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Practically all the relationships I know are based on a foundation of lies and mutually accepted delusion.

-- Samantha Jones

(as played by Kim Cattrall on Sex and the City )

I take a sip of my coffee in the silent moment between subjects. We'd already gotten the tedious topics out of the way, the ones that play out like a skipping CD every time we meet -- work is not satisfying and family is frustrating. There's only one thing left to talk about (before we move on to the entertaining finale of gossip) -- his boyfriend. "So," I tread first, as is the duty of the inquisitor. "How's Paul?"

"He's fine, he's doing great. He loves his job, he gets a lot of respect there." His eyes roll and then settle to meet mine. I smile and nod, waiting for the inevitable. "He just really made me angry last night." Here it is. The complaining has begun. It will be another hour before it ends, an hour filled with his questions and my reassurances, his observations and my skepticisms, and the same advice I always give but that he never takes -- dump his sorry ass.

"Why do you put up with it?" I ask, though I already know the answer.

"Because I love him, I guess."

"Are you happy? Are you satisfied? Do you feel like you're getting everything you want out of life and more?"

He looks at me over his cup filled with coffee that must now be cold. "I don't know. I mean, I love him. Maybe we can get counseling."

"You mean, maybe he'll change, right? That's a rare thing, but for your sake, I hope he does."

I want my friends to be happy. I want to see them enjoy their lives and engage in wonderfully fulfilling relationships. I also want them to feel comfortable being honest with me and to know that I don't judge them for their feelings. But after countless conversations during which I have sympathetically listened to a friend's litany of his beau's personal shortcomings and character flaws, why does he act surprised when I give the cause of his misery the cold shoulder?

I've seen my friends through many relationships, helping them out of the bad ones by consoling them or supporting them in their decision by putting the offender at the top of my shit list. The problem is, each time I have done this, each time , the so-called "offender" comes running back to open arms -- arms belonging to someone who had worked hard to convince me they would never embrace bullshit again.

And, like clockwork, once my friend is complacent again in his relationship, the guilt he feels for having complained so much in the first place compels him to make up for it by filling my ears and e-mail inbox with praise for the "former" schmuck. And though he might be willing to forgive and move on, I can't forget how he cried, how he screamed, and the pain his boyfriend caused him. A good friend's role is to be honest with you, even when you are deluding yourself. And putting up with a partner who lies, cheats, or consistently behaves like a child for reasons like, "I love him," is the worst kind of delusion. My advice? Love yourself first.

I find it baffling how many people feel unable to remove themselves from damaging situations and relationships. When I say "damaging," I don't mean the little things -- laundry left on the floor, grotesque belching at inappropriate moments, leaving the cap off the toothpaste -- all those things that can be easily addressed with good communication. Rather, I am talking about deeply rooted personality traits -- those aspects of one's character that define who they are.

Every time I ask my friend Jeff how things are going with his girlfriend of three months, I get the same answer -- "Not good." Jeff has gotten himself involved with a woman who invents issues as she goes along, the most prominent of which are her obsession with image and her fear of aging, even though she's a model in her 20s.

"Listen, man," I say, hoping he grasps my sincerity, "get out now . Before you find yourself further enmeshed with someone who doesn't love herself, and therefore will never allow anyone else, including you, to love her."

"Yeah, I know," he responds, as though he's told himself the same thing a dozen times already. "I just want to find someone else first." But people are not jobs. And it's not fair to either party if one is simply biding time until something better comes along.

I have been with David for three years. My friends would be hard-pressed to unearth complaints I have made about him. However, I would hope that if I started telling tales of how he'd wronged me in some way, that my friends would step up and remind me that I deserve better. My friends are thoughtful, caring, and respectful, which is why it upsets me when they are not treated in kind.

The question we must ask ourselves is, "What would I advise my friend to do in a situation like this?" Chances are you wouldn't say, "Wow, he called you a slut and then went out with his ex-girlfriend for the evening? What you need to do is cook him a nice meal and then give him a massage with a happy ending and things will be right as rain."

I was with one man for four months when I realized my complaints about him outweighed my compliments. I brought this epiphany directly to him in the form of a question -- are these things going to change? When the answer was a passive "No," I bid him a friendly goodbye.

Sometimes it's not that simple. I dated another guy for three months before I realized I was compromising my hopes and dreams for the convenience of having someone around. In that instance, at 22, I took the coward's approach and slowly distanced myself without a forthright explanation, something I had assumed he wasn't mature enough to handle. "Picture everyone walking around with a bag," says my Uncle Jimmy. "In each bag is a pile of shit. You have one, I have one, we all have one with us wherever we go. When you get to know someone, you look in their bag and they look in yours. Before you begin a relationship, you both have to decide -- is this shit I can live with? If the answer is yes, you're good to go. If the answer is no, you must move on to the next person and their bag. And that's how relationships work."

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