Ask Natalie

DEAR NATALIE: For a little over a month, I have been seeing a woman whom I find highly desirable and with whom I am quite enamored. She has confided a great deal in me in a short period of time, which I have let her know I appreciate. But one line of her candor was something I was not prepared to hear and did not want to hear: how she plans to end her life when she hits rock bottom, which she implies will be due to financial reasons. She seems to want to reassure me that this will not be "tomorrow" but "in 20 years" (when she will still be a relatively young woman). She even has a plan for how she will commit suicide, referencing the movie "Thelma and Louise," which ends with a car being driven into the Grand Canyon. 

I made it clear after the first time that this was upsetting to hear, yet she elected to tell me about it a second time. Why is she telling me this, I wonder. Is it simply to get a reaction out of me? What does one do with this information? I believe that if I suggested that she contact some type of crisis counselor, that she would pooh-pooh the idea and resent that I mentioned it. -- CONFUSED AND WORRIED

DEAR CONFUSED AND WORRIED: Discussing suicide is nothing to take lightly, but it sounds as though she is telling you this in a fantastical sort of way, almost as though it is a glamorous way to exit stage left, and not necessarily something she would actually try to do. 

The good thing is that she is discussing it with you. It means that while she is processing it as a viable option, the fact that she wants your opinion and insight leads me to think that she doesn't actually want to kill herself. When people want to do it, they do it. When people want someone to talk them out of it, they attempt it or discuss it, giving others the opportunity to step in. 

So step in. You are involved, unfortunately. I know you say that she would pooh-pooh the idea of a crisis center, but if someone is discussing suicide so openly and frankly with you, you have a moral obligation to let someone know. I would contact a local crisis center and say exactly what you have told me. 

Because she isn't threatening to harm herself immediately, counselors can't act on committing her, but they may be able to recommend outpatient therapy for her. Strongly encourage her to go. If she balks, she may just be engaging in attention-seeking behavior, which may have you looking for the exit soon enough. 

Give yourself boundaries. It's OK to say, "I really care about you, but unless you are going to therapy, I'd rather not discuss your plans for hurting yourself, no matter how far in the future it may be." Be careful, though. She may use this as a way to shut down, so be gentle in your approach. Unfortunately, there are a lot of sad, lonely people out there, and while they may be lovable and wonderful (even if they don't realize it), you can't save someone who doesn't want to be saved. 

NOTE: Anyone thinking about suicide should contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. 

Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Actions speak louder than words. Follow-through is the key to being a good networker. If you say you are going to email, call, text or whatever, make sure you do it within 24 hours to show that you are serious about making positive connections with people you are interested in. They will take note of your professionalism. 

Please send your relationship and lifestyle questions to nbencivenga@post-gazette.com or tweet them to @NBSeen. You can also send postal letters to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)

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