This letter got top billing in yesterday’s “Dear Abby“:
DEAR ABBY: An ex-girlfriend from three years ago has asked me to help her work on a project that will further her career.
I am already established, and have been known to help people on occasion. I want her to succeed, but the problem with this particular charity case is the reason we broke up. It happened just days before I planned to propose to her, when I found out that she had been unfaithful to me.
Originally, I didn’t want to help her and told her I thought the situation would make me uncomfortable because I would have to spend a lot of time with her. However, when I related this to a friend, he told me to get over it and help her. (My other friends thought I was a sucker for even considering it.)
I am over the heartbreak I once felt with her, although it took a while. I’m dating now, but have yet to meet someone I click with.
How should I handle this? My initial response was “No — I think I’d feel too uncomfortable.” But I keep second-guessing myself. — WOBBLY BOUNDARIES IN TEXAS
Poor Mr. Wobbly Boundaries! His advice-giving friend is clearly a committed altruist. So even though the ex-girlfriend cheated on him and almost ruined his life, Mr. Boundaries is obliged to help her further her career. (It’s not a matter of the promise made to her so long ago, since obviously her infidelity eviscerated any such obligations.) Mr. Boundaries seems philosophically disarmed against such altruism. The best that he can come up with is his own subjective feelings: he would feel uncomfortable. He does not even raise the question of whether a woman like her deserves any help from the man she hurt.
This letter is a nice example of why altruism is particularly dangerous to the people who fail to reject it, even if they never embrace it. They are easy prey.
In case you’re curious, Dear Abby’s reply gave the right advice, but for wholly inadequate reasons:
DEAR WOBBLY: I think the woman had a lot of nerve asking you to help her, considering the terms of your breakup.
Please stop second-guessing yourself; listen to your gut and “pass.” Because if you don’t, MY gut tells me you are going to get emotionally involved and get hurt again.
Oh no, not more feelings!