Gone On Too Long

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a friend who’s married to a man 20 years her senior. He’s now
in his mid-80s. I think it was a love match 30 years ago, but now she
is a cook, caretaker, maid, and general servant for a guy who doesn’t
seem to appreciate how good he’s got it. He belittles her in front of her
friends, whom she cajoles to visit so she’s not alone with him, though
none of us can see why she puts up with him. I think she’s too loyal to
divorce him and secretly hopes his time is short. I’ve visited once a
month for years, but now she’s asking me to come weekly. I’m just
not comfortable around him or them. She won’t leave him alone for
more than two hours, and has taken to asking me every few days to
please come. Other friends say the same. What can I do or say?

Gone On Too Long

Dear Gone Too:

It sounds like she’s going to be hearing things she doesn’t want to
from several people, so you can decide if you want to be at the front
or back of the line of people telling her what she doesn’t acknowledge.
You shouldn’t tell her the brutal truth the way you experience it. But
you can say that you prefer her company one on one, and that (if she
presses) you have become less comfortable being around her husband
as he has aged, required more of her, and seemed to appreciate it
less. Say you’re happy to spend time with her, say once or twice a
month if your schedules align, but you are not available to help keep
him company very often. Create a list of activities you two can do
together, whether that’s signing up for an art or exercise class or just
going out for ladies lunch. Be willing to make it a fixed commitment
and suggest other friends do as well. Eventually she will make a life
without him, so this is like training wheels.

It’s always tempting to presume the worst about other people’s
relationships. But let me encourage you neither to gossip nor malign.
You can ask her if there’s things at home she wants to talk about. But
don’t tell her that your mutual friends feel the same way. It will only
shame her and diminish her fragile self-confidence. Keep the door
open and hope she walks away from him and towards you.