Friend or Consultant?

There are people in my life -mostly those who were once good friends- who call me solely when they want advice, or when things are going wrong and they need someone to turn to, to vent to, or to bounce solutions around with.

And I'm conflicted.

On one hand, I'm happy that people consider me worthy of their troubles, that they consider confiding in me a worthwile experience enough to seek out repeatedly, even if we haven't spoken otherwise in ages. I like being someone people can turn to, for whatever reason. And I'd like to think those I have loved can, years after we've last spoken, call me out of the blue at any hour of the day or night with the certainty that I'll be there for them.

But on the other hand, I never hear from these particular "friends" at any other time than when they want something. And increasingly, I haven't felt any great compulsion to respond to their texts and calls. The ego boost from earlier years has faded into mild, jaded annoyance, and I can't help but start to wonder where the line between the duties of friendship fades into the territory of being used.

Quite often, my male friends will ask me to help pick out gifts for the various ladies in their lives. It's a service which I am happy to render, and do not consider a chore at all so much as a vicarious shopping experience and a chance to hang out with said friend. However, I recently got a call from someone I haven't hung out with in quite a while who wanted my help in selecting a rather nice piece of jewelry for his wife. Now, I haven't even met his wife, I know nothing of her and her likes or dislikes, and nor am I a part of this guy's life anymore. And I found it an incredibly tedius and unenjoyable experience. Probably because at that point, it didn't feel like being a friend so much as an unpaid personal shopper.

The reason why I write this is because that same 'friend' (and the term at this point is at best a loose one) just sent me a text asking if I'm busy. And you know, I wasn't a few seconds before my phone beeped, but I made damn sure I was immediately afterwards. Because every single communication I've recieved from him in the past year has been because he wants a sympathetic ear, or advice, or help of one sort or another. Occasionally, he asks about my life, but only in the last two to three minutes of the call, clearly doing so mainly out of courtesy.

He's the worst offender, but by no means the only one. Where do you draw the line between helping out someone who used to (or still does) mean something to you and just simply allowing yourself to be used? And once that line is drawn, (as it has been made abundantly clear by reading my own words that I'm in serious need of a line...or two) is there ever a nice way to tell people they are cashing in on the benefits of a friendship long disintegrated? I, for one, am doubtful.

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