to the personal assistant. But if I were the personal assistant, and I needed to walk away because it was the best thing for me personally, a-strollin’ I would go.

Stupid sexy Hawking!

I find this difficult to believe.
I think Crush overestimates his importance (and the work involved) and Laura goes along with it.

I have organised an event by myself with a world-famous foreign chap.
I arranged the date, the travel, the venue, the accomodation, the Press Conference (for 2 TV networks, 3 newspapers and a radio station), live coverage of the event on the Internet, invited guests from all over the country, celebration dinner, closed circuit TV and commentary for 200 spectators. There was also a financial deal worth around £120,000 ($240,000), announced live at the Press Conference.
The celebrity made a couple of further visits and the publicity was all favourable. :cool:

Oh, and I was a full-time teacher while all this was going on.