Dear Abby: My wife and I have a friend, "Cara," who lives in another state. It's not a very reciprocal friendship. Cara calls us frequently, but wants to talk only about her problems, which are never-ending. When she visits, she demands our full attention at all times. Frankly, we find her exhausting and would like to cut her out of our lives.
Our worry is that we are some of the few friends Cara has left. She has alienated most of her other friends as well as her parents, sometimes over trivial matters. We know she's depressed and has emotional issues, and we suspect she may have a mental illness. She has been suicidal in the past, but now refuses to see her therapist.
We're worried that if we don't continue serving as her talk therapy – which we find draining – Cara might become so depressed she'll hurt herself. How do we extricate ourselves from this relationship while still doing the right thing? – Worn Out But Worried in Chicago
Dear Worn Out: You and your wife are well-meaning, but neither of you is qualified to be Cara's therapist. Allowing her to monopolize your time and sap your energy may momentarily lessen her pain or anxiety, but it hasn't – and will not – give her the tools she needs to fix what's wrong.
You can extricate yourselves by encouraging her to talk to a mental health professional. It doesn't have to be the therapist she no longer wants to see, but it does need to be someone who has the training to help her. You should also shorten the length of the conversations. This is happening to you because you are allowing it.
Dear Abby: My husband and I are retired and enjoy going out for a nice dinner occasionally. We go to chain restaurants, hotel restaurants and local dinner establishments. We order lighter meals than we used to, and with the cost of dinners these days we have been finishing our entire meal.
Our problem is that again and again, our server makes a comment about our finished plates. It might be, "You were really hungry, I see!" or, "Wow! You really enjoyed that!" It is uncomfortable to hear these comments about our eating habits and it spoils our enjoyment.
This may be an attempt on their part to be friendly, but we don't like it. How do we let them know this is crossing the boundaries of professional behavior? – Embarrassed in Charlottesville, Va.
Dear Embarassed: I hope you realize that for many people this would not be a problem. You needn't be confrontational – all you need to calmly say is, "When you say that, it makes me uncomfortable, so please don't do it again." No servers want to offend a guest, and they are not mind readers. However, they are all aware that their tips depend on how their service is regarded by customers – so I'm sure your comment will be taken to heart.
Dear Abby: Is it possible for a man to be in love with two women at the same time? – Name Withheld in Virginia
Dear Name Withheld: Yes, I think so – and it is usually for different reasons. The same holds true for women. However, for a lasting relationship, people have to choose the one partner who has more of the qualities they think are most important.
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.