“How Can I Help My Alcoholic Friend?”

I have two girlfriends that I have known for 15+ years, Laura and Becky. We have been there for each other through phases, relationships, marriages, childbirths, deaths, goals, etc. Becky moved away a few years ago, and so Laura and I don’t know her like we used to. Still, whenever we have gotten together, it has been like she never left. Last year Becky went to AA for an alcohol addiction. I hadn’t even known she had a problem. Months passed. We thought she was doing great. Then Laura told me that she suspected Becky had just swapped out one addiction for another. Before Laura filled me in on this, I had agreed to loan Becky $100.

Soon after, we met up at an event, and the group dynamic was off. Becky went to the restroom a concerning number of times throughout the night considering she claimed to be well and was not drinking. She denied doing anything, but she did admit that things with her and her husband were extremely tense because she had lied to him and he had caught her breaking her sobriety a couple of times. She mentioned that the word divorce had come up. When we tried to talk more about her responsibility for the problem, she shut down. While Laura and I headed off to bed, Becky stayed up into the wee hours of the morning doing God knows what. She spent the next morning in bed and could hardly get up to see the two of us off. We left disheartened and with me wishing I hadn’t gone at all. Laura tried talking to her about it once more a couple of days later, but she was brushed off again.

Becky promised to pay me back in two weeks, but it has been a month and two weeks now and I have still not been paid back, despite my telling her I need the money for renovations and an upcoming vacation (truth). She even asked Laura for money recently, and I told Laura it probably wasn’t a good idea. I am upset with Becky. I think her husband doesn’t even know I lent them money. I think she could have paid me back by now but hasn’t because she is wrapped up in a substance web: either directly owes for it, is borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, or just uses whatever funds she can get to acquire more. At the same time, that money will not make or break me, and our friendship is worth more than $100.

I should be a good friend to her in these bad times and not just the good times, right? But how? Laura wants us to do more to help, but if Becky can’t get sober for her kids and to save her marriage, then what can we possibly say or do to make her see the light? We discussed talking to her husband about it… but then thought that it wasn’t our place, she would be furious, and it might hurt instead of help. Besides, he lives with her and has caught her twice. Surely he has a good idea. With her living farther away and our not communicating as much as we used to, we really don’t know what all is going on anyway.

Last week I decided to not ask her about the loan anymore (not that I ever badgered her about it) and haven’t said anything since. She hasn’t reached out yet either. I don’t know where to go from here. Right now I am just floating and waiting. — WWWD – What Would Wendy Do?

Well, actually, without going into too much detail, I have been in a very similar scenario, so I can tell you what I would do in a literal sense and not just hypothetically. After about a year of trying to be a “good friend in the bad times” and seeing no success or improvement with my friend, and experiencing stress with the effort I was making, I backed way off and set boundaries for myself. I communicate much less frequently now, I have released myself of responsibility, and I have released my friend of responsibility — in my own head, not directly with her — of being the friend I want her to be. Friendships change, ours has changed. It doesn’t change the history we share or that I still care for her and want the best for her. But… at this time, I have done all that I care to do for her, and I am putting my own wellbeing before hers (as I would want her to do for herself), and that means creating solid boundaries and acknowledging (to myself) that she cannot be the friend I want and I am likely not the friend she wants (which is someone who looks the other way from her substance abuse, doesn’t ask too many personal questions, and basically acts like everything is honky dory when I know it isn’t).

There are lots of details I’m leaving out for obvious reasons, but the point is: I made more than enough effort to assuage myself of any guilt that I might otherwise have felt about not being a friend “through the bad times.” I was a really, really good friend. If I had to do it again, I actually would have stopped making an effort to be such a good friend earlier than I did. It had zero positive effect on her, and it had a negative effect on me (making me tired, angry, and resentful at the amount of time and energy I was sacrificing, which wasn’t fair to her, really).

My advice to you: Let your friend know you love her, that you are concerned for her, and that if at some point she needs help getting help, to let you know. This is not the same as promising “to do anything for her.” It’s not the same as promising to “always be there for her.” I would not make those promises as they can be misinterpreted and used later to manipulate you. Tell her you love her and then move on. If she decides she wants to get help and she’s burned other bridges, at least there will still be a bridge to you because you will not have burned out on her yet. But you will burn out if you keep trying to help someone who doesn’t want help and isn’t ready for it. You will burn out. I know from personal experience. And if being a good friend is your goal, burning out on the friendship isn’t going to get you there. Setting some boundaries early on that preserve your energy and good will toward your friend is the better path. That’s what I would do.

P.S. You’re not getting that $100 back, so consider it a gift to your friend and move on. And in the future, don’t loan money that you can’t afford to never see again.

My boyfriend, “Rob,” and I have been dating for two years, and we are inseparable. Both of our parents encourage our love for each other and think it’s rather adorable. The only issue is that when it comes to events hosted by Rob’s family such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc., my parents never attend.

My parents are divorced, but they are both heavily into my life. I have a good relationship with both of them, but I come from a much smaller family than does Rob – so family gatherings aren’t really our thing. I choose to go to Rob’s family parties because I know it makes him happy. But his family members have been non-stop bugging me for two years now as to why my parents don’t show up.

My dad has a family of his own and lives about 45 minutes away, so it’s understandable as to why he doesn’t come to get-togethers. But everyone in Rob’s family has a fascination about why my mother never comes. They are a little too bubbly and nosy in my opinion, which frustrates me because you’d think that, after two years of my mom’s not joining them, they’d get the hint. I understand the importance of family, but they go a little too far with making me feel like my parents aren’t good enough because they’re not having potato salad at a community center. The fact is, my mom is simply not a very sociable person and she likes to do her own thing. I’m thinking about telling Rob’s family that she doesn’t like being around a lot of people. I just don’t know if that sounds rude.

It’s getting to the point where even Rob is getting annoyed with his nosy family members. What do you think I should do? — Perplexed Pisces

I’ll never understand when people ask some version of the question: “Hey, so-and-so is being really rude to me and I want them to stop, but I don’t want to be rude by asking them to. What should I do?” The answer is simple: Either continue putting up with their rudeness, or bite the fucking bullet and take the risk of offending them by setting some boundaries. I vote for setting some boundaries. It is almost always the path of least resistance.

Here’s how you can set boundaries with Rob’s family and hopefully end their nonstop intrusiveness with limited risk of offense: The next time his family extends an invitation to your family for some get-together, say: “I am so appreciative of how much effort you’ve extended to include my family in your get-togethers, and I know my parents are touched by your effort, too, but it is unlikely they will actually take you up on the invitations any time soon. As you know, my dad lives farther away and has his own family that he’s busy with. And while my mom loves Rob and is so happy we’re together, she is not a social person, she feels uncomfortable in groups of people, and, coming from a small family, she’d not accustomed to large family get-togethers. It’s out of her comfort zone, and I don’t want to press her to step out of it if she’d not ready to. Thank you for being understanding about that.”

What I would NOT do is apologize. Women do too much apologizing, and there’s nothing for you to apologize for. Leave it as a thank you for their effort. And if it’s really important to Rob’s family that they get to know your parents for some reason, think about how and whether you can facilitate that on a smaller level that is more comfortable for your mother and maybe more convenient for your busy family-man dad. What about a dinner at your home for just the parents that isn’t centered around a special occasion and doesn’t include extended family? Or, what if some time around Mother’s Day, you and Rob take just your mothers out for a lunch or dinner. (Run the idea by your own mom first to see if that’s something she would even be interested in and comfortable with.) If your mother has certain limitations socially, try to work around them while also doing your best to honor Rob’s family’s interest in getting to know your parents.

In the end, I wouldn’t worry about this too much. It’s not even typical for parents of two people who are dating to, like, hang out and spend special occasions together all the time. It’s not even typical of parents of two people who are married to do this. Rob’s parents have a perspective that holidays are meant to be spent in large groups and they might feel sorry for your mother that she doesn’t have anyone to spend them with, especially since you are now spending every holiday with them apparently. (Which, you know, maybe you don’t have to always do? Maybe spend a Thanksgiving with your mom sometimes instead of always with Rob’s family just because “it makes him happy”?) Once you explain that large family gatherings have never been part of your upbringing and culture and that they don’t appeal to your mother, hopefully they’ll drop it.


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.


  1. Do a lot of people have their family join their partners family for major holidays? My wife’s family and my family do completely different things, and have for years before we ever knew each other, so I’m not sure why one side would expect the other to drop their traditions and join theirs. Am I missing something?

    1. The husband’s family (his parents) will likely join mine for Thanksgiving this year. They were also invited to my niece’s birthday party earlier this month… and they’re five hours apart so it requires travel. But the husband is an only child and our families get along really well.

      The only holiday we won’t combine is Christmas, but as you mentioned, both families prefer their own traditions for that one. Actually, the husband and I have decided to spend Christmas apart.

    2. My SIL’s family invites my parents to holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas) and such. It makes me happy because they fit in so well with them and gives them people to hang with for the holidays!

    3. LisforLeslie says:

      I join my sister’s in laws for some holidays. They’re nice. i like them. I buy wine.

    4. Mine don’t really but everyone lives on the opposite ends of the country. My in laws, however, did go to my home town for a week recently and hung out with my dad, Nanna and assorted aunts/uncles and cousins. It was totally their own idea and they had a great time apparently. None of them had spent much if any time together (I think they’d only met my dad at the wedding) but it went well.

  2. I think it depends on the family.

    In my first marriage, our family never co-mingled. Neither family exchanged invites.

    In my current marriage, we do whole family gatherings for Thanksgiving and Christmas. His and my family gather – lots of grandparents, aunts, uncles an cousins. Everyone makes those holiday dinners. Kids bdays are a combo of families depending on scheduled. No one gets upset if they can’t make it.

  3. Autumnrose says:

    LW1- your friend needs support and love from you. If you didn’t have $100 to give than you should not have given it. The golden friendship rule is to never loan family and friends money. $100 isn’t a big lost either. It could have been worse if it was more. Don’t get me wrong….. I don’t want to loose $100 either but consider yourself fortunate there. LW2 Seriously…… this is your dilemma. Not being “rude” but maybe your family doesn’t want to do that and thats perfectly fine. Its really odd that you guys find it rude that they don’t come. If its that big of a deal than you talk to your family but I don’t see the need to get your panties in a wad over this.

    1. Bacon Mistress says:

      It says the money wont make or break- her or the friendship.

  4. Anon from LA says:

    #2: You are not responsible for explaining your parents’ actions and choices. If your parents don’t want to go to family gatherings, that’s on you! You can just state plainly that they couldn’t make it–you don’t need to explain or justify. If your BF’s family presses you for a reason or tries to guilt you for not bringing your parents, just shrug your shoulders and say you don’t manage your mom and dad’s schedules.

  5. Avatar photo Guy Friday says:

    I think LW2 is reading WAY too much into Rob’s parents’ comments. I don’t think they’re looking down on her parents at all; I think they’re seeing that she’s always over for major holidays, thinking about how they’d feel if Rob never came to all these major holidays, second-guessing whether they were ACTUALLY making their home inviting for her parents, and having their guilt manifest in constantly inviting her mom and dad in case their stance had changed since the last time they asked. I think if you say what Wendy suggested, LW, they’ll back off. Or not, but they’ll feel less guilty about what they see as monopolizing your time.

    Look, my in-laws do this to me ALL. THE. TIME. I grew up on the East Coast, live in the Midwest now, and really don’t like traveling long distances. Plus, if something comes up, I can always cut the holidays short and head home from my in-laws, and it’s like a 2 hour drive; doing that while home with my family would require hundreds of dollars in changed airfare. I’ve been with my wife almost a decade now, and her parents still go “Are you sure you want to spend X here? If you want to go see your family, we don’t mind” or “We were going to travel for X to see [wife’s sibling]. Will you guys be OK with that?” And I keep telling them “No, seriously, I’m fine. I don’t mind.” And you know what? They’re going to keep doing this to me every holiday until they die, and I’m just going to have to accept that. But I just remember that they’re asking because they love me and want me to be happy, and they see me as a son rather than an in-law, and when you look at it like that it’s a lot harder to get annoyed when they express concern about your well-being and happiness.

  6. sarahbelle says:

    LW2 – My Father never attends events and everyone drives me nuts too, depending on who it they get a different response my go to responses are:

    “Oh Good Lord are you saying we aren’t enticing enough without daddy? Excuse me I need a drink”
    “He met 2 hookers last week and was talking about vegas and we haven’t heard from him since, I guess we will hear the story when they get back. (big Smile to keep from laughing)”
    “He is on his way, that man can never keep time. Let me know when he gets here”
    “He said he would try to be here next year, I’ll let him know you asked about him”
    “He’s not going to be able to make it”

    Find a response that makes you feel ok, I do mine because my husband, sister and kid think its hillarious, and are less irritated from the questions about our dad.

  7. Some families don’t like to share their holidays. I had a boyfriend whose family lived on Southern California, and we alternated between the families. No one was happy. My brother lives on the East Coast and my mother literally cried at the table because he chose to spend Xmas with his wife’s family, who were closer.

    1. *in* Southern CA. My point is do what you want to, but be prepared for someone to be unhappy.

  8. Dealing with someone’s alcoholism is the most frustrating thing I have personally gone through. Two of my close loved ones died from it. They have to want to get better. You will ruin your own life trying to save an alcoholic. Until then they blow through $ like water. $100 is such a small amount of $. Lesson learned.
    I am like LW2s Mom, large gatherings are a nightmare for me and I am the first person out the door. (I have to always make sure I am parked where I can make a quick exit. ) I have never had any trouble explaining to anyone that I don’t socialize that much. I think in the parents eyes they are being polite to LW by asking and it isn’t as big of a deal to them as she thinks. Just give it to them straight.

  9. dinoceros says:

    LW1: I think that people have a misguided idea of what supporting a friend in need is. You can’t force someone to get sober. It also doesn’t mean you give them whatever they want or let them treat you however they want. It also doesn’t mean that you worry yourself sick over them. Like Wendy said, you need to work within your own boundaries. Also, you shouldn’t loan someone money that you aren’t OK with parting with. If you think you’d be angry if they never paid you back, then don’t loan the money. Someone who needs to borrow money from a friend is in a rocky place (in most cases) and it’s very likely they can’t/won’t pay you back. That doesn’t mean that needing money makes you irresponsible, but if someone is in such a dire situation, then they don’t really have a lot of control over what’s going on in their life at the moment, I’d expect.

    LW2: How can his family know you find them rude if you don’t tell them? If they are a social, welcoming bunch, then I assume they don’t see asking about someone partaking in their hospitality is rude. You’re also sort of forcing them to be rude in the sense that if you just told them, maybe they’d stop. But you’re getting upset with them asking so many times — they’re asking so many times because you keep evading the issue.

  10. LW1: forget about the money. 100$ is not much anyway, so let it go. Your friend is having a grave middle age crisis. That can happen, and it can lead to very grave consequences. To be a good friend: don’t press her to explain what she is going through, what substance she is taking, and so on. Respect her privacy. If she won’t speak of it by herself, it is best not to ask questions. Don’t tell her that she is “responsible” for her marital problem: of course, she has a responsibility, especially if she is an addict, but you have no idea about this couple dynamic. Divorce is rarely the responsibility of just one person. Take a more “medical” approach, if I may say: consider her as sick. She is going through an illness, depression, addiction… You are not her doctor, but don’t take as a personal offense her grave mental health difficulties. Call her from time to time, visit her from time to time, so she knows you are still her friend, you care for her. But release any pressure on her.

    1. Bacon Mitress says:

      Not so much angry about the money, or even angry. I am upset because I am pretty sure she has had the money to pay me back but she hasnt… probably so she can buy more whatever it is she is addicted to now. I had hoped that our friendship was worth more to HER. Sorry that wasnt clear there. Like I said. The money wont make or break me or the friendship. I am just REALLY disappointed and hurt about what I felt it showed me. I quit asking her for it and if and when she wants to repair the wound, well, that’s up to her.

  11. LW2: I have an efficient solution for you: stop spending all holidays with your in-laws. Spend half of them with your parents instead, even if they don’t make a fuss about such celebrations. I really don’t know why you – and your in-laws – expect your parents to spend holidays with an other family they didn’t personally chose. Why? The unbalance of your holiday time is a bit shocking for me: I think you owe an apology (I say that with a grain of salt) to your parents to avoid them each time for Thanksgiving, Christmas, …. One doesn’t do that in our family: everybody share their holidays once with their own parents, once with the in-laws, or sometimes by their own. Don’t set a standard when your family is put aside and becomes guest to an other domineering family. Your family has their right as well – including your presence for family occasions.

    1. Hi Brise,

      To answer your first question, I don’t expect my mom to go to holiday gatherings, my in-laws do.

      Also I don’t put aside my family when it comes to holidays. My mom does celebrate them, she just doesn’t do anything anymore (like have a dinner). She’s single and I am an only child so she prefers to stay home and be by herself. I don’t like being alone so I choose to go to Robs. Both my parents are okay with it and don’t complain.

      Thank you for your advice 🙂

  12. LW2: PS: Please, don’t write to your in-laws that your parents are “not sociable”. That is really over the top to accuse them of a lack in their skills when they are pressured to join a pushy family and they have to spend the family holiday without you and your boyfriend. Be a bit more balanced in your family time, between both families, and the message will be conveyed surely to your in-laws.

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