How to deal with a friend who is basically using his girlfriend for a place to live?
June 5, 2010 3:04 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine is essentially using his girlfriend for a place to live. He really should break up with her, but that would mean moving back in with his family. He claims to care about her, but constantly expresses interest in other women, going so far as to say he'd leave her for any one of them, if one opened that door. The girlfriend is clingy, emotionally dependent on him, and completely lacking self-confidence. What do I do?

My friend, John, is 29, grew up in the south, he's very intelligent and suffers from bipolar disorder. He has lived at home almost his entire life, would occasionally get out for a year, then have to be hospitalized after a breakdown (either a severe manic or depressive episode/state). Last year, he was in DC (where I live) for a long visit, fell in "love" with a woman, Jane. They dated long-distance for a while, and then six months and three or four visits later, he moved from his parents place (in the south) to her place here.

There are some positive things about this. For a while (six months or so), John and Jane had a relatively good relationship. DC is a lot more suited to John. Being an arty, intellectual type, he always felt out of place where he grew up. Here, he's fallen in with a good group of people through his church and other hobbies (music, political/activism stuff, etc). He's happy here. He's stable.

Unfortunately, he can't support himself. He spent months looking for a job, but due to his illness he has little experience and couldn't get an interview to save his life. His bipolar disorder prevents him from holding down something like a retail or food service job that can be demanding and high stress with constant interaction with people. He eventually got an unpaid part-time internship that lasted a few months. That's over now and he is not at all interested in looking for more work since his disability has come through. With his limited income, there is no way he could afford a place to live here if he had to pay rent. He is perfectly content to spend his days online, going to the gym, doing whatever he wants to, flirting with other women, and then cooking dinner and baking.

He has become increasingly dissatisfied with his relationship with Jane. She's very clingy, needs constant affection and admiration, and is very jealous. He has kept most of his flirtations quiet (obviously) and the one time he did mention something, she got furious and threw something, sobbed uncontrollably, and drank herself into a stupor. Beyond the insecurities, he just doesn't seem that interested in her. He claims there are some times when he feels a "deep love" for her, but he runs very hot and cold. He might be polyamorous, but he certainly doesn't want to be in a relationship only with her. He's bisexual (semi-closeted), which makes her terribly uncomfortable. He is in therapy and working on a LOT, some of which may be leading him to be more "out." (Side note, he told me his therapist told him to get out of the relationship, he then explained the housing thing to her and she didn't push it too much)

Jane, aside from the serious issues with insecurities and self-confidence, is a lovely woman. She's intelligent and fun and nerdy and she deserves to be in a relationship with someone who cares about her the way she cares about him. This is her first relationship where she believed the guy treated her with any respect (little does she know...). She is not interested in therapy. She will be devastated when things end with John (and they will, it's only a matter of when).

John knows he needs to end things with Jane, but he won't do it. He believes that the situation will resolve itself in time (how? I don't know, but this is what he believes). He doesn't want to hurt her, though he knows dragging it out will not make it hurt her any less. He doesn't want to go back home. It would be horrible for him. I know this. I am worried about what would happen to his mental health if he had to go back. With some help from me, he has gotten the ball rolling on some housing and employment assistance, but it often takes a year to get anywhere. Jane is also applying for grad school. She was going to go somewhere away from here, at which point it would be sensible to end the relationship. She is now applying to schools around here (somewhat at John's encouragement), solely because she knows John wants to stay here. She's basically willing to give everything up for him, she doesn't have a clue about how he's feeling, and it's making me insane to know about it.

I am now seriously considering cutting off contact with him until this situation is resolved. I've told him several times not to tell me about women he's had "flirtations" with, and he still does it (he has some issues with memory). I feel like I'm lying to Jane whenever I see the two of them together. We're not friends outside of John, but I do like her a lot. I can't stand that he's doing this to her and it clouds every interaction I have with him. I understand it's a difficult situation, but it seems to me that the only remotely noble thing to do would be to break up with her and face the consequences. I've told him all of this, and all he can say is "imagine living it" and "believe me, I think about it all the time."

I am somewhat concerned about not speaking with him because he has said before that I'm his best friend, and while I know he has other friends here, I'm fairly certain that none of them know him anywhere near as well as I do. I don't want to send him into a depression. I do care about him and he does have some wonderful qualities, but lately I just find myself being angry at him and sad about the situation.

Questions: What should I do? Is there another way to talk to him about this, or should I just cut off contact? Is it possible to make cutting off contact easier on either of us? Is there any way I could continue to support him with other things - finding housing, employment, etc - without being a "friend?" I cannot support him financially, and I’m also not able to house him at my current place.
posted by SugarAndSass to Human Relations (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can't tell him what to do, you can't fix him, you're not responsible....let go of that.

But, you can honestly tell him that his current lifestyle and decisions are not in sync with who you are and interaction will be limited (if at all), wish him well, and move on.
posted by HuronBob at 3:13 PM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am now seriously considering cutting off contact with him until this situation is

This is good if, for no other reason, he will see consequences for his refusal to take any responsibility for his own life. He is USING someone. The reactions of woman he is using (of course) mean nothing to him. Maybe yours will.
posted by marimeko at 3:14 PM on June 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's not your responsibility to stay in contact with someone who is making you miserable. You don't control his depression and if he does end up bottoming out, it isn't your fault. You do have a responsibility to take care of your own sanity, however.

If you decide to cut off contact, tell him exactly why you are. You can always tell him that you'd be happy to talk when he's resolved the issues that are making you so angry and sad.

You're in a really hard situation at the moment, but as I said, your primary responsibility is taking care of yourself and it sounds like removing yourself from the situation is the best form of self-preservation here.
posted by corey flood at 3:16 PM on June 5, 2010

Mind Your Own Business
posted by timsteil at 3:25 PM on June 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

In a way, he's taking advantage of two people, isn't he? Both probably worried that if they give him the boot he'll spiral downward; both worried about his finances and willing if not able to help him out; both looking out for his future sketchy prospects for employment and housing.

Both who need something better than what he's able to provide.
posted by Houstonian at 3:28 PM on June 5, 2010

It seems more like you're not so much tired of being friends with him so much as you're tired of feeling like a complicit party in his disrespectful and (pardon the phrase) scumbaggy behavior. You mention that you have asked him to stop talking about this part of his life, but that he won't shut up, and that this is a major part of your desire to cut off contact. The following advice is dependent on you still liking the guy enough, outside of your opinion of how he treats his girlfriend, that you only see cutting off contact as a last resort.

It may help if you just become much firmer with your insistence that he not talk about this. One thing to do is change the topic -- he mentions some flirty woman, you start asking about something unrelated. If that doesn't work, there are more direct approaches: "Listen, you know your relationship right now makes me really uncomfortable, and I am not going to talk about it with you. Let's talk about something else." And if that doesn't work, stick to your guns: say, "Again, I am not willing to discuss this with you. I'm sorry, but this is my limit," and then hang up, or go offline, or walk away.

No, he won't like it, but it'll help him understand how you feel about this. It will ensure that you don't have to participate in his flirtations because one of the following will happen: A) you'll have changed the subject; B) he'll have accepted your limit and changed the subject; or C) you'll have left the conversation entirely.

You'll also have to accept that there's a chance he'll dislike it so much that he'll rage, or scream, or cry, or act out in some other way at your refusal to participate in these undesirable conversations. But, if he does, then that will significantly help inform you about whether or not it's worth being friends with this guy at all.
posted by meese at 3:34 PM on June 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

There are some people in this world who seem bent on self-destruction and will suck in and destroy anyone who tries to help them.

Seconding the "get a new friend" commenters here — cut him off so you can keep yourself healthy.
posted by spitefulcrow at 3:36 PM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm sympathetic because being in your situation I would probably feel the same way, but mostly I think this is a case of "you can't do anything and it's ultimately not your business."

The one possible exception is that you said he's encouraging her to go to grad school in the area and she's actually going along with that; all I can say is that I wish someone had told me that my boyfriend had been planning on breaking up with me before I chose my college based on what he wanted, but none of our mutual friends did that. While I didn't hold it against them because it's an awkward situation, I would have appreciated it if they had said something and saved me that much more grief. It ended up working out okay -- I ended up loving the college anyway and dating my now-husband there -- but derailing someone's future seems even worse than mooching off them in the present.

I'm not saying you should outright tell Jane that he plans on leaving her; at least not at first, and you might ultimately decide not to tell her at all. But you might point out to John that since he's ignored your requests not to tell you about all this drama that you now feel morally obligated to tell Jane about the grad school mess if he doesn't break up with her. At the very least that should stick in his memory well enough not to tell you things you don't want to hear about anymore, and hopefully it will be good incentive for him to come clean to Jane. If he doesn't, it's up to you whether you follow through on telling her or not.

Also, to give Jane some credit, she apparently has good reason to feel insecure and jealous.
posted by Nattie at 3:44 PM on June 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately, he can't support himself. He spent months looking for a job, but due to his illness he has little experience and couldn't get an interview to save his life. His bipolar disorder prevents him from holding down something like a retail or food service job that can be demanding and high stress with constant interaction with people.

This is a problem. Many people with bipolar disorder are able to hold down steady jobs, and/or have very successful careers. If his bipolar disorder is actually preventing him from obtaining gainful employment, it sounds like he might not be receiving the medical care he needs. You could help by offering information on low cost mental health resources in your area. Alternatively, if his disorder is so incapacitating that he can't function independently, he may be able to collect disability benefits.

As for their relationship: it sounds like a shitstorm. I'd stay out of it.
posted by ladypants at 3:47 PM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Being on disability for whatever reason does not always translate into being able to independently support oneself. I have a friend who has been on SSD for severe depression (which I'm assuming is what John is on that just "came through,") and for as long as I've know him he's had his own apartment in a totally decent neighborhood, a running car, and has not been hurting for any necessities. You say you've already been assisting him with housing and employment, and I'm not quite sure what is meant by that. In my friend's case, he also receives federal housing assistance (or it might be through the state - I'm sorry, I don't know all the details and I'm in PA, not DC). I do know, however, that there are quite a few resources out there for people in John's position. There's the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), for one - my friend is beginning to work with them towards finding employment/schooling, and so far has had nothing but good things to say about them.

Others have already commented on the general ickiness of John's behavior toward this woman, so I won't join the chorus there. I just wanted to point out that an independent lifestyle CAN be maintained on a relatively low fixed income, and that an emotional/behavioral disability DOES NOT have to be a life sentence of laying on the couch and sponging off others. However, if that's genuinely the way he wants it, then there's only so much you can do. There may come a point where he realizes that he wants to take advantage of the resources out there; he may not. If you feel that you still want to help, recommend to him that he give OVR a call, and they'll work with him on resumes, appropriate positions, etc. But, from what you said in the question, he may just not want to make a move on his own behalf. Should that be the case, then as others have said, cut the cord.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 3:54 PM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Being on disability for whatever reason does not always translate into being able to independently support oneself.

Sorry, I meant "unable."
posted by deep thought sunstar at 3:55 PM on June 5, 2010

It sounds like you're making an ultimatum. It sounds like you have a crush on Jane.

Their relationship is not your concern, unless someone is being abused. You can say to Jane, with or without John present, "Jane, I think John is using you, and it really makes me uncomfortable." You can say to John, with or without Jane present, "John, I think you are using Jane, and it really makes me uncomfortable."

Then decide if you want John as a friend. and decide if you want Jane as a friend, or more. But you don't get to tell them how to have their relationship.
posted by theora55 at 3:59 PM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

He's behaving dishonorably and trying to get your sympathy and/or approval of his bad behavior. The only thing you control with regard to John's life is whether or not you are available to listen to him tell you about his selfish, unhealthy choices. If you don't want to cut off contact entirely, you should at least refuse to listen to him talk about things like his interest in other women or his simultaneous disinterest in Jane and refusal to leave her. "John, we've talked about this: you know what I think of what you're doing, and I don't want to hear any more about it."
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:06 PM on June 5, 2010

Are you a man or a woman? If you're a man, are you of an orientation which would make it likely for you to be romantically involved with John?

I ask because the lines he's feeding you about Jane--that she's clingy and irrationally jealous--sound like the crap guys tell women about their significant others when they're stringing someone else along for either emotional, financial or sexual care-taking in case their current situation falls through.

(If you're a man, the fact that he's saying he may be bi might support that.)

Anyway, this guy sounds like a douche. I wouldn't believe anything he says about his relationship, but even if you choose to believe his stories about his relationship, it's really not all that clingy or insecure for her to freak out about her largely disinterested boyfriend, who she is financially supporting and who she's changing her big life plans for, flirting with other women. I mean, that's a bitch of a situation, isn't it?

He really sounds pretty toxic. I'd stay far, far away if I were you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:13 PM on June 5, 2010 [5 favorites]

Explore the idea that focusing so much on John and the drama of his life is a creative way for you to avoid having to address complicated issues in your own life. In other words, stop worrying about John. If he's a friend and he's being a creep...tell him he's being a creep and get on with your life.
posted by jnnla at 4:20 PM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

You don't have to do anything, nor should you. These are adults who are in a situation of their own making and it's up to them to solve whatever problems they may have. You trying to solve it would just be intrusive, I think.

A better idea is to just stop being friends with him. The guy sounds like an ass.
posted by fso at 4:39 PM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not much you can do here. You might as well stop being friends with him. If the girlfriend contacts you to ask why you can be honest with her.

He has family so if his bipolar kicks up or she kicks him to the curb he won't be homeless. He will just have to deal with the consequences of his behavior just like the rest of us.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:50 PM on June 5, 2010

PS the guy sounds just like an old boyfriend of mine from years and years ago. I wised up to his nonsense. She will too.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:51 PM on June 5, 2010

My best friend was in a very similar situation, except she was the girlfriend being taken advantage of, but her boyfriend wasn't bipolar--he was just a lazy asshole who couldn't hold down a job. And instead of just flirtation, he cheated on her.

Eventually, Jane will wise up. It took my friend a ridiculously long time to do so, even when she knew for a fact he was cheating, even when he fed off her insecurity and treated her like dirt ("you're so lucky to have me, no one else would date you" etc), even when he flat-out refused to work or even clean up after himself.

She might be devastated when things end with him, but only for a while. She'll get over it, because frankly, what on earth does he bring to the relationship? What positive things does she get out of it?

you can't do anything about this situation unfortunately, and your friend sounds like a jerk.
posted by inertia at 5:43 PM on June 5, 2010

Sorry, I missed that he is already collecting disability payments but I still think this guy needs mental health treatment.

On closer reading, he reminds me of two people I know. One of my friends was always talking about how much he hated his live-in girlfriend, and it killed me. Finally, a different friend pointed out that I could just tell him to STFU any time he mentioned his girlfriend. It totally worked. He still complained about her to anyone who would listen, but he stopped talking about the girlfriend situation around me because I was no fun.

Now my buddy has a narcissistic streak, and not only loves talking about himself, he gets a kick out of pissing off other people. It's possible that your friend gets off on telling people how bad he is to his girlfriend. That would make him something of a douchebag. For further clarification, here is a magnificent essay detailing the archetypal douche behavior. (An easier to read version is available here. Scroll down to the comment by RollsRoyceRevenge.
posted by ladypants at 6:38 PM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am somewhat concerned about not speaking with him because he has said before that I'm his best friend,

Manipulative people say all kinds of BS to get what they want.

John wants to use anyone who will let him. Don't allow him to use you. Drop him like the bad habit he is. Jane will need to figure it out on her own. You can want to fix John and Jane, but ultimately we all need to tidy up our own messes.
posted by 26.2 at 7:25 PM on June 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think you should make it very clear to him exactly what you think about what he's doing and that you think it is unfair. It sounds like he's so focused on what he wants that he's forgotten that there are other people in the equation that his actions impact on. I don't agree with those saying to drop him immediately - I think you should have some very clear conversations, give him some time to process and act, and if you're still not satisfied after a month, then let him know that you're cutting off contact for that specific reason.
posted by Lucie at 7:34 PM on June 5, 2010

Agreeing with fso here.

My additions:
It is not your business, and any intervention with her or him will not help. No, you can't date her, and it really does sound like you have a crush on her.

Why is he your friend, anyway? Sometimes friends need to go, regardless of history and regardless of whether they will suffer for it. He aint your responsibility, and he sounds like a prick. I've dumped friends for being boringly obsessed with sports, this is 100x worse than that!
posted by Invoke at 9:05 PM on June 5, 2010

(To the people who think the OP is interested in Jane - I am 99% sure that OP is a hetero female based on her username and her comment history - so I personally think that particular line of logic is out of whack, but that's just my opinion; the OP's opinion matters most here.)

Agreed with ladypants that he might not be getting the medical care he needs; deep thought sunstar provides a good perspective as well.

A few options for you to deal with this situation:
Be firm with what you think about how John is handling his situation, e.g. "I think what you're doing is wrong and unfair, I can't support you in these actions, I don't think you not being able to find a job/housing is an excuse, you can absolutely move out if you put effort into finding the right resources. I can help you do that if you want, but until then, I don't think I can continue being friends with you." Obviously things have happened in John's past where he had a breakdown and had to move home, yet at the same time being at home is not good for him. So he has a vested interest in doing certain things so that he doesn't have to go home, and trying to prevent as much as possible another breakdown. But he really only knows how he might do that.

And hey - if he moves out of Jane's place, can't live with you, can't/doesn't want to go home, maybe he'll be able to stay with one of the many friends he's made. Just because they don't know him as well as you doesn't mean that can't happen.

If he talks about flirting with other women, stick your fingers in your ears and say "LALALALA." In other words, just cut him off from talking. "Oh, and I was flirting with -" "Nope, don't want to hear it." "Well, I was gonna say - " "No, I don't want to hear it." That kind of thing. He has issues with memory - don't let that be your excuse.

He says you're his best friend, but is he yours? I'm sure that if he was, you would have mentioned it.

As for talking to Jane: very tricky. What exactly would you tell her, and would she believe you? It's clear you think they should break up, but she also has her opinion of their relationship, which is probably more valid than yours right now (sorry) because she's in it. If a good female friend of your partner told you certain things about your partner, what would you think/do? How would you react?
posted by foxjacket at 9:38 PM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why are you friends with this man? This is the nub. The answer will tell you whether you continue the friendship or not, and if you do under what terms.

By that I mean what boundaries you might want to set, in terms of what you want to hear or be complicit in / know about, or what you may want to contribute to the friendship.

This man may need a good friend - the sort that will stand by him, and tell him things he should be told. That does not mean it has to be you, only that it might be.

Good luck in deciding how you go forward on this.
posted by GeeEmm at 9:39 PM on June 5, 2010

This guy sounds like a real prize - mooching off his girlfriend and manipulating his "best friend" (and girlfriend). What are you getting from this friendship?

Mental illness is no excuse to be a user or jerk to those you care about. John needs the kind of help that only comes from paid professionals (doctors, therapists). If you still want to be his friend, refuse to try to fix him or get sucked into his drama. He needs a psychiatrist. He may not be properly treated for his mental illness - again, this is a job for a DOCTOR. It's not your job. If he's chronically unemployed, he may need employment counseling, retraining, or even apply for disability - but again, this is not YOUR job, it's the job of a career counselor/social worker/other professional. And if John isn't legally incapacitated, there's little anyone can do to force him to get better treatment/employment counseling, and if you try to "fix" or "help" too much, that becomes an emotional black hole for you.

As for Jane, people tend to be resistant to bearers of bad news, even if they are at least half-aware of the bad news (if Jane is clingy, she probably KNOWS that John doesn't really love her and is using her for a place to live). I don't know what would be gained by telling her anything - she may or may not be receptive.

If John has family, he won't wind up in the street. He may not want to live with them, but if he has no choice, it may be the wakeup call he needs to get help, stop using people, whatever.

To repeat: Do you LIKE John (as opposed to feeling sorry for him/wanting to help him)? Do you really and truly want to be his friend (as opposed to unpaid therapist)? Does his friendship have anything to offer you (aside from "at least I'm better off than John?" Don't YOU be the douche who keeps troubled people hanging around to make you feel competent, in command, and superior. I'm not saying you are! But there are people who keep dysfunctional friends around for just that reason.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:15 AM on June 6, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the advice and thoughts. It definitely helped me to better define my issue with all of this, and to realize that cutting him off really is my best option, and it is not unreasonable. I tend to be overly empathetic, which is more often bad than good. It often leads to being nosy, but also putting up with too much crap because I want to see the good in people. This was a difficult conclusion to come to, but I do think it's for the best.

Some points of clarification:
-foxjacket is right about my sexuality, for curious parties. Mr. SugarAndSass and I got a chuckle out of that interpretation though, so thanks for bringing a bit of humor to a rather unpleasant situation.
-I never intended to tell Jane about any of this - I know that is not my place. I (obviously) have a hard time figuring out where to draw the line when it comes to my friends' business, but as I said, I am not close with Jane. Anything about this definitely needs to come from John.
-John receives social security payments due to his disability, he is in process with housing assistance, he receives food stamps, he is enrolled in Medicaid
-John is getting psychiatric care and is in therapy. In the six years I've known him, this is the most stable he has been. He spent years trying to find a combination of drugs that allowed him to function at the point he is at now. I can't speak from inside his head, so I don't know if his employment situation is due to a) fear of repeating past breakdowns, b) lack of energy or ability due to either bipolar disorder or his medications, c) not getting the right help, d) laziness, e) the economy or f) any other number of factors. What I do know is what he's told me about his current situation, and what I've seen happen to him in the past. I think it's possible that he could do more now than he could in the past, but I also think he is understandably cautious about testing his limits. I also know he hasn't yet talked to the Aging and Disability Resource Center about occupational/employment services, but he plans to. I think that will be a great resource for him.

Now, here's what's happened: I've made a few attempts to have a serious conversation with John to let him know that I am cutting off contact with him for the time being, and why. He has wiggled away midway through these talks, saying things along the lines of "I'm too tired" or "I'm too raw from therapy, I can't handle this right now." Earlier tonight, I asked him specifically if he had time, energy and was feeling well enough to have a serious conversation about this (online) and he said yes, then ten minutes later said he was too tired. I have been able to tell him most of what I wanted to say, but I wrote an e-mail so he had it all in one place, should he actually care.

For anyone who is interested, here it is:

"This is not an ultimatum - if you broke things off with Jane and moved home tomorrow, I would still step back from our friendship for the time being.

I am cutting off contact with you because I'm not sure how I feel about our friendship at this point. I know what originally drew us together as friends, but that is obscured by your recent actions and behavior. It really upsets me that you are being so dishonest with Jane about your intentions and feelings. I don't think I want to carry on a friendship with someone who is using a person he professes to care for.

I understand this is a delicate situation, but the dishonesty and your behavior with other women makes it clear that you have little regard for Jane in this situation. I see it as disrespectful and selfish, and these are not traits I want in my friends. Beyond how you are treating Jane, it also bothers me that you continued to tell me about your issues with Jane and flirtations with other women after I told you repeatedly to stop.

I'm glad you're in therapy, I hope things continue to improve on that front. If you need someone to help you work with the DC Aging and Disability Resource Center and their housing/employment/occupational services, I would still be willing to support you in those efforts, but I do not want to hear from you regarding anything else for now.

I wish you the best."

Quick note - I left the door open for helping him out at the ADRC because I know some people there.

Obviously, we've talked about most of this in more detail. I tried to hit the main points for the e-mail because our conversations were scattered.

At this point, I don't know about the possibility of a future friendship or anything like that. For now, I'm just going to step back from it and re-evaluate when I feel like it. One day at a time.
posted by SugarAndSass at 10:47 PM on June 6, 2010

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