Don’t Fan the Flames/You Have Cancer–Let’s Party!
Dear Dr. Hurd,
After about a year together, my partner and I broke up. But I’m not sure she sees it that way. She’s familiar with my schedule, and I have every reason to believe that she contrives “chance meetings” at the grocery store, restaurants, etc. I have tried to talk to her and explain that we are finished, but she just waves that away and keeps showing up everywhere I am. She has followed me more than once in her car, and I know she knows I see her! I feel like I should keep trying to communicate with her so she won’t…well, stalk me, for want of a better word. Help!
Dr. Hurd replies,
The simple fact is this: You’re done with this relationship, and she isn’t. You want out, and she wants to stay in. It’s sad and difficult, and it happens every day. By continuing to talk with her, you’re sending the opposite message from what you intend. In your mind, it’s, “I’ll talk with her and get across that we’re really broken up.” But each time you give her access to you, it gets her hopes up.
It’s a common mistake. Someone even told me once (about an ex-), “I’m afraid he’ll stalk me if I don’t answer his calls, reply to his emails, and give him time to vent.” The person who said this felt like he was easing the blow for his ex-partner. But instead, he only made it worse. There are no easy solutions here. Breaking up is indeed hard to do, and it’s even harder for you to take a firm stance and give her less (or no) time and visibility. Reasoning might be a good methodology when you’re in a relationship, but it often backfires when you’re trying to exit one.
Of course her violating your privacy is in no way justified, and it’s certainly not all your fault. But you might be making it worse by communicating with her. Remember the principle: “peace through strength.” You might even have to institute legal restraint. Check out the facts, just so you’ll know. It might seem like a horrible step, and it’s definitely a last resort. But if she continues to cross your boundaries, you might have to show her, in no uncertain terms, that it’s really over. Sometimes that’s the only way.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
The more I think about this the more I believe you’re not going to believe it. But here goes: My best friend is in chemo and radiation for cancer. We all support her as much as we can, but the treatments are obviously taking their toll. Now, her two sisters and brother want us to throw a “beat your cancer” party for her! They are talking about inviting a large number of people, with caterers, etc. etc. This just doesn’t seem to be appropriate at this point! But they won’t give up. Not only are they dumping the whole thing on us, but we know it will be an exhausting ordeal for our friend. When I try to explain that to them, they say things like, “What? You don’t want her to get well?” What can we say or do to stop them?
Dr. Hurd replies,
You’re right. This is a new one. And I thought I’d seen and heard just about everything.
Here are my thoughts: None of us knows what it’s like to have cancer or to be close to someone who does, unless or until we are in that situation. So it seems to make sense to leave a decision like this to the person who has the illness.
On that premise, if your friend with cancer knows of the party and sincerely wants it, then what’s the problem? Give her what she wants. Nobody who hasn’t had cancer can tell a person with cancer what kind of attitude to have about it. Even someone who has survived cancer cannot tell another cancer patient how to feel, because individuals and circumstances vary. So leave it up to her.
Under the best of circumstances, a surprise party (if that’s what this is) can be a tricky thing. Some people don’t like surprise parties, while others love it. People are different, and springing a party on a cancer patient seems highly inappropriate and insensitive. If that’s the case, don’t preach to the brother and sisters about this. You can explain my reasons, but don’t expect them to change. In fact, you should stop trying to reason with them, because the more you try to discourage them, the more they’ll probably persist in going ahead with it.
If it’s a surprise party they want, my suggestion is to bow out nicely and politely. “I realize you have good intentions, and I know you’re trying to cope with this in your own way, and I respect that. But in all honesty, I’m not comfortable being part of this.” You’re asking them to respect your view just as you’re respecting theirs, by not trying to talk them out of it. But no matter what, hold your ground and hope for the best with respect to your ailing friend.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.