My friend has been dating her boyfriend for two years. At first, I thought they were good together, but then he started to show his true colors. First of all, he’s cheap. She pays for most of their dinners out, for example, and he once got upset with me because I forgot to refund him for a five-dollar drink.
Second, he calls her fat, and his favorite nickname for her is “woman.” He tells her who she should hang out with, and limits her contact with some of her oldest friends (like me). Nowadays, most of her friends are his friends’ girlfriends, and if she doesn’t like one of them, she can’t even tell him.
I tolerated him initially because I wanted to support her, and I’ve given him the benefit of the doubt because she says he’s had a less-than-perfect life. However, he’s broken up with her twice recently, telling her that he can’t picture the rest of his life with her, and can’t see her as the mother of his children. She was completely devastated each time but seemed adamant about not getting back together.
Next, whenever my fiancé and I got together with the two of them, there was an attitude about him—like he thought he was better than us. We would occasionally poke fun at him, but it was in all good fun. My friend recently told me, though, that he has repeatedly talked about how he thinks my fiancé is homosexual and acts too feminine. (She assured me she always defended us when he made these comments.)
I was outraged. Since then, I’ve seen her a couple of times and she didn’t mention her (ex-) boyfriend at all. But then, out of the blue, she sent me a text telling me that they bought a house together. She also, strangely, told me to tell my fiancé happy birthday from her and her boyfriend. It seemed so friendly and casual, like nothing had happened.
It is true that my fiancé isn’t the biggest and brawniest guy, and he has a higher voice than most men, but I love him and who he is. Naturally, he now wants nothing to do with this guy, which makes spending time as a foursome out of the question.
So what do I do with my friendship with her now? Especially knowing how disrespectful her boyfriend has been and that there is a possibility she doesn’t seem to mind? Do I talk to her about it? Do I learn to deal with it?
I feel at this point that I might lose her either way but I hate to just give up on her.
Truly Confused and Stressed
Thanks for your letter. There’s so much going on here that I’m not quite sure where to start.
First, let me say that there are some important lessons in this experience that apply to your specific situation, but also to relationships in general.
We’re often not conscious of the reasons we pick the people we do as partners. You mention that her boyfriend has had a difficult background, but fail to mention anything about her background. The point is, she has likely had experiences that speak to why she’s gotten involved with such a difficult guy. When a man tries to limit a woman’s friendships, or choose her friends, that is a powerful indicator of a controlling and abusive personality. And if she allows a man to treat her with such disrespect, it may be because she’s used to being treated that way. Is it possible she grew up in an abusive home and this is her expectation of a romantic relationship?
One reason to consider as to why your friend puts up with such behavior because she thinks she can’t do any better or that she deserves it. This is partly a self-esteem issue. It’s likely true that her fiancé is reenacting abuse he suffered or witnessed, too. (This doesn’t excuse him, of course.) It sounds like they both need some self-reflection. One way you might help them, if you can tolerate doing so, is to try to bolster her self-esteem. You might also suggest she and her boyfriend seek therapy.
It is an unfortunate fact of life that women sometimes pick controlling men for their partners, and, as a result, that their old female friendships wither away.
If you do want to try to remain her friend, you could continue to try to go out with her alone, but I would explain how hurtful the comments about your fiancé were. I would also be careful about alienating her—let her know she can seek your support, should she realize that her boyfriend is not a healthy relationship choice.
Now, let’s talk about another part of this situation. You say you and your fiancé occasionally “poked fun” at Mr. Wonderful but thought it was all in good fun. Remember that what seems like good fun to you may seem entirely different to the other person. Maybe whatever you said hit a nerve with him—and this is why he’s now bashing your fiancé. I always say, we cannot control how others are in the world; we can only control how we are. So be sure you are part of the solution, not the problem. Watch what you say and how you treat other people.
Which brings me to a final, and very important, point. Bullying and name-calling in our culture have gotten completely out of control. Your fiancé has presumably put up with his fair share of it, and he’s understandably tired of it. And obviously, your friend’s boyfriend has a great deal of ignorance about homosexuality—which, unfortunately, is not uncommon and which is often a lightning rod for bullying. Of course some homosexuals have feminine characteristics, but plenty are the most macho men around. And while some heterosexual men are macho, plenty, like your fiancé, are less so.
Regardless, personal characteristics like weight, or race, or sexual orientation should not in any way provide an opportunity for bullying, name-calling, or putdowns. And this is true no matter whom the name-caller is—even if it’s your close friend’s fiancé.
I wish you the best with your friendship and with your future husband,
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Photo of couple courtesy of Shutterstock.