~ Academic Monkey
I am a male first-year graduate student who lives in school housing across from "Ted," a belligerent, drunk and drug-abusing classmate who won't leave me alone. He sends me dozens of texts each day prompting me to engage in deep, intellectual conversations about his emotional problems. His unreasonable behavior around other students makes it clear why he doesn't have other friends. I have people-pleasing tendencies, which is why I have tolerated him so far. I would like to cut him off so I can focus on my studies, but I'm not sure how. He has said to me that he has fantasies about beating up people who upset him. I suggested that he see one of the school's free therapists, but he insists that I am better than any therapist.
I remember my first year of grad school, when a fellow grad student (a fourth-year! How posh!) be-friended me and began to break down her life in terms of Kafka and Foucault. Sometimes she did this in class. Sometimes she shared it over drinks after seminar. I thought I was proving myself by befriending the ABD set and getting half her references. Stylish!
Then I met her four cats, one of which was so sick that it just sat in her house, openly bleeding from its ears, while my new friend talked about how heaven was a social construct that her dying cat didn't believe in. There was some hoarding going on in the house (aside from the cats). We went to a department-related wedding together, where Cat Lady got drunk and sat in the middle of the dance floor crying about wanting to sleep with her advisor. Members of the department would knowingly wink about it for years afterward.
There is something special about academia. It draws in a certain sort of person, the successful and smart type, who then engage in the practice of constantly deconstructing everything around them until they have deconstructed themselves into nothing. It's ambition mixed with destruction. Social boundaries no longer have any meaning. Reading this letter reminded me of a friend, "Edward", who confessed to a crowded seminar of 15 students that he had been molested as a child, and that the molestation helped him to understand that week's reading in a very special light. He then began to cry and finally the professor gave us a fiver so "Edward" could get a hold of himself.
It is not your responsibility to balance other people's lives. Friendships during grad school are vital to success, lest you disappear into the library and never escape. But friendships should remain acquaintance-level drinking/bitching buddies, not psychological inter-dependence. You have to let go of Ted. You have plenty of excuses why: classes, teaching, research. If appropriate, reach out to a graduate advisor so people are aware of Ted's problems, but then disengage.
Plus, if you have to get all wrapped up in an inappropriate relationship during grad school, you might as well get some sex out of it. Turn Ted loose and let him figure out how to drop out all by himself.