Monday, September 19, 2011

She's an Agony Aunt

Posted By on Mon, Sep 19, 2011 at 8:58 AM

Dear Jack,

My girlfriend is what is affectionately termed an "Agony Aunt." I call her a loser magnet, and yes, I am aware of the irony.

Take a room full of people and put her in it. If one of those people has a mental disorder, he or she will find and latch onto her, track down her phone number and where she lives and move into the room above the garage, all before she has even left the room. They usually promise to clean the house in exchange for rent.

The phone at our house rings constantly. We screen all our calls. The current loser rings up five or six times a day just to chat. Chatting consists of hours spent describing in excruciating detail the latest melodrama of her worthless relationships. Relationships this human derelict would rather die than end, as apparently she needs someone to abuse her in order to feel alive.

For the most part, these emotional vampires are sane enough to avoid permanent institutionalization. Mores the pity. I say "for the most part" because there was one who used to call from her hospital bed. So far, we've gotten lucky in that she hasn't attracted the attention of someone truly dangerous. So far, they've been relatively harmless idiots. But that can't last forever.

I have offered, many times, to resolve these situations for her, but my girlfriend has a heart that just won't stop bleeding. She cringes at the sound of a ringing phone or knocking door, but she can't bring herself to tell these people to go away. The few times I've intervened, it only made her mad. My methods work, but they are not to her liking.

How do you get rid of a bloodsucking leech without hurting its widdle feelings? My girlfriend would like to know. She doesn't want to be an agony aunt anymore, and I don't want to wake up one morning to find our cat nailed to the door as a warning.

Riding Shotgun

Dear Rider,

Yes, I can see your girlfriend has quite the problem on her hands.

The first step to getting rid of unwanted visitors and callers is to give up the habit of telling pleasant lies in order to spare their feelings. Most of them have already heard every lie in the book and will ask right away, "Well, when will you be done? When can you talk again? Can I call back in ten minutes?" And then you're stuck. It's often easier to sit quiet than make up convincing lies. That's what makes her an agony aunt. She's an easy mark.

If she wants to stop being an agony aunt, she will have to understand that what would hurt her feelings probably won't hurt theirs. They're used to rejection. Maybe she's already noticed that after they've told her all their stories, they stop calling quite so often. She may not hear from somebody for weeks, until the next crisis happens. She feels relief, rather than rejection, but the truth is they've already found someone new. They're only using her, so she shouldn't feel bad about saying no. They are used car salesmen of their emotions. They hear no all day, every day.

There is a fine art to saying no. Not everyone can do it. To do it well requires a certain level of grace, charm, and ruthless self-discipline. You have to define the limits of your life and never let anyone cross them. Don't be an ass about it. You can tell someone no and even say it with a smile. When the phone rings, you say, "No thank you, I can't talk right now, I'm spending time with my boyfriend." And then say goodbye, and hang up. Do that a few times and it gets easier every time. Do that every day and the phone will stop ringing. Eventually.

But before you go transmuting her heart of gold into a heart of iron, be warned. You may not like the person you create. She might start saying no to you, too. One day, she might even kick you out of the room above the garage.

Got a problem? Jack Waggon will set you straight:

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