Should I speak up to my guy friend, and if so, how...?
February 24, 2017 6:31 AM   Subscribe

My (36F) friend (46ishM) of 20+ years really wants a girlfriend, and he "talks" to me about it (email). I typically mind my own business and I don't give advice, but now I wonder if I should, and if so, how?

Years ago, he was early 30's, he went to another country and got engaged to a woman with a very different cultural background. I was excited for him, and then before she could get to the US to be with him, he was trying to hook up with other women, while engaged, ostensibly in a monogamous relationship. Of course, do I KNOW his relationship was meant to be monogamous? No. So, I minded my own business, and anyway, he did not hook up with someone else, and his fiancee met up with him, had a kid, got divorced...

The attempted hookup thing was a flag.

He demonstrated some transphobia one night-- not overt malice, just wariness and discomfort. This was a flag.

Now his emails talk about this young woman from a different country/culture that he's pursuing, and he says unkind things about her being vain, taking selfies, constantly texting, while also lamenting the fact she won't be exclusively committed to him. He's genuinely heartbroken but also genuinely acting like an idiot, IMO! I mention different culture because he then writes that he just wants a "normal American girl who doesn't play any games." Girl. He's in his late 40's.

Couple other yellow flags, but the above paints a pretty awful picture of him as is. The thing is, he's stayed my friend all these years because he surprisingly has a really good, caring heart. There are a couple non-relationship perspectives he holds that I might also tweak, if I was the fixer of personalities, e.g. he's dissatisfied with work and can be quite negative talking about his clients (who are... children). He's got a streak of discontent in lots of areas of life.

But, ok? But. He seems to genuinely want to improve and understand-- I gave the teeny-tiniest bit of advice once, and he wanted MORE. I'm not comfortable giving advice (see my answering history; it's not very advice-giving). It's like showing someone in a cave the sun; he appreciated my insight. However, I am the furthest thing from a guru (see my question and metafilter comment history; it's not at all enlightened).

Bottom line: Because of his good heart, our common interests that we share a good connection on, and our long history of friendship-- He's one of the only people I keep in touch with who knew me when I was young; we share a lot of background stuff-- I don't want to lose him as a friend. If his flags are too gross, it's easy for me to back off and reconnect with him months down the line.

Do you give advice? "Hey, women aren't girls. Girls don't have agency." HIM: "...?" "Hey, why don't you figure out what the fuck you want in a partner..." HIM: "...?"

Well, anyway, I want to help the guy out. I want to speak up at injustice. How do I approach this battle, or not at all? Scripts requested. I express myself adequately but I could definitely use some perspective about this.

posted by little_dog_laughing to Human Relations (18 answers total)
You have to accept that while he might be a good friend to you, as a man he wants what he wants. It may not make sense or work out for him, but you can't fix it. He's not a plant you can force to grow with special light bulbs from your insight.
posted by zadcat at 6:35 AM on February 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

You don't want to lose his friendship and you say you are the furthest thing from a guru. Sounds to me like you answered your own question. Continue on the non-advice giving path you are on.
posted by AugustWest at 6:39 AM on February 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think in the moment, you can make a gentle correction IF you have the wits to do so (I wouldn't) because it's important for your own self esteem to speak up.

"It makes me uncomfortable when you refer to grown-up adults as "girls." I'm sure you don't mean it, but it comes off as demeaning towards women."

These are tough things. I think you're uncomfortable about not sticking up for others when he puts them down, I would be! It sounds like it's his style to do this, and he sees no connection between the way he speaks and the results in his life. It's not your job to point out the bigger picture, it is important to speak up on a case-by-case basis if at all possible.
posted by jbenben at 6:47 AM on February 24, 2017 [8 favorites]

Sometimes it can be helpful to ask and then it's easier to follow up.

Him: "I just want a normal American girl who doesn't play any games."
You: "Would you like some advice at this point?"
Him: yes or no or whatever

In this way you are making it clear you have advice but you are not just making him your self-improvement project, you're giving advice if it's asked for.

And it may be that some of this stuff isn't things that HE cares about changing and you may have to make your peace with that. He sounds sort of negative and maybe not that socially aware. But sometimes being a good friend is getting outside your own comfort zone (of not offering advice) and being someone who can offer some "As a friend who has known you for a long time, you might have more luck if you ...." sorts of things.
posted by jessamyn at 6:54 AM on February 24, 2017 [23 favorites]

I have friends who do stupid shit, especially in relationships or when it comes to dating, and I tell them if/when they are being stupid, but I also only keep around friends who are okay with being called out on their shit and appreciate it, as I do when my friends call me out on my shit.

If you think he'll actually appreciate it and take it to heart, then by all means, take a stab at it. If he's not so open to suggestion/criticism after a few attempts, then withdraw. If you aren't comfortable giving advice, then don't. If his behavior really angers you or makes you uncomfortable, but you can't talk to him about it (either you don't want or he doesn't want to hear it), then maybe you should rethink your friendship.
posted by greta simone at 6:54 AM on February 24, 2017 [7 favorites]

Has he asked for advice or is he just confiding in you about his relationship worries? My own personal rule of thumb is never to give advice unless (a) the other person is actually, explicitly asking for my advice; (b) the other person is someone I am 100% sure would be happy to hear my advice, because of our close relationship and shared values and past; or (c) there is some kind of crisis situation (eg they are planning to commit a crime or to harm someone/themselves in some really unequivocal way). Unasked-for advice has the potential to backfire very badly and, in my view, only rarely actually helps anyone -- people have to be receptive to advice before they can internalise it, and the best evidence for that receptivity is the actual proactive asking for advice.

That said, it is perfectly reasonable to set boundaries for what you are prepared to deal with, not because you are trying to fix the other person's life but because of the standards you have for your own life. So you could perfectly reasonably say that it makes you uncomfortable when he harshly criticises this young woman to you, or when he says transphobic and homophobic things. That's not advice about his relationships, it's information about how you feel and want to be treated. But I would steer well clear of making the conversation about why, in your opinion, he doesn't have a girlfriend unless he explicitly asks for your opinon on that subject.
posted by Aravis76 at 6:59 AM on February 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

I had guy friends like this. I found that my choices narrowed down to "do all the emotional labor expected of a female significant other while ignoring the flags and the misogyny (or be prepared to do even more emotional labor / have exhausting terrible fights about important things that are just hypothetical games to him"


"This person is no longer a close friend, but a historical acquaintance"

There is absolutely nothing wrong The with the second choice. Especially since the first choice means you will never be able to be honest in that friendship, and that it is inherently unequal. And having relationships where you do all this work and can't even be honest is so, so, so much more draining than you think it is.

Step back. It's not your job to fix this person, and he doesn't sound like he's capable of having emotionally mature and reciprocal relationships (of any sort) with women.

(Seriously, talking shit about his maybe fiancé? That is also a flag. Consistently going for younger women from other cultures...I mean depending on context, maybe that's fine, but guys who do that from my culture? Also a flag.)
posted by schadenfrau at 7:27 AM on February 24, 2017 [19 favorites]

The one thing I remind myself of all the time, is that we are all many dimensional people and most of us are nice and caring in some ways and need work in others.

It really sounds like your friend has some terribly ingrained notions straight from the patriarchy. I'm terrible at doing this labor and still liking the person afterwards, so in your case, I might give him some reading and draw a hard boundary, I'm not your guide into the female psyche.
posted by advicepig at 7:30 AM on February 24, 2017

I tend to take greta simone's approach, especially when a friend has a recurrent bitchfest about something. Except for work stuff: I tend to view work as a necessary evil for most of us, so unless it seems like a real problem (like they can't keep a job), I keep my mouth shut about that.

I don't so much think of it as advice giving, though. I don't say, you should do X. I try to either voice why I'm worried, or ask them what they think is going to happen. If they're deliberately being obtuse pull a "Really?" With a pointed look.

Like for the girl thing I'd probably have blurted out "There's your problem dude. You're 40 and looking for girls, not women."

It's a bit harder to do over email, but it also gives you time to phrase things more delicately. Especially since you feel he's responded positively to "advice" before, go ahead and share your thoughts when something pops up. If he pulls back you can recalibrate and apologize of overstepping.
posted by ghost phoneme at 7:38 AM on February 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here's something very few platonic women friends will do for a man, but consider it:

You: "Friend, would you like some real advice?"

Him: "Sure."

You: "What do you mean by 'normal American girl' EXACTLY?"

Him: "_______________"

You: put yourselves in the shoes of "_____________" and give him your absolutely no-BS no-feel-good insight about what "____________" finds attractive and the ways that he can modify his approach to demonstrate those factors. And of course if turns out that "______________" is a 25 year old SEC top sorority sister with a 130 IQ, you might just have to tell him "sorry, can't be done."
posted by MattD at 8:08 AM on February 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Can you direct him towards outside resources like Dr. NerdLove or something?
posted by mskyle at 8:53 AM on February 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

You say that you're not comfortable giving advice, but it sounds like part of you WANTS to. And this guy sounds like he could stand to elevate his self-awareness.

Before you dive into offering advice and analyzing his personal life, ask yourself how he's likely to react to what you have to say. Is he the sort of person who will listen, reflect thoughtfully, and genuinely work to try and make changes? Or does he want to indulge in self-centered analysis, without ever making any real effort to change himself? When offered suggestions on actions that could be taken to make changes in his life, does he take action, or does he make excuses?

Because if he just wants to talk about his problems without doing anything about them, it's best if you continue holding your tongue.
posted by cleverevans at 10:05 AM on February 24, 2017

He is male and in his forties, this doesn't answer your question, but I want to offer it to help your perspective along: there is such a thing as "men who were born before feminism." Middle management is crawling with them.

Should you help him? Yes, if you want to maintain his friendship, but bear in mind that his "...?" responses aren't a challenge to your beliefs, they are an expression of his beliefs (or non-beliefs, as the case may be). Do you want to continue the friendship? If yes, then help him. It is hard for most men at any age to find a partner, and you will be doing a very good deed. You know him, right? Helping him find a woman is going to do far more to bring him around to your way of thinking than a series of call-outs. Let him discover that women are delightful and that, when you get involved with them romantically, they don't always put up with your shit. Dating should do things to him that your words can't.
posted by Mr. Fig at 10:09 AM on February 24, 2017

You can offer an observation without giving advice: "I see you repeating a lot of the patterns here that have made you unhappy in your relationships in the past."

If he asks, "What do I do about it?" You can say, "If I knew, I'd write a book of dating advice and sell it!" or whatever, just to say you see the problem but have no solution/advice. Sometimes it helps people to have their problem pointed out so they can see it more clearly and start solving it themselves. Or they can decide to try therapy where paid professionals help with the solving part
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:01 AM on February 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Ack, can't give you scripts without more specifics, but I do agree with everyone else that you have to decide how much you want to invest in this friendship. He wants advice, for sure. You can caution him you are not sure you give the best advice in the world, and you can tell him at times you don't know what advice to give, but you still have to make a decision here -- how good a friend do you want to be?

IF you choose to be an invested friend, then yes, good friends point out problematic behavior like sexualizing young girls. If he is good hearted as you say, then explaining how this sort of sexualization endangers and harms others will help the light bulb go off for him. And good friends point out how their friends are repeating self defeating and negative past behavior. And good friends make suggestions.

This is all a lot of work. Consider first if you want to do it.
posted by bearwife at 12:48 PM on February 24, 2017

I think that, honestly, you should do whatever you want to do. It sounds like you want to give advice, so give it. If that gets exhausting, stop giving it.

What you can't control is the outcome of your advice-giving or non-giving. You might start giving him advice and he might be receptive and start to change and it will be great! You might give him advice and he starts to get annoyed by it and back off from your friendship. Or my personal pet peeve: he may start coming to you more and more for advice that he never takes. Any of these are possibilities.
posted by lunasol at 1:10 PM on February 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think it couldnt hurt to give some advice. People cant change if they never come into contact with new view points. I wouldn't ask him if he wants "advice" though. I'd phrase it more like, "Would you like my opinion?" If he's truly open to change it will be more productive to be as gentle as you can. If he's not open to change he'll reject what you say no matter how you word it, so might as well erre on the side of gentleness.

I wouldn't spend tons of time on him though. If you see some positive changes, great, but dont waste time banging your head into a brick wall. He has enough flags that it sounds like a bit of a long shot to me.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:23 PM on February 24, 2017

He is male and in his forties, this doesn't answer your question, but I want to offer it to help your perspective along: there is such a thing as "men who were born before feminism."

Yeah, but this guy is in his forties.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:43 PM on February 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

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