Q&A: being a friend

Anonymous writes:

"Can we talk about being a friend? I'm having problems knowing how to be the best friend I can be to my best friend from college. She's desperate to have a husband and at least one child, and it's all she thinks about and talks about. The pain she's in about not being a mother is blocking out almost everything else in her life right now. The fact that we just turned 41 makes it way trickier because she really is running out of time.

The problem I'm having is this: I feel like she's got herself all tied up because she's convinced that she needs to find the right man and get married and have a baby with him. To me, it seems like she's running out of time to give birth, and if she wants to have a baby that's hers biologically (she does, for a variety of reasons) she should focus on that. Because her Prince Charming might never come, or he might come in 10 years, when it's too late.

So, basically, what I need to know is: How do I support her when it seems to me like she's letting this thing consume her and she's going in a direction that may actually be preventing her from getting what she really wants?

I'm starting to lose sleep and feel sick about it for her, and that's not good. And I don't even feel like there's much I can say because I'm happily married with three kids (it's my second marriage, but still).

There's got to be something I'm missing. Help."

Anonymous, I actually think you have plenty to say about this. This is your second marriage, and no matter who you had those kids with, that just goes to show that life doesn't work out the way you planned it.

If I'd gotten married to someone who was good for me and who I really had that connection, I'd probably be a happy mother of three living in a place that wasn't a crappy NYC walk-up apartment with no dishwasher or laundry on premises. But I'd also probably be the judgmental asshole I was back before I admitted that I'd made some massive mistakes, confronted why I'd made them and how to free myself from the crap that led up to it, and let myself experience the failure fully.

Everyone reading this right now has either had some life-changing event, where it was infertility or failure of a relationship you thought was forever, issues with your children you never anticipated, or even "just" the quiet pain of feeling like you're not living up to your own expectations. (If you haven't yet, you will.) We're all in various stages of it, with various amounts of emotional energy to help ourselves and to give to others.

And that's what makes this question so brutally hard. To me, it doesn't really matter what the actual issue is. We could talk about what's "best" for your friend all day. But the real issue here is how you support a friend when choices they make not only hurt them but start hurting your relationship. And it's a lot easier when the choice is something obviously bad, like addiction, having an affair, etc. Something like this, that is just quietly eroding her life and may be sending her in the wrong direction, is less obvious.

I am not good at standing by and watching people screw things up. So I'm really not the one to ask about how to keep your mouth shut. And it's not that I feel like they should do what *I* would do. It's just that I want them to trust themselves a little more, to know they're worth better than what they're accepting. It sounds like that's what you want for your friend, too.

Is there anyone out there who's good at being there without getting so connected to friends' decisions? If you are, can you tell me and Anonymous how to do it? Alternately, at what point do you just disconnect because it's affecting you too much?