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how to deal with unsupportive friend after rape?
February 21, 2014 9:25 AM   Subscribe

If it's important I'm a young woman. I don't want to talk about the rape or let this get derailed by suggestions of getting professional help. I'm seeing a counselor now and have dealt with the situation. But what's been eating away at me is a friend's reaction in the immediate aftermath.

He was the first one I told days after it happened. Because I didn't have the courage to bring it up in person I sent him an email telling him and asking if he would talk with me briefly about it in person or at least just listen. I also told him that I was looking into getting professional help as well but he was the first person I had had the courage to tell. He didn't respond for a long time. Finally I got an email back from him with links to a hotline to call and saying that he wouldn't talk with me about what happened because it was too sensitive to him. His email was cold and almost business like.

I was shocked since this guy has always portrayed himself as a nice person. His response sent me spiraling back into the trauma for a few hours. A couple of days later I ran into him at a event that we both regularly attend. We were outside in the parking lot alone and he practically ignored me, walked right past me. I stopped him and asked him why he was being that way and he said "what way?" Again, I asked him if he would talk to me. He finally agreed but said "ok you have five minutes." We found an empty room inside the building and sat on a couch. He sat at the extreme other end from me. There were flourescent lights inside. I felt weird and exposed and asked him if it would be okay if I turned them off while I spoke. He just said "no, I'd prefer we kept them on." So I kept them on. I told him what happened and started to break down bawling.

All he said was "you should seek professional help."

I told him I was in the process of doing so but I needed to tell somebody I was close to (I thought he was somebody I could trust before this). He said, "I'm sorry, I can't help you."

I got ready to leave and I asked him for a hug. He flinched and said "a brief one."

I responded, "forget it" and left.

The whole time he barely would look at me and treated me as if I had some sort of disease.

Now I'm questioning whether I should hold on to him as a friend. His behavior made me feel even worse...almost like a weird repeat of what happened.

What do I make of this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (72 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Perhaps he was triggered himself? You don't need to stay friends with him, tho.
posted by spunweb at 9:32 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]


I have to say, I would feel fairly uncomfortable if I was sent an e-mail from a friend saying they had been raped. To me, the fact that this guy's first response was that the issue was sensitive to him, for whatever reason, gives no indication that he should be discarded as a friend, nor does it indicate he isn't a nice guy. Maybe he has had sexual abuse in his family, and your e-mail triggered something, I empathize with your situation, but endlessly going after this guy after he told you off the bat this was not something he could deal with isn't going to make the situation better.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:32 AM on February 21 [68 favorites]


No one on the internet knows. Maybe he's been raped? Maybe he has raped? Maybe he has misogynistic ideas about it? Maybe he feels incapable of handling such a huge thing?

What you know is that he can not help you, and in fact your interactions with him are hurting you badly right now. Maybe try keeping him at a distance until you're in a place where you both want to revisit this with him and are capable of doing so.

I'm sorry all this has happened to you. Good luck.
posted by kavasa at 9:32 AM on February 21 [7 favorites]


Finally I got an email back from him with links to a hotline to call and saying that he wouldn't talk with me about what happened because it was too sensitive to him.

Do you know his history? To me, this sounds like someone close to him was raped or that he was perhaps raped or sexually abused himself, and that for his own personal mental health he has decided he cannot talk to you about it. He's a friend of yours. Assume he's being genuine.

This to me does not sound like the reaction of someone who is being intentionally cold and insensitive. This sounds like the reaction of a real human being with his own feelings and experiences and history who realizes that he cannot be the shoulder that you need him to be right now. Please respect that.
posted by phunniemee at 9:32 AM on February 21 [87 favorites]


I am very sorry that this is happening to you.

When you said Finally I got an email back from him with links to a hotline to call and saying that he wouldn't talk with me about what happened because it was too sensitive to him. His email was cold and almost business like it sounded to me like he said why he wouldn't/couldn't talk about it with you. There are many possible reasons: He's a jerk; he's close to someone who was raped; he himself was raped; any other thing, really.

He may be a perfectly good person and a good friend in circumstances other than this. It's okay for you to drop him, and to look elsewhere for support. There really isn't anything else you can do, unless you want to really dig into this with him, but I think your energy would best be spent elsewhere.
posted by rtha at 9:33 AM on February 21 [4 favorites]


I'm so sorry this happened to you.

But what I would take from this guy's response was just exactly what he said to you: for some personal reason, this topic is not something he can help you with. Perhaps he has his own history with sexual violence that makes it triggering for him to hear you out. Perhaps there's something else that makes it traumatic for him. It honestly doesn't sound to me as though he's indifferent or that he thinks of you as diseased; it sounds as though *this topic is really really hard for him* and he's the wrong person for you to talk to.

Sometimes that happens. It doesn't mean he's a bad person, though it may currently make it hard for you to be friends with him.
posted by shattersock at 9:33 AM on February 21


His response sounds much more to me like a guy who is struggling to deal with similar trauma in his own life than an unsupportive friend. I imagine it must be hard to see that from your vantage point.
posted by hootenatty at 9:33 AM on February 21 [8 favorites]


What do I make of this?

I don't know, and you don't either. There are a bunch of reasons he may have acted like this:
  1. He's an asshole and you're just now realizing it.
  2. He isn't an empathetic person, he realizes it, and he wants to make sure he doesn't make you feel worse by attempting empathy. Empathy is distinct from niceness. (I consider myself one of these people.)
  3. He has been a victim of sexual abuse before, and talking about your experience is a trigger for him.
  4. He doesn't know what to do, is afraid of doing something wrong, and as a result, chooses not to do anything.
  5. He is attracted to you and is reconsidering his attraction due to your experience.
Some of these are justifiable. Some of these aren't. Some of these are, as many things in life, a gray area that requires you to choose what you want in a friend.

I wouldn't be comfortable calling this person a close friend, but I would try to make an effort to find out why he's behaving this way. I do think there's a distinction to be made here between "a friend" and "someone I would go to for support after a traumatic event." There are many people I call friends that I would not be willing to go to for emotional support after a traumatic event.
posted by saeculorum at 9:33 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]


I am so sorry first that this happened to you, and second that the friend you told failed to give you the support you asked for.

All I can offer is that your friend may have been the victim of sexual abuse or have been raped himself, which could make your (totally normally, very healthy) need for discussion traumatic or triggering for him. Obviously, if that's the case, it would have been better if he'd just come clean and told you why he couldn't be the friend you need right now, but it is very common for men to be silent rather than disclose.

Regardless, it's clear he can't provide what you need right now and you can acknowledge that and back off from the friendship if that's what's best for you right now.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:34 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]


First of all, I'm so sorry that this happened to you.

This guy is completely uncomfortable with strong emotions. There are some people like that. You pressed him, even after he explained that he didn't want to discuss it with you.

He may have been truamatized by rape himself, and discussing it with you brought back all of his trauma. Or he may just be a jerk

Either way, this is as good a time as any to get some distance from him.

When people have been hurt, some folks just don't know how to deal with it. You wanted something from him that he was unable to give.

In the future, when someone tells you that they can't help you, believe them. And make of it what you will.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:34 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]


It really doesn't matter why he responded the way he did. What matters for this question is that, when you needed him, he was not there for you. I wouldn't keep someone like that as a friend. I mean, I wouldn't necessarily shun him, but I wouldn't assume I could ever confide in him or rely on him for support. Friendship means more than being willing to hang out.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:34 AM on February 21 [8 favorites]


Who knows what's going on in his head but do not beat yourself up about feeling like he isn't a person you need in your life right now. You can cut him out for now and reassess when you are safe emotionally and mentally.

I wish you had gotten the support you needed at the time.
posted by Sternmeyer at 9:36 AM on February 21


For whatever reason, he can't be there for you about this. It would be perfectly reasonable if you didn't want to continue being his friend; that's your right. Personally, it has never turned out well for me when I ask a friend for help, they say no, and I keep pushing the issue. I don't mean to come down hard on you when you've endured something so painful, but I think it's time to rely on other friends or your counselor. The fact is, this guy can't be there for you and you can't change that. We don't know the reason, and I don't think you do either. I think you will only continue to hurt yourself if you try to make this guy do something he can't, or won't, do. Finally, he may just be too upset to help you.
posted by bearette at 9:40 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]


He said it was "too sensitive to him." Sounds like there is something trigger-y going on here, perhaps something in his past that makes him unable to deal with talking/thinking about rape without having a traumatic reaction. It is probably not about you at all, unless you have some sort of history with him in which rape played a part.

There is also the possibility that he has trouble dealing with traumatic emotions in general... some people are just not wired up to be a support system for people experiencing grief and trauma.

This is clearly not something he can talk with you about. I would not bring it up with him again.

As to whether you should remain friends, ask yourself these questions:

Does he still want to be friends? Do you feel like he is a good friend to you in other ways?

Do you feel like his reaction to you has changed your relationship permanently from his end (is he going to continue to be cold to you even if you don't bring up the rape again?) Then cut him off, you don't need that kind of shit in your life.

Are you going to permanently resent him for his reaction to your trying to tell him? Not saying that you shouldn't... you are entitled to feel how you feel about him... but if it feels unforgiveable to you, you would be better off cutting him out of your life.

I am sorry this happened to you, and I hope you have other, more supportive friends to help you through this.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:41 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]


As a fellow survivor with roughly a decade of experience with this stuff, I will tell you one thing that's going to help a lot:

Dudes are shitty when it comes to talking about rape as experienced by the women in their lives.

It doesn't matter how kind or good or supportive or feminist the dude is. It just never goes well, in my experience. And I've had the experience of telling a lot of the men in my life that I was raped.

To be fair, there's almost nothing a man can say to "Soooooooo once upon a time I was raped, and..." that would be a helpful positive response. On a certain level it's not even about the specific guy in question. It's just an impossible thing to talk about, and there is nothing one can say that makes it easier.

But I've experienced a lot of dudes being shitty when hearing about my rape. A lot of them make it about them, somehow, or default to some kind of white knight protector/vigilante thing, or (the worst) immediately start questioning your account of what happened and whether it was really rape and to what extent you were complicit.

I am so, so sorry that a guy was the first person you were able to talk to about your rape. If you want someone a little easier to talk to, please feel free to PM me.

(I'll also say that, in the immediate aftermath of being raped, I basically couldn't talk to anyone about it, gender be damned. It's a really rough topic, and something that most friends, no matter how well-meaning, are not super equipped to deal with. The majority of my female friends were shitty about it, too. I don't want to slag against just guys. But "talking to guys about rape" is fraught with a lot of very specific stuff.)
posted by Sara C. at 9:43 AM on February 21 [34 favorites]


It's unreasonable to insist that a friend provide counseling. And at the same time, your feelings are understandable. It feels bad when a friend doesn't provide what we need, even when they have every right to refuse. Why not just ease off the friendship for now, without making a big decision or declaration about it? See how you feel six months from now.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:44 AM on February 21 [10 favorites]


Nthing that maybe this has stirred up something from his own past.

I'm sorry this has happened to you. I wouldn't necessarily cut him out of your life, but it's pretty clear that he is unable to help you with this specific issue. This doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't want to support you.

A little bit further in the future, when you're a bit stronger and the dust has settled a bit, I'd suggest clearing the air between you and him: "Hey, listen, I just wanted to talk about exactly how things went down when I told you about what happened to me. I kinda got the sense that this was something you were really uneasy about helping me with, and that's cool, but maybe the way you TOLD me you couldn't help me could have been a little less blunt?....Also, do you want to talk about what's up with that, or is that something you're still kinda dealing with on your own?"

You know? You let him know that it's okay if he really got freaked out over it, but you wish he'd have been a BIT gentler about that. I'd also talk to him about why he was the first person you talked to (which is something I'm curious about myself, but you don't need to share if you don't want to). He may also be wondering that a bit too; it may be reassuring to him that "I came to you specifically because you have a knack for always saying the right thing" or whatever.

I can think of several perfectly valid reasons for why he reacted the way he did, but I would still clear the air with him - not right now, but later - about how that could have been handled a TINY bit better.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:48 AM on February 21


It sounds likes he knows he's not equipped to help you. It doesn't sound like he was "holding out" on you or wasn't sympathetic; and he tried to direct you to resources he thought would be better suited.

Why could be a lot of things. Some people just aren't good at "comforting"; I'm not. Have you notice him being much of a "sharer"? If not, that just may not how he relates emotionally. The specific subject matter maybe too much for him. Also, it's possible he doesn't see you as good of a friend as you see him, making this too "intimate" for him.

You are under no obligation to keep him as a friend if you expect this support from those you are close to. But also know that some people cannot offer everything you might need, even if you are friends.

Terribly sorry this happened.
posted by spaltavian at 9:49 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]


Finally I got an email back from him with links to a hotline to call and saying that he wouldn't talk with me about what happened because it was too sensitive to him. His email was cold and almost business like. (emphasis mine)

This is triggering for him. I'm sorry that this happened to you, but it's completely unfair to force him to talk about or deal with something that clearly makes him uncomfortable. A good friend would back off.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:51 AM on February 21 [21 favorites]


He's projecting something onto you. Maybe he was accused of rape at some point? If it was a false accusation, he might not be able to see that your situation is different? Regardless, it's not you he's reacting to; it's likely a ghost of something in his past.
posted by cecic at 9:51 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]


All we really know is that he isn't the kind of friend you can talk about this, or who can give you emotional support about this. I don't think there's a right or wrong decision for you here, other than to get better support.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:54 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]


What matters for this question is that, when you needed him, he was not there for you. I wouldn't keep someone like that as a friend.

Not everyone can be all things to all their friends. I wouldn't ask an arachnophobic friend to help me deal with a spider infestation in my house, nor would I regard it as a dereliction of friendship on their part to say "this is something that I just can't deal with." There is no evidence in the OP's question that this friend has a general refusal to deal sympathetically with crises or a general inability to "handle strong emotions" or whatever. What we have is a person saying, very clearly and specifically, that rape is an issue they can't, personally, deal with. We have no idea at all why that might be and it is irresponsible to speculate. But, surely, it is a boundary which one would have to respect in a friend?
posted by yoink at 9:55 AM on February 21 [21 favorites]


Not everyone can be all things to all their friends. I wouldn't ask an arachnophobic friend to help me deal with a spider infestation in my house, nor would I regard it as a dereliction of friendship on their part to say "this is something that I just can't deal with."

But, "fairly" or not, the OP has the right to feel as she feels. If this experience makes her not trust/like/respect the guy as a friend, then there is nothing wrong in downgrading or ending the friendship. Who is at "fault" is really irrelevant; the OP's reaction should guide how she proceeds, not analysis over whether her request was reasonable or not. (The friend may have had perfectly good reasons for refusing or not; we will never know).
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:06 AM on February 21 [7 favorites]


But, "fairly" or not, the OP has the right to feel as she feels

Sure. I'm just disagreeing that she ought to cease to regard this guy as a friend, which is what you (and some others in the thread) were arguing. If she's in a place right now where she can't be doing with a friend who can't handle this aspect of her life, that's entirely her right, of course. But I think it's wrong to suggest that the friend has somehow proven himself to be unworthy of her trust, as a friend, in other areas simply because he's incapable of dealing with this.
posted by yoink at 10:10 AM on February 21 [12 favorites]


No one here can know for sure, but his initial answer to you taken at face value suggests that he finds the topic of rape triggering or otherwise not great for his mental health. His later cold responses suggest the same thing, since I assume that if he just felt awkward and not up to the task (which is fine! not everyone is great at handling this kind of thing), his later affect would have been more awkward and apologetic.

The only other possibility I can think of is that he knows your rapist and is having some issues with that.

I wouldn't dump him as a friend without knowing what's up with his reaction, but how you feel is how you feel. Maybe step back from the friendship for a while, and see how it shakes out. You could maybe send him email saying something like, "I understand that what I told you made you uncomfortable and that you can't provide me with the emotional support I was hoping for. *Insert something about why you turned to him in the first place.* I'm in a rough place right now and don't think I can be around someone who can't handle this part of my life just now, but know that I still value you as a friend and will be willing to listen whenever we're both in a better place about this."

Honestly though, this may continue to be the elephant in the room for the rest of your friendship if neither of you are ever willing or able to talk about it. Think about if you'll eventually be okay with leaving this as a never to be spoken of again part of your relationship.
posted by yasaman at 10:15 AM on February 21


I am a victim of a (non-rape) trauma. I learned very quickly that people are just universally super terrible at knowing how to react to hearing about it. Even now, a dozen years later, people say just shockingly callous things about it (there were news stories and court cases and I have a pretty unusual name so anyone who googles me knows about it). And this is with it being much less likely for it to be personally triggering in the way that rape can be.

And at some point, it's not their fault, and I know there must be people who feel the same way about how i reacted to hearing about things in their life. I think I just have like a "perfect" way people are supposed to respond -- a script in my head -- but nobody knows it, because nobody else is in my head, so responses vary from "not perfect but helpful" to "means well but unhelpful" to "holy crap did you legit just joke about this traumatic life event I didn't even tell you about? Psychologists and doctors have even reacted in surprising and unhelpful ways (though I suspect medical professionals are more used to rape than what I went through, so it wouldn't be so surprising).

Unfortunately, learning how to manage that has had to be part of my recovery. Other people are flawed and bring their own shit to their responses and when they don't know what to do sometimes they do something very very wrong. In the vast majority of cases, these are really good people who just don't know how to or can't do what I want them to do. In some cases I have dropped friends (with no hard feelings, just because they couldn't be what I needed), in some cases I have recognized that this is not something they do well but they are still great in enough other ways.

I'm so sorry that this happened to you. I hope your recovery continues going well.
posted by brainmouse at 10:31 AM on February 21 [11 favorites]


Ok, without trying to stir up some things - we only know you and only as anonymous:
85-90% of victims of sexual assault reported by college women know their assailant. 38% of rapists are friends or acquaintances.

The first question I'd have is - what is the relation between this guy and the rapist? Is this shedding a new light on someone this person knows? That can be confusing and hard to process. You may see this as an issue of right and wrong and he may see this as an issue of 'how do I interact with two people I know?' I'm not trying to accept his behavior carte blanche here - I'm just pointing out that the concept of this is pretty mind altering, and to process this might take him a little bit to catch up.

Then I go with the question of: why this guy? Why did you tell him? There's something about the guy that made you feel safe until the cold shoulder.

I've helped track down two rapists, one for a friend that was raped, the second for a (then) ex-girlfriend. The latter one I did not know and she barely knew, but the intermediate people that I talked to in order to find him and get his address - this was a mind warp. They told a very different story of the events of the evening, and - well - it was very different than her story. There was a lot to this, I helped out by coordinating someone to get her to the hospital, and then over the next few days I spent my time getting an address - but that was it. That was all I could let it be. It wasn't that I didn't care or couldn't care, but it was because it was the only amount of caring I could do that didn't result in me getting sucked into a familiar but very dark world that I had already escaped from. Even though I cared very much for the person who had a horrible event happen to them, my first duty was to protect myself and not be drawn back into it. And yeah, that meant physical distance, that meant having a cold and calculated task, and that meant setting very tough boundaries that I hated but that I knew I needed. I can say that I know that it hurt my ex. I can also say that it was scary hard to not get involved. I can say that my ex had my sympathies and I truly wished that things hadn't happened to her, but I needed to make sure that there was an end to what had ended.

I'm sorry for what has happened to you. Your friend is too - I assure you. But I'm betting there is more to this story and the relationships between the people involved. On preview, yasaman has some excellent insight into how relationships may change as a result of this.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:33 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]


I can completely see why this would upset you, his reaction was uncaring, and while my google fu is failing me, I've read numerous places that the first response to telling someone you were assualting has a huge impact on the way you process an event like this. Please TELL your counselor about his reaction and your feelings about his reaction. In my situation this brought up a lot of questions for me such as;

1. Can I find friends who will support me during the roughest parts of life?
2. Are there people like myself, who WILL be there with me through thick and thin, listen to the hard stuff, not just the easy stuff, and really be able to give as much as I know I have given to people?
3. Are my values about what friendship should be bad?
4. Should people dealing with intense emotions all be shuffled into a therapists office and not be allowed to talk freely about their emotions as normal people seem to?
5. Are some life issues just too big for most people to deal with, such that ever talking about having gone through it should be taboo?
6. Am I allowed to need emotional support from friends or family or is that something only a therapist should be expected to provide?

And where I've come on those kinds of questions is that friendship is what you and the other person want it to be. You have to look for people who share your values and not everyone believes in talking about intense stuff, in being a shoulder to lean on, or that emotional support for intense life experiences should even happen between friends-- that's a therapists job after all! I disagree with their philosophy, but because of that I seek people to be friends with who share my values.

Some people also, apart from having value system in opposition to support between friends, actually DO have an obstacle dealing with specific issues or types of support. I have a REALLY hard time supporting people with self harm issues, to the point I will cut people off and defer them to other resources people (anyone but me) if they need help with that. I can't and will not discuss it other to call the authorities for someone if they are truly having a crisis. It's possible a family member or friend has put him on the spot to carry them through a lot of pain and it really harmed him, or that he was abused by someone with rape trauma issues kind of holding him in a hostage situation where he had to take care of all their emotions "or else" they will fall apart/self harm/etc.

There are a LOT of resources out there and you need and deserve them. It is ok to need tons of resources AND support from real friends who aren't just being paid to be there but actually care. This guy is not able to be that and I'm so sorry he was the first person you reached out to. It's actually pretty rare that people value and are equipped to handle supporting people with traumatic stuff (while also respecting their own boundaries and needs AND not saying the wrong things...).

But I could see how his response sounds a bit like "rape trauma should only be discussed in therapy and I don't want to see your yucky messy pain" which is a belief a lot of people have. I don't like people who have that belief so I'm not particularly friends with them. If they have a specific REASON they have a hard time with some issues, I'm much more understanding but I think if this guy really wants to be your friend he probably should explain to you what that reason is, and if it were me I would definitely stop talking to him because his behavior is hurtful to you whether he means it to be or not. It's ok to just find safe people right now and seek their support.

There ARE people who will want to hear your feeling, care about you, and be there for you. Just find those people and focus on that, also if none of your friends or family are willing to talk with you about this, you might like an online or in person support group where it's ok to talk about this stuff. One thing I found attempting that is that I discovered I get really overwhelmed with other people's trauma especially in a big group where there's a bunch of horror stories getting swapped. People have different thresholds to deal with it and some people really can't deal with it at all, even if they've tried being able to. I can deal with hearing about a lot of stuff if it's one on one and I know the person isn't going to sort of corner me into taking on everything in their life, but I have my limitations as do we all.

The more you get the support you need from people who ARE able to give it, the less his reaction will sting because you know your needs are valid, you deserve support from friends, and you can find people who value giving and receiving support in tough times. He still might not be someone you want to be friends with depending on why he reacted this way, it's possible you over estimated the level of friendship you have with him and he was really offended you turned to him for help- in which case this is probably a good time to just move on to greener pastures? I do think if you have a hard time hearing people tell you they can't support you with something, that could be a behavior he's seen in you before and this is sort of a culmination of anger he's had at you a while for having expectations of emotional support he doesn't want to deal with. I don't know if that's the case, many many things could be the case. I once knew a guy whose mother was a rape victim and he had a LOT of anger at her about it because he felt her pain and issues had messed up his life and been an unfair burden on him. Actually come to think of it I've known multiple guys with that exact problem.

There are all kinds of reasons people might respond with coldness to a person in pain. I don't think it's the right reaction and it's not the loving reaction-- healthy people should strive to be available and be there- but not everyone is healthy and without issues and limitations. I believe in good samaritan responsibilities-- we should all strive to be there for each other, but we're all just human, some of us are NOT equipped to provide aid or support people in specific situations and getting a professional or well, ANYONE else, is the right thing to do.

Also, there are people who think it's totally reasonable to support friends through difficult circumstance and not "unreasonable" at all. There are certain boundaries and communication issues that need to be considered however and it needs to be ok for people to have limitations, need a break, and not feel responsible for carrying the entirety of your issues especially if it's starting to make them crumble under the weight. If you know you value support with difficult stuff between friends, just look for friends who share that value, and make sure you give as well as you get! You might find you meet someone who needs more than you can give at some point, and remember this experience, both in terms of how maybe your friend could have handled his side better and also how maybe you could understand his limitation better.
posted by xarnop at 10:35 AM on February 21 [4 favorites]


I'd be inclined to say 'forgive him, he outright said he can't be there for you...' except that it's not just that to me. Something is making him uncomfortable around you. He's icing you out, ignoring you, and being rather cold to you. "You have five minutes, I prefer the lights on, I don't want to hug you."

It seems to me that after he heard about the rape, he started treating you differently. Huge red flag. If it's triggering, and he can't talk about it, there are ways to say 'I can't be there for you,' without being callous and cold about it. He can still be your friend, you know? He can still say 'Sorry this happened to you, but I can't be there for you,' and can still treat you/interact with you like he did prior. With kindness and niceness. So why is he treating you like you've done something to him personally?

If I had to guess, I'd say he's either used to victim blaming, he has raped someone, or he was falsely accused of rape/knows someone who was and views rape victims with automatic skepticism.

Like others have said, I find that people become weird after they find out about a rape. Even family members often victim blame.

Could it be that your interest in each other was quasi romantic/flirty prior to this? I mean, to me, that explains a lot. It explains why you keep trying to find solace in him in particular, even when he makes his boundaries clear, and it kind of explains his reaction too.

If so, perhaps that's part of it. I recall a question on Ask whereby the girlfriend got raped and the boyfriend got angry at her for it. While he felt bad, part of him blamed her for being drunk-- he almost viewed it as cheating and couldn't handle the thought of her and this person together. It took him a while to check his knee-jerk reaction to it and what was triggering it.

This question just reminded me of that. I wouldn't be surprised if something like that were at play, too.

I'm so sorry this happened to you. Yeah, you're kind of at fault for pushing his boundaries; you want him to be something he's not and he can't console you. But I'm going to go against the grain here and say you don't need this person in your life.

Whatever his issues, he's supposed to be your friend, and he should at least treat you with kindness and basic respect. He doesn't owe you a shoulder to cry on, no, but he should at least treat you like he treated you before the rape-- that means hugs if you used to hug each other; this means warmness if he used to be warm with you. Being a friend means not treating you as if you've wronged him personally, or as if you have a disease. If he's your friend. Especially given the circumstances. Since he can't even give that, and it's distressing you so much, I would walk away from this-- this person is not your friend. I personally think you have every right to be upset.

But whatever you want from him/need from him-- he cannot give you. This is key. And because you want it to be him, it's just going to distress you more when he can't. It's fine to walk away, and you're not being unreasonable if you do. You need to heal. You need people who can be there for you. Find someone who can be supportive to you in this vulnerable time.

Perhaps in time you can be friends again, but, I don't think you will be. This is not your fault. Remember: You deserve kindness.
posted by Dimes at 10:36 AM on February 21 [20 favorites]


and being rather cold to you. "You have five minutes, I prefer the lights on, I don't want to hug you."

Except only the first part of that is even conceivably cold.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:37 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]


I am so, so sorry this happened to you--on both counts. I have to say I agree that this sounds like a situation where you were hoping for love and support, afterwards, from someone who would probably have very much liked to be loving and supportive, but who was having to worry about their own triggers first. Some people want/need to talk about this sort of thing, and some people want/need not to except in very controlled circumstances, like with their therapists. It can be really hard when one of the things you really need to talk about is someone else's trigger, but in the end you have to really respect that, especially when they've made every possible attempt to communicate it to you up front that this is the case. In the end, if someone says this is a thing they can't talk about, you really have to take that at face value.

Find other friends to be your support system about this. If you're uncomfortable talking to this person again, that's totally fine, but if you feel up to giving him another chance, just respect that this friend is not part of your support system about this particular topic. When I was in a sensitive phase of my eating disorder recovery, I had a friend who was doing likewise who I had to give up being friends with because we kept triggering each other, and that's ridiculously hard, but it's better than allowing that to keep happening.

Respect other people's sensitive spots because there will probably come a time you need other people to respect yours.
posted by Sequence at 10:38 AM on February 21


You have 5 minutes? He may have an issue dealing with this, but that was amazingly cold to me. I would forget about this friendship if that's the level of explanation/help he could offer.
posted by agregoli at 10:40 AM on February 21 [8 favorites]


I had the same reaction from multiple friends after a suicide attempt after a rape. People do not know what to do when faced with something they hear about but have never dealt with personally. It damaged my relationships with them permanently but I have moved on and found other people who are able to handle that kind of baggage better.

I would leave this guy alone, but the next time you see him you could say, "Hey, when we last spoke I was hurt by the way you treated me after I divulged my rape. It felt like you were being dismissive and cold and that you were even grossed out by my telling you. I don't expect you to be a counselor or to provide me with resources. I just wanted to talk to you about what happened because I wanted to process it with someone I care about and who I thought cared about me. Can you shed some light on why you treated me so differently than I expected?"

Maybe he's been raped and this is triggering him. Maybe he's a rapist and your rape is making him feel guilty and scared. Maybe he's been socialized to treat anyone that's been raped as disgusting and gross. We don't know. So you've got to ask, if you feel that will help you move forward.

Feel free to message me. I am sending you so much love and support.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:40 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]


...Maybe he's an ex or someone with a more complex relationship to the OP than we're aware. I personally am kind of curious what type of friend this is. A casual acquaintance or coworker would be understandably surprised and uncomfortable with an intimate revelation of this type, and would most likely say "I'm sorry, I can't help you, please see a professional, here is a resource." A close platonic friend, less so. A significant other, no; an ex, there could be heaps of other baggage there.

Regardless, I do think that it was cold and would come off cold to me if I were upset and emotional BUT we have no way of knowing from the question how justified he was to be cold. Unless he was a very close friend, I would not personally hold this against him ethically (and even so, if it was triggering for him in some way, I still wouldn't).
posted by celtalitha at 10:46 AM on February 21 [7 favorites]


If you want to end the friendship you have my permission to do so. Having said that if my close friend sent me an email informing me she'd been raped I'd be way out of my comfort zone. And I'd suck at being your shoulder to cry own and may feel the need to tell you that. And I'm female and this is not triggering for me. Some of us are better equipped to be supportive than others. He clearly is not able to support you in this and he told you so and when you didn't listen he told you again. His reaction is whatever it is. Personally I think it's unlikely he wanted to be unkind but that was the only way he could draw a boundary he needed to draw. At some point you may talk to your counsellor about how you can deal with reactions which, as others have said, may often be less than helpful.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:51 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]


You have 5 minutes? He may have an issue dealing with this, but that was amazingly cold to me. I would forget about this friendship if that's the level of explanation/help he could offer.
posted by agregoli


But he said earlier and several times that he didn't want to talk about it at all.

I'm not trying to defend the guy necessarily; whether he doesn't want to talk to her because he's a jerk, or whether it's because it's triggering for him, doesn't really matter. I think the point is, the OP should disengage with him and find support elsewhere rather than pushing the issue or wondering why he can't offer help. It will only hurt further to try and squeeze help out of someone who refuses to or cannot provide it.
posted by bearette at 10:52 AM on February 21 [14 favorites]


It seems to me that his initial response was very clear and not inappropriate. I am a woman with certain things in my history that tend to make people think that I would be a good person to reach out to in certain circumstances. I'm actually not. The particular topic that people most often get in touch with me about isn't something that's traumatic to me, it's just something I dealt with a long time ago, and then spent some years doing a whole lot of support work for people dealing with it in their lives, and now I'm just done. I don't have it in me to do that particular form of emotional labor anymore.

So, I'm going to say, that, off the top of my head, twice in the past 18 months I have been approached through e-mail by someone in a difficult situation asking if they could talk to me about it, and I have answered something along the lines of, "I'm not really a good person for that," or "My other commitments make that impossible right now," and then have followed up with, "Have you looked into support group in your area like [name of group]," or with a web link idea or something.

I'm not afraid of emotions, I'm not a bad friend, I'm not a douche, I'm not uncaring. I just have this boundary. Your friend told you his boundary.

It sounds like he was very awkward with you after your e-mail exchange, but then, if I'm reading it right, even though he had said, "I can't talk to you about this. This is too sensitive for me," you sat him down and told him about the rape in a very emotional way, and then were upset when he didn't give you the support you wanted. But he had told you this wasn't something he could do for you, and you didn't respect that boundary.

It's sort of like if a friend asked me if they could stay at my house, and I said, "Oh, no, not that weekend, sorry," but they showed up with all their luggage on Friday night anyway and moved into my guest room.

You are certainly entitiled to the support you need following a rape, but you are not entitled to get that support from any specific person. Some folks are better equipped for that than others. You're not necessarily entitled to know a person's reasons why they can or can't do it.

Now, that said, you do get to decide whether to be friends with someone if they can't give you something you'd like. I've had friendships where I was able to accommodate the lack, and other friendships where it was just too big. That's up to you. If what you want is a friend who can really be there for you when you've had something as terrible as a rape happen to you, then it's OK to let go of this friendship and focus on, or go looking for, friends who are able to do that for you.
posted by not that girl at 10:54 AM on February 21 [48 favorites]


You have enough to do right now. Certainly,
you should discuss this in therapy. However, I don't see what good could come of speculation.

He told you he cannot do what you want him to do. He tried to provide practical help (hot line advice) and he bent a little when pushed.That is all you know.

Just let it go. Do not even deal with this unsupportive friend.

Later, when you are more organized, you can revisit - if you still want to. For now, cordial arms length is a good strategy. (You will still be seeing him at events, right?)

Do not add whatever problems he has to your life. Just take care of yourself right now.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:59 AM on February 21


His reply to the email was fine; his rudeness in public, not fine.

I should clarify my own statement here: if for whatever personal reasons he simply cannot engage in contact with someone he knows has been raped, that is his prerogative and his boundary to maintain.

But if he considered the OP a friend prior to this, he really owed it to her to explain, in his original and completely acceptable reply, that he could no longer associate with her and (perhaps) that he was sorry about that.

Apart from that, people here are correct: he is under no obligation to support the OP if he feels he cannot, and she should probably refrain from any contact with him if that's going to be a problem for her. (It is also valid for this to be a problem for her. I'd sure as fuck be thinking differently about the friendship, if it were me.)
posted by like_a_friend at 11:07 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]


What do I make of this?

There's little reason to keep him as friend. You really needed him and he not only was unable to be there for you, but was a complete asshole about it.

No need to cut him off, just drift away. Perhaps latter you two can be friends, but at this point, it's useless if he just aggravates negative feelings within you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:10 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]


Now I'm questioning whether I should hold on to him as a friend. His behavior made me feel even worse...almost like a weird repeat of what happened.

If the only factor in deciding whether or not to hold on to him as a friend is his behavior in this instance, I would say that you should keep being his friend if you want to and if this incident was anomalous.

I don't really see how any party in this exchange was wrong to do what they did or feel what they felt (although I'm really only guessing about how he might have felt). The aftermath of rape and accompanying PTSD can bring with it a lot of volatile and unexpected emotional reactions. You are not wrong to feel these things.

I would say that a charitable interpretation here would start with trying to divorce his actions from your reaction to them - they may both be valid but it's important to remember that (unless he's been similarly callous in the past or in some other way given you a reason to think otherwise) he was almost certainly not trying to make you relive this trauma. You still have a right to feel what you feel, of course. It just may be helpful to try to look at it outside the context of cause and effect when appraising his actions.

For his part, something about what you told him clearly troubled him to an unusual degree. Your description of the exchange makes it sound (giving him the benefit of the doubt here) that he gave what he believed to be the best response he was able to give.

And I don't know why he'd have had the reaction he did. My best two guesses are either that he himself has past trauma which was triggered (in other words, the two of you basically inadvertently did the same thing to each other here - remember what I said above about cause and effect), or that he has some relationship either to you or to the rapist which is fucking him up and he's having a really hard time processing it.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter. He doesn't have to prove that his reason is airtight before he's allowed to have a reason for his serious aversion to talking about this.

That all said:

He told you it was too sensitive a topic and that he did not want to talk about it and wasn't comfortable being told about it. His cold demeanor during the in-person encounter may possibly be because he had told you that and still found him and wore him down until he agreed to listen to you tell him about it. From what you describe, he sounds like he was trying his hardest to provide as much emotional support as he could, which turned out to be not much.

Yeah, he could have been warmer, but he also sent you links he believed would be helpful and he was clear about communicating his boundaries. It sucks that what he told you was not what you wanted or needed to hear, but (at least to my ear) it sounds as though he was trying to be a good friend to the best of his abilities.

As far as why he was icy to you in public before you tried to talk to him, I really don't know. I am not privy to his mind or to the exchange the two of you had over email. Maybe even seeing you was triggering whatever your email triggered. Maybe not. No idea.

At that point I do think you should have talked to him, but only to clear the air between the two of you. You still probably should at some point if you decide this is a friendship worth maintaining.

What do I make of this?

You know yourself better than I do, so only you can decide whether or not any of the following is useful to you.

If I were in your situation, I would send him an email saying that I am sorry for pushing his boundaries and for not taking him at his word when he said he wasn't going to talk about this. I'd acknowledge that something seems to be bugging him out about it, and that I understand that if he wanted to talk to me about it, he would. So I'd tell him that I am not going to pry. I'd say that I will happily give him space if he needs space for whatever reason but that I hope we can be cool because I value his friendship, and I look forward to being able to move on and forget about this eventually.

I would reassure myself that I did not do anything wrong here, that my actions were all completely understandable, and that I am a human being dealing with some difficult shit. I would accept that he seems to be dealing with some kind of difficult shit too, as much below the surface but still present as my own, and I would let that color my decisions.

I would then ask myself what his merits are outside of this. He was the first person you decided to tell, which suggests to me that he has been trustworthy and upstanding otherwise.

I don't know. He sounds like someone who's hurting and who froze up when the hurt was brought to the surface. If I were in your situation - and again, this is only me - I would smooth over this incident and then stay friends with the guy but keep in mind that he's sensitive about rape.

But again, it's your call. Good luck.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:16 AM on February 21 [6 favorites]


His reactions aren't on you, they're on him. This has nothing to do with you. You reached out to him and he was cold. Whether that was justified or not or whether he's really a nice guy or whatever doesn't matter. You personally can't count on him so don't. Forget him, nothing good is going to come out of interacting with him.
posted by leopard at 11:16 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]


It is, as many many people have said, impossible to know what is going on inside his head, and that I think is the whole problem here. The complete lack of explanation and failure to even recognize he is acting differently is more of a flag to me then anything else. His response didn't have to be full of painful details but could have indicated why it was sensitive to him, and he should not have invalidated your observation of his acting differently by essentially denying it.

Should you continue to be friends? I don't know. But even if so, your friendship has changed significantly already and he refuses to say why. I absolutely could be friends with someone unable to help me in a crisis yes, sure. But at the same time I certainly would not be close friends with someone unable to help in a crisis ignore me for days when asked and refuse to say why and start acting weird about it.

For me in order to be understanding and forgiving of someone's weaknesses you have to know why they are weaknesses.
posted by edgeways at 11:28 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]


This is a really traumatic thing for you on every level. I'm really sorry. Words dramatically fail in this situation, I know, but I hope you do understand that you're not responsible for what happened to you and you're not responsible for this guy responding the way he did when you asked for help.

Here's my advice. Don't try to read this guy's mind. Just don't. The only thing you can know for certain is that the way he responded to you really hurt you, profoundly let you down, and did not make anything better for you. That's what you really, really know. Trying to guess why is natural but it's not going to help you. If anything, it's a distraction away from what has really happened, which is that you've been violated and you are at sea emotionally, trying to make sense of it. You've been traumatized.

All that is obvious on the face of this guy's reaction is that he's scared and running. Why? You can't and are not responsible for saying. What you need right now is to go toward someone who will come toward you with sensitivity, understanding and support. I'm not sure who that person could be for you but one thing we know for certain is that it is not this guy. I understand shame very, very well. I can pretty much guarantee you, though, that there is one person in your life - and I would hope that the mere mention of the possibility brings their face to your mind right now - that you can go to to ask for help without having more shame heaped on you. This guy is not that person.

I'm pulling for you. You haven't done anything wrong.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 11:30 AM on February 21 [7 favorites]


Some questions for me about this would be what are the reasons why you really wanted to tell him, and only him, about what happened first? And what is your background with him? I don't want to start any tangential debate about whether opposite gender people can be perfectly platonic friends or not, but I'd say that life experience has led me to suspect that the majority (but not all!) of such friendships involve either current or past romantic attraction between the two parties involved. I myself have remained friends with a number of people that I used to date, and before I had a husband, those people would have probably been the first people I would feel comfortable talking about an experience like this to, because we had shared that sort of sensitive information about each other in the past and were very comfortable talking to each other about anything. So - you are opposite sex and (admittedly I'm just assuming here) maybe heterosexual people. That does add a layer of complexity onto any conversation the two of you have about sex. If you have ever been in a relationship together or one has ever had feelings for the other, that adds another layer of complexity. I guess all I'm saying is that even if he hasn't been raped/sexually abused/known someone who has or actually sexually assaulted someone himself, consider the possible known or unknown romantic history between the two of you, if there is any, in processing what happened. If there is known romantic history between you, I would venture to say that he is probably not the best person to talk about this with, although I am sorry that someone you clearly felt would be a good support person for you couldn't be there for you. I'm not saying that his behavior was to be expected in that case, but it might explain awkwardness and discomfort.

I'd wait quite some time and then go back to him and say "I'm sorry that I approached you about what happened to me after you asked me not to. I was hurting so much that I didn't know what to do. You were right, and I did seek professional help. But your response to the whole thing really upset me, and I'm still sad that we couldn't talk about something so important to me." (yes, this is you being the bigger person - in an ideal world he'd broach this with you first). If he has any sense of decency, his response to this should be a heartfelt apology for not being able to be there for you in your time of need. I wouldn't judge him based on his reaction just after hearing about a traumatic event like this, assuming that there was a good reason why he was upset and not behaving appropriately because of it himself. But if you revisit it after he's had time to process it and just address the interaction between the two of you, and he can't apologize for it and mean it, I think the friendship isn't worth any more of your time or energy.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:39 AM on February 21 [9 favorites]


I'm sorry that you're dealing with this. If you were here, I'd offer a hug for as long as you want (okay, not literally but I wouldn't qualify it with "a brief one.").

When bad things happen to us, sometimes people back off because it makes them realize that bad things could happen to them too. In some ways, you're a reminder that bad things happen. It would be immature for someone to back off and that's not an excuse but it is a reason.

Also, friends have strengths and weaknesses. My best friend is great at going out and partying but when my mom died, she didn't know what to say. Another friend won't go running with me but she will chill out and catch up on shows with me. My husband loves getting pizza and is terrible at going shoe shopping.

If you don't want to be friends with him anymore, I totally understand but if he's a good friend, maybe give him the benefit of the doubt. Your friend isn't good at this. Hopefully he's good at something else. If so, stick to that in your friendship and find someone else who is better at listening. Good luck - you'll get through this.
posted by kat518 at 11:43 AM on February 21


He was the first one I told days after it happened. Because I didn't have the courage to bring it up in person I sent him an email telling him and asking if he would talk with me briefly about it in person or at least just listen.

There are so many possible reasons for his behavior that your question is unanswerable.

Is this a person you had a previous romantic relationship with or to whom you made romantic overtures? Is the accused rapist a friend of his? Have you had previous events of this sort with this person? Why this person? Is there history here which would imply to the people around you that they need to maintain a distance with you?

Only you actually have the necessary context. There isn't enough here to give you an answer to your question, which is how to deal with this "unsupportive" friend. The answer will always come down to a river of history which is absent from your question.
posted by rr at 12:10 PM on February 21 [4 favorites]


This is my overloaded two cents. People just generally aren't nice to anyone who is a victim of sexual assault -- whether they be adult female, adult male, or a child. As a society we're not. We're just plain not. As far as I'm concerned, we're still acting out generations' worth of behavioral patterns (such as victim-blaming, abandonment, etc) around the issue of sexual violence, rather than effectively lifting the issue into conscious discussion to create new patterns -- you know, like being prepared to offer a dignity-affirming hug to a friend who has been assaulted...

Something it took me late into my 20s to realize was that men (as the supposed monolithic whole in this context) really don't help each other with this. They don't talk about it. They don't support each other with it. They don't even give other men a chance to effectively debrief about it (let alone a young woman). Doesn't matter whether you're a homeless man, a moderately successful man, or an extremely rich and privileged man -- all men lose out on getting the support they deserve from their fellow men. So say, let's say you're a man struggling with issues of sexual assault... maybe your kids were sexually assaulted by a male relative that you trusted... how do you maintain a healthy sexuality when you've inadvertently bore witness to more sexual assault than your soul can handle? How do you deal with the abandonment by other men, who shy away from you and your family because now one man's unhealthy sexuality has left its cloud of stigma over you and your loved ones? It doesn't seem to me that men help each other with any of that. They don't support each other to understand that this kind of victimization has nothing to do with the victims (other than physical availability + opportunity), and everything to do with the dysfunction active in another person's head. The default course of action, from my viewpoint, appears to be to let fellow men deteriorate into increasingly dysfunctional sexuality, the belief that other men can't be trusted, the belief that as a sexual-feeling man they're unlovable because look at what male sexuality does to people, ongoing isolation, and possibly suicidal despair.

When it comes to your friend, I'd hunker down and focus on yourself for a while. It does sound like he genuinely tried to express his boundary with this, and push come to shove in spite of his effort it was still a profound disappointment at best. Focus your energy into seeking people who ARE supportive. Give it time and leave an opening for your friend (perhaps a few months down the road) to reproach this topic. However, if he can't find the courage to do that - to own his piece of the overall systematic failure of society to value persons in spite of sexual violence - I would probably drop the friendship. I'd lose too much respect for someone who sees me as too inadequate to find a way through what human beings have been surviving for millennia. Plus I'd be left extremely reluctant to rely on him to be supportive for anything substantial in the future again. He's shown you his colors; let him wear them. You focus on connecting with people striving for change in this societal arena, and be prepared to accept the possible loss of this friendship as yet another casualty to society's behaviorally systematic indifference around freedom from sexual violence for all persons.
posted by human ecologist at 12:27 PM on February 21 [8 favorites]


You know, this reminds me very much of a former boss who wouldn't have closed door one-on-one meetings with female staff members for fear of accusations of harassment. I mean, all the caveats, 5 minutes of time, leave the lights on, sitting as far as possible from OP, reluctance to hug. Maybe he's been accused before, is afraid of being accused or is reluctant to be around a rape victim for fear of what people might think. It's all pretty unknowable. Find other people to comfort you, be gentle with yourself and let this go.
posted by Allee Katze at 12:36 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]


It's interesting that you begin your post with (completely understandably) laying out your own boundaries: you want to talk about this, but not about that. You want advice about X, and not about Y. I consider your doing that totally healthy.

And it never occurred to me to question your right to set those boundaries, because it's up to you to decide what they are.

I also think that when it comes to unburdening yourself about something traumatic, sometimes you find that other people have to do the same to you: "Because of my own stuff, I am not the right confidante." He may not have said it well, but in effect, it seems like that's what he told you. And depending on the reasons, maybe he intentionally ignored you when you ran into each other and maybe he didn't. "Ignored" is one of those things where if you're already upset with someone, it suddenly seems like their behavior is more hostile than it is, sometimes. Sometimes. Maybe he was ignoring you and being cold, but maybe he felt awkward about having had to bow out of the role you asked him to step into. Who knows?

But the fact remains that unfortunately, even when he had already told you that he wasn't the right person to go to for support, you confronted him in person, which puts him in a tough spot. I'm not blaming you at all; I'm trying to understand why he might have done as he did. The rest of it -- the desire not to hug, the desire not to talk with the lights off, saying he could talk about it briefly -- could all have come from profound discomfort.

It's just really hard to tell, you know? It's really hard to tell what's going on with him, and I would hope that you could leave open the possibility that you could reconnect with him later, even if he can't be your support person about this. There are times when you don't know why people bow out of a particular situation, but he was pretty straightforward in telling you that the sensitivity of the topic to him was why he couldn't discuss it. That's not ideal, but it's not the same as just flaking because he can't be bothered. As other people have told you, it's entirely valid to say "you're not a good friend for me to have right now if you expect me not to need support about this," but that doesn't necessarily mean, "You're a bad person and I could never be your friend."

It's the balance between respecting your own needs and boundaries and understanding other people's limits, you know? It's really hard. And I'm sorry you're going through it.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:14 PM on February 21 [15 favorites]


Whatever the reason, he wasn't there for you when you reached out, and in fact was cold and unsympathetic in reply.

The reason is immaterial. He's already walked away from your friendship.

My recommendation is that you acknowledge that, wish his retreating shadow the best of luck with the rest of his life, and move on with taking care of yourself.

My deepest sympathies, and best of luck.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:15 PM on February 21 [4 favorites]


He expressly said to you that he didn't want to discuss it with you. You decided to discuss it with him anyway. It's not really surprising that he didn't handle it well. You're not a bad person AT ALL for wanting to discuss it with him. He's also not a bad person for not wanting to discuss it with you. Disregarding a boundary is not a good thing to do, irrespective of your motivation.

Sometimes, people can't be what you want them to be. I'm not going to hypothesize as to why this individual can't handle hearing about your situation. None of us can know for sure - all we can do is put ideas in to your head as to the whys and wherefores. You could try asking him, but be prepared for more of the same. It seems that he really doesn't want anything to do with this.

You need to focus on yourself. It sounds like you have way more than enough to handle right now, and you need to find some people who are capable of giving you what you want and need. Don't waste any more of your precious time and resources on people who can't give you what you need.
posted by Solomon at 1:15 PM on February 21 [4 favorites]


I'm so sorry you're going through all this.

I disagree with the advice upthread that you should contact him and say you're sorry. You have not wronged him by asking for his support, by confronting him about freezing you out at the party, or by wanting a hug. The fact that he couldn't or wouldn't give you these things doesn't mean that they are unreasonable things to expect from a close friend in the first place.

He might have legitimate reasons of his own for handling this badly (and he did handle this badly - 'this is too sensitive for me' is one thing, outright blanking you in person is another), and one day you might know enough about what those are to find yourself feeling sympathetic towards him. (Or he might just be a crappy person who isn't the friend you thought he was, who knows.) But right now, you're still dealing with your own pain and you need to focus on that. You don't have the emotional space to prioritise whatever pain he may or may not have above your own, and if you find yourself wanting to send him apologetic emails in the hope he'll grant you some sympathy in return, that's a really good sign you need to be looking somewhere other than him for support at the moment.

You don't need to make any decisions right now about whether or not to stay friends with him, or what kind of friends to be. Give it some space, turn to people you can rely on, and let the future take care of itself.

But don't, in the middle of such a hellishly painful time in your own life, chase after him to apologise for asking him for a hug. Don't do that to yourself.
posted by Catseye at 1:26 PM on February 21 [6 favorites]


I am sorry for all that you are going through.

I agree that if you feel uncomfortable with the friendship now and wish it to be over, then you are certainly well within your rights, but I disagree strongly with people who are saying why he reacted the way that he did does not matter. As others have pointed out, this may have been a very traumatic revelation for him. I have had a male friend in the past who was violently and traumatically raped, and if this was the case with your friend, it may have been all he could do to keep it together. There are a couple of subjects that I am extremely sensitive about due to past trauma and if you bring them up to me, I, too, will suddenly come across as very cold, and the reason is because it is taking every single resource that I possess in me not to freak the fuck out.

Then I think about my dearest male friend, who might well be the first person I would tell about something like this, and I would be shocked and devastated in this fashion because in the past he has always been a compassionate pillar of strength for me. I'm not sure what your relationship was with this person, though--you don't say you are shocked because of the depth of your relationship, but because "this guy has always portrayed himself as a nice person." If this is not a close friend, this may be way too much to share.

Then I think about another friend, a female friend, who is a good and kind and loving person, and will take practical steps to help her friends in need, but she is just useless at emotional support. She knows this about herself, and it doesn't make her a bad person. (She's also not a hugger, and gets super uncomfortable if she is in a situation where she feels pushed into physical contact.)

Ultimately, none of us here have enough information to really know--mostly, I just wanted to offer some different perspectives to the "who cares why he did it, he's a bad friend" comments above. I do agree that he stated his boundaries and you pushed at them when you should have let it go. It's understandable that you pushed. It's also understandable that his reaction to that was not a good one.
posted by tiger tiger at 1:32 PM on February 21 [9 favorites]


I'm feeling a lot less charitable toward this guy than a lot of people here. Even if it was triggering for him, he could have conveyed that to you in a kind manner. It makes me wonder if he has some kind of investment in the perpetrator. Even if that's not the case, he was really unforgivably dickish to you and betrayed your friendship (if there ever really was one) in the worst way. DTMFA.
posted by Jess the Mess at 2:03 PM on February 21 [11 favorites]


You always know who your true friends are when it's a time of need and they are either there for you or not there for you. He showed his true colors in the situation you described.
posted by Dansaman at 2:55 PM on February 21 [4 favorites]


While I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, and to say that perhaps he is just horrible with 'serious' or scary issues, I really don't think that this guy considers you to be his good friend. Even if he was horrible with things like this and he cared about you as his friend, he would at least have been warmer with you. A real friend will feel protective of you, and will want to help comfort you. The way he responded sounds to me like the way an acquaintance, not a friend, would respond. Someone who was almost offended that you would burden them with this, acting as if you'd crossed some kind of line or stepped over a boundary that you shouldn't have.

Is it possible that you thought you were closer to him than you actually were, or that you thought he valued your friendship in the same way you did but you were wrong? His response sounds more like a jerk of a distant ex boyfriend's who really can't be bothered with you or something, like you're annoying and awful for even bringing him into this.

I really hope that you have family members or a close female friend who you can discuss this with, because he is definitely not the person to bring your emotions to, for any reason. He sounds like a cold, disinterested jerk in my opinion and he definitely doesn't sound like he cares about you.

If there isn't anyone immediately close to you who you feel comfortable discussing this with, then I would find a support group in your area for rape victims. I imagine only those who have been raped can possibly begin to understand how awful it must have been. Stay strong and be 'in your own corner' for now, even faking the resilience if you have to, to get you through. You are stronger than you realize and will pull through. Don't focus on this loser's coldness right now. Forget him. Focus on feeling better and finding real support.
posted by OneHermit at 3:10 PM on February 21 [6 favorites]


I'm sorry that the person who you felt most comfortable speaking to about what happened wasn't able to be there for you. I also have a less charitable view of him and his actions. It is possible to be both compassionate as well as guarded if you have your own trauma and are triggered. He wasn't able to do that at all. That's his failing, not yours. It's not unreasonable to expect that close friends be there for you when you're in pain. They don't need to be a therapist, they don't need to have the solution, they don't need to be experts in the subject, they don't even have to be able to discuss or hear the details of your trauma - they just need to be there and witness and show you that they care and remind you, through their compassion and empathy, that the world doesn't have to be a cruel and lonely place. Whatever you do, please don't take his lack of ability personally. His deficiency is not a reflection of your worth.

I hope that you do find people in your life who you can talk to and who can show you love and consideration while you heal. The aftermath of rape can be incredibly isolating and negative cultural responses make that even worse. But, there are people out there who will be able to listen to you and show you consideration. There are people out there who will not fail you as friends when you need them most. Find those people. Leave this fellow behind. For whatever reason, he's not able to be a close and caring friend to you.
posted by quince at 3:22 PM on February 21 [10 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. Folks, please do not argue back-and-forth with other commenters.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:39 PM on February 21


So I am somewhat stunned by the responses in this thread, to the point that I'm questioning whether I just have wildly unfair expectations of friendship or just basic humanity.

Personally, I feel this guy has failed both as a friend and human being to act with even the most basic bit of compassion or empathy. I would never speak to him again and if I did, I would probably have some pretty choice words for him.

The OP was raped. That's the kind of thing that when it happens to a friend you put your life on hold so you can be there for them. I totally get no one knows what to say, but you literally the least you can say is "I'm so sorry, I have no idea what to say or do right now, but I'm here for you." That's it.

Boundaries are "We've talked for 3 hours every night for the last two weeks. We can't keep living like this, you need to go to therapy." Not here's a rape crisis line, but I can't deal with this.

Also, even if this guy had some horrendous incident from his past that made it just unthinkable for him to go through this with the OP, he should have said, "There are things in my past I don't wish to share, but it makes talking about anything like this too painful for me. I'm very sorry, I wish I could be there for you right now, but I just can't." That is not at all what he said and I'm not at all convinced that's actually the truth here.

I think this man has acted shamefully. I supposed there could be a reason to justify his utter callousness, but without a lot more evidence I find it unlikely. I also find the notion that the OP acted unfairly by asking to talk when she saw him utterly bizarre.

Like I think a lot of people I've had horrible sudden tragedies in my life and was utterly stunned when friends I had had for years dropped off the face of the planet when I told them. I've even had them reappear a year later like nothing happen and then tell me to my face they had no idea what I was talking about I had never told them about what had happened, this was the first they had heard of it. This really does happen. People really do just opt out of the hard parts of life and bail when the going gets tough. And it's not because they had some horrible triggering event in their past that made it psychologically damaging to live through it again with a friend, they just didn't want to. The going got tough and they got going. It's a failure of character.

I feel like the term "boundaries" get tossed around a little too liberally. It's valid and useful term, but it isn't a get out of jail free card. You don't get to draw a line in the sand and declare this is my boundary therefore I don't have to act with compassion or empathy or be there for my friend when life gets really hard. It's not a justification for acting selfishly and inhumanely.
posted by whoaali at 4:55 PM on February 21 [33 favorites]


[Another deleted. Seriously, do not argue back-and-forth here.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:50 PM on February 21


OP you should bear in mind a couple of things as you're trying to weigh whether or not you want to persist with trying to maintain a friendship with this guy. One is that it is entirely possible (though unknowable, at this point) that this subject is a deeply traumatic one for your friend precisely because he is a rape survivor himself. The other is that it is very possible that the thing he is most afraid of is that his friends should know about his past experience (a not uncommon, although by no means universal fear among rape survivors).

If those two things are true, he really has no good options in responding to you. Obviously he can't say to you "I'm sorry, I can't help you with this problem and here's the slam dunk reason why, which you would instantly understand because the very reason he does not want to get into it with you is because he does not want you to think of him as a "victim." On the other hand, surely one can understand that a rape survivor might simply feel unable to be the shoulder to cry on for another survivor--it could simply be too painful a subject to handle. So there's really nothing left to do but what he did do--to try to point you to people who can give you help and to say, with no explanation, that he can't be there for you in this instance.

Now, of course, all this is speculation, and none of it might be true. But it is always worth bearing in mind that if a friend behaves in a way we don't understand and which we consider uncharacterstic of them, it's worth giving them the benefit of the doubt, if they're a true friend and this behavior is genuinely unexpected, that they've got their own reasons for behaving that way which you would understand if could see through their eyes.
posted by yoink at 5:59 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


I'm with whooali here. OP, I am so sorry that you've gotten this bizarre, victim-blaming pile-on, in addition to being treated so badly by your friend, and the trauma you're currently dealing with. The way your friend behaved was not OK and not your fault. There is no wizardry of boundaries and interpersonal relationships that justifies his bizarre, hurtful behavior towards you. I just want to let you know:

- You did not deserve to be treated like a leper
- You did not deserve to be treated like someone who could not be trusted with the lights out
- You did not deserve to be given that incredibly cold, accusatory, "five minutes," as though you had committed a crime against your friend and he needed to set hard boundaries for you to explain yourself.
- You did not deserve to be treated as through your trauma and experiences and pain are a horrible imposition that you should keep to yourself instead of inflicting them on other people.

It's POSSIBLE that your friend has some past issues associated with rape that caused him to spiral into a post-traumatic mess; that he was in such a state of distress that he was incapable of talking about the subject in a room with the lights out. I think the fact that so many commenters here are assuming he was triggered into some kind of mental health crisis shows how totally crazy and abnormal his treatment of you was-- they want to be optimistic about basic human decency, they cannot imagine that behavior coming from someone in full possession of their emotional faculties. I hope that if your friend does indeed have some deep issues of his own that he can one day explain his shabby behavior to you and give you the apology you deserve.

It's also possible that he is a coward, that he is immature, that he is a misogynist, or that he's simply a weak person who can't cope when shit gets real. I think whatever the real reason is for his shitty behavior, he's shown you that he is not capable of being a true friend to you right now. This is on him, not on you-- but he does not sound like someone you can rely on not to be toxic towards you right now. If he wants to be your friend again, he can approach you when he's gotten his shit together enough to actually be a friend. This awful encounter with him was really, really not your fault. Stay strong; take care.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 7:34 PM on February 21 [11 favorites]


My first comment got booted and now it looks like I'm just defending the guy, which is not my intention...

Just want to restate that you, OP, really did nothing to merit this treatment (even if he, himself, had good reason to behave this way). You were not out of line in contacting him for support, not at all! You trusted him and had no reason to believe he would be triggered or otherwise psychologically damaged by this news.

You ALSO were not out of line for asking to be treated decently when you saw him in person--I'd bet if he had just said something like, "you're right, I was still feeling uncomfortable and I tried to avoid you, I'm sorry," you would have let the whole business drop entirely.

And finally, you're totally not out of line if this is not a person you can really consider a friend anymore. I'm really sorry you had to find this out at all, and really sorry you had to find this out under such malignant circumstances. Hopefully others in your life are picking up the slack he left, and you find counseling that is truly empathetic and helpful.
posted by like_a_friend at 7:46 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]


OP: I want to clarify, and to repeat, that when I said I wasn't blaming you, I meant it. You do not have to be at fault for him to be in a difficult position. You were looking for support; he can't give it to you, for reasons that I, sitting where I'm sitting, can't begin to speculate about. That, to me, is the thing to focus on. He cannot give you support with this, and it seems like his being able to support you about this is -- quite understandably -- really important to you in friends. That means no, you shouldn't hang on to him as a friend, at least under the current conditions of your life.

That doesn't mean he's a terrible person; whether he's a terrible person is not what you asked us. You asked us whether you should hang onto him as a friend, and I think the answer is certainly that at this point, you can't possibly. But for you to decide he can't be your friend because he's a monstrous jerk, rather than because he cannot give you what you need from a friend, is to tie yourself up in his stuff rather than your stuff, so that what you're deciding is only valid if you're right about his motives. You don't have to be right about his motives or about his character. What you want and need is valid regardless of his motives. You only have to make a decision about whether he can be the kind of friend to you that you need; you don't have to reach a verdict about him, and we aren't in a position to. You deserve to have the friends you need, the support you need, and the friends that, frankly, you want. Please don't mistake hesitation to draw conclusions about him as anything negative about you, because it isn't.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:19 PM on February 21 [6 favorites]


First of all, this is a terrible thing to happen to anyone and I'm so sorry you went through it.

There are basically two scenarios here:

1. For whatever reason, he can't talk about or be polite about it without being triggered. It's going to be an elephant in the room when he sees or deals with you for an indefinite period of time, possibly forever. The best thing you can do for his mental health is to keep your distance.

2. For whatever reason, he's a jerk/insensitive male/potential rapist. It's going to be an elephant in the room whenever you see or deal with him for an indefinite period of time, possibly forever. The best thing you can do for your own mental health is to keep your distance.

There's nothing you can do to figure out which it is, but nevertheless both scenarios lead to the same place. That place happens to fucking suck. But you're more or less already there, right?
posted by dekathelon at 10:28 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


Wow, sorry that this happened to you.

People are weird, unpredictable, and so forth. It's not you, it's him.

Let him go for now. If he's a true friend, he'll come around. Lean on other friends in the meantime, and put him in a holding pattern in your mind until you recover from this.

Hugs your way!
posted by dubious_dude at 3:10 AM on February 22


There is one scenario that has been tangentially broached here by yasaman, nanukthedog, famous monster and rr, but that hasn't been specifically suggested, and it it highly plausible. Is it conceivable that your friend knows the alleged rapist, and that he has heard a version of the incident from that person that paints you as a willing partner who is now trying to ruin his life?

If you assume that scenario, absolutely everything you've told us makes perfect sense.
posted by dinger at 5:04 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


Dear OP,

I've had a while to sit and think about this and I've also been paying attention to how this thread has unfolded and I have a few thoughts I'd like to leave you with. Ultimately they don't add up to a serious alteration of my answer, but they're factors I think would be good to consider when making whatever your decision turns out to be.

As I'm sure you don't need me to tell you, this is a loaded topic and you're going to hear a lot of visceral reactions. Our responses to this can be charged, especially for those who've had personal experiences with it. So please take that into consideration when reading the responses here, including mine.

What I wanted to say is that something clicked for me after answering, and I'd like to point it out.

As I've said, I can't read his mind and I don't know for certain what was going through his head or why he reacted the way he did. But what I do have is your description of his behavior.

I'd like it if you would consider the following: His in-person behavior after the e-mail exchange was avoidant. But then, when he did agree to sit down with you and listen to you tell him about being raped, notice his body language: He would not make eye contact. He acted as though you were radioactive. Were his shoulders or arms pulled in? What was his breathing like? At any rate - he sat far away from you. And: In a situation during which he was going to be told about a sexual assault, he did not want you to turn off any lights in the room. Think about that.

When you asked him for a hug - close bodily contact - after this, he flinched. Think about that.

He was acting like someone who was having a strong fight-or-flight reaction and was trying to control it for your sake. Given that he was behaving this way, and given that he nevertheless was trying to do as you asked and let you talk, I do not in any way agree with answers which suggest he is somehow not a true friend or that he is best excised from your life. I understand the place these answers are coming from and I don't begrudge the answerers their perspective, but I also cannot agree. Where some are seeing a cold, unsympathetic jerk, others are seeing behaviors consistent with dissociation, something commonly seen as a stress response in people who have suffered abuse or trauma.

Again, I don't know for certain, but I think that in the absence of information, I personally would choose to treat him empathetically.

I do think that you have a right to be unhappy that he was not able to give you the support you needed, but I also think that unhappiness and disappointment is best aimed at the situation and not at him, at least until you know more about why he reacted the way he did.

I'm sorry that this happened and I'm sorry that you were not able to find support where you were looking for it. I hope that time brings clarity, and that with clarity comes understanding, and with understanding comes peace.

Thank you for reading, and good luck.

Yrs,
FM
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:55 AM on February 22 [10 favorites]


I used to work with rape victims. The vast majority told a similar story: that their sister/best friend/the one person they thought they could trust for support/etc downright didn't believe them or told them something along the lines of, "it's okay to admit you had sex, you don't need to portray it like that" because rape is just too much for them to handle.
It sucks!
YOU were traumatized and to top it off the person you sought for support just couldn't handle it. It sucks. There's no other way to put it: it sucks.


Concerning the guy: just step away. There is nothing he can do for you right now. You've got enough on your plate already. Maybe you will forgive him someday and you'll be friends again. Maybe he'll fade away into a distant memory and you won't even remember his name. Regardless, you have every right to feel hurt.

Sorry this happened to you. Feel free to me mail if you wish. *hug*
posted by Neekee at 8:55 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


From the OP:
To answer the questions that have come up:

My friend does not know the rapist.

I've known this friend for about a year. We got close quickly at the beginning and hooked up though never had sex. We both had come out of long relationships so decided to just be friends. It was entirely mutual and there were no hard feelings on either end. I'm sure of it. I have no romantic feelings for him but I did up until this point really value him as a friend. After our brief hookup we continued to be friends, hang out a fair amount, confide in each other from time to time, in an entirely platonic way. We got along because we shared common interests and had good rapport. Meanwhile we've both casually dated other people and shared those experiences with each other.

I've always seen him as a trustworthy, nice guy. He's the kind of person who will help little old ladies crossing the street or agree to let an acquaintance who is out of home sleep on his floor. That said I haven't known him for very long and have never come to him with anything nearly this intense.

There are only two points that are perhaps worth mentioning. One thing I had noticed about him that I found a little troubling is that he is extremely stubborn and rigid. He even described himself this way. There was an occasion about half a year ago where he did something that was pretty indisputably rude to me and refused to apologize when I confronted him about it, even blamed me. I decided to let it go since I valued other things he has to offer as a friend.

The other point is that he's told me he has a history of getting involved with high-drama women who have a lot of baggage and trying to solve all of their problems. I think at least a couple of his exes came from abusive backgrounds. He's told me he is actually attracted to this type of woman, enjoys solving their problems, and will continue to pursue them. All of his exes have cheated on him and he continued to beg them back.

I guess this is the reason I was skeptical when he told me that the subject was too sensitive for him to discuss. Because I know for a fact he's happily been supportive for people with far more intense problems of the same nature and doesn't seem to want to stop doing that. Maybe this is partly why I thought he'd be understanding if I came to him this once. I also felt, if this had been a real trigger for him, he could have found a far nicer way of conveying that he still cared about me as a friend. He never told me he would be there for me or offered an ounce of warmth. I have run into him again since I posted this and he didn't even say hello to me. In fact, he snapped at me for something minor and totally unrelated and didn't ask if I'm doing alright.

After thinking it over, I have decided to drop him as a friend
posted by restless_nomad at 4:37 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]


A lot of guys like the image of "kind guy who helps old ladies cross the street" more than they actually like (or are willing to do make the effort of) being that person. I don't like how he speaks about his exes, that's a red flag for me. In addition to the other red flags.
I think you are right to drop him as a friend, but don't be wishy washy about it. I was in this situation once. I let the person know to never, ever speak with me again and that he wouldn't hear from me. I was calm and low drama about it. There were about 3 weeks of awkwardness then he was out.
The people who are making excuses for this guy... excuses can be made for anyone. It's a fact that you only have so much time in your day, so much energy in your life. You can only have a smallish number of close friends. This guy doesn't deserve that spot, he showed it. He shamed himself here in his reaction.
I don't think he's a survivor himself or any other low-probability thing, I think he is trying to keep emotional distance from you because of your history with each other, and he puts that personal need above helping you when you've had a trauma. He showed himself to not be a friend. A friend is different from a conversation partner or activity partner. A friend is there for you when you need it. This guy isn't even in the right ballpark. He failed you bigtime as a friend and if I were in your shoes, I might find it traumatizing on top of the initial trauma.
Remove him immediately and fully, or keep it up if you already have. Try to find good people. Nature abhors a vacuum - get this guy out of your life and there will be space for someone better.
I'm sorry you had to do this. "You have 5 minutes" is one of the douchiest phrases I've ever heard. It's different from, "I'm so sorry, I want to be there for you but there's something in my history that makes it super difficult for me, I can stay 5 minutes but after that it might be too much for me." The second one is okay. The first one is infuriating. I'm sorry you ever had to hear that. This guy (in my view, not shared with many of the posters above)... he's garbage. The shame is on him for his behavior, not on you for seeking out friendship. You'll be better off when he's gone from your life 100%.
posted by htid at 6:06 AM on February 23 [5 favorites]


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