How do I stop judging them?
September 6, 2011 7:03 AM   Subscribe

When my friends allow men to treat them poorly, I begin to lose respect for them. On an intellectual level, I know that it’s heartless and unkind of me to look down on my friends who are struggling, it’s victim-blaming, and I HATE that I feel this way. How can I stop it?

I have a couple of close friends who repeatedly fall for men who treat them like crap. One of them puts men up on pedestals (including her current beau who is a sexist creep and a chronically unemployed mooch, and who threatens to dump her on a regular basis) and jumps from one bad relationship to another because she’s terrified of being alone. The other has never had a boyfriend, and looks for men in all the wrong places because she’s too shy to talk to a guy unless she’s had a few drinks, and ends up getting her heart broken when she develops feelings for men who were just looking for a quick lay or a booty call. She is so afraid of rejection that she can’t even put her wants and needs into words (if she never asks for anything from him, she doesn’t have to risk being turned down).

I’m definitely not an uber-confident man eater type of woman myself, but I expect men to treat me with respect, and those who haven’t did not get a second chance with me. I simply don’t understand why it’s so difficult for my friends to see the opposite sex as ordinary people. Why can’t they see their worth beyond what some loser thinks of them? Why can’t they see that men are not all the same, that there are identifiable differences between good men and assholish men? Why can't they understand that men aren’t some inscrutable “other” whose words and actions are "signs" to be deciphered, and that decent guys won't keep you guessing? Why can’t they understand that being a “cool, low-maintenance type of girl” doesn’t entail being a doormat? Why can’t they see that they’re wasting precious time and tears on men who don’t give a shit about them? They could do sooo much better!

It’s starting to drive me crazy, listening to their man woes over and over again. I’ve tried reminding my beautiful, smart, funny friends that they’re amazing women, worthy of respect and appreciation. I’ve tried validating my friends’ hurt feelings, that it’s not unreasonable to expect the guy you’re dating to return your calls, that it’s okay to talk about your feelings with the guy who’s been sleeping with you for several months, that it’s not fair for a guy to take out his issues on you, no you’re not crazy. I know from painful experience that telling a friend something she really doesn’t want to hear is usually counterproductive, so I often find myself biting my tongue when in my head I’m screaming, “How fucking blind are you?!

I know that my friends are trying their best. They can’t help the way they feel. I know that what comes easily to me may be difficult for others. I know it’s not their fault that someone has chosen to abuse their trust and vulnerability. But every time my friends confide their miseries to me, every time it’s the same old song, I respect them a little less. I judge them. I start thinking of them as gullible, deluded... even pathetic. It’s horrible of me, I know. This tendency of mine is really disturbing to me. I wish I could feel empathy and compassion for them, but I don’t, and I don’t know how to. I’m afraid if I don’t figure this out, it’s going to start poisoning my friendships with these women. How do I get from where I am now to becoming the friend I should be? How do I stop losing respect and affection for my friends precisely when they need my support the most?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Tell them to stop telling you their man woes. Everyone burns out the 10000th time they hear the same sad story with no ability to change the ending.

Consider, too, that although you and they are framing it as them being victimized, they are getting something out of these situations, hence their unwillingness to change. How do these behaviors benefit them?

I will assume that--at least in part--they rather enjoy the attention and support. Whether you want to keep providing that is up to you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:11 AM on September 6, 2011 [8 favorites]

It is possible that some experiences in your friends' childhoods compels them to keep choosing unreliable inappropriate men who treat them like shit. If you really want to help them, recommend that they each see a therapist. Do it kindly.
posted by mareli at 7:12 AM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

You don't stop thoughts. You minimize their impact by acknowledging them and letting them go. I suspect the problem is how these thoughts make you feel bad. They are normal human thoughts we all have. You're not required to credit a thought as truth, ever.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:20 AM on September 6, 2011 [9 favorites]

You are sounding exactly like a former friend of mine, who supported me when I was going through really tough times with a partner.

Her reasoning was very much similar to yours, which is perfectly reasonable, but it is just not what always happens in the real world! People have weaknesses that they may not even know about themselves, so who are we to judge?

During the time I was having problems with my SO, she actually told me (while drunk) that she felt I was gullible, deluded, pathetic, which is just how you described that you feel about your friends. Plus a lot of other horrible things, things that I would NEVER expect to hear from a friend. I decided to forgive her an not mention that episode again.

But later, with a clearer mind, I decided to end that friendship, because I felt constantly judged by her, even after I moved on and started another relationship. She would always make little funny-ha-ha remarks like (when she bought a dominatrix outfit) "Ah, being subservient is your speciality, so you don't even need an outfit."

While friends are also there to be frank and help out with the occasional reality check, it is not your place to judge them. Friends are supposed to be kind, compassionate and have empathy for one another, otherwise what is the point of staying friends in the first place?

I am not saying that you should feel forced to give them support and keep on listening to stories that may sound absurd/unacceptable, but maybe you should consider whether these friendships are interesting for you?

If you continue doing what you are doing, you may sooner or later end up blurting out how weak and pathetic you think your friends are - just like it happened to me - and they may decide that you are not such a great friend either.
posted by heartofglass at 7:24 AM on September 6, 2011 [11 favorites]

I don't think it's victim-blaming. A victim is someone who is harmed by someone else.

If it happens over and over to them, I think these women you describe enjoy the drama, the big ups and downs of rough-and-tumble relationships, and they also enjoy the part where they get to cry on your shoulder and you say "there, there".

If you don't want to be a part of that anymore, you don't have to. If you are being used, then it's you who needs to set boundaries. Perhaps you even need to consider what actions of yours make you such a target for these types?
posted by fritley at 7:29 AM on September 6, 2011 [10 favorites]

so their low self esteem makes you lose respect and thus lowers your affection for them? have you considered that's just a more cerebral version of what these men do to them? there's nothing that says you have to stay friends with anyone, but if you keep on this line of thinking, you're putting your desire for how they run their lives above your friendship with them.
posted by nadawi at 7:34 AM on September 6, 2011 [11 favorites]

If you really want to help them, recommend that they each see a therapist.

I mean this respectfully, but if you're writing paragraphs about your friends and what you think of them and feel like this is damaging to your relationships, you would benefit from therapy. The therapist would likely want to talk about why you're so focused on these relationships, when you should really be focused on yourself and the things that you personally can control.
posted by sweetkid at 7:48 AM on September 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

For me, it helps to have the self-awareness to know that while I may not have problems with behaviors a, b, and c that my friends are struggling with, I do in fact have other aspects of my life (x, y, and z) where I'm making sub-optimal choices. It might seem from my standpoint that x, y, and z are less consequential or harder to get right than a, b, and c, but to an outside observer my choices might seem just as irrational as my friends.

With this awareness in mind, it's a lot easier to avoid being judgmental.
posted by tdismukes at 7:51 AM on September 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think it's perfectly okay to ask them to stop telling you the same story so many times (how boring) and I think you can do it without "judging" their worth or calling them names.

"I know you're upset with this situation with Manuel, but it sounds really similar to the situations with Dave, Ian and Carlos. Do you remember the advice I gave you then? I suggested XYZ. I still love you and still think you're brilliant, but I don't really have anything new advice to suggest. Can we talk about something else?"

Also, what do you do with this friend when you get together? Is it always coffee and a bitchfest with you on the receiving end? Could you try some new activities to keep both your minds off the man woes? Maybe those same activities could boost the friends' self esteem - like a fitness class or something.
posted by cranberrymonger at 8:09 AM on September 6, 2011 [7 favorites]

Before I add anything I want to just say, take some of the harsher comments here with a pinch of salt. These people saying you need therapy or whatever, I think that's waaaay overreacting to what I perceive as you just venting a little, about something you clearly can't talk to your friends about!

I'm this person too, sometimes. My solution was to step back from it for a while - avoid talking about it where possible and keep it short and sweet when we did. However, I found myself almost missing it after a while, and realised that there is a really strong social element to it as well as the obvious needing of advice.

Essentially, your friends are inviting you into their personal lives, and minor (or not) traumas, and asking you to share them with them. If you don't want that, it's perfectly ok to actively avoid talking about it (just keep some subject changes on hand!) but you might find it easier if you see it from a social perspective as well.
posted by greenish at 8:35 AM on September 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

I mean this respectfully, but if you're writing paragraphs about your friends and what you think of them and feel like this is damaging to your relationships, you would benefit from therapy. The therapist would likely want to talk about why you're so focused on these relationships, when you should really be focused on yourself and the things that you personally can control.

I respectfully disagree with the opinion that you need to seek a therapist. There is nothing wrong or inherently unhealthy with your emotions regarding this situation. It doesn't strike me that you're focusing too much on these relationships, you simply are noticing a pattern and you're starting to contemplate whether you respect these people you're friends with. I have a feeling a therapist would simply say, "I think you're noticing that these friends place themselves in toxic relationships. With that in mind, do you still want to be their friend?"

I mean, it's nothing that therapy is going to fix. It is what it is. Your friends choose to get into emotionally unhealthy relationships. You lose respect for them because of this. You can give great advice until you're blue in the face, but they can choose whether or not to take it and use it. The only thing you can control is your relationship with these friends.

My question would be - do you get something out of your friendship with these women, other than frustration? Are they fun to shop with? Are they super awesome going-out-on-the-town buddies? Do you feel supported when it's your turn for comfort and advice? Or has it become a one-way street, with you giving and giving and not getting much in return?

It's okay to say, "This is not someone I wish to be friends with any longer." To be honest with you, and maybe I'm cold or callous as well, but I would, too, have a hard time being friends with these women. I've had friends in the past who thrived on drama and heartache. I was often the one they would call to bitch to and get advice from. It became taxing to me. I finally realized I wasn't getting much in return and when I needed them they weren't there for me. I chose to end those friendships, and I've never regretted the decision. Of course, YMMV. Best of luck to you.
posted by Falwless at 8:40 AM on September 6, 2011 [18 favorites]

When my friends allow men to treat them poorly, I begin to lose respect for them. On an intellectual level, I know that it’s heartless and unkind of me to look down on my friends who are struggling, it’s victim-blaming, and I HATE that I feel this way. How can I stop it?

It’s starting to drive me crazy, listening to their man woes over and over again. I’ve tried [snip]

Stop listening to them. By which I mean tell them you just can't hear the same song and dance again.

It's hard to do, and the reality is that some people will take that as a sign that you're not a real friend. Are you prepared for that? Because I have had friendships end when I politely but firmly told friends that I just couldn't support them in making the same bad choice over and over again. Their solution was to stop calling me and start calling and whining to someone else. Other times our friendships went on, though changed, with them not telling me those sorts of stories anymore.

I don't think that's a reason not to do it; telling the people we care about that it hurts us to see them be self-destructive is something I think is critical to being a good friend. But you have to accept the possibility that some people aren't open to change and some aren't capable of changing. In my life I've had all three reactions to other people giving me some tough love.

Your challenge, I think, is walking the middle path between telling someone to just shut the hell up and being supportive. I think a well-placed "X, I feel for you but I can't help but feel like this is the same thing all over again. You do ABC and then DEF happens. I know it hurts but if you don't like it why keep doing ABC?" is the right way to go - a DIALOG with them about this rather than a condemnation. If they just shut that down ask why you can't just commiserate then just be honest - "I could, X... the first 100 times. But now it feels like you're asking me to tell you it's okay to do this and I just can't. It's not okay with me when other people hurt you and it's not okay with me when you help other people to hurt you."

You have to decide whether these are people who will still love you if you're honest and firm with them, then decide if you can live with it if they won't. But personally I think you'd be setting a good example by showing them how someone can be open and loving but still firm.
posted by phearlez at 8:57 AM on September 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

FWIW in a similar scenario I finally said, "I understand that you're really unhappy and I want to support you. But I can only support you in changing the patten that isn't working for you, not in repeating it over and over again. And that's because I love you."

Worked for me!
posted by DarlingBri at 9:34 AM on September 6, 2011 [26 favorites]

I agree with earlier comments that unfortunately they enjoy the drama. It's unfortunate because they may not want to, but it is like an addiction and they keep hitting the pipe. I also agree with mareli that events in their childhood, during their upbringing have had an effect on them. Whether it was their parents relationship or some other situation, this is what they have learned to do. This is the way they have been socialized as women in this society. You can scream at them but I don't think anything will change. Until they seriously want things to change, whatever you say will sound like charlie brown's teacher to them. Live your life and live it well. If they are doing foolish things and you have advised them of such, that is all you can do. If you are emotionally invested and therefore it is hurting you to hear that they have failed yet again, then emotionally separate from them, and start to distance yourself. These people exist at all ages, and a trained therapist can probably begin to help them, and that's if they want to get helped. You're frustrated at knowing them, and watching them do stupid things, and annoyed because ultimately you feel more emotionally intelligent than they are. Well, sorry, but you're right. Now you say what DarlingBri suggests, which involves you recognizing that indeed you are taking on the parental or guardian role in your relationship with them.
posted by cashman at 9:39 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with Cranberrymonger and DarlingBri.

"We've been through this before, if you are not going to listen to my advice, then we're not going to have this conversation again. I don't mean to be harsh, but it hurts me to see you going through this, so I'd rather not talk about it if you're not going to take my advice."
posted by Neekee at 9:59 AM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I made the therapy comment, but I don't think of therapy as a punishing or harsh answer, or even an extreme solution. Apologies if it sounded that way.

It can be a way to work through complex problems in relationships without necessarily damaging those relationships, if you want to keep them.

That said, I'd say some version of Neekee's answer above -- I did something like that years ago when I was so stressed by friends calling me late at night to talk about emotionally abusive relationships that I was having nightmares. The other thing is that I generally don't give friends advice about relationships, unless they're in an emotionally or physically abusive scenario. It's not worth it and you often come out as the enemy despite best intentions.
posted by sweetkid at 10:11 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

me, personally, i don't like people who drink/do drugs all the time...or people who are too nice. (i mean, like obsequious...people who use 'nice' as a weapon...i find it grotesque) so i don't hang out with them. there are plenty of people in this world to be friends with. if you don't want to be friends with doormats, then don't.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:19 AM on September 6, 2011

OP - I used to be your friends. I know why I let bad 'relationships' go on so long (and it wasn't for the drama; I like my life drama-free!) and your friends probably do too. I am very lucky that my own friends rode out the storm; if they felt anything like you do then they must have dreaded my every phone call!

If these friendships are too much, then I agree you should kindly but firmly state that 'The situation with Mr X is the same as happened with Mr Y, and my advice is the same now as it was then - ABC'.

However if you're willing to get involved, don't make their problems your problems. They are likely looking for someone to listen, not problem solve. Invite them out, ask them to help you with an errand or a project, anything to show them that their life is about more than finding a man. Suggest they go on holiday, or do some voluntary work. Focus less on 'how to get a good man' or 'this is what a good man looks like' and more on 'you can have a great time without a relationship' and other things which will help improve their self esteem. It worked for me, I met someone amazing, and my friends breathed a sigh of relief!

Good on you for wanting to help, I hope your friends appreciate it.
posted by veebs at 10:44 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I mostly second DarlingBri, but back to your original stuff...

Why can’t they see their worth beyond what some loser thinks of them?

Because they've been taught from birth, probably by parents/society/culture, that you aren't worth anything without a man. Any man. ANY man.

Why can’t they see that men are not all the same, that there are identifiable differences between good men and assholish men?

They are probably only dating assholish men, who are pretty similar to each other. They don't know any good men, certainly haven't found any, and maybe the good men just don't find them attractive right now either.

Why can't they understand that men aren’t some inscrutable “other” whose words and actions are "signs" to be deciphered, and that decent guys won't keep you guessing?

As far as they can tell, men are an "other."

Why can’t they understand that being a “cool, low-maintenance type of girl” doesn’t entail being a doormat?

Because they want to keep a man above all else, and they aren't willing to throw one back if he's not quite right. Thus, they'll do anything.

Why can’t they see that they’re wasting precious time and tears on men who don’t give a shit about them? They could do sooo much better!

Um... they are NOT doing so much better. Especially your friend who has never had a boyfriend, just a booty call. (I had a friend like that: she married her first boyfriend ever, who is a slacker and a compulsive liar, and now we are ex-friends. Why? This is the best she can do.) If the choices are bad men or no men, they'll take the bad. Because that is what they know. That is all they know. They do not have any idea that anything else exists, you might as well be telling them fairy tales.

Either you get them willing to work with you on learning new behavior when it comes to men so that something can change, or you just say, "Look, I can't deal with this any more." They aren't learning right now as things are, something would drastically have to change for them to do that. Maybe you can help, maybe not, I don't know if they are willing to take it. If not, I think it's fair game for you to say that you need to bail on being their man-confidante.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:47 AM on September 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

"Why can’t they see their worth beyond what some loser thinks of them?"

Unfortunately, I think women are conditioned to find their worth in what men think of them. I mean, take a look at the average magazine at the check-out counter. It usually has some half naked woman on the cover with 167 tips inside about how to "please your man." And even the average Hollywood movie or TV sitcom - women are routinely depicted as sex objects with the personality of carrots. What amazes me is that, in such a climate, there are women who can find worth and self-esteem in something other than being pleasing to a guy.

Maybe if you think of it like that you will be less inclined towards frustration.

I shared a copy of "Women Who Love Too Much" with my friend who had a lot of the same issues that you're describing. I'd already read it, so we were able to get into some great conversations that were illuminating for both of us. Maybe you could find a book that resonates with you and pass it on to them. It's a great springboard for change, and I doubt your friends WANT to be this way.
posted by amodelcitizen at 10:50 AM on September 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm going to answer the question you asked in the title, "how do I stop judging them?" Here's the thing - everyone wants to be loved by someone who respects them and treats them well. But some people have blocks or weaknesses that make it harder for them. I'm sure you have your own blocks or weaknesses that make some aspect of your life more difficult. Maybe thinking about some of your own blocks will help you be more empathetic?
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 11:01 AM on September 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

This is going to sound sexist or self-hating or both (I'm a woman), but I was going through something similar to your issue here, and my solution was to pretty much jettison my female friends. I've found that I just seem to have better chemistry with guys as friends. I don't know why this is. It could be that men really are less interested in relationships, which is like a breath of fresh air to me sometimes. Or it might be some other dynamic at work, I'm not sure. But I enjoy my friendships with guys a lot, especially if we have common interests. And it feels totally different from the relationships I've had with other women.

(I believe could enjoy having a woman friend again, if we clicked and had stuff to talk about, things we both enjoyed. Give and take, and being there for me would be essential too. Women are capable of all of this, as guys are. I just don't have that right now.)

Anyway, I don't at all blame you for objecting to being used as a sounding board by these emotional vampires. Life's too short. Don't feel any guilt about moving on.
posted by cartoonella at 11:22 AM on September 6, 2011

This is what I told my awesome, brilliant, funny, smoking hot best friend when she lost her mind (only once, with one guy):

"You keep riding this rollercoaster. You don't get off, because you think the ups are worth the downs. But I only get to go DOWN with you, and I never want to hear about this fucking rollercoaster again."

The jerk eventually dumped HER, and she's been happily married for ten years to a great guy. My words didn't help her get off the rollercoaster, but they allowed us to stay friends.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 11:28 AM on September 6, 2011 [11 favorites]

You know, I like the idea of telling your friends to just not share their relationship woes with you, but in practice it's never worked for me. For people like that, their whole life IS their relationship--that's why they're willing to sell themselves out for it--and they don't have much else to talk about. I would take them out and do things with them, as was suggested above.

My sister is just like your friend who's never had a boyfriend and I wound up solving this problem (sort of) by losing my patience with her. I was a little too blunt about puncturing her fantasies about "if I'm his slave, any minute he'll see how great I am and fall in love with me!" and now she doesn't talk to me about the asshole any more. It has really hurt our relationship, though, and she sees it as a betrayal, I think. So I would find another solution or cut these friends loose if you find you're having a hard time keeping your opinions to yourself.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 12:08 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a similar issue. I found that I lost my respect for two friends because all they did was complain about their jobs and how they weren't making any money. I just didn't want to hear it any more because they weren't doing anything differently. They just complained. I think I made the decision that the negatives of our friendship outweighed the positives (incidentally one of them is also dating a jerk). Another friend and I were annoyed with our employment situations so we applied for several new jobs until we found more satisfying work. I didn't feel frustrated in my relationship with her because while we complained about work, we could talk about what we were doing to better our situations also.

That said, I have another friend who I love dearly but she has been underemployed for years and does not appear to be doing anything about it. Rather than feeling sorry for her or losing my respect for her, I just don't ask her about it any more and she doesn't tell me about it. I'm not wild about the situation because I don't like feeling like I can't ask people about some areas of their lives but I more or less decided that I value our friendship more than I value being able to ask her what she's doing to find a new job.
posted by kat518 at 12:34 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, here's a question; what is it about these friendships that you enjoy? Is it All Man Drama All the Time, or are there good parts too?

If there aren't then maybe these relationships have become codependent and you need a break from them, and to tell your friends that you're not a trained therapist and can't really help them with this stuff.

If there are still good things, maybe talk to your friends and say something like "You know, I miss when we would do X. Why don't we go do that again? Or something just as fun?"

See what response you get; if they're willing to do something besides obsess over their love lives, then you can just try to keep your conversations/activities around those things. Which helps you keep sane and also maybe helps them see that there's more to life.

It's possible to just...compassionately ignore....some issues a friend has, to say "umhum" a lot on the phone when they tell you the same story for the 80th time while you read email. Provided there's other good stuff going on.

I also wonder; are they there for you when you do have a problem? Do they gloss over your issues so they can get back to theirs? Or must you always be the strong one?

Maybe you've outgrown them; maybe you just need more healthy friends to make up for the ones who aren't. But if you're feeling drained and exasperated, that doesn't make you a bad person.
posted by emjaybee at 12:51 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you like these people? I mean that seriously. Do you enjoy hanging out with them? Talking to them? When your phone rings and you see it's them, do you smile before you answer the phone, or do you sigh?

Because, if you don't enjoy most of your interactions with a person, which sounds like it might be the case here, then that person is not your friend in any meaningful sense of the word. It's ok to admit that. I know some people who have the habit of maintaining what they call friendships with people whose company they clearly can't stand. It's a strange practice, when you think about it.
posted by Ragged Richard at 1:01 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want to stop judging them, reflect on the unknowability of What It's Like Being Them. With their life history and their temperament and biological makeup, you might be making the exact same decisions!

But to be a friend, you have to at least judge them kindly, if not defend them against others' judgment. Most people's weaknesses are integrally connected to their strengths. (They're amazing at their work... and it's impossible to make weeknight plans with them because they often work late. Or they're the most loving person... and they often give too much in relationships.) It's important to acknowledge what they're trying to do, and how these behaviors have at times served them well to judge them accurately, much moreso if you want to judge them kindly.

So, in telling them you don't want to hear more on this topic, I'd go with something like this: "Your patience and understanding is amazing, Lisa. Me, I do not have your capacity for forgiveness, so I have long since lost faith in Bob, and when I think about what he's done to you, I still feel angry and wish I could push him out of your life! Obviously, that's silly. :) It's your life, and you have this great capacity to hope for the best from everyone. But because I do find it so upsetting to think about what he's done, and because I worry about what else he might do, I do think I need to stop talking about him with you. It's just too upsetting for me."

Cutting Bob out of your life is a major, major step. By doing it as gently as possible and taking the blame for it onto yourself, you will maximize the chances that she will not hold it against you, not take it personally and get caught up in defensiveness, maybe even think more about your decision and reasons for making it, and perhaps even consider whether she would want to follow your example.
posted by salvia at 1:35 PM on September 6, 2011 [7 favorites]

So, your friends confide in you a lot about their relationships, and they seem to consistently really make bad choices.

I'm sure you realize you could be getting a warped view of their actual interactions with men, though, right? People love to vent when something is going wrong, but they don't always share when things are just fine. For instance, how do you know that your friend's current beau "is a sexist creep and a chronically unemployed mooch", "who threatens to dump her on a regular basis"? Because she told you so, or because you have personally witnessed this? You could be making snap judgments about these men.

Maybe your friends aren't total idiots, and all the men they deal with aren't total jerks. You just aren't hearing about the best stuff. When things go wrong, you're only hearing their side. And they're your friends and you care about them, so you see the good in them, and are used to their faults, but you see any guy introduced into the mix with a more jaundiced eye.

Also, here's another possibility: maybe your own standards for men (or for long-term relationships with men) are a little...unrelenting.

You're anonymous, and I don't know your own relationship status. All I know of you is that you wrote: "I expect men to treat me with respect, and those who haven’t did not get a second chance with me." Good! You shouldn't let anyone disrespect you. Provided it is disrespect. But is it possible that you could be interpreting things in the most negative light within your own interactions with men?

Ask yourself why your friends come to you with relationship issues in the first place. Do they confide in you because you are the relationship guru who knows all, or is it maybe because you can always be counted on to man bash, or because you are the friend they can reach because you are never in a relationship yourself?

Obviously, I have no idea. But, anonymous, you might really benefit from asking your friends what they think for a change. This could be something that goes both ways: not only are their standards not high enough, but you are overly critical. Maybe, while you feel you have reasonable standards and it is driving you crazy because your friends are neurotic doormats, your friends think you have crazy unrealistic expectations and you are never going to think any man is good enough for you.

No matter what the outcome, I think asking your friends what they think for a change might give you more insight into both them and yourself, and hopefully lead you to be a little less judgmental of them in the future.
posted by misha at 2:21 PM on September 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

I would suggest the classic Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft. There is a section in it for people facing what you are facing.
posted by tel3path at 4:36 PM on September 6, 2011

From the OP:
I apologize if I've offended anyone with my question. Please be assured that I wouldn't be asking this question if I thought it was okay to have these judgmental thoughts. I've been friends with both these women for over ten years, believe me that I care for them deeply. I’m here asking for help because I don’t want to hurt them, and the last thing I want is to reach my breaking point and snap at one of them.

Thank you to those who gave scripted suggestions for how to respond kindly but firmly when the topic of man drama comes up in conversation (cranberrymonger, phearlez, DarlingBri, Neekee, 2soxy4mypuppet, salvia). I hope my friends will know that they can still come to me if something is seriously wrong. Argh, it’s so hard to find the right balance! I don’t want to damage my friendships with them, but I suppose it’s better than the alternative (as heartofglass described). The suggestions to focus on activities while hanging out (veebs, emjaybee, and others) are really helpful too.

misha, I know my friend’s current guy quite well as they’ve been together for several years now. I’ve witnessed, as well as been on the receiving end, of his, quite frankly, disgusting sexist remarks. My friend has been supporting him financially for almost two years. While my friend works full-time, he works only sporadically and doesn’t help out around the house because he feels it’s emasculating. He once expressed his dissatisfaction with their relationship by changing their Facebook relationship status to “It’s complicated” and waiting for her to be surprised by it at work. She spent the entire work day crying at her desk, and was humiliated. I could go on. So yeah, I don’t like him and neither do our other friends.

Please realize, these two friends I wrote about aren’t my only two friends. I do have other friends - friends who are also in relationships with men. The majority of my friends’ significant others are awesome guys. I don’t have some weird man-hating complex. I didn’t think my current relationship status was relevant, but since you’ve brought it up, I’m happily married. My friends seem to like coming to me for relationship advice because I actually don’t bash their guys and I don’t lecture them. I do ask my friends questions, and like I said above, I focus on validating their feelings and encouraging them to stand up for their needs. My support doesn’t seem to be helping my friends any, and doing so has begun to adversely affect our friendships, which is why I turned to the hive mind for advice on how to proceed.

Sorry to get all ranty. Thanks to everyone who has responded, there was a lot to chew on in every one of your replies. If anyone else has advice to add, I welcome it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:38 PM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I understand how you feel, OP, but I would be really careful. I'm not married, but some, not all, of my married/long term couple friends can seem very "this is how you get to where I am, honey" about relationships --weirdly, more so when we were a bit younger than now-- I know you don't want to come across this way, but that's why I think you need to tread carefully.

Definitely, if it bothers you you should mention that you feel like you can't help your friends through their relationship problems if they're not going to take your advice -- I did this, and in my case I just made it clear that it was upsetting me ( like I said before, I was having nightmares). The friends that I said that to are still my friends years later, and one just got married to an awesome, wonderful guy who adores her, so yay!

Just saying that your friends can get along without your advice, but also you might not be aware of the power dynamic you're setting up -- our society sets up "happily married" as OMG the thing you must have, and you're not complete if you don't have it -- so your friends might be unconsciously putting you on some pedestal to gain your help with this, and you might unconsciously be allowing that, because you honestly want to help them. This is all speculation though, and food for thought I hope.
posted by sweetkid at 8:01 PM on September 6, 2011

I'm not sure how helpful this will be, but consider this: you expect your friends to just snap out of it and have self-respect because that's easy for you, but why can't you just snap out of it and stop being judgmental? Well, because even though you know it's not right, and you know what you should do (feel compassion) it's just... not that easy, right? Now consider that your task, on the whole, is a much easier one than the one you're judging your friends for their inability to accomplish; if someone is not raised with a healthy degree of self-respect, building this later in life is even more difficult. As someone who previously found women like your friend emotionally incomprehensible, I used to think similarly -- not so far as thinking they were pathetic, but I was baffled why people let others treat them that way, over and over.

Here is something a friend told me that made me begin to feel real empathy, and maybe it will help you too. A lot of women are lucky to have at least ONE source of love growing up, if not two; usually a parent or guardian. My parents had an imperfect relationship, but I always felt they loved me unconditionally. I had a solid foundation of security. When I went to school, I wanted friends (and got them) and while rejection could really hurt, it didn't destroy me. I was never starving for affection, only wanted it as badly as anyone wants non-familial affection; not having additional sources of affection didn't chip my underlying sense of self-worth.

Now, some people never have that foundation of security. Imagine either feeling from the start that no one loves you or wants you, not even your parents, or if they do profess to love you, they criticize you so much that not only do you think there is so much inherently wrong with you that you have no great basis for self-worth, but you also equate "love" with someone criticizing you and treating you like shit. When these kids go off to school, they are starved for affection, and it's also harder for them to get it because people are attracted to confident people and kids are vicious to anyone who seems like they'll take it or is hesitant to join the other children. So it gets reinforced that they're worthless and unworthy of affection. They are still starving for it, but they don't know how to get it. They go through middle school, high school, all with this idea continually being reinforced. They become adults, and then they're supposed to go off and handle themselves without even the paltry foundation of security they've become accustomed to. And they are still so starved for affection. They are so lonely.

And at whatever age, suddenly there are men who want them. They aren't terribly jarred when these men treat them poorly; it's what they're used to. So they stay longer. They might rack up a handful of relationship experiences like this, they start to realize that these relationships are not right... but you know what many of them conclude, without ever questioning it? They conclude that THEY are the problem, that they're as worthless as they've alwayd feared. After all, why else would people treat them this way? Their friends, if they have them, tell them to have more self-respect -- which makes them feel even less understood, even lonelier, even more irredeemably broken. Good, healthy people cannot even fathom what they're like; *that's* how messed up they are (they think). What comes so easily to these other people does not come easily to them, and it's another way in which they feel hopeless, because they know what they should be doing but can't. It's so easy for Confident Friend to say she should do this and this, but Confident Friend is not worthless, has people who love her, can afford to be picky.

So the woman who feels worthless has this confusing idea that she is supposed to be more picky this time. But inside, she is still frantic with loneliness, and often self-loathing at this point. She tells herself she will wait for the right guy, and maybe someone comes along who seems better in some ways. She is very lonely. Is he good enough? How to tell? He seems better, so... but things go south again, he's only better in some ways, he treats her poorly, and she concludes it is her fault. Her fault because she exudes some quality, she doesn't know what, that makes these men target her; her fault because she is unloveable; her fault because she knows she must have bad judgment but can't figure out why or how to fix it. Other people just seem to manage it, to not have these problems. She is simply too broken, she decides. For a while she will think a guy is the best she can ever hope to do, being so different from healthy people, and whatever security and affection will be enough, will be better than being lonely. She may find herself single again, even by her own doing if things get to be bad enough.

But she's back to square one. Every relationship is evidence of how worthless she is, how poor her judgment is, how irredeemably wrecked her life is; rather than realizing her self-worth, she feels worse about herself, lonelier, more desperate for affection. The relationships can actually get worse, giving others the impression she hasn't learned anything or doesn't know what she's supposed to do. In a way, it's sort of true, but in another way all the lessons are getting twisted in her head and while she knows what people say a good relationship should be like, it'd hard for her to know whether something meets that criteria. Worse yet, it may actually be difficult for her to be attracted to someone who doesn't play games with her, because that's literally what has become hardwired in her brain. She may have people around her who DO love her and she doesn't recognize it because they don't grab her attention by messing with her, withholding affection to manipulate her, etc.

Sometimes something happens -- therapy, or a heartfelt talk with someone, by seeing her situation reflected in someone else and getting perspective, or some memorable life event happens -- that changes the tide for her. She begins to realize the men were at fault for treating her shitty, that she is loveable, etc. This, more often than not, is VERY slow going, and it is still a hard-won fight against the persistent feelings of loneliness in the interim, and there are set-backs when any future relationship fails for any reason. But it can happen.

What you can do for your friends, as best you can, is be a source of unconditional love for them in case they ever notice it. If you are judgmental, even if it's just a tone that comes across when you say they could do so much better, you will unfortunately reinforce their idea that even love means people don't accept them and think negative things about them. If you really cannot handle talking about their relationships -- and I don't blame you, because it's a very delicate task -- then something like what DarlingBri suggested is not out of line. It would be better than letting them feel judged on multiple occassions. And yes, it works. I have had to tell a friend in an unhealthy relationship that she knew I was concerned for her, and she knew why, and all I could do was trust her judgment to leave the relationship. I told her I wanted her to be happy and I knew criticizing her would not do that. And she did break up with him, albeit months later. It feels counterintuitive, but confidence in someone is often one of the best supports you can give someone who does not have their own confidence for the time being. When you tell someone like this what they ought to do, even if it's because they deserve better, they do not hear that they deserve better, they hear another person disapproving of their ability to handle their life. When you express confidence in their ability to handle their life, even while disapproving of a particular facet, they oddly hear this as it is, and it is empowering: someone does not think they are worthless and stupid! This person will not "I told you so" if I leave the relationship! This person has inherent confidence in me that will not go away if I make mistakes! That can be huge for someone who feels worthless. The instinct to keep those we love from harm can often manifest itself in unhelpful ways, like criticizing in subtly harmful ways, or being so upset for the person you want to bash them over the head with your reasoning and MAKE them do what you think is best. This does not help anyone gain self-respect, however; people begin to feel self-respect when they see that others respect them.

The big hurdle to understanding all this, at least for me, was having never felt that visceral sense of being unloved and worthless. It is not easy to conjure up from imagination. There is something that ALWAYS does it for me now, and I bring it up in case it will help you, though it may seem melodramatic to others. I was watching a BBC nature documentary, I forget which one, and it showed footage of these sea birds that always laid two eggs. As some sort of evolutionary hold-over to when there was less food, if both eggs hatched the parents would viciously drive it from the nest. This was horrifying to watch, this poor bloodied ball of white fluff lying dying on the rocks, trying to go back to its parents and getting attacked instead. How confused and frantic it must have felt, and how lonely. If an albatross had snatched up its body, it would probably feel relief for a moment that someone had wanted it; it would seem better, at first.

Thinking about that always drives home to me how important it is for people to feel secure, and how damaging it must be to live through that without any perceived change in how the world treats you.

I should also note that when I was younger, I had no real conception of how damaging some of my friends' relationships with their parents were, because parents usually don't show those things in front of other people. I didn't know my friend's mother had slapped her when she was little and rarely said she loved her, that she openly blamed my friend's birth for her father leaving, that she only complimented her on being skinny. I had thought they had a good relationship. Similarly, I had another friend who is smart, funny, well-liked... and has the same sort of insecurities with men despite putting on a confident face to the world. She, too, had a crazy mother and since failure was unacceptable in her household, she feels worthless while giving the exact opposite impression. You may think your friends seem otherwise fine and so this doesn't apply, but ask yourself if you really know that. I knew these people since childhood and very much did not know that. If someone lets another person treat them like trash, it is not without reason; that sort of sense of worthlessness goes deep, and so does the loneliness. Try to imagine how that must feel. I'm not saying this is 100% universal, but it's true much of the time, and it helps to fill in some gaps if you want to empathize. I no longer feel baffled now that I understand it better, I just have trouble not crying. It's very difficult to sustain judgmental feelings once you know more about why they have such trouble. I can't imagine I'd fare any better in their shoes.

Finally, realize that there are probably ways you've been conditioned to think/feel that make judgmental feelings so difficult to squash. In this sense I agree that it's normal for you to feel like you do and you are not a monster, but at the same time I think it's something that can and should be overcome in everyone if possible, and so I don't think the recommendation of therapy is wrong. Let me give you two examples of judgmental behavior in people I know, and you might see how therapy -- or at least figuring out possible roots of the problem on your own -- can be helpful:

First, my husband (before we were married) used to be VERY judgmental and scornful of any displays of weakness, irrationality, or even vulnerabilty in other people. Like you, he would get frustrated that people didn't just quit doing stupid stuff, or just quit being upset, or whatever. He characterized people like this as self-indulgent, wallowing drama queens, basically. He felt that if someone is upset, they should just fix whatever the problem was. He made no effort to empathize. It was on the one hand somewhat understandable, but on the other, dickish and unnattractive behavior that did not make me feel comfortable around him. People with this attitude tend to make others feel unsafe and unwelcome, and they cannot feel free to be themselves for fear of not being perfect all the time.

After some effort on my part to toughen up when I could -- not wholly a wrongheaded effort, by the way, because it IS helpful to be able to snap out of things when possible -- I still felt I wasn't good enough for his standards; it felt like I was never allowed to be upset by anything. Now, since I had a lot of self-respect, I blew up at him one day and told him pretty much everything I wrote here. I told him people have relationships in part so they have a source of comfort when things upset him, that his expectation that people always behave rationally was far more irrational than me being upset over something every now and then, and that he made me feel like shit when I already felt bad because he looked so disgusted whenever I cried, and how exactly was that rational behavior on his part? I told him if it was rational, that if he intended for me to feel bad, he could go fuck himself because I could get a boyfriend who would show me sympathy like a normal person.

I was young (like 20) so this was pretty harsh, but it worked. He was pretty thrown to have it tossed back at him, realized he wasn't being rational either, and we ended up having a chat. He opened up more than he had before about his alcoholic mother, explaining that he thought maybe that was something to do with it: she would cry and cry, and it used to make him feel bad so he'd try to console her, but nothing worked. In fact, she would use the crying to emotionally manipulate him and his siblings, and cry about things that were easily fixable but come up with excuses -- I guess because she had an insecurity hole so deep she would milk her kids for signs of affection and lash out and blame them when she didn't feel loved enough. He worked out all that behavior over the years after, not in therapy but just by discussing it with me, and now he's very NOT judgmental and considerably more empathetic, and not just with me but anyone. For a long time when he was younger, being empathetic just meant pain and his mom, in a way, really was wallowing to an excessive degree to get sympathy -- but most people are not anywhere near that level, and even very upset people no longer trigger that irritation in him.

Friends, by merit of being important to us and around us a lot, can more easily trigger frustration. But at the same time, when I find another's weakness is making me think such judgmental thoughts it bothers me, I try to figure out why; you should not take others' weaknesses personally, if that makes sense -- like be this invested and frustrated -- and if you do, it's something worth fixing if possible.

The other example is a ceaselessly negative, judgemental friend of mine. He says really awful things about other people's appearance, intelligence, behavior, motives, and personal tastes -- it's like clockwork, 99% of the time. He has a few friends who can do little wrong in his eyes and he is never like that toward them (thankfully I am in this category).

So why is he like this? Well, it's transparent to me because I knew him before he'd had a real relationship, but I would bet money it's because the two relationships he's had that were turning serious ended with the guys cheating on him and being completely duplicitious. He prides himself on being smart and puts tons of work into his appearance, but I know he must feel insecure that it isn't enough because he frets about it all the time. So of course if someone else has a flaw in those areas, he jumps on it; it means he isn't tol far gone, just look at that person! And of course he doesn't trust people's motives. And of course if someone makes him feel safe and liked, he doesn't criticize them. But he is way personally invested in judging a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with him in reality, and in large part because of the pressure he feels to get and keep a boyfriend. Not to mention some unapproving relatives would make anyone lash out defensively.

And that's just two concrete causes of judgmental behavior. Another is feeling threatened in whatever areas you've always been praised for, as I realized after being intellectually insecure after being in "gifted" programs my whole life. It's amazing how the world changes to be more worthy of sympathy when suddenly you're okay with other people being better than you, and you no longer have to think the worst of them. Not saying that's the case with you, just that a lot of things can cause judgmental behavior and it's worth figuring out why you are having trouble, i.e. maybe you just don't have a good frame of reference in this scenario, or maybe some influence from earlier life makes you resist empathizing, or something. But it's basically not helpful to you or others (which you know) and you CAN fix it if you figure out the cause, so go for it! Good luck!
posted by Nattie at 11:02 PM on September 6, 2011 [497 favorites]

Please pay attention to what Nattie has said. It is the best description I have ever come across of what your friends probably feel like.

If you are judgmental, even if it's just a tone that comes across when you say they could do so much better, you will unfortunately reinforce their idea that even love means people don't accept them and think negative things about them.

This. This. This. This. This.

And if you hear this from someone while you're confiding in them about an abusive situation, it really is hard to describe what an Ouroboros-like mindfuck it feels like. You don't deserve to be abused, and if you take it, that means you think you do deserve to be abused, and people who have self-respect don't get abused, therefore you don't have enough self-respect not to be abused, therefore you will get abused, and you know it, but you aren't increasing your self-respect, therefore you deserve more abuse, and probably always will, even if I'm too nice to actually put it that way. Think the abuser isn't also using this exact rationale on them, and probably in so many words? Think again.

I'd like to pick up on this: After some effort on my part to toughen up when I could -- not wholly a wrongheaded effort, by the way, because it IS helpful to be able to snap out of things when possible -- I still felt I wasn't good enough for his standards; it felt like I was never allowed to be upset by anything.

Now, in my experience, if I'd been in Nattie's position and confided in a friend I would have had one of two responses.

1) He's got a point, you do get upset by things, you need to learn to take the rough with the smooth and accept that relationships aren't perfect.
2) or they would scream at me to have some goddam self-respect and DTMFA and if I wasn't going to do that, I deserved everything I got.
3) or 2), except phrased more politely.

It so happens that both Nattie and her bf seem to be two people with exceptional interpersonal skills and the humility to work together for change. This unfortunately means that both of them are extremely rare birds. Most people simply are not like this. If either of them had been a bit different, Nattie might have taken advice to dump him, or else taken advice to accept that she was emotional so he probably had a point and that all relationships have tension and she needed to accept perfection. In neither case would Nattie be in the good relationship she is in now.

Most people are really pretty bad to each other pretty much of the time; I strongly suspect that some level of emotional abuse is far more the norm than the exception. I know we're supposed to believe it's better to be single than in a bad relationship, and that's true, but I think people who are afraid they'll be single forever because good relationships are rare and elusive... are being quite realistic. When you're genuinely facing the prospect of truly being single forever, it is genuinely very difficult and the temptation to accept the world as it apparently is, and run for comfort into the arms of somebody who you know will hurt you but only in ways that are pretty much SOP for most people most of the time... well I can understand it. I've reached a point where accepting any bad treatment revolts me, really viscerally revolts me, much more than the thought of accepting it, but a lot of people don't ever get to this point and I can remember what it was like not to feel this way.
posted by tel3path at 4:50 AM on September 7, 2011 [14 favorites]

[This is a followup from the asker.]
Nattie, THANK YOU. This is why I use AskMe, to receive amazingly heartfelt, thoughtful, eye-opening advice like yours. I'm reading and rereading and rereading.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:24 AM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

Wow, what an amazing comment from Nattie.

I was just coming in to add that one thing that boosts my patience is to view my friends' relationships as school or practice for something they have to or want to learn. You wouldn't say "why are you always going to baseball practice!? You swing the bat like this and hit the ball, geez." You wouldn't begrudge them their time at the library, their frustration with missing questions on their problem set, or their stress during midterm exams.

Comparing failed relationships to places of learning and practice is not just a convenient analogy; I think it's bascally what they are. I think your friends really are trying to learn how to relate to men but can't do it right yet, so they keep going to the batting cages. And one sounds like she doesn't yet know how to stand up for herself, and her relationship is a place where she'll get to study that skill. I have had a friend talk to me about a not-so-great relationship as a place where they were learning so much, which reminded me that my bad relationship really felt that way, too, and I sure left with a few new skills that came in really handy in modifying patterns I'd fallen into with family members and others -- so in retrospect, they were skills I really needed.

All this doesn't mean you have to be your friends' coach or study partner by the way. If all they could talk about was biology class, you wouldn't feel bad about changing the subject at a certain point. The difference to strive for might be respect for the learning process (ie, that it's valuable to go to class), and patience about the difficulty of mastering new material.
posted by salvia at 7:34 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

Thank you to those who gave scripted suggestions for how to respond kindly but firmly when the topic of man drama comes up in conversation (cranberrymonger, phearlez, DarlingBri, Neekee, 2soxy4mypuppet, salvia). I hope my friends will know that they can still come to me if something is seriously wrong. Argh, it’s so hard to find the right balance!

I think it's worth mentioning that part of that balance is also just what you're in the habit of talking about with that person. Many years back a friend of mine commented "you sure don't sound like you're enjoying this person." I'd gotten into this space where what I talked about with my friend was the things that I know he struggles with in relationships too, since we have similar personalities when it comes to introversion and personal time.

So when we talked I tended to focus on the grumps and conflicts and not the good stuff. Once he made that observation to me I realized what I was doing in conversations with him (and perhaps other folks) and made an effort to change how I talked about her. Because I very much was enjoying my time with that person - I went on to marry her and we're quite happy. But I wasn't bringing it up till he helped direct the conversation that way.

In my case it was just not giving my partner & relationship a fair description, but I don't see that it wouldn't a productive technique with folks in bad situations too. The troubled people Nattie describes are hopefully trying to learn to value themselves and hold out for proper respect and attention. Being a supportive listener can include asking someone what they're getting out of a situation and someone who is painting a complete picture for you is seeing it for themselves. Perhaps for the first time.

At the very least you might get to hear descriptions of the highs as well as the lows of that shitty metaphorical rollercoaster that 2soxy4mypuppet mentions.
posted by phearlez at 7:56 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would just like to add, Nattie, that your answer was absolutely freakin' incredible. I realize I wasn't the one asking the question, but your answer totally opened my eyes in more ways than one, and I wanted to thank you.

I'm very much like you were -- it's extremely, extremely difficult for me to understand the dynamic of growing up without a solid foundation of love and security. I will forever remember your clever example of the sea birds. I think it's an incredibly effective tool to recall that desperate sense of longing and abandonment that colors many peoples' existence, from very early on, and, in turn, the relationships they enter into throughout their entire lives.

It must be unfathomly difficult to go through life not knowing what true, unconditional love really feels like, and I am want to recall this often, when I feel the urge to simply judge. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
posted by Falwless at 8:10 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

OP, I'm sorry if my reply made you feel like you had to defend yourself. I want you to know that I really was trying to help, not making a personal attack. Obviously, I don't even know who asked the question, so of course I could have been way off base, and it sounds like I was!

I just honestly think that sometimes it's helpful to look at a problem from another angle in case someone hasn't really thought about the issue from all perspectives. My spouse and I frequently play "devil's advocate" when one of us feels the other isn't seeing the big picture.

Nattie's comment, though, is awesome, and perfect, and if I were you I'd just mark her answer 'best response' right now.
posted by misha at 8:36 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

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