How do I see the whole of a person?
Hello! I was hoping you could help me with something. There is a guy at uni I am friends with, who has depression. Over the past semester at uni, we have grown very close, mostly on the basis of me becoming the person he turns to when he needs someone to confide in about the depression. We have also fairly recently become sexually involved with one another, which started in June for a week and the one time I’ve seen him since based on a couple of months of text/Skype conversations that became more and more explicit over time. I was also recently reminded of his mean streak, in regards to casual mean comments and tendency to strike out hurtfully at others when hurting or in misplaced jest/humour.
The issue is I can’t seem to integrate these three aspects of him in my head. When I think about him I am essentially thinking about one of three different versions of him – the one I listen to and comfort, the one whom I am sexually involved and also turn to for comfort, and the one with harsh comments and the mean humour. How, oh wise one, can I integrate these parts in my head and thus treat him as the whole person he is?
Thank you sincerely,
I vote that you believe hard in the Mean Guy and view the rest of his personality through that lens.
Because Sexy Guy is mean. And Sad Guy is mean. And I get it, because when you hate yourself and feel terrible, it makes it more likely that terrible things will escape your mouth. But at the end of the day, being depressed does not excuse being mean. Mean is a choice.
It sounds you are pretty well tangled up with this dude. The subject line of your email was “How do I see the whole of a person?” but the substance of your question was “How do I keep sleeping with this sexy person and comforting/being comforted by my friend when I’ve seen how mean he can be?”
I think the answer that Mean Guy would like to hear is “Just chalk all the mean things up to my depression, try really hard to see the ‘whole person’ and ignore or forgive the crappy comments, and definitely keep doing sexy things and being my listening ear and source of soothing noises.“
My honest advice is to run far, far away from Mean Guy even if that means abandoning Sexy Guy and Sad Guy to his Sad, Sexy Darth Vader fate. As for the sex stuff, good on you for getting *something* fun (I hope) out of the relationship, but continuing to have sex with a partner who is mean to you?
But if you’re not ready to call it quits on this person yet, there is one test you can perform to see how deep the mean runs before you bail entirely.
Mean Guy: “Mean thing…”
You: “Hey, that was really mean” (see also: uncalled for, not cool, not okay, hurtful)
Mean Guy: “Oh crap, you are right. I am sorry.”
Mean Guy: -doesn’t do or say that thing or things like it again-
Test passed! Be cautious, but it is possible that he is not a complete a-hole. Though if you have to do this every single conversation, or more than once in a given conversation, it’s time to hop on the Nope Rocket and flee to safety. Run the test a few times to be sure. In fact, do it every time he says something mean.
If on the other hand, it goes like this:
Mean Guy: “Mean thing…”
You: ”Hey, that was really mean” (see also: uncalled for, not cool, not okay, hurtful)
and Mean Guy:
- Mansplains why it was actually funny
- Doubles down on the jerky sentiments
- Calls you too sensitive or questions your sense of humor
- Blames his depression or makes it about some issue he has where he somehow can’t help it
- ESPECIALLY if at the end of the above conversations you end up apologizing to him in some way
Or he says anything that is not in the vicinity of “I’m sorry, you’re right”–
–I regret to inform you that he is behaving like your run-of-the-mill shithead with higher-than-average charisma and some combination of lower-than-healthy-happy-brain chemicals and/or troubling-life-circumstances.
This “integrating the whole person” thing? Is how unkind people who hurt us manage to stay in our lives for so long. Nobody is all good or all bad. We wouldn’t put up with crappy behavior from people if they didn’t have good qualities, and crappy behavior can come in very charismatic and appealing packages. So our sense of fairness and loyalty and what it means to be a good friend gets turned against us while we work hard to see the whole person but they keep right on being mean. “Why is he doing this?” doesn’t matter. The depression doesn’t matter. If someone is treating you badly, and you make them aware of the problem and ask them to stop, and they keep going with what they were doing before? That is a strong indicator that you should re-consider having them in your life at all.
She Bitches About Boys (Marilyn Hacker)
To live on charm, one must be courteous.
To live on others’ love, one must be loveable.
Some get away with murder being beautiful.
Girls love a sick child or a healthy animal.
A man who’s both itches them like an incubus.
But I, for one, have had a bellyful
of giving reassurances and obvious
advice with scrambled eggs and cereal;
then bad debts, broken dates, and lecherous
onanastic dreams of estival
nights when some high-strung, well-hung, penurious
boy, not knowing what he’d get, could be more generous.
Dear, Confused Letter Writer, I am saying this with love for you and I am reaching out across time to my past self and shaking her by the shoulders and saying:
“Please do not sink all of your time and energy into figuring out mean (but sexy) people. Your kindness cannot fill them up, but their unkindness can drain you dry.”
Maybe this guy will get better, eventually, and maybe he’ll stop being so mean. You do not have to hold out for that day. You can waste so much time waiting for that day. It is okay to say “I hope you feel better, but I can’t be around you when you make mean comments like that, so let’s take a long break from whatever this is.“ It is okay to hit the “block” button on your chat program and your phone. It is okay to make that a unilateral decision. It is okay to do that even if he cries or feels bad or refers to your past sexy chats. “I’m sorry, my feelings have changed, and I don’t think it’s a good idea if we are involved.“ You are not responsible for knitting him back together or waiting out the mean times or spending these precious days during your education worried about him.
If you do decide to bail, be prepared that he might not go quietly. He will use every manipulator trick in the book to stay in the warmth of your attention. So if there is a counseling office at your Uni, line up some support there. Tell them what’s up, tell them about the mean comments. Rehearse difficult conversations. Make sure there is someone on Team You, ok? Because your Team You can do better than this guy. A LOT better.
P.S. “ Over the past semester at uni, we have grown very close, mostly on the basis of me becoming the person he turns to when he needs someone to confide in about the depression” is not necessarily a good basis for a friendship, even if the sexy stuff wasn’t involved. Friends lean on each other, but there needs to be reciprocity and something else to go on. This is an exhausting role for you to take on, especially while you’ve got your own studies going on.