Question: One of my best friends since childhood announced her engagement to her on-again-off-again, abusive, freeloading, alcoholic boyfriend. She left him last year after he nearly killed her and she made some headway in life, but ultimately returned to him. I spent many hours counseling her and even giving her money to plan her escape. She knows exactly how I feel about him, which is probably why I was the last to find out about her engagement.
I don't even know how to go about feigning a "congratulations." I pretty much know the drill . . . if I don't support her, I lose a friend. And if I do support her, I'll feel as if I'm aiding and abetting a really bad decision.
Answer: Don't feign; that dishonors the friendship.
Please also see that "I lose a friend" is not the serious consequence here. Withdrawing means she loses the lifeline you are to her.
So be honest but steadfast: "I won't BS you - you know how I feel. Please also know I want you to be happy, and am here for you when you need me. However, whenever." You likely can't be the friend who joins them for casual dinners, but you can be one who won't judge her. That's the friend she'll call if and when she's ready to (re)take that step.
Question: I'd be interested in hearing your take on the age-spread dating rule of not dating anyone younger than half your age plus seven. I know there are exceptions to every rule, but I also know that wherever these truisms come from (and where do they come from?), there is usually some reality and meaning behind them.
If it helps, in this case, the woman is in her 20s and the man in his 40s. The woman is not mature for her age; rather, if anything, the opposite. Haven't met the man, but he has never been married and has no kids. The woman believes that if two people really love each other, then what does age or age difference matter? I'm trying to be vague so as to not to flavor the question.
Obviously, staying in or getting out of this relationship is a decision that she needs to make. I'm just hoping for some light-shedding.
Answer: My take is that you're trying to find a number to back you up on your objection to the man your daughter - right? - is dating. It's like licorice, a tough flavor to conceal.
And to borrow from my favorite philosopher (Finn in Adventure Time): "That road you're on? Leads to nowhere" (bit.ly/1raXOVk). The harder you try to make a case against someone's choice - especially when that someone isn't entirely mature - the harder you can expect the pushback to be.
If this twentysomething is happy, then embrace that and back off.
If this twentysomething is not happy, then that's what you address with her, without using dubious mathematical formulas and without even pinning your concern to the guy. "I'm worried about you - you don't seem like your usual self."
You'll get the best results if you listen to her and respect her autonomy, and the worst results if you preach as if her life would be best lived as you envision it should be.
Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.