Late Twenties Failure To Launch
January 11, 2011 7:55 AM   Subscribe

I have a friend who needs to get out there and do something with herself, but seems to stall just before taking the plunge. How do I get her over her failure to launch?

My girlfriend, who we will call Erin, who has been dead in the water for years, it seems like. I'd like to help her go out and experience life and achieve her dreams, or at least take her licks and be a stronger person for it. Without laying down any ultimatums, this really has to happen or I don't think I can be her friend anymore.

First, I'm sorry for how long this has grown. It's an anonymous post, and I want to get in pertinent background information and analysis while I can. First, snowflake-y history, probably skippable for the more meta stuff later:

I've been her friend for about four years now, and within the first year of knowing her, she left her job. She tried her hand at being a semi-professional artist. She set up an Etsy site, got her stuff into local community spaces, and all the stuff that a good starting local artist should do. But nothing really sold for a while and it sort of fizzled out. Meanwhile, she didn't engage in any sort of job search.

While this was happening, Erin and I became a couple and I moved in with her. In retrospect, we were romantically entangled in an extremely unhealthy codependent fashion. As the lease came to an end, she made it clear that she wanted to go on an adventure to find herself.

I moved into another housing situation and instead going on an adventure... Erin moved in with me. I squared this with new roommates and dealt with the fallout of another person in the household. A season passed, and the same sort of thing: She wanted to move to the desert southwest, where she had someone who could set her up with a cool job. And that never panned out because she didn't really pursue it.

Another lease, and another place to live. That was last fall. I had a tough conversation which basically said that our relationship is poisonous and codependent and needs to change. The numerous Metafilter threads on that topic were extremely helpful (thanks hivemind!). We managed to stay together with the understanding that she couldn't live with me anymore, beyond visiting for a night or two, among other things.

That was a very good thing for our relationship, but has left Erin homeless in theory. She's been couch surfing for nearly four months, and I get the sense that she's going to wear out her welcome at many places simultaneously and be stuck in an impossible situation. Meanwhile, she's been looking for jobs in warmer climates. She secured an assistant job on the other side of the country--travel costs included--with what seemed like a friendly and professional person. I think she didn't push it hard enough, and the job seems to have evaporated. When pressed, she admits to no Plan B.

I learned this last yesterday, and I don't have the social tools to begin work out my feelings or actions, which is where the hivemind comes in.

So three questions:

First, how do I convince Erin to re-begin her life? I'm of the opinion that doing something that kinda sucks is better than doing nothing at all, and right now she's doing nothing. To be clear: nothing appears to be browsing the net, reading, and spending time with friends. Noble pursuits to be sure, but not as a full-time occupation. I get the sense that she's not seriously pursuing any particular avenue of opportunity. She's in her late twenties and doesn't seem engaged with the mechanics of self-sufficiency.

Second, how do I handle the situation where she doesn't do anything? How do I bring that up in conversation? "Hey, so, I can't be your friend until you have a place to live and a job to pay for it?" -- That seems really callous, but that's basically how I feel right now.

Third, how do I bring up my concern that she's wearing out her welcome at her various connections? And how do I make it clear that my place isn't an acceptable landing pad of last resort?

throwaway email: (can't believe that's not taken!)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You can't, you shouldn't, you don't need to.

You're still in a co-dependent entanglement if you believe that you have some responsibility to save her from herself. If she crashes and burns it will be hard to see, of course, but it will be the only way she takes initiative on her own.
posted by liketitanic at 8:08 AM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

It must be draining to be around a person like that. I've shared housing with people who were constantly making plans with no real intentions to pursue them. I had a hard time talking to them — they wanted me to participate in their fantasies, maybe even fantasize together about how "wouldn't it be nice when…" No, thank you!

My response to those people was sympathy mixed with pity, but those two things can't form the basis of a healthy relationship. You've been together for four years. Is there any reason why you're still together, except your feelings of duty and obligation? You can't take her life into your own hands, and you can't make her do things with her life. Her life seems to be stuck in a downward spiral.

In your place, I would stay in contact with her and offer help, advice, and support. But staying in a relationship with her will only be to your (and her) detriment.
posted by Nomyte at 8:11 AM on January 11, 2011

Just the simple fact that you started this thread shows that you are still intertwined with her problems.

Cut her off from you and cut yourself off from her - in a nice way, obviously - but do it. Neither of you will move forward with each of your in each other's picture.

Stop worrying about her well being and landing on her feet. In fact, your meddling in her life could possibly be the worst thing for her. She is a grown up and can handle her problems.
posted by lampshade at 8:12 AM on January 11, 2011

Why is it that you can't be her friend while she is aimless? Just wondering. It seems like you've done a great job of asserting your boundaries, which is really the only thing you can do in this kind of situation. However, I'm guessing that what bothers you is that you still feel a responsibility for her ("how do I bring up my concern that she's wearing out her welcome at her various connections?").

"how do I convince Erin to re-begin her life?"

You don't. A late-twenties person needs to step up and take charge of their own life*. The natural consequences of her (in)action will be a great teaching tool for her. It is not your job (or your place) to "save" her. Be strong when these consequences start to fall into place, you might be tempted to back down on your initial boundaries.

*Is she depressed? You don't mention any particular distress on her part, but obviously depression and anxiety can lead to amotivation and avoidance. If you think this is what is going on for her, then it would be a kind thing to help her locate some resources to deal with those issues, but if she's just kind of....unconcerned about her situation, then let her be.
posted by Bebo at 8:13 AM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

It really isn't your problem and it's disingenuous to take this on as a sort of project.

You are friends with a person because of who they are, not because of who they could potentially become. As is, Erin isn't someone you want to be friends with. Why is it easier to try and change her than just accept that and move on?
posted by hermitosis at 8:13 AM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

As stated above, you can't save her. But you can tell her that you're worried she's going to wear out her welcome at her couchsurfing spots and that if she does, you Can't Take Her In. That way you're maintaining the boundary you set for yourself (go you!) while still showing that you care what happens to her.

If that turns into a conversation about what her Plan B could be, good. But it's not up to you to figure it out or help anymore.
posted by ldthomps at 8:16 AM on January 11, 2011

Second, how do I handle the situation where she doesn't do anything? How do I bring that up in conversation? "Hey, so, I can't be your friend until you have a place to live and a job to pay for it?" -- That seems really callous, but that's basically how I feel right now.

I must say that I am getting increasingly tired of these AskMe threads which ask for some sort of magic solution for having a difficult conversation with a friend to meet their own needs without hurting the friend's feelings.

The answer, as I have posted in many other threads, is that you have a right to protect yourself - and in your shoes, I would be thinking of the same thing - but you must accept the consequences of that behaviour.

To help yourself deal with the consequences, therapy to deal with your fear of being callous and your half of the codependency (the validation you get from helping her); talking with another friend and getting support there; using your networks to find her other resources. But, as my friend's sister who is serving in Afghanistan posted on my friend's Facebook the other day:

posted by By The Grace of God at 9:24 AM on January 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Are you still a couple? You said you managed to "stay together" despite having her move out. I think you need to break up with her so she can really feel like she can move away. Not saying the relationship is why she stays, but it surely doesn't help.
posted by elpea at 9:32 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can sometimes be like Erin.

And here's the thing.

I have a perfectly good life. I have achieved stuff. I have a job (usually...) that I enjoy. I know I need to take more initiative. That's something I'm working on with myself, in therapy. No roommate or significant other can fix that for me.

If you don't like hearing about cloud-castle dreams that you know she's never going to take the initiative on, tell her you don't want to hear about it. Or maybe, "You know, you talk a lot about these things you're going to do, but then you never actually do them. Why don't we work on right now, first?"

If the problem is that she doesn't have a job and she's mooching off of you for rent and such, just stop supporting her. Tell her you won't pay her way anymore, and unless she gets a job she's going to have to move out on her own.

I'd keep the notion of breaking up or not being friends secondary, unless you think it's important to the codependency issue to completely get her out of your life (I don't know much about codependency).
posted by Sara C. at 9:38 AM on January 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Your continued efforts to fix what is essentially her problem & her problem alone are simply continuing the co-dependency dance. This is not your life. It is hers. She needs to fix it. If you fix it, you are simply enabling & encouraging the pattern of co-dependency between the two of you.

Take out the safety net. She will either catch herself or fall. Either way, it will not be your fault. My money, though, says she catches herself by latching on to the nearest alternate human being willing to support her.

And while she's busy figuring out that you're not going to be her fix-it person anymore, YOU need to take a long hard look at YOUR role in the co-dependent pairing. Because it really does take two people to dance this dance, and you really want to avoid getting more of the same with your next partner.

Good luck.
posted by Ys at 9:39 AM on January 11, 2011

Just saw the thing about your concern that she's going to wear out her welcome with her couchsurfing enablers - that's not your problem. If she burns bridges with all her other friends and has nowhere else to go, that is her concern.
posted by Sara C. at 9:39 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was exactly where your friend is, and am only just starting to pull myself out of it. My decision to move forward is mostly due to dissatisfaction with myself and acceptance of reality. But a very imporant component of this was a good friend who convinced me to get therapy (I was depressed), and even sat me down one day and forced me to write a resume (actually, he pretty much wrote it for me while I dictated). He gently but firmly told me that I had wasted enough time, and had to move on.

I'm glossing over a lot of stuff here, and I don't know what you and your friend are like. I agree with the other posters' general advice about setting boundaries and not supporting her. But if you sense that she might be on the cusp of moving forward, and if you can push her with a little tough love and help her out with a little of the legwork, it might provide the jump-start that she needs.
posted by ambulatorybird at 10:18 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

The first thing that came to mind when I read your post was that Erin sounds depressed.

I tend not to believe in the concept of "codependency." (Short version of why: I delved into support groups for it and books about it when I thought I was codependent, and came away believing that our uber-individualistic culture punishes people who try to help others by labeling them as having an incurable, progressive disease. It's more complex than that. Twelve Steps, meet anthropology degree!)

That said, it is possible to become worn out helping someone else, and that the person being helped will come to rely on you too much. (It doesn't mean you're sick, though).

So, you're at that point. You might want to try sitting down with Erin to talk about her possibly being depressed. A sort of intervention, maybe. If she's too depressed to get her own help, you could try to support and empower her to do so.

This actually worked for me when I was in an Erin-like mode. When my friends told me I seemed depressed and should get help, it really turned on a light for me. For one thing, all my friends agreed that I seemed depressed and they were concerned. For another thing, they didn't judge. They had all been depressed and gotten therapy for it, and had really gotten something from the therapy.

I wasn't too depressed to call a counselor myself or to get myself to my own appointments even with no car. It was very empowering, actually.

My friends also made it clear that my depression was draining for them, and I worked on not being the Friend With all the Problems so I wouldn't lose them. It sounds like Erin's level of depression is similar to mine (dysthymia), so expect her to be capable of at least some action. (If she's got the energy to hang out with friends, she's got the energy to go to therapy).

If you (and maybe some of her other friends) have a few concerned, non-judgmental conversations with Erin about depression, you can rest assured you've done your part. You don't have to continue to drain your energy helping her if she's unwilling to help herself, even a little.

And it's okay to step back on your relationship if you are too drained by her. Life is short and you don't owe her anything.

MeMail me if you like.
posted by xenophile at 10:43 AM on January 11, 2011 [10 favorites]

Maybe she's happy doing what she's doing? I just don't see anywhere in your post where she's asked for your help, I'm not meaning to be snarky. Also, are you still dating her or no? Do you want to fix up her life because you're hoping to marry her? I'm just unclear.
posted by sweetkid at 12:38 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

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