stop calling

Reader S.N. writes:

A friend of mine keeps calling me late at night, drunk and crying because her dad is really sick. I want to be a good friend and help her through her problems, but I go to work really early in the morning and her late night convos are starting to take a toll on my work life. To add to the difficulty, I can’t turn my phone off because I’m often on-call overnight. What can I do?

Dear S.N.:

Being sad sucks, and your friend is definitely lucky to have a friend like you who is willing to put up with her behavior while she’s going through such a rough time. Of course, you’ve got to take care of yourself, too, and you can’t feel guilty for not being available 24/7.

Your goal in this situation is to preserve the friendship and offer help while also balancing your own needs. You have a few options depending on how confrontational you want to be.

the dreaded phone

Image: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

1. When she calls, tell her you’ve got to sleep and you can’t talk. I’ve found that people who are crying while drunk are generally very apologetic about it. It’s part of the depression caused by the booze, I guess. She’ll probably feel really badly about this, so be ready to hear a lot more crying. You can encourage her to call another friend, but stay firm and if she keeps talking, just hang up. This is a very direct approach, and perhaps not the most helpful. It may send her into a spiral of depression, nobody loves her, life’s terrible right now, etc. And you may not be as gentle with her in the middle of the night as you probably should be. But it will get the point across.

2. Call her right now and tell her that she needs not to call you in the middle of the night anymore. Explain to her that you love her, but you’ve got to work early and you can’t answer her calls anymore. Another thing about drunk people is that they tend to be oblivious to other peoples’ responses or body language, so she may not notice your more subtle attempts to get her off the phone when she’s wasted. Telling her when she’s sober is a better idea, although she may not remember the conversation the next time she’s drunk. You could help her out by getting her one of those drunk dialing apps that will keep her from calling you. This may be the best option if you’re going to confront her about it, as you’ll both be in a better headspace than you would be in the middle of the night, and you can be gentle.

3. Send her calls directly to voicemail. This is my favorite solution. Most phones these days have an option where you can select to send certain peoples’ calls to voicemail. This way your phone won’t ring if she calls you late at night, and she’ll just assume your phone is off. If you want to receive calls from her during the day, you’ll have to turn this option off again in the morning, and remember to turn it back on at night. Of course, if you only have a landline, you may not necessarily have this option. Many phone service providers offer a blocked number function, which may not be as p0lite as sending her calls to voicemail, but will at least allow you to sleep through the night. If you do have to resort to blocking her number, make sure you warn her, or she’ll be extra mad. You may have to block her number if she forgets that you asked her not to call you, anyway, so just give her fair warning that you mean to sleep through the night, and if you have to take extreme measures, you will.

4. Ask another friend to hang out with her and take care of her at night. If she’s got a friend over at her house already, she probably won’t need to call you. Unless, of course, that friend goes home. This doesn’t really solve the problem in its entirety, but if you have a friend who is willing to hang out with the late night caller (and maybe help keep her from getting so drunk in the first place), it could at least put your mind at ease to some extent. You’ll know she’s got someone to talk to, and you’ll know that you can sleep. True, it’s hard to find people who actually want to hang out with a drunk, sad person, but hopefully you’ve got a group of friends who are willing to share the load (and don’t have the same work schedule you do).

As an aside, you might help her out by convincing her to go see a therapist to talk to. Also, if you think she’s got a drinking problem, you should have her seek help. We all know we’re not supposed to turn to alcohol to deal with our problems, but many of us still have a glass of wine or two when we’re down. If she’s drunk every night, this is a problem that extends beyond the fact that she’s calling you to complain and keeping you awake. Being drunk and sad is an especially bad combination if she’s ever had suicidal tendencies, so keep an eye on her for that.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you remind her that it’s not because you don’t love her or don’t want to be there for her, it’s just that you’re human and you can’t stay up all night the way she can. I think being direct is a much better approach than being indirect, but you may have to resort to other measures if she forgets herself when she’s been drinking.


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