“My Newly Divorced Friend Needs a Place to Stay”

From the forums:

My best friend of many years is now a single mom. She was married for 10+ years and she and her husband are now divorced. She didn’t win the house in her divorce settlement, but she gets a part of the money once it’s sold. She wants to move back this way and start over, and she has asked to live with me for four months. It would be her, her 10-year-old-daughter, and their dog moving in. She wants to move here to be closer to family, get on her feet, and build up work history once she gets a job because the apartments she has looked into require a certain amount of work history.

I want to be able to help her, but it’s a tight squeeze in my home currently. My house is in need of repairs and it’s my mother, me, and my daughter living here already. We are down to one bathroom, the other spare room we have is full of household items, and my niece also has her own room when she comes over. It would just be a lot of stress for everyone, and as much as I want to help my friend, it would just cause a lot of issues that I don’t want anyone to go through. If I had the space and extra bathroom fixed, I would be totally okay with it.

She also suggested we find a place to live together once she can afford to and have us and our daughters live all under the same roof. It sounded like a nice idea initially since we are both single moms, but I am working on getting a mobile home to put on the land here (it’s my mother’s property) so that way we have our own space. My daughter would also want her own room which I have promised her. If I were to room with my friend, she suggested we just share a room with our daughters, so she really is only thinking of a 2-bedroom anyway. Prices in my area are very expensive so even something that small is astronomical. I want to keep my daughter in the school here and also save A LOT of money getting a mobile home.

I guess I just feel guilty. I want to be there for her and for her not be homeless or to struggle and to be comfortable wherever she is living. But I cannot uproot our lives; it would make things harder for everyone, and it would make me, specifically, very stressed and resentful. Any advice? — Wants to Be There for Her

You’re putting all-or-nothing expectations on yourself that are setting you up to feel like a failure as a friend. You can absolutely “be there” for her without sacrificing your sanity, your space, or your family’s well-being. “Being there” is a realistic expectation that provides multiple ways for you to succeed. What is not a realistic expectation is for you to somehow protect your friend from struggling. You can provide support and love and companionship through any struggles she might experience, and that support will no doubt be a source of comfort for her, but you cannot realistically protect her from struggling.

Furthermore, while no one wants to struggle or to see their friends and loved ones struggle, life is not without some struggle and there can be real gifts in adversity that serve us through our lives. Struggle can bring us closer to learning who we are, what we want, and what we need to get to where we want to be. It can help us define what matters most to us and where we find the greatest meaning, and it can help us develop great troves of empathy. I bet you yourself have experienced some struggle in life which has helped you feel empathy for your friend, and maybe even some of your past struggles have led to some of your greatest joys, if even indirectly.

It is admirable that you want to help you friend during this challenging chapter in her life, and there are ways you can do that. You have contacts and connections in town that she may not have, having lived elsewhere for a while. Can you put out feelers about potential inexpensive places for her to live temporarily? Connect her with someone who might be able to give her a job? Share information about schools for her daughter? If your daughter is similar in age, could you host some playdates for them to get to know each other? Can you cook some meals for them in the first weeks in town or even organize a meal train with some other friends as a way to welcome them back to town? Try to come up with a list of things you can do that will help your friend through this new transition and present these ideas to her when you tell her that, unfortunately, you don’t have space in your home for her to live temporarily.

A sample script could go something like this: “I’m so thrilled you are moving back to town, and I can’t wait to spend time in person with you again and to get to know your daughter better and to welcome you into the fold. I wish I had space in my home to offer you a place to stay temporarily when you arrive and as you get your feet on the ground, but I have a full house right now with no room to spare, unfortunately. However, I’ve reached out to some friends and I know about several low-cost housing situations that might work for you. I also have some job leads for you to explore. If you would need storage space, I can make room for a few boxes/suitcases/ etc in my closets/garage/bedrooms. I’ve also arranged for meals to be delivered to you for your first week/ two weeks so you can focus solely on job-hunting, your housing search, and getting your daughter settled in school. I am also happy to help organize any donations that might be useful for you once you know exactly what you need in your new home. And, of course, I’m here for you to listen whenever you need an ear and to be a friend you can have fun with, too. I know things feel hard right now, but I also know through my own experience that there’s joy on the other side of hard things, and I’m going to be there for you through both the hard parts and the joyful parts; I’m so excited to have you close by again.”

You can tweak the script for relevance and put it in your own voice, but as long as you couch the disappointing news – you cannot offer your friend a place to stay – with all the things you *can* help with, she should feel supported. But you can’t control her reaction, and if she’s upset, that’s not your fault and it’s not your job to eliminate her struggles. It’s also important to remember that she’s moving back to town to be close to family, too, so her family can also be a support. This isn’t all on you.

As for your friend’s desire that you find a place to live together, I wouldn’t entertain that idea at all. When she brings it up, simply tell her that you’re set for now and that your own goal is to buy a mobile home to put on your mother’s property so you can have an affordable place to live that provides privacy for you and your daughter as well as the proximity to your mother that benefits you all. Living with a friend is not part of that particular goal, period. It’s healthy and normal to have and express boundaries, and, again, it’s not your job to make your boundaries or your goals or your needs palatable to your friend. You can support her while still honoring your boundaries. In fact, doing so is the best way to sustain a long-term friendship through the various highs and lows life has in store.

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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.

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