Scum kind of wonderful

My friend, \”Claire,\” 21, has been dating an older guy, 29, since July. Last week she told me he was in jail. She wouldn\’t say why, but seemed determined to stand by him. Then, it came out on the news that he was engaged in some stomach-churning attempts to pick up 13-year-olds for sex in Internet chat rooms. I can\’t, in good conscience, get behind her loyalty to a disgusting man whom, by the way, she still wants to marry and have babies with. I\’m also afraid to express this to Claire because if she gets mad and refuses to have me as a support system, she\’s more likely to stay with the creep.

— Between a Rock and Somebody Else\’s Hard Time

That happy family fantasy of hers has a few snags; for example, dinner. Let\’s see … there they all are at the table, Mommy, the pervert and their two beautiful children, and then Mommy leaves the room to get more mashed potatoes … turning Daddy into a parole violator. And then, even if Daddy is, for some wildly insane reason, allowed around his own children, it\’ll be a bit hard for him to drive them to school if he isn\’t allowed within 1,000 feet of the place: \”You girls look both ways as you\’re running across the highway!\”

Perhaps not surprisingly, my first inclination was to have you ask \”Claire\” who stole her brain and replaced it with Fluffernutter. My second and wiser inclination was to call Dr. Stanton Peele. Peele, an addiction treatment specialist, is the guy I think best understands the psychology behind self-destructive behavior and what it takes to pry yourself or somebody else off a compulsion. He told me your hunch was right — the least productive thing you could do is slap your friend upside the head with her pedophile boyfriend. He explained that people don\’t change because you tell them they should, but because they realize \”what they\’re doing violates what they are most about, and what they want most for themselves.\”

Chances are, Claire wasn\’t looking to end up with Chester the Molester. When she started dating this guy, she probably saw him as her ticket to white picket fence-ville. In time, a few pesky facts got in the way. But, never mind them! Like a lot of people, she simply pretended away the disconnect between what she has and what she wants — which, in turn, left her standing by her man as if he\’s coming back from the war instead of the kiddie diddler wing in some prison.

To get Claire to face the contradictions, Peele recommends a non-judgmental, non-confrontational technique called \”motivational interviewing.\” (See Peele\’s book, 7 Tools to Beat Addiction.) Start by becoming a double agent of sorts: Convince her you\’re behind her no matter what so she\’ll be free with facts and feelings, which you\’ll tuck away for later use. In Peele\’s words, \”You need to be there as a support system and look for a teachable moment.\” Instead of telling Claire she\’s got her head on backwards, get her to answer questions that will make it obvious to her; for example, \”So, you say family\’s important to you. What do you think your family life will be like with this guy?\” If you sense resistance, back off. \”The key,\” Peele writes, \” … is to push the ball back to the other person (generally by asking questions).\” Eventually, this should lead Claire to a question or two of her own, such as, \”Did I seriously consider having a family with a guy who\’d celebrate becoming a father by handing out cigars announcing, \’It\’s A Girlfriend!\’?\”

Conned heat

My 37-year-old girlfriend lies constantly and has cheated more than once in the six months we\’ve been dating. I tried ending it several times, but we have a great time together. Because she promises to stop lying, and is now in therapy, I keep giving her more chances. I guess I see her for the person I think she could become. I know this sounds pathetic, and I should just leave her for good, but how?

— Rose-Colored Glasses

Oh, fab! The serial liar promises to stop lying! A serial killer might promise to stop killing. Do you think it\’s a good idea to invite him to dinner and leave a lot of shiny new axes lying around? You might step back and notice how taking the easy way out — never getting up on your hind legs and scramming — is actually the long, hard, painful way out. Then again, there is something to be said for having \”a great time\” with her. I guess that\’s one way of putting it. You could also see it as keeping yourself from having a great time with somebody even better; say, a woman who lies to you from time to time, and only cheats on you occasionally.