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by Abigail Van Buren

Woman Is Trapped by Guilt in an Accidental Friendship

DEAR ABBY: Years ago, I was friendly with a man from work who was very close to his mom. She came along with us once for lunch and ended up really liking me. From that point on, whenever he and I would get together for lunch, she would tag along.

At one point, without my permission, he gave her my phone number, and she began calling me. A little has turned into a lot. She contacts me every day via text or phone, almost always to complain about something in her life. She always wants to get together for lunch and is constantly asking me for favors, including rides to work (we do not have the same job or the same hours) or taking care of her dogs and cats while she's away on her various work trips.

I no longer speak to the man, but I speak to his mother every single day. She considers me a dear friend and is a very sensitive person with obvious abandonment issues. My problem is, I have zero desire to be this woman's friend. We are very different in pretty much every way imaginable. I get together with her, respond to her messages, answer her calls and do favors for her out of guilt, not wanting to be yet another person who kicks her to the curb.

How do I handle this? Should I continue to allow her to use me for favors and as a sounding board for all her various complaints, or is there a way to gracefully bow out without breaking this woman's heart? -- WALKING A FINE LINE IN ILLINOIS

DEAR WALKING: A way to bow out would be to start weaning her. Do not make yourself available to the extent that you have. Screen your calls and resist the impulse to be so helpful. It's all right to have other plans you need to attend to instead of being at her beck and call every day. This is how people distance themselves gently.

The alternative would be to stop responding at all, which would be cruel. While you are no longer close to her son, contact him, tell him what has been going on and ask if he can help with this.

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