My boyfriend's longtime friend, who is also my friend, is getting married to a woman we dislike. And by dislike, I mean, good Lord we think he's getting himself into a world of hurt and abuse, and we don't know the best way to address it to him.
Our friend is a caring, thoughtful, capable man in his early 30s. He's from a middle class American family, but he's far from home and not wealthy himself so we usually hang out in cheap dive bars and hole in the wall restaurants (until he met his fiancée). He's kind of shy and a little awkward around women. He can be a push-over and keeps his emotions hidden. He hasn't had many relationships and the ones he's had sound kind of abusive from what my boyfriend tells me. The girls would walk all over him and he'd just take it. He also gets these jobs in which he works very long hours with low pay and tries to convince us he's fine with being undervalued. So he's had a history of not standing up for himself, and is quite stubborn about taking advice, but we think he's getting into something… devious this time.
The fiancée is in her late 20s, from Italy, and needs a green card to stay here (see what I'm getting at?). We can tell she's from wealth from how much diamond/expensive jewelry she wears and how she frequents expensive restaurants despite her only "job" being a no-pay, volunteering gig at an art gallery. She is usually an optimistic, high spirited, fun individual. But some of her behaviors are very irritating and she is definitely manipulative. For example, every time we eat out, she picks the restaurant. It HAS to be Italian. These restaurants usually have no entrées under $20 and she usually send things back or complains extensively to the server at least once a meal. She also likes to pressure/guilt trip everyone into drinking alcohol, and makes me feel like I'm being impolite when I pass. At first my boyfriend just thought she was needy because she has a disability—years ago she had a terrible motorcycle accident that left her lower half paralyzed, so she needs a wheelchair to get around. Over time, however, my boyfriend realized she's just difficult—it's totally understandable to make sure a place is wheelchair accessible, but to send back a drink 3 times because it didn't meet her standards while everyone watches awkwardly?
One night, we flaked on them. The time they set to meet was late, we were tired and didn't want to travel an hour to see them only to leave an hour later. I know it's never nice to flake, but we figured it's no big deal since we didn't have any reservations or even a place in mind. That caused her to cry over the phone! She accused us of "never" hanging out with them, even though we did a couple nights prior! My boyfriend said fine, he'll go see them two days later. He came back complaining about her taking up all his friend's time and energy, and how his friend is being an idiot.
Also, we recently found out she's been driving his other friends away. A while back, he shared an apartment with a female friend with a one-year lease. The fiancée was jealous, so she convinced him to break the lease after 4 months to live with her in a far more expensive apartment that we don't even know how he affords. The ex-roommate couldn't afford the old place with the lease and couldn't find someone else, so she borrowed a lot of money from our friend and hasn't been able to pay it back. Now the fiancée uses this as an excuse to keep the ex-roommate from going to their wedding, even though we all know the ex-roommate and she's a very sweet girl who just hit a rough patch with her job around the same time our friend ditched her.
So we keep wanting to ask our friend, you know, "HEY! What are you doing?" But the fiancée has such a hold on him, we literally never see him without her any more. Once, my boyfriend convinced him to hang out alone with the ol' "boy's night out" request. They only got a couple of beers in before this woman just shows up! My boyfriend cut out after he realized she wasn't going to leave, and has never been able to get his buddy alone again, despite many requests.
We know our friend is a people-pleaser. We know he enjoys being so helpful to this woman, whom he loves. We know he's been lonely. But their relationship feels more like ownership. When we're in a group, we constantly hear him apologizing to her about how a tiny detail isn't right. "Sorry I didn't properly say hi to someone you know; Sorry I didn't give my friends things they didn't even need but you think they do; Sorry I don't complain about my food to the server like you wanted me to; Sorry I grabbed your lighter for you when you demanded SOMEONE ELSE grab it for you (WTF!); SORRY YOU HAVE TO PEEL YOUR OWN CRAB WITH YOUR HANDS YOU DAINTY FUCK!" (Last one was me actually.) It's tiring! Hanging out with them is expensive and full of guilt trips. Most nice things I do for her are usually returned with criticism about how some detail is wrong. She's like the harsh mother I've never had and our friend is like her boy-nurse-assistant who is still expected to perform the traditional Italian patriarchal role in the relationship by paying for things. I mean, when I asked her about gays in Italy, she said there are none there. Talk about traditional gender role expectations!
Of course, this is all besides the fact that she might kick him to the curb in 2 years after she gets her green card. The official "reason" he gave us for the engagement was he "didn't want to move to Italy."
I don't think she's a terrible person. In fact, we do have a good time on occasion. I also admire her tenacity despite being bound to a wheelchair. She can beat most women and men I know in arm wrestling and I think that's really cool! But she's also annoyingly spoiled, and clearly insecure about herself, and thinks nobody likes her (i.e., crying when we cancel for ONE night). She's extremely high maintenance and her discomfort is usually presented as everyone's discomfort. I'm sick of it.
I do get the feeling this is kind of not really my business. But it's frustrating to see our friend willingly enslave himself. My boyfriend has run out of ideas of how to get him alone to smack some sense into him, and he's even more afraid to push his friend away by suggesting he reconsiders the engagement. I am fantasizing about the day when I finally get so fed up that I openly tell her I don't give a shit about her feelings because she's a selfish bitch. But our friend will be there, because he's always there, and he's sensitive and will probably get super defensive. I don't want him to hate me.
Bah! So what you think Polly? Both my boyfriend and I don't want to lose our friend, but is it already too late? Is it just out of our hands? Or maybe we read this all wrong and they are going to be fine in such an arrangement? It just won't leave any room for us? Am I stupid for suggesting our friend is better off lonely? Am I being over-protective? Worse, am I being selfish and/or insensitive?? Maybe she really loves him? But will she in 2 years?
Just Want the Italian Princess to Go Away
Ah, yes. The world is her personal concierge! And those who displease her are merely malfunctioning apps that need to be reprogrammed to suit her tastes.
But what do you think you'll gain by speaking to your friend about her? You said yourself that he rarely takes advice about anything. Certainly I would never, ever recommend that you, the girlfriend of his friend, say a single word about her to him. I also wouldn't recommend walking around grumbling about her Dainty Fuck ways to other people, as difficult as that might seem. If your mutual friends are having conversations about what a nightmare she is, your stance should be that of an amused observer. Do you hear what I'm telling you? Do. Not. Lead. The. Charge.
I speak from experience here. Back in the days when I struggled every second to keep what was in my head from flying out of my mouth, I ran into a similar situation. My boyfriend and his friend had developed a habit of unpacking the behavior of their friend's exceptionally high-maintenance girlfriend. And even though the girlfriend was pretty sour and controlling and not all that pleasant, even though I saw a life of subservience and misery ahead for our friend, even though I suspected that plenty of mutual friends agreed with me, the whole thing had nothing to do with me. This woman was my boyfriend's friend's girlfriend. I found her mildly annoying but rarely had to deal with her directly. I wouldn't have given her a second thought, if not for the fact that hating on her had become a kind of sport for my boyfriend and his friend.
Having marinated in a few weeks of detailed complaints from my boyfriend, I was talking to another friend of the guy's (not his girlfriend's friend) and I let slip the verbal equivalent of an eye roll. She started asking questions: What do YOU think? Boy, was I stupid back then. I was powerless to "What do YOU think?" Being asked to say more was my personal El Guapo. I could not resist. I tiptoed around the subject, but still managed to say way, way too much.
This instantly ballooned into a nuclear detonation. Forget everyone else who quietly worried for our friend's future. I alone became the face of evil.
And look, I deserved it. I was truly an idiot. Not just an idiot, but really an awful example of woman-on-woman crime. And why? I didn't know her and had no skin in the game whatsoever. Even if I could see clearly that he was going to be her handservant forever and ever—which any casual observer could see—how exactly was that my business?
Here's what I finally started to notice: When ensconced in groups not of my personal choosing, while dating men who, although charming, aren't exactly my style, I get weird and lash out randomly at the universe. Instead of identifying the problem ("Who are these strange people and how did I get here?") and then quietly folding into the background until I can escape, I have, historically, tended to make a spectacle of myself in one way or another. Thanks to my big mouth and maybe a self-destructive streak or two, I have more than once been the freak that gets chased out of town at the end of a pitchfork.
But let's look at the bigger picture: Should an outspoken, opinionated woman take it upon herself to lead the charge when a very passive group develops a problem in the form of a person? THE ANSWER IS NO.
This is going to sound a little retro, but it's actually just practical advice: If you're a confident, outspoken woman, people are going to dislike you before you even open your mouth. Maybe you're a little harsh and a little obnoxious and a little offensive, like I am. Or maybe you're just too unbearably sure of yourself. Either way, you're a little quieter than usual, and they're still suspicious. Now imagine how much they'll hate you once you start speaking. I'm not saying never speak. I'm just saying, recognize the lay of the land, and be aware that if anyone's going to get scapegoated for something, it's you.
Now I want you, Driving Miss Dainty, to picture yourself saying something to your friend about his girlfriend. I want you to picture yourself rallying the group to stand up against her. I want you to imagine yourself spurring your boyfriend to action, and having him say to his friend, "You know, (your name here) is really the one who notices this stuff. She just thinks your lady is awful. She wouldn't leave me alone until I said something." Then picture your friend, who's pretty goddamn weak and also very attached to his fiancée and has probably been coached to tell her EVERYTHING ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING THAT ANYONE EVER SAYS ABOUT HER, EVER tells his lady this tidbit, and now you basically have an evil queen with a magic mirror and a loyal huntsman, waging an all-out war against you.
Do you know what that's like? Let me break it down for you: You will be the identified problem. Not your boyfriend. Not the 53,000 other people who dislike this woman. Just you. You will be asked to eat shit, apologize, etc, and there she'll be, your evil queen—absurd, comically imperious—serving it up. And then, out of the blue, you're OUT—banned from all social settings. And when the evil queen and the remaining friends get together for fancy crab dinners at overpriced restaurants, they will agree, resoundingly, that YOU ARE THE BAD SEED. Not the one with the faintly purple skin and the evil red lips, cackling, and the long pointy black gloves, gesturing demonically. No. You.
You think that's impossible? Trust me, it's possible. Likely, even.
And once you're the bad seed, they'll decide that your issues with her aren't really about her behavior. No. Your issues relate to your personal impatience with/insensitivity to people with disabilities. How smart are these people? How well do they know you? Because that's what dumb people do. They analyze stuff and come up with the answer that's at once the most obvious and the most patently idiotic.
But while we're on the subject: People probably ARE an asshole to this woman because of her disabilities. It's easy to imagine getting angry and borderline abusive when people have to be circling you, helping you with a lot of shit you'd rather do yourself. And also not helping you. And also treating you like a second-class citizen. I get that she's a nightmare, but objectively speaking, THIS is the person you want to lead a big charge against?
And that's without even factoring in how your boyfriend reacts if there's a giant wave of "Oh shit, she's making trouble!" that’s focused on you. You'll definitely learn something about his loyalty if that happens, but it might not be good news.
All of these apocalyptic visions could, in fact, come to pass if she ever sniffs out the slightest hint of contempt coming from you. Do you really want to be the target of this woman's ire? This is the irony of truly awful people: You raise your voice against them, and you are going down, hard.
Can't you stomach a few less-than-optimal social occasions? Yes, you can. You can smile and grit your teeth and say nothing. Trust me, it's possible, and it will make you stronger and wiser to show such self-restraint.
Your boyfriend, on the other hand, needs to make his own call about whether or not to talk to his friend. If the guy looks poised to have kids with her, your boyfriend might want to say something. Or not. It depends on his relationship with his friend. If he does choose to talk to him, he should take pains to be supportive and he should probably even act like he really likes the woman, he's just worried that his friend could find himself in a tough corner if he molds his entire life around her. You should tell him not to say a word about you and your feelings.
And let's be honest: This guy is just going to do what he wants to do. Unless she becomes physically abusive, he's going to serve her. Maybe he's a masochist. Who knows? But it's not your call. Don't throw yourself on that knife.
Disparaging other women hurts women in general. We all get disparaged around the clock, just for being regular, flawed human beings, while some seriously fucked male behavior goes without comment. I'm not saying there aren't times when it's necessary to speak out. But in general, if you have a strong personality, it's best not to attempt to speak for a group, or put into words things that passive members of the group don't seem capable of saying themselves. Even though their passivity makes you crazy, your aggression will make you a pariah.
And for what? Let your friend make his own mistakes, and keep your mouth shut. Peel your own crab with your own non-dainty hands and stay the fuck away from everyone else's crabs. If you do otherwise, you stand to gain very little and lose a whole hell of a lot.
I think I am caught in a love triangle that I don't think I want to be a part of.
I am a 27-year-old single woman. I ended a long-term relationship about a year ago, and I am still a little afraid of dating, so I asked my friends if they had anyone they could set me up with. My best friend set me up with Guy. Guy is a great guy—handsome, funny, intelligent, and very kind. The set up didn't really go anywhere, but Guy and I became friends and I was happy with that. Around the same time I started to build a friendship with Guy, my best friend (Friend) decided she missed having a male friend in her life, and wanted Guy to now be that friend. This resulted in some awkward situations between us, where I started to feel like she was jealous of me talking to Guy or flirting with Guy, due to the fact that she would make passive aggressive statements about how much time I talked to him or that he liked me more than her, followed by her bragging about how close they were (that's what it felt like to me, anyways). Any time I asked Friend about this, she would say she was jealous of the time I was spending with Guy (i.e., she wanted my friendship to herself), or that she was mad at him for not dating me. Friend also significantly increased the time she spent talking to Guy, so that they now text each other nearly every day, sometimes most of the day. Sometimes when I see Guy, he is very flirtatious and touchy-feely with me. Sometimes when I see Guy, he is very flirtatious and touchy-feely with Friend. I realized at some point Guy has poor boundaries with women, and this is something he does with them (myself included).
All of this would probably be pretty standard fare, except that Friend is engaged. And I get really uncomfortable watching Friend be so flirtatious with Guy. Sometimes, on days when Guy has decided Friend is the person he is going to be all over that day, it can feel like no one else exists or is in the room anymore except the two of them. (Once, when I confronted her about this, she told me she would never speak to Guy again when we were all together. I told her that was crazy, and I didn't want to be the reason she broke off a friendship.) It's this intimacy between them that feels so uncomfortable for me. Recently, at a social gathering, several of my friends asked if Guy and Friend were a couple, due to the way they were acting, which was extra uncomfortable due to the fact that Friend was there with her fiancé. I used this as a way of confronting my friend (I was too afraid to confront her using my own feelings), and her response was that she and Guy are friends and that is how she is with friends. To be fair, she is a cuddly person. However, I have only ever seen her act this way with one other person: another male friends of hers, whom she spoke to every day, and who she told me she had a thing for and almost dumped her current fiancé for. (Instead, he told her he was making a commitment to another woman, and she broke off her friendship with him.) She has told me her fiancé thinks Guy has a crush on her and that he thinks Guy and she would be together if Friend and her fiancé weren't already together. I suspect that if Guy were to ever make a move on her, she would jump at it. On top of all of this, she and her fiancé recently set a date for their wedding. When she talks about the wedding, she has absolutely no enthusiasm, no excitement to her. Again, other people have made comments to me about this lack of interest in her own wedding. She's made comments to me recently about how she is so lucky, because no one else would put up with her or date her. When I confront her about this ("that's great, but it's not a reason to marry someone") she gets very defensive, and I back off.
So, here's the point: I'm afraid she believes her fiancé is the best thing she can get, and is afraid to let him go. I'm afraid she is trying to feel validated and desirable through these relationships with these other men, and she isn't realizing how they might be hurting her current relationship. I'm afraid her relationship is going to implode, and I'm in the blast area. I want to be a supportive and good friend, but it's difficult to stand on the edge of the ship and watch it go down, and do nothing about it.
As for Guy, I have a slight case of feelings for him, but ultimately, I know deep down that I am awesome, and that I deserve someone who loves the awesomeness that is me, and he is not that guy. But I also connect with him so well and value his friendship, so I would prefer to keep him in my life. Sometimes I wonder, though, if the situation would improve if I took him out of this equation, at least on my end of it.
So Polly: what do I do? I'm afraid that if I confront her directly—say something like, "I think you have feelings for Guy, and it worries me" that it will end our friendship. Any time I've confronted her about these things, she gets defensive and angry, or she dismisses and denies anything that I say. It's not that I'm afraid she'll be mad at me—well, I am afraid, but I think I could handle it—it's that her friendship is important to me, and I don't want to lose her. I realize that some of this may be my own jealousy, and the fact that I would prefer Guy to flirt with me only, and that makes it hard for me to suss out what part is my own stuff I need to get over. I also love Friend, and I want to be a good friend to her. But I'm not very good at hiding how I feel, or being disingenuous about how I feel and what's going on with me. After this last confrontation, she has upped how much she talks to me and checks in on me, and I'm not sure if I should take that as a sign of her feeling guilty, or that, despite my best efforts, I'm showing my fatigue at the situation. Should I just get over it and let her do what she wants? Do I try to confront her? Do I stop being friends with Guy? What do I do?
Tired and Confused
Dear Tired and Confused,
This is not a love triangle. You're obsessed with Guy and you're envious of Friend. The triangle is a figment of your imagination.
You don't have to stop being friends with Guy, but you should spend less time with him. He's not interested in you, and while he's more than willing to soak up your adoration, that's not a role that's all that great for your sense of yourself, or your friendship with Friend, or your peace of mind. It's time to move on and expend your time and energy on something more interesting, productive, reciprocal, etc.
Meanwhile, you're envious of Friend because Guy likes her. That's understandable—we've all been there—but you need to let it go. Let Friend do what she wants. You've voiced your concerns about her engagement and she got angry. She has her flirtations and she says they're harmless. Whether or not that's true, it's up to her to decide. But even if she came to you and said, "I have cold feet about my wedding," you'd want to be supportive, not accusatory. If she were careless with you or your friendship, that would be one thing. But she's offered not to talk to Guy and she checks in with you a lot because she cares about you.
Being envious is normal. Try to recognize that the kinds of men who love your friend probably aren't well-equipped to understand and appreciate you. Trust me, eventually you'll find someone who's crazy about you and thinks Friend is just so-so. In the meantime, appreciate the fact that you have a good friend who cares about you. Maybe she's confused and maybe she's just an effusive person. Either way, you should try to support her through this big change in her life. At the very least, stop inserting yourself into the middle of her drama. Step back and start focusing on stuff that actually makes you feel happy, not competitive and needy.
Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is The Awl's existential advice columnist. She's also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses.
Evil queen photo by "mydisneyadventures"; three-way of birds by Ripton Scott.