Dear Amy: After nearly 40 years, I recently caught up with an old college friend. It’s been nice to reconnect but I’m finding the friendship exhausting.
My friend, who lives three hours away, texts me many times a day and phones several times a week for an hour or more at a time.
He tells me he struggles with loneliness and is glad he has me to talk to. (He also has a professional therapist with whom he meets regularly.)
I feel bad for him but find my interactions with him draining.
I am currently under medical care for my own serious depression. I don’t think I have the emotional strength or expertise to continue to be the outlet for his loneliness.
What is the kindest way for me to put some boundaries around this friendship?
— Not A Therapist
Dear Not A Therapist: For you, the important issue of “self-care” requires that you learn how to set and maintain boundaries regarding people or situations that can affect your mental health. If you see a therapist regularly to treat your depression (I hope you do), your therapist could coach you through this process.
Because of my own workload and other time commitments, I’ve had success with “scheduled calls” with friends and family members. This process is just like making an appointment: If you want to talk to someone, you can text or email them and say, “Are you free to catch-up this Friday at around three?”
You can set the stage for some reasonable boundaries by not responding to texts over the course of the day and then answering — when you’re ready — “I am needing more quiet time to concentrate on my own health these days so I won’t always be able to respond in the moment. But maybe we can set up a time to have a call? That would be easier on me.” Having a scheduled call gives you both something to prepare for and possibly even look forward to.
You’ll see how your friend responds to you kindly stating your own needs.
Just as he is trying to have his needs met — you should do the same. Part of your boundary-setting will involve you understanding that you will not always be there for him in the moment, and that’s going to have to be OK — with both of you.
Dear Amy: I have severe social anxiety, especially since the pandemic.
I am extremely uncomfortable around anyone except my family.
My husband is very outgoing and enjoys meeting people.
New neighbors moved in next door (our driveways are right next to each other) and I’d like to welcome them with baked goods, but I don’t want them to come over to my house to thank me.
My thought was to send my husband over with the gift and attach a note saying something like this: “Welcome to the neighborhood. I have severe social anxiety, so cannot interact with you in person, but would love to meet you on the phone. My number is 123-123-1234.”
Do you think that would be too weird?
Dear Anxious: Because you’ve asked, I’ll say that first — I think it’s great that you want to acknowledge and welcome these neighbors, even though the thought of it is triggering some rumination and worry for you.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to do anything at all to welcome these new neighbors, so this is a generous impulse. Surely your husband will greet and interact with them personally across the driveway.
Second — the way you’ve phrased your note is slightly weird (as you put it).
I’d suggest: “Welcome to the neighborhood. I have some health issues and am not interacting much outside of my immediate household, but I’m available by text or phone if you have any questions or just want to say ‘hi.’ Here’s our number: …”
Dear Amy: “Eager Dad” wanted to contact the adult child he had fathered out of wedlock when both he and the child’s mother were cheating on their spouses.
You stated that everyone has a “right to their DNA heritage.” I disagree!
Why? Unless there is a pressing medical reason, then whose “right” is it, when the knowledge would hurt other people?
Dear Upset: DNA holds a key to a person’s very biological identity. Yes — DNA disclosures can often create immense challenges, but no one has the right to withhold this information. So yes, I do believe it is a basic human right to know the truth about their own DNA.
(You can email Amy Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)
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