Beginning relationship complications
June 10, 2011 2:06 PM   Subscribe

Help me navigate my first relationship amidst strange extenuating circumstances... social anxiety, bf's (female) best friend has issues, etc. How do I be the best person I can be towards all parties while still being true to myself?

Those of you who feel up to doing a little extended reading can go ahead and check out my last question... or to sum it up here, I was having a lot of trouble feeling settled in at college and wanted tips on how to relate to people and get over some baggage. I think I've done pretty well on that front (I now have friends, people to drink with, things to do, etc.)

I also have miraculously managed to get a first boyfriend who is probably one of the most wonderful people I've ever encountered in my life! He's incredibly supportive, emotionally available, funny, insanely intelligent and generous--basically the cute nerd boy of my dreams. Very ironically, I met him through my therapy group. He was there to work through work stress that causes depression, whereas I had some more general social anxiety things. (Speaking of, god, I hope he's not on this website. That would be embarrassing...) I'm a little bit worried that I'm too attached to him, but I have known him for several months, and he's definitely been the 'pursuer' (or whatever you want to call it) in our relationship, so I'm trying to be relaxed and calm about everything. We've made out and fooled around (he got off, I didn't because I was on my period) but so far have kept things pretty innocent. I feel very comfortable with this progression and look forward to deepening our relationship.

In group, he talked about a female best friend who started pursuing him after he broke up with his girlfriend, who he had been with since high school. That makes it probably a four-year relationship, since he's a senior now (22) and four years older than me. His female best friend is my age (19) and works with him. After he rejected her, their friendship seems to be going strong. I have spent a moderate amount of time with her and can say that she's not what I expected at all! She drinks a lot and is loud. I would describe her personality as energetic and fun, but also volatile. She puts me on edge in a way that reminds me of my parents, and that's not good. (One has ptsd, one has npd.) He has said that he doesn't want to date her because it would be putting too much of his life all in one place, which I believe to be a tactful way of suggesting that a) he's not attracted to her and b) she is too overbearing for him.

It looks like a lot of the time we're going to be spending together is going to involve her, and I don't know how I feel about that. His work is basically his life, and she's his best friend at his work, so I understand why they're so close--he works with a lot of men because of the nature of his field and I think she has a 'counselor' role for him there. (He's talked about not feeling respected, etc. and has it really rough.) They also share a sense of humor, but give each other perhaps excessive amounts of shit sometimes--it seems a bit passive-aggressive. I also wonder if she isn't still kind of hung up on him. She must be, right?

Last night, one of my friends, bf and bf's best friend were at bf's house watching a movie and decided to go to my house and make milkshakes without bf to celebrate my friend's new blender. We ended up having a long conversation about childhood and each other's experiences and perspectives, really intimate things. Bf's best friend started to give me shit about being way too nice. ("Do you ever say no to anyone?" "Do you EVER get mad?" "I would go crazy if I had to act like that all the time." etc.) This really got under my skin, since I know this is a problem and am working on it. She then started talking about how easy it is for her to read and manipulate people, and I started to feel really vulnerable.

I know it was 3 am and I shouldn't be taking anything this seriously, but shit. Can I deal with her? Should I confront her or bf about this? It seems like they might have a weird codependent thing going on. My relationship with him is too new to draw that conclusion. Maybe I should just be supportive of him and let this all blow over. On the other hand, shouldn't I do or say something if I have worries, for my own benefit? (In the same vein as not saying yes to everything, right? I mean, she does have a point.) I'm unsure where where boundaries lie between the three of us and DON'T want to triangulate. I know this has to do with childhood issue and I really just want to work through this. Help, MeFi!
posted by athenadanae to Human Relations (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It sounds like she's overbearing, your boyfriend Knows she's overbearing, and that's why he's chosen you as his girlfriend instead of her.

What are your options? You could try pushing back and telling her that you found her comments hurtful. She Might respect you more - but she's just likely to get even more manipulative and button-pushy. In saying those things to you she was trying to push your buttons, get a reaction - and it sounds like she did, you're just better at not showing it than she is.

So seeing as the important relationship here is with your boyfriend, talk to him about it. Not in the way where he has to run interference for you, but in the way where you talk about what happened, and that it upset you. If I were you (and I've struggled with anxiety), I would want to a) limit my time with her, and b) ask him for tips on how he handles her when she's overbearing.

As a side-note, while you might feel defensive about those things she said about you? It's Really ok not to engage people like that, to draw your boundaries so that you Don't have to deal with their provocations at all. It'll help with all the other boundary-drawing you're doing in your life. If you can talk about her in the abstract in group ("how to deal with people who try to needle me") - with your boyfriend's support, that might also be very helpful.
posted by ldthomps at 2:20 PM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

On the other hand, shouldn't I do or say something if I have worries, for my own benefit?

Can you clarify what your worries are? I don't understand what you want to confront them about.
posted by moxiedoll at 2:20 PM on June 10, 2011

Best answer: It sounds like there is so much going on in your mind, like, so much, and the blender and being a counselor, and and and, and the details that don't matter and the core issues that do matter are all jumbled up competing for your attention and it feels suuuuper complicated. At the heart of it:

- You have a boyfriend, you want to get closer with him: that's so great! Keep communication with him open and patient and build that trust.

- Your boyfriend has a best friend and they are close in ways that are unfamiliar to you: as long as you feel like your relationship with your boyfriend is clear and he supports you, you can get riled up, or twist yourself up trying to walk on eggshells, or just decide you're above the fray.

- The friend is obnoxious but she says things that sting because might feel true: Just because someone is loud and tells you what they think of you doesn't mean it is really about you.

You don't have to give everything so much attention. You don't have to give other people's opinions of you so much attention. A provocation doesn't have to mean you defend yourself. You can let it sail away overhead into the ether - it's neither here nor there, and you have other things to do like have a good time with the milkshakes and the boyfriend.
posted by sestaaak at 2:34 PM on June 10, 2011 [9 favorites]

Hi athenadanae,

You're a naïve young college student, and you've just met your first "boyfriend" from your therapy group. Except it turns out both you and he have serious issues, and you are both college students (so ofc you struggle to communicate and put far to much significance on every inference and casual comment.) You seem desperate for affection, needy and rapidly dependent on this guy, paranoid about anyone who might take him away.

Reread that, is that a fair summary of your problems? To me, a random internet person living 5000+ miles away from you, it seems a fair cop. You are in a newish relationship, your feelings towards this man/boy are clearly very strong and because of this your world seems to be spinning out of control.

In your question I read nothing about his feelings, nothing about his experiences, and nothing serious about his female best friend's perspective. I think if you are serious about this relationship you need to start to realise that, to quote a cliche, there is no U in relationship. Your post reads like you are incredibly scared of losing this boy, but that you view him more as a prop than as a person, and that you are internally reacting emotionally to every perceived threat to your relationship, especially this other girl.

There is so much jumbled up emotional nonsense in this post its difficult to give more advice. For example: Why do you think its "ok" to be getting him off but you are at the same time trying to "keeping things innocent". Why was he in therapy, and how are you both responding to each other, how is your therapy progressing, how is his?

Ultimately, you seem to be making a huge emotional investment in your partner. Be aware of that and be sure he deserves it, its ok to make that investment, but you need to be sure you are both on the same page and that you are not, to quote woody allen, idolising it out of all proportion. Your tempestuous meetings with "this girl" suggest you might be.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 2:52 PM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

As to relating to his bf, cultivate the art of the inner eye roll. That is all you need to do. Let her be her and let her "advice" go in one ear and out the other. Just because she is loud doesn' t mean she is right.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:04 PM on June 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Don't confront this woman (or your boyfriend) about the night in question, since it's over and done with. The time to speak up is in the moment, and it has passed. You are a dignified, drama-free lady who lets these things roll off your back. You value yourself too much to be bothered by this petty bullshit. At least now you're aware of her antics.

Let me explain: The way to deal with "bitchy" women is to not play their games. Don't let her walk all over you, okay? Don't feed into the drama she thrives upon. She's trying to bait you to make you look bad, for whatever reason, because that's just the type of girl she is. I've know women like this, and tend to whine about "getting along with guys better." She could be secretly a bit resentful of you, or just one of those obnoxious yet sometimes loveable girls with a strong personality. Maybe a bit of both. Is she kind of loud, and does she like to give people shit about stuff? She'll eat you alive if you let her. Not saying she has malicious intentions, but she might feel a bit threatened by you, since she's known your boyfriend longer and was once rejected by him. And he obviously wants to bone you, and not her. She's still getting used to you, so give her some time to get her act together.

In the mean time, how can you show her she's not getting to you while staying classy? By having a sense of humor and quiet strength during these situations involving the three of you. Be cool and be chill. Your boyfriend's best friend may respect you and even start to like you once you start whipping out witty comebacks to her jabs. I guarantee you that being a sweet as pie and acting like a victim will do you no favors in this situation. She'll think you're buttering her up, and you'll just end up looking like a doormat.

Your boyfriend will be even more crazy about you when he sees how well you handle her with grace and composure, rather than running to him crying, and setting up an awkward dynamic with his new girlfriend pitted against his best friend.
posted by sunnychef88 at 3:19 PM on June 10, 2011 [10 favorites]

Best answer: She then started talking about how easy it is for her to read and manipulate people

People who say stuff like this are almost always very insecure, even if they don't seem that way. She probably has felt deeply manipulated herself in some fashion, which is why she armored herself and went on the offense. It's a very immature thing to be proud of. She's putting on a false front.

When you're around her you might find it helpful to think: There's no need to compete because I don't have competition. There is only one you. She'll never be you. I wouldn't even worry about whether your boyfriend is a long term thing or if he'll flake out for someone else, because his presence does not make or break your existence. He's just a fellow looking for his way in life, just as you are looking for your way in life. Relax. You have no competition.
posted by griselda at 3:50 PM on June 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

Help me navigate my first relationship amidst strange extenuating circumstances... social anxiety, bf's (female) best friend has issues, etc. How do I be the best person I can be towards all parties while still being true to myself?

Stick to the being true to myself part. The rest is for other people to deal with.

He has said that he doesn't want to date her because it would be putting too much of his life all in one place, which I believe to be a tactful way of suggesting that a) he's not attracted to her and b) she is too overbearing for him.

I'd ask on that one. Don't assume you know the answer.

On the other hand, shouldn't I do or say something if I have worries, for my own benefit?

Your benefit is the only one you should be looking out for here. Because everyone else appears to be only acting in their own best interest.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:20 PM on June 10, 2011

sunnychef88, FTW!

I was right with you there up until this sentence:

She then started talking about how easy it is for her to read and manipulate people, and I started to feel really vulnerable.

Um. Holy Sh&t, Batman.

Right there, she is telling you exactly who she really is. Stay as far the F%ck away from this chick as you can possibly be. DON'T EVER SPEAK A BAD WORD AGAINST HER. Refuse all "play dates" with your Bf that involve her.

And might I add - what the hell is this chick doing on your dates with bf, anyway??

You need to re-evaluate this relationship if he always makes "us time" include her. I see no reason why he must hang out with her while he's with you!

You are very wise not to want to triangulate here. I'm not sure you need to bring this up with the bf, because it will just get back to her - so don't do that, ok? But if he can't naturally hang out with you alone, he's not very good bf material, hon. It's ok. Just see how it goes and use your best judgement as you roll. You'll know what to do. There will be other, more compatible partners if that's the way this turns out. Promise.
posted by jbenben at 5:03 PM on June 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

It is not doing anyone any favors to have her along when you are spending time with your bf. She is not mature enough or reasonable enough or calm enough to be cool with things, so she is going to keep making you uncomfortable over and over and over again. She is probably quite jealous of you, and to be honest it's not really kind to her to have her see you and your bf together all up close and in her face. She probably feels pretty upset about it and is reacting in the only way she knows how. If you asked her, though, she would deny it.

I don't see this going well... if your bf stops spending time with you with her in tow, she will probably get mad at him and act nasty towards him, even at work, where he needs her as an ally, so that could cause a lot of difficulty and trouble for him. She will rightly feel like you are taking him away from her.

He needs to set some boundaries with her, but even if it's handled with the utmost delicacy and respect and concern, she sounds like the kind of person who will just flip out and get crazy and make everyone else miserable anyway.

Basically, she is major, toxic baggage. I don't think he can extricate himself from her without causing tremendous, massive fallout. Including at work, which is like a kick in the balls on top of everything else.

She's got her hooks into him, and he's stuck, basically. So I would move on to another guy unless he can successfully navigate keeping her from interfering with your relationship any further. But I doubt this is possible, even if he acted perfectly. Sorry.
posted by marble at 7:50 PM on June 10, 2011

Best answer: There's so much going on in your question (and the answers so far), I'm not really sure where to start. There are, however, two major points I want to make here, so I'll start with...this one!

She then started talking about how easy it is for her to read and manipulate people, and I started to feel really vulnerable.

OP, people who can really do this don't announce it to the entire world, especially (ESPECIALLY) their intended "subject." This is a line solely designed to intimidate the naive (no offense meant, but take this for what it's worth), and I suppose, she's "read" you enough to "manipulate" you into taking such bullshit seriously. Trust me on this, she can't "read people," and she can "manipulate" them only insofar as they are willing to back down from her to avoid confrontation or other unpleasantness. Thus, you are only as vulnerable to her as you choose to make yourself. You can, as others have suggested, chill out, give her the ol' nod-n-smile, and go about your life as you please.

Next thing: Your BF sounds like a good guy overall, and I get the impression (a relatively uncommon one in "WTF BOYFRIEND" AskMe's) that you are genuinely into him, it's mutual, and this may actually go somewhere. That being said, there is no reason why she must be a constant presence in HIS life, let alone yours. I realize he's into his work with a passion, and that's a great trait of his. However, that doesn't mean that each and every other person who is involved with his work automatically becomes his responsibility, best friend, and stalker all in one. You need to make clear to him that Weird Girl has her own life, and he does too, and you would like to be part of that life, but not as a tag-team, as it were.

In parting, I would like to say this - you're 19 years old (!) and you've just displayed, in this question, far more insight, maturity and generosity than I would have expected of many people I know who are decades older than you. I think you're going to be all right no matter what happens with this guy, and I say this not to condescend or minimize your problem but hopefully to be one of the chorus that says you're a great, worthy, highly deserving person who doesn't need to settle.

tl;dr: You're awesome. The BF sounds potentially awesome, needs to know how you feel. She's insecure.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 8:04 PM on June 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

and b) ask him for tips on how he handles her when she's overbearing.

Also, Idthomps has a great point with the above. Just wanted to point that out - I overlooked that before but it's great.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 8:46 PM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

After reading your previous question, I would gently suggest that you get out of the habit of using psycho-jargon to describe yourself and your situation, friends, etc. It's not really helpful, and I think that if you make an effort to stop using the phrases, you might be also able to think through your responses to people and events a bit more clearly.

BF's work friend may or may not play a counselor role. Your response to her rudeness may or may not be based on childhood issues--not everything in life is, you know?

Instead of rehearsing the scenes over and over in your head (and letting her live there, rent-free), let it go. Trust yourself to react appropriately with your BF--you can, you know.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:10 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you so much, everyone, for the comments. I really appreciate the support/perspective.

I feel like much of the advice I got fell into one of two camps; either it was "chill out, you can do this" or "the situation's fucked, you're too needy" etc. I understand both of these responses and I think that getting some of each was part of why I posted this question. I'd like to clarify that I don't think I am overly attached to the bf. Usually I don't emotionally attach to anyone very quickly and I think my language was me trying to explain just how good of a catch I think he is. If I were talking to him I definitely wouldn't be as overtly affectionate because that's not really how I roll.

I think part of my use of the psychobabble jargon is me trying to get a handle on what is going on here. All these new experiences, so fast, you know? I just want to figure out what's up. But maybe I really am just making it too complicated. They're on a work-related trip right now, in fact, so I have like a week to stop worrying.

Can you clarify what your worries are? I don't understand what you want to confront them about.

I guess maybe 'confront' is the wrong word. I've been told that the beginning of a relationship is always awkward, and I don't know how much of this I should just deal with. For example, is it okay to say "I feel uncomfortable around your friend"? Or should I just wait until I don't feel uncomfortable around her anymore?

You need to make clear to him that Weird Girl has her own life, and he does too, and you would like to be part of that life, but not as a tag-team, as it were.

Mm. But how do I do this?
posted by athenadanae at 6:36 PM on June 11, 2011

Best answer: How do you set boundaries with your boyfriend without looking like the drama queen girlfriend? You make yourself unavailable (you're a busy woman, right?) when your boyfriend invites you to an activity involving the third wheel bff. No explanation is necessary, really - you just "can't make it" when he suggests all three of you hanging out together. You can always find something else to do during a proposed date time since you have a life and responsibilities to attend to outside of this relationship, right?

When you withdraw your attention, the bad behavior will stop. He will get the hint, without any drama, that in order to spend time with you, he has to plan a date that doesn't include the friend. Don't make a fuss, don't whine, don't say anything bad about this other girl, no matter how badly you want to. He's a big boy, and he'll pick up on how rude she is being towards you if she keeps up her antics. You should never have to get worked up or make yourself look bad to fix a situation like this. If he values you, he'll pick up the phone, call you, and arrange a date for just the two of you. You're worth it.

You might also want to deal with her every once in awhile (for a quick lunch with the bf, or walk or something - not an all day white water rafting trip), just to show you're cool about things.

You could say you feel uncomfortable around the friend, but I wouldn't, if I were in your shoes. That can come across as whiny and dramatic, especially if it gets back to her and she tries to spin it in a way that makes you look like the cray-cray high maintenance girlfriend. Best to not give her any ammo, ya know? If she tries to say something about how you must secretly hate her since you're avoiding her or something, your bf will just laugh it off since you'll have a perfectly good reason for being unavailable to hang out (your demanding schedule!) most of the time.
posted by sunnychef88 at 11:00 PM on June 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

You could ask for 1:1 time - emphasizing the affection (wanting to bond with him), not the discomfort (not wanting to spend all your couple-time with his jealous friend).

If his terms for your relationship are that his best friend gets to tag along whenever she wants, that's a pretty big red flag and you should maintain some distance. This is a bad sign even when the BFF is not a romantic rival - but doubly so when she is, and when your SO knows it and doesn't do anything to mitigate it.
posted by SakuraK at 11:42 PM on June 11, 2011

don't say anything bad about this other girl, This 1000x. If you act like she's just another person your bf works with, and never mention her, other than a very neutral "how's Betty?", you will look happy and sane and it will drive her crazy. She's counting on you to obsess about her 'n' him. (evil grin...I've been on both sides of this triangle, and trust me--a complaining, nagging, freaked out gf always loses.)
posted by Ideefixe at 11:44 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much again everyone! I'm closing the thread now as I feel the issue has been resolved. What I ended up doing was just calmly asking him for more one on one time, "just the two of us." This worked well, since he's kind of a sap.

I think the advice about just treating her like any other work-related friend was really good. (I was trying to be friends with her before!) She was being friendly back, but it read as manipulative to me (i.e. lots of snarky comments and weird looks). I feel a lot more comfortable just not engaging when she's around.

In any case, she seems to be mostly out of the picture now, and if she becomes involved again I'll just have to take a deep breath and reread this thread.
posted by athenadanae at 11:21 PM on June 23, 2011

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