With Great Power...

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With Great Power...

Post by nearly_takuan on Wed Oct 29, 2014 3:20 pm

Everything about this is somewhat old news to me, except the part where it is stretching the limits of what I can handle right now. Knowing how much to share here presents something of a challenge, but I am going to have to risk it because I am struggling to figure this out by myself.

These are the primary complications, as I see them:

  • She already owes me a pretty major debt that she will never really be in a position to repay. (Money is a big piece of it, but so are things like emotional support.) I am fine with that as an isolated fact, but she interprets this as owing me her life. Regardless of how true that is, my decision to help has created an imbalance of power in our friendship and I do not like having that kind of responsibility or "power".
  • Neither of us is in a perfectly healthy mental state. We are both intermittently depressed and prone to suicidal ideation, and she has attempted to follow through at least once that I know of.
  • A lot of her issues stem from having to take care of her several kids and having to interact with her ex to do so; the rest stem from her current boyfriend frequently being distant because he is so focused on his schooling and career. A lot of my issues stem from my previous job basically killing my career, inability to win so much as a first date with anyone, and the knowledge that it is really hard for a single person, especially a male, to successfully adopt children.
  • Neither of us can just go somewhere else to vent. She does not have a lot of friends to talk about this kind of thing with. I have a few friends but do not feel comfortable talking to them about this kind of thing, certainly not asking them for help.


The following is a recent text conversation between us:

Her: Hey nearly_takuan we are days away from moving into our house and I'm being asked to leave my "friends" house tonight! I haven't started work yet and well... Can you please help me again? We need a motel room until Friday night.
Me: I don't approve of your friends telling you this at the last minute!
Her: Otherwise we'll be in the truck until then.
Her: Yes agreed.
Me: Um, how much do you need for that? I don't think I can get food stamps or unemployment just yet, so when I run out of savings I'll be out.
Her: They scream here and are super religious and so I stay to myself but when asked why they accused me of hiding something more yelling all leading up to we gotta get out.
One hour later
Me: So, um, what are you asking me to do?
Her: Sorry trying to line up a place.
Her: Ok I'm at the Quality Inn in city. Son's grandma paid for tonight. Can you call and pay for Thurs and Friday night? Number
Me: How much is that going to cost?
Her: $69+tax per night it's $76. Per night total.
Her: Next month I'll take you shopping on my food stamps to make up for it.
Me: That's not... you shouldn't go hungry just because I haven't been able to get a job yet.
Her: I get them on the 3rd so after work one day or a weekend. We won't go hungry don't worry. I wouldn't offer it if I couldn't afford it plus I owe you my life literally.
By now I have called the motel to try to pay for her.
Me: Lols their system is down.
Me: Think they'd hire me as a sysadmin? ;)
Her: Lol prob
Her: One more thing could you guys possibly watch the cat until Saturday or know someone who can?
Me: We can't. We stopped paying pet rent already and the apt managers already think we're doing something weird.
Me: Paid for the room.
Her: Thanks! We leave Saturday morning. Ex-husband is taking them to the new house Saturday afternoon! It's not easy to get to on the bus but it's a fun bike ride!
Her: Address
Me: Huh?
Her: We leave the hotel sat morn waiting for our house to be ready, these ppl kicked us out days before we were leaving anyway so rude
Her: Oh I said ex-husband is taking them bc boyfriend is picking me up Saturday morning to go to boyfriend's home overnight. So ex-husband is taking them from hotel we are going to tag team the kids lol
Me: I mostly wondered why you gave me the address?
Me: But how is boyfriend these days?
Her: So you can come visit silly. I finally have enough room for guests.
Me: Ohh. Heh, I'm dumb.
Her: He's in grad school. So you know..."tired but still lots to do"
Her: I hardly hear from him; I am a BIG distraction for him.
Her: We talked about it before he left it's still weird not to at least see him in classes and stuff. He's so intensely driven it's frustrating and admirable.
Me: Sucks that it stops you from seeing him much. Sounds like he still cares a lot about you though if you're a "distraction", eh? ;)
Her: Kind of :P I was offended at first.
Her: It's been like this a long time. He gets distracted so easy anyway and I make it nearly impossible. He stopped doing hw w/ me after one semester. :( Kind of a dream of mine to do hw with a partner.

Everything I thought of to say after this sounded stiff, even to me. So I did not text anything back and so far she has not said anything more than this either.

I am pretty sure I do not have romantic feelings or jealousy in this; the emotional blockage for me is a more abstract and general thing, in that I do not think I relate to what she is dealing with and I do not really want to (except for her sake, which is somehow not quite enough in this case).

I get the feeling she needs somebody to talk to. I do not think I am the right person for that, but it does not sound like she has anyone else. I want to help, but I do not want to be responsible for her.

Overall I still think the biggest piece of this is that power imbalance. I knew going into this that it would make things awkward between us, but I was not prepared for how true that was. I seem to have made myself a crutch for her, and I see no way to extract myself. Meanwhile I feel uncomfortable with the idea of "cashing in" favors with her because I do not know if she would refuse a request from me even if it inconvenienced her greatly.

I do not know exactly what I am looking for here, except that I might react poorly if someone attempts to suggest I need to develop more empathy for her situation or that in some other way I am being insufficiently compassionate. Guidance on how to navigate this, perhaps, if such a thing exists? Maybe it will turn out to be enough that I felt more or less able to vent here, for now.
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Re: With Great Power...

Post by celette482 on Wed Oct 29, 2014 3:30 pm

Are you feeling like you need to reset the relationship? Like... "Let's forget that the debt exists. entirely"? Loaning/borrowing money can be a real challenge to any sort of relationship. Are you agreeing to help her find a place to live because you want to, or because you feel bad saying no?

Do you like her/like your relationship/like spending time with her/like hearing from her *outside* this interaction? In other words, are you glad that you are friends at this moment?

If you had to and if she wasn't going to be inconvenienced, would she help you out/would you be comfortable helping her out? Sometimes reciprocation is either totally impossible or a thing that needs to wait for a long time. If we like the other person, it can be worth it to give without any certainty that reciprocity will occur or when it will happen. Not because we have to buy our friendship, but because we care about the other person, are confident that were the situation reversed they would do the same, and because the world is built on these sorts of informal social networks.

That being said, it doesn't make you a *bad* friend at all if you can't help this time, even if you really want to. Nor does it make you a *bad* friend if you don't really want to help for whatever reason. I have a lot of very good friends whom I love that I would nevertheless not go to for money if I needed it and I would think hard before loaning money to them.

Life, emotional, financial, fill in the blank, is a lot like those aircraft safety instructions. Don't place an air mask on someone else until yours is firmly in place. Sometimes we have to put ourselves first?
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Re: With Great Power...

Post by eselle28 on Wed Oct 29, 2014 4:12 pm

I am, essentially, a fairly unkind and selfish person. In your situation, I would tell the woman in question exactly what my boundaries were in terms of topics of discussion and my ability to help her. Neither would be zero, but neither would be what she's asking of you, either. You are probably a nicer person than I am and may want to be a bit gentler about things, but I would still as a not-nice person advocate setting out some specifics for her.

For whatever it's worth in terms of perception? I was way toward the end of your post before I figured out that this woman wasn't your mother or your sister. I didn't pick up romantic jealousy at all, and...well...you do seem to be as involved in this woman's personal life as relatives would be. Sometimes that's a good thing (I know at least as much shit about my BFF's family as his sister does) and sometimes it's a sign that things are a little too intertwined. But at least you shouldn't feel worried your intent is being misinterpreted.
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Re: With Great Power...

Post by reboot on Wed Oct 29, 2014 4:33 pm

To me it sounds like the thing you can do to help her the most is help her connect with support services, be it counseling, housing, etc.
If I remember correctly, you are in Portland area, right? Here are some social service resources that might be helpful: http://www.rosecityresource.org/resources/transitional-housing

And I also do not think you are coming off as jealous. Concerned, yes, but that makes sense since your friend and her children are at risk of homelessness
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Re: With Great Power...

Post by nearly_takuan on Wed Oct 29, 2014 5:38 pm

celette482 wrote:Are you feeling like you need to reset the relationship? Like... "Let's forget that the debt exists. entirely"? Loaning/borrowing money can be a real challenge to any sort of relationship. Are you agreeing to help her find a place to live because you want to, or because you feel bad saying no?

Do you like her/like your relationship/like spending time with her/like hearing from her *outside* this interaction? In other words, are you glad that you are friends at this moment?

If you had to and if she wasn't going to be inconvenienced, would she help you out/would you be comfortable helping her out? Sometimes reciprocation is either totally impossible or a thing that needs to wait for a long time. If we like the other person, it can be worth it to give without any certainty that reciprocity will occur or when it will happen. Not because we have to buy our friendship, but because we care about the other person, are confident that were the situation reversed they would do the same, and because the world is built on these sorts of informal social networks.

That being said, it doesn't make you a *bad* friend at all if you can't help this time, even if you really want to. Nor does it make you a *bad* friend if you don't really want to help for whatever reason. I have a lot of very good friends whom I love that I would nevertheless not go to for money if I needed it and I would think hard before loaning money to them.

Life, emotional, financial, fill in the blank, is a lot like those aircraft safety instructions. Don't place an air mask on someone else until yours is firmly in place. Sometimes we have to put ourselves first?

When she first asked me to help her pay her rent, I knew that she would want to repay that loan, that she would not have the means to do so for a very long time, and that I would not hold anything against her if she never paid me a cent back. I assumed the last point was enough to make it okay; I'm realizing much too late that it might not be. The same goes for when I later basically agreed to be an emotional outlet for her: I knew she might never be emotionally stable enough to reciprocate that, but I sensed that this was something she needed and at the time I was able to provide it. I foolishly did not anticipate that I would have trouble turning it off later.

I do like being her friend. She is energetic, is fun to be around, and has a passion for mathematics unequaled by almost anyone I've ever met, and her sons are frankly adorable too.

Because she grew up in a level of poverty that makes my upbringing look wealthy, I wouldn't dream of asking her for money. (I wouldn't ask most people for most things, anyway, but I think that's a separate hang-up.) And even though today I am no longer financially secure, I do not regret helping her with that. I do feel like she would have done the same for me if it were within her means.

Something that is within her means is that, having grown up here, she has more personal and professional connections than I do. As a friendly person who is also a parent who is also supportive of teachers and enthusiastic about maths, she also seems to have at least a little bit of clout with various educators and people in education-related professions. If I were to ask her for help with anything, it would be that.

eselle28 wrote:I am, essentially, a fairly unkind and selfish person. In your situation, I would tell the woman in question exactly what my boundaries were in terms of topics of discussion and my ability to help her. Neither would be zero, but neither would be what she's asking of you, either. You are probably a nicer person than I am and may want to be a bit gentler about things, but I would still as a not-nice person advocate setting out some specifics for her.

Yeah, perhaps I'm over-complicating this after all. Talking to people while they're depressed can sometimes feel like walking on eggshells, but maybe I can try to read when she's not feeling depressed/suicidal to bring it up (which should be easier now that I have a somewhat open invitation to visit her in person). I really don't want her to think she's done anything wrong, but even outright stating that can sound false during a fit of depression. The alternative is bringing up something I don't want to talk about so I can tell her that I'd prefer we not talk about it, but that's a better kind of awkwardness than either one of us beating ourselves up for being a horrible person.

eselle28 wrote:For whatever it's worth in terms of perception? I was way toward the end of your post before I figured out that this woman wasn't your mother or your sister. I didn't pick up romantic jealousy at all, and...well...you do seem to be as involved in this woman's personal life as relatives would be. Sometimes that's a good thing (I know at least as much shit about my BFF's family as his sister does) and sometimes it's a sign that things are a little too intertwined. But at least you shouldn't feel worried your intent is being misinterpreted.
That is a relief! I was kind of worried that my intent in asking about her S.O. (which was, roughly, I have intuitively sensed that you want to talk about this, so go ahead) might not come through via text message.

reboot wrote:To me it sounds like the thing you can do to help her the most is help her connect with support services, be it counseling, housing, etc.
If I remember correctly, you are in Portland area, right? Here are some social service resources that might be helpful: http://www.rosecityresource.org/resources/transitional-housing

Hey, thanks for the link—we've found a place for her to stay for now, but that will probably be helpful in the future. Suggesting to other people that they attend counseling is kind of tricky and delicate too, I think, but I'll think about where and when and how I might be able to have that conversation too. My instincts are that it will go most smoothly if I recite all of hardships she's currently dealing with and those that she's already overcome, and then point out that that much shit is definitely worthy of some counseling. Again, not likely to be helpful when she's already feeling down, pretty likely to have to come from out of the blue when she's not, but the latter's clearly preferable.
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Re: With Great Power...

Post by reboot on Wed Oct 29, 2014 5:56 pm

Suggesting counseling is tough, but hooking her up with a group that helps with housing and offers different types of counseling would be the way to go. Let someone else suggest it Smile

I strongly recommend getting her the information on emergency, transitional housing because it sounds like she is good for now, but no one knows how long it might last. There are also a couple of links to places that will temp foster pets that she might want handy
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Re: With Great Power...

Post by nonA on Wed Oct 29, 2014 7:59 pm

Seconding everything Reboot is saying.

Especially, just from what you said there may easily be a biochemical component to what she's going through.  There's nothing wrong with suggesting that she see a shrink when she's suicidal.  Her issues are way above your pay grade.  The best way you can leverage the debt she feels that she owes you is to get her talking to trained, qualified professionals.

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