One of my best friends started dating her boyfriend a few months ago. It’s her first serious relationship in a few years, and she seems really happy.
I really want to be happy for her, too, but I can’t stand the guy. He’s arrogant, pushy, awful to be around, and, frankly, just plain mean. He’s also blatantly sexist (he’d probably call it traditionalist), and she doesn’t seem to realize it.
The worst part, though, is that he gives her zero support in her life and interests. She’s given up some of the things she used to like to do (like church and our running club) to spend time with him, and I’ve heard him make snide comments about her career goals (she’s working on writing a book).
They’re also moving way too fast. They’re talking about moving in together after only being together for a few months, but she used to say that she would never live with anyone before getting married.
I know she’s a big girl, but my friends and I are really worried this isn’t a good relationship for her. I know that I shouldn’t go telling her what to do unless she asks for advice, but at the same time, I don’t want to see her get hurt. She’s really an awesome person and I know there’s a great guy out there for her—this one just isn’t him.
What do I do? How do I protect her without pushing her away? Should I just keep smiling and pretend to like him? Help!
I seem to be seeing a lot of letters from Daily Muse readers about sexist men. This gem sounds like a guy I’m familiar with—but, unfortunately for his girl, they’re already legally bound to each other. I’m hopeful this isn’t foreshadowing some kind of a post-modern revival of a hoary cultural norm.
My initial thought is that unless there is something truly heinous going on here, like violence or real name-calling, you should try to pretend to like him—fake it, act like you don’t have an opinion either way—and not bring it up with her, unless she asks.
That said, get her to ask. Here’s how.
My sense is you’re still hanging out with them as a couple. If so, model for him—and for her—what’s acceptable behavior and conversation. Don’t gossip or talk down about others. Be kind, supportive, expansive, and inclusive. This is not a time to be timid, however: Model how a strong, confident woman stands up for herself.
Let’s say you’ve all gone somewhere after work, and he disdainfully says something like, “You can’t make any money writing a book.” There’s your cue to calmly say, “Really, John? Melissa is working on a book, and I think she’s really talented, and I love her topic. That’s kind of an unsupportive thing to say, don’t you think?”
What I’m suggesting is that you confront him not by any kind of name-calling, but rather by commenting on a specific behavior or statement that offends you. You get extra points if you can make note of what a great gal you think your friend is at the same time.
One possible outcome is that she’ll defend him, so watch her reaction carefully—if and how she defends him may give you some clues as to her state of mind. The best outcome would be (and might be, if you confront his specific bad behavior enough times) that she gets the hint. If you’re lucky, she’ll ask you about it privately, saying something like, “Why were you so mean to John?” Even better: “I get the feeling you don’t like John.” There’s your opening, not to call him out for being a jerk, but to ask questions about her experience and what she thinks. Say something along the lines of, “Well, I just didn’t like what he said, because I think you’re a great writer. Does he say stuff like that often?”
Another opening might be talking with her about them moving in together. This is such a big step, and if she brings it up, that may be a good time to ask her questions about how she’s feeling.
Maybe she’s feeling some pressure to settle down, and perhaps that’s why things are moving so quickly. If that’s the case, you might even bring up how you’re feeling similar pressure to “get married already!” Back that up with your desire to commit to someone when you meet the right person, not because there’s some expectation or timeline. Hopefully, after enough of these conversations with you and others, she’ll start thinking about her relationship, and whether it’s really right for her.
Beyond that, the one thing you don’t want to do is to back off your friendship with her now. If you blatantly show that you hate her boyfriend, it will at least cause awkwardness and may put a serious strain on the relationship. Instead, focus on your friendship. Step up efforts to tell her and show her just what an awesome person she is. Invite her along when you go out. Compliment her achievements, and support her accomplishments, personality, persistence, kindness, whatever. Continue to invite her to events at church and the running club. Say how much you miss her there.
And by the way, as a writer, I feel compelled to tell you that if she really wants to write, and is meant to write, it won’t matter what he says. When I first started writing, my husband was afraid I’d be devastated by rejection because getting a book published was such a long shot. A traditionalist friend asked if I was going to give it up because my husband expressed concern, and I said, “No way.” I wrote two books in a row, eventually three, and my amazed husband supported me all the way. In this situation, if she’s really passionate about writing, he will come around, she will suppress her desire, or that will be the cause of their breakup. No kidding.
I wish both you and your friend the best.
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