DEAR ABBY: I'm a single woman in my 20s who works hard and has friends I like and respect. One of them, however, "Ava," is making it hard for me to be around her. Ava is 38, never married, has had only one boyfriend in her life, and is very lonely. As a single person, I understand how that can feel.
It has become a daily ritual for her to come over to my desk for one of the following three reasons: (1) to talk about her loneliness and having nothing in her life to look forward to; (2) to borrow change because she has no money for doughnuts, a soda, etc; (3) to rub my back so I'll feel obligated to rub her shoulders that day. (I don't ask for the back rub, but I did once -- two years ago -- and now she thinks we have an unspoken agreement.)
When I offer advice on overcoming her loneliness, Ava ignores it. The money issue is also upsetting because she earns more than I do and is in terrible debt. I tell Ava repeatedly she needs counseling for her money problems and loneliness, but she refuses because she "doesn't need to see anyone." Also, the back-rubbing has gotten old. I'm not her personal masseuse.
How can I refuse without sending her into a deeper depression? I'm becoming mentally exhausted. She's a bottomless pit. I don't have any more answers; I've given all the answers I can give. -- EXHAUSTED IN MISSOURI
DEAR EXHAUSTED: This woman is not looking for answers from you -- she's using you to vent. The next time it happens, carefully observe her demeanor and your reaction to her unloading. The more tired you become, does she become more energized? If the answer is yes, then recognize that Ava is a "sapper" who draws her energy by depleting yours.
My advice is to withdraw slowly. When she asks for change, tell her you don't have any to spare. When the back rub starts, tell her nicely that you don't have time for it right then. Ditto when she begins dumping on you. You'll be doing the woman a favor, because as long as she has you to listen, she will never look for the help she needs.