Make It Stop: “My Just-Dumped Friend Needs More Of My Time Than I Can Give”

My friend “Lana” recently got dumped by her boyfriend. I’m happy to lend an ear and be a shoulder to cry on, but now she wants to hang out all the time. However, I have a challenging job and family members with serious health issues, so honestly, I’m spread thin. How do I set some boundaries without making her feel like I’m ignoring her?

Ah, the recently dumped. Yes, they need lots of love. Yes, they need lots of attention. No, the heartbroken person can’t dominate your schedule for the foreseeable future.

It’s totally understandable why she’s seeking you out. You sound like an incredible friend who takes the role seriously. But that doesn’t mean that you have to play her personal on-call psychiatrist whenever she feels emotionally wobbly.

I’m not blaming Lana, but as anyone who has gone through a breakup can tell you, self-pity is a seductive charmer. You get to wallow in those sweet, sweet “woe is me” moments. But after the tubs of Talenti sea salt caramel gelato, after the cocktails with friends where your heartbreak is the #1 topic of discussion, after the moping around in your pajamas until 4pm, you need dust yourself off and move forward.

In your dream scenario, what time commitment to Lana are you comfortable with? Maybe it’s one night during the week and one night during the weekend. Or maybe it’s two hour-long phone calls a week, with one happy hour tossed in. Be as detailed as possible with what’s realistic and let your answer be your guide.

Once you figure out your dream availability, be proactive. Tell her, “Hey girl! I’m free on Tuesday for happy hour or Saturday night for dinner. Either of those fit your schedule?” The idea is that once you two carve out time for her to vent, she won’t seek you out so much in-between, as she knows she’ll have your undivided attention soon.

If she tries to hijack your time with incessant calls or pleas to hang out, be understanding and upbeat. Say, “I saw that you called. I can’t talk now, but I promise I’ll be all yours when I see this weekend!” If you want to set boundaries, that’s the best way to do it.

One thing to keep in mind; it’s not always a bad thing to be unavailable to the emotionally needy. In fact, maybe constantly re-hashing her breakup with you is making it worse and stunting her healing process. Every time she tells you her pain, she re-lives it. It’s not exactly the healthiest dynamic.

And maybe leaning on you is preventing her from going out into the world and finding new friends to connect with. People who don’t know her ex. People who bring out the best in her, the parts of herself that she might have neglected during her doomed relationship.

I promise you, Lana will be fine. Keep being the supportive friend you’ve always been, but do it on your terms. The quicker she puts her breakup behind her, the happier both of you will be.

Make It Stop is a weekly column in which Anna Goldfarb — author of “Clearly, I Didn’t Think This Through” and the blogger behind the blog, Shmitten Kitten — tells you what’s up. Want a fresh take on a stinky dilemma? Email [email protected] with the subject “Make It Stop.” She’ll make it all better, or at least make you laugh. Girl Scout’s honor.