from May 1, 2004
Dear Orville Slack IV,
My best friend is having problems with her husband. At least once a week she shows up at the door looking for comfort. Half the time the only comfort I can give her is a place to stay the night. My husband thinks I need a new best friend. He says if this keeps up we’ll both end up on the therapist’s couch, which we can’t afford. Do you know what therapists charge per hour?
—Baffled in Binrmingham
Slack receives many letters on this subject, from women and men alike.
Here’s a typical situation. At eleven o’clock in the evening, you are awakened by the doorbell. It is your neighbor. She has just had a disagreement with her husband or boy friend, and she needs sympathy. She also requires, you suspect, a bed for the night.
If you are a male, read on. Females may wish to skip the next several paragraphs.
The first thing you want to determine, advises Slack, is whether there is any physical damage. If so, call 911 and wait for backup help. Meantime, do not tamper with the evidence. And do not take sides. Above all, do not speak ill of her husband or boy friend. Any negative statements will inevitably get back to him. If you have a wife, or the equivalent, bring her into the picture and go back to bed. If you are single, or if you yourself have recently had a disagreement with your wife, or the equivalent, and she is somewhere down the street seeking solace from a neighbor, try to introduce a cheerful tone into the conversation until your backup arrives.
In the event that the only damage is of the psychological variety, do not call 911. You are on your own. But again, do not tamper with the evidence, however attractive it may be. Be on the defensive. If, for example, she mentions her need for “a shoulder to cry on,” you might bring up the subject of the arthritis in your shoulders (be sure to use the plural). If she speaks of “a bed for the night,” sound her out on the possibility of an early reconciliation with her husband. Again, do not take sides or speak ill of her husband or boy friend. If you have a wife, bring her into the picture and go back to bed. If you are single, or if you yourself have recently had a disagreement with your wife, etcetera, the problem may suddenly appear to assume gigantic proportions. But do not despair. Instead, Slack suggests, turn the conversation in the direction of your own psychological troubles. A good choice might be inner rage. But whatever disorder you select, be sure to make it appear even less palatable than her husband’s.
Advice to the female, for the above situation. Males will wish to skip the next several paragraphs.
The first thing you want to determine, advises Slack, is whether there is any physical damage. If so, call 911 and wait for backup help. This is not a do-it-yourself job. While waiting, put on a pot of coffee. Make her feel at ease by discussing men in general, with emphasis on their dispensability. Compare notes.
In the event that the only damage is of the psychological variety, do not call 911. Simply make up your most uncomfortable sofa into a bed, show her the bathroom, and point out which towels are hers. Put an exercise tape on the DVD, tell her where she can find the breakfast cereal, and go to bed.
Next morning, she should be gone.