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#565: When your friend gushes about her new boyfriend and all of her “cute” stories are actually horrifying.

Hello Cap’n,

My good friend Alice recently got herself a boyfriend. I have two issues with this:
1) Even though I’ve never met him (it’s a long-distance relationship), and she’s never complained about him, I’m pretty sure he’s a typical Darth Vader boyfriend -because all of her ‘cute’ stories are actually really awful,
and 2) Every time my friend falls for a guy, she falls HARD, and becomes an entirely different person who doesn’t seem to care about anything other than her boyfriend.

A little background:

Alice has recently taken to saying that she and Bob have been in love since they were children; it would be more accurate to say they met when they were kids, when they were both living in India. They never actually dated or anything back then, but to hear her tell it, they were madly in love but never ‘made it official’ -which I take to mean (based on her tendency to greatly romanticize and assume anyone she likes reciprocates) that she had a huge crush on him, but they were platonic -which is actually better than the alternative, since when she and her family moved to Canada she was 12 and he was 16. They didn’t really keep in touch, only connecting a few times in the intervening years, but she would reminisce about him often. Last summer they got back in touch, ‘dated’ for a couple months, and broke it off.

Then, earlier this month, they started ‘dating’ again -and over the course of a week, she went from “It’s very new, we’re going slow and keeping it to ourselves” (not even wanting to tell me who she was dating, because he had told her not to) to “Our wedding will be in about a year” (no, he hasn’t proposed, she’s just assuming he will).

As to why I think he’s a Darth Vader Boyfriend:

With the exception of being mad at him for not answering her calls or emails for nearly a week (this is the reason for the previous breakup), she has never complained about him, but her ‘good’ stories are all actually awful. For example:

-When me and my (male) partner picked her up to hang out the last time she was dating Bob, Alice told us about how he’d instructed her to never get into a guy’s car or be alone with a guy -but that it was ok since I was there. My best-case scenario is that this was a joke on his part, but in my experience guys who make that kind of ‘joke’ aren’t really joking. To her, this is just Bob being caring & protective.

-Even long-distance, he’s being a huge time-suck and keeping her from important priorities like school (she’s a PhD student, really needs time for studying), sleep, and friends -she’s told me, as ‘evidence’ of how ‘sweet and caring’ he is, that he just won’t let her hang up on him in Skype and insists they keep talking when she wants to go to sleep, to the point she falls asleep on the couch with Skype still on. Similarly, the last time I had plans with Alice, she was extremely late, and explained that it was because he’d called her and gotten her all worked up about an invented crisis -kept her talking to him for over half an hour -before admitting it was made up and he’d been ‘trolling’ her. He knew, and she had reminded him, that she had plans with a friend.

-she describes him as a ‘lovable asshole’. What even. She also says that sometimes you just have to let him be an asshole for a while and talk himself down, without trying to reason with him or disagree with anything he says.

-When they broke up previously, she flirted with/dated another guy. Bob got mad at her for this, and has been guilting her over it -even though he fully admits he was f*cking someone else at that time.

-He tells her that she is special to him because, unlike ‘all the other girls’, she is ‘innocent’ -because she hasn’t had sex, has never sent him a dirty picture, etc. He compared her to an ex by saying that that ex had mentioned she enjoyed/was good at giving oral sex, and said that he “lost all respect for” that woman because of her comments. Again, he fully admits that he has had sex of all kinds with many different women. Alice believes in waiting til marriage for sex, but has recently started saying that when Bob moves closer she wants to have sex with him. I have no issues with her being sexual if she wants to, but I fear she simply feels she has to in order to ‘keep up’ with him, and also that since he outright stated he values her for her virginity that if she did sleep with him he would then break her heart.

-They apparently had a discussion about kids, and he got very upset that she doesn’t want as many as she does, and wouldn’t even discuss the idea of adoption (which is something Alice really wants). He went on to lay a guilt-trip on her about this, and to talk about how much he wants to ‘come home to’ a big house full of people -which to me implies he has a very different vision of their future then what I know Alice wants (she wants a small family, to work as a professor, and the freedom to travel often). That in itself could be worked out, but the fact he wouldn’t even listen to what she wants, especially early in the relationship, spells trouble.

-She cannot hear criticism of him, and gets very angry and defensive. This might be my own issues, but I am reminded strongly of myself when I was in a relationship that -in retrospect – could easily be classified as emotionally and sexually abusive. The not-letting-her-hang-up-on-Skype thing also strongly reminds me of that past relationship, and I worry that small similarities like this may be skewing my own perceptions.

Additionally, Bob is planning on moving to the US to be closer to Alice (though it will still be about a 10 hour drive -but Alice has somehow convinced herself it’ll only be 4 hours). I’m afraid if he does, Alice will feel obligated to stay with him forever and feel obligated to do whatever to make him happy, since he moved to a different continent for her. I’m also afraid he’ll convince her to move closer to his new city -which will put her far from all her friends and family, and force her to drop out of her PhD program.

For what it’s worth, my partner also thinks that Bob sounds like bad news, and is also getting frustrated with Alice’s unwillingness to discuss any other topic, so it’s not just me thinking this.

There’s a few other issues with the relationship, not all of which are Bob’s fault; such as, her defense of why this is actually a great relationship is that ‘he’s her dream guy, her ideal, the one that she always remembered and compared all of her relationships to’ -which actually sounds like a bad thing to me, like she’s got him built up in her head to some fantasy figure and isn’t seeing the real person. Which may be why she’s interpreting everything he does as being perfect and awesome. As well, since Alice is Indian and in her late 20s, she is feeling a lot of pressure from her family to get married soon. Alice jumping headfirst into a relationship is also her pattern, and not specific to Bob -I’ve seen her fall hard and become obsessive with other guys before, just not to this degree.

I know your normal advice for dealing with a friend’s Darth is to try to talk about other things, and when the subject comes up to ‘talk like a therapist’ -to disengage a bit, with ‘hmm’ and ‘how does that make you feel’, etc., but she just won’t talk about anything else. Not only will she get furious and start crying if I -however gently -try to point out that some of the things she’s saying don’t actually sound like a healthy relationship, she will carry on an entire conversation by herself if I don’t talk. Literally, the last time I had her over, she talked for over an hour with me not saying a word beyond the occasional ‘hm’ or ‘huh’, and nodding every so often. Both me and my partner attempted to change the subject at every opportunity, but she finds a way to bring everything back to Bob -after a brief lull I started talking about my new phone, and my partner and I steered the conversation to technology; she listened for less than two minutes and then started talking about how Bob likes his phone and Bob likes computers and Bob is so good with technology… We talked about a recent party, and how one person there was being very strange and rude (she’d been incredibly hostile to me for no apparent reason) and she instantly changed it to ‘Bob also thought that was rude, when I told him about it.’ And from there, every detail of her last conversation with Bob. She doesn’t even stop when she runs out of things to say -at one point, I lightly joked that she must have had too much wine because she was repeating the same Bob story for the third time that night, and she laughed but then continued. It’s getting to the point where I don’t know how to talk to Alice without getting immensely frustrated, and am left wondering what happened to my bright, caring, intelligent friend, who used to be fully capable of carrying on a pleasant conversation.

How can I try to make her see that this relationship is unhealthy? Am I just reading into things too much, possibly because of my own bad past relationship? Should I just wait for the relationship to unravel on its own? And how to I talk to her without jeopardizing the friendship -any idea on scripts I can use to try to make it clear I don’t want to talk about him anymore, without getting her on the defensive? Should I attempt to be supportive even though I hate everything I’ve heard about this guy (and it’s all coming from her)? Or should I speak my mind even though I know it’ll cause a fight?

Sincerely,

-missing my friendship

Dear Missing Your Friendship:

Wow.

Wow.

Wow.

I am reading Lundy Bancroft’s book, Why Does He Do That? at the recommendation of many posters here, and from your friend’s description, “Bob” is sending up a red flag followed by a signal flare followed by 99 red balloons of potential badness.

  • Not letting her sleep.
  • Denigrating other women, focusing on sexual “purity.”
  • Double standards around sex – her going on a date with another man during a time they were broken up is awful, but he is allowed to do whatever she wants.
  • Inventing crises to capture her time and attention, delighting in control.
  • The whole “lovable asshole” thing.

The whole thing just reeks of badness.

I’ve been doing this advice thing for a few years now, and I have developed a weird spidey-sense for doomed relationships (even if that doom is ‘you will most likely continue the relationship and be miserable for it’) and the rule is: The more a person argues that this is destiny (we’ve been in love since childhood, it’s written in the stars, I just know we are meant to be, we’re “soulmates,” etc.) the more the actual relationship will be a shitshow. Because when something is working, you don’t have to call in the forces of time and space to the witness stand. Update: Apparently science has something to say about this as well! Thanks, @sondosia.

Unfortunately, your power to influence anything that is happening is very small. As evidenced by her bringing everything back to what Bob would think of it and repeating Bob stories over and over – She has caught Bobness and I’m afraid it’s full-blown. Stage III, at least. This need to constantly talk about him, to be constantly validated around him is about many things, and not knowing your friend I can’t put my finger on the exact cocktail of stuff that’s going on. My guesses are:

  • She is stalled in or disengaged from her studies.
  • She is getting family pressure about getting married and getting restless about moving on to the next “stage” in life.
  • She has dreams of being a professor, being married, being a mother, etc. but can’t quite picture the next steps of all of those things.
  • Bob’s constant attention feels good to her and is hitting some ideal she has of how love is supposed to feel.
  • In a messed up, uncertain world one person is offering her a script for what to do next – unfortunately that script is “be constantly available to me and under my thumb.” Right now, it feels better than “EEK the future is uncertain and maybe lonely!
  • But he’s not making her feel all the way good. Some part of her is awake and can see what is really happening. So she tries to talk that part of herself into the lovey-dovey-future-will-be-great-stuff. When someone is gaslighting you the way Bob is gaslighting Alice, they are trying to change your concept of reality to match their version. If Alice can convince others that the version of her & Bob’s story is the true one, then Bob’s version of the world gains new citizens. Having others who also believe in the Way of Bob will make it easier for her to live there without that tiny voice that says “But girl, you need SLEEP and also to be on time to things and also maybe you don’t want 12 kids and maybe you want to finish this degree that you started?” butting in to ruin the fantasy. This is why she is working so hard to propagate his opinions of everything.

It’s like In A Wrinkle In Time, when Charles Wallace gets absorbed into IT and then fights to stay there. Alice will fight any attempt to take her out of the reality where things feel good(ish) and where she is the center of someone’s attention and receiving the perceived rewards for conforming to the “get married and have kids” metanarrative that her family raised her with. Charles Wallace fought Meg when she took him out, and he was hateful and angry afterward and needed some deprogramming before he could be around her. I’m so sorry that you, as a caring friend, are in that position and I’m so sorry that the best case scenario (where they break up) means heartbreak for your friend.

This isn’t comforting, but I think literally anything that you do here is going to cause a fight. “Hey, can we take a break from talking about Bob tonight?” to just changing the subject “I want to hear about your research. Or that TV show we like. Or, what are you reading lately?” ==> you are challenging Bob’s place at the center of her life ==> You are activating some triggers that Bob has planted about how other people will try to control her and no one can control who she loves !!!!!!!!!! (except…Bob) ==> It plays into Bob’s hands and isolates her further from a voice of reason.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do these things. Someone who can literally only talk about one subject to the point of repeating stories over and over during the same party and relating literally every other topic to that subject is irritating to be around. As another person at that party you’re within bounds to say “That story is as hilarious the third time as it was the first time! Actually, not really, though. Let’s get your drunk ass home!” In the day to day, it is okay to set boundaries like that and continually enforce them. You don’t have to talk about the Bob thing as a whole, maybe just keep it focused on her behaviors. I try to maintain a two-or-three-redirects-and-we’re-done-for-the-day rule for boundary tromping conversations. That could look like this, initially:

You: “How was the movie the other day?”

Alice: “I liked it, and Bob thought….”

You: “Hey, do you realize that whenever I ask what you think, you tell me what Bob thinks? It’s weird. What’s up with that?”

Alice: “Okay…” or “I don’t really do that, do I?”

You: “Yeah, you do. But let’s talk about the movie, what part did you like best?”

Alice: “I liked this scene, but Bob said that….”

You: “Ha, you just did it again. I don’t want to make you self-conscious, but could we skip Bob’s opinions for today? I just want to talk to my friend. NO BOYS ALLOWED.”

Alice: “I don’t think I do that. That’s not fair, etc! That’s just what Bob said you would say! You just can’t be happy for me!” (etc. etc.)

You: “Okaaaaay, how did we get from me asking you, my funny brilliant friend, your opinion of a movie to talking about Bob yet again?

Alice: More along the lines of “That’s not fair, etc.!” “We’re long distance, so you can’t meet him, whereas I hang out with your partner all the time”, etc. etc.

You: “Listen, I’m honestly not trying to dig into your Bobfeelings, but this behavior, where he becomes part of literally every conversation is making me annoyed. That’s not Bob, or how I feel about Bob, that is a thing that you, my friend, are doing, and it bugs me. I don’t want to fight, but please think about what I said.”

And then exit the conversation and cool off for a bit. She’ll be hurt and mad for a bit. She will most likely go repeat everything to Bob, who will spin it as you not being a supportive friend. There’s nothing you can do about that, honestly. It’s part of a cycle. Just, try again another day. If you can stop her before she gets super into the cycle of talking about him you can at least preserve some of your own equilibrium. You can also say what you think when she tells a story where does something rude or weird, without qualifying it. “That sounds not okay and kind of creepy to me.” You don’t have to lie to her, and that might be enough to get her to change the subject away from Bob even if it’s just to avoid things she doesn’t want to hear.

Another thing you can do is to develop a mantra, along the lines of “I don’t really get the whole Bob thing – especially when you describe him as a ‘loveable asshole.’ In my perfect world my beautiful friend is with someone we don’t describe as any kind of asshole. But anything’s possible, and maybe it’s just because I haven’t met him. If you’re happy, I’m happy for you, and you’ll have to trust me on that the way I will have to trust you that this guy is as cool as you say. But right now I need to talk about ________.

  • “But right now I need to talk about how we had an appointment and you missed it and didn’t call or text to say why. That’s not like you, and it worried me and hurt my feelings.”
  • “But right now I want to hear how your research is going. You haven’t talked about it in a while. How are things at school?” “What does your advisor say?”
  • “But right now, I want to talk about those dark circles under your eyes. When was the last time you had a checkup?
  • “But right now I want to talk about something that’s going on in my life, and I want your perspective, not the opinion of some dude I haven’t even met yet. Actually, I’d prefer that you not tell confidential/personal stuff that I tell you to Bob. Can you agree to that boundary?”
  • “But right now, I want to tell you that you talk about Bob to me more than my comfort level can handle. As a favor to me, would you go to a couple appointments with the school counselor? You can get a sympathetic audience and a fresh ear, and our friendship can get a break from having Bob at the center of our conversations.”

These might not work to change her mind about anything. She might not do anything you suggest, like go to the doctor or the school counselor or her advisor. These might not work to keep the peace between you. But they do involve you speaking up for yourself within your friendship about a) how you deserve to be treated and b) in a way that is caring to your friend. And I think that being silent is hurting you, the Letter Writer. So if I can give you some ways to not be silent anymore we will have accomplished something today.

I have some other guesses about this situation.

  • Bob most likely has other women on the hook, other women who think they are in a serious relationship with him, other women he sleeps with, etc. Is he considered a “catch” in his home country? (family connections, good looks, money, high level of education, etc.) It’s possible he’s got the same pressures to settle down, and a parade of eligible women being brought by their parents for tea, and Alice is as much a distraction for him as he is for her, i.e. a way to appear to be making progress on that front without actually having to do anything about it.
  • If you’re lucky, he may get bored with Alice and turn to tormenting/gaslighting one of those women if she seems more readily available due to geography/willingness to sleep with him. A poor sort of “luck,” but these dudes don’t generally give up the spigot of constant affirmation and attention they get from their victims without having another one lined up.
  • I dealt with someone like this, without the overtly abusive/controlling parts. He was seemingly obsessed with me at a distance, full of plans for the future and reassurances and attention, but became a puff of smoke once we were in enough proximity to actually date. It’s possible that Bob’s facade only works at a great distance and will fall apart quickly if he actually moves (either he will vanish like The Daemon Lover, or he will be revealed to be a complete loser and liar upon closer examination). This will be heartbreaking for your friend, but it’s something to be hoped for.

These guesses aren’t necessarily useful for your friend, but file them away when you start to despair as you wait for things to implode.

So, I want to talk about what it might look like if you totally leveled with your friend the way you have with us. I don’t know any successful stories of this working out where the friendship survives in great form and the bad relationship vanishes and without lots of hurt feelings on the way. But let’s map it out and see what it might look like in case you need to hit the big red button on the situation, like, for instance, he actually does come to the U.S. or his behaviors and her emotional state seem to worsen.

What if you gave your friend a copy of Lundy Bancroft’s book, and told her, straight up in a letter:

“Alice, a lot of the stories you tell me about Bob are not endearing or cute to me, they are actually frightening because they remind me of stories in this book about abusive and controlling men and about my own relationship with an abusive and controlling man. For example the thing where he invented a crisis to keep you on the phone is very scary and not normal to me. It’s not normal for someone to police his girlfriend’s interactions with other men the way he seems to with you, but then have a double standard about his own interactions with women. It’s not normal behavior for you, my brilliant friend, to be able to talk about nothing else but boyfriend. I want you to be happy, and I want you to be loved the way you deserve, but it seems to me that you and Bob want very different things (like # of children), and sometimes great feelings of love don’t always mean great compatibility or the ability to make a happy life with someone. Will you promise to a) read this book  b) go talk to the school counselor about whatever feelings it brings up for you? If you will promise to do that, I promise that if Bob comes here I will try to get to know him for his own sake, with a clean slate.”

Keep this one for a follow-up, especially if she is defensive and resistant (she will be defensive and resistant):

“I would love nothing more than to be totally wrong about this – I know I am getting all of this second-hand, and I don’t know him like you do. Because of what I went through with (Ex), I feel very strongly about this, and because I love and care for you, I would risk anything, including making you angry, if it could prevent you from suffering what I went through. If you read the book and decide that it has nothing to do with your relationship, that will give you peace of mind, and you can spend your time at the counselor’s office kvetching about your intrusive friend who has no boundaries. At least the book will give you insight into my history and tell you why I have not embraced Bob the way you want me to. If you can promise to do this for me, it will give me enough peace of mind that I promise I won’t harp on the topic again.”

And then maybe prepare for the very sad end of your friendship as she marries this jerksmuggle, because that is a real possibility.

Finally, I want to address the thing you say in your letter about your own past with a relationship like this. “Am I just reading into things too much, possibly because of my own bad past relationship?” People always want to write off a past history of abuse as unfair “bias”, like, “Well, she’s just saying that because of her own history, so she’s biased and unfair, you can’t expect her to be truly impartial.

Like “impartiality” and “fairness” is the greatest thing we owe one another when we witness a friend being harassed and browbeaten by someone.

Like abuse doesn’t follow recognizable & predictable patterns and our perception of it must be reinvented from scratch each time we see it happen.

Like our own experiences as witnesses to those patterns somehow make us less believable, less reliable.

Like all of this mistrust of our experiences and pressure to be impartial isn’t deeply, deeply gendered.

I don’t know what will happen to Alice and Bob, but I do know what what you survived made you more able to see what is happening to your friend and gave you more insight and authority. I need the idea that someone who has survived an abusive relationship is somehow less able, less likely, or less reliable in recognizing abuse when it happens to others to die. In a fire.

a horse shaped out of flames

Come ride my horse made of equal parts fury and disdain for abusers and the culture that enables them by trivializing the experiences of victims.

 

 

 

 

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231 comments
  1. AAAAAAAAAAH. AAAAAAAAAAAH. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH. *flips table* *sets table on fire* *runs off into the distance screaming*

    Off topic, the Fire Horse of Fury and Disdain is equal parts cute and badass.

  2. This sentence is SO TRUE.

    “I don’t know what will happen to Alice and Bob, but I do know what what you survived made you more able to see what is happening to your friend and gave you more insight and authority.”

    • WORD. Your experience with an abusive man doesn’t make you unreliably biased. It makes you expertly biased.

      “Bias” is all too often a word used to discredit what you really have, which is “informed perspective.”

    • J. Preposterice said:

      It is times like these that I think of Robin McKinley’s heroine Aerin, who was told she was letting her experience color her answer:

      “Yes, I am letting my own experience color my answer, which is what experience is for.”

      • JenniferP said:

        It’s Good Examples from Children’s Literature day! I <3 Aerin and would love to make a movie of that book and the Blue Sword but the latter is full of colonialism and white saviorism and I'd have to change a lot of stuff to make it work for me on a not-gross level.

        • Jenna said:

          I agree about the colonialism and white savior bit, and when I comfort-read the book I have to remind myself that her family was unfashionable because her grandma was FROM Damar, and that at heart, it’s a book about someone who doesn’t fit in finding her true home.

          It’s on my list of problematic things that I still love, but, I try not to hide the problematic stuff from myself.

          I still like finding people who have also read the book, and know what I am talking about.

          • JenniferP said:

            I also comfort-read that book like whoa I think it would change for me if Harry looked more Damarian in contrast to the people around her and McKinley didn’t hit the “She has yellow hair yellow hair pale white girl yellow hair” thing so hard. Which is also a factor in Hero… all these olive-skinned brunettes and ONE pesky pale redhead is the savior hero? Ok, cool, no worries.

          • J. Preposterice said:

            “It’s on my list of problematic things that I still love, but, I try not to hide the problematic stuff from myself.”

            Yes, this. Because both of these books were just — I loved them so, as a child, and I can’t let go of them, but I also can’t see them how I saw them when I was 11 and reading them for the first time.

            I did appreciate that Aerin’s paleness was a marker of her Northern, demon blood, of her kinship with wickedness, rather than being some kind of marker of goodness.

            Harry, though. Why not be brunette?

          • Maureen Eichner said:

            Oh, wow, I have such similar/complicated feelings about Blue Sword. It was an incredibly important book to me in middle school, and now I wince hard at certain parts. I like this: “that her family was unfashionable because her grandma was FROM Damar, and that at heart, it’s a book about someone who doesn’t fit in finding her true home.” but definitely agree about the yellow, pale, paleness.

          • JenniferP said:

            Why couldn’t her visible difference be that she looked Damarian (Indian/Arab) among the white people?

            If I ever do get to make that movie, that’s how I would cast it, and the fans can wail and gnash their teeth all they want.

          • staranise said:

            Jennifer: That is exactly the change I would make too. Because if you put aside the white saviour narratives… I know a lot of people who have been separated from their cultures by distance and global imperialism. A lot of them have talked about dreaming of returning to their ancestral homeland, and instead of feeling like a stranger even among “their” people, being welcomed back with honour and acclaim like a long-lost child whose return was always hoped for. The Blue Sword would make such an awesome story for that kind of thing.

        • thathat said:

          Now I’m just wondering, is there ever a case where the general population of people are fair and the Chosen One stands out because of darker hair and skin?

          I comfort-read that book to. It gave me an awkward interest in the visuals of the colonial period of India (that and the more recent Jungle Book movie), which, after growing up…yeah, something to unlearn.

          • Laughing Giraffe said:

            This isn’t quite that trope, but there’s Garth Nix’s character Lirael. Lirael grows up in a community of people called the Clayr, who are all descended from a particular bloodline. Almost all the Clayr are blonde, blue- or green-eyed, tan, female*, and clairvoyant. Lirael is female, but dark-haired, dark-eyed, pale, and not psychic. (She has other gifts.)

            *Male Clayr are mentioned in passing as existing but being fairly rare, and none ever appear “onscreen”. Most Clayr children are fathered by visitors to the community, who are not expected to hang around.

          • the 100,000 kingdoms by n.k. jemisin is kinda like that, the main character is a black woman who’s a potential heir to a kingdom of white people.

          • arbitraryorange said:

            The hundred thousand kingdoms by nk jemisin is kinda like that. The main character is a black woman who’s a potential heir to a kingdom of white people. It’s pretty good.

          • Tehanu said:

            White people with a chosen one of sorts being the person of colour? Ged in the Tombs of Atuan, if we’re citing semi-children’s literature. Except when they made a movie of Earthsea they whitewashed it. Of course.

          • piny1 said:

            Second NK Jemisin. Octavia Butler in general – and Fledgling in particular, which was meant to be the first of a trilogy. Although I don’t know if any of her books can be described as comfort reads.

          • elusis said:

            Was just coming here to say N.K.Jemisin’s Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and I see someone already has. :)

          • J. Preposterice said:

            I…believe, though I am not certain (and don’t have my copy to hand), that Fiametta Beneforte, the heroine of Bujold’s “The Spirit Ring”, is half-African.

          • J. Preposterice said:

            Oh, also, Laura Chant in “The Changeover” is part-Maori and looks it, while her mother and brother, and most of the people around her, are white New Zealanders. Laura has no Maori identity or culture, though.

          • JenniferP said:

            I love the Changeover so, so much.

          • Erin said:

            Spirit Walker Trilogy – Kate Elliott. People in the town have more mixed races, so the main characters aren’t always standing out, but one of them is black and the others native American, which is a sign that they are connected to the “spirit world”, and from North Africa, I think. Unfortunately white-washed on the later covers ¬.¬

          • R. said:

            Though this is done deliberately, Shori in Octavia Butler’s “Fledgling” is like that. She’s a unique dark-skinned vampire hybrid, which makes her resistant to the sun. So all the pale vampires are either hailing her as the future of their kind, or hunting her for being a dangerous abomination.

          • Lonespark said:

            I would say it’s a continuing theme in Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy, or at least in the first and third books. It’s caught up with divine and demonic heritage… And then there’s the whole thing with Itempas’s appearance vs. Arameri depiction thereof.

          • elsiekate said:

            martha wells’ “wheel of the infinite”

          • Lilith Gothica said:

            Not quite a “Chosen One,” but in another teen lit series would Justine Larbalestier’s Magic or Madness Triology, the main character, part of a family of powerful witches, if half Aboriginal Australian. Like the example from The Changeover, it doesn’t come up much. That series also has two important African American characters (yes, they really are Americans, I’m not making that faux pas like when people say Dean Thomas from Harry Potter is “African American” even though he’s… not American).
            Also loved The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

          • Also seconding Ursula K LeGuin’s Wizard of Earthsea series. And seconding the awful white-washing of the TV version (which she did distance herself from)

          • minuteye said:

            Fledgeling, by Octavia Butler has some of those themes (dark-skinned saviour in a population of light-skinned creatures). But there’s a lot of disturbing and deeply gross stuff in that narrative too, so forewarned.

        • clodia said:

          I would love to see your film of both. I can stand the colonialism because Corlath calls it out so hard. It was one of those books that actually made me start questioning the “white man’s burden”. Harry being a white savior, I got nothing.

          • Irene said:

            There’s also the whole abducted-by-a-sheik thing. Rudolph Valentino, anyone?

          • JenniferP said:

            There’s a lot wrong with it. A lot. But the scene where she goes back for Jack and he follows her? That’s amazeballs and I love it.

        • Kat said:

          I adored The Hero and the Crown, and read it over and over as a child. Same is true of A Wrinkle In Time! It took years for me to understand why those books resonated for me as deeply as they did.

          Actually, I discovered the former book after The Blue Sword was on our required 5th grade reading list. I’m pretty sure it was there because my teacher loved the colonial white saviorism as much as I loved Aerin’s sass. That teacher was… not my favorite.

  3. anon e. mouse said:

    For no good reason I feel compelled to add: I too caught Bobness and it lasted for two years and three miscarriages and one suicide attempt, and in the end the only way I got shut of Bobness involved three months in the nuthouse and then an extremely expensive emergency apartment-move to a secret location and changing all my email accounts and passwords and and and oh my good god please just PRINT THIS OUT and GIVE IT to Alice, my lovable asshole and his Misunderstood Genius Manpain and polyglot brilliance and motorcycle and leather jacket and NPR t-shirt and being cute with my cat was in the end so not worth the feeling that he was stabbing me deliberately with tiny verbal pins that bled for days and weeks and months and years. I am three months out of it now and still wake up gasping in terror that he’s coming in the door, shaking in a cold sweat. Run, Alice, for chrissake just RUN.

    • Erin said:

      Just want to say: So glad you’re out of there. I hope you feel better every day.

    • I’m so sorry.

      My friend caught a case of long-distance Bobness that lasted three years and comprised a miscarriage, two bouts of chlamydia, and finally a rape, which lead to 6 months to a year of insomnia and which she processed on her own, without any professional or family support and with only one friend (me) to talk to – and she talked to me once, briefly.

      I mention it just in case Alice ever plans to go visit Bob, whilst they remain on separate continents. 1) She will be on her own without family and friends close by; 2) He seems like the kinda guy who is dickish enough to invoke a “my turf, my rules” approach; 3) Legal systems can be completely different in how they approach rape, crimes against travellers, gender, race etc. 4) He might be able to use “destiny!!!1″ TM stuff as a way to pressure your friend sexually.

      I hope I’m not being needlessly negative, and there’s no indication from your letter that Alice has any plans to visit Bob prior to his supposed “move”, but just in case or ever comes up I think it’s worth realising that by visiting him she could be in an emotionally, physically and – horrifyingly – even sexually vulnerable position.

      • Carpe Librarium said:

        Also, a ‘misplaced’ passport in a foreign country equals so much vulnerability.
        I realise this is a tangent of a tangent, but…

        • Zillah said:

          If Alice decides to go visit Bob, the OP could offer to scan her passport before she leaves just in case it gets lost or stolen.

          • Zillah said:

            And by “lost or stolen,” I mean “misplaced” by Bob. Or lost/stolen for real, either one.

    • espritdecorps said:

      I’m really happy you are out, it gets better.

      I’ve been Bob-free for 12 years. At first I was both terrified he would find me, and missing him so badly it was like withdrawal. Which was terribly confusing. Did I like being hurt? Was I over-reacting? Both?
      It took a year before thinking about dating didn’t feel like cheating, and another before I began to trust my judgement enough to start dating again.
      Even now, when good things happen, I get nightmares of alternate realities where I’m going through it with Bob and he’s making things horrible instead of beautiful.

      Also I’m stealing “Misunderstood Genius Manpain”.

      • Oh my God, espritdecorps. Terrified and at the same time longing is SUCH A CONFUSING MIX, you are so right. And it does lead to a line of “Am I a huge emotional masochist whose subconscious is willingly signing itself up to such messes?” questioning which can feel awful.

        Sometimes, a way that I know that I’m onto a good thing is when I *can’t* imagine an alternative reality in which my ex-Bob would feature. Happy because gorgeous new partner cooked me an amazing meal? Can’t imagine an alternative reality in which my ex-Bob would go out of his way to do something lovely and generous like that. Excited because gorgeous new partner wants to meet my friends and family? Could never even get ex-Bob out of the flat to do anything that wasn’t partying on a bunch of drugs, so a chilled coffee with my parents is kinda unimaginable.

      • Lilly said:

        and missing him so badly it was like withdrawal. Which was terribly confusing. Did I like being hurt? Was I over-reacting? Both?

        Thank you for this. Yes. This is how I have been feeling. It is good to read that it gets better, even though I know that logically.

        I too caught a bad case of Bobness. I had been living in a foreign country and moved home and shacked up with my Bob, who I met online while still abroad. He was very charismatic and grandiose. I was the love of his life, the ultimate, I could relax, I always had a home now, I had come home to him, blah blah. He was also married – he said he was getting divorced from his second wife but it never happened and he was in constant touch (literally – all day back and forth on Skype, popping round to her house to do errands) with his ex.

        After a year of this I went back to foreign country for a week to pick up some stuff. When I landed, we had a video chat on Skype. I noticed he was wearing his wedding ring again and behaving oddly. Then he told me I should not come back and I “no longer had a home” there. All my things were in his– what had been our– apartment. He was living with his ex again though he denied it.

        I found out he planned this move for weeks before I left. To make sure I did not figure out what was happening he acted as normal including talking about having a baby together and sleeping with me the day before I left. When I got angry and upset he said that his second wife was much better than me because when he cheated on her and dumped her she never got angry and “played fair”.

        He sent some of my belongings to me in foreign country stuffed into tiny envelopes that burst apart and my things got lost.

        I am still picking up the pieces and I feel like I can’t trust men now.

        Alice, run. The red flags are there. It’s not worth it.

        • Private Editor said:

          Oh my god, that’s terrible. I’m so sorry that happened to you. I hope you have a good Team You to help you rebuild things.

        • Erin said:

          Fuck this dude was AWFUL. I’m sorry you had to go through this.

    • I’m really interested in the correlation between lovable assholes with Misunderstood Genius Manpain and Bobness. My own Bobness lasted through 10 years of depression, endured most of highschool, college, a grad degree, and a few years beyond, plus a teenage abortion, near annual environmental upheaval via apartment changing, and almost constant crippling debt (for which the burden of resolution fell on me).

      My Bob: didn’t graduate high school because he was too smart for it and wasn’t engaged and then later dropped out of his online degree program for the same reason–he couldn’t tolerate what he perceived as pointless L.A. courses. Aside from that, though, actually quite smart.

      Why is this so often the story?

      • espritdecorps said:

        They both come from not wanting to do the work necessary to achieve something.

        Education, career advancement, and relationships all have a luck component to them, so when they reach a place where something difficult is required of them to continue, it’s much easier to blame their lack of progress on having the wrong teacher, job, or partner than learn new skills.

        Because Misunderstood Genius is already perfect, they don’t have anything to learn. It’s the rest of the world that needs to change. So they get angrier and angrier as they spin their wheels and waste their talents.
        As they start to see ‘lesser’ people who are willing to admit they don’t know everything succeed and move past them they become entitled and bitter.
        Those people didn’t get careers, friends, and partners by working for them. They stole what should belong to Misunderstood Genius by ‘kissing ass’ and ‘playing the game’.

        Bobs are most attractive when we are in transition, they call to that part of us that sees our potential and thinks “Whew, that’s a lot of work! Isn’t there another way?”
        Bob understands and is there with a siren song of “Screw that! You shouldn’t have to…”

      • akestra said:

        On Misunderstood-Genius-ism: I’ve seen similar tendency (in far lesser degree) in some men I’ve known & dated, a sort of combo of Dunning-Kruger-ism and mistrust (really jealousy) of people who have achieved what they wanted to achieve but didn’t. I think that it is tied to how lots of boys were taught to be “men” or their understanding of “maleness”, which included an unhealthy emphasis on “strength” an consequently of not knowing how to be “weak” or “wrong”. And because of the need to be “strong”, when I have pointed this out, they tend to get defensive.

        Or, the fear of finding their limits. I read a great short story in high school about a boy who lied constantly, inventing elaborate stories about himself, like he had a rare and untreatable form of cancer. His parents knew of this tendency, but couldn’t do anything about it. So he drifted around, without any real direction. It is mentioned that his father was considered very smart, and he was too, but neither of them had “lived up to their potential” in the opinions of their families. The psychiatrist the boy’s parents sent him too thought that both he and his father were afraid if they went for it, applied to a PhD program or tried to become a published author or whatever, they would “find their limits” and discover they weren’t all that bright after all. So they didn’t.

        As to why this is so attractive? Well, I think there is a charm in the potential. When you first meet someone and they *could* be a great artist, or a talented musician, etc, but you’re with them for years and suddenly they aren’t a twenty-something aspiring guitarist who can’t get a good band together, they’re an under-employed thirty-something college drop-out that never applied themselves seriously to playing music and getting gigs and it’s time to grow up and get a real job. And sometimes they do! But sometimes, well, they don’t.

  4. Commander Banana said:

    I will second this GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH AAAAAAAAAAARGH wailing and gnashing of teeth. Frankly, this letter made me want to rip off my skin and run away screaming – and that was only at the thought of having to have a Bobversation with Alice.

    The Captain’s advice is wonderful, but I will say, I had a friend who was in a terrible on-again, off-again relationship for nearly four years, which included some physical abuse, a heapin’ helpin’ of gaslighting, and general TERRIBLENESS, and it got to the point where I just had to completely stop hearing about her relationship and dial our friendship way back until she finally made the decision to leave him, because I could.not.handle hearing her spill her guts to me every time they broke up, knowing full well that in three or four days they’d be back together again. LITERALLY THIS HAPPENED OVER FORTY TIMES I STOPPED COUNTING.

    LW, you sound like one amazing friend. It also sounds like Alice has some SUPER DUPER unhealthy relationship patterns. Yikes.

    • ona555 said:

      It sucks, but a few years back I had to stop hearing about my best friend’s Bob angst as well. Basically my side of the conversation was, “BFF, it has been seven years of this back and forth situation with Bob. You know that I think he’s very bad for you, you know why I think he is very bad for you, and if you decide to get back together with him again I do not want to know about it because I am frankly done with Bob and with having Bob related things disrupt my life when I am not the one dating/in lurve with him. I understand that you’re not done with Bob yet, but I am, and I have been for a really long time. If there comes a time when you are done with him for good, too, I will totally be here for you, and I am still here for you in all other ways, but not re: Bob. Bob is toxic for me and I need him out of my life.”

      It felt super harsh. It was pretty harsh. We didn’t talk for a long time after that, but the next time we spoke, I kept my promise of being there for her in every non-Bob capacity because I love her dearly, and she kept her end of leaving me out of her Bobness. I still don’t know if they ever got back together. Maybe some day we’ll be able to talk about that.

    • rhythla said:

      I concur with you and ona555.

      I was friends with a woman in my graduate program and I would say that we became best friends for the three years we knew each other. Then enter her Bob. She met him at a party I brought us to so obviously the “stars were aligned” and her psychic said that she would be getting married soon, so obviously to him?!?! Although he was not nearly close to Bob on the spectrum of awful, he was definitely in terrible territory.

      They did the on-again, off-again nonsense for months. It was ALWAYS the same. They would go out and have a great time at dinner, come home and have sex, she would get all starry-eyed and “he’s so perfect/loves me so much/etc.” then he would ignore all of her texts and calls for two weeks until she would explode and send him a nasty message, he would apologize about being “so busy” and take her out again – rinse, repeat. After this happening consistently every two weeks for 9 months, I was emotionally exhausted trying to be happy for my friend, then comforting her, then diffusing the anger.

      She stopped using protection with him (“so it’s better for him!” + her not being on any BC), so needless to say, there was a pregnancy scare that soon followed. She started talking about marriage and how she had changed her mind and wanted to have kids with him, oh and she wanted to open a healthcare practice with him. Every conversation began or ended with her talking about Bob; changing the subject only worked for so long before it returned to him and her current emotional state. Any time I tried to broach the idea about her looking for someone new or how this is not how someone who loves you treats you, she would make excuses for him. I was not allowed to say anything negative about him at all. When she started comparing her “relationship” with Bob to mine (I was and still am in a healthy, loving relationship with a partner who actually acts like a partner), I could not take it anymore.

      We ended up having a terse conversation like ona555’s, basically “I don’t like Bob and I haven’t for a long time now because of how he treats you. I don’t like seeing you upset all the time. You are a lovely person who deserves a chance at a relationship with another lovely person who loves you and treats you well, not this.” This conversation did not go over well; she stormed out and did not talk to me for a week. From then on, we started hanging out less and having fewer serious conversations. I stopped going to her house for Friday dinner, wine, and documentaries nights, and I would not go out to the bar with her or her friends because both of these events ALWAYS led to her drinking too much and crying over Bob and arguing with me (I would not bad-mouth him, but I would not say the expected niceties about him). When I graduated and moved to another state, I started responding to her text messages more slowly and let the relationship fade. When she came up to my state, she wanted to hang out but would not exclude Bob even when I said, “I’d like to hang out with you for a girl’s lunch like we used to!” Since then, I have only heard from her twice since then, and it was a “omg, I’m starting practice with Bob!” and a vague “we should hang out soon!”

      After reading the latest CA post about A fading out on the friendship without communicating why, I started feeling bad about not making a cleaner break with my friend since I did the slow fade too; but then I realized although it was not the cleanest, I did make it clear that I was done with Bob and that I would be there for her in a non-Bob capacity. She has chosen to stay with him, which is her choice, but I cannot deal with Bob anymore – it was significantly impacting my mental-emotional health. My partner was relieved because I was constantly angry and worried, and frankly, he was getting tired of listening to me complain about Bob’s behavior.

      TL;DR: LW & Commander Banana and ona555 are wonderful friends, but there really is a limit on what you can handle as well over a period of time.

  5. anon e. mouse said:

    PS and I’ve read that book a zillion times and think the title is very clever and tricky, because au fond Lundy isn’t really so much interested in Why Does He Do That as Why The Hell Are You Still There (but he knows if that were the book’s title, no one who needs to would read it)…also highly recommended: Patricia Evans, The Verbally Abusive Relationship; and Lundy and Jac Patrissi’s newer one, Should I Stay or Should I Go?

    • Should I Stay or Should I Go was very useful for me when I was deciding whether to leave my not-intentionally-abusive partnership.

    • tessiselated said:

      I loved the title because that was exactly the question I asked myself all the time. And the book (in the first few chapters at least, I haven’t finished it yet) really tease out the question and show how it’s the wrong question to be asking.

      If I could paraphrase that book it would be “he does that because he doesn’t respect your basic humanity, and here’s why. now what do you want to do with that information?”

    • I am reading the book at the moment and I feel like Why Does He Do That is an accurate title. So much about abuse focuses on ‘Why are you with him???’ putting the onus back on the victim instead of the perpetrator with the troubling behaviour. I like the fact that he doesn’t say ‘Leave, leave leave, get the hell out now’ which is the common discourse with abuse, and often not helpful for victims.

      But you’re right, if Why The Hell Are You Still There it would be harder to pick up than Why Does He Do That.

    • Cactus said:

      The Gaslight Effect was also helpful for me in clarifying a lot of the crappy things that had happened in one of my past relationships, things that were happening in my friend’s relationship-at-the-time-I-was-reading-it, and it even gave me a frame of reference for dealing with shitty bosses.

    • AmyP said:

      I actually like the title. I think the answer is, “Because it works.”

    • Marie said:

      I’m in the LW’s position, too, and I would like to second that recommendation. That book is incredibly helpful to me.

    • espritdecorps said:

      Thank you for this. I just bought it.
      A close friend is in a long-term relationship with someone who has stepped up from gaslighting and verbal abuse to forcing unambiguously non-consensual sex on them. (They’re not ready to use the R word yet)

      There’s kids and a decade of history between them. She’s always been so strident about it being her relationship and her choice, and it’s been going on so long that we’ve just written it off as how things are between them.
      I know I should do something differently now that things are escalating, but don’t know what.

      • Sending all the jedi hugs and courage your way.

  6. caro said:

    Jeez. Your bullet point about gaslighting and pulling others into your partner’s Bizarro World of Beliefs so it’s easier to tolerate their bullshit is… man. Too real. Gonna be sitting with that one a while. It sure explains how I became such a messed up opinion-spouting zombie for the six months I dated my ex…

  7. Jess said:

    OP, Bob sounds like Bad News with a capital Bad, but I also noticed in your letter that you don’t seem to have much respect for Alice’s judgment in general (“Every time my friend falls for a guy, she falls HARD, and becomes an entirely different person who doesn’t seem to care about anything other than her boyfriend”; “her tendency to greatly romanticize”) and you seem to be sure you know what she wants more than Alice herself (“he has a very different vision of their future then what I know Alice wants”). I don’t doubt your experience of your friendship with Alice (haven’t we all had that friend who ditches us every time they get a new significant other?) but parts of your letter strike me as somewhat jealous of the attention Bob gets from her. I’d just be careful, if/when you talk to her, to try to avoid coming off as patronizing or jealous, and reiterate your trust in her judgment, because otherwise, as the good Captain said, you’re just playing into Bob’s hands.

    • JenniferP said:

      Good point. “But you *always* do x” is a great way to get someone to stop listening to anything else you say, so keep the behaviors specific and recent, LW.

      • Looks like Jess and I are on a wavelength here. I’d say in addition to specific and recent that they should be very much not about Bob at all. I am worried about your academic situation. You left me waiting without notice. You seem disinterested in our conversation. Etc. The moment Bob is an explicit part of the dialog it becomes about her romantic life and therefor something she surely knows LW doesn’t think positively about.

        • Yes, yes and more yes.
          These are fantastic conversational lead-ins that can be endlessly drawn away from bob-ness.
          “I am worried about your academic situation” in particular leaves nowhere for Bob.

    • Karyn said:

      Jealous? Huh?

      • JenniferP said:

        I read this as “Jealous Bob is taking all Alice’s attention from LW” and NOT “LW is jealous and wishes s/he were with Bob.”

        • Karyn said:

          I read it as LW is jealous of the time and headspace Alice gives Bob, and wants more time with her friend. As opposed to actual concern for how Bob treats Alice, or about how Alice has seemingly dropped everything else in her life.

          • Jess said:

            I think both can be true at once! “Your boyfriend is terrible” and “You are obsessed with your boyfriend and I miss you” play into each other very easily. I don’t think the LW is a bad friend if they are jealous and I don’t think it means Bob isn’t a Darth. It’s a very human reaction. It’s just not one that Alice will respond to well.

          • mamacitaconpistoles said:

            I don’t think those things have to be 100% exclusive. Feeling that kind of jealousy for a missing friend’s attention is not all that abnormal, actually. And even if she DOES feel that way, Alice’s scenario still sounds terrible and worrisome.

            I guess my point is, yeah, you have to watch your mouth/affect/tone/everything when raising the “I am worried about you” issue. But if every person who was seeing the red flags of abuse had to be entirely altruistic to express valid concerns, no one would ever tell anyone “that guy is bad news.”

            LW, I noticed that tone, too, but I assumed a lot of it was you blowing off f steam about this guy and past guys and that you think you can stuff about your friend that noone else is allowed to say because you also love and probably respect your friend. But since Alice is going to be hypersensitive to any criticism, this is a good time to really watch your step. You can be open to having a conversation about your own friend-shortcomings (because all friends have shortcomings), but for sure don’t make this sort of setting be the reason for it, you know?

          • Karyn said:

            Ok, I see what you’re saying now. To me, the word ‘jealousy’ has such negative connotations that it’s a bit of a blind spot. When you were saying that maybe LW is jealous of the attention Bob gets from Alice, that struck me as implying a very mild “SWF” on the part of the LW. Seems I misread you; I apologize.

          • mamacitaconpistoles said:

            Well, in the most bland terms, jealously is trying to stop someone from having/taking something you already have. Envy is wanting something someone else has. In this case, jealous applies, and it doesn’t have to be all negative. It’s less “I am jealous of what you build with Bob” and more “I am jealous of protecting what we have built together.” Which, in those terms, makes allkinda sense, you know?

          • Jess said:

            No worries, Karyn, we’re all good! :) It is a harsh word and I couldn’t think of a gentler one.

          • thathat said:

            I know both can be true, and often are true, but ooh, it hits a squick to hear someone go to that conclusion, because y’know, it doesn’t MATTER if the friend is also jealous of no longer getting their friend’s time, if the relationship itself is bad, or if Alice has a history of making Bad Decisions in relationships (I think after being friends with someone, it’s not unheard of to notice patterns).

            I dunno, I just remember when a friend of mine was involved with an emotionally manipulative SO who constantly wanted all of his time (would cry when he tried to go home at night, never wanted to spend time with his friends, but always wanted him around, etc). And yeah, I was hurt and jealous about losing so much of my friend’s time, but it also didn’t change the fact that being on the outside I could see how Very Messed Up their relationship was, and I wanted him to be out of it. The idea of not losing my friend to the fate of being wrapped, cocoonlike, in an isolated relationship… well, getting to spend time with him was the added bonus of him getting out of an unhealthy relationship.

            I just hate the “sounds like you’re jealous” thing, because it’s often true, but bringing it up feels like it mitigates the point of “But this also looks really unhealthy from where I’m standing.”

            Though I guess it is a mindset to be aware of if the Bobversation must occur. In which case, yeah, good idea to focus more on what Alice is doing as a result of Bob (like neglecting her studies, health, social life, etc), and less on what Bob is making Alice do.

    • Absolutely. Alice’s behaviour suggests she doesn’t trust herself very much. Anything other people can do to indicate to her that she is a trustworthy, competent person with a basically rational world view will be a positive step. It means that when she does think (because she *is* going to think), “This thing Bob did doesn’t seem quite right.” she’s less likely to think, “But no, silly me, I’m so stupid, what am I thinking?”

      So I’d strongly suggest that the OP believe her about everything which isn’t explicitly inconsistent. Questioning Alice’s overall picture of her relationship is like questioning a troublesome religious belief – it is a matter of faith, outsiders may see the error but there’s no winnable argument to be had there.

      Meanwhile, on the theme of encouraging Alice to believe in her own competency, I’d reiterate both the Captain’s and other’s advice to talk as much as possible about Alice’s interests and work, or your own subjects which Alice has taken a historic interest in. Also, if possible, find an excuse to ask for her help – a practical favour, as a sounding board for your own work, whatever. Lady seems to have a desperate need to be needed and the mere act of asking someone for help is a tremendous affirmation of your confidence in them.

      • May I second the asking for help part? There is nothing more flattering (especially when the other validating force is not actually validating) than being asked for help, advice, insight… And it helps reinforce the mutuality of the Friend/Alice relationship, as well as keeping Alice aware of her own intellectual capabilities.

  8. Everything about this Bob person and the relationship sounds horrible, but I wonder if letter writer is going to have a hard time with any ‘intervention’ based on her apparent opinions of her friend. A lack of respect for Alice’s opinions and actions about romance really come through for me in this question, and I wonder if that’s not something Alice can perceive as well.

    Maybe that’s an entirely reasonable and earned opinion, but stuff like “her tendency to greatly romanticize and assume anyone she likes reciprocates” and “becomes an entirely different person who doesn’t seem to care about anything other than her boyfriend” are outlooks she’s surely sensed/noticed in the past. I’d be prepared for reactions based on her knowledge that you don’t think much of her romantic choices/maturity.

    • Vicki said:

      Whether or not LW is correct about her friend’s romantic/relationship choices, I think you’re right that it’s best not to address that. The problem isn’t, or isn’t just, that Bob is the third or fifth or twelfth in a string of bad choices: it’s how this relationship is going, and how LW’s friend is treating her.

      So, it would probably be more effective to talk about things like how it’s affecting her studies, and the specifics the Captain listed about how she’s treating you, and maybe the ways that him keeping her awake on Skype bother you. Not whether this is an “oh, no, not again” moment. It wouldn’t somehow be okay for Bob to be doing this if he was her first-ever boyfriend, or if she hadn’t gotten so boyfriend-focused on other guys in the past.

  9. staranise said:

    Cap, I think you’re totally right about the issue of people who have experienced abuse being considered more “biased”. It’s a stupid idea our society has. (I’m not saying that survivors are invariably right, either; just that the idea that ONLY they are biased is totally wrong.)

    People who haven’t experienced abuse are also biased. They are actively biased to ignore it. That’s because being aware of abuse and the shitty things that can happen in the world is painful and taxing and just overall not fun. Sometimes it’s just vicarious pain from knowing that other people get hurt, and sometimes it can involve guilt if you realize that in the past, you failed to prevent abuse from happening right in front of you, or you committed abusive acts yourself.

    So because they don’t want to incur the emotional consequences of being open to seeing abuse in general, people will wilfully ignore and misinterpret what is right in front of their faces. People who have experienced abuse firsthand and already live with the consequences of having their eyes opened may also have this bias if they want to go to the denial place, but overall they’re less likely to fall into the trap of refusing to see what’s in front of them.

    • Kai said:

      I’m so glad to see this here. My own sibling did this to me – “You’ve been through a lot with (my alcoholic ex), and I think you’re overreacting to (their spouse’s) drinking.” So for ages, I’ve been letting behaviors that toss flags all over the place go, because I thought it was just me being oversensitive.

      Now I know that I was absolutely spot-on, that their spouse definitely has a drinking problem and exhibits all kinds of alcoholic behaviors, including emotional abuse. The actual problem here is that my sibling’s in denial and doesn’t want to see it that way despite knowing exactly what I went through, not that I’ve somehow become too sensitive.

      I’m hoping that they’ll break out of it, but I know there’s not really anything I can do to change that apart from attempting not to antagonize (spouse) to avoid making it worse for my sibling.

      • staranise said:

        FWIW, I recommend finding a support group for people affected by a family member’s drinking. When I went to Al-Anon, I found it had some really good advice on how to limit alcoholism’s affect on your life, and live with the pain of watching it hurt your loved ones without going mentally squirrelly. Having other people who’ve been there can make a big difference.

    • rollinghead said:

      “People who haven’t experienced abuse are also biased. They are actively biased to ignore it. ”
      Thanks for saying this.

    • theformerastronomer said:

      I feel like it comes from the same place as people who come into SJ spaces and accuse the forum members (feminists/PoC/transpersons/whoever) of being Overly Emotional wrt the subject at hand while they are clearly being Truely Objective with their JAQing-off and devil’s advocacy. We just don’t see our own biases when that part of our identity is considered the norm.

  10. Oh Yikes! I have a friend in a similar situation, in that they were together, then not, and while they were not she had the audacity to kiss someone else once (years ago!), and now he holds that over her and takes that as a reason why she needs to always account for every moment of her day, who she was with and where she was, and let him go through the calls and texts she makes. And this sounds so very not OK to me. To make things more complicated, they live together, have one kid, and now another on the way, so while I kind of would like to give her that book, I suspect he’d react badly if he found it :(. At least your friend doesn’t have Bob policing her house (yet?).

    So I don’t have much advice for you other than that I’ve made liberal use of the phrase “That sounds not OK to me,” and it has seemed at times that she does agree, and know that Thing He Did/said was not cute, and not OK, and is sometimes angry about it, instead of believing that it was justified because she kissed that one guy, one time, when they were not even dating.

    • Off topic, a good way to get a book to a trusted somebody is:

      1. Have an amazon account, preferably not your everyday one, but a more neutral one where you can remove your personal information if necessary.
      2. Purchase the book on Kindle (no kindle required.)
      3. Go to read.amazon.com, login with your email and amazon password, and you can access the complete Kindle library for that account from any browser.

      If you have a friend that you trust enough to log out/cover their tracks online, this is one way to get a book to them instantly, secretly, accessibly and without much fuss. But it’s like Netflix for books – you have to be that kind of friend.

      • staranise said:

        Ebooks are a good way to keep books more discreet. Another way for a friend to get the book that tends not to generate an emailed invoice is for them to check the ebook out through their local public library.

        • Ah yes, good point! (I kind of meant that you could buy the books that you’d like to share with your friend, and then let them use your account.) Libraries are a brilliant idea, as well. It’s so smart of Aineotter to think about their friend’s safety while trying to get them a helpful book!

          And incognito/private modes on browsers are good, if you’d like to share helpful online content (such as, say, this post) with someone who could use it, who lives in an unsafe place.

      • DameB said:

        Off-topic to an off-topic, but I used to work in a bookstore, back before the internet. There was a day that I still remember because of its heart-stopping and yet quiet crisis. My job included calling people to tell them that their special order books were in. I had a list with the name, number, then title. “Hi, Aisha, this is Walden Books, the book your ordered, uh… How To Cook, has come in.”

        Going through the list one day, I called and a man answered. I happened to glance at the name of the requester (female) and the name of the book (“How to Leave an Abusive Marriage,”) before I opened my mouth. I was 17 and didn’t know much, but I knew about abusive relationships from friends and horrible scenarios unrolled in my brain, like full color movies. I took a deep breath and said, “Hi, is this Town Bakery? I need to order cupcakes.”

        Dude was like, “Uh, no, wrong number,” and hung up on me.

        I called an impromptu staff meeting and we all agreed not to call that woman and not to give the name of the book on answering machine messages anymore.

        • Cactus said:

          Good call on that one. Extremely good call. You might have saved that woman’s life.

        • MaryKaye said:

          You were one smart 17-year-old. Good on you.

        • I get why to not leave the name of the book on the machine, but how was she supposed to know the book was finally there?

          • Marvel said:

            When I’ve been in abusive situations in the past, I always actually went to the places in question to check in these sorts of cases, because I didn’t want them calling. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that if you order a book and it’s been a few weeks you’ll probably think to call/drop in at some point.

    • Erin said:

      This is totally fucked up and if it wasn’t that one thing (kissing a guy), he certainly would find another. I think you are right that it’s safer not to give her the book. If you can make it available to her only when you meet or something, I think that would be ok though.

      • aineotter said:

        That’s my feeling as well; he’d have found any little thing to justify invasions of privacy and control. I like the ebook idea, but I don’t think she has her own private computer access, either (but Im glad you suggested it, it may work for someone else) . She does have job with significant downtime, though, so maybe a paper copy she can keep at work?

  11. adria said:

    Yikes. A (former) good friend of mine caught “Bobness” and they ended up getting married. I don’t have any words of wisdom beyond what the Captain said because I have unfortunately needed to end the friendship due to her Bob’s awfulness. I guess I’m just trying to say “I feel you” and hope things work out better for you.

    • Yeah, I kept reading this thinking, “She’s by-god gonna marry him and then the friendship will end.” Triggers, whee.

      Good luck with this, but if you end up having to completely give up on her because Bob is her everything…well, it happens.

    • Guava said:

      Yep. Same here. I still second-guess the time when I told my friend that I thought her relationship with her SO was really unhealthy, and that (because of Reasons) I didn’t want to hang out with him anymore. Turns out she “doesn’t feel right” socializing without him. Even when we used to hang out (just us girls) he would constantly interrupt…or suggest that he’d “maybe drop by” to disrupt our plans…or make her feel guilty about the places we were going or the movies we were seeing.

      Then she moved in with him. Now we talk maybe twice a year, and I can’t get her to go out alone with me anymore. It sucks. I miss her. It is kind of validating to be reminded that there’s not much more someone can do, once a friend has made their choice.

      • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

        I get your frustration, Guava, but I kind of bristled at the phrase ‘once a friend has made their choice’. Your abused friend is not *making choices*, she has had her ability to make choices co-opted by an abusive person who is an expert manipulator. I get that it’s surely incredibly frustrating to do the emotional equivalent of watching someone drown when they appear to be surrounded by lifesavers, but please don’t put the onus of the abuse on the abused. Put it where it belongs, take care of yourself, and hope that your friend comes to the exit on her own speed and terms.

        • Guava said:

          You’re right. Her ability to make choices has been co-opted by this manipulative, abusive guy. It’s what is happening…but makes it more painful to confront the reality of it when I look at it this way. I feel so guilty and like I’ve abandoned her.

        • With all due respect, I don’t think it’s uncompassionate to say that this woman is making a choice. It may be one that’s influenced by the situation that she’s in, and I understand how difficult a choice it would be to leave — but it’s still a choice. I don’t agree that calling it that puts the onus of the abuse on the abused.

        • espritdecorps said:

          Saying that an abused person has had their ability to make choices taken away from them made me bristle. I don’t think taking away someone’s agency is a good thing, even if it’s well-meaning.

          No one wants to think of themselves as a helpless incompetent. Knowing that’s how other people will see them if they admit to the abuse makes asking for help that much harder.

          TK summed it up beautifully downthread, and I can’t say it better than they did.

          • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

            I don’t mean to say that the friend is helpless, because you’re not usually helpless when you’re being abused, but you are *impaired*. You sure as shit are not incompetent! BUT-your choices are being made under duress and they are not likely to be the choices you would make if you were not being mindfucked regularly. What got to me was the ‘welp, she made her bed, now I’mma leave her to lie in it’ tone–which perhaps I read in when it wasn’t actually there. I guess I didn’t see things from the perspective of the ‘helpful friend/family’ who’s had enough. Your self care IS important when you are thinking about, or trying to, help a friend or family member who’s being abused. My .02 as a long-term abuse survivor is coloring my perspective more than it ought, not to mention triggering the fuck out of me– so I’m afraid I’m out. Take it away, folks. Good luck, LW and Alice.

          • espritdecorps said:

            *hugs*

          • Guava said:

            For what it’s worth, I *definitely* didn’t mean it in a “she made her bed” kind of way.

  12. Oh, LW, so many jedi hugs. So many. It sounds like a terrible situation.

    I had someone a lot like Bob, once, and I think that something that made a big difference for me was that the non-Bob parts of my life got a lot better. It was much easier for him to isolate me from a life I felt lonely and insecure in. When I started to get my bearings, and have friends and school and activities that I was succeeding in, then it was harder for him to manipulate me away from them.

    I wonder if there’s a way to, rather than nudge Alice away from Bob, to nudge her towards everything else? Encourage her in the things she is good at, or enjoys?

    • Muffin said:

      I second this! This is a really great insight. This was true for me, too — getting out and doing things with friends + professional life improvements made it easier for me to leave my Bob. Maybe Alice would like to take up yoga or see a lot of local theatre or write a lot of fanfiction?

      • Cactus said:

        Thirded. That was a major factor in my breakup with my last “Bob.” (Also, he HATED that I had friends that I wanted to spend time with. At first he refused to meet them; then he tried to keep me from seeing them and tried to set up weird manipulative rules/arguments. So fucked-up.)

        • thathat said:

          Oh gosh, that sounds just like my friend’s Evil Ex. It was all so weird, and hard to suss from the outside at the beginning (“Okay, so they’re spending a lot of time just the two of them. Well, new couple, don’t want to throw extra wheels in there. Huh, she never comes to anything we invite her to. Well, maybe she had stuff come up. Again.”) When we offered to let her move in with us (we had a big place, and she CLAIMED–turned out to not be true, she was just trying to manipulate my friend into moving in with her so he wouldn’t have an excuse to spend time with anyone else–that she was going to lose her apartment soon ), my friend admitted that she’d told him before that she didn’t like us. She didn’t KNOW us and had never spent time with us, but she didn’t like us. Because we were Other People in my friend’s life.

          Looking back, I’m baffled and terrified that my friend stayed in the relationship that long.

  13. dialogue_dub said:

    Oh, here’s a question. So I’ve had a friend in a similar situation recently, only that it was the dissolution of a messy breakup she wouldn’t stop talking about. I admit being perpetually single colors my view, but dominating the conversation with her mess before, during, and after the breakup wore on me. Especially because her entire friend group told her things that would happen… she wouldn’t listen, and 2-3 weeks later… they would happen. It just got old, and I felt bad for being ignored for both my advice and just presence as a person in a conversation going on 4 months.

    This is still going on, as she runs into him during social outings. I made my feelings known multiple times, it coming to a head after a night where she really embarrassed herself seeing him in public while out with me.

    Now, here’s the kicker. Now whenever we’re with a third party, and she starts in on it (surely to go on for 15-20 minutes), she’ll preamble her part with “I just feel like I’m talking about this TOO much, everyone’s SO annoyed with me. I promise I’ll make it -quick-, dialogue_dub.” While talking, she will constantly refer to how this annoys me, even though I will not make a peep and just dive into my phone to escape the awkwardness. She was being rude and thoughtless, and now it’s my fault for not letting her do it.

    Help?

    • JenniferP said:

      3 suggestions come to mind:

      -Take a break from hanging with her for a bit, especially alone. Don’t announce this, just, call up other friends, do things in smaller groups, etc. Give yourself a break from worrying about it in a low-drama way that feeds you with company of people you like.
      -The next time it comes up, tell her one timeI am very sorry you are going through this, but as you know, I have come to the end of my capacity to listen to stuff about (Ex). So yeah, I do tune out when he comes up. And I think it’s worth talking about him with a counselor if he’s still dominating so much of your thoughts and feelings, because having a new, fresh, impartial audience and a place you know you can vent to your heart’s content will be good for you. I want to be the friend who distracts you from thoughts of him. Can we try that out?”

      See also: “Well, you keep mentioning how you know it annoys me, but you keep going anyway, so…how do you want me to react when that happens? Because it does annoy me that my limited time with you is spent chewing over that jerkhead again. If that means we can’t hang out for a while, I’ll be sad, but I’ll understand.

      -If it still keeps happening, don’t just dive into your phone but hang out for the awkwardness. Physically get up and leave the interaction. Go talk to someone else at the party. Go to the bathroom. Go admire the fish tank in the lobby. Go to the bar and get a drink. Wander back and check in in a little while. If it’s still going on? Grab a ride or a cab or the bus home and text her from the way. “Had to bail, catch you next time!” It’s a bit dramatic, yes, but it makes the point.

      This won’t be friction-free. She’s got to get it out of her system. It sounds like talking to you guys is not helping with that and is annoying you in the process, so change something up and see if it gets better.

      • dialogue_dub said:

        Wow, those last two are very helpful. I know, especially to that uninitiated 3rd party, I must look horribly insensitive or at least aloof compared to the new person hearing the story for the 1st, and not 100th time, but I think addressing the issue before I’m in front of a mutual friend or stranger is probably better than stewing in the moment and having a post-mortem about it later.

        • staranise said:

          The “I know this annoys you” line is a deliberate silencing tactic. She’s making you look mean and insensitive in front of the uninitiated as a way to make you feel bad, in hopes you won’t spoil her “fun”.

        • Elsajeni said:

          I agree with staranise on this. It sounds like your friend is doing a lot of preemptive apologizing (“I’m sorry to go on about this again BUT [goes on about it again]“) and making a point of “trying” to meet you halfway (“I know you’re tired of hearing this, so I promise I’ll keep it short!”) — those are tactics designed to make you feel even more like it would be rude to object by playing into politeness rules like “Once someone has apologized for something, you’re not supposed to harp on it” or “If you disagree with someone and they offer a compromise, you’re supposed to accept it, not push to get it more your own way.” I don’t think she’s necessarily doing this consciously or on purpose, but she is definitely doing it — she’s manipulating the rules of the conversation, so that she gets to “win” every time. Maybe thinking about that in the moment will help a little, if you find yourself butting up against those “but politeness!” feelings.

    • Overly dramatic said:

      If it helps, I was the friend that had to be told to knock it off after a particularly messy and dramatic Bob breakup. So I did knock it off. It didn’t mean I got over it but I did shut up about it. After two years and eventually starting to date someone else and I realising that I still wasn’t over it, I eventually got therapy. (Therapy is not such a done thing here in the UK). The friendship didn’t survive, but that was for other reasons, not because of the the knock it off conversation. I did feel very upset, alone and that no-one understood me. But now 14 years later I’m just a bit embarrassed about my woo is me behaviour and realise what a jerk Bob was even though at the time I thought he was God’s gift. It took a long time to get over it though and it had to be done on my timeline. I think you are perfectly within your rights to say, “this isn’t healthy”.

    • MaryKaye said:

      I’d respond to “I know this annoys you, but–” with “Yes, it does annoy me. Please don’t.” Then if they do anyway, physically remove yourself. It will feel rude, but what the other person is doing is very rude, and you aren’t obligated to hang with someone who is being deliberately rude to you.

      Or, “This conversation’s not for me. Talk to you later.”

      I have an emotionally disturbed 16 year old, and I’m having to say that latter about ten times a week, but it does work.

  14. Admiral Backward said:

    I went to grad school with a Bob. He largely succeeded in keeping his Alice locked in their bedroom on the second floor of his apartment. Then she got bored and wandered downstairs while he was putting the moves on another classmate. Maybe having two women blow up at him simultaneously and the story spread around school humbled him, but I’m skeptical. (His Alice moved back in with her parents.)

  15. Muffin said:

    This letter hits me right in the I’ve-been-there’s. LW, this may seem like a hopeless situation right now, but as someone who nearly married a Bob and then bounced back, I want to give you some hope that you can make a difference.

    When I was in an LDR with my Bob, I had a lot of friends who were willing to be Bob-apologists to some degree. They wanted to make me feel better, and so they told me that love is usually worth it, and things would work out.

    That was a good short-term bandaid, but the messages that stuck with me–that rattled around in my head until they became keys that opened the jail cell–were from friends and relatives who were able to describe my Bob’s *behaviour* in clear ways, or who asked me to refocus on myself, or who offered assistance with self-care and communication. This took the form of messages like:

    “He’s not treating you nice.”
    “Can you wait to do [plan with Bob] until you finish this round of exams?”
    “Would you like me to help you write an email to Bob asking for [thing you need to feel safe]?”
    “I don’t think that sounds like considerate behaviour.”
    “Can you take a break from Bob for the next week?”
    “Would you like me to come over and sit with you this evening?” [After I had a panic attack.]

    Some of this depends on the person, obviously. But those messages and offers of help really did stick with me, because I could tell that they came from a place of caring. My Bob is now long gone, and I’m still very close with the friends who helped me get out.

    I like all of the Captain’s advice to you above. And I 100% second the notion that people who have been in abusive relationships are not “biased” — we’re actually experts on this stuff.

    Good luck, LW. I hope this works out for you and Alice.

  16. ona555 said:

    Thank you for this whole post, really, but especially thank you for the very last part. I feel like I am able to see abusive dynamics all over the damn place because abusive dynamics are all over the damn place, not because I am “projecting” or “refusing to let go of the past” or whatever other forms of invalidation frequently get lobbed in my direction when I point out that a thing someone does is a red flag.

    • Commander Banana said:

      I see it sort of like, imagine if you were out walking with a friend and you came across a big-ass wasp nest. And your friend, for whatever reason, has never seen a wasp nest before, and they go to pick it up. And you, knowing wasps, yell “DON’T TOUCH THAT!” because you know what will happen next. That would be prudent, right? Why is being like THIS HAPPENED TO ME, DANGER! any different? Your friend still has the free will of deciding whether to pick up the wasp nest and give it a big nuzzle.

      • thathat said:

        That seems like…a terrifyingly accurate analogy.

      • Puck said:

        I think this is the corollary to the House of Angry Bees. If you come across a Big-Ass Wasp Nest, someone who’s been in that House will recognize it sooner. (Yeah I know I’m crossing my buzzing animals, but still. Point stands.)

        • ona555 said:

          It made me think of the house of angry bees, too.

          • Suzy said:

            House of Evil Bees, made of fire and spewing fire at you, stinging you with fire. Basically, NOT GOOD

      • ona555 said:

        You don’t know that I am not the wasp whisperer maybe wasps sting you because you can’t accept their nature you just think all wasps sting people why do you hate wasps so much <— how this conversation generally goes

        • thathat said:

          The wasps only sting a little bit, really, and it doesn’t hurt that much, honest. Besides, it’s better than NOT having wasps, right?

          • ona555 said:

            Here be truth.

            Sadly, I have been on both ends of this and I was no more likely to hear sensible advice earned through experience than any other person is. Sometimes, for some people, you just have to go through something your own self to understand exactly what your dear friends or family were trying to tell you.

        • BarbecuedBillygoat said:

          Ona555, That actually sounds like a beautiful sad poem about an abuse victim. Do you write poetry?

          • ona555 said:

            I have, and I do still, when the need strikes.

  17. Since they’ve only been cyber-dating for a few weeks, I suspect he’s one of those internet Romeo’s who is probably talking a lot of hot air. He said he was moving to be closer to her – but10 hrs away isn’t “close”. I didn’t see a mention of when this move might be taking place… so .. odds that it’s actually going to happen? Slim. Odds that he’s really moving there for “her” as opposed to his own needs? Slimmer. Meanwhile, he’s more of an interactive video game than anything.

    I like Cap’ns suggestions for carving out some space for just you and your friend – no other partners around (live or in convo) just to reconnect. If she truly can’t go through one meal without a gentle reminder of “Let’s just keep this about us” then I suggest she be referred to a counselor about her addiction. It’s one thing to be all twitterpated (I STILL love that word) – but obsessed is something different. Obsessed with someone that creepy is even more dangerous.

    I wish you all luck!

    • thathat said:

      TBH, I was wondering if 10 hours might be closer to another Alice.

      Because yeah, if I was moving countries to be closer to an LDR, 10 hours just doesn’t make much sense. That might as well still be another country.

      • Agreed.
        To me, a long distance relationship is anything more than a couple of hours drive / train, max. That distance where it starts becoming difficult to just drop things and be there when needed.
        But then, I live in a country where you can fly from the northernmost city to the southernmost in 2 hours.

      • Cactus said:

        The only thing I can think where that might make sense is if his field is marine biology and she lives nowhere near a coast, or something like that. So he’d be closer than he would on another continent, but still in a place where he could work.
        Aside from that, though, the explanation of another woman living closer makes sense.

    • dancerdc said:

      Well, India to Canada is long distance. Moving to the US is not easy for someone with a third world passport, it requires connections and money and this thing called a visa. To justify the visa, he needs either a company to sponsor him, a college to admit him, or a wife. Family members can get short term visas, but those would not give them a green card for working. College also comes with tuition and housing costs, not insignificant on Indian budget. International students dont get the same admission standards or financial aid. So, he probably has very little choice in cities or even states, he has to take the job where its offered.

  18. Anonaconda said:

    Oh, I feel for you, LW. From a totally outside perspective, if things are this intense only a few weeks in, my guess is that this relationship will burn fast and bright and be over pretty quickly. It’s hard to sustain that level of energy and infatuation once you’ve been in it for a while and are figuring out whose parents get Thanksgiving and do you want Thai tonight, oh no I had that for lunch, etc. Real life just doesn’t have that much drama. Like others have said, the fact that they’re long distance could be helping their imaginations run wild. I hope so, at least. Good point by the Captain that sometimes it’s okay to damage a friendship in the short-term if it means looking out for someone in the long-term. That’s what being a true friend is all about.

    • unlurking said:

      Real life with Darths really *does* have all kinds of drama, is the trouble, and the drama tends to escalate, in fact, to keep the intensity high. I think the advice still stands, though, as you say.

    • Erin said:

      You gave me another idea: Afaik in most abusive relationships, there is a honeymoon period in the beginning. But this guy seems quite terrible from the get go. Maybe that also means it’ll be over more quickly?

      • Lily said:

        But Alice *has* a honeymoon period! Right now!
        At least she interpretes it like that.The constant “love” that she gets of Bob…
        (Not talking down to Alice.I’ve been there. That “emotional drama, slightly more good/exciting than bad feelings part” at the beginning of the relationship got totally interpreted as honeymoon.)

        • Cactus said:

          Yep. For a certain type of person (and I am prone to being that type of person, if I don’t actively work to keep up my analytical Logic Shield), any and all new relationship behavior gets seen through the lens of “this is wonderful! This is just what I want!” It wasn’t until after the breakup of my 4.5 year relationship with my second Bob that I started thinking about how completely messed-up some of the stuff he did in our first two years was.

        • Erin said:

          Then I’m just crossing my fingers for “Alice”. :/

  19. suryas said:

    OP, I am an Indian woman here, and given I had some Darths in my past, I may be able to offer some insights about Alice. Is Alice and family still into the culture, tradition, and films of India? If so, one of the biggest culprits here could be Indian mainstream films, especially the ones in the 80s, 90s and early ’00s.

    When growing up, I thought it was usual for a man to slap his wife/girlfriend to make her love her family more – because that’s what the film hero did to the heroine. And you magically become much nicer, better and more family loving because your man is there to make you tow the line.

    1. it was ok to fall for someone at first sight, and that it’s pure love – because the film hero and heroine were madly in love with each other without even speaking a word to each other.

    2. it was ok to just keep loving someone even if they don’t love you in return because they will return to you because of the power of your love and your good heart – because that is what a good girl does.

    3. It was ok to marry men who beat you, abuse you and hate you, because if you are a good woman, you will make them love you via your kindness, love and empathy towards them.

    4. Virginity was a huuuuge deal for women – if you get raped, then you better kill yourself. But a smart man will sleep around with many women, but that’s ok.

    5. Westerners were evil, western culture was evil, they just don’t have the morals and ethics that the Indian hero/heroine do.

    6. Eve teasing was ok because that’s how people express their love to you.

    7. Independent, career oriented women who may not want to stay hope and take care of their kids are evil.

    8. You end up marrying your childhood friend or BFF of the opp. sex because that’s what true love is according to movies.

    If your friend grew up on a staple of Indian main stream films ( and we Indians love our films) I am pretty sure she may have internalised many of these messages. When I moved to west and started dating, I applied what I learnt via bollywood to my dating life, it sucked and there were a lot of darth’s to exploit it. (I did not believe rule #4 btw, because I knew other nice Indian girls who did not follow it either).

    I think what helped me was when my friends who were women called out these actions they see in films or in real life and told me how fucked up it all was. That’s to their coaching, I am now in a stable relationship with someone who really gets me.

    She may also be afraid of being 28 and not being married yet – 28 is old maid territory when it comes to Indian arranged marriages. Watch some films where the ladies figuratively kick ass and may be discuss it. Make sure to tell her that she is worthy as an individual, and not just as a wife or dutiful daughter. And please let her know that family pressure is not a good enough reason to get hitched – and the ‘if you care about us, you will get married’ can be turned back to the whining relatives as ‘if you care about me, you’d want me to be happy instead of making me miserable’.

    • Marvel said:

      Thank you for sharing your experience here! I feel like getting some context makes it a lot easier to understand Alice’s perspective.

    • I came here to leave basically this comment (fellow Indian here) but yours was just light-years better! LW, here be thorough and perfect context if you’re looking for it.

    • That’s a really helpful comment, but I’d just like to add one thing to it, if I may. The term “Eve teasing” is not familiar to most people outside India. It refers to any form of harassment of women by men in public places.

      • Kelly L. said:

        Oh, thank you! I didn’t know–I thought it was a typo for “even teasing” but that makes total sense. Basically street harassment?

        • Yes, it’s basically street harassment, or harassment that occurs in colleges, high schools etc. It can be really quite horrific an experience, especially if it’s gangs of men doing it.

          • suryas said:

            Let’s not forget light molesting, along with street harassment – and in a lot of films, that’s how the hero ‘make’ the heroine love him.

          • UUUUGH yes. I’ve been molested so many times I honestly can’t even do more than feel numb about it at this point. (To the point where I moved west and stopped being molested on a regular basis, I had a mini-breakdown because it finally sank in how horrible it had been.)

            Typing this….I begin to wonder if Alice isn’t dealing with a similar sort of breakdown, where Bob’s behaviour is familiar enough to sort of trigger a habituated passivity as trauma response, especially if she’s had other Darths in whom she got all wrapped up when they were together, and where she’s all about Bob in self-defense, because in her experience, the post-all-about-Bob happened because Bob was an an asshole. :( I hope she comes out of this okay, whether I’m right or not.

      • I think watching films where the ladies kick ass together is a lovely suggestion. I just saw Tracks last weekend. It’s a true story of a woman who tracked across the Australian outback on foot with some camels. She does have a male sort-of love interest, but he’s not really the focus of the story, and he supports her without trying to curb her independent spirit. It’s a very good film and amazingly inspiring, so I recommend it when it comes out in your country.

        • suryas said:

          I would recommend the bollywood films Queen and older ones like Nikaah, Arth, Ishqiya etc. they are difficult to find, but they are out there!

    • Zillah said:

      When the LW mentioned that Alice met this guy while living in India as a child, questions about how cultural norms might be playing a role in this occurred to me, too. That doesn’t make creepy scary red flag behavior okay, of course, but if this is a larger cultural context, that’s important to take into account. If some of the people in Alice’s life – even maybe her family – tend to exhibit similar behaviors, challenging Bob’s behavior could easily turn into challenging the behavior of people who she’s close to in some really uncomfortable ways.

      Which, again, is not to say you shouldn’t… But keep that in mind as you do.

    • Mildred said:

      Yes! Yes! I adore Bollywood films, but they also carry a fair bit of responsibility for encouraging men to let their inner Darth run free.

      A lot of the, ahem, love stories of the 1990s (hello, DDLJ) can basically be summed up as: boy meets girl; boy declares undying love for girl; girl treats him like the sex-pest he is; boy continues to act as a sex pest (usually with a massive side-helping of controlling nastiness) until the girl succumbs to his, ahem, ahem, charms. Take-home lesson: be an incorrigible sex-pest, and she will be yours.

      • Myrin said:

        And the thing about this is that it’s portrayed as romantic when it’s actually something that would probably fit better into a dramatic sort of storyline – like girl succumbs to his *charms* but only because he wore her down and is miserable and doesn’t know how to get out. Which is horrible but seems much more realistic than the way it usually goes in movies.

        I’ve also found that we’re super conditioned to be on the side of whoever character is introduced to us as the hero. Like, if a guy behaved like you describe here but was *the hero’s rival* he’d be shown to be a pathetic loser who eventually gets “defeated” by the hero whereas when the hero does *the exact same thing* it’s romantic and shows how much in love he is (I’ve actually seen that play out side-by-side, where both guys acted *exactly the same way* but somehow you were supposed to root for one and hate the other).

        • JenniferP said:

          In film, screen time = emotion time. Film can create identification by going very close to a character and letting their emotions be read (through closeups) regardless of the goodness of that character or how much you actually would relate to them. When you see an actor in close-up, you are closer to that person’s face than you would ever be to anyone outside your most intimate connections in real life, and it does create an emotional connection/fascination.

          Filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick explore this by making you identify with abusive characters and complicit in what they do (The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, A Clockwork Orange) – you can watch the violence, but you can’t be objective about the violence because he’s using the camera to place you in the POV of the perpetrator.

          This is another reason that representation (who we get to see and identify with on screen) is so important. [/film nerd rant]

      • suryas said:

        And an example of a horrible film that perpetuates these messages is Raja Ki Aayegi Baarat. I’ve never seen it, but it was a big hit back then. Here’s the plot synopsis on wikipedia – it’s all that was wrong with bollywood in one post.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raja_Ki_Aayegi_Baraat

        • Holy fuckballs that is the most hideous thing I have ever read in my entire life.

  20. Michelle said:

    “Like and equal are not the same thing.” This is how Meg breaks ITs hold on Charles Wallace (super kudos for the best use of a sci-fi/fantasy/YA reference ever!). Charles, brilliant thought he was, was still a child. Alice, PhD student or not (LW did not give her major, but I would bet money it is in psych or some other care-giving field), or maybe for that reason, is in some ways (based on this description) still approaching relationships like a brilliant child–she doesn’t see where her lack of experience may be enabling her to be assimilated by a controlling person who claims to want the best for her. She may need a Meg to, in very simple terms, explain that controlling her every move and loving her for all she is are not the same thing. I wish the LW good luck and the only wisdom I have when it comes to friends: Sometimes the greatest act of friendship is to tell someone the truth, even though you may lose that friendship because of it, for a while or for ever. True friendship, like love, is being willing to make the hard choices, say the harsh truth, and putting their friend’s well-being before their own fear of losing that friend. Good luck to you, and I hope Alice can break ITs control before it is too late.

  21. H.Regalis said:

    I’ve been there as the Cannot Shut Up About $_person, as having to tell someone I can’t listen to them talk about $_subject anymore, and as a friend watching someone be in an abusive relationship and not being sure what, if anything, I could do about it. Thanks to the Captain for the advice about the latter; that is really helpful.

    LW, I don’t have much to add except to wish you the best of luck. It seems likely you’ll lose your friendship with Alice, at least for a while. The best you can do is let her know that you care about her, you’re worried about her, and you’re there for her if she needs you; and if she continues to be the 24/7 Bob Network then scale back seeing her to something you can stand. I hope they break up soon.

  22. Oh my god, LW, I’ve been in the same position. Some of the details were different (my Alice was American but from a traditional background [i.e. marriage and kids being mandatory], and sex wasn’t exactly a part of the discussion because we were 16 when it started). Literally everything my Alice said revolved around her Bob. She had nothing else to talk about. NOTHING. This persisted even when her Bob’s phone was cut off, and the family apparently moved without her Bob telling her. Later on, they ran into one another again, and they had a relationship… which lasted about three months, and was plagued constantly by his ex and her ex (who she cheated on to be with her Bob).

    By the time the whole shitshow was over (and the good Captain is right, it was a SHIT. SHOW. With two capital S’s in there), we weren’t speaking. We still aren’t. I still have residual feelings (and it’s been 15 years now) about how my best friend in the world threw me over the first chance she had for a relationship. I get through it now by reminding myself that she was a kid, that she was scared of the future and was dealing with that by Not Dealing and doing her hardest to be married off at 18 so she could start home- and baby-making and not have to worry about college, career, and all the rest of the big scary adult stuff that all of her friends were champing at the bit for. At least, that’s what I think was going on with her, not that early marriage and childbirth are bad decisions for everyone.

    I hope it ends better for you and Alice… I hope you guys can get past said shitshow with something of a friendship intact, if not all of your friendship. But… sadly, it doesn’t always work that way.

    • jenfullmoon said:

      Yeah, some people will do anything or put up with anything as long as they’ve finally caught a man. Don’t even get me started on the friend I lost because her fiance turned out to be a compulsive liar–but he was the only man who wanted to marry her, you know? Last I heard they were married and he wasn’t working (shocker, not) and she was working at a Wal-Mart and they lived in a trailer park. I really don’t want to hear anything more after that because it can only get worse.

      • atma said:

        I’m sure this is not how you meant it, but this comes across a tad judgemental. If the problem was the man was a liar, what does the rest have to do with it? Some people live in trailer parks,work in Wal-Mart and have a husband who is out of work without it being a bad or abusive relationship.

        • Polychrome said:

          yeah… my sister works at Wal-Mart. She was pretty thrilled to get the job and for defs would not need anyone’s sniffy attitude about it.

        • Epiphyta said:

          Some people live in trailer parks

          My mother and grandmother, for instance.

  23. Notmyusualname said:

    Ohhhh, I am in there with you, LW. My Alice is married to her Bob, and doesn’t talk about him ALL the time, but a lot, and all of her ‘cute’ stories give me the screaming heebie-jeebies from red flags. And not just me, with my history of having been abused, also my husband and at least one mutual friend. And we don’t know what to do other than as often as we feel we can without driving her away saying the ‘that’s not ok’ reaction we’re having inside. And making sure she knows that she can bring her small child with her whenever she needs to, because one of the things he does is randomly refuse to ‘babysit’ their child when she wants to get out of the house, often on short notice.

    • Drew said:

      Caring for your own child is not “babysitting,” it’s PARENTING. Bwoop bwoop bwoop RED ALERT RED ALERT RETREAT RETREAT!!

      Sorry — you struck a nerve, big time. My extended family has had several variants of this (up to and including a parent refusing to honor a visitation agreement because “I didn’t sign up for this”). Adults putting their desires ahead of their own children’s needs makes me stabby.

  24. Heather said:

    One thing I would like to add to this conversation: the LW says that Alice is a PHd student. As you get toward the end of student life, there comes a point when you realise that the foreseeable future is 2 weeks away (or 2 months), and that’s a really scary moment. Unless Alice has a job lined up, she literally does not know where she will live and what job she will have after Uni.

    Having a partner to help you chart that transitional period seems much more important than it would otherwise be. It may be playing into the obsession. So the LW could work on the plans after Uni thing, because another touchpoint could help.

    H

    • jenfullmoon said:

      Yeah, I suspect that if Bob gets even more entrenched in her life, she may not get to finish the Ph.D, because being Mrs. Bob will suddenly become a billion more times enticing, especially when he pressures her to quit.

  25. tawg said:

    So, I came out of a shitty relationship about 18 months ago, and while there were plenty of differences between my scenario and Alice’s, there was also some stuff in common. And there are a number of reasons that I stayed as long as I did but I guess a big one was that it was hard for me to admit that my ex was a total jerk who was very bad for me and who was benefiting from being bad for me.

    One thing that really helped me to see that was blogging about my relationship. I actually didn’t post a lot of it (he read my blog, and could see through the calendar view when I made private posts and would quiz me about the content, so if I had anything negative to write about him I had to save it up for times when he was too busy with other things and then ‘hide’ the post. In retrospect, WOW, WHAT A RED FLAG, RIGHT?), but writing it out and stressing over how to word things so they wouldn’t seem awful helped me to realise that things actually were awful! So maybe you could suggest that to Alice? She seems like she needs to communicate about Bob a lot, so maybe writing it all down and getting it out in one place will mean that she doesn’t have to spill the tide of Bob-ness all over your friendship.

    • Calluna said:

      I’m so glad you’re out of there! And yes, so much yes. Writing can be an amazing tool for figuring out what the heck is going on while someone else is trying to mess your head up.

      I dated a Darth for almost three years. I knew things were bad, knew I was miserable, but somehow he kept talking me into staying. Finally, I decided to write down the story of our relationship, with the “Mute” button on — none of his words, just his actions. Within two sentences it was painfully, horrifying clear that my house was full of evil bees. I cried for an hour, and then I told him to move out.

      I wouldn’t have been able to listen if anyone else had told me what was going on. But by writing it down, I was telling *myself*, and that turned out to be a really powerful difference.

    • remi said:

      Absolutely this. I got way into 750Words when I was dating my shitty ex, and it was so good for me for so many reasons. I managed to get my venting out of the way without driving my friends crazy yet again, and later when I inevitably got back together with him I had written proof that yes, he *had* said this or that, he *had* done that thing he’s currently denying, no that was *not* how he phrased whatever, so it was a really valuable tool in me figuring out, holy shit is this guy gaslighting me??? Is this thing abusive???? Then after we broke up yet again I was able to go over my old entries and realize that for all the drama and tears over breaking up, I hadn’t been happy with him in a really long time anyway, and that breaking up was actually the best thing that could happen to me. Keeping a journal or a blog, especially a private one you don’t have to show anyone so you can vent all your frustrations without having to worry about hurting someone’s feelings is a great thing. Especially in this sort of situation; I had actually known for a pretty long time that my shitty ex and I weren’t in a very good relationship, even if I didn’t realize quite how unhealthy it was, but by then I felt like I couldn’t admit it to anyone because everyone else had seen the red flags and had warned me, and I had chosen to ignore said flags because *love* and *understanding* and *no but he’s different, he didn’t mean it like that* and *even more endless excuses*. Being able to vent all these emotions and experiences without having to face anybody acting as loving and supportive as they possibly can while trying their hardest not to say “I told you so”, and being able to go back over them later with a clearer head and go, oh, that’s even less right than I thought it was, was just more helpful than I can even describe. It probably saved a few friendships, too; both in the immediate “they don’t have to hear about this stupid story yet again” sense and in the longer “why did I stay with this guy so long, oh my god she knows the whole story and can remember what an idiot I was about him, I am just too humiliated now to talk about it and we slowly drift apart” one.

    • I might recommend 750words.com over blogging? – private, not readily findable, and daily, so the topics of interest are subsumed in the “oh, that’s just something I do every day”

      • remi said:

        Yeah, the only trouble is 750Words is paid now, I think? Anyone who already had an account was grandfathered in, but new users have to pay some kind of fee, I don’t remember how much or how often now, though. Are there any other 750Word-like sites that are more accessible?

      • tawg said:

        Not all blogging platforms are entirely public. LJ has a filter option and you can make private posts, and iirc you can password protect a tumblr account so only people who know the password can view posts. I guess one issue with using a blogging platform is if someone finds out about it and demands access. I had some tricky conversations along those lines with my ex, and I have a friend whose partner used her computer and saw her LJ tab open and went through and read a lot of posts that she’d made private. That led to quite a row.

        So there certainly can be risks and drama with blogging, but I think it’s a little less conspicuous than keeping a hardcopy journal.

  26. Katamari said:

    I feel your hurt and frustration, LW. I think the pain you are feeling is a direct result of your friend having let you down, and maybe this whole episode is revealing things about Alice and your friendship with her that’s forcing you to rethink it.

    Example – a housemate of mine found herself a douche-face (not even abusive, just your average jerk). Our friendship started to burn out around then, and they are now married. The thing that hurt me the most was nothing to do with jerkface, it was what her relationship with jerkface revealed – that our friendship was not what I thought it was. I thought she was a considerate kind of person but it was a nasty shock to find out that my sense of comfort in my own home wasn’t as important to her as her as playing house and sucking face with douche-bag. That realisation, that she didn’t respect me or my feelings very much, is what ended the relationship – jerkface was just the catalyst.

    I wonder whether you’re going through a similar thing, LW. Alice’s treatment of you is raising some hard questions – how much does Alice respect you, your feelings and your needs? How much does she really value the friendship? I know you’re waiting for the “real” Alice – the beautiful, intelligent, considerate Alice – to come back, but guess what: THIS IS THE “REAL” ALICE. I know finding that out has been a nasty surprise for you but you have to deal with that reality – this insecure, inconsiderate Alice that shits all over your needs is just as much a part of her as the nice bits. She’s disappointed you BADLY LW, and the fact that she’s naive/ignorant/under pressure from parents is no excuse for that. You’d be well within your rights to say it’s not good enough and to walk away from the friendship.

    • Rachel said:

      I see your point Katamari, but would advise against the LW taking the “you’ve disappointed me” line in any confrontations with Alice. To put myself in Alice’s shoes: when she was kept hanging on Skype with Bob and was then late to meet the LW, Alice probably felt she was in a no-win situation because she could either disappoint Bob or disappoint her friend. When I was in a Darthy relationship, I tended to let my friends down because I could only deal with one source of disapproval, and I was (foolishly) more afraid of losing Darth than losing the friends. Even though my friends’ needs were reasonable and Darth’s were not, I couldn’t distinguish what was a reasonable demand any more, because Darth.

      My point is, feeling you are torn between trying to make everybody happy in totally conflicting ways is exhausting and draining for people in crappy relationships. It’s fine for LW to call out specific behaviours (“It’s frustrating when you are late to meet me” etc) but I would avoid the angle of “I’m disappointed in you as a person” because that road will lead Alice right back to Bob.

      • Redgirl said:

        And of course, you disappoint your friends instead of disappointing Darth because your friends will not exact horrible retribution–silent treatment, screaming at you, attacking your character, etc. You look at the path with the worst possible outcome and you choose the other.

        • chinchilla said:

          So much this. When I was with my Darth I’d choose disappointing my friends because I knew they would forgive me.

      • Katmari said:

        I think you misunderstood my post – I definitely don’t advocate confronting Alice with what I said- I was just offering some thoughts for the LW’s own reflection.

  27. AutumnFire said:

    “The more a person argues that this is destiny (we’ve been in love since childhood, it’s written in the stars, I just know we are meant to be, we’re “soulmates,” etc.) the more the actual relationship will be a shitshow.”

    I swear I’m going to needlepoint that sucker and hang it on a wall. Talk about deep truths!

    • jenfullmoon said:

      Please show it to us if you ever do this :)

  28. tessiselated said:

    This topic is something I’ve been turning over in my head recently. Because I wonder if there was anything that anybody could have said that would have cut through my vicious defensiveness of my Bob.

    ***

    But before I talk about abuse dynamics, I want to point out something else. If she’s been dating him for a few weeks she is limerent as hell right now. Her brain is filled with all the happy chemicals related to Bob. She could be described as high most of the time right now, and anyone who has been around high people knows how repetitive and single minded they can be.

    People get limerence over totally healthy relationships. Most movies and arts around romantic love focus on the limerent phase and not the “Ugh, can you please do something about those dishes” phase.

    Limerence fades. There comes a time when you can look at a table and not think “That table has legs, my [new girlfriend] has legs! Let me talk about her legs.”

    ***

    [So, bit of background. I'm just out of an abusive relationship within a nonmonogamous context. I started dating Douchebag two years ago, and his girlfriend at the time and I started dating as well. I broke up with him and am still with Girlfriend, Girlfriend broke up with him a few months later. Girlfriend was with him for 4 years and his behaviour had escalated much worse than how he behaved with me]

    The thing is, I was so viciously defensive of Douchebag. I knew something was wrong. I knew his ex would no be in the same room as him and said he abused her. I knew that he behaved differently with Girlfriend than he did with me (but not the extent until I broke up with him.)

    Reading about ‘The Victim’ in Why Does He Do That’s section on the types of abusive men felt like the floor was falling out from underneath me.

    He didn’t treat me like that because he hated me! He was abused by his father and having flashbacks. It isn’t his fault, he’s mentally ill. He just has bad days and his meds are really messing with him.

    He was so good at getting us to feel sorry for him and cater to his every whim and mood and I needed to believe his story for my behaviour to make sense. There was so much smoke and mirrors around his behaviour, and we just weren’t able to question it.

    Girlfriend confided in a friend who works in DV that she was worried about how he treated her at the beginning of the relationship. Friend pointed her to resources, talked about how her relationship fitted into a controlling pattern, and left it at that. She knew that nothing she could say would make Girlfriend see the truth about that relationship at that time.

    Lundy Bancroft talks about how we can be so ashamed that we start avoiding the people who we tell the truth about what’s going on to. http://lundybancroft.blogspot.com.au/2012/11/avoiding-people-when-you-go-back-to-him.html
    And that it just creates a trauma bond with our abuser. You start feeling resentful of the people that are never there for you like Abuser is. Who don’t know your life.

    And I’m starting to think that maybe the only way to be there for a friend with a Bob is to grit your teeth at the awful and be there when it falls apart. And I don’t know if I can always do that.

    • Polychrome said:

      Bing! I have even read Lundy Bancroft’s book, but I didn’t remember this part. You have just answered a question for me about a friend who confided in me, almost two years ago now, about a Darthy married coworker with whom she became involved in an affair. I am the wimpiest friend ever about giving people bad news they don’t want to hear (which is probably why she picked me; also, I was going through a marital breakup at the time which probably made me seem like enough of a mess to be unthreatening. i.e., clearly my life was not perfect either). Anyway, I did my usual thing of being understanding and not expressing judgment … at least about the affair itself. I did express some mild worry at the fact that he was really going out of his way to involve my friend in his family life (like, having her over for dinner with his wife and kids ALL THE TIME). I said I totally got being really attracted to this person and not being able to help acting on it at some point but the involvement with the family seemed… unnecessary? (what I didn’t say: clearly seemed like a sick fucking power trip on the part of the married dude).

      Anyway, I was one of only two people whom she told, the other being a friend that she has described as pretty much a mess; I do think she picked people she felt would be in no position to judge her. She didn’t tell her older sister to whom she is otherwise extremely close, nor a mutual friend of ours (we have a close three person friendship in which the two of them are closer to one another than either one is to me) (it’s fine, I love them both but they have more history together, were college roommates etc).

      To get to the point (sorry! This is cathartic!): since then, she has pretty much dropped me and the official story about Darthy Married Dud (actually that typo works…) is that they are no longer having an affair, that everything is great, she is great friends with him and his wife and his kids, and that it is great. Super great. In fact every (very infrequent) conversation comes down to a wall of assertions that everything is great. I’ve been feeling so hurt and shut out and kind of used. But I think now — this is shame and avoidance. Because she did tell me, and also I now suspect, oh no, it’s still going on. It probably doesn’t help that my situation is less unhappy now (divorced, pretty at peace with it). I don’t know how to help her, but suddenly I feel less resentful and wounded and more compassionate about what is (probably) going on with her. So thank you tessiselated!

    • chinchilla said:

      Oh my god he has a blog. Thank you for that link! I’ve just read Why Does He Do That? based on recommendations from here. I’d read a few chapters and then have to stop and have a cry, it was so frighteningly accurate.

  29. tired of abusive jerks said:

    It can be really hard to have these conversations with friends who are so wrapped up in a shitty partner.
    I’m beating myself up right now because a good friend overheard me badmouthing her emotionally abusive partner to someone else (when I had no idea she was around) and while everything I said I firmly believe… I think I may have damaged our friendship by saying what I did. I’ve tried to be someone she can talk to when he’s being a jerk, and I learned a while back not to actually say “abuse” but to just agree when she complains about things he says or does, and try to be there for her in any way I can.
    I’m afraid that she won’t want to confide in me or feel safe talking to me about personal stuff at all anymore, and I get it – it was really not my business to lash out about this person. I’m just really angry at him (and at myself, for not being more careful & considerate).

    • Redgirl said:

      You know, from the other perspective…things my partner used to do to me were pretty abusive. I would vent to friends about it and they were supportive and stood by me, but they never actually called it abusive. Recently, when I was talking to a friend about trying to get past some things that happened back then, she suggested I see a counselor who specializes in helping people who have been emotionally abused.

      It stung to hear her call it that, but it was also a HUGE relief. I’ve blamed myself for the things that happened for years, instead of the person who did those things to me. But I was also a bit angry that she never called it that back then, or even just said “this behavior isn’t okay, it’s harming you, and you have the absolute right to leave.” Maybe I wouldn’t have listened to her, but maybe somewhere in the back of my brain I would have stopped holding myself so responsible, and stood up against it sooner.

  30. Amber said:

    My best friend had a Bob when we were younger. He was controlling, emotionally, and sometimes physically abusive. He also raped me one night. After the rape, she refused to leave him because he threatened to jump off a bridge. She was not willing to lose either of us. At first she would make sure we were never in the same place, but then she grew sick of separating us and we would have uncomfortable gatherings instead. After about a year of just dealing with the situation, constantly telling her how she needed to get out and giving examples of how I would help, and contradicting all of the things he would say that would bring her to tears, she tells me they are getting married. We exchanged a few lengthy emails at this point, starting with my stating that I am in no way ok with this marriage. We went back and forth a bit because I was upset that I was not invited or asked to be a bridesmaid, mostly because she knew I didn’t like him. Eventually, I had decided to inform her that I could no longer speak to her until he was out of the picture. We spent a few years not speaking, and a while after she healed from the divorce, we became friends again.
    In my particular position, the pain of constantly being around this scumbag and watching him bring my friend down was greater than the pain of losing the friend.
    I am a pretty outspoken person, so I have no issue speaking my mind to her about how he was treating her.
    My personal bad experience came from the actions of my best friend’s Bob, and it still did nothing to change her extremely wrong picture of what was best.

    • misspiggy said:

      I’m sorry you went through that. Your strength in still being a friend to this person is very humbling.

    • Redgirl said:

      Oh my gosh, nothing but HUGE hugs for you here. What a horrible thing to go through.

  31. Anisoptera said:

    Ugh. LW that guy sounds terrible, and it’s entirely reasonable for you to set boundaries about discussion of him. In fact creating Bob-free space in Alice’s life can only help her too.

    One thing to keep in mind though, is that many abusive partners deliberately set about to socially isolate their victims. Some of them do it blatantly, by trying to forbid seeing people, but many do it subtly by discretely sabotaging their partner’s life. It can be really hard to pin down, but they’ll do stuff like keep people awake with a false crisis the night before they plan to do something so they’re too tired the next day. Or make them late for stuff by not doing tasks that need doing, or stalling getting ready if they’re coming too, or “accidentally” breaking necessary stuff, or “forgetting” their partner needed the car and taking it for something else.

    Hell, I had an abusive dude who picked fights just before group music practices and once a performance leaving me running late, seriously emotional and dropping out of the first bit of one performance because I was too red faced from crying and I didn’t want anyone to see. My lack of reliability with that group lost me my place in it (understandably). This guy had a sudden crisis the night before a major uni exam, such that I spent the night comforting him rather than studying.

    Abusive partners also tend to be derisive about friends they don’t want their partner to have, and sadly that has an impact too. My ex didn’t seem to like anyone I spent any time with, and given that we tend to love, respect and listen to our partners (even the abusive ones, because we don’t see them for what they are) it had a real impact on my opinions about these people.

    Anyway. I’m not saying you should put up with everything your friend does – absolutely set the boundaries you need to set. Just be aware that when she’s late or cancels there’s a good chance it’s because Bob has managed to engineer a crisis to hold her up, or has worn her down so she’s exhausted and doesn’t want to go anywhere, or has otherwise manipulated her. Whatever patience you can manage and are comfortable* with will help counteract this.

    *you still get to set the boundaries you’re comfortable with – that maybe her behaviour is caused by Bob is no reason for you to become Alice’s door mat.

    • ona555 said:

      Re: sabotage of friendships: yes, and it comes in more than one form

      One of my exgfs, when she was attempting to date me, would do all sorts of wonderful favors for my housemates and friends and treat them like they were the best! people! ever! but cut me down and invalidate me any chance she got– never in their presence, at least, not at first. Result? My own friends defended her to me, and my freshly re-minted sense of reality started to buckle. It wouldn’t have worked had she gone after my friends straightaway, because my ego and my friendships were too solid, I was riding the high of certainty that so often comes when one recovers their footing after abuse. These friends were people who’d unabashedly shored me up in the face of a past Darth, these were people I trusted and who had my back, so she needed to get them on her side. They weren’t going to leave me, so in order to get me isolated and under her purview, she had to arrange it so that I stopped feeling like I could trust them, like they were with her and against me.

      Once that was well on its way to accomplishment, she started criticizing my friends to me behind my back, but then if I had hurt feeling or critical words about someone (a guy at work who was a total douche, a friend who’d hurt my feelings) she’d invite them over without telling me and make a big thing about being their new bff. Make it obvious they were talking about me, then go quiet when I came in the room. Invite over friends of mine who were still ostensibly on my side and then make it as awkward for them as possible– like getting up and putting on lesbian porn while we were eating dinner. If my friends complain or leave, she can frame them as homophobic, if they stay, she can gaslight them as secret lesbians, if I complain then I am self hating and embarrassed of her, there is no middle ground, she sets the terms of this game, fun for everyone!

      It took me more than a decade to even begin to work out some of the sneaky-assed shit she pulled. I am *still* having revelations and it’s been seventeen. damn. years.

      • Annima said:

        That sounds scary as hell. That kind of long, subtle and elaborate strategy… Just chilling. I am so sorry you went through all that. But also thank you so much for sharing – stories like this help me trust my instincs. And this kind od abuse is the most difficult for me to “accept as real”. Not in the way that it’s not abuse. But it was a revelation for me to accept that it’s not me being that crazy, it’s them being this manipulative and cruel.

        • ona555 said:

          Uuuunnngh, the “crazy.” When I had an issue or a problem, or a preference which conflicted with hers, or wasn’t getting a need met, I was “crazy.” Didn’t matter if I brought it up quietly and with as much tactfulness as I could muster or if I yelled it out the front door in front of the neighbors. My BFF, after the fact, called her behavior crazy-making because she treated me like I was off the hook regardless of how I was actually acting. Sad? Crazy. Happy? Crazy. Lonely? Crazy. Had opinions about parenting my kid? Oh, yes, crazy.

          The weird thing was that I could see a lot of what was happening so clearly, but because there was no validation forthcoming, that was what brought it all crashing in. I didn’t want to date her, but maybe I was wrong about that too and should give her a chance? No. The answer to that was always no, I knew it was no. Goddamn.

          Three years in, she found a more difficult challenge, a married co-worker (um, her supervisor) with three kids, and dropped me like yesterday’s socks. I kind of lost my shit because I gave up my entire identity for you but of course me losing my shit just validated her decision to break up with me and move her new girlfriend into our apartment before I’d found a place to live. (Bees. Bees everywhere. Run!)

      • Anisoptera said:

        AAAAAAAAAAGGHH! Holy crap that sounds appalling. Slightly different to what I went through but same timeframe. It twists your head around completely and leaves you wondering if you’re being unreasonable, while all the time your life coincidentally crumbles around you. I’m so sorry that happened for you, and thank you for sharing it so that others can see what this kind of manipulation looks like.

        It’s amazing how this works. My ex did this thing where he seemed to be trying to stop me from going to parties with him, to the point where if I decided to go he would decide he didn’t want to go out after all. It had become a non monogamous relationship (ugh) and I think he liked to flirt with other women without me there. Anyway – he would *also* complain that I never went out any more and was no fun. One day in the midst of such a discussion I told him I didn’t think he wanted me to go out with him – and he actually admitted it was true. He back tracked immediately, but there it was. I was so messed up that I spent further time trying to fix our relationship until such point as he left me for a new lady that he hadn’t crushed into a lump of depression and despair yet, who still was “fun” and wanted to go out.

        It has been many years since then, and I’m still unpacking it all and the horrible things it did to my beliefs about myself. :-(

        • ona555 said:

          It twists your head around completely and leaves you wondering if you’re being unreasonable, while all the time your life coincidentally crumbles around you.

          And how.

          Oh my Maude, your ex.

          I learned one of my ex’s hobbies (a table game) so that we could have a shared interest, and once I got good at that hobby she stopped wanting to do it any more. I guess it was fine and dandy to have me on the sidelines watching her ignore me in order to do Hobby for hours on end, but her watching me do Hobby once in a while, me getting kudos for being good at Hobby, or us doing it together as a team was too much to ask.

          • Erin said:

            Jesus Christ, both your (+Antisoptera) exes sound horrible horrible horrible.

          • Anisoptera said:

            Ah yes, the centre of attention is where abuser has to be, and you don’t get to be. It’s taken me *decades* to work out that this is why my mother would be mean to me whenever I was in a play or dressed up for the school formal or whatever. Horrifyingly I thought my ex’s need to be the centre of attention at all times was *cute* at first – if our friends and I stopped focusing on him he would have a mock tantrum. Only, of course on hind sight he was probably completely sincere.

            It’s just so annoying that I had to reach my 30s before I could see this sort of behaviour for what it is. I wish I could print this site out and post it back to my teenage self. :-/

          • Anisoptera said:

            Erin indeed. It’s weirdly affirming to hear you say that, because when you’re in such a relationship it’s not always clear what’s going wrong. In my experience at least they frame it in ways that seem reasonable, and they have plausible deniability for nasty stuff, and everything seems accidental or understandable. And if you wonder if it’s calculated or deliberate you feel like maybe that’s insane paranoia. That’s why people hang around in these relationships not sure what’s going wrong, constantly trying to work out how to fix it and writing off appalling behaviour as some kind of “mistake”.

    • newlife said:

      Anisoptera,
      It seems like all your posts go straight to my heart. You put in clear, lucid words what I can only express to my closest friends with fumbling, halting language. All of the small coincidences, petty cruelties, angry outbursts. Anyone might do one or two of these things. I am realizing that most people rarely act this way and they will make real, honest apologies and tangible reparations when they do. I have given my “poor, misunderstood, broken dove” so many chances, made so many excuses for him. Reading your posts helps clarify how horrible his behavior is and how right I am to fight for my freedom.

      • Anisoptera said:

        I am so glad it helps other people to read my examples – the more people who spend less time and effort than I did on relationships like this the better. “Poor misunderstood broken dove” – I have been there and thought that. As you say, genuinely good people don’t create this sort of frustrating crazy making environment, and are genuinely sorry when they do. As abuse goes the subtle manipulative kind is so insidious and hard to pin down, and if you grow up in a similar environment (hello) it can be really startling to learn it’s not normal or healthy to live like that. :-/

        If you haven’t picked it up yet from all the recommendations from other commenters Lundy Bancroft’s “Why does he do that” is a massive eye opener.

  32. olivia0330 said:

    My dearest, most beloved friend has broken off contact with his entire Team Him- family and friends- for his Darth Bob. It’s completely heartbreaking, but I’ve decided I just can’t go down this road with him again. This isn’t the first time he’s dropped me like a hot rock for some abusive so-and-so, and I accepted long ago that there is something about abusive, controlling men and lots and lots of DRAMZ that spells love to him. When it burns out this time, though, he can’t come back to me for support again. I feel guilty, like I’m throwing him to the wolves, but at least I know there are others who will welcome him with open arms.

    Still, it feels like a death.

    I had a Bob once, and it lasted for four years, so I’m not entirely unsympathetic. But then I met my Mister and it’s been smooth sailing between us most of the time. My dude is quite a bit older than me, and I married young, but about a year in he said, “You know, your friends are always whipped up in some silly bullshit.” And he was right! We’ve all toned it way down, though, as we’ve gotten older, except Dearest Friend, who seems to be trying to make up for all the rest of us!

    It alarms me that several times of me talking about how easy, and how totally mundane being in love is for us, friends have sort of recoiled. One was aghast, and said, “Isn’t there ANYTHING you like about him?!”, when I talked about not having that dread and trepidation in the early days. Where does this idea come from that if love is True, it’s totally miserable?

    • iiii said:

      The Truth Hurts, so if it doesn’t hurt, it’s not true. QED.

  33. godtisx said:

    I work with women who cite these types of situations DAILY. It angers and saddens me that it’s not a part of our upbringing – fortifying little girls for life as women – stocked with wisdom from older/wiser/lived in women who can instill some of what they’ve learned. I also ache for a society that appreciates little girls more, particularly the fathers, so by the time they are women the tendency to lean into any type of male attention is zilch. There are definitely the good and bad ones.

    But if straight women have holes in their hearts from absentee or neglectful fathers, it makes it difficult, even beside the point to tell the difference. For some time… :(

    • espritdecorps said:

      Yes.

      I wish that was a thing. That women worked together to give girls agency and respect. Then they would grow up knowing they were valued.

      I didn’t start thinking about feminism until I had a daughter, and saw the beginnings of the little cliques and put-downs that girls make to get as big a share of the limited pie as they can.
      My daughter makes certain she knows the names of the stores her clothes come from. Just being her isn’t enough, she needs the value of her clothes to give her value to the other girls. I grew up working class and I can’t tell her it doesn’t matter, because it does.
      I’m learning about intersectionality, and I can see it happening on the playground, lighter girls over darker ones, middle class girls over working class ones, feminine girls over tomboys. How do we get out of that mindset?

      If we can’t teach our daughters to respect each other how can we teach them to demand respect from their partners? How can we teach our partners and sons to respect them?

      • godtisx said:

        Please write a blog post on this, in fact several, in fact a book, in fact several. Please.

        Public speak about it too (if you can stand to). This is another profoundly valuable comment girls, young women, older, and men need to see and get exposed to.

        The narratives children and grownups alike are getting exposed to are creating a pretty unhealthy environment across the board (for all of us). But we are going backwards when it comes to the progress of women even how men are engaging with us across the board (w/ business trying to dictate values).

        Yes the one upping — more unhealthy imprinting controlling all of us. *Sigh* We all just have to make sure the voices that get run over systematically get heard, life from their standpoint considered.

        In whatever way we can, and when we can.

        And I think we teach our daughters to respect themselves by first respecting ourselves. For those of us who don’t have it naturally, other women have to be willing to take a stand with us, give us food for thought.

        That part is pretty difficult, I do this EVERY DAY all DAY. And I’m pretty drained at this point. But the few who reconnect to their self worth, and pull themselves out of unhealthy-toxic relationships make me see there is hope.

        When you have self respect, so much can generate from there. But by God, when it’s absent? Oh boy…

        Anyway, my two cents.

        Love your thinking espritdecorps, keep calling what you see. Especially with your daughter. :)

        • ona555 said:

          Everything you said, it resonates, and thank you so very, very much for the good work you do.

          • godtisx said:

            Not sure this comment is for me, it came up like it was. If it is…that’s great. And thank-you…. :)

      • godtisx said:

        By the way, espritdecorps do you have an active blog? Tried clicking in from here, but I couldn’t. Please let me know what it is if you do. :)

    • Palliser said:

      godtsx,
      I agree with you wholeheartedly. I long for a future where little girls understand their infinite value and grow up to be women in a world that validates them as individuals. Likewise, in a dark discussion about (mostly male) abusers, a big shout-out to the good fathers, fun uncles, cool older brothers, kindly male cousins, teachers, coaches and all the other fantastic men in the world who are doing their darndest to make that a reality.

      • godtisx said:

        I love this response. I want to frame it. What…YOU SAID. *SHOUT OUT TO THOSE GUYS.*

        Because there are, I just need them to seriously influence the rest of the pack somehow.

        And the day little girls and women know their infinite value, live in a world that validates them as individuals? Our planet will be pretty extraordinary.

        Nice to meet you Palliser. :)

        • Palliser said:

          Hi again, godtisx! i don’t have a wordpress (that i know of) but happy to chat? is that what people do? I am old(ish) :) Nice to meet you too!!!

          • godtisx said:

            You don’t? Wow. Well reading is just as great. Sure we can chat.

            Lol. Well I’m not sure what everyone does. I just go with what strikes me. Do you have email? Please reach out whenever you like. writerofpure@gmail is my email. Or you can keep in contact with me via my blog.

            http://archaicsugar.wordpress.com

            It’s nice to meet you too!!!!

      • godtisx said:

        Palliser what is your WordPress? May I visit? It doesn’t click to it from your avatar or name…

        • Palliser said:

          If you have a good way of getting in touch, happy to do so. I have just never done that here before :)

          • godtisx said:

            I just left you my email and blog both. Whatever makes you comfy. :)

  34. Rachel said:

    Ugh. I had a friend who did the “constantly talking about Man” thing with one guy after another when she was newly single and internet dating. She wanted me to analyse and interpret texts and emails from men I’d never met and she barely knew; and found ANY WAY AT ALL to change the subject to whichever dude she was currently obsessing over. It was particularly grating as I had some serious life issues going on at the time, which she knew about but never, ever asked me how it was all going and looked bored whenever I brought it up, because her latest man-obsession was just far more interesting to her.

    The other problem was that any time I tried to be honest and tell her what I really thought (usually along the lines of “Lighten up. You hardly know this person”) she would have a lengthy argument as to why I was wrong. I came to feel she was using me as devil’s advocate, expressing all her doubts and worries for her, which she could then argue against, and if she “won” the argument then it was no longer a problem.

    Sadly we are no longer speaking because I confronted her and she threw a tantrum. I still suspect that when she cut me off, it felt to her as if all the niggling doubts and insecurity she had about dating just vanished when I did. So it probably felt pretty good from her POV, but I’m sad that our friendship had to die for this to happen. Good luck to you LW, I have no helpful advice to give but hope your story ends better than mine did.

  35. kanel said:

    Ouf! This hit so close to home it was a rather hard read. Without going into details I can say that I crossed an ocean to be with my darthiest Darth (who is such a nice guy that everyone loves) and things got pretty bad. In hindsight I wish that the friends and family I slipped away from, to live in darthy land of magic and horror, wouldn’t have let me go so easily, that they’d tried to keep in touch. I can’t blame them, though. They were used to me being the one to initiate contact most of the time and now there was all the time difference and me being all Darth-bubble. If you can manage to be around, LW, using the suggestions you’ve got, that can be immensely helpful.

    Something that burst the bubble of another less darthy but seriously dysfunctional relationship was a counselor asking me a couple of questions that just yanked me out of the endless loop my thoughts were caught in. It helped a lot that he was a neutral person because with friends and family I was instantly put on the defensive.

    I have the same relationship pattern your friend Alice has, the way you describe it anyway. I’m in therapy now and trying to heal from the resulting PTSD and find other ways. Fortunately for me, most people I have been in relationships with have been really nice people, but the Darths were there too, with their abuse and gaslighting and disguised awfulness.

    I stumbled upon this text a couple of weeks ago, that is a pretty spot on description of how I have been relationshipping.

    http://turningleafcoaching.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/6-dating-mistakes-adhd-adults-make/

    I’m not saying that Alice has ADHD (I have no way of knowing) but maybe this list would resonate with her. Not that you could share it with her, LW, without utterly offending her (at least that would be my guess). Maybe it could be helpful for other people who read this and recognize this pattern, though. It was helpful for me.

    • J. Preposterice said:

      This kind of thing is where Facebook (or similar) can come in surprisingly handy. “I read this article today [link] and I think it’s super important that everyone embarking on a romantic relationship read it!” …what I’m just SHARING a LINK what makes you think it’s about BOB, Alice? Is BOB LIKE THAT, ALICE? omg Alice how terrible I didn’t realize, i was just thinking about my ex, Alice, wow, if Bob is like that, wow, Alice!!

  36. TK said:

    I’ll try not to repeat too much of what’s already been said, but as a survivor of my own “Bob”…

    LW, one thing a few people have noticed is the way you frame Alice, as someone who doesn’t make good romantic decisions, is obsessed, is unaware, etc. When I was first getting into my own shitty relationship, my family and friends had immediate spidey-senses about him and tried to warn me before I got in too deep (spoiler: I was with him for years after that).

    One of the things that’s still stuck with me after all these years is something my sister said: “I know you’re sort of blind to this, but…”

    I don’t remember what it was I was “blind” to, or most of the rest of that conversation. I just remember feeling insulted and defensive, and even though my own spidey-senses were tingling and I knew she was right on some level, I now had to PROVE that I was NOT blind, damn it! I knew what I was doing! If I stuck with him and made it work, it would show everyone that I wasn’t blind, or stupid, or bad at making decisions about my own life!

    More spoilers: I proved nothing. I just had five-ish years of my life sucked into the black hole of Bob’s Manpain, without the lifeline of those friends/family supporting me sans judgement. (And when you are close to a Bob, you are DESPERATE for a reprieve from judgement.) Worse, it made me worry that Future Friends would also judge me for putting up with Bob’s crap, and so I covered up a lot of his worst behavior and tried to make them like him.

    The problem is, when you make the whole thing about a problem with Alice’s character rather than Bob’s behavior, it contributes to this terrible cycle where she feels the need to prove her own wisdom, which becomes tied to Bob’s goodness, which deep down she knows doesn’t exist, which makes her more scared and confused and defensive of any last shred of self-confidence that she has, which is again all tied up in Will My Loved Ones Accept My Life Choices??? Which will probably lead to her continuing to talk up Bob and how great he is.

    (I realize I’m projecting all over Alice, but this is what happened to me. Incidentally, the only way I was able to break this cycle and get out of my Bob’s clutches was when the rest of my life got a bit better– my grades might have gone down the tubes, but I started drawing and writing again, made new friends OUTSIDE of Bob, and generally found ways to define myself and spend my time that didn’t involve him. I couldn’t accept that his shittiness wasn’t worth it until I stopped thinking that I NEEDED him to feel good about myself.)

    • espritdecorps said:

      This is an excellent point.
      Framing your concern over a friend’s Bob as her being incapable of understanding is not going to help. Bobs feed off of self-doubt, and questioning the friend’s ability to make good judgments only fuels the attraction.

    • This this this. Having been labeled the “hopeless romantic” by family, or less charitably “the one with no common sense” has propelled me deeper into the clutches of many a Darth.

    • Redgirl said:

      This is a great point. I also find that people tend to live up to or down to what we tell them about themselves. If you call someone “bad at relationships” then they think, “well, I’m bad at relationships, it’s just a thing.” Instead, it might help to say something like, “You’re such a smart person, and generally a good judge of character. That’s why your willingness to put up with [x behavior] from Bob surprises me. I wonder if he’s convinced you that you don’t deserve better. But you absolutely do!”

  37. Clementine Danger said:

    There’s this concept in addiction recovery (I’m sure it’s used elsewhere as well, but that’s where I know it from) called “bottoming out.” Sometimes people need to hit rock bottom, really experience the lowest of the low not as a hypothetical but as their actual lived reality, before they can get to active recovery.

    I don’t know why it is, but I’ve seen many of my female friends and family members play out that scenario. And it hurts like nobody’s business, but sometimes all you can really do for someone in an abusive relationship is let them bottom out. They have the right to be in that relationship, they get to make that choice, and while you can always, always let them know that you worry and that you will be there for them by not judging that choice and not invalidating their agency, sometimes they need to bottom out. I’ve seen the pattern repeat so many times, and I get the feeling that Alice might need to bottom out, painful and dangerous though that may be. I’ve been on the other side of the equation too. I needed to bottom out. It wasn’t until my Darth became openly and clearly abusive that I started to understand what my friends and family were on about when they expressed worry about this guy. And yeah, bottoming out can take YEARS and involve huge life decisions, like marriage and children. But sometimes it just needs to happen before a person can become internally motivated to recover.

    Actively making the choice to let someone bottom out is excruciating. It hurts to make that choice, you feel guilty as fuck. The most active you can be is to set your own boundaries like the Captain advised, and make sure they understand that you are not judging their choices or looking down on them for it, so they know you are a safe person to talk to when they hit their lowest low.

    Because bottoming out is embarrassing. I’ll never forget how stupid and naive I felt when I slowly started to realize that everyone had been right about this guy I loved. And you know who I DIDN’T contact when that happened? The people I knew would say “I told you so.”

    LW, if you can be that person who she feels is safe when she bottoms out, who won’t tell her “I told you so” or make her feel stupid for her life choices, I personally think that’s the best thing you can do for her.

  38. MrsMorley said:

    Oh LW, I feel for you and for Alice. A dear friend married her Bob. Ten years and two children later they separated. It’s many years ago, and my friend has happily remarried.

    I remember having to use my words to make clear that I couldn’t be around her Bob often. I remember how he gas-lighted her. But mostly I’m glad she’s happy, and he’s gone. I hope Bob’s gone soon, and he doesn’t harm Alice.

  39. Tesseract said:

    “Like all of this mistrust of our experiences and pressure to be impartial isn’t deeply, deeply gendered.”

    I very much appreciated all of your parallel syntax-infused points, but it was this last one that really struck me. Like so many of the commenters here, I also had a bad case of Bobness, though I was in my early (or pre-) teens and we were both students at the same school, so it isn’t a perfect analogue. I only “got out” when I had a total implosion and had to be institutionalized. It was not a good experience. Bob was *definitely* not worth it.

    Anyway, I regularly have experiences or conversations which remind me of Bob, and then proceed to spend hours agonizing over whether my fears/concerns are reasonable and worth having, or whether I’m just being unreasonable as a result of Bob-related trauma. It never really occurred to me that I might feel differently if I weren’t female. I don’t think that the people in my life who suggested I overreact to trigger-esque stimuli intended to be sexist, but sexism certainly does not require intent. I’ll think on it some.

  40. Jamie said:

    As a person who has had a few Bobs in their life, I want to suggest a weird tactic.

    With a Bob, it’s true, there is often talk of ‘destiny,’ and in the face of overwhelming crappiness in a relationship it’s easy to fall back on that as a justification for not wanting to do the hard thing (well, it seems like the hard thing) and breakup.

    In the face of ‘destiny,’ fight fire with fire. Despite all my own misery with my Bobs and everyone else’s dislike of them, I couldn’t let go of the idea that it was me making my relationship shitty by not being psychic or malleable or happy with being tormented. We were meant to be! There were coincidences and we had magic moments and they wanted to lock me down which is so romantic!

    So my mom would do a tarot reading for me, and as tarot is very much a ‘what you bring to it’ thing, she always found a way to steer the talk around to ‘it’s destiny to MOVE ON’ basically.

    Strangely, I am not really into tarot at all, but when I’ve been in that Vader fog it was the only thing that gave me permission – nay, the obligation – to ‘follow my destiny’ and end the relationship.

    Maybe something like that would help Alice, if her beliefs and your circumstances work with that. Maybe even just offering an alternative vision, remind her what you know of her dreams which are now being killed off so she can more perfectly fit into Bob’s dreams. Make vision boards together! Something to give her something beautiful enough to hold onto while she lets go of the dream of what Bob could be, but never will.

    • jenfullmoon said:

      I applaud your mom’s use of tarot.

  41. LW said:

    LW here.
    I just wanted to thank Captain Awkward for the insight, and everyone else for the comments -I actually found a lot of this very helpful, in feeling less frustrated at least, even if I can’t really help Alice. She’s now decided she’s going to go visit him; she does have friends nearby she’ll be staying with, which makes me feel much better than if she were going there just for him, but this makes me both afraid for her and slightly hopeful that maybe, as has been suggested, being in-person with him will maybe make some of the ‘sparkle’ wear off, let her get a bit bored of him. Maybe. Please? If not, I now have a better idea of how to handle the situation. Thank you, so much.
    (Oh… and a couple people mentioned they thought I sounded a bit harsh. I think partly I was venting my frustration a bit, but also -I’ve known her a while, and I’ve picked up on her patterns. She’s also complained to me in the past about friends who’ve commented on these same issues [obsessing about boys, putting everything in the most rose-coloured-glasses terms possible], so I don’t feel like I can comment on that to her without her getting extremely insulted and tuning me out.) One of my fears here is that when I was with my own Darth, the more he was criticized the more I felt I *couldn’t* break it off, because I had defended him and needed to *prove* that I was right. So I think the strategy of pointing to individual things, and setting boundaries when Alice redirects to Bob, will be a better strategy. Thanks again!

    • JenniferP said:

      Having been involved in some long -distance relationships with a lot of fantasy and drama in them, there is a strong chance that Actual Bob is a giant loser in person and will fail to dazzle your nice friend once she sees how friendless he is, how rude to waiters, the state of the socks on his floor, etc. Let’s hope she comes back safe and sound.

  42. Shaun said:

    Just a small note to a great thread about an oh so painful and prevalent problem.

    On the point of agency, I was with a Bob for six years. That whole six years I was constantly trying to choose what was best for my life, but truly could not figure it out. Just found that every choice i made led to more confusion, isolation and pain.

    So, “impaired” as was mentioned upthread was a light bulb moment. Great word for it.

    The thing about emotional abuse is that is can take away the ability to know what is real; gaslighting can diminish enormously the ability to make any kind of decision, much less a life changing and possibly (initially) dangerous decision like leaving an abuser who has convinced you that it would stop hurting if *you* would only _(fill in random unspoken rule of the day here)_ better.

    Living with that, plus a lack of sleep, plus the inevitable disappearance of everyone else eventually makes choice kind of irrelevant, until somehow, someway, a crack appears in the way Bob’s world makes sense opens, and a little bit of the light of logic and self love starts to shine through the opening, and the person slowly learns or gain the ability again to define their own world. It sometimes takes awhile to believe that that is a right. What helped me see that I had that right was to define it to myself not as a right (the concept of me having rights had been battered) but to term it as my responsibility. To myself, to life and to the few who still cared about me.

    It is really hard to see a friend get brainwashed, but I do believe that that is what it is.

    Fwiw, when I could finally see that I had the right to leave (and Yay for Lundy, thank you!) one friend was there to help. That friend quite literally saved my life.

    • espritdecorps said:

      This is beautiful, and so true.

      I spent 3 years with a Bob, and another year breaking free.

      I rented a room that was close to my job and school. It was in a less desirable area and after a break-in, he insisted I move into his nice apartment on the other side of the city because he was worried about my safety.
      After my car (used, paid for, title in my name) broke down he had convinced me to trade it in for something “more reliable” (new, payments I couldn’t afford, title in his name), because he loved me so much.
      My taste was “tacky and inappropriate” so he surprised me with the gift of a shopping spree (clothes picked out by him) after throwing out all my clothes.
      He got a great opportunity in another city, far from my base of support, but wouldn’t take it unless I came with him.

      By the time I realized all his love and concern was actually hurting me, I was jobless, friendless, had dropped out of school because “my talents were better suited to a support role”, and couldn’t drive my car out of the city because he would report it as stolen. I didn’t even look like myself anymore.

      Bob hooked me in the first place because I was paralyzed with self doubt and fear that I wasn’t good enough for the things I wanted out of life.
      He kept me by feeding that fear.
      He lost me when I realized it didn’t matter if the decisions I made were right.

      It matters that my decisions are mine, that I own them.
      Competence isn’t never making a mistake. It’s taking a deep breath and giving yourself the time and space to fix what goes wrong.

  43. TO_Ont said:

    I don’t know what part of India Alice or Bob grew up in, or what kinds of views of relationships their parents and relatives (or school or TV or whatever) modeled, but given that some subsections of Indian culture(s) are quite patriarchal and unhealthy to women, I’m wondering if Bob or she are using culture to justify or normalize some of his controlling behaviour.

    It wasn’t brought up, so maybe it doesn’t apply, but I can imagine a mental conversation where she tells herself his behaviour is fine because ‘that’s just his (our) culture, my western friends just don’t understand.’ I might be way off-base here, but people do often use cultural relativity to excuse and justify horrible behaviour and as a reason to avoid changing damaging patterns, and it’s a particularly big and common narrative when it comes to misogynistic behaviour.

  44. Hesione said:

    I too recognize a lot of myself in a past abusive relationship when I read about Alice’s behavior. Abusive men systematically tear down your ego in an attempt to mold you into their impossible, ideal partner. When LW describes how Alice steers all conversation back to Bob, it reminds me of when I would do that with my friends (who could all see how crummy the relationship was). It was because I had been emotionally cut down for so long that I no longer had an identity outside of my partner. And it’s really scary to leave a relationship like that, because you start from nothing. I had to rediscover my personality and hobbies, and it’s been two years and I’m still healing.

    I wouldn’t recommend giving Alice Lundy Bancroft’s book because it’s extremely triggering, and she probably won’t be receptive to its messages until she’s broken off the relationship.

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