Friday, January 11, 2013

Real Talk With Rachel: Reaching Out From the Other Side of the TV Screen

by Rachel Kurzius

Dear Rachel,

I am a television news correspondent. One of the most fulfilling aspects of my job is getting feedback from viewers. However, one message to my professional page is quite troublesome and I'm not sure how or if I should respond.

A gentleman sent me a lengthy private message where he told me he was severely depressed, lonely, and suicidal. He also told me he was in love with me and that he feels like "he has someone in the world he wants to please." I have never personally met or communicated with him before.

I want to send you a couple excerpts from the letter to give you an idea in just how dire a state of mind this guy is in:

"Much of the time Ive lost all my desire for anything in humanity... Im on theverge of suicide and have been for quite a while. I want to make 2013 differentand I want to see change in my life this time. I dont know how to do it or howhard it will be but Ive got nothing else to live for... I just feel like I loveyou and I want to do something for you... Ill never be tired or seeing your faceand hearing your voice. It is f[***]ed up and it is not real but when I see you Ifeel like I have someone in the world who I want to please."
Do I have an ethical duty to help this gentleman who is lost and possibly thinking about taking his life and is reaching out to me? Or would doing so spark a conversation with someone that could turn dangerous?

I would really appreciate any advice.

Bewildered Correspondent

Dear Bewildered Correspondent,

My heart goes out to this man. He seems to have completely lost touch with all of the things that make me excited to wake up in the morning. Worst of all, he can sense what he’s missing.

That’s where you come in, Bewildered Correspondent. You give him a reminder of why human connection is so vital and potentially satisfying. In seeing you on his television he can get a fleeting taste of that connection, as unsatisfying a substitute as it may be. When you stare and talk at the camera it mimes a
conversation, though of course it’s always one way.

He recognizes that loving you, as he calls it, is messed up. I generally try and respect people’s feelings and the way they describe them (a very wise person once told me that feelings are never stupid, because they’re ours and sometimes they’re all we’ve got). Despite this sentiment, I’m not sure I would agree that
this gentleman loves you, at least in the way we typically ascribe all of the obligations that go along with love. It seems more to me like an obsession or fixation from someone who, as he describes himself, has suicidal tendencies and a whole slew of other mental issues.

You asked about your ethical obligations to this man. We can and should try to help our loved ones, and even just the people we kind of like. Your ethical duty in this situation is more tenuous. The reason is the potential danger that could await. This man might not harm a hair-sprayed hair on your head. But the thing is, you never know.

So far, he’s made some quantum leaps in logic. This gentleman acknowledged that these jumps, the greatest of which seems to be his love for you, are “not real,” but they also appear to be the only reality that resonates with him. How far will he go to make this real? What would make you more real to him?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, and I would rather you not have to find out. It can feel so selfish to fear for an abstract sense of safety when a concrete harm --this man’s potential suicide-- is at hand.

I’ve noticed that women in particular cast aside their gut feelings to avoid making someone else feel uncomfortable or awkward. Your safety needs to come first, Bewildered Correspondent.

So I would advise that you don’t directly respond to this man’s letter, even though reading excerpts of it made me feel as though my brain was chopped by a Cuisinart. There’s nothing you can say in response that will make him better, even if he thinks you could. After all, you have no plans to consummate a
relationship with him. Your referral to a suicide hotline or something like that would be providing readily available information from a now-opened door. You don’t know the stranger on that doorstep, but you do know that he is unstable and obsessed with you. I would lock that door.

This doesn’t mean that you must ignore him and his plight altogether, though. Clearly he is an avid watcher of your television show. Perhaps you can do a segment on mental illness, and flash the suicide hotline or mental health center information you would have shared with him. That way, you can continue
the relationship as it currently is -- you on TV and him watching from home -- with a sense of security and closure. 

All the best,


Rachel Kurzius revels in giving advice, and has provided counsel both as a columnist and a friend. She lives in Washington DC, where she works as a news producer. Real Talk with Rachel is published on All Life is Local and the Cleveland Park Listserv,, on Wednesdays. Need advice? You
can write to Rachel via or advice @ or via

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