Looking for attention in all the wrong places
November 30, 2009 7:36 PM   Subscribe

Why would a woman be jealous of the attention her girlfriends receive from their significant others? There is an answer, but the issue has formed a pattern in my life that I fear is getting out of control! I would appreciate anyone who could take the time to help me out by reading more...:)

Hello all!

First a little about how this all began...

I am a single woman in her early twenties, currently studying and living on my own.

A few years ago, while I was still living with my family, I met my best friend's boyfriend for the first time. I had just gotten back from travelling so I was not there to see their blossoming "love" from the beginning.

My best friend and I are two people who have the potential to be at the same level, but because of my catastrophically low self esteem, and because we each grew up so different, it could never be so.
Up to this point in our friendship, I've always felt like I was batman's confidant.

Getting to the point...

When I met her boyfriend, I thought he was great.
Sweet, smart, successful (for his age). It was pathetic.
I began to think how unfortunate it was that I hadn't met him before she did! He appeared to be perfect in every way.

One thing that wasn't perfect of course was their relationship. This was his first serious one, and my friend was mentally abusing the crap out of him. She had just been in and out of getting her heart broken by someone else, and this new perfect boyfriend of hers was a new toy.

They fought day in, day out. THE FIRST FEW MONTHS of that relationship.

Their constant bickering could only remind me of why I chose to be single in the first place. It brought back unpleasant memories of old boyfriends and our old quarrels, it made me feel awful. I didn't want her to experience this pain that I had, and I knew she didn't feel that deeply for him.

THAT was another thing that got me super angry. Why are you with such a great guy when you can't even love him? How is he for you when you are just confusing your attachment to him with love?

(I know that I may sound evil and over dramatic. I don't feel good about it!)

I still remember how she was telling me about a fight they had and it was one of the first times she threatened to break up with him. She told me how it made him break down and cry and beg for her not to leave him. She felt bad for making him cry, but I could see that as much as she cared for him- she did not LOVE him.

After telling me about this, I recommended that she break up with him, to save each of them any future pain. He loves her, she doesn't love him- How is that fair?

They stayed together of course.

After a while I realized he had began to act weird around me, and after a group confrontation I found out that she told him what I said and they both suspected that I had a crush on him and was trying to break them up.

Truth is, I did kind of like him, as you can read! But I ALSO really cared for my friend and didn't want to see her tear things apart with someone she didn't love, even though she thought it was all fine and worth it because he was so "perfect."
I wasn't trying to break them up in any other way aside from giving that piece of advice, as much I had a little crush on him- she's my friend. I kept things kosher, yo.
Still, things were never the same for us.

I could never hang out with them again without it being awkward. Because her and I were so close, he had to deal with me and I with him on almost a daily basis.
I tried to confront him and apologize but he didn't want to hear it.
A lot of unfriendly words were exchanged, etc.
Anger and jealousy and trust issues between my friend and I went down because I had not made a very convincing case against not liking him and all. :-/

I should have spent less time with them, but because I felt guilty I tried to sustain our friendship as much as I could through being around her all the time (and he was always there).
I should have thought of myself first, and just kept my distance.

And yes, I noticed that I wanted to squirm every time they would show any public displays of affection. And it did pull at my heart strings a little.

This had been going on for the past few years, I suspect that after it happened I began to feel funny around couples. As though I subconsciously like the boyfriend of my friend and want him even if he may not be my type, even if he is a complete moron. I still want him or his attention for something. But specifically if he is a good catch, since I suppose it all comes back to the memory of my best friend and her "perfect" man.

It freaked me out recently because I started to three wheel with several other girlfriends, and I always get uncomfortable when they get too intimate with one another around me (even in simple conversation with one another in front of me).

I get kind of disappointed when I don't catch the guy looking at me, or purposely starting conversation to get to know me, or pay extra attention to me. You get the picture (Once again, I am not proud of any of this).

I went out with another good friend of mine and her guy for the first time recently, and while driving, I found something of interest in common with her guy. She decided to be funny by expressing jealousy and telling him, "Nooo! you don't like that, you like what I like!"
It was just a joke, but I swear my heart stopped.

I felt a series of nervous and familiar thoughts come into play. "Do i like this guy? why am I mentioning that I like what he likes? Next time I will just keep my mouth shut. I don't like anything. but I want to, I want him to like me!"
I continued to act kinda weird and faked fatigue later in the night to run on home sooner.

I do not want to lose friends over this.
I am dating someone that I like right now and it is going really well, though I still feel these unpleasant feelings. I just shouldn't three-wheel anymore.

If you have read this far ahead, thank you.
I appreciate it whether you hate me by this point, don't give a damn, or sympathize with me. It doesn't matter.

Writing all this down was therapeutic enough.
But boy, I'd be lying if I said it wouldn't be nice to hear a few words of advice on how to battle this!

- D
posted by dentro to Human Relations (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is exactly the kind of thing that therapy is made for. There is something older than these relationships being played out in the compulsive quality of your triangles. It would be trite to say that you're replaying a triangle from your original family, but sometimes the reason things are cliches is because they're just so damn common. Do yourself a favor, stop beating yourself up and check out some therapy.
posted by fullofragerie at 7:52 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

You wrote that you know that you have low self-esteem - and this is how it expresses itself. Low self-esteem needs lots of external attention to boost itself up. You get this from your friends' boyfriends - they're a "captive audience" so to speak, and feel a vested interest in having the approval of their girlfriend's friends.

My recommendation is to keep paying attention to your actions around your friends - the more you work to recognize what you are doing, the easier it will become to stop it. Concentrate on your own boyfriend and what you appreciate about him. Low self esteem is really common in your twenties - I've been there and acted much like you are (although with less self awareness, I'm ashamed to say). The better your own life gets, the less you'll feel the need to be the center of attention.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:01 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

It doesn't sound like you need a boyfriend right now, as you seem to view men as the only fount of self-worth. As The Light Fantastic pointed out, your self-esteem expresses itself through the need for men to like you, and apparently that means any man, including boyfriends of your friends. It's muddled your understanding of boundaries to the extent that your friends notice your change in behavior and rightly feel uncomfortable with you reaction to their boyfriends.

You don't want these men; you want what they provide to your girlfriends. Unfortunately, if you can't like yourself enough alone to not feel behavior-altering jealousy around other people's boyfriends, then you're probably not going to be able to sustain a healthy relationship with men who like you.

Focus on yourself for a while. Seek out a therapist who will pinpoint why you've tied your entire self-worth to what men see in you (and in other women). Don't pursue relationships because they provide you with a temporary fix to your self-esteem. As soon as they end--and they will end sooner rather than later--you'll hit rock bottom again.

Tactfully avoid social outings your friends and their SOs in the meantime if you can't control your jealousy and your tendency to intervene in other people's affairs with ulterior motives. This sort of behavior will alienate your friends with good reason.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:18 PM on November 30, 2009 [5 favorites]

What zoomorphic said. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 9:19 PM on November 30, 2009

Some women who aren't in relationships--or aren't in happy relationships--who don't feel so great about themselves, get very competitive for the attention of friend's partners. Almost as if to say, "if he likes HER, he should REALLY like ME." There was a woman in my social group who did this to me TWICE--each time with a radically different dude, so it wasn't like I was just snagging her type over and over again. It was as if it would prove that she was the prettier, sexier, more engaging one if she caught his attention over me--and that was the whole point, not actually wanting to date the guy. I've had this happen with other women as well--she wasn't the only one. In many cases, the guy in question was someone who was much older than they were, had nothing in common with them, etc.....the goal was not to actually "win" the relationship, but to win some sort of attention that would prove she COULD have him if she wanted to.

You need to build some self esteem and learn to love yourself, stat. You need to not view relationships--or male attention--as a status symbol or some sort of currency that determines one woman's worth higher than another--a trophy you can wrest away. What business is it of yours, of anyone's, to judge who is more attractive to a specific individual anyway? You may be 10 years younger, but not very funny or bright. She may be 25 pounds overweight, but someone he can banter with for hours. Your "butterface" or "harridan" or "bimbo" is someone else's "demon in the sack."

Learn to feel awesome, about yourself (and stop hanging out with people if you don't feel "at the same level"--that's a recipe for misery and resentment), and be happy single, and I bet you'll stop doing this.
posted by availablelight at 9:27 PM on November 30, 2009 [5 favorites]

this is a little contrarian but I wonder.. why are we not supposed to look to others and to relationships to provide some of our sense of self-worth? I mean, we are social beings. What's wrong with wanting to feel like one is interesting and attractive? I don't think you should beat yourself up over that. Maybe it would be better, though, to not worry if they don't agree with you or don't like you - don't feel like you have to pretend to change your interests and preferences in order to like the same things as another person - just be yourself & don't worry about it.
posted by citron at 9:43 PM on November 30, 2009

What's wrong with wanting to feel like one is interesting and attractive?

There's nothing wrong with feeling interesting and attractive. It's unhealthy when the only way you can feel interesting and attractive is by having a relationship to "prove" it. Someone with a healthy sense of themselves will still know they are interesting and attractive even when they're not in a relationship. It exists from the inside out, rather than from the outside in.
posted by scody at 10:50 PM on November 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

Just because this happened to someone I know who didn't figure it out for quite a while:

Are you sure it's the men in these triangles whose attention you really want? And that you're not obliquely trying to get them out of the picture to have your woman friend's attention/company all to yourself?
posted by Salamandrous at 4:39 AM on December 1, 2009

Huh. I've had the exact same experience as availablelight: one friend who "went after" two (really, really) different partners of mine, but it felt as though it was more about me than it was about them. I also suspected some sort of family-/parent-based issues, as fullofragerie has suggested (especially as we were some years older than her - not that much, but enough).

That's just complete conjecture, but I agree, dentro, that you should get some counseling to try to identify the root of this problem. And in the meantime, I'd try to see my friends without their SOs around, or in larger groups, or with your boyfriend. If you are doing/saying things that you recognize as inappropriately flirty/provocative etc., there's a chance that you are actually coming off a lot stronger than you even realize. My friend would always do strange things like try to sit between me and my guy, even if it was really forced and strange - like -- one instance -- on a porch swing that would only comfortably fit two people, she'd try to sit in the middle between us. If we had our arms around each other, she'd trip or get off-balance and grab onto to us, or we would have to disengage to grab her or help her, or interact with her somehow... weird things that I doubt she was really at all aware of. One time we sort of made her leave our place (she came too often, stayed too long, and created an uncomfortable atmosphere with her flirtyness and manic desire for attention), and got a phone call a half hour later that she'd had an accident and hurt herself, and we had to go pick her up and bring her back to take care of her. It became too much, and we had to drop her, but it was sad because she was a great, smart, funny, kind person, with this one weird problem that eventually became too overwhelming for us.

The excellent thing is that you already acknowledge the issue, which means that you well on the path to resolving it. You can take steps to, first of all, reduce this tension by avoiding the sorts of situations that bring on that behavior, and secondly, getting help to understand the subconscious motivation. You say you are studying; are there mental health resources available through your school? I bet with a bit of guidance this is something that you will be able to address and put aside.
posted by taz at 4:51 AM on December 1, 2009

It is good that you acknowledge the issue and are working on it. I agree that there have to be some deeper issues at play that you should work out with a therapist, because this behavior is really obnoxious and for now might get you some negative attention (which you may be subconsciously craving) but will eventually get you no attention at all as your friends start dropping you like a hot potato. In your early 20's. this kind of shit can fly for awhile, but as your friends and their boyfriends get older, they will stop bothering with friendships that are frustrating or unfulfilling (i.e. you).

Case in point, I had a friend like this in college who tried doing this to all of our friends' boyfriends. For awhile it seemed like guys seemed to buy into it, and her girlfriends would successfully have been made jealous and distraught. Sometimes it really just seemed like she was out to take all her girlfriends down a notch. However, the older we got, the more transparently inappropriate and kind of nutty her behavior became. Even the guys stopped falling for it. For a brief period it became the subject of ridicule over drinks or dinner (to which she wasn't invited), but shortly petered out to nothing. As we all graduated, she stayed in the area as did many of us, but with jobs and grad school and other adult responsibilities, no one really had the time or energy for drama or nutty friends, so over time everyone slowly stopped talking to her, emailing with her, inviting her to do things, accepting her invitations, et cetera. It wasn't a conscious or organized decision, it was just that, as one of my friends put it, she seemed stuck in a loop of craving high school drama but the rest of us were grown up.

In short -- your flirting isn't subtle or innocent. You know what you're doing, even if you can rationalize it to yourself ("I just pointed out that I like the same things he liked!"). It's not going to win you any boyfriends (at least none worth having) and at your age it isn't going to win you any primetime-worthy drama from your friends either -- they are just going to drop you and move on with their lives, spending their precious free time with people who respect normal boundaries.

So, to be a better friend:
1) Hang out with just the girls. Except when a relationship is BRAND NEW, adult women do not spend every single waking women with their significant others. Propose a girls' night out (or in).
2) If you have to hang out with them as a couple, bring your own date and double date.
3) Get some therapy to get to the bottom of what you are trying to get from this behavior, so you can get it in a less destructive way.
posted by dumbledore69 at 6:02 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

You sound very young. I don't think you need therapy, I just think you need to grow up a bit.
posted by bunny hugger at 7:01 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you're still hanging with the original girl and her boyfriend, cut it out.

That is a recipie for low self-worth--hanging out with people who don't respect you, whom you do not respect. You seem miserable in the friendship, even if it is intimate.

And yes, if your friend's relationship leads you to use terms like "mental abuse" you don't respect her. Let it go. Let her go.
posted by kathrineg at 7:36 AM on December 1, 2009

My very best female friend in the world used to flirt manically with all of my boyfriends (and with my gay male friends who weren't out to her). It was kind of hilarious and yet really sad. It was as though the one thing that made a man irresistible to her was preferring me to her.

Armchair psychologist says: Do you have some issues with your mother that you haven't worked out? Do you feel like you're always competing for male attention with your female friends, and that you "win" if you've attracted more of the attention, and "lose" if one of them has attracted more of the attention?

Armchair psychologist says: This is the kind of thing real psychologists can help with. Good luck.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:24 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just to set the record straight:
I do not behave like a crazy flirty, squeeze to sit in between my girlfriend and her SO in a tiny love seat kind of way.
The only problem is how uncomfortable I get around these couples, and the vibes I send out when I get too weird and quiet in order to avoid saying the wrong thing.
For example: I get extremely uncomfortable when they begin to throw around little romantic inside jokes, and then they recount them to me.
Finding something of common interest with girlfriend #2's significant other was just a part of casual conversation (the three of us were driving in the car trying to decide which cafe to have dessert in. Him and I thought of a couple of the same places because we like chocolate crepes, and my girlfriend can be disgusted by them. This made her crack the jealousy joke).
The only reason I felt bad was because I noticed how much I liked that we had something in common and that I may be unconsciously turning on my charm, I was afraid my friend would notice my change of voice or something.
posted by dentro at 9:33 AM on December 1, 2009

What zoomorphic said, definitely!

And, why are you so competitive with your friends? They are your friends, you should be happy for what they have; and not unconsciously be trying to have the same for yourself. I definitely recommend therapy before this issue escalates and your friends (and mostly you) get hurt.
posted by Neekee at 10:51 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sorry, dentro, I didn't mean that you were doing such exaggerated things as the girl we knew, only that there may be more about what you are doing than seems obvious to you. After all, what friend is going to be or "play" jealous about the fact that you both like chocolate crepes? Almost nobody, on the face of it. So it seems that maybe she was reacting to more than just the dessert thing? Maybe there was more to your interaction with her boyfriend than you recognize?

But, never mind. I only answered because you seemed to be very upset and eager for any kind of insight, but it appears I misunderstood what you were asking. From your update, it seems like your only problem is that you feel uncomfortable with public displays of affection and romantic in-jokes between your couple-friends, and this might make you send out some kind of vibe... (possibly unconsciously turning on charm?). That doesn't sound like a big problem. Everyone is uncomfortable in that position. About your charm, I can't possibly imagine.
posted by taz at 10:55 AM on December 1, 2009

Your friend was/is "abusive" to her boyfriend, do you think she may have been abusive to you? If so, that could explain your irrational fear.

The solution for that is exposure, so maybe you should hang around more couples until it starts being more comfortable. Maybe couples in groups, really established couples, or super-secure couples.
posted by kathrineg at 11:19 AM on December 1, 2009

Also, if you find that you are anxious in other times or places in your life, and/or if you come from an abusive or really emotional household, think about whether you could use some professional help dealing with your anxiety.
posted by kathrineg at 11:21 AM on December 1, 2009

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