Don't want to lose the friendship, but can't stand the guy she's going to spend her life with! Help?
October 25, 2010 5:48 PM   Subscribe

No one can stand my friend's fiancé. He's not a bad person and he seems to mean well, but he is obnoxious, rude and really, really, REALLY annoying. He's lonely and wants to hang out. We are running out of excuses to avoid him and my friend and her fiancé are starting to notice something's up. I hate drama. How do I deal with this?

Before I start, I can't believe I am having to ask this. It all sounds so high school and I'm embarrassed that this is a problem for me and my friends. I've typed this question into AskMe and deleted it many times over the past year because it seems so silly and I almost convinced myself that I could ignore it and the problem would go away on its own. Unfortunately it's not going away, it's getting worse, so here I am.

My friend and I go way, way back. During her teens she had some self-esteem issues and dated guys who didn't treat her very well. She ended up with a guy who was textbook emotionally abusive. It nearly destroyed our friendship as I did not want to stand idly by while this guy treated her worse than dirt. Some of the things he said and did to her, I would not wish them on my worst enemy. She didn't want to hear it so we drifted apart. I realized that despite her choosing him over me, she needed a friend more than ever, so I rekindled the friendship and kept my opinions about him to myself. She rarely brought him up in conversation with me and I never asked, and that's how it was for a few years. Eventually she began talking about him again with me, but this time her tone had changed. She was fed up with him and wanted out of the relationship. It was not long before she met a new guy. This new guy, I'll call him Tim, put the light back in her eyes. She dumped the abusive guy and began seeing Tim. I was thrilled and hopeful that she might finally be happy. And she is very happy. Several years later, she and Tim are engaged.

This is the part I’m struggling with: For the first few years, our friends and I made genuine efforts to get to know Tim and include him whenever we made plans to hang out. I promise you, we are not snobby or cliquey, not in the least. My friends are all very friendly, warm, social people who enjoy meeting new folks and making new friends. I know how this question sounds, and we must seem like horrible people, but please believe me that we’re not like that. And we all hate drama, believe me that we’d love to like Tim, it would be so much easier if we did. We just do not like Tim, and it’s getting harder and harder to pretend that we do. For years, we’ve tried to see what my friend sees in him. We sort of can, as he does have some good qualities and sometimes he is relatively tolerable, but about ninety percent of the time we can’t wait until he leaves the room. At first he just seemed like a bit of an oddball, but the more we got to know him the more his eccentricities began to emerge. He’s so unlike anyone I’ve ever met before that it’s tough to describe how he is. He seems to vacillate between acting like a grown man (he’s in his 30’s) and acting like a five-year-old.

When he’s acting his age, he can get very outspoken, not in a good way. Often he’s arrogant, obnoxious, and sometimes downright offensive. He’s prone to making jokes and unsolicited comments about the size of women’s breasts, sometimes right to the women’s faces (according to him I could benefit from a bigger set). He makes other charmingly sexist jokes such as, “Ugly waitresses don’t deserve tips.” He loves to regale anyone who will listen with TMI about all his past conquests (supposedly he was quite the ladies’ man before he met my friend). He makes little effort to take an interest in other people’s passions or hobbies, and prefers to steer all conversations toward his own favorite obscure interest. If he’s not taking over the conversation with a monologue about that, he’s blatantly ridiculing people’s opinions on various other topics. He never knows when to drop it, and will keep needling people about uncomfortable or controversial topics well past the point of good fun. It's painful.

When he’s acting like a child, which seems to happen whenever he’s overly excited or has had a few drinks, he’s all about toilet humor and inappropriate touching, like talking about boobies and wieners, and trying to play with our hair or tickle us. We make it clear that we do not want to be touched, but he seems to think it’s a hilarious game to keep trying to get us. He’s so persistent that at times his target has to get up and leave the room to escape him. He frequently speaks or sings in a high pitched baby voice. My friend thinks it’s adorable, and he seems to believe that everyone else will also find it cute. Once we were at a nice restaurant and he got upset about something. After he finally quieted down I heard a scraping noise from his direction. I had to snatch my dessert spoon out of his hand, my spoon that he was using to dig a hole in the wooden table top! I have plenty more examples. It’s very strange. And it’s exhausting to be around him as he’s always trying to be the center of attention.

He makes us so uncomfortable that we began to purposely exclude him from our plans. But doing that meant we’d have to exclude our friend as well, or else she would wonder why everyone else’s SOs had been invited but not hers. We had a lot of Girls’ Nights for a while to avoid the issue, and I’m ashamed to say that we did secretly exclude my friend and Tim on a few occasions. But then some of our boyfriends/fiancés became good friends and started hanging out on their own, and I’m afraid the jig is up. My friend and Tim are beginning to wonder why Tim isn’t also friends with the other fellas. They found out once that the guys had a big Boys’ Night without Tim, and they were really upset but they blamed it all on an acquaintance and it blew over. So now we’re lying about what our SOs are doing on the weekends to avoid bringing the issue up again. Tim keeps asking, so I tried begging my boyfriend to invite Tim out just once in a while, but he refused and said the other guys would kill him if he did. We can’t keep the charade going for much longer and I’m dreading the direction this is all headed in.

Maybe as her good friend, I should take her aside and let her know what’s going on. I feel terrible that I’ve been keeping this from her. But my friend is completely oblivious to how Tim comes across to others, and in fact she is very proud of him. She would be devastated to find out that we don’t like him. As you know, the last time I tried to talk to her about a boyfriend I nearly ruined the friendship. I don’t want to risk that again, especially since it’s not like Tim is deliberately rude and offensive (I honestly do believe he means well, and thinks he’s just being fun and sociable), and it’s not like he treats her badly. My friend really is happy with him. The only harm he’s caused her is annoying all of us to the point where she’s becoming alienated alongside him. What can I possibly say about that? How do you even begin to tell someone that their boyfriend is just too annoying?! I’m confused about what to do or even think about all of it. I’m in desperate need of an outside perspective as to how to deal with this situation now, or how to react when it blows. Please help me!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Don't say anything unless your friend really wants to know why Tim's not being included. And then you can say, "the last time Tim was out with [us/the guys] he [was rude/said offensive things about women/was destroying restaurant property] and no one is comfortable having him around anymore."

But as much as it sucks, you really shouldn't say anything to your friend. As big of a toolbag as this guy might be, your friend loves him. She'll be pissed off at you if you disparage him. But if she demands the truth, you should give it to her. Plainly. In one sentence. Without going into specific stories.
posted by phunniemee at 5:58 PM on October 25, 2010 [7 favorites]

What phunniemee said.
Don't include him in future activities. If that means don't include her, that's what it means. It's not your place, though, to stand as judge on her fiance, and if you do that, you'll probably spending a lot less time with her in the future, because she won't want you around anyway.
posted by disclaimer at 6:05 PM on October 25, 2010

Agreeing with Phunniemee, and adding: allow only the vague-ish 'uncomfortable' if you must describe your emotional response to this guy. Embarassed? Nope. Annoyed? Don't suggest it. For many people, our romantic partners come to be extensions of ourselves. If you say 'Tim embarasses us' she will hear, 'you embarass me.'

And definitely refer to very specific actions on his part - groped a female despite her protests, broke something, told weiner jokes to Aunt Myrna at brunch last weekends.

Keep the examples in your pocket until she asks for them, have a short list practiced, and don't apologize for feeling uncomfortable around the guy.

Finally, no generalizations. Don't assert that 'everyone' is uncomfortable, or that Tim misbehaves 'all the time.'
posted by bilabial at 6:10 PM on October 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


Well, you can't keep going with the charade, right? There's only a certain number of secret nights out that you can organise. Your options are then fairly limited - be explicit about what's happening, invite them both and put up with them, or a quasi-middle ground compromise.

It sounds like an explicit 'none of us enjoy Tim's company, and we don't want him to come out and ruin what would otherwise be a fun night' would be disastrous. Not that that conversation's ever going to go well, but her history would suggest that she'll be unable to begin to see your side of the matter.

As for putting up with him, it appears you've done that for long enough and it's reached breaking point. No good there.

So, some sort of compromise then. First, I think when she asks next you need to let her know that something's up. Not the whole story, perhaps, but something to suggest that his behaviour is offputting and offensive. 'He kept trying to touch me and talk about my breasts, and I'm just not comfortable with that, and I really enjoyed those girls' nights when I didn't have to worry about it'. Try to avoid framing it like everyone else is in agreement and has teamed up against her. Then, is it possible to rejig your social calender? How bad is he? How often could you see him and stay sane? Once a week? Once a fortnight? Once a month? Is it possible to have a regular 'thing' he comes to, to appease them both, and then other, less organised, more casual events that he isn't at? Or, to be ultra sneaky, any times and dates that you know he's unavailable that you can plan things for?

Either way, some feelings are going to get hurt. I think the best you can hope for is to minimise damage while securing some regular Tim-free time.
posted by twirlypen at 6:12 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you know what you want to do. If you cannot take your friend with out her SO; you have a choice, invite them or do not invite them. There is no quick fix, tell your friend that Tim does not socially mesh with the group and that she is still welcome without him. It will most likely end the friendship. Or invite away and be annoyed. The choice sucks and is yours to make.
posted by Felex at 6:14 PM on October 25, 2010

Respectfully in total disagreement with phunniemee. Of what benefit to your friend is it to not know the score? Oh, she'll be unhappy about the bad news, yes, but consider the current status quo: she is being humiliated and her friends are lying to her.

You (collectively) to Tim: "You're an asshat. Nobody wants to be groped, nobody wants to hear about breasts, and none of us are ever going to be seen in a restaurant with you again."

You to your friend: "I am very sorry. I don't know what you see in him. But I find his behaviour very upsetting and I don't wish to spend another minute with him."

You start this with "he's not a bad person," but I think with the "Ugly waitresses don’t deserve tips"-type stuff, you might want to reconsider that. Perhaps a lot of your attempts to dance around this might be because of that flawed premise, that he's not bad. He is bad. And nobody should tolerate the crap you describe, so just lay it out. Trying to play with hair or tickle people? In his thirties? That's "Get the hell out of my house now, idiot" stuff, not "Gosh, I must make a polite excuse to leave the room."
posted by kmennie at 6:17 PM on October 25, 2010 [39 favorites]

First, he sounds like I guy I knew and holy heck he was annoying. So I know allll about it and I feel your pain.

The annoying stuff isn't going to go far because it is really subjective and hard to argue. The offensive and rude stuff... that you can address. You can probably talk to your friend about that. (ex. "I get really offended when he says stuff like _________ and I don't wish to be around him when he is speaking that way and saying those kinds of things.") Probably best to talk to her about that soon after a time when he was behaving that way.

If you still don't want to talk to her directly the tactic I would take would be that each time he crosses a line to very clearly tell him you are offended by whatever he just did and that you aren't willing to be around him if he continues to behave that way. Say it loudly enough for your friend/his girlfriend to hear. If he keeps doing it, you leave the room. If others that are finding his behaviour rude and offensive and annoying adopt a similar technique it may hit home sooner. It will make things awkward, and it make take multiple gatherings for it to click but eventually he will get the message and probably so will your friend.

That may give you an in to address it with your friend the next day if she asks what the hell was up with that. It gives you a chance to address it. (ex "Look, I know I was being weird yesterday but I just found what he was saying pretty offensive/rude/insulting/immature.") and then the conversation can start.
posted by gwenlister at 6:22 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe it's because I believe in honesty and openness, but I'd be tempted to have an intervention for Tim. It's not your friend's fault he is obnoxious, and maybe, just maybe it would be a kindness if someone communicated to HIM that his behavior is not acceptable. He might surprise us all, take it to heart and change.

If not, at least they know why they are being excluded. You have to tell your friend anyway because it isn't right to drift from her without telling her why. She did nothing wrong.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:29 PM on October 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

Some people need every single social nicety explained to them in a clear, logical manner. Possibly Tim is one of them. Trying to explain why we don't comment brazenly on others' secondary sexual characteristics, and what exactly we mean by "comment brazenly on others' secondary sexual characteristics," is a difficult task with adults, but the biggest risk is offending Tim, which might not be that bad a thing to do.
posted by amtho at 6:38 PM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

By which I mean: explain every. single. time. he does something offensive. Somebody -- probably two or three guys -- volunteers to take Tim aside every time (for a while) and explain why it doesn't add to the group's sense of fun and camaraderie when he does X thing he just did.

Having one talk in general terms might help some, but a point-by-point intervention might be somewhat effective.
posted by amtho at 6:41 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Using my sock puppet here because my friends sometimes roam these internets and know my username, and I'm going to have a similar conversation with a friend, soon. Lately my friend has been making similar comments about women, and I'm glad to see you post this to wake me up to reality, too (I was feeling bad about considering having this conversation with him).

First, believe me when I am saying that I am a giant coward and dislike confrontation, but ...everyone has a right to feel comfortable and not feel like a slab of meat, which is what those comments do. Obviously, your friend does not appear to have a problem with this.

So either you, or one of your friends, can pull Tim aside the next time he makes the breast comment or the waitress comment, or whatever (or actually, try it before you go out). I'd suggest saying something along the lines of "I really am glad that you are the SO of X" (or something complimentary in the beginning), "I'm sorry to request that I am asking you to do this, but as a favor to me -- I don't feel comfortable when you make the XXX comments about other people. I feel it is degrading and don't feel comfortable. As a favor, could you stop making those comments?"

I think it is inapporpriate for you to ask your friend to stop him, the problem behavior is with this guy. Maybe if you can start having conversations, you can start curbing his behavior just a little bit. See how he responds - if he responds well, maybe, maybe eventually he can be invited to other events. If he doesn't, you tried the most appropriate intervention.

I've also had friends with odd/cruel/mean spouses. Some of those people will be around for years; if you want to keep that friend, you need to find a way to make this work (you probably already know this).
posted by Dances with sock puppets at 6:51 PM on October 25, 2010

She's got Tim, and he's got her. They're a pair, and wedding bells can be heard in the distance.

You and all your other friends still have each other. You don't need her & Tim.

So where's the problem? Don't try to make it so complicated! Get on with life!
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:48 PM on October 25, 2010

Yikes. I hear you about hating drama and wanting to avoid further meltdowns and alienation, but yes, you've got to say something. Tim's comments about your chest size is alone wildly inappropriate and qualifies as sexual harassment. Be honest and tell your friend the real reason you avoid Tim, and maybe she'll be able to get him to shape up. It's not your job to babysit an emotionally stunted 30 year old man who's only around you by virtue of her relationship, so don't feel like you've got to school him yourself.

There's no right or wrong answer in these situations, but you sound like me in your distaste for getting roped into silly drama vortexes. I'll tell you what I'd do if that conversation with your friend doesn't dramatically change the situation: it's sad, but I'd probably drop your friend. She needed you a lot more when she was in an emotionally abusive relationship than when she decided to date a socially inept, sexist jerk who can't talk to people like a decent human being. If she's into non-abusive assholes, that's her problem, but you don't need to be around someone who demeans you and others. If his behavior had caused me as much anxiety and deliberation as it seems to have caused you, I'd wash my hands of the matter.

Drama is pretty repulsive to adults who don't like fighting and gossip, and keeping Tim around seems like a recipe for both, because you rightfully can't stand him. I get exhausted when people in my life insist on rehashing silly fights and engage in tribal wars, so I tend to eventually write them off rather than stand by them based on an invisible friendship code of honor. A great thing about being an adult is that you can choose the people in your life, and if your friend insists on dating a sulky, obnoxious, sexist man who makes your social life miserable when he's there and fraught when he's not, it doesn't sound like either Tim or your friend are worth all this anxiety. Hopefully your friend will realize how many close people she's lost based on Tim's shitty demeanor and drop him. I'm not sure how likely that is, unfortunately.
posted by zoomorphic at 7:52 PM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

I should add that I'd only employ this Final Solution if kmennie's tactic didn't work out and created further dramarama.
posted by zoomorphic at 7:56 PM on October 25, 2010

Unfortunately, this is gonna boil down to (a) intervention in which everyone says why Tim gives them the creeps, they both get all butthurt, and she probably breaks off friendship with you, or (b) you all end up breaking off friendship with her because she and Tim come as a package deal, but don't tell her why.

I think either way odds are pretty high that the friendship with her is over with anyway because of Tim, so... either you tell her why, be honest, and hurt their feelings, or drop them and they never know why and get their feelings hurt in a different way.

Frankly, I can't tell which one is worse or less horrible, and I don't envy you the decision here. But since odds are really high that the friendship is over at this point anyway if you can't stomach Tim for one more second, I guess you might as well tell her and him why. There might be a slight chance that pointing out to him that insulting waitresses, groping your friends, insulting you and your body parts, etc, etc. might be the clue bat that leads to a miraculous change instead of an automatic friend dumping.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:10 PM on October 25, 2010 [7 favorites]

I think an intervention of sorts is unnecessarily cruel to your friend (Tim's GF).

I agree with Dances with Sock Puppets' strategy. If Tim doesn't get it after 1 or 2 chances, take your friend aside when something happens, explain why you're upset/offended and then say, "listen, I'm gonna take off." Then, leave. No anger, no self-righteousness, no giving in to "you're being too sensitive"/"it wasn't even about you, why were you mad?" rebuttals. And no "and he's just such a douchebag!" from you. Don't worry about your other friends. Chances are, they'll follow suit, but if they don't, not your problem. You're not the asshole making comments about your servers tits, right?
posted by AlisonM at 8:31 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I really feel for you. I have one strong suggestion: if you talk to your friend about Tim, do NOT tell him what "everyone" thinks about him. You can tell him what *you* think about him -- that he makes you uncomfortable, and why.

he wants to know why the "guys" aren't inviting him out? You don't know. (You really don't. You may know the version the guys have told you, in the context of what they know about what you think about Tim, but maybe they've never told you about getting kicked out of the strip joint, or what Tim said about Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin.)

And getting the guys to invite him out isn't your job. If Tim wants to know why he's not friends with George and Ringo, that's between Tim, George and Ringo, not between you and your friend.

I feel for you, I do. I just think that one person reporting a "group" feeling stinks. If you have to have this conversation with your friend, it has to be about you. She's going to want you to report on your other friends, but don't let it go there. "If you want to know what Sheila feels, you're going to have to ask her." Your friend can probably guess, though, that if he's groping you, Sheila's problem isn't that she hates all MIT alumni.
posted by endless_forms at 9:27 PM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

Argh! You can tell HER what *you* think about him -- that he makes you uncomfortable, and why.

(you could tell him, too, but I am less optimistic of that.)
posted by endless_forms at 9:29 PM on October 25, 2010

My feeling is that the grownup thing to do would be to tell Tim, not your friend. I'd die of shame if someone took my husband aside and burdened him with a list of my Many Faults. And I think it would make him defensive and angry. However, if that same person showed me the respect of having a real, adult conversation with me about my behavior it would make a different impression on me.

I guess what I'm saying is, if you'd like to see Tim act like an adult it might be best to treat him like one and hold him accountable rather than trying to approach it through his fiancee.
posted by Neofelis at 9:52 PM on October 25, 2010 [6 favorites]

> My friend thinks it’s adorable, and he seems to believe that everyone else will also find it cute.

Just because it's a bit ambiguous ... your friend sees all the stuff you've told us about, the touching, the remarks, the vandalism, not just the aggressive remarks and the funny voice? She sees all that, and she still thinks it's cute?

If so, that seems like an insurmountable obstacle: on the one hand, his behaviour's not just inappropriate, it's legally actionable; on the other, she loves him and thinks his behaviour is OK. So, I think you're going to lose her as a friend.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 10:14 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

First, oh lord do I ever sympathize. A friends' boyfriend is like this, even with the "adorable" baby talk and horrible offensive jokes. We even get bonus racism, yay!

Every time your friend asks about Tim not getting to guys' night: "Oh, sorry, you'll have to talk to one of the guys." Wash your hands of that completely so you don't end up trying to control your boyfriend's social life.

Anything you can do to discourage your friend from acting as his mom/social secretary is good. It spreads the stress around for no reason if you take it upon yourself to make sure that he doesn't feel uncomfortable or excluded. That's not your job.

My suggestions are not up-front, but there are good options for that above anyway.

1. Pick one group activity you can deal with him at. The key here is that everyone can leave easily when they want to--so no sit down dinners where people have to pay checks. Avoid having him in peoples' homes. This is what happy hour was made for! "I have an early morning tomorrow" or "I have a few errands to run" or whatever and you're out the door pretty quickly.

2. Invite him and friend to do that, but never invite them to anything else group-oriented. Don't tell them. Everyone needs to keep their mouth shut a little bit, though. If she notices and confronts, if you weren't there: "oh, you should talk to the guys about that" or "I'm not sure, maybe you should ask them". If you were there, how did she know about it? "Oh, it was a smaller get together than usual, it's so stressful to get everyone together at once."

3. Invite your friend to more one-on-one things so you can still have time with her and she won't feel like you hate her. That will soften the blow.

4. If she asks you, straight up, "why am I being excluded from things?" say a polite semi-lie. Think "it's not you, it's me"--it's just your quirky desire but you'd rather not be miserable! Gosh! "Oh! Tim seems to hate going out to eat so we stopped inviting him" or "Tim doesn't really like to talk about the same things we do, and we don't want to bore him".

It makes the offending behavior obvious, but lets him save face by pretending like he doesn't want to be invited anyway (sour grapes). Friend doesn't have to defend him--everyone has activities that they dislike. Because you have Safe Activity! that he does get invited to, he's not completely excluded. You can maintain this as a polite fiction that everyone semi-believes for a really long time.

5. Continue this forever.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:22 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've known a number of rude, offensive, annoying people that I had to deal with on some level because of social dynamics, and I've actually had quite a lot of success with my personal formula, which is to be utterly blunt and direct about the fact that I don't like their behavior. In several cases, I told them straight up that I didn't like them. Usually when asked. You don't like me very much, do you? "No, not very much."

Here's the thing: in almost every single case, the person in question has subsequently twisted themselves into pretzel shapes to try to gain my approval/friendship, and in many cases, it's been enough to constitute a rapprochement of some kind, and several I even became pretty good friends with. I'm struggling to think of an exception.

My rule of thumb is that once I realize that this person doesn't feel bound by the generally acknowledged/understood social standards (and it's not just the result of too many cocktails, or a stressful day, etc.), then as far as I'm concerned, neither am I. I am not going to pretend polite interest, cover for them in any way, gloss over sexist/racist remarks, or fucking allow them to try tickle me. Good lord. But I never engage in an "argument" about it; I'm not going to allow a discussion where the idiot can try to bloviate about why it's okay to say/do XYZ. Cut 'em off at the knees is my M.O. I don't get red-faced, of huffy, or try to support my position, and I certainly don't try to take them aside to explain to them why they don't get to talk about my breasts (etc.). Ice, ice, baby. Blunt declaratives, cold stares, awkward (for them) silences, that kind of thing. I've made a few people cry, and my husband says I "scare him" (he's not afraid of me; he's afraid of what I might say to someone I don't like... but I don't think he quite understands my criteria; I don't abide by the social contract if the other person is shitting on it, that's all).

This may make me sound unkind, but I'm actually very warm, and can be great at putting people at their ease, especially if they are feeling shy or awkward. And I love idiosyncrasy, eccentric people, people who go against the grain. Believe it or not. Some of the obnoxious people I mentioned above have become eccentric friends — but they learned the parameters of acceptable behavior in relation to me, and even though that may sound like I'm putting myself in a position of superiority and judgment, I suspect it makes them feel somehow more secure to know that they can depend on me for an honest reaction, and so a "safe place" of social interaction is established, which makes them calmer. They know if I'm smiling or laughing or engaging, that it's not just polite. I can see where that can be seen as somewhat offensive on my part, but I feel it's kinder than dissimulating and then shunning. And it's saved me from being importuned by all sorts of behavior that would otherwise literally give me a headache. (Plus, a few seem to love their battle scars, and like to tell stories of when I said X-horrible-thing to them... so — entertainment!)
posted by taz at 12:31 AM on October 26, 2010 [44 favorites]

If he touches you again in any way that's inappropriate (hair, tickling, etc), please turn to him and bellow out a loud and clear DO. NOT. TOUCH. ME. If he acts offended or tries to blow it off, clearly state that no one should ever touch another person without their consent and it will not be tolerated. That's very creepy.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:38 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you've been too easy on Tim for too long. Seconding Neofelis: these issues need to be brought up with him, not her.

Invite them out to something and don't censor yourself next time Tim acts like a child. The issue is that HE needs to learn that he's an ass, not that your friend needs to learn.

With luck this strategy will raise the overall visibility of Tim's behavior which can provide a better launching point for a conversation with your friend.
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:41 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

What Taz said. Totally works.
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:40 AM on October 26, 2010

Could Tim have Asperger's?

I'm asking because a lot of the behaviour that you describe sounds straight out of the book Loving Mr. Spock: Understanding an Aloof Lover by Barbara Jacobs, who was in a relationship with a man with Asperger's.

The reason that I mention it, is that if Tim does have Asperger's, he:

a) may not be aware that he is being offensive; and/or
b) may not intend to cause offense.

In which case, sitting Tim down and saying "When you do X, I feel Y" or even "Doing X is unacceptable, and if you do X you will stop being invited to group events," could make a world of difference.
posted by Hot buttered sockpuppets at 2:52 AM on October 26, 2010 [4 favorites]

"on the one hand, his behaviour's not just inappropriate, it's legally actionable"

This. So you're thrilled because for a change, Friend's BF is abusing everybody else instead of her? I do sympathize, but it really doesn't sound like Friend is in as good a situation as it seems even to you, let alone to Friend.

I really don't know if Tim could have AS or not, as Hot buttered sockpuppets suggests. It is possible he doesn't know any better, and that he isn't learning because nobody is putting their foot down in a way he can understand. So I'd go with the suggestions of taz, IndigoRain, et al.

One more thing: your description of Tim acting like an "adult" sounds just as childish as the 5-year-old version of Tim.
posted by tel3path at 3:56 AM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

Maybe you could set up a night out with your women friends, and a night out for the guys, and the guys could have a serious talk with Tim.

Your friend may have been subjected to abuse as a child, and/or may have had an alcoholic or mentally ill parent. She doesn't seem to know what normal is in a relationship. She could benefit from therapy, IMHO.
posted by mareli at 7:55 AM on October 26, 2010

Could Tim have Asperger's?

My thought as well.

Or else, could this be a cultural thing, ie. is he not from here?

Regardless, I don't get the sense that he genuinely wants to offend. Rather, it sounds like he honestly thinks he's funny.
posted by Dragonness at 8:14 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

He's insecure and socially inept. He's probably still like this at his age because rather than confront the objectionable behavior, groups have just started quietly excluding him. Bonus irony for this feeding back into his insecurity.

Invite him out and when he does something objectionable, address it directly. "Tim, that's not funny"..."Tim, that's inappropriate" - don't launch into a dissection of his many failings or get emotional. Just a simple direct reminder that x or y needs to stop, now. Mention it and move on. If the behavior continues, leave. "I'm sorry, but I'm not interested in being around you when you're behaving this way"

Calm, clear and matter-of-fact.

He's just trying to get people to like him. Direct feedback is going to make clear to him what he needs to do (or not do) in order to be liked, and once that light bulb goes off, he might even become fun.
posted by Kappi at 8:20 AM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

Here's the thing: in almost every single case, the person in question has subsequently twisted themselves into pretzel shapes to try to gain my approval/friendship, and in many cases, it's been enough to constitute a rapprochement of some kind, and several I even became pretty good friends with. I'm struggling to think of an exception.

I knew a guy who was very much in this sort of role in a particular group of people, and I'm pretty confident he thrived on the social ostracism that he provoked. And he actually seemed to get off on it if someone was, like you are, bold enough to stand up to his shit and tell him they thought he was being offensive, harassing, etc.

I mean, taz, I really respect your approach actually, I think it's super awesome and if we all behaved that way I think the world would be a better place—and it's probably 1 in 20 of these sorts of situations where what I'm describing may happen, but it can happen that you'll get this sort of weirdo (I've actually known two guys like this now that I think of it). And in that case your approach can backfire, methinks.
posted by dubitable at 9:37 AM on October 26, 2010

It sounds like you've been too easy on Tim for too long.
posted by wemayfreeze at 4:41 AM on October 26

This. Oh, this.

In my limited experience with people like this (I've only had to deal with them twice), sitting them down and talking to them only leads to defensiveness and stubborn denial. But doing what taz suggests has the benefit of (a) making them deal with their actions as they're happening, and (b) makiing them see and deal with yours and others reactions to their actions as they're happening.

In other words, if you speak to Tim about the fact that he tried to touch your breasts a week after the fact, it's much easier for him (and his fiancee') to minimize what happened--"It was just a joke! I hardly touched you! What's your problem?". But if Tim tries to touch your breasts at a party, and you grab his hand and shout "What the fuck do you think you're doing, Tim?" and he's surrounded by the shocked stares of everyone there--including his fiancee'--he'll have a much harder time explaining himself.

It may be ugly, but it will work.

He's lonely and wants to hang out.

Probably because he's been kicked out of other groups of friends for his behaviors.

And we all hate drama.

Here's the kicker: one important set of social skills is knowing how to separate yourself from people you don't want to have anything to do with. Sometimes this is as simple as saying 'no', but also includes confrontation skills, manipulation skills, even tormenting (i.e. "picking on") skills--skills that are typically regarded negatively (as "drama"), but can actually serve positive functions.

As groups of friends develop, you typically have members that match each other with social skills. But sometimes, groups form that have members with fair-to-middlin' social skills, and one or two members that are socially toxic. The fair-to-middlin' people don't possess the social skills to eject the toxic members, so one of two things happens:

*The group either dissolves as people abandon it because of the toxic members,
*...or the fair-to-middlin' members are left to vent their frustration because their stuck with toxic members they can't get rid of.

People like this, with poor social skills, are constantly on the prowl for those fair-to-middlin' guys, that don't have the social skills to make them change their behavior or force them out of their social group. (Socially toxic folks usually won't put up with each other--they can recognize toxicity in others, but not themselves--so they rarely form their own groups.)

It sounds like Toxic Tim has found such a group, in your group of friends.

That means that--like it or not--you're going to have to develop (and quickly, from the sound of it) the social skills needed to deal with Tim if you want to do the hard work of converting him to a valuable member of your group. Because otherwise it sounds like your group is well on the way to pulling a rock band move--disband the group, then re-form in six months without the drummer.

So, that means drama.

I can speak from experience: converting over a toxic group member is a lot of hard work, and can take literally years to accomplish (assuming you're successful). Actual therapy may be required in some cases. You have to ask yourself if you and your friends are willing to make that investment.
posted by magstheaxe at 9:51 AM on October 26, 2010 [6 favorites]

Here's what I would, and have done. I would decide what is absolutely NOT acceptable to me. Annoying? Distracting? Lame? Well, I have been all those things, too. But there are certain things I absolutely will not spend my free time being subjected to. So, when Tim makes an inappropriate comment directed towards me, or tries to touch or tickle me, or makes racist or sexist jokes, I would say, politely but firmly and with no equivocation, "Tim, that is unacceptable behavior. Please stop doing it. If you continue, I am going to leave." I would say this in front of the entire group. No way would I pull him aside or lay it on my friend. I would demonstrate that this is what happens when you act like an ass. This is what you can expect, from me, from now on.

If Tim is not an asshole and is just inept, he will be appalled and embarrassed and will apologize, which you will graciously accept immediately and then change the subject. More likely, TIM will decide that he doesn't want to be around such an uppity, uptight lady like you and pressure his gf to stop hanging out with your group. Then his gf will get to choose: the nice group of friends or the asshole? Which is the way it should be, in my opinion.

This works, trust me.
posted by staggering termagant at 12:28 PM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, what Taz said.
posted by staggering termagant at 12:30 PM on October 26, 2010

Yuck. You should not have to spend time with anyone who gropes you. I don't even know how your friend can stand to be with this guy. He sounds like the proverbial pig.

I think you should tell your friend how you feel about Tim, knowing that she will most likely react badly. At least give her a chance to understand why she and her boyfriend aren't being invited out more often. Tell her that you care about her a lot, but her boyfriend's inapporpiate behavior is impossible to be around.

This guy might be better than her last boyfriend, but I don't think the new guy is all that great either. It sounds like he objectifies women and thinks it's OK to just grab any woman he pleases. It actually makes me sick to think about and if I had a friend who was dating a guy like this, I would go out of my way to have a serious discussion with her.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:08 PM on October 26, 2010

This guy's behavior is normal - at half his age. He needs to be confronted, i.e. decked, if he touches someone without their consent (note: IANAL, etc). As for the other stuff, just tell him straight to his face that he's an obnoxious jerk and is excluded for that reason. Sometimes, that is the only way for people to learn.

Think about it this way: why do some people get so far as to actually audition for American Idle, with their family and friends there to support them and everything, when they can't sing a note or hold a tune? It's because nobody at home had the heart or guts to tell them they sucked. And so, they get to find out in a situation a thousand times more awkward, on national TV.

At 30, it's probably too late and this guy will be an idiotic man-child for the rest of his life. But, he needs to have his American Idle moment - and you could be his Simon Cowell.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 1:23 PM on October 26, 2010

First, the caveat: I've been told that I'm a dick. I try not to be, but be aware.

So, my advice? Well, you've already dropped subtle and not-so-subtle hints, right? The next stage is to mercilessly mock him. If he trots out sexist bullshit, make fun of him for it. If he gets mad, laugh. I find the phrase, "The fuck are you, eight?" seems to cut through a lot of the puffery. Don't feel bad — he obviously missed the brutal socialization that sometimes needs to happen to bring someone in line with enlightened society.

If that doesn't work, and I've only had one instance where it didn't either change the behavior or at least get the guy to stop wanting to hang out, feel free to say, "Comments like that are why people don't want to spend time with you. They're bullshit." Don't take any defensiveness or distractions, feel free to say, "What you said is unacceptable." Don't let him make it about you, and don't waver. A lot of times guys like this will coast on the power they get from being provocative while everyone else tries to avoid conflict. Sometimes you just have to not be afraid of causing a scene and stand up and say no fucking way.
posted by klangklangston at 2:46 PM on October 26, 2010

From the OP:
First and foremost I want to thank you all for your heartfelt advice. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I’m sure many of you can understand how hard it is to process this in the context of a twenty-year-old friendship. Thanks in advance for reading on.

kmennie, maybe I am trying to dance around the bad behavior a little bit. Okay, more than a little bit. And still, I feel terrible for casting Tim in such a bad light, because he does have some really terrific qualities. He’s very loyal, generous, helpful, and to my friend, he’s very romantic. He’s done some very kind things for me over the years. He loves my friend and stuck by her through some really rough spots. And he’s weird and rude to everybody, so I tend not to take it personally when it’s directed at me. Thus when he does something that if it was anybody else, I would have kicked him in the nuts, I tell myself, “That’s just Tim being Tim,” and bite my tongue. Admittedly, my patience has long worn thin and seeing it lain out so bluntly by you has given me a new perspective on Tim’s behavior. I tried to picture my own boyfriend tickling my friends or making lewd comments about breast sizes to them and I can’t even do it. It’s so beyond the realm of possibility, and I would be mortified to death if that ever happened. Of course you are correct that no one should tolerate it… which brings me to AmbroseChapel’s question.

Yes, my friend has witnessed all of this. Part of the reason why none of us has ever said anything to Tim is that she is always there. Maybe this is weird, but I don’t feel right about scolding someone else’s boyfriend, or fiancé, or what have you. And I’ve never had to do it before since all the other guys behave themselves like adults. It’s like Tim is our friend’s spoiled brat child, but out of respect we defer to her judgment when it comes to correcting or disciplining him. I see now how useless this approach has been. She usually acts as though nothing happened. If she does say anything, she’ll sort of roll her eyes and go, “Oh, Tim!” Then they’ll tease each other a little bit and inevitably get all schmoopy. At that point, all we can do is tell them to get a room and try to leave them alone. Sadly, my friend has a long history of using denial as a protective mechanism. She always looked the other way when her abusive ex did far shittier things. By following that act Tim can really do no wrong in her eyes. So I take the point that it probably wouldn’t do any good to discuss it with her, especially with her history.

tel3path and parakeetdog, believe me the thrill of hope died a long time ago. Most unfortunately, it took a while for the full extent of Tim’s strangeness to emerge so by then it wasn’t as easy as, “Hey friend, I don’t know about this new guy you’re seeing, he seems a bit off,” but more like, “So the love of your life, he’s kind of an ass”… which I could never say. It literally pains me that she wants to spend her life with Tim. But she’s happier than I’ve ever seen her, so until she comes to me with any concerns about the way he treats her all I can do is try to be happy for her.

taz, your response was a real eye-opener. I also agree with the others that we’ve all been too easy on Tim, and in hindsight I see that by trying to postpone any drama we’ve potentially created even bigger drama. Crap. So as someone who has never done this before, what do I say? As a few others have warned, I’m fairly certain that anything I say would be challenged by Tim. He is of the opinion that North Americans are uptight prudes (Dragonness, you’re correct), and probably would not react kindly to my telling him that his jokes are offensive or that his behavior is inappropriate. The situation that dubitable describes is what I’m afraid of. Tim appears to have no sense of shame (he embarrasses himself all the time and doesn’t seem to care, seems to enjoy it even) and perhaps not so surprisingly, a major problem with authority. He really does not like to be told what to do. Do you still think calling him out openly is the best approach?
posted by mathowie at 2:50 PM on October 26, 2010

It might help to know what his cultural background is. In case there are culturally specific ways of managing socially inappropriate behavior.
posted by prefpara at 2:59 PM on October 26, 2010

I have been in this situation and I really, really feel for you. It sucks. The woman in my situation had been dating the guy for quite awhile before she introduced him to our group of friends, so it was too late to do much at an early stage. The first time I met the Tim in my situation was at my apartment, for a party, and at one point while I was sitting in a chair, he came over, took my shoes off, and started trying to suck on my toes. In front of my friend, my then-boyfriend, and several of our other friends. Yeah. This person had some very serious untreated mental health issues (obvious to both untrained people and to some of the trained, practicing mental health professionals in our circle), as well as a history of childhood abuse, and concurrent serious drug and alcohol problems (probably attempts to self-medicate). And honestly, he just really got off on being offensive and provocative and making people uncomfortable.

Sometimes we (the friend group) outright excluded the Tim (as in straight out telling the friend she could come to the party, but Tim couldn't because he made people uncomfortable). Sometimes we included him and grimaced/avoided him as much as possible/did something in public so we could leave early. Sometimes we just didn't invite either of them. We did a lot of girls' nights, or tried to see the girlfriend one-on-one, but that was hard to manage since we were a fairly co-ed group of friends, and this relationship went on for years. Ultimately several of us were upfront with the girlfriend in this situation, but she is also a very honest, blunt person, so it was okay to do this with her. All of our friends said different things at different times, and I think the repetition, especially from people who would normally not get involved, really helped. I sat her down dozens of times over a few years and said things like, "you know, Friend, it just doesn't sound like Tim is making you happy. This [specific icky behavior] sounds like it's really hard for you/is really hurtful/doesn't sound healthy. That isn't how someone healthy would treat you. I just really want you to be happy, and with someone who treats you really well. Are you sure about this?" Any time she wanted to talk about the situation, I tried to be encouraging of her breaking up with him by echoing back what negative things I heard. (And yes, he did have some good qualities too.) I also tried to say things like, "it sounds like he really needs some help/medication/therapy", because it sounds less blame-y and more like he could be better if he dealt with his childhood abuse/drug use/depression/mental health issues. I tried to keep it to what would make her happy, and specific things that made me uncomfortable, rather than talk about my gut revulsion of him, because I wanted it to be really defensible.

Ultimately I think you need to be honest with your friend. Tell her he makes you uncomfortable, especially with the unwanted touching/sexual stuff, and tell her she is welcome, but he is not. Twenty years of friendship deserve at least that. Be gentle with her, and do it one-on-one, not as a group intervention, but say something. She may not react well, and she may not do anything right away, but you may open her eyes over time. I think (based on my experience) you'll feel better if you do say something, than if you keep lying about it and let them get married without ever having spoken your piece.
posted by min at 5:32 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

So as someone who has never done this before, what do I say? As a few others have warned, I’m fairly certain that anything I say would be challenged by Tim. He is of the opinion that North Americans are uptight prudes (Dragonness, you’re correct), and probably would not react kindly to my telling him that his jokes are offensive or that his behavior is inappropriate.

You say, "Tim, that is offensive." When he says that you're being uptight, you say, "Tim, I don't care whether you think I'm being too uptight That behavior is offensive to me, and if you refuse to stop, I'm going to leave." Then, if he does it again, you leave. Go sit at another table or go home or whatever you have to do. Do this every time. He'll either have to stop or be walked out on every single time you see him. Either way, you don't have to put up with his behavior.

If your friend defends him, you can use the exact same set of lines: "I don't care whether he thought it was just a joke; his behavior was offensive to me, and any time he does it, I'm going to leave." This is a matter of sticking up for yourself, both with Tim and with your friend who defends him. He's an ass, so you need to stop caring about his ass opinion of you more than you care about your own comfort and well-being.
posted by decathecting at 5:39 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I do think that calling him out openly is still the best approach, because you don't have any alternatives. And it's Tim's last hope. The situation as drawn is that, if anything, he's getting worse, your girlfriend doesn't see it and won't want to hear about it, and the group is at wit's end trying to enjoy time together without obviously excluding him. Where is the catalyst for change? To improve the situation, your only choices are to 1) exclude them, and lose the companionship of your friend, 2) confront her about him, and (if experience holds) lose the companionship of your friend, 3) dissolve the group (and lose the companionship of all your friends), or 5) modify your interactions with Tim (and possibly lose the companionship of your friend). Only 5 offers a glimmer of hope.

It very well may not work. He may have a chemical imbalance that only a doctor can treat, but you can't effect that intervention. He may be self-medicating in ways that make it impossible for him to adapt under any circumstances (I said earlier that I struggled to think of an exception... well, I did think of one utterly resounding failure: the friend's boyfriend who turned out to be a crackhead). He may ramp up the offensiveness. But if he does, he'll be out. He's on his way out anyway.

How to talk to him? I personally wouldn't use formal expressions like "that is offensive." I usually go for more pointy language. For example, with the ugly waitress scenario, I'd probably say something like "okaaaaay, mark Tim off the list of people to invite to restaurants *make checkmark with invisible pen and pad*," and next time, not invite him. When he tries to talk about why he's right, "yes, yes — we're clear on your position; now, who wants dessert?" When he's dominating the conversation: "alrighty, then, but enough about you. John, whatever happened with that project you were working on?" or, "Okay, bored now," and walk away. Later... "Oh, God, bored again; really, really bored," and walk away. Later... "*sigh* Yep, still bored," and away you go. Talking about breasts: "we're not having this conversation," and walk away. Or, "yeah, yeah, you can put it back in your pants now; nobody wants to see it," or just roll your eyes and leave. Or "UGH, this bullshit again? Really? Really?" and you know what to do now. Tickling/touching? Jerk violently away; "NO! YOU DO NOT TOUCH ME." Walk.

I'm not sure exactly what tack I would take, because I just play it by ear depending on the person. I convey a lot with expressions and body language. Cold, dead stare is always handy. But it's very important to cut off the source of stimulation; like spoiled children and bad dogs, Tim finds even negative attention rewarding, so you signify and then cut the stimulus off. As others have noted in AskMe before, you can really learn a lot about how to modify this kind of thing with positive dog training techniques (totally serious)... which means you never reward bad behavior (while making a point of being attentive to rewarding good behavior). What does Tim want? He wants your attention. Eventually he should stop behaving in ways that end up with him being ignored; dogs, too, will become more and more frantic as you fail to react to behavior that once provoked interaction. And then they will abandon that course, especially if they find they can get what they want by behaving properly. When training my dog, in the beginning I had to yell NO! BAD! when she did something out of bounds (like stealing food), and pointedly ignore her. All play stopped. All treats stopped. No walkies; we go home now. She quickly stopped doing those things, and now all I have to do is say in a very low, light tone, "nooo," and she will immediately stop whatever it is I don't want her to do. For the most part, people are not that much different; talk to him, smile, laugh, (even "oh! you're being fun/amusing/interesting today; I like Fun Tim!") when he's being reasonable, and signify a "No," when he's not, and ignore him. As a group.
posted by taz at 11:29 PM on October 26, 2010

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