I think my friend should probably break up with her boyfriend. Can I/Should I/How do I tell her?
May 24, 2012 6:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm worried about my friend - I am afraid she going to marry a guy she doesn't like or respect. Any recommendations for things I can say or do to encourage her to take a critical look at the relationship?

Here are the too-long details. Everyone in this question is in their 30s, FWIW.

So, my friend. She has this boyfriend. He is kind of a drip, and I don't much like him, and I've gathered that other friends of ours don't much like him either. I won't go into the details, because it's not really important why *we* don't like him - I'm more concerned that *she* doesn't like him.

I don't see them that often because I live on the opposite side of the country. But when I do, I've noticed that when he does something doofusy (which happens regularly), she looks at him with an expression that seems really contemptuous. Not the kind of expression I see on the faces of healthy couples. Not the kind of expression I would like to see on my own face.

Also, that contemptuous/disgusted look? I've seen it on her before, looking at the guy she stuck around in an unhappy relationship with for six years. Six-year-boyfriend was really unkind to my friend, and I'm glad she broke up with him. But I feel like maybe after that she thinks that any guy who's not actively mean to her is a good boyfriend.

Anyway, hints from her and other friends have given me the impression they might be getting engaged/married/pregnant/houseowning-together soon. If this is what she really wants, OK, fine, I'll deal with having this guy in my life. But they really don't seem like remotely equal partners in the relationship; I have trouble imagining a way in which she would be happy with him long-term. In general, I am a "people are in relationships because they're getting something they need out of them" kind of person, and I do not advise or judge, but that's the attitude that kept me from doing anything more than dropping extremely gentle hints during the six years she was with the mean guy, and in retrospect I think that was probably the wrong way to go.

So, I want to be more explicit, but I am PETRIFIED by the idea of saying to her, "Hey, so I gather that you and Boyfriend are really serious - is that a good idea? Do you even like him? Because it seems like you don't." With a side of "Just because you're 36 doesn't mean this doofus is your only chance to have a family." (Fingers crossed.) I'm going to see them next month. I know a lot of you are going to say she's a grown woman and he's not abusive and it's none of my business and I know there's truth to that, but I hate to see her backing a loser (of a relationship) again, and if they have kids together she'll be stuck with him for life!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Hmm...this is a hard one. I'm wondering what you are scared of by talking to her? I know it is not comfortable to talk about, but it comes from a place of caring for her and him. I have been on both ends of talks like these. At the end of the day, an honest friend is invaluable.

I would be gentle and objective. Tell her what you've noticed. Tell her that you are concerned and want to make sure she isn't settling for a relationship. Emphasize your love for her and care for him (I know you're not a fan of him in general, but you obviously care about him as a fellow human). It doesn't have to be a long conversation, and it won't be if she isn't ready to explore this.

Just remember that if she isn't ready to hear it, she won't act on anything, but she WILL remember the conversation.
posted by retrofitted at 6:48 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know a lot of you are going to say she's a grown woman and he's not abusive and it's none of my business and I know there's truth to that, but I hate to see her backing a loser (of a relationship) again, and if they have kids together she'll be stuck with him for life!

You don't have to consider this solely from the perspective of protecting her interests. It seems to me that in this case that talking to her could result in a net gain for both parties.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:56 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I try to deal with these situations by asking myself, "Is this something I would want to know if it were me?" Because, yeah, sometimes we are in the middle of something and we just can't see it. Then someone turns on a light and we see it and wonder why we never saw it and we're glad someone turned on the light for us.

Anyway, ask yourself that. Would you want to know? And if the answer is "yes" then couch your conversation with her like that. "I'm only mentioning this because if it were me, I'd want to know..."

Good luck.
posted by NoraCharles at 7:00 PM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Maybe begin the conversation by saying, "so it seems like you and [guy] are getting serious - I don't have much of a sense of him. Tell me what you like about him."
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:08 PM on May 24, 2012 [61 favorites]


And just who are you? By this I mean, what is the nature, and more particularly the depth, of your relationship with this woman?

The conversation you are contemplating would best come from somebody who has a deep, and preferably long, relationship with the woman and where they can and do discuss quite personal and intimate matters. That is, there is a high degree of trust and respect between them.

Your post does not suggest to me that you are this person. If that is so, I suggest that your first step might be to contact some other of her friends who could be that person, share your concerns with them, and see if they are prepared to have that conversation with her.

Regardless, as a friend, you should convey your concerns to her (at a level and intensity appropriate to your relationship with her) and ensure that she understands that you only want the best for her, and that whatever happens you will be there for her.
posted by GeeEmm at 7:09 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cary Tennis covered this subject recently. Bottom line is that uh...there isn't a whole lot you can do, though. You can do a sit-down, but you have to be veeeery careful and not expect it to pan out, really.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:10 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


It doesn't sound like you're close enough to her to be having this conversation. Talk to the friends who dropped the hints about her getting married - prod to see if anyone else feels the same unease. She may give their suspicions more weight if they're closer to her - and I'm just guessing based on the fact that you live across the country from her. Otherwise, by all means, feel free to have this conversation with her. You're absolutely right in thinking that this is something someone should do.
posted by estlin at 7:11 PM on May 24, 2012


I know this sounds trite but will bringing it up help? What happens if she breaks up with him, do you know for sure she could be happier with another guy?

You have limited interactions with them as a couple, and the only real concern in the post is
"when he does something doofusy (which happens regularly), she looks at him with an expression that seems really contemptuous"

This might be true, but how does she seem when he is not doing something doofusy? Perhaps they are ecstatically happy the other 95% of the time. Is this worth bringing up in this way if you are not sure? Maybe instead of

"Hey, so I gather that you and Boyfriend are really serious - is that a good idea? Do you even like him? Because it seems like you don't." With a side of "Just because you're 36 doesn't mean this doofus is your only chance to have a family."

you could try:

"How is it going with Boyfriend?" "Does he make you feel really happy?"

It sounds like your and your friends dislike of him is also part of what is motivating you to talk to her. It is entirely possible that your dislike is justified, but be honest to yourself that the reasons for want to talk to her are not just you are "more concerned that *she* doesn't like him.
posted by seesom at 7:14 PM on May 24, 2012


If you and a bunch of your other friends don't like him, do you think she knows that already? If there's a chance she might, I would err on the side of caution. For what it's worth I had a friend with a terrible boyfriend and a lot of our mutual friends told her how much they didn't like him. I did not, and I'm always glad I didn't, because she felt antagonized by everyone's well-intentioned comments, and I wanted to keep her as a friend. She eventually dumped the guy on her own.
posted by mlle valentine at 7:25 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe begin the conversation by saying, "so it seems like you and [guy] are getting serious - I don't have much of a sense of him. Tell me what you like about him."

I had exactly this conversation with a very close relative before he proposed to his then-girlfriend. We were all concerned that she was not a loving and kind person who was worthy of his awesomeness. He was unable to articulate much in that conversation that convinced me, and I did everything I could to gently persuade him that this was likely to be an enormous mistake. I couldn't, ultimately, without risking our own relationship, and he went ahead and married her.

Two years later, he started saying things like "I have dreams in which she gets hit by a bus. I have to get out of this marriage. It's completely horrible." At that point, I and the rest of the family did what we could to support him in getting out, and he did. He's now married to a wonderful woman, and they have fantastic children, and he's incredibly happy.

My point: you can't keep people from making bad choices, or mistakes, or total clusterfucks. You can, as part of caring about them, share your own concerns in gentle ways that let them know that you love them and want the best for them. You can let them know that you're there for them in ways that won't turn into "I told you so" moments if, in fact, you were right all along. I think that's all you can do, and all you would want someone to do for you as an adult making your own decisions about your life. Best of luck to all of you.
posted by judith at 7:26 PM on May 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


(I should add that my friend also appeared to be contemptuous of her bf at times; it wasn't just us.)
posted by mlle valentine at 7:26 PM on May 24, 2012


Cross this bridge when you come to it.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:32 PM on May 24, 2012


I can't think of a single instance where bringing this kind of thing up with someone -- even a close family member -- ended particularly well or actually helped the situation.

If she brings the topic up in conversation with you and describes her own mixed feelings, you can gently support her -- sometimes, when people are questioning their relationships, it can help to be reassured that they aren't crazy or overreacting or being too high maintenance, and that reassurance can sometimes give them the final boost of confidence that they need in order to change their situation for the better.

If she doesn't bring it up in conversation with you, there's almost certainly nothing you can do. If the boyfriend does something unkind to you directly, of course you can talk to her about it, but otherwise? It really is her own problem to deal with, unfortunately.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:56 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


LobsterMitten: "Maybe begin the conversation by saying, "so it seems like you and [guy] are getting serious - I don't have much of a sense of him. Tell me what you like about him.""
I just came in here to call this out as some of the wisest advice I've ever seen on AskMe, there are just so many layers of exactly the right thing to say.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:00 PM on May 24, 2012 [15 favorites]


I must have missed something, even though I've read the question and responses at least 5 times.

I've noticed that when he does something doofusy (which happens regularly), she looks at him with an expression that seems really contemptuous.

Yeah, really sounds like she doesn't like him. And honestly, openly giving these looks to him is pretty mean, in my book. I don't really know what you mean by "doofusy." To me it means he's clumsy and might say stupid things from time to time. If there's more to the story than that, then I apologize.

I'd call her on it (privately) when you see her give him one of those looks. Along the lines of, "That look you gave him after he did [insert doofusy thing] - do you even like this guy? Because looking at him like that really says that you don't."

I'd be more concerned about HIM rather than HER. It's got to be degrading to be given these looks regularly for being a doofus. He deserves someone who respects him and won't look at him with disdain.
posted by Sassyfras at 8:01 PM on May 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


After being in this situation, I would advocate talking to her but not getting too aggressive about it if you hope to remain friends with her in the future. As others have said, you are unlikely to save her from making a mistake. It's just how people are. They don't take kindly to others judging their relationships - it makes them defensive.

I had a friend who had a boyfriend who was very very wrong for her (cheating, irresponsible, unambitious loser-type). Unfortunately, he did something specifically insulting to me, and I got angry about it, and so I got overly passionate in my tirades against him and how she deserved better. Even though she eventually ended up breaking up with him, and I think now she would agree with everything I said back then, she can't seem to handle being close friends with me anymore. I think that when she sees me, it now triggers negative emotions in her about herself - she remembers making a terrible mistake, and the reminder drives her crazy. At least that's what I'm telling myself. Unfortunately, my dear friend hardly talks to me anymore.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:14 PM on May 24, 2012


OH HEY, I once had someone do this to me.

I was 26, and a good friend called me out on my insulting behavior towards my then-partner. Her exact words were, "Wow, that was incredibly bitchy." And I was and will always be INCREDIBLY GRATEFUL she did that.

I didn't realize how my snide comments were coming off, and once she mentioned it, I made strides to change my behavior.

So this may not go as badly as you think.
posted by roger ackroyd at 8:14 PM on May 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


I love LobsterMitten's advice. If for some reason the conversation gets more soul-searching, THEN it might be appropriate to observe that she didn't seem very happy together the last couple times you saw them. (But still, load with caveats--you don't see them often, you don't know him well, maybe they were going through a rough patch when you were visiting, etc. etc. Unfortunately when a person feels confronted by the unsuitability of a mate, they often dig in and defend the person and end up reinforcing their own position. So give her a graceful way out before you even go there.)
posted by elizeh at 9:25 PM on May 24, 2012


I don't get how you can know you don't like him, and know he's a doofus, and that she has contempt for him, etc., when you don't see them at all often?
posted by spunweb at 9:55 PM on May 24, 2012


Also, if there's ANY CHANCE whatsoever that you are/were interested in her, you shouldn't say anything.
posted by spunweb at 10:08 PM on May 24, 2012


Contempt is a big warning sign of impending relationship disaster, but are you sure that's what you read on her face? People always tell me I look angry whenever I'm actually lost deep in thought, for example.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:13 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree with LobsterMitten et al. Also roger ackroyd--your friend is making faces at things her boyfriend says and does and she probably doesn't even realize it. Friends can be helpful in reflecting that sort of behavior back to you.

If you're close to her, and if the opportunity presents itself, you could say something like, "You seemed upset when [boyfriend] said/did [doofusey thing]. (Did that bother you? / Does he do that a lot?)"

You're pretty clear in your post that what concerns you is not that he does the doofusey stuff, but that your friend seems to be repelled by it. I think there are ways to ask about that, gently.
posted by pompelmo at 10:15 PM on May 24, 2012


People tend to be pretty committed to living their own fictions, like "Doofus doesn't make me happy, but having a baby will make me happy." I would not bet on any conversation with her making a difference.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:33 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Urgh. I really don't think this is any of your business. I would be very offended if a friend I rarely saw presumed to make any sort of comment on the appropriateness or health of my relationship. She clearly has a reason to stay and it's not her job to share it with you.

It would be one thing if you got brunch with her and this guy every weekend or something, but you have no idea whether the look you saw is a routine thing, or if there were many layers of other stuff going on there. Maybe the drip can tell you don't like him (or some of the friends with whom you've talked about him behind his back have mentioned it to him) and on the way to meet you they argued, again, about going to hang out with her critical busybody of a friend.

I used to think I was the kind of person who could offer advice to people about their relationships based on the public image they presented to me when I saw them. I have reached the conclusion that I just can't know what goes on behind closed doors, and unless someone volunteers that information in pursuit of my advice, I don't pretend I can glean it.
posted by town of cats at 10:41 PM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


So, I want to be more explicit, but I am PETRIFIED by the idea of saying to her, "Hey, so I gather that you and Boyfriend are really serious - is that a good idea? Do you even like him? Because it seems like you don't."

Yeah, listen to that. Maybe what's going on is that she picks up on all of her friends seeming never to be happy with her boyfriends, dancing around your insults like you did with Mr. Six-Years, so when y'all come and visit she's chewing glass with her brain hoping nothing goes wrong. Consider the possibility that you (and your friends) are eggshells.

But I feel like maybe after that she thinks that any guy who's not actively mean to her is a good boyfriend.

Maybe Mr. Six-Years sans meanness chalks up as a dream-boat to her. What do you know about what she likes in a man?
posted by rhizome at 10:55 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Next time you see her, mention the last doofusy thing that he did, and how you noticed her expression (I trust you can do this tactfully, ie "that was kind of funny when he [said or did doofus thing] eh? you looked unimpressed" or similar, but not mean-spirited). Just see where the conversation goes, and do your best to listen and not lead after that point.

Also, note that she is making these faces because she wishes to communicate to the outside world that she does not approve/like what he did. You are crossing no boundaries by acknowledging her reaction. She'll probably be somewhat relieved to get confirmation that you do not associate her with the doofus action, just him. On the other hand, be prepared that when you do bring it up, she may not actually want to discuss it and might just brush you off. If so, don't push. That's about as much as you can do without having some kind of intervention.
posted by molecicco at 1:04 AM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


You shouldn't say anything. Full stop. Your friend is in her 30s and this isn't her first relationship. She's an adult, and you need to trust her to make adult judgements about her own relationship. Besides, if you see them so infrequently, how do you have any sense of the context behind the supposed "looks"?

I am afraid she going to marry a guy she doesn't like or respect. Any recommendations for things I can say or do to encourage her to take a critical look at the relationship?

I would be really upset if I found out one of my friends felt this way about me and my relationship with my SO. Who are you to judge that she hasn't taken a "critical look" at her own relationship (whatever that means)? I mean, really, that's an extremely insulting sentiment.
posted by Kevtaro at 3:54 AM on May 25, 2012


I really like LobsterMitten's advice.
I do think that the fact that you are basing your opinion off of a few interactions you've witnessed with people you don't see very often comes off as, well, presumptous. Maybe they AREN'T a good fit but you sound like you are reaching here.
posted by sm1tten at 7:34 AM on May 25, 2012


When you're in a relationship with someone, even if you hate things about him (contempt-face-worthy things) you become blind to the idea that he might just be terrible in general. It's hard to hear that. It violates your worldview. It causes cognitive dissonance.

On one hand, I think you shouldn't say anything, because it will most likely just make your friend mad at you. On the other hand, maybe. I was once in a relationship with the worst person in the entire world, I was completely blind to how awful he was, and several of my friends tried to tell me. I just got mad at them. However, when we finally broke up, I was grateful that my friends were honest about hating him and asked them, next time, to tell me again if someone was awful, and that I'd give their opinions more weight. They haven't told me "this guy is awful" again yet, which either means they learned to lie to me or no one has been awful.
posted by millipede at 7:37 AM on May 25, 2012


Nthing LobsterMitten's advice.

But here's the thing - you can never really know what one need one person fulfills in another. Even if your friend really does think her bf is a doofus, she stays with him for some reason that even she may not be able to articulate.

So, if you feel you must have the conversation, start with LobsterMitten's question, and then just sit back and listen. Because nothing you say will change her mind about the guy. If she is open to the question, she will continue to think about it after your conversation is finished, and she will make her life-decisions accordingly.
posted by vignettist at 8:18 AM on May 25, 2012


You don't see them often but you know the guy is not healthy for your friend...based on a look on your friend's face? Nothing in your post really elaborates on why you feel this way about the guy and yet you think your friend is making a mistake. Thats a long stretch of an interpretation. Had you articulated in sufficient detail the guy's personality and traits that make you fear for your friend's happiness, I'd second LobsterMitten's advice. But you don't. If I had a friend who comes to me with such a concern or hints at questioning my choice to be with someone without bothering to ask or know why I like someone, I assure you the friendship would be in greater danger than the relationship. Remember, she chose the guy just like she chose you as a friend.

There is a difference between being a friend who tactfully voices their concerns because they are concerned about their friend (and not themselves) and the one who cautions a friend because they don't understand their friends' choices, are more concerned about how these choices affect themselves and think their set of rules and needs apply to everyone.

He is kind of a drip, and I don't much like him, and I've gathered that other friends of ours don't much like him either. I won't go into the details, because it's not really important why *we* don't like him - I'm more concerned that *she* doesn't like him.
If this is what she really wants, OK, fine, I'll deal with having this guy in my life.

Excuse me, you will deal with this guy in YOUR life?? None of your statements suggest that you have your friend's interest in mind here. You don't *deal* with your friend's choice of partner, you accept the person they choose to be with despite what you think of the person. Just like when things don't turn out well down the road you don't say, "I told you so". Instead, you say, "What can I do to help you right now?".
posted by xm at 10:18 AM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


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