Hopefully Helpful Advice
Here's something we've all experienced: what do you do when your friend is dating - or engaged to - a jerk?
LETTER THE FIRST:
What do you do when your mates have terrible taste? While most of my female friends have brilliant partners, I’ve recently found myself in the situation where a person I’m quite close to has agreed to marry a complete and utter tool. Her fiance is obnoxious when drunk to the point when he is both embarrassing her and himself, often sexist and abusive. While I’ve never spoken up about it before as I’ve learned from losing past friends in this exact situation, I feel a bit frustrated. Do you just let the friend go or say something?
Not A Thing That Will Fix Itself I Don’t Think
LETTER THE SECOND:
Dear Gender Neutral Person-X,
So, my friend just starting dating an actor – an actor who I’ve heard is a bit of a dick when it comes to ladies. Easy, you say? Tell my friend?
Trouble is, the first time I heard about him was two years ago, and it was second-hand knowledge: a ladyfriend talking about how this actor had dated a friend of hers, and treated that friend really callously. The second time was more recently, when another friend said this actor had pursued her hard, and then on the third date explained that he didn’t want to get serious because he was seeing someone else, someone that he was quite into. Which in itself might be okay, in certain circumstances – but she said he was a bit of a dick about it, and I trust her judgment.
Then this OTHER friend of mine turned up with this actor to a party the other night, and I felt really awkward – I felt like yelling, ‘Oh no, don’t date that douche!’ but I was also aware that it might be none of my business, and also, I don’t actually know he’s a douche. She’s not a close enough friend to just be blunt about it, so I’m not really sure what to do. I feel like I should at least flag with her that he might be seeing other people, because she seems fairly caught up in the whole thing… But I don’t want to make her paranoid if there’s no reason.
Friend Of Friend Dating Actor, Obviously
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears (eyeballs)”. I believe this to be a quite famous actorly quote, yes? (That last bit I added for dramatic license, Shakespeare being in the public domain and all.)
These letters are run together, friends, because they are connected. Connected by matters of taste!
Firstly, a general piece of advice: normal human people should never date actors. Only actors are allowed to date other actors*, which is just the same rule as for writers, cops, and superheroes. Otherwise you’ll find quite quickly that you do not understand each other, and that your peculiar lines of work demand the deep and secret knowledge that only your own kind can provide. So, LW2, if your friend is not an actor, the simple answer is to tell her not to date this actor because of the laws of physics. SIMPLE. SOLVED.
Wait, there is more here that we shall get to because I should not be so blithe. It was only a performance, I was merely acting.
*Kind of! I once heard a well-known actor address a room full of baby actors about this very thing, and the advice of that actor was to date nobody. Nobody at all, because such is the laser-focused narcissism required of young actors to get anywhere in their profession that they cannot be distracted from this task by their libidos. And also something about converting their sexual energy into pure stage charisma, but it was quite complicated and I didn’t follow exactly; there was a lot of talk about discipline, but not the sexy kind. He then said that if you absolutely must pursue a relationship while trying to be an actor then make sure it’s with another actor, as your mutual self-absorption will cancel itself out. This was real, living, breathing advice from someone internationally renowned, so presumably they weren’t lying but also, actors: never date them.
LW1: If only your problem were as simple as, What do you do when your mates have terrible taste? This would be so easy to answer: as the years wear on, you good-naturedly tolerate and gently make fun of your friend’s hideous taste in music/movies/books/obscure hobbies, and never run out of humorous gifts to give them which aide in this gentle fun-making/tolerance. It’s quite wonderful and everyone always laughs.
But as your question is actually What do you do when your mates have terrible taste in partners that could ruin their life forever?, sadly it is not fun at all and no one ever laughs. This is one of the most vexing Major Friend Issues that we ever encounter in our lives, and it never gets any easier to deal with.
Great, this is chipper!
There is something in your letter that elevates it above other classes of friend’s-significant-other problems, and it’s this: obnoxious when drunk to the point when he is both embarrassing her and himself, often sexist and abusive.
What I am about to say here applies to verbal, emotional and physical abuse: when someone acts this way towards their partner when they are drunk and in public and around friends, it is a giant, alarming, smashing-passing-cars-with-itself red flag that this person could be dangerous. It means they are very likely acting this way in private with your friend, or may at least be on the way to letting that side of their personality out when they aren’t drunk and in public. A person who is a sexist and abusive drunk is not friend material, and certainly not life-partner/marrying material. Now this is the part that will be very difficult.
You say that this is someone you are close to, so you have that on your side. That means, hopefully, that they are open to listening to you. You listen to each other, have each other’s best interests at heart, and that’s why you are friends. You aren’t in the business of lying to or undermining each other. She will listen to you, I hope, when you bring this up with her in the most delicate but firm way you can. She’ll know, I hope, that you aren’t in the habit of stirring up drama in your friends’ lives.
I’m guessing you aren’t the only one of your friends who has noticed the unacceptable behaviour of the fiancé? You guys need to get together and talk about your plan to bring this up with your friend. This isn’t some kind of seedy sabotage mission; you genuinely, and rightly, are worried about your friend putting her life into an abusive relationship. This means you are allowed to talk about how to deal with it, together.
This can’t be a giant intervention with everyone she knows yelling at her about the hideous mistake she is about to make. Remember, you don’t know yet what is happening behind closed doors, and your friend could well be afraid of this guy. You need to create a space where she feels safe and listened to, with you and maybe her other closest friend, where the three of you sit down and you tell her that you are, as her friends, very worried about how her fiancé behaves when he is drunk. That you’ve witnessed it a number of times and that it’s not acceptable for someone you love and care about to be talked to that way. You need to let her know that she can talk about what’s happening with you and that you can make a plan together for how to extricate her from the relationship. You might need to offer her a bed or couch to crash on while she is working this stuff out away from her (hopefully soon to be ex-)fiancé. In any case, she has to get away from this person in order to get her thinking straight. You as her friends need to rally around her during this time.
This is the best-case scenario.
The worst-case scenario is that your friend can’t hear what you are saying. That she sees no problem and she won’t leave. If this happens, there is nothing you can do about it, because we can’t ever control or change other people, even when they seem incapable of making good choices. That isn’t our job. If this happens, you have to have peace with knowing that you did what you could as a friend; that you did the right thing, that you told her you are genuinely concerned for her safety. There are people around her now who know what’s happening, and if the time should ever come, you can mobilise in a crisis. That is the job of a real friend.
In either scenario there will most likely be blowback from your friend. She will be angry, or maybe she will feel ashamed and that will come across as angry. Or she might be only relieved because she’s wanted out for a long time. But there will probably be uncomfortable feelings flying around, and you have to steel yourself for that. Strong friendships are like any kind of real relationship: they can weather the bad. You’re the messenger and so you might get shot a little bit, but it won’t be fatal. When what is up for grabs is your friend’s emotional or physical well-being, it’s worth it in the long run to risk her being angry with you in the short term. When she is on the other side of this and with someone who is a loving and secure and supportive partner, she’ll thank you for being a friend to her.
I mean this from the most inner depths of my heart: good luck.
LW2, on this particular scale of “Do I involve myself for someone else’s well-being?”, you get a pass. There is too much second- and third-hand information for you to be able to be any real help in this situation. It’s sweet to be worried about someone you know dating a sleazy idiot (who is an actor no less!), but ultimately, these people are all adults. They can talk to each other about what’s going on between them, and make their own choices about whether or not they want be involved with people who are (maybe? Perhaps? They were?) involved with other people. Because although it might not come from you, the word about this guy being a sleazy idiot is going to get back to your friend. It will be okay. I feel she’ll cotton on pretty quick to this person not being someone she should invest in (Sell your stocks in actors today!).
If you ever have hard, first-hand and irrefutable proof, you might want to mention it to your mate when you see her, in a very straight-up, not-undermine-y fashion — but anything short of that, let it go.
To be, or not to be (getting involved with this particular scenario), as some guy said once. In this case, not to be.
And don’t date actors.
Really, I told you.
Got 99 Problems? Then talk to Jay-Z. But if you have one very precise problem, please do send that one in: firstname.lastname@example.org — the email will be read only by G-NPX, and you will be kept anonymous.