Life can be tough when you're a character on a TV show. Fortunately, filmmaker and film teacher Jennifer Peepas -- who also blogs as the wise Captain Awkward -- is here to help them deal with their drama.
I might be in love with a crazy person. How do I help them deal?
Dear Captain Awkward:
I, uh, "attend" a women's institution in rural New England. We're all far from home, it's all women all the time (except for some of the employees), and our friendships can get kind of intense since our living quarters, work and social spaces are all here on "campus."
My closest friend here, M., has talked nonstop about her long-distance boyfriend since Day One. They're planning a wedding, you see, and she is obsessed with every. Freaking. Detail. Like, how can there even be that many kinds of napkins? And what the fuck is a fascinator?
I can deal with the daily homage to the Wedding Industrial Complex, and I have ways to distract her when it all gets to be too much chit-chat. But the longer she talks, the more I'm starting to think that her magic special fiancé C. (the man who picked out the serving utensils for their registry and who will lovingly talk on the phone for hours about place cards) might not be real.
How can I talk to M. about what I suspect without embarrassing her? Her descriptions of C. and their plans are sounding increasingly hollow of late, and I'm actually starting to worry about her mental health. The other thing is, I'm not exactly a disinterested party here, as I've developed some more-than-friendly feelings for my friend. We messed around for a while, and I thought she returned the feelings, but she broke up with me so she could stay true to this pretend dude. What's a good way to say "forget your fake boyfriend, just be with me?"
The Toast of Taco Night
Dear Taco Night:
I would tread very gently here, to be honest. If your friend is in fact lying, a lie this big is either a delusion, a pretty serious emotional security blanket, or both.
If it's a delusion, then really consider whether you are the right person to re-introduce her to reality. That should probably be handled only with the help of a trained professional, who can help her process whatever emotional or mental break created the delusion. If it's not a delusion but more of a habit, then think about why she might have invented the guy in the first place and what purpose the lie serves in her life.
You are isolated and far from home, you say in your letter. Well, maybe the lie makes her feel loved and connected to home. Maybe she thinks it makes her more interesting. Lots of people have fantasies of reinventing themselves, and she wouldn't be the first person to tell tall tales at sleep-away camp.
Most times I like to be all about the truth, no matter how painful. But what's the likely outcome if you challenge her story? If she's not ready to face facts, it will rebound on you, and possibly do both of you some real damage as she fights to protect the lie. And if she's NOT actually lying, I hope you enjoy keeping warm in the ashes of your former friendship.
I say keep being her friend. Respect the fact that she broke up with you, if not the why. Maybe try to gently redirect her conversations away from Fictional Frank and onto the here and now. Take yourself out of the role of chief confidante for a while if it's painful or annoying for you to hear her talk about him. You're allowed to change the subject!
If you want to test the waters, maybe say "Lately when you talk about C., you don't seem all that happy to me. Is everything all right?" Maybe you'll be lucky, and she'll fake-break up with him. If your instincts are correct, eventually the delusion will fall apart or the security blanket will fail, and she'll need somebody who cares about her no matter what by her side when that happens.
Readers, have you ever told a big lie that you later regretted? Or outed a friend for telling one? What happened?
Jennifer Peepas is a Chicago-based filmmaker and film teacher. She answers questions from non-fictional characters at her blog, CaptainAwkward.com.