Obnoxious friends
October 19, 2005 11:37 PM   Subscribe

How do I deal with my boyfriend's obnoxious and embarrassing friends?

I like (love...?) my boyfriend. He is cute, funny, sexy, sweet, and kind.

Unfortunately, I don't like some of his friends very much. While a some of them are very nice, there are a couple of them who I absolutely cannot stand.

One friend "Joe" is particularly noxious. He is loud, bigoted, ugly, and crude. To give you some idea of what he is like, I haven't seen a photo of him without a rebel flag being used as a backdrop. He has a disdain for "faggots" and yeah you get the picture...

My boyfriend has known these white trash pals since childhood and highly values their friendship. Next tuesday I'm going up to his place and I have to spend the whole day with these chumps tagging along.

What should I do? Is the relationship doomed to failure if I can't stand his mates?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (43 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered the possibility that your boyfriend is only a quieter version of his friends?
posted by rdr at 12:24 AM on October 20, 2005

Well, often childhood friendships endure even when people grow into very different people. So it's not necessarily true that your boyfriend is just a quieter version of his child friends. In some ways you have to think of these friends as your boyfriend's family members, they may be obnoxious, but your boyfriend still cares about them and isn't going to break off his contact with them just because you don't like them. I guess in the end you have to weigh if your dislike for them (and the amount of time you spend with them) is greater than your feelings for your boyfriend. I don't think you should try to force him to stop seeing his friends.
posted by sic at 12:42 AM on October 20, 2005

It's a tough area to tread in. On the one hand you really need to let your boyfriend know how uncomfortable you are around them, because he has known them for so long and is probably completely oblivious to the fact that other people do not see them the way he does. Make sure he knows how uncomfortable you feel, and the specific reasons why.

But, you do not want to be too firm in your disdain for them, because he may react poorly if he gets the idea that you expect him to cease spending time with his friends, or try to change them, etc. I don't know the dynamic of your relationship but this could turn into one of those "she's trying to change me, to take away the things I like" emotions that causes him to react strongly by being hostile, distant, moody, etc.

To an extent his awful friends are a part of him, and if you care for him as much as you say then one way or another you will have to come to some level of accepting that you might have to occasionally be around them. Conversely, if he insists on making you spend lots of time in their presense and cannot understand "what's so bad about them" and how miserable they make you feel, then he is not being very considerate.

So I guess this is just a long winded way of saying that you might have to compromise on this one. Unless this is an absolute deal breaker for you to continue to be with him, it seems quite unfair to insist that he cut them out of his life completely. And he has to realize at the same time how awful they make you feel.

Maybe you can work something out where he hangs out with them occasionally, but at times when you would be otherwise unavailable - like when you have to work, or it's "guys night out", whatever. Or perhaps you might agree that you'll be around them, but only if there are a number of other people present (such as at a party or BBQ or something) so that you can tune them out.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:12 AM on October 20, 2005

I haven't seen a photo of him without a rebel flag being used as a backdrop.

This crosses an arbitrary line that I've drawn in the sand. I wouldn't care how many dead hookers he helped me bury. Stand up for your principles and chose never to associate with this asshole or those who would give him comfort. I bet you'll be proud of yourself.
posted by sockpup at 1:33 AM on October 20, 2005

I have an old friend or two who I love but are considered pretty insufferable, I think anyone who's stayed close to those they grew up with does. You don't list "smart" amongst your boyfriend's attributes but I'd still wager he knows his friends can be hard to take, and you're probably not be the first girlfriend to have an issue with them.

Don't try to come between him and his friends, he values them for reasons you can't understand. Just give him the time and space to spend time with them without you. You can either tell him (nicely) that you're uncomfortable around them, or just excuse yourself from activities involving them.
posted by cali at 1:37 AM on October 20, 2005

You can merely "allow" your boyfriend "boys-only time" when he hangs with these pals. Yes, occasionally you may have to interact with them, but just choose not to be around them.

I've found that by making pals with couples, that my boyfriend and I find that we can spend time with eachother, with other people, and be happy all together.
posted by k8t at 2:43 AM on October 20, 2005

How could you allow someone who considers racism and these other behaviors tolerable, and even entertaining (he does hang out with this guy for fun) to lay a hand on you without cringing?
posted by leapingsheep at 4:30 AM on October 20, 2005

it depends.

are these the kind of friends he complains constantly about behind their backs but is so used to them being around he doesn't do anything about it, or are they brother type buddies?

sometimes guys don't realize that they need to cut some dead weight (same goes for women) and need a nudge, but if this isn't the case, don't even try. you need to accept it, or walk. keep in mind, walking isn't such a horrible thing.

i have three friends i've known my entire life and they are like brothers. any girl i date knows, up front, if we become anything serious, as long as they are not married, there is always a room in my house for them. if she isn't okay with it, no problem, she can go do her thing.
posted by bryak at 4:39 AM on October 20, 2005

How could you...

it's called being human. maybe one day you'll understand.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:32 AM on October 20, 2005

it's called being human. maybe one day you'll understand
His lack of respectable principles is revolting and unattractive. The question was an attempt to talk some sense into anonymous before she wastes a valuable part of her life with someone like that.
posted by leapingsheep at 5:40 AM on October 20, 2005

His lack of respectable principles is revolting and unattractive. The question was an attempt to talk some sense into anonymous before she wastes a valuable part of her life with someone like that.

Uh.. just because someone might be friends with a racist or bigot doesn't mean that person is also a racist or bigot. One personality flaw doesn't nullify a person's worth.

I have friends with totally opposite political views and opinions than me, but I'd think myself a bigot if I considered that a good reason not to be their friend.
posted by wackybrit at 6:08 AM on October 20, 2005

Leaping, Andrew, wacky, you two are veering dangerously close to derailing this thread. This isn't about the boyfriend's values it's about Anon's problem with his friends.

Anon, I can't say whether you should leave your boyfriend or not. There is a decent chance that he'll never want to abandon these friends. In fact, if your relationship progresses far enough there is a good chance that most of these guys will probably be the groomsmen at your wedding. But remember that you will spend a lot more time with you boyfriend without them then with them; maybe that will make things easier.

In any case, if you decide to stay with your man, do not nag him about his friends. By all means let him know in clear but non-combative language that you disapprove of their behavior, then, if he refuses to sop seeing them, let it go. Do not make little remarks about them under your breath. Do not go into a litany of their transgressions when you and he are alone. Do not sigh dramatically and look disappointed if he mentions them. Do not remind him that you don't like them every single time he invites them over. Any and all of these behaviors will just cause tension with you and your guy.

Remember, if you force to choose between you and them, he may very well choose them.
posted by oddman at 6:26 AM on October 20, 2005

Birds of a feather flock together.

Try to keep as quiet as you can on Tuesday. Let boyfriend and friends act in whatever way seems natural. I believe you'll gain some insight into their character, and perhaps the decision about what to do will come easier for you.
posted by jellicle at 6:36 AM on October 20, 2005

Don't try to come between him and his friends, he values them for reasons you can't understand. Just give him the time and space to spend time with them without you.

There you go. Any other answer is sending you straight to breakupland. I've had weird and occasionally assholish friends all my life and various girlfriends and wives have had problems with them... so they avoided them. Fine with me. They're my friends; I don't need everybody in my life to enjoy their company.

And leapingsheep, you stand out as a prig even on a site full of PC prigs. Jesus. Anyone with a Confederate flag should be, what, castrated? Sent to an offshore island? Turned into mulch? I'm glad you and your friends are so right-thinking and perfect; please just stay out of my bars.
posted by languagehat at 6:38 AM on October 20, 2005

I would have a problem being in a relatioship with a man who "highly values" a person like Joe. Some friends have an expiration date, and being able to choose the quality of friends you surround yourself with is a benefit of adulthood.

But anyway, if you want to save your sanity and integrity and relationship for now, I think you just have to bow out when your boyfriend has buddy-time. Don't get all sniffy about it, just let him do his thing with the boys and you do something else.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:54 AM on October 20, 2005

I'll second andrew cooke and languagehat. First off, shunning people usually only reinforces the behavior that caused the shunning, so getting pissy about a Rebel flag is counterproductive and merely makes you look like the stereotypical "prissy schoolmarmish girlfriend spoiling everyone's fun."

Second, people choose their friends for all kinds of reasons. I've had friends that mrs. jonmc didn't care for, and vice versa, but you cut the ones you love slack and assume that they serve some purpose in their life, even if it's just somebody to get obnoxiously male with.

He has a disdain for "faggots" and yeah you get the picture...

My boyfriend has known these white trash pals

Irony. It's good for the blood. Getting sniffy about one slur and retorting with another dosen't exactly up your credibility here.
posted by jonmc at 6:56 AM on October 20, 2005

NTM, I have friends who make this Joe guy look like the love child of Alan Alda and Noam Chomsky. You people need to leave your bubbles more often.

just listen to Tammy:

You'll have bad times
And he'll have good times
Doing things that you don't understand
But if you love him you'll forgive him
Even though he's hard to understand
And if you love him
Oh be proud of him
'Cause after all he's just a man
posted by jonmc at 6:58 AM on October 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

A person's friends say much about 1) who they are; 2) what they want out of life; 3) where they are going to end up.

If you don't want to spend time with someone's friends, then don't. But very seriously, I'd think about cutting the cord on any relationship where the other person picked losers to hang with.

Who's going to be the best man at your wedding? Who's going to be "over at the house" hanging out with your kids?

Get out.
posted by ewkpates at 7:05 AM on October 20, 2005

Some of the responses in this thread are incredibly revealing. (Politics of a Rebel flag aside). The sniffy churh ladies underneath the egalitarian front come out to play.
posted by jonmc at 7:07 AM on October 20, 2005

jonmc typed: " Getting sniffy about one slur and retorting with another dosen't exactly up your credibility here."

But it sure can't hurt it any. It's perfectly okay to be bigoted against poor white people around here, especially (but not limited to) Southern and/or "red state" ones! What alternative-universe Metafilter have YOU been reading?
posted by davy at 7:12 AM on October 20, 2005

"Is the relationship doomed to failure if I can't stand his mates?"

Yes, I believe it is doomed. If you can't stand his friends, and somehow manage to isolate him or help him get some new friends, he could end up resenting you. Or, if he doesn't drop the old friends, you will end up resenting him and the time he spends with his friends. I foresee countless arguments over the issue, unless you can get over your dislike of them and agree to disagree. Good luck.
posted by cass at 7:21 AM on October 20, 2005

Anon, some people seem to think my first comment was being judgemental toward you. I wasn't. I only asked that hard question to inspire your reflection on the idea.
posted by leapingsheep at 7:22 AM on October 20, 2005

point taken, davy. But it dosen't up her credibility with me is what I'm saying.
posted by jonmc at 7:28 AM on October 20, 2005

This is so typical. My experience is a girl will like to be around a bad sort of guy, But the moment some time has passed she wants to reform him by jettisoning his friends and turning him into a stay-at-home.

Men put notches in headboards from having sex, women do it by settling men down.

It sounds like you can't deal with his autonomy. Bad things lie ahead.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 7:30 AM on October 20, 2005

I've been in a relationship where I thought he was great, but hated his friends and couldn't see why they hung out together. It turned out that they were actually pretty similar, and my viewpoint as a girlfriend was affecting my view -I'm sure all their girlfriends though they were smart sensitive guys with fucked up friends.

That said, I think you need to try to look at this in a different way. I'm especially saying that because some of the stuff in your post made with sympathize, but some of it made me cringe.

First, try to think about what your boyfriend is getting from his friends. How do they treat him? If they've been rocks of support for him since childhood and (or) spending time with them makes him happy, I think you need to deal, or leave. What does he see in them? If he's so smart, surely it must be something of value to him. However, if they're genuinely mean (not joking mean) to him, or exclude him from stuff, or hanging out with them leaves him feeling worse, you might have some room to separate them - you might be giving him a welcome 'out' -but I think that's unlikely.

Second, you might think about exactly what it is that's bothering you. If it's outright racism or homophobia, ok, but if it's their class, or their style, or their physical unattractiveness, or that you think they're stupid, that might be your problem, and a pretty unattractive feature itself. Why don't you interact with them a bit more? challenge them occasionally when you feel like it might be received ok. I'm not saying you can change them, but you might be able to get along, and make them behave a little better around you and maybe make them think a little bit. If you act as snobbish around them as you sound here, they might be acting up to get rid of you.
posted by crabintheocean at 7:45 AM on October 20, 2005

My girlfriend has hated some of my friends, and has just refused to be around them. To some extent, that highlighted some of the things that kinda bugged me but I put up with...
Long story short, I found another pot dealer and haven't really seen Alex since...
posted by klangklangston at 7:51 AM on October 20, 2005

I'm with cali, oddman, and languagehat. It's perfectly fair to say, "look, the stars & bars thing makes me uncomfortable, so when you want to go hang out with the boys, that's fine, I'll go do my own thing."

Cross-pollinating a new girlfriend/boyfriend with their respective longtime friends is often a tricky thing. I had an ex who hated all of my friends and wanted me to only hang out with his friends, and that was purely a control thing on his part. My friends are still my friends, and he's now an ex, and that's no accident.

Since they go back a long way, you might ask him to tell you about what their friendship meant when they were younger. You may learn some interesting things about your boyfriend.
posted by ambrosia at 8:00 AM on October 20, 2005

In my experience, young men often "use" obnoxious friends as a kind of filter for serious relationships with women. It sounds like you haven't quite decided whether or not this boy friend of yours is a serious contender for being your soulmate, and maybe, at this point, he hasn't made that decision about you either. He probably knows his pals are obnoxious, and capable of seeming even more so when they want to. Seeing his pals with you can have a number of simultaneous and even conflicting purposes, but one of these can be simply put, although it may not be the only thing going on at the time, or even the main thing at one of these gatherings. Basically, the way this works is that he puts you in a distasteful situation with them to see how tolerant you really are of bad behavior, and how gracefully you handle yourself when trying to accommodate people and situations that he identifies to you as being important to him.

In those situations, he hopes to discover that you can not only be graceful, but even charming, and become valuable to those obnoxious friends, perhaps even to the point of becoming liked by them, to the point they become willing to self-moderate their behavior. In doing so, he also hopes to discover that you will be able to be graceful about ugly aspects of his own personality you may yet discover. Maybe he even hopes that your presence will open conversations about their obnoxious behaviors, that will give him an indirect way of commenting on his friend's habits himself. Maybe he hopes that by coming to know you, his friends behaviors and attitudes will change a little, to become more like yours. And in the whole process, he'll learn a lot more about you as well.

Stressful though it may be, passing up these occasions short circuits a good channel for discovering many things about your boy friend for you, and closes off many chances to understand why these guys remain important to him. If you don't work at this, you're putting a blindfold on yourself that you won't get off easily. And you may find that the most objectionable language and attitudes do moderate eventually in your presence, once it becomes apparent to the prime offenders that you are important to your boyfriend, and likely to be a regular attendee at gatherings he attends. A lot of young guys "act out" quite a bit around strangers, particularly if they feel the strangers are far different than they are, and are uncomfortable bridging the gap, or feel somewhat inferior in education, travel history, etc.

As to what you can do about it, at least to see whether the relationship with your boyfriend is worth pursuing, I have a couple of thoughts. First is, don't feed the bears. If you respond negatively directly to what is being said around you, or acted out for your "benefit," you can count on more of it. If you minimize your reaction to it, and try to respond positively mostly to any creeping hint of civilized behavior you find in the cretins, you may eventually get more civilized behavior, and less garbage. You also get a chance to demonstrate that you can be tolerant, which may be important to your boyfriend, and get to let the louts find out something about you that they will find interesting enough to want to pursue on your terms. Example: They start regaling your boyfriend with accounts of a recent deer hunt he missed, because he was spending time with you. You think killing Bambi is awful. They go on for 30 minutes talking about how they climbed into a tree stand, and finally got a shot, and spent the rest of the day tracking the blood trail, and are especially graphic about the blood trail when they see you blanch. You say nothing about Bambi or blood, but when you get the chance, you ask what they do on hunt days they don't get a shot. They start telling you about how pretty the woods are in the fall, and how they really hunt just to be outdoors. You share your best outdoor walk in the woods story. End result? You find that both you and the cretins think fall is the best season for being outside, and they may suggest a really pretty place to go sometime, that you didn't know about. Your boyfriend may even get a chance to tell his buddies he never really liked getting up all that early to go sit in a tree stand himself. Sure, it could happen...

Second suggestion is, try to find out if your presence is provoking those you've identified as louts into greater loutishness, and if so, make it clear that you're wise to that, and aren't impressed. But do it with a sense of humor. Best example I can think of is a sign an attractive female co-worker once put up in her office. It said "Episodes of sexual harassment will not be reported, but they will be graded." If the faggot bit seems to be rolled out just to get a rise out of you, you could pop in, with a straight face, a truly terrible gay joke that also slams racial stereotypes, and close off with "I bet [insert boyfriends name] $5 that you, particularly, would find that funny. And boy! is that $5 gonna come in handy as my donation to Lesbians for Social Justice."

Third strategy is to confuse and dilute bad behavior by introducing some non-verbal communication of your own. You may not be comfortable with flirting, and might even think it is not cool to try this in the presence of your boyfriend, but you'd be surprised how easily groups of young men can be divided and conquered by a little patently fake, totally obvious smiling and eye-batting. There's nothing wrong with being coquettish around rednecks, if you know how to do it, and can, but it seriously plays with their heads, and with the social fabric of the group. If you can do it naturally, touching the worst of the lot as soon as you can, whenever you meet them, can rachet this up to amazing levels. My theory on this is that young men in packs are as easily led as dogs, and when you pet the meanest one right away, the rest will want to be petted, too. I girl I dated as young man was so adept at this, that she frequently got groups of guys to move their furniture around to suit her, just for the evening, just as a way of proving to herself that she could. I know this, because eventually, she let me in on her private joke, and once I knew what she was doing, I was truly amazed at what she could get them to do for her.

Finally, on the theme of dilution, why go it alone? You may think his friends are cretins, and they may well be, but that's no reason not to see what your single girl friends have to say about the matter. You'd at least have stories to share with your girl friends, and if you broaden situations where you are the only female by adding in a couple of other girls of your choosing (pre-briefed maybe, and of sporting minds, along for the fun of it), you might be surprised at the difference in tone these gatherings develop.

Just some things to think about, all of which come down to suggesting that you choose to engage, rather than disengage these boors who are your boyfriend's pals. Because you'll learn things about your boyfriend, yourself, and this relationship quickly, that you'll learn no other way. And even if what you learn is that you don't want your boyfriend as a long term guy, what you learn about yourself, and get to practice in handling boors, will stand in you good stead always.
posted by paulsc at 8:18 AM on October 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

Oh, the other thing that I'd note is that I had a pal named Pat, who was very much one of the guys who would exclaim "Titties!" or openly sexist cracks about women at any opportunity, and my gf didn't like 'im much. I mentioned something in passing when he asked why she wasn't hanging out with us much anymore, and he made a concerted effort to both tone down his misogynistic tendencies and to include my girlfriend in more activities. Result? They get along great now, and I have less of a headache when they're both around (it also helps that he's moved to another city, so there's not the concentration of hostility).
But then, my friends and her friends integrated really well, so I dunno if that's a help.
posted by klangklangston at 8:20 AM on October 20, 2005

also, easiest way to defuse a loud homophobe (who usually talk bigger than they actually feel) is to simply say: "Gee, Joe, you're like an expert on fags. Where's you pick all this stuff up? You musta done a lotta research?" in front of his friends. I guarntee it'll quiet him down.
posted by jonmc at 8:25 AM on October 20, 2005

A person's friends say much about 1) who they are; 2) what they want out of life; 3) where they are going to end up.

Whatever happened to loyalty. I keep a wide range of friends. Some embarrass me, some I feel I could take anywhere, and some that are flat out boring. No single one reflects me but rather I have interest in the whole of them.

Some I have “matured” faster than and it annoys me at times but they are still my friend and I have a past with them that I respect. The thought of dumping them would feel too much to me as snobbish behavior (like I was trying to trade up.) I don't think this is how friendship works.
posted by Dr_Octavius at 8:31 AM on October 20, 2005

Anyway, to address your question, If they are old friends I think it is unfair to assume your boyfriend is anything like them.
posted by Dr_Octavius at 8:34 AM on October 20, 2005

Maybe I've misinterpreted this kind of behavior in the past, but I would almost go totally opposite what paulsc thinks -- if the relationship is still this early, he may be testing (consciously or not) not whether you can fit into his life, but whether you'll try to change him to fit your idea of what his life should be.

In other words, are you going to walk into the guys' poker game and start prissily waving your hand in front of your nose because of the cigar smoke, or are you going to kiss him good night and give him some space without making big demands.

As other have said, I'd just let him know that you don't really click with those friends enough to want to spend long, drawn-out time with them, but you hope he has fun. (And mean that -- again, no passive-aggressive snarking when he leaves you home.) I'd also make an effort to pursue friendships with his friends that you do like (if there are any) so that it doesn't come off as a control issue.

This is, of course, assuming you do want to come across as the girlfriend who makes no demands. If he's constantly testing you in this way, and you want to be something more than the chick he sees only every so often when there's not something better going on with his buddies, then you might want to reconsider the relationship (I speak from experience!).
posted by occhiblu at 9:02 AM on October 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

Just a scary, sad girl in a scary, sad world.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:19 AM on October 20, 2005

Also, what davy said about being bigoted against poor white people. "Ooh, he's got a Confederate flag—he's EEEVIL!" Walk a mile in his shoes before you sneer.
posted by languagehat at 9:52 AM on October 20, 2005

stairs, optimus? ;)
posted by skjønn at 10:03 AM on October 20, 2005

By the same token, though, I think anonymous can reasonably expect that if she's taking the time to go to his place (which makes it sound like it's travel, not like it's across town), that he can make some accommodation for her and arrange for some non-Joe time. If they're doing the long distance thang, then all the time she's not there is Joe-and-the-boys time.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:42 AM on October 20, 2005

I grew up with a bunch of what most people would consider "white trash" or "redneck" types, and I'll be the first to admit that they're racist, bigoted, and often mean-spirited towards those they consider "outsiders," but they also have such intense levels of loyalty that you don't often see in "big-city" friendships. They'll drive 100 miles in the rain or snow to pick you up from the airport. They'll wait for you at the train station at 3am. They'll take you out and get you drunk when your latest boyfriend or girlfriend dumped you because your "friends are too crude" and they'll make you pay for the bill, 'cause you won't have to spend your money on that bitch any more.

Do you get what I'm trying to say, Anon? His friends are people too, people your boyfriend probably likes better than you right now. It's up to you to decide whether or not you want to carve yourself into his life.
posted by muddgirl at 11:01 AM on October 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

but they also have such intense levels of loyalty that you don't often see in "big-city" friendships.

You see it a certain type of city people, the outer-borough meathead types. And that sense of loyalty is why I belive converting them is better than shunning them. One they've decided they like you, no matter what you are, they'll walk through fire for you. Imagine that kind of attitude on the right side of things.
posted by jonmc at 11:10 AM on October 20, 2005

Some friends have an expiration date, and being able to choose the quality of friends you surround yourself with is a benefit of adulthood.

Wise words, there.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:08 PM on October 20, 2005

Suck it up and deal with it. When you date someone, you date their friends, too. If you can't deal with it, you should break off the relationship. I'm sure there's a few things he dislikes about your friends.
posted by angry modem at 5:50 PM on October 20, 2005

. "Ooh, he's got a Confederate flag—he's EEEVIL!" Walk a mile in his shoes before you sneer.

You know what, they are, in fact, evil if they continue to display the Confederate flag in 2005. People who display the Confederate flag are committing treason and deserve the scorn right thinking people heap upon them.

If your boyfriend hangs out with the Stars and Bars crowd, you should not be surprised if he tells nigger jokes.

Whether that bothers you or not is your business, anon.
posted by haqspan at 11:27 PM on October 20, 2005

dividing the world into simple good & evil, right thinking & wrong thinking categories, haqspan? I thought only fundies did that.
posted by jonmc at 8:38 AM on October 21, 2005

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