...this very, very unhappy friend.
[Note: I've edited this a bit since I posted it 24 hours ago (so most of you probably got the general idea). It was good to vent and get it all out there, but I'm a very paranoid blogger, so I've removed or changed all potentially identifying information--even the stuff that was already veiled.]
Let's call him Nate.
So, I don't really know Nate very well. We met at a conference a few years ago and have only met in person a handful of times. But we've had a sporadic email correspondence and meet up when he's in town, and he's a pretty fun guy, if given to the occasional melodramatics.
But in the last few months his life has basically become terrible--at least, as he tells it to me. (For I have long suspected that Nate is in the habit of exaggerating things for dramatic effect. He's a good storyteller, and good storytellers, in my experience, seldom hold fast to the truth. Not that I think he's outright lying or anything.) Anyway, here's where my problem comes in:
I don't know what to tell him.
We've been emailing more regularly this summer after being out of touch for most of last year. And he writes these long miserable posts infused with this kind of bitter, self-deprecating humor, and I don't know what to say. I know, it's hard for me, isn't it? But when I write back trying to be supportive and encouraging, he basically tells me that the supportive encouraging things I say aren't true. News about my life only seems to spark more bitterness on his end, and I honestly don't know him well enough to know how to respond. It's starting to feel as though no subject is safe. It's grim. And combined with the fact that he answers my replies almost immediately--well, I've always got a message from him in my inbox, waiting to be answered. (It takes me a while to answer them. But when I wait too long, I feel guilty, because he's so miserable, apparently, and I don't want to add to his unhappiness.)
As I write this, I realize that I'm painting a pretty wretched picture. Of co-dependence, among other things. Am I enabling him? Well, maybe, but an email or two a week hardly seems morally objectionable. Also, in all fairness, he's not as bad as I've made him out to be. He's actually a very funny, bright person, even if his humor (in the best of times) is generally at his own expense. But I dunno...I'm feeling a bit sketched out by the whole thing, and I sort of dread answering his emails. At the same time, it costs me so little to maintain this tiny shred of support that I'm offering him. So I'm torn between wondering what I can do to cheer him up (or at least not make things worse) and wishing that his problems would go away for my own sake, which isn't a very pleasant feeling.
He's going to be in town right before I move, so I've promised to see him at least once then. Which will be fine, because I'm moving away right after that, so it's not like we can start up some kind of pattern. Also I think that I'm pretty good at keeping people at arm's length (whether I want to or not, unfortunately), so I'm not terribly worried about getting too sucked in (witness my 5-day response email response time!). I just feel kind of crummy about the whole situation, and that ain't good.