DEAR NATALIE: My dear friend and her boyfriend have been together for years, and they recently became engaged. All of us are very close, and he and I often hang out when she can’t. However, last weekend we got really drunk and we ended up sleeping together. I know I made a huge mistake. Now I have no idea how to act around him because the whole thing has me feeling so uncomfortable. I’m worried he is going to say something to her or that he expects something from me. What do I do? Any advice? — CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE
DEAR CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE: Yikes. Uncomfortable? That is the word we are using here? How about, “I feel like a terrible person for betraying my dear friend’s trust.” How “dear” of a friend could she be if you willingly slept with her fiancé? Granted, he is the one who cheated, but you also cheated in a sense. You were not a loyal friend, and you broke major “girl code” here. I also sense that you are more concerned about what happens next as opposed to feeling terribly about what happened. The only way to deal with this is to admit the truth. She deserves to know because things are only going to grow more awkward around her and her fiancé as time goes on whenever you are around. Plus, if I was engaged and my fiancé cheated, I would want to know so I could throw the ring at his head. He probably will try to talk you out of telling her — for that reason — but she needs to know. You both deeply betrayed her, and you most likely will lose your friendship, but the guilt of living with what you did to her will eat you up inside if you don’t come clean. Own up to what you did. Don’t wait for him to admit the truth. Accept the consequences and work on yourself. You need to ask yourself why you would do this to a friend and what kind of person you want to be moving forward. Seems to me like you have a lot of work to do.
DEAR NATALIE: How can you be a supportive friend/girlfriend to someone who is really depressed? Sometimes, it gets really hard to be around someone you constantly feel like you have to lift up. Not only is it tiring and you run out of uplifting things to say, but it brings me down, too. If he doesn’t help himself, how can I help him? I don’t want to walk away and leave him stranded, but I can’t handle his depression. It’s been a year, now. It isn’t like this is a mini-phase he is going through. Clearly, he is depressed, and I am really worried.
— DEALING WITH A DOWNER
DEAR DEALING WITH A DOWNER: Many of us have probably been in a situation where you end up playing therapist to a loved one. It isn’t healthy for either of you to place yourself in this dynamic, and it can end up destroying relationships. All you can do is be loving and suggest that he seek support from a professional source. Perhaps he needs therapy. Maybe he needs medication to get him through this rough time. He may even need both. Whatever the situation, whether it’s an external force exerting itself on him or struggles within, he needs to acknowledge that there is no shame in reaching out. So many people suffer in silence, isolated and alone with their thoughts because of the societal stigma we needlessly place on mental health. If we break a bone, don’t we seek medical attention? When we find ourselves under the weather, don’t we take medication or provide ourselves space to rest and recover? Why don’t we do the same for our mental health? He may be internalizing the shame and stigma and unsure of what to do next. If you can reach out to your health care provider and find a few resources to help him, that would be a good start. Provide him with a list of supportive resources and see what happens from there. Explain to him that his mental health is important to you, but when he isolates himself, you find it hard to know what to do. Explain to him that you have noticed this for more than a year now and would like to support him in any way that you can. He may not even be aware of how it is impacting the people around him. He may just need a gentle nudge in a healthier direction. But remember, you cannot fix anyone. If he won’t work on himself and continues to be a negative force in your life, you may have to take a few steps back from the relationship.
Natalie’s Networking Tip of the Week: It takes time to build relationships, so don’t rush it. Trust builds as your friendship grows, so nurture your network to engage with people over time. It’ll make a difference to let it unfold organically.
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