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#236: My friend constantly critiques my relationship.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have this friend, and he’s pretty great. He’s been with his girlfriend for almost 5 years, and she’s pretty great too. Their relationship seems to work really well for them, at least from my outside perspective. What they have looks really different from what I tend to have with partners (note: simplifying a bit, I am a lady who monogamously dates dudes), which is good, because what I have had with my partners wouldn’t work for either of them, and what they have wouldn’t work for me.

The problem is, my friend seems to think that his relationship style is the One and Only Good Relationship Style, and every time I start seeing someone he starts passively-aggressively chiding me for not doing things The Right Way. I think it’s an ego thing; we met when he was 20 and I was 16, and he was older and wiser and worldlier and all of that stuff. I think that felt good for him, and he got used to it. But I’m 23 now. I know myself, and I’m learning what works for me. I’d like to be respected as a capable adult, and as the #1 expert on my own life.

It’s frustrating, because we talk about almost everything else; but I’ve been dating my boyfriend for about 10 months now, and I’d like to talk to my friend about that part of my life. But every time I do, he finds some irrelevant detail to pick at. “Huh, good story. Hey, do you know you almost always refer to yourself and your boyfriend as ‘we?’ You’re separate individuals, right? Just checking.” Or, “and you had that whole conversation over text message, you say? I dunno, it seems like you guys text a lot. You could probably get through a day without contacting him, you know. You probably won’t die or anything.” I’d like to get through a cute story about how me and my guy reacted to a passing puppy dog without hearing about how we hold hands too much in public, or something.

What makes it worse is that, while we’d been doing really well up until a couple weeks ago, me and my boyfriend are actually going through a something of a rough patch right now. I’m confident that we can work through it, and he’s said that he is too, but it’s going to take some time and effort. It would really help if I could confide in this friend, but I don’t want him to use it as an opportunity to judge me. I don’t even feel comfortable talking about it with mutual friends, because I worry that it will get back to him. It’s bad enough that things are a little awkward in my relationship right now. I don’t need to hear that it just proves I can’t date right.

So, my question: how do I talk to my friend about the way his little jabs make me feel? I’ve tried before, but he’s always retreated to the tried-and-true hiding place of the passive-aggressive: the closet of “but I never actually said that in those exact words!” And then he gets really condescending, because ha ha isn’t it cute she’s having feeeeeeeelings. I really want to be able to talk to him about this honestly.

Thanks,

Frustrated Friend

Dear Frustrated:

I can see why you are frustrated. Your friend is acting like a dickhead.

In this case, do not use politeness or wait (because it will only result in “I never said that” gaslighting later). Ask him directly to stop doing the thing immediately. Pretend you’re squirting the cat for jumping on the kitchen counter – the cat won’t remember that’s what she did an hour or a day later, but she will get off the counter right then!

Next time he critiques you, screw up your courage in the moment and say, firmly:

Hey, that was out of line. Stop critiquing the way I run my relationships.

Then be quiet. He will do a big song and dance and claim that’s not really what he’s doing and it’s your fault anyway for doing that thing he needs to critique. Trust me. That is what he will do.

Be quiet more. Let him finish.

Then say: “I really need you to hear me and to get it. Stop critiquing my relationships. It makes me feel shitty, and you are not my love-mentor.” DON’T get into specifics. This kind of person will always try to get into nitpicky “tell me exactly when I did that?” bullshit, and you’re not in a courtroom. Let him talk more. Then you can say “Listen, we’re not in a courtroom. I don’t need to ‘prove’ it to you in order to tell you that you make me feel shitty when you do that, and I need you to knock it off. When I tell you things about (partner), I’m not looking for advice.”

If he opens his mouth again, tell him “Look, the next words I want to hear from you are ‘I am sorry, I won’t do that anymore.’ Can you do that for me?

If he can’t? That conversation is OVER. End it. Change the subject firmly, and if at all possible, leave as soon as you can. You can try again in a couple of weeks. Or not. What he is demonstrating to you over and over again with his behavior is 1) he thinks he’s smarter than you and 2) he’s not a safe person to talk about your love life with because he will always make you feel crappy and like you need to second-guess yourself. So even if he apologizes, I would keep the discussions of your relationship to “Things are going great, thanks for asking!” in the future. He needs to unlearn some behavior around you before he’s back inside the circle of trust.

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109 comments
  1. robiewankenobie said:

    “I can see why you are frustrated. Your friend is acting like a dickhead.” ::bwahahahahahahaha:: what do you really think, captain?

    okay, but the captain is right. you might value your friend’s advice in all sorts of arenas – but you should agree to disagree on the topic of romance. and you need to straight up tell him to stop acting like a dickhead. stereotypically speaking, women tend to analyze a situation and want to talk it through, while (again, stereotypically speaking) men are more concise. don’t couch it, or try to be “nice” about it.

  2. delbelcoure said:

    “Listen, we’re not in a courtroom. I don’t need to ‘prove’ it to you in order to tell you that you make me feel shitty when you do that, and I need you to knock it off. ”

    Those right there are some powerful words!

    • Agreed. Love that. I’ve found that bluntness works better than reasoning. :)

  3. wally2069 said:

    Well the good captain here gives great advice even if giving far more consideration than I would.

    In short, if things continue this way, it sounds like you don’t need this “friend” in your life.

  4. If the friend were single or if he’s in an open relationship, I would say this is crush behavior, albeit weird and maladaptive crush behavior. I think it’s One True Wayism, and the only known cure — at least, the only cure I know if — is quarantining.

    • JenniferP said:

      I am going to get shit for this, but I smell Poly evangelism around the edges of this.

      • sasha said:

        I am going to get shit for this, but I smell Poly evangelism around the edges of this.

        I was thinking the same exact thing, what with the side note about being +/- monogamous

      • robiewankenobie said:

        This.

      • As a bona-fide poly person with a keen sense of the facepalmy, I’ll second that slightly-acrid smell of One-True-Way Polyvangelism. It is not a delicious smell.

      • alphakitty said:

        Maybe that, or maybe they just have a lot of different interests and go their separate ways a lot, but they really enjoy their time together when it happens, and he needs to convince other people that this is not just as good as but better than being part of a couple where both people like to do a lot of the same stuff and they wind up spending most of their time together… because he’s a little insecure about that. I had a friend like that once. Terribly annoying, having someone act like there’s something wrong with spending most of your leisure time with the person you love.

      • maggie said:

        That, or SUPER FEMINIST RELATIONSHIPPERY!!!!

        “Hey, do you know you almost always refer to yourself and your boyfriend as ‘we?’ You’re separate individuals, right? Just checking.” sounds like that to me. IOW “He doesn’t own you, you’re not his chattel! Be your own woman! You don’t need him! You are a strong, beautiful, capable woman!” Other than mentioning monogamy, my poly-radar is not really pinging. As said by a polyamorous feminist, however…well, the examples sound like something the poly-feminists I know would say.

        In any case, friend does not sound like much of a friend.

        • JenniferP said:

          This is also extremely plausible! And kind of Hugo Schwyzer-y (that is not a compliment).

          • Ethyl said:

            Even reading that name makes me squicked out. LW, if something in your life can be compared to Hugo Schwyzer, that is not such a good sign.

          • JenniferP said:

            Ha, Ethyl, “Let me tell you how you SHOULD feel…when I jizz on your face.”

            He fills me with shiny hate.

          • piny said:

            Well, at least it’s only shiny hate. *ducks* This is a nice-guy strategy: I Am the Only Man Who Respects You (Now Fuck Me).

          • Ethyl said:

            “Let me tell you how you SHOULD feel…when I jizz on your face.”

            DO. NOT. WANT. Yuck.

          • JenniferP said:

            CORRECT.

            HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATE.

            See also “Banging Your Students is Wrong! But Totally Fun While It Lasts: The Hugo Schwyzer Story”

            HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATE.

          • Ethyl said:

            Oh I dunno, what could be better than “Yeah I Totally Tried To Kill My Girlfriend, MY BAD, Let Me Tell You About Feminism Now!”

          • KL said:

            How about “I tried to kill my girlfriend, so you shouldn’t feel guilty about letting your dog out by accident” ?

          • JenniferP said:

            That little scamp! I mean, we’ve all made bloopers and oopsies, right? (No. No we haven’t.)

          • Ethyl said:

            GAWD, why are you so MEAN to him? Anyone can make a mistake, and learn and grow from it, and get to a point where they are jizzing all over their students, right? I mean, it’s so UNFAIR that you won’t let people forget their minor mistakes that are all in the past, anyway!!!

          • JenniferP said:

            Ethyl, I’ll dedicate a song to you next time I’m at karaoke – “Killing Me Softly (With His Jizz)”
            :D

          • Ethyl said:

            Well, on the plus side, I’ve done my part for the economy by investing in ear plugs.

      • Lauren said:

        Oh dang, that is a very plausible subtext for this letter. If that’s the case, I am also suspicious that this dude might be crushing on LW and that is amplifying to dickishness. To his mind, if he were to win LW over, then he would get to both be right *and* LW would then be a real possibility for him. That could explain the obnoxious full court press to critique her relationships when they are otherwise close.

        Honestly, even if there’s no poly angle at play here, he might have some unresolved feelings that are coming out in unflattering ways because LW is way off limits for him. After all, they are in other relationships, they have a valuable friendship and maybe they only recently have graduated into equals because of the age difference and so the feelings must Never Be Spoken. I’ve seen this before and it leads to strange and out of character behavior like, say, being WAY too opinionated about other people’s romantic relationships.

        Which excuses nothing and if anything argues for LW to put some more distance between them. In any case, he needs to be brought back into line as per the Capn’s orders. He’s being awful.

      • Ldubs said:

        That is exactly where my mind went. Polyvangelism for sure and probably the afore-mentioned feminist guy who, for some inexplicable reason, thinks that his “enlightened” attitude about gender roles and relationship roles gives him permission to tell his lady friends that they are being ladies wrong. I hate that guy. I hate the liberal mansplainer guy worse than the niceguy. Just, ugh.

        • Christen said:

          This. I don’t necessarily buy the crush angle (though it’s certainly possible that’s why the resentment is so pronounced), but I definitely also smelled smug polyvangelism/my-relationship-is-more-feminist-than-yours stuff. Gross.

        • Omfg I want to put the Liberal Mansplainer in stocks and throw vegetables at him. Whereas I merely wish to ignore the Nice Guy TM for all time.

      • Hey, I’m poly, and I still think this kind of evangelism (particularly when it makes monogamous people feel like shit about being monogamous) stinks. No worries from me.

      • KL said:

        Yes! I was thinking this– and feeling bad for thinking it, but thinking it all the same.

    • PomperaFirpa said:

      I think it’s One True Wayism, and the only known cure — at least, the only cure I know if — is quarantining.

      Possible even without crush behavior being involved. I’m actually starting to wonder– LW, if you’re reading, is his tendency to pick some poor inconsequential detail to death a thing on many topics, or just the topic of your relationship? And does your friend always sound like my dad? because that’s just wrong for a dude in his 20s.

  5. Sheelzebub said:

    “I’d like to get through a cute story about how me and my guy reacted to a passing puppy dog without hearing about how we hold hands too much in public, or something.”

    This is PERFECT. The next time your nagging friend makes one of his comments, answer back with this.

    And yes, what the Captain said. All of it. Especially with the “I need to hear that you are sorry and that you will not do it again.” And if he continues to do it, put space between the two of you. Because oh holy shit. It’s one thing to say, “I’m not much of a texter myself,” and other thing to make snide comments about how you don’t have to text all day. (Thanks, cupcake! I’ll give your advice all the consideration it deserves.)

    I believe the Captain wrote a post about ladylike bitchery and comebacks which may be helpful to you, as well.

  6. sasha said:

    What the Captain – and everyone else – said. This guy seems to think he’s All Wise And Knowing. I hate to say it, but reading your letter I’m picturing someone like this in my head. I’m sure he’s better than that – he is your friend after all! But he’s flashing some major red flags here. I think you need to call him out on his behavior as clearly as possible. Good luck!

  7. Stentor said:

    Then be quiet. … Be quiet more.

    This is important. The reason that what he’s doing is wrong is that you don’t like it. You are the authority on what you don’t like. Therefore there is literally no valid rebuttal he could make. If you engage with his excuse-making, you’re implying that there is some debate to be had about whether his critiques were out of line or not. Let him wear himself out, then repeat that you don’t like it.

    • Elle said:

      THIS THIS THIS

      Ugh, I’m a law student and you have to let go of your side of the rope.

      • Elle said:

        By which I mean, I spend time with other law students who do this about everything and the only way to win is not to play.

      • “… you have to let go of your side of the rope.”

        I have to remember this forever. Thank you.

    • Britt said:

      That silence, while holy crap soooo uncomfortable the first few times you use it, is incredibly powerful, especially if you’re dealing with someone who is an overexplainer who tends to fill uncomfortable spaces with lots of babble (and this guy sounds like one of those to me, at least).

  8. What the? Your older wiser friend sounds like a jealous ‘splainer.

    He would like to ‘splain to your delicate ladybrain all about how you are doing romance wrong. Possibly because he wishes you were doing romance wrong with him, or maybe he just feels like every new romantic relationship you’re in is a threat to your friendship. (Oh god, maybe she’s going to let her boyfriend give her all the ‘splaining now!)

    Just because he’s older doesn’t make him wiser. And 4 years isn’t really THAT much older once you are in your 20s. Call him on his BS. It’s good for both of you. He needs to know he can’t bully everyone around and you deserve your choices to be respected.

    • kathleendonohue said:

      THIS. So plausible.

  9. PomperaFirpa said:

    Oh God. I actually had this confrontation with one of my friends, once upon a time, regarding my relationship with the man I eventually married. I think it’s the closest thing we’ve had to a fight, ever, and we’ve known each other for half our lives. I meant it, my friend backed off, and things have been pretty good ever since. So that might happen! and I sincerely hope it does, for your sake.

    On the other hand, once upon a time my therapist explained to me that if I always collapsed emotionally after talking to Dad about [subject], that even though I really, really wanted to be able to discuss things like adults when it came to that subject, it might be better for my mental health– and for my relationship with my dad– to firmly avoid that subject with him. Dad was not good about my boundaries; he’d always find a way to slip a “that’s all I’m saying, and now I’ll shut up” comment over my insistence that I had a handle on everything. I grieved for a while on the Dad I Wasn’t Going To Get, and started avoiding the subject with him. If he tried to bring it up, I’d interrupt him with one of my CHANGING SUBJECT phrases in mid “I just have one thing to say and then I’ll shut up” (because, honestly, if he really wanted to shut up he’d do it BEFORE HE SAID IT) and he’d be pissed. Eventually we worked it out.

    If your friend doesn’t respect your boundaries on this, and the Captain’s awesome advice doesn’t keep your friend from telling you your business, this is not a friend you can talk about your relationships with. And I know that sucks! It sucks to admit that this friendship is not going to work the way you want! But being friends doesn’t have to mean you talk about EVERYTHING. You may end up having a better relationship with your friend if your romantic life is off the table for discussions.

    Good luck!

    • Oh god the Dad you can’t talk to about things is also the Dad that I have. For like a year and a half I have been so firm about not discussing politics with him. And then over Easter I was weak and we really got into it. As usual he insulted me and wheedled and we yelled at each other for about a half hour. And though for once I didn’t end the conversation in tears, I do feel like it damaged our relationship. But this was what he wanted, to have me try to explain my point of view so he could tell me it made no sense. (And then follow up a few hours later with “Deep down you know I’m right, you just wont admit it.”) I am Shinobi’s Regret.

      • PomperaFirpa said:

        Oh, honey, don’t I know it.

        Things I cannot discuss with my dad:

        1) My weight, my eating, or anything he wishes to push the shame buttons about, past or present.
        2) My mother’s weight, eating, or anything he wishes to shame her through me about. (Which. seriously. what the fuck.)
        3) My relationship with my husband, beyond the “we’re doing great!” catch-all.
        4) My / my husband’s parenting techniques.
        5) Politics. Oh God.
        6) Religion. Oh God.

        The hilarious thing is that, having applied these filters to our relationship, we can actually just hang out and enjoy each other’s company and chat about things that do not make the world go BOOM. Without the filters? BOOM.

        • ugh okay I know this might be too personal to ask and you totally don’t have to answer if it is – but how do you DO THAT?? I just cut off contact with my mom recently because I can’t talk to her about #3, except it’s worse because my partner just realized she is a trans lady and not a cis dude, and my mom HATES the queers and I had been simmering about it for ages but had let it slide because I thought “oh, ended up w/cis dude, not going to be a thing again”. also we have weird history where she pretends my depression/anxiety aren’t real and that she did the right thing by ignoring my teenaged pleas for therapy.

          anyway I guess what I’m asking is how do you have a relationship you can feel good about with someone who disregards your boundaries/major other relationships/health/identity? like, what does that feel like for you? how did you decide it was worth it or healthy to keep him in your life? I keep feeling horribly guilty for not being able to do this, and I want to know your secret :(

          • JenniferP said:

            Sometimes you can’t. And sometimes you can’t without biting your tongue really, really hard.

            I know you asked PomperaFirpa, but I’ll tell you what worked for me.

            When I told my Grampa I didn’t want to talk about politics with him anymore, he got really, really mad. And he barraged me with political emails. And I didn’t respond, and he got really mad and didn’t talk to me either for a while. And then he sent me self-pitying emails about how he fell down one time and was going to die soon mixed in with the politics, so I responded to the personal stuff and ignored the rest. Over time, he learned that if he talked to me about personal stuff, he would get my enthusiastic attention, but that I would ignore all political baiting completely. I also called or wrote to him periodically about “safe” matters and pretended the fight did not exist. Over time (it took…a year? 2?) he decided he wanted my attention more than he wanted to rail about how abortion must be made illegal so that Arabs don’t outbreed selfish Western white women who have a duty to produce Christian babies for the fatherland (I wish I were making any of that last sentence up, but, no).

            In some ways it comes down to love and family history triumphing over his need to be right, but in some ways it doesn’t. As much as I loved him, he needed and wanted my attention more than I needed his, and when I withdrew it he decided to make the effort to change how we communicated. It could have ended with us never talking again, which would have been so, so sad. At the end? The last time I saw him, and the last few times I talked to him before his death? There was only love.

          • Rosa said:

            Sometimes, the relationship you can feel good about it is the one you cut off. i can think really good, empathetic, understanding thoughts about my dad, as long as I don’t have to actually talk to him for more than about 35 minutes a year. So I can have a relationship with him that makes him feel better (more time together) or one that makes me feel better (less time together.) I picked me.

          • monsterzero said:

            Holy frijoles, Cap’n A, I thought my mom’s politics were bad but your Grampa wins some kind of prize. I am currently in the “pretending the fight doesn’t exist” phase with her and we’ve had one phone conversation this year which was mostly us talking about our cats.

            Up until last year, I was communicating and visiting with her mostly out of guilt and only recently realized that (regardless of what she says) she doesn’t actually like the communicating and visiting any more than I do.

          • PomperaFirpa said:

            Oh, hon, DO NOT FEEL GUILTY. YOU ARE A GOOD AND WONDERFUL PERSON AND YOU ARE LOVED, and hugs to your partner as well. Only you are going to be able to do the math and figure out if it’s worthwhile, or possible, to keep a strictly limited relationship open with your mom. My situation is not your situation! So, like, GIANT GRAIN OF SALT applied right here.

            The thing is, I don’t have a relationship with someone who disregards my boundaries &etc., because I have a big ol’ punishing device I can use if Dad misbehaves: he wants contact with me more than I want contact with him, and I live several states away. If I don’t want to talk to him, I don’t have to. And– and this is wimpy and dumb, I kind of hate to admit it– when I got together with Mr. Firpa, my dad went into Best Behavior In Front Of Company mode, so for the most part all I had to do was smack Dad down when he started to relax back into his old ways. It’s maintenance, not having to start from scratch; he’s obviously capable of acting civilized and avoiding subjects on his own, having been raised in a very polite Midwestern family, so it’s just a question of keeping him on that programming instead of letting him get goofy on me. So I just got very, very lucky on that one.

            I had to abandon some of the good things I wanted, like getting to talk about the things I was proud of or happy about re: the verboten subjects, and I had to give up on ever getting to get him to change his mind on some things or getting to do a good smackdown of PROOF. I can’t risk opening the can of worms even for good reasons; I have to hold the line. It sucks.

            My point, somewhere in here, is that a lot of this was out of my control. If Dad didn’t want contact with me enough to deal with my strictly-enforced boundaries, I would be out of luck, and I would have to cut him off, and that would suck a whole lot. I think that you might want to consider bringing in the professionals, i.e. a good therapist who is up on family relationships and trans folks, and get some quality backup for piecing together what you want with your mom, where the boundaries should be, and a good plan of action for how to make that happen or how to deal with it not happening.

            Good luck. You deserve joy, and I am so sorry that your mom is not helping with that.

        • Sarah G. said:

          Heh – that’s my mom.

          I can’t talk to her about ANYTHING from my childhood, about religion, about the Confederate South, about State’s Rights, about racism, or about the environment. Other than that, we can talk all day long. My mom is a zero-carbon ban-all-the-cars-this-year evangelical environmentalist who believes in state’s rights, knows the Confederacy was just defending themselves, and abhors racism. She’s a Catholic/Presbyterian (she’s not sure) and she was pretty horrid when I was growing up.

          I’m a moderate environmentalist who’s into social justice, thinks the 10th Amendment is a disaster, thinks the Confederacy was Just Plain Wrong, and is agnostic. She’s an armchair historian and I’ve two degrees in US history. We fight the Civil War at home every time I’m not careful about what I say. Oh – and we’re both teachers, and we fight about that, too.

        • Are we sisters? For reals. Oy. I just keep failing at maintaining my boundaries, and he keeps pushing.

    • JenniferP said:

      Great points here. I know I push the “You have the option to end this relationship” angle pretty hard here, and I don’t honestly think that most people should set fire to all of their friendships and family relationships over disagreements.

      I do it because:

      1) I think it’s helpful to remind yourself that you can walk away from the conflict entirely, if you need to. It might not be easy, or desirable, but you CAN end relationships or take a big fat break from them if they are a constant source of anger and stress. So if you continue to engage, you’re choosing to engage and you have some power/choice over how you engage.

      2) Some friends/relatives are best in small doses. Or you must agree to stay away from certain topics with them. My grampa, who died at 96, was terrified by 9/11 and spent his final years hunkered in front of Fox News or the Cranky Old Man Internet (where animated gifs of eagles and many-fonted rants come from). I loved him and he loved me, but we could NOT talk about politics at all and I had to make that a hard and fast rule in our relationship, to the point where I built an email filter that sent any emails from him with the words “Obama”, “birth certificate”, “Muslim,” etc. directly to the trash.

      Sometimes the way you navigate certain relationships is to set your expectations very realistically. It allows you to enjoy them for the good things they bring to your life and cut them off/withdraw/agree not to discuss the areas that don’t work. It also frees you from trying to change them.

      • xenu01 said:

        I just have to say that every time you mention the Cranky Old Man Internet and its features (many-fonted rants, sparkly gifs, islamophobia etc) I pretty much fall over laughing.

        • JenniferP said:

          He lived in an alternate reality, fer sure. I will think more on this – perhaps there is a Funny or Die piece to be made.

          • commanderlogic said:

            Don’t forget the Concerned Mom Internet. It also has the many-fonted and sparkly-gifed forwards, but they are mostly about angels throwing pennies from heaven and murder-rapists hiding in your car.

          • wondering said:

            Speaking as someone who has Cranky Old Man and Really Scary Fundie Christian relatives, may I be the first to say That would be awesome!

          • xenu01 said:

            Oh my god, commanderlogic, I get visited from the Concerned Mom internet regularly! Does yours include outdated LOLcats as well?

          • piny said:

            “…angels throwing pennies from heaven and murder-rapists hiding in your car.”

            Brilliant.

            If an angel threw a penny from heaven, wouldn’t it pierce your skull like a tiny white-hot zinc-alloy meteorite?

          • Ethyl said:

            IDK, piny, I think the Mythbusters showed that dropping a penny from the Empire State Building wouldn’t necessarily pierce your skull, right? So maybe you’d just have a penny-shaped bruise?

          • commanderlogic said:

            You’d think the angels from the Concerned Mom Internet would proactively penny huck at the murder-rapists. But then again, perhaps murder-rapists hide in your car to be protected from angel penny bombs. WHICH ONLY PROVES…. SOMETHING.

          • Excuse me, but I think the Concerned Mom Internet and the Cranky Old Man Internet fell in love and gave birth to the Paleo-Diet Dad Internet (For Your Health!).

      • Sheelzebub said:

        I must second you SO HARD on it’s okay to walk away or take a big fat break from certain relationships. First (especially with family) it’s okay to do this–it doesn’t mean you are estranged or hate each other or whatever. It means you need a break from them because for whatever reason, you aren’t interacting well (me being a diplomat for once). It can give you some space to figure out if you want them in your life and how you could make that happen and keep your own peace of mind (boundaries, small doses, accepting that you’ll never get X from them and enjoying Y, etc.).

        Also, in the case of certain friendships, yes I walked away and quite happily. “Holy shit it has become a chore to interact with you” was the very last thing I thought when a dude I knew engaged in yet more dramatics. A dude who was happy to lecture me and got quite pissy when I didn’t act like I was a high school student being honored with the company of a tweedy professor.

        • Copcher said:

          Yeah, any time you feel “Holy shit it has become a chore to interact with this person” is probably a good time to stop interacting with that person. I think the main purpose of friendship is to improve the quality of the lives of the people involved. If it starts doing the opposite, it’s probably not worth having anymore.

      • PomperaFirpa said:

        Jesus God yes to all of that.

      • Britt said:

        Realistic expectations are the only reason I can interact with my father. True story. I love him, but it was only after I stopped expecting him to be something that he just can’t be for me that I was able to enjoy what he CAN be.

        • ks said:

          This exactly. I love my dad–and in some ways, he is the absolute best. He’s great to talk to and hang out with and all of that. But I learned a long, long time ago that I can’t expect anything of him other than affection, because it just isn’t going to happen. He just isn’t reliable that way–he won’t come visit, he won’t make the effort to show up for my kids’ events, I’m lucky to get a phone call, and he just doesn’t put any effort into maintaining a relationship with me. However, if I put in that effort and make plans to visit him and do things and remember to take him as he is and not expect too much, he’s great.

          • Britt said:

            Our fathers are clearly from the same planet. I can get all the emotional support in the world from my father, if I take the time to seek it, but when it comes to things like showing up on time for important events? Much, MUCH lower chance of success.

      • Ah, schadenfreude. I’m so glad I’m not the only one whose dad/grandparents forward all things from Cranky Old Man Internet. They send e-mails (many-colored, eagle-gif-filled, sometimes painfully obviously false e-mails) about two or three times a day to their entire familial contact list. For a while I was responding to the ones that were too easy not to debunk (Snopes is funded by George Soros! lolwut? Obama’s staff makes more than the entire staff of Buckingham Palace! lolno.), and would get in sniping/raging fights with my dad after.

        Then I talked to my aunt, and after telling me she was proud of me for standing up to the barrage, she told me how her and my uncle just glance at the first line and delete anything that looks political. And when the grandparents came up, they pretended Rush Limbaugh wasn’t available in their state, and had a week free of Feminazis and Environmentalist Wackos and Dittoes and all that is evil in the world.

        And now I auto-delete.

  10. xenu01 said:

    Hey there, just a comment from a ‘splainer (I am a woman, but I do this all the time), call him on it. Just like the Captain ordered. And yeah, definitely make sure he knows that this is not a court of law and you are not required to prove your feelings with logical proofs, because that is the first weapon of a splainer, because we know more than you and we can PROVE it.

    It’s funny, because someone made fun of me (with kissy-kissy noises, jeez) this morning because I kissed my husband in public (enthusiastially! Also, I hugged him!) when I got off the bus last night because I hadn’t seen him in twelve hours. We ride the bus together every day and she also makes fun of me for always being on time for it and not early for it like she is (“If I see you coming, I know the bus will be here soon, haha”). We don’t even know each other’s names. She is a funny acquaintance in other ways, but I have little tolerance for making fun of people as a way of trying to get to know them.

    Anyway, I put down my tea (we were fixing up our morning beverages), looked at her in silence for a moment, then said levelly, “I hadn’t seen my husband for twelve hours and I was happy to see him.” And then I finished putting my tea together, and walked away.

    • lightacandle2c said:

      LOVE you xenu01!

      • xenu01 said:

        Awww, thanks. :)

  11. Why do you want to be able to talk to him about this honestly?

    No, seriously. Why? Every time you try, it’s an exercise in frustration and condescension and basic nuttery. I’m not sure where the benefit is, or why you think there’s a secret Unicorn of Awesome hidden behind the douchebaggery on this specific topic.

    If he’s a good friend in other ways, accept that you can’t talk about this topic with him honestly, and go from there.

    If you’re not sure if he’s a good friend (you seem sure, but I don’t know if someone who is “oh cute, look at your feelings” can ever be a good friend, really), then ask yourself: do I feel happy when I hang out with this person? Accepted? Respected? Or do I get provoked into defending X, Y, or Z, and end up frustrated and upset?

    If it’s the latter, scale way back on this friendship. It just may be that you have in fact outgrown this guy, and he’s trying to cram your friendship back into the “I know much, you know little” box into which you no longer fit.

    • alphakitty said:

      I think this is a good point, that has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle of. So, yeah. I agree.

      • RocketFullOfHoles said:

        So very very yes from here too.

        Some friendships only work in particular circumstances (you both work at Particular Place, you are comfortable being the Needy Recipient of Expert Wisdom, you’re both studying for the LSAT, or whatever) and if those circumstances change, the relationship either needs to change or it just won’t run well any more. If the Expert Wisdom Dispenser can’t function unless you stay firmly in the role of Needy Recipient, and can’t figure out another way to be friends with you, then it might have been a circumstantial friendship. Which can be sad to say goodbye to, but nowhere near as sad as trying to keep a friendship like that going when it’s not really a friendship that gladdens your life any more.

        But only you can know that, because what counts is whether the friendship gladdens YOUR life. Not whether it SHOULD, but whether it does. It doesn’t matter what a good arguer your friend is, or how many wisdom points he has, or how long you two have been hanging out, or whether you’ll feel awful about having to set boundaries. (My thought these days is hey, if you already feel awful, why not go ahead and set the boundaries?) What counts is how the friendship works in your life now, and you do get to be the #1 expert on your own life. Nobody else is anywhere near as qualified as you are for that job.

        Also, speaking from having seen the other side of Needing To Be An Expert sometimes, it’s not good for the other person to stay in that role either. Growing up and growing into mutual regard and respect is work, but it’s kinda essential if things are to continue well. So if the problem is that the paradigm has been outgrown, it’s not doing any favors for either of you to stay there.

        (And good luck to you and your dearlove on getting through the rough patch and getting to excellent new patches.)

        • JenniferP said:

          Wise, excellent comment. Beautifully stated!

        • KL said:

          Wow. This explains perfectly why and how a romantic relationship that I had, which had grown out of a friendship from years before, went so terribly sour. He needed to fix me, and I needed him to know that I wasn’t broken (at least in the ways that he assumed) anymore. Thank you for this.

  12. Ethyl said:

    “Then be quiet. … Be quiet more.”

    I also like this. Be a Nanny Ogg-style bottomless sucking hole of quiet. You’d be surprised what can happen.

    • PomperaFirpa said:

      Rather the quiet version of Nanny Ogg than the singing version of Nanny Ogg. Although I see great things for this argument if hedgehogs are mentioned.

      • Ethyl said:

        We could combine the two approaches. Start off with the “you have the loudest silences I ever did hear” Nanny Ogg, and then if he tries to argue, start singing That Song.

        • PomperaFirpa said:

          I sense the greatest of all possible plans. This will be epic.

          • JenniferP said:

            <3!

        • cicatricella said:

          if all else fails, you could always ask him how to stop spelling ‘banana’

  13. JetGirl said:

    Captain, I know you intended your advice/strategies for the friend, but I am implementing all of this from now on with my mother. Thanks.

  14. Another plausible armchair diagnosis for the LW’s friend, not necessarily incompatible with the crush and polyvangelism theories: LW’s friend is monster insecure.

    I never evangelized nonmonogamy more than when my own nonmonogamous relationship was hanging on by a thread.

    • Vicki said:

      Good point. When I get frustrated with certain things about the ways other people are monogamous, or the like, I don’t take it out on them, and I don’t post to the net. I put it in email to my sweetie, who will make sympathetic remarks that come down to “no, that wouldn’t work for me either.” Because most of the time the underlying thing is either “this wouldn’t work for either of us” [so we aren't doing it] or “that’s not a good way to have any kind of relationship” (and monogamy isn’t the problem there).

  15. Ldubs said:

    The “we” thing drives me craaaazy. I am contrary, so I would then proceed to tell really annoying stories about things I did with large groups of people where I painstakingly named EVERY SINGLE PERSON every time I would normally say “we”. Like “Jenny, Mark, Adrian, James, Kerry and I went to get Thai but it was closed, so Jenny, Mark, Adrian, James, Kerry and I decided to cook burgers outside because it was so nice. Then Jenny, Mark, Adrian, James, Kerry and I went to get ice cream and then Jenny, Mark Adrian, James and I went swimming!” I’m my own person, asshole!

    … but I’m significantly less patient than most people.

    • Seriously: +1

    • Copcher said:

      Amazing idea.

    • Chickie said:

      Lol, yes. First-person plurals exist for a reason!

      • Chickie said:

        Ooo, or you could say that you’re using the imperial “we”. We are our own Very Important person!

        • Ldubs said:

          Haha, yes! “Why are you trying to diminish me? We won’t stand for that!”

    • Lyla D. said:

      Beautiful.

      The ‘we’ thing struck me as hellaciously pedantic, so pointing out the virtues of ‘we’ through the power of annoyance? Best possible come back.

    • Copcher said:

      Also, LW, if your friend ever refers to you and himself in conversation with you (which I’m assuming he does, since that’s how most speakers of the English language refer to themselves and the person they’re talking to), you could act kind of confused, and then eventually say, “Oh, you mean ‘you and I’ should check out that museum exhibit (or whatever).’ I got confused because you and I are separate people.”

    • PomperaFirpa said:

      I kind of love you for this. This is the same logic that makes me slow down when someone starts tailgating me.

      Yeah, the “we” thing makes me kind of want to beat LW’s friend with a stick. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH OPERATING AS A UNIT. Obviously LW still has stuff going on that isn’t dependent on being part of a couple, so seriously, what is the problem?

  16. badger said:

    LW,

    Everyone else has said it in a much more eloquent way than I’m about to, but; if he cannot respect your relationship and the way it works, he doesn’t deserve to know anything about your relationship. Period. End of discussion. And use your words and tell him so.

    “I’m no longer speaking about that topic with you,” if he brings it up. Don’t bring it up just to drop that bomb on him, because that’s catty and crappy. And if he does the “What? Why?” thing…

    “I understand that your way works for you. My way works for me. Now, let’s just drop the subject.”

    If he keeps pushing, leave. Or ask him to, if he’s at your house. It’s your life, love. You live it the way that validates you.

    Much love,
    Badger

  17. Also, I talk about my girlfriend and myself because we do shit together, because we like each other. My girlfriend and I text a lot because we like each other.

    Of course, someone like him would say I’m trying to convince myself, blah blah blah.

    (I should clarify that that’s not the only way to do a relationship, but it’s not the wrong way.)

  18. Christen said:

    I have BEEN THERE with judgmental, condescending friends (and the Captain is right, people like this do gaslight and backpaddle, so calling them out is pretty much impossible unless you do it in the moment). And that thing where you don’t talk to mutual friends about certain things because someone’s made it weird for you, I also totally get. Feel free to explain to mutual friends, “I really need you to hear me out AND I need this to stay between you and me. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but [Friend] can be really judgmental about my relationships, and I think the less he knows about this, the better.” Not that you don’t have the option of venting to friends who don’t know him or to a therapist (which might be a better option if your friends are really gossipy or judgmental themselves). Just, you don’t have to let this guy’s dickery affect your other relationships either.

  19. KJ said:

    LW, I totally feel you on this one. I sort of have a similar situation.

    about 7 years ago I met a guy. we became best friends and even though we didnt hang out all the time due to where we lived, we stayed in contact and talked a lot/updated eachother on our lives. after a few years of being bff’s, i knew he always had a crush on me, but i always saw him as a friend, until one night we got really hammered and ended up making out.

    i tried to see if there was any truth to that attraction, and we went on a date. i actually saw that he had something going for him, and i personally asked him on a second date. he blew me off and stopped talking to me for about a year. during that year we both had relationships, and finally one day he called me and apologized about everything.

    now, after we’ve re-established that there isnt anything between us and that we need to stay friends, i’m trying to be more open with him about whats going on in my dating life. i just got out of a really serious relationship, and he’s been there for me every step of the way (which is cool, don’t get me wrong) i just feel like he may have some ulterior motives. being there for me when i am very vulnerable just seems kinda sketchy no matter how much of a history we have as friends, we still have that romantic encounter that nags at my mind about him.

    i’m not saying cut your friend off completely. i’m just saying that you should maybe distance yourself from him a bit. hang out with lots of other friends and keep yourself busy to get your mind off things. if he barges into a conversation he shouldnt be in, or that you dont want him to be in, stop the conversation immediately and change the subject. it seems like he tries to tear down your confidence with your dating life by making snarky comments, and theres got to be a good reason for that other that “trying to be a good friend.”

    good luck LW!

  20. MS said:

    It sounds to me as though your friend is feeling left out and worried about whether your new romance means he’s lost you as a friend. Sometimes, when people start relationships, their old friends can be really worried about whether they’re still loved, too.

    He may not realise that’s the issue, though, and just think he’s helping to ensure you don’t ‘lose’ yourself in the new relationship.

    Rather than telling him off, I think what I’d do at first is this.

    Next time he comments on the ‘we’ thing, or how much attention you’re giving your partner, maybe try saying something like ‘You seem really worried by me saying “we” a lot. It’s OK: I still love my old friends, too. Being happy about New-Guy doesn’t mean you’ve lost my friendship.’

    I’d probably only go on to telling him off for the behaviour if reassuring him didn’t work, after two or three attempts.

    • She’s been with this new guy for 10 months. And it sounds like her friend has been doing this to her throughout all her relationships in the 7 years they’ve known each other. It is waaaay past the point of reassuring him.

  21. I would not be surprised if he and his girlfriend have problems that aren’t immediately visible to you. There’s a whiff of trying-too-hard there.

  22. I must second you SO HARD on it’s okay to walk away or take a big fat break from certain relationships.

    This is a really important point not only because of the necessary distance/relief/peace-and-quiet it can provide. It is also important because relationships get healthier when they are based on want and not need, and when people learn that distance doesn’t kill them, they can sometimes learn to let go of the need and embrace the want. Or, once they realize they don’t need the relationship, they also realize they don’t want it, and it ends. Which is for the better.

  23. “I can see why you are frustrated. Your friend is acting like a dickhead.”

    Amen.

  24. Viscaria said:

    So this is kinda late, sorry, but I’ve been out and about this weekend. If anyone’s still reading, I thought I’d out myself as the LW, and clarify a couple of things:

    1) My friend isn’t actually poly. Sorry for the confusion! Bad writing on my part. He and his partner are monogamous too, they just do monogamy differently than me and my partner. Harmless flirting with others, for example, is totally acceptable within their relationship, whereas my boyfriend and I prefer to keep that between the two of us. I’d say the biggest difference between his relationship style and mine, is that I don’t want to be with anyone I can’t imagine staying with long-term. He and his girlfriend are just happy enjoying their time together, and not worrying too much about the future. (Ironically, the longest relationship I’ve ever had was about a year long, and theirs is going on 5 XD.) They’re also just less… shmoopy than I like to be. They love each other, but they don’t feel the need to make a big show out of it. I tend to be gross with my boyfriend: pet names, public snuggliness, lots of text contact when we’re not together, that sort of thing. There are plenty of people who would find it to be too much, but it’s what works best for us.

    2) He is not a feminist. I don’t think he’s particularly sexist by any means, but I would say he’s typically sexist for a Canadian person in their 20s. Generally it doesn’t come up, but we have had the occasional dust-up about feminism in the past.

    3) Someone asked if his apparent need to prove that he’s more knowledgeable than me extends to anything beyond romance, and it does, but to only one thing: music. He’s a semi-professional rock musician and has a day job in radio, and I have years of classical voice training. He knows way more than me about the industry, about rock, and about music in general; but I’m actually a little bit better-trained than he is when it comes to some classical or voice-specific stuff. Despite this, he feels the occasional need to patiently explain things to me, like “if you listen carefully, you might notice how always drops in pitch at the end of a phrase.” Um, thanks?

    Thanks, Captain and everyone else, for all of the advice. I plan to use many of your suggestions next time this issue comes up. This has been a real help!

    • Viscaria said:

      Oh, oops, that should read as “if you listen carefully, you might notice how (insert singer from X band) always drops in pitch at the end of a phrase.” I put those words in angle brackets, and they disappeared, of course. /First day on the Internet.

    • Viscaria, your friend is a champion mansplainer. How to deal with them is a mystery I have not yet solved, personally. Good luck!

    • Long time reader, first time commenter!

      Hi Viscaria,

      In case you have never seen it (but you probably have!), Rebecca Solnit’s classic article on Men Who Explain Things may ring some bells:

      http://articles.latimes.com/2008/apr/13/opinion/op-solnit13

      I also have yet to solve the issue of men explaining things to me either.

      It strikes me that a possible explanation for why your friend is being such an arse about things in this case is because your friend and his partner have been together for 5 years and are no longer shmoopy. Maybe your obvious loved-up-ness makes him anxious that his relationship isn’t like that any more, and he is being more strident about it because he’s actually worrying that his own relationship is lacking in some way. This might be particularly true if this is his first long-term relationship. After several years in my own first long-term relationship, I was jealous of my friends who were dating or in new relationships because we seemed so boring by comparison with our old-married-coupleness and texting each other about going to the supermarket and so on, not about how hot we found each other or how much we missed each other. When that relationship ended and I actually got to do the dating thing again, I found it terrifying and wanted to run back to the security of someone who knew me really, really well and had my back; but from the outside it seemed so exciting and fun! Maybe that’s partly what’s going on here. But even if that is the case, he needs to learn some boundaries and not work out his relationship issues on you. Good luck!

  25. Thanks for checking in. I hope the strategies work well for you (I’ve tucked a few away for a rainy day myself), and that you tell us how it goes. There should be a place for new updates on old letters. :)

    • liyyspoon said:

      +1!

      I LOVE it when the LW’s check back in and let us know how the advice went down. It’s like when they go back a year later in Grand Designs and you get to see how it really is living in the dream house….

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