Ask Rene:
Prisoner Of Love

Hi Rene:

I have a dear friend named Donna who turned 40 last summer. She’s still a virgin, never been married and hasn’t had any serious relationships with men. She’s dated a few times but the relationships never went anywhere. She comes from a well-to-do family and her father is highly regarded. Donna, like her other siblings graduated from an Ivy League college and went on to become a regarded actress.

Because of her love of acting, and also because she was unmarried, childless and had time to spare, she volunteered her time with the Arts for Rehabilitation and began visiting the local maximum prison. Long story short, she contacted me a couple of months ago to inform me that she was getting married to one of the inmates she met who is serving 25 years to life for murder (he has nine more years until his release). She told me that it was a “long story” and that she is currently at the point of this story where she does not want to entertain “negative” comments about her engagement. She just wants everyone to wish her well and only have positive thoughts and conversations. She has already lost countless friends because they spoke up about their concerns with this marriage.

She has posted pictures and makes comments about him on FB as if she married some average young man who is not incarcerated. I’m very uncomfortable with the whole situation, because I love my friend and believe that she deserved better. I advised her not to rush into this marriage, after all this man is not going anywhere and who knows who she would meet in the mean-time before his release. But she went ahead and married him. Her father is very disappointed but provides as much support to her as he can. He was hoping that I would be the one to set her straight, but before she got married, she started to avoid me.

My question is how do I handle her phone calls? When I ask her questions about what type of employment does she think he will have when he’s released or anything about the situation, she becomes very defensive and doesn’t understand why I (or anyone else) can’t just simply act like this situation is an usual one (they’ve never even had sex and they are still waiting for six months before they have the “privilege to have sex”) and that it’s just like any other marriage. It’s so difficult to speak with her because I am the type of person who speaks freely and honestly and it’s hard to bite my tongue with her and not call her “stupid” every time I speak with her. HELP!

Stumped in Shreveport:

Dear Stumped:

I want you to repeat after me, “Donna, I wish you nothing but the best.” If you cannot say that in a convincing way, take a lesson from your friend the actress, and learn how. Because like it or not, outside of wringing your hands, there’s really not a damn thing you can do about it. It’s human nature when you see someone getting ready to drive his car off the road and into a ditch to yell, “HEY! WATCH THE ROAD!” With our children we can even grab the wheel and correct the mistake before any serious damage is done. But when you’re talking adults, well, the rules are different. Here’s what I suggest:

RECOGNIZE THAT DONNA’S SOCIAL GROWTH IS STUNTED: 40 years old? Check. Never been married? Check. Not dated much? Check. A virgin? Check, check and check.  You know what all this adds up to? Someone whose social growth is stunted. She’s chronologically 40 but her level of social interaction with the opposite sex is like that of a 14-year-old. She has taken the first bit of attention from a man, doesn’t matter that he lives behind bars and orange is his color, and fallen head over heels. And like a child, she has figuratively put her fingers in her ears and is now saying, “NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!” while shaking her head and stomping her feet to anything critical about him. You will get absolutely nowhere with someone with that level of maturity so I wouldn’t even try.

YOUR FRENDSHIP IS AT STAKE: You already said she’s cut people from her life who’ve said anything negative about this. If you want to remain her friend, this topic is off-limits to you too or you’ll find yourself in line with the others. This really should not surprise you though because her handling of anyone’s criticism is right in line with her social development. The reason she doesn’t want to hear it is because it’s one more brick pulled away from the fantasy foundation she has built this relationship on. Her immature side cannot square this relationship when logical arguments are presented so it’s just easier to shut them out.

LET HER LEARN FOR HERSELF: As I said before it’s hard to watch someone fail, especially when we can see it coming. But failure is a powerful teaching tool. Let’s say this marriage lasts a few years and when he gets out, Donna finds out that she was not the only woman in his life. She’ll be crushed but that will be a lesson she will never forget. You could have told her that’s how it was going to go down. You could have even told her you had photos of her man with another woman. Until she’s ready to believe it, presented with irrefutable evidence, she won’t accept it and will paint you as the villain in the process.

BE THERE FOR HER: At the outset I told you at the top to practice saying, “Donna, I wish you nothing but the best.” Now, I want to you practice saying, “I know and I’m so sorry.” When the bubble bursts on her fantasy, she’s going to need friends and family to be there for her. The urge to say, “I told you so” might be overwhelming but resist. You know why? Because it’s not important. She’ll be well aware that you told her so but at this moment she’ll be hurt, angry, bitter and betrayed. When someone is at that place, settling scores or being right takes a back seat to comforting and keeping them together.

There is one thing I would keep an eye out for. The fact that Donna has cut longtime friends out of her life because they questioned her makes me wonder whether her new husband is exerting some type of pressure on her to do that. That worries me because that sort of systematic control could be an indicator of a pattern of abuse that could manifest itself later. Know the signs to keep an eye out for.

And now to you.  Does it bother you that she is not telling the whole truth about her man? If so, it shouldn’t. I had a friend like Donna too. She married a man who’d been in and out of jail, they weren’t living together but she was painting a picture of domestic bliss for the world to see. But every night, she drifted off to sleep with just her delusion to keep her warm. For her and Donna, the fact that they are more concerned with preserving a fairy tale than being truthful with the people she cared about is a sad state of affairs and nothing you can do will change that.

Good Luck to you!

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