Dear Annie: I’m at my wits’ end dealing with my friend’s glum, woe-is-me attitude. I’ve known “Max” since we worked together at a restaurant when I was in college. He was in his early 20s and had grown up in the town. He said he regretted not getting a bachelor’s degree. As we became better friends and he saw the projects I was doing for my classes (I was an art major), he became inspired and started making plans to go to community college and then transfer. A year passed; then two. That never happened. (Not a big deal in itself, but I mention it as part of a pattern.)
Six years ago, I graduated and got a job in New York. Max and I have stayed in touch, and he visits about once a year. He’s still in the same town, working at a different restaurant. I don’t say that judgmentally. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. The problem is that Max does. He’s been talking about wanting to change his life for years now, but he takes no steps to do so. I’ve tried every approach I can think of. I did the supportive thing at first — building up his self-esteem, encouraging him to try therapy, helping him research schools, offering to help get him a restaurant job in New York, etc.
After a couple of years, I realized he wouldn’t act on any of this, so I stopped offering solutions and have just shown tough love. For example, when he complains about how none of his friends calls to hang out, I tell him that he can’t expect people to always be thinking of him. But nothing seems to get through to him.
Max never asks about what’s up in my life, and when I try to tell him, somehow he finds a way of bringing the conversation back to him. I’m starting to feel used and a little resentful, if you couldn’t tell. I care about Max and think he’s a good guy. But how can you help someone who doesn’t really want to help himself? — Eeyore’s Friend
Dear Eeyore’s Friend: You can’t. At this point, the kindest thing you can do for Max is to refuse to be his dumping ground any longer. Only after he’s got nowhere to unload will he be forced to confront the weight of his problem. A therapist could most likely help him a great deal, and you can encourage him to seek counseling one more time — but disengage and take space after that. Your friendship with Max can only be healthy after he’s purged that toxic mindset.
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