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Nurse Case Scenario

Last year, my fiancée broke up with me. We had already started planning a family, and I had just bought us a house when she told me it was over. She is now with someone else, but she’s constantly calling me, telling me she’s unhappy and that I took better care of her. It hurts to hear this because a big part of me still cares for her. She has an anxiety disorder, and her self-esteem is very low. I don't want to turn my back on her problems like most people do, but I can't constantly have my hopes up either. Should I help her change her predicament or get her to leave me alone so I can get on with my life?

--Lingering Feelings

Who better to marry and start a family with than a woman with an anxiety disorder and really low self-esteem? Picture your life 10 years from now: “No, Hunter isn’t here; I think he’s out vandalizing cars, or maybe setting the community center on fire.” Your daughter, Pyneapple, sells nude videos of herself on the Internet -- between chat sessions on pro-anorexia Web sites. And your third little darling? The bumper sticker on your minivan says it all: “Your honor student was rolled by my meth head.”

What you had with this woman wasn’t a relationship but a failed experiment in assisted living. Changing jobs is stressful, but isn’t it time you got out of the nursie boy racket and into something a little more…remunerative? I hope she was, at the very least, really, really, really good in bed. (Come to think of it, you do mention a “big part” of you that still pines for her.) She must have many qualities you respect and admire. Let’s see, she’s…female. Female is good. She’s…breathing. Breathing is very important. And…um…well, beyond that litany above, maybe what you find most attractive is the big man feeling you get from being with a helpless little woman. Of course, this is like feeling more than a mollusk: “Look at my opposable thumbs…aren’t I something!”

This is the kind of romance you read about – in psych textbooks: Your partner always dumps her problems on your living room rug, and you’re always right behind her with a little silver shovel. This isn’t a love affair, but a need affair; apparently modeled on dog refuse ordinances. You probably thought making yourself indispensable would keep you from being dispensed with. You discovered what a misconception that was the day you came home and found her side of the closet empty. Listen to the essence of what she’s sniveling to you these days: “Nobody mans the ‘scrub-my-toilet’ hotline like you do!” And there you are, teetering on the precipice over an old pattern: going into 24-hour alert in case the call comes that the blue in her bowl isn’t doing the job.

The only man your ex should be seeing is one whose walls are papered with psychology degrees. You can’t change her – but you can change your phone number. Recognize your temptation to play savior, and make a pact with yourself to have the guts to demand more from your relationships than permission to follow your partner around with a stretcher and a wad of cash. In short, learn the word “no,” and practice using it on users and losers -- and you might someday have real love in your life. In time, you might even have kids – the sort who compel their grandparents to celebrate their birth with gifts of bonds instead of bail bonds.


Copyright ©2004, Amy Alkon, from her syndicated column, "The Advice Goddess," which appears in over 100 papers across the U.S. and Canada. All rights reserved.