Dear Wendy: “Should I Tell My BFF Her Ex Committed Suicide?”

I recently found out, through tracking rumors and calling people I haven’t talked to in years, that the high school sweetheart of one of my best friends committed suicide about three months ago. They broke up three years ago after a very tumultuous relationship, finally resulting in him hitting her in the face once, and her heading for the door for good. He had substance abuse problems, and a very difficult family situation, and would frequently contact my friend for the first two years following their breakup. He would be depressed, drunk, and trying to get her back. Every time. She cut off all contact with him, and I know that she doesn’t know about his death yet. The real issue here is whether or not I should tell her. On one hand, I don’t want to hide anything from her, but on the other hand, I’m worried about how she’ll react. She has dealt with severe depression herself, and has suffered some extreme hardships. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but worst of all, I think she will blame herself. Unfortunately she has never been one to handle these extreme emotions very well (not that I view that as a weakness, she’s just been through a lot), and depending on the timing, I’m almost afraid she’ll hurt herself. Even though he turned out to be bad news on the relationship front, remembering him from high school is a whole different story. He was, at least at some point, a wonderful person who was dealt many unfortunate hands in life, and part of me almost feels as though it would be a discredit to his memories if the love of his life remained unaware of his death. I’m so confused, and I’m not thinking clearly. Any thoughts? — Caring Friend

First, I commend you for being a thoughtful friend who’s really considering how this news will affect your friend. What you have to keep in mind here is that it truly is a matter of “when” she learns the news and not “if.” In this day of Facebook, blogging, and all the other social networking platforms, none of us is ever totally cut off from our former lives. Sooner or later, the news will work its way through the virtual grapevine until your friend hears that her former boyfriend, this person she had such a tumultuous relationship with and no doubt has complicated feelings towards, killed himself. Would you rather she found out through some random status update from another mutual connection, or from you, her best friend who can be there to support her as she processes the news?

If you decide to tell her, which I think you know is the best option, I suggest telling her in person and saying as little as possible: “I have some bad news that’s going to upset you. Recently, I learned that [HisName] committed suicide. I debated whether or not to tell you, but decided this was news you’d want to know and it would be better if it came from me.” And then let her process the information. Let her cry if she needs to, and talk about him and remember him fondly for a while, even if not all her memories of him are good ones. Before you say anything like, “Don’t blame yourself,” or “This isn’t your fault,” wait for cues from her. It may not even occur to her that she played any part in his suicide — especially because she didn’t — and you saying something like that may trigger those kinds of thoughts. Let her guide the conversation and just be there for her.

People deal with grief in different ways and your friend’s process will be even more complicated because of the history she had with this man. There’s no way to predict how she’ll react, so just be prepared to support her through whatever emotions she may feel. There are also two suicide hotlines you can share with your friend: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) and1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). If she needs to, she can call those numbers and get information about suicide groups (counseling groups for survivors of suicide) in her area or just talk with a trained professional about how she might be feeling.

Over the holidays, I met a friend of my roommate’s. He was visiting from another state. He’s cute and funny and just what I needed. We were out for drinks and when we returned (fueled by a text message argument with my ex), I basically attacked him. It was all me and I have no regrets. We spent some time together after that, hanging out. We talked on the phone, texted each other all while he was here. He just returned home, which is in another time zone. Before he left, he said he would send me a plane ticket to come visit him. I told him that I would. I guess the problem is that I don’t really know what we are. I was fine with just a hookup, but it seems like he wants more. Do you think it’s possible to start a relationship from 10 hours away? I’m trying to keep an open heart and mind, but need some guidance. — Hopeless Unromantic

As someone who married the man she started a relationship with from different parts of the country, I can say with confidence that, sure, it’s possible to start a relationship with someone who lives ten hours away. Whether that relationship will result in anything substantial or long-lasting is another question and dependent on many different factors, not the least of which is whether both parties are even truly available. I have to wonder, since you’re still having late-night, drunken text messages with an ex, if you’re really in the best place to start something new with someone else. When you say this friend of your roommate’s was “cute and funny and just what you needed” and that you were “fine with just a hookup,” it sounds a little like a rebound fling. If that’s the case, and you’re still entangled with your ex, you’d be leading this guy on if you visit him with the intention of exploring the potential for a relationship. But if you’re honest that you aren’t in a place to begin a relationship and that a visit would be strictly “for fun,” I don’t see any problem with seeing him. Just make sure you’re upfront about your intention — with yourself and the guy.

*Do you have a relationship/dating question I can help with? Send me your letters at [email protected]