Reader question #83: Do we have to do everything with my boyfriend’s friend?

Dear Captain Awkward –

I have been dating a lovely fellow with whom I have an excellent rapport and we both agree we see long term potential in each other. We’re quite happy. The awkward thing relates to one of his best friends, a female. I am all about opposite-sex friendships and have many myself – those aren’t implicitly a problem.

Background: When they first met, he had asked her out romantically and she turned him down. Over the intervening couple of years, however, they have become each other’s kind of de facto/default date to social things, and actually see each other as much if not more than some dating couples. Nothing has ever come of it romantically, but she says some things and behaves in some ways which lead me to suspect that she may have developed feelings for him but is too afraid to act on it. He would agree that she is pretty emotionally dependent on him, and he does not see her as a romantic/sexual object at all any more, but he admits they may be more emotionally intimate than perhaps many friends are. Now that he has me to bring to things, and to develop emotional intimacy with, she and he still get invited as a “social couple,” but he wants to bring me as his girlfriend and then it gets complicated.

I feel self conscious in front of her when he is affectionate with me, and she has been trying to socialize with us a lot lately, as if to be able to see him as much as she is accustomed to seeing him. Meanwhile I am hoping for us to spend some time with my friends who are just slower about initiating fun things to do than she is, and then we get too busy with Girl Friend’s activities. He’s OK saying no to her for just-him-and-me time, but she gives him a big guilt trip.

The awkward part is now that he has me, he has a romantic plus one to bring to dinner parties or game nights, rather than his friendly standby plus one (whom everyone assumed he was dating and usually invited them out as if they were a couple). I definitely would never want to get between their friendship, but at the same time, the intensity and frequency of it kind of interferes with our still-burgeoning relationship.

Maybe it’s just an adjustment period – any time one has a friend who was single and becomes not so, one has to readjust one’s expectations for their availability, but I just wonder what I can do to alleviate some of the tension. It is definitely his responsibility to manage his friend’s expectations and adjust the social awareness to include me as his “default plus one” rather than her, but I would like to do the right thing and support the friendship while also supporting my rights as the girlfriend.

Any thoughts?

I read this letter looking for red flag, and it’s right there at the end of the third paragraph – “...we get too busy with Girl Friend’s activities. He’s ok to saying no to her just for him and me time, but she gives him a big guilt trip.”

This is really his problem to manage, not yours. It reminds me (far less dramatically) of this old letter about the boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend who won’t let go, because you don’t have a relationship with her, he does. He’s the one who needs to set a boundary with her and rework the parameters of their friendship. It may, as you say, just take a little time to even out, but the guilt trip thing really bugs me and makes me annoyed on your behalf.

You can’t control how he will behave, and you certainly can’t control how she will behave, so if you’re looking for things you can do, I see a couple of roads open to you that are still the high road.

1. When she invited you guys to stuff with her friends, decline anything that you don’t enthusiastically want to go to. Go to like, every 3rd thing, have a good time, don’t worry about it the rest of the time, because you don’t give a shit and her feelings are not your problem. Your script? “Yeah, that sounds nice, but I really want to do something with my friends this weekend. Maybe next time.”

2. Give him plenty of space to go hang out with her without you. Actually make plans with your own friends during that time and go enjoy yourself. Do not let it become a thing where you are competing with her or you are the one running that relationship for him. Script: “I want you to have whatever friendship with ___ that you want to have. Go and have a good time.” Go back to officially not giving a shit.

Now, I realize that you are not a mythical creature who can actually be totally above it all and not care, like some kind of Girlfriend Unicorn. This woman is getting under your skin by trying to preserve your boyfriend as her +1 to everything in her life. So if you ride it out for a couple of months and this stuff is still going on, bring it up very directly with your boyfriend. Tell him how it makes you feel (weird) and ask him how he’d like you to handle it. “I really appreciate how ___ goes out of her way to include me in stuff, but sometimes I feel like we’re both your date, like it’s you and your weird harem of women, and it’s especially weird to me how she gives you a big guilt trip if we don’t go to something. Is this something you’ve noticed? Is that okay with you? How do you want to handle it?

And then see what he says.

Finally, if you haven’t already, DO NOT FACEBOOK FRIEND HER. She is HIS friend. Just leave it there. Otherwise she’ll be even more up in your business. You don’t like her. I don’t like her for you. Just admit to yourself here in the Captain Awkward confessional that she bugs you. It will help you actually be nice and friendly when you see her, rather than trying to pretend you like her and having everything come out through gritted teeth.  She may be pretending really hard that she likes you and that’s why everything is so weird right now – she’s trying way too hard to show how cool she is with everything! Even though her romantic backup plan that she always thought would be there like a pair of comfortable old shoes is now dating someone else!  Look how cool she is being! She invites you to everything!  No one can say she isn’t being cool!

You may come to really like her in time, and she may come to really like you, once some equilibrium is reached where she isn’t trying to pee on all of your boyfriend’s free time and feels more secure in their friendship and you get more secure in your relationship and everyone stops trying so hard. This is very primal stuff, and she’s quite understandably feeling a big shift in how she thinks about her social life  and you’re understandably confused and annoyed. Just ride it out for right now. If she keeps behaving this way it will start to really bug him, too, and then he’ll make some necessary changes.

30 comments
    • JenniferP said:

      Awesome! And yeah, pretty much!

  1. janedoe2 said:

    I don’t know – if the boyfriend had a problem, he would address it. The writer concerns me with her projections of desperation onto the behavior of the Friend, and with her jealousy over game-nights.
    Game night is not the Prom or his sister’s wedding. It’s a game night!

    • JenniferP said:

      That’s why my basic advice was “give it a little time.” But if the Friend is completely trying to book their social schedule and giving the guy guilt trips if they don’t show up because the guy just wants to spend time with his actual girlfriend, that is a little strange. Game night once a week or once every couple weeks = cool. Game night followed by drinks followed by brunch followed by a movie followed by calling just to talk with a constant sort of “Ha, everyone always thought that WE were a couple, how droll” undertone= the two of them are really intertwined and it will take some adjustment to really make room for new girlfriend.

      • karinacinerina said:

        Hi – I’m the letter writer –
        Yes, it’s exactly that, it’s day at the races followed by sushi followed by fondue followed by a movie followed by game night followed by more day at the races all within a seven-day period.
        He has noticed, and it is annoying him, and he recognizes her guilt trips, and he is trying to figure out just how to handle it – he’s definitely already doing his due diligence, and I advised him to go to fondue without me. In the meantime, I was just looking for some guidance for me. He doesn’t want to hurt her feelings, and I like that about him – and he wants to see me, and I really like that about him. It will all shake out, but I didn’t want to exacerbate things inadvertently in the meantime.

        THANK YOU for the great advice and comments!

        • JenniferP said:

          Glad to know I was reading it correctly – “Sure, you can have this girlfriend and I’ll even be cool and invite her to everything, as long as you continue spending all of your free time with me!”

          THAT’S ANNOYING.

          He’s going to need to have a talk with her that goes something like this:

          “Hey, you’re my friend and I like you! But these social commitments are really overwhelming me, and I don’t appreciate the guilt trips if I can’t come to everything. Let’s make ___ (day of the week) our day to hang out and do whatever, but I’m going to be backing off from a lot of social stuff to spend time with (you, LW), meet her friends, get some time to myself, etc. I realize that’s a big adjustment but I know you’ll be cool about it.”

          The way to deal with guilt trips is to not feel guilty, and when possible, to approach them as directly as possible and don’t get too sucked into justifying. “Yup, I can’t come on Friday.” (guilt trip guilt trip) “Well, I’m really sorry you feel that way, still can’t be there. Have a good day!” (guilt trip guilt trip guilt trip whyyyyyyyyyyyy?) “Uh, because I committed to doing something else? Catch you next time.”

          But again, you can’t make him do that! As long as he doesn’t make his guilt trips your guilt trips, ride it out for a bit and let him handle it.

  2. k said:

    Random thoughts:

    – If these two were just letting everyone assume they were a couple despite having no romantic/sexual bond, that’s a REALLY intense friendship. And your boyfriend is going to have to consciously work at disentangling himself from it a bit now that you are there.

    – Hm, can I admit that I really don’t get the dynamic that’s going on here where the boyfriend is always invited and this Girl Friend of his is just his +1? I mean, are her friends actually all more of his friends or something? Is everyone so firmly coupled up that they have a hard time with the concept of people who show up alone? If she’s been hanging out with his friend group for so long it really seems odd that they aren’t inviting her to come along anyway and maybe bring along her own +1, at least for some activities where they aren’t, like, going rafting in a raft that only fits 6 people or whatever.

    – totally agree that LW ought to let her boyfriend and his Girl Friend have some alone time. For one thing, her own friends should be staying on her social calendar just for the sake of you know… sanity. And of course, Girl Friend will be able to calm down a bit once she sees that it’s still ok to hang out with her friend and that he’s not disappearing & abandoning her.

    Good luck… my boyfriend has a friend a bit like this, and they were actually friends with benefits for a while before I met him. So I see where you’re coming from. But I promise, things don’t have to be weird forever.

  3. Well, I’m going to come out in favor of the LW trusting her feelings, and talking about her concerns with the boyfriend sooner rather than later. It’s hard, really hard, because we have this social characterization of Jealous or Catty Women who can’t stand to share a man (or anything) with another woman. A lot of perfectly reasonable expectations (i.e. I’m your primary partner; please treat me like one rather than like a sister-wife) get dismissed as Jealous or Catty. Then it’s harder to take a stand later on, after you’ve enabled some of the weird behavior too.

    My story is that I fell head over heels for a man that had not yet disentangled himself from a clingy, bullying ex. And he seemed to feel that he needed to disentangle himself slowly, like wean her off of him. So for the first few months, I felt concerned that they were still acting like a couple – going as a couple to weddings, to events with shared friends and whatnot – but I didn’t feel like I could say anything without tripping the Jealous Catty wires. There were a lot of other issues and other red flags: like the LW’s boyfriend’s friend, this guy’s ex was big into guilt trips, and very effective at them. So I started making it about him: Hey, I don’t like to see her treat you this way, please don’t let her. And he would say that it wasn’t my problem.

    More than a year later, she was still throwing tantrums and going as his date to events with their friends (to which I was not invited), and I started seeing a therapist to help myself deal with all of these unreasonable, jealous, catty feelings I was having. And my therapist was like, Um, it is not unreasonable to expect your partner to treat you like a partner. He is not being fair to you. Please don’t let him treat you like that.

    So I’m just saying: don’t wait for it to escalate before you lay down some boundaries for what is and is not acceptable behavior. Maybe the LW’s boyfriend’s friend is just a slightly insecure woman who needs some time to come to terms with the changes in her social life. Or maybe she’s an emotional terrorist. In either case, laying out your expectations to your boyfriend will help him know what boundaries he needs to set with her. And setting the boundaries with her – going out as a pair less frequently, keeping the emotional intimacy within reasonable friendly bounds, not acting as a pseudo-boyfriend at all – will either nudge her toward a healthier relationship with this man or cause her to pitch a huge, illusion-breaking tantrum.

  4. robiewankenobie said:

    the facebook advice – especially heed the facebook advice.

    next blanket statement monday? facebook.

    • Yes, yes, yes. I learned the hard way that trying to be friends with the Girl Friend only leads to junior-high drama.

  5. Sheelzebub said:

    My advice is a little different, LW.

    I’d point out to your BF that he seems very entangled in this weird-intense-friendship-that-was-mistaken-for-couplehood, and that it’s concerning that his “friend” is guilt tripping him when he declines her invitation. You can also tell him that going to things with him and his friend makes you feel like a sister wife, and that you do not like it.

    I’ll be honest, I’d have a problem with him hanging out with her because they both seem to have really fuzzy boundaries. But the thing is, you can’t dictate or control your BF’s behavior–so if you’re uncomfortable with something, say so, and be prepared to leave and make yourself free to meet someone without this junior high level drama in his life.

  6. Copcher said:

    I’m a little confused about what the LW called the social couple thing. I guess if people thought that Boyfriend and Girl Friend were dating, this could be confusing, but is there a limit on the number of people that can be at these events? Like, if someone invites him and Girl Friend to a dinner party or game night, it seems like he could say something like, “Yeah, I’d love to come. I’ll bring my girlfriend, LW, so you can all meet her.” And then people might get confused but he can explain that, no, he wasn’t dating Girl Friend, and then the wacky misunderstanding will be over.
    I guess this suggestion isn’t the most helpful, since it’s something that Boyfriend would do and he isn’t the one reading this blog, but if you’re comfortable, you could talk about it with him. Once people learn that he and Girl Friend aren’t together, maybe they will start inviting her on her own, so she’s a guest in her own right, not someone’s +1. But if people just stop inviting her to things when they realize she isn’t with Boyfriend, that might give some clues to why she stays so attached to him.

    • JenniferP said:

      The Letter Writer commented above….the Girl Friend is totally overscheduling events with them all within the same week. It’s weird and annoying.

      • k said:

        Yeah, it’s a little clearer now. I too was very confused. But if Girl Friend is overscheduling things, then that makes more sense.

      • Copcher said:

        Yeah, that makes more sense. I wonder if she kept their schedule that packed before the LW was with this guy, or if she just started doing it when they started dating. I’m not sure if that kind of speculating is useful at all. It might provide some insight, but I don’t know if that would make any difference in terms of how to react.

        In any case, I agree with the Captain’s advice. Give it a little bit of time, be supportive of the boyfriend when he puts his foot down with the Girl Friend, but also be firm about how much of this you’re willing to put up with. Girl Friend is not allowed to walk all over you while you’re riding it out.

  7. kate said:

    I agree with the comment that if you’re relatively new to the relationship, you may just need to hang in there and let things work out on their own. I met my now-husband when he was in the process of getting divorced from his then-wife. She was very emotionally dependent, called all the time, “needed” him to do this and that for her, even wanted us all to socialize together (awkward!!). I went along with all of it without a peep of objection (even though it was pretty clear to me she’d take him back in a heartbeat if he were amenable), because I thought it was important that all three of us knew that he was with me, not her, because that’s where he wanted to be, not because I kept him from acting on unresolved feelings. In time, she got a new boyfriend, who she later married and moved cross-country with. OK, I admit I was happy. But I think I handled it the right way. Your situation is a little different, because it’s not an ex- and at least on the surface there’s no head-to-head conflict, competing for the same slot. But I think a lot of the same principles apply, especially if GF really did belatedly discover feelings for him. (I suspect she loves him as a friend, didn’t feel the chemistry so kept dating others in search of the zing, but thought of him as her reliable date for now and good-guy backup plan for the long term, and is having trouble letting go of him in that capacity… even if only subconsciously).

    On the other hand, if you have been together a while, and things haven’t taken care of themselves, I think there needs to be a conversation where you say, “The way things are, with your friends continuing to act like you and GF are some kind of unit, and there being such a strong expectation that we’ll all be doing stuff together unless I carve out time for just the two of us, or to do things with my friends (who don’t plan ahead as far as she does), makes me feel like an interloper, like she’s got dibs on you because she was in your life first, and I’m the outsider petitioning for your time. It feels crummy.

    “To be clear: I’m not blaming you or her, or saying anyone is doing it on purpose. I am not saying you shouldn’t be friends with her anymore, or even spend a lot of time with her. I’m not objecting to us doing stuff with her, or you doing stuff with her without me around.

    “All I need from you is for you to be clear with your friends that if someone invites you somewhere, expecting you to bring a date/partner/woman-friend, then (assuming I’m available and want to go) I’m going to be that date/partner/woman-friend. ‘Cause I’m your girlfriend, and that’s what people do when they have a girlfriend. Your friends are welcome to invite GF as well, with or without a date. They just shouldn’t expect to get her by inviting you.

    “The other thing I need is for us to agree that we’ll try to balance the time doing stuff just the two of us, with your circle of friends, with my friends, and (to the extent we want it) not as a couple. Nothing rigid, not assigning each category X days per month — just a rough understanding that that’s a fair goal. And then if it starts getting out of whack, I need you to say ‘actually, I’ve been spending a lot of time with you guys lately; I think I’m due for some time with just LW, or with LW and her friends, how about next week?’ even if we don’t already have a specific plan.”

    I don’t think that sounds accusatory, clingy, or jealous. It’s open communication, making reasonable requests, letting him know how the current situation makes you feel and what you need to make things better — which (if he is indeed a keeper) he should care about.

    After that, if he continues to allow GF to monopolize his time, and doesn’t care that it makes you feel crummy, maybe he’s not a keeper after all.

    • JenniferP said:

      Beautifully said.

  8. RMJ said:

    My dude of five years and I were in a similar, though less tense, situation at the outset of our relationship…

    He had a friend, K, a pretty girl he was going to college with. He’d had a long-standing and never-expressed crush on her for quite a while, though he’d dated other girls in the meantime. But they still hung out alllll the time, like on a nightly basis. Now, she never guilted him at this stage, but they were still together more often than we were, and when we hung out, she was usually there.

    Long story short:Nothing ever happened with them, and once they graduated, we didn’t see her nearly as much. She also ended up dating women exclusively (she was dating men in college, though not often) so that might have been part of why there was never a ton of tension with us. We’re getting married in October, and we’re going to ask her to read at the wedding!

  9. karinacinerina said:

    LW again.
    I am seriously grateful for all these responses, thanks everyone so very much! This has been wonderfully helpful. The good news is he’s already aware, and I have brought it up specifically, and I am already cautiously declining some of her invitations so it’s just a matter of making sure the transitional adjustments don’t drag into irreparable resentment on anyone’s part. Don’t worry, I’m not abandoning my friends or my activities for this guy.

    The Girl Friend did FB friend me the second we met, but luckily for me I only put innocuous things up there. She doesn’t date (even when he was dating people), she drops things in front of us like “I have a thing for guys with [descriptions like BF]” and she reminds me of all the things they do together that I don’t do.

    To address the implied couplehood questions: They spend lots of time together and always insist they are just friends but you know how people make assumptions. They live near each other so they always arrive together by car and he’s generally very attentive/chivalrous as a companion so it would seem very “datey” to an observer. I was trying to be concise with the +1 bit, but they generally just get invited places as a unit like a couple or roommates would be, or else one gets an invite and just brings the other along. The sushi in that week of insane invitations was just that: a birthday dinner for his friend that I knew but Girl Friend did not, he brought me and Girl Friend – the more the merrier. But we all 3 drove together because Girl Friend always expects him to drive (which he hates) and they had already been together that afternoon. He even by habit invited her to breakfast before I reminded him that it was – ahem – couple breakfast.

    @Tanglethis: that sucks! I like your strategy. @kate: he’s already on board with that philosophy, thankfully. He’s not sure how to handle the guilt trips but the follow-up reply from JenniferP https://captainawkward.com/2011/08/01/reader-question-83-do-we-have-to-do-everything-with-my-boyfriends-friend/#comment-2188 will be useful for me to pass off as my own wisdom. : ) @RMJ: that is awesome.

    Anyway – just wanted to address questions and say THANK YOU ALL so very very much!

    • JenniferP said:

      You’re welcome. And, remember – this isn’t all in her head. I mean, he did drive her everywhere and invite her everywhere and they were sort of kind of a couple without the sexy bits – so a little compassion as it gets worked out will serve you. It’s going to turn out fine.

    • JenniferP said:

      h/t to SexyTypewriter

      You might find this sadlarious.

      • karinacinerina said:

        That pretty much trumps any previous definition of sadlarious to become the most sadlarious thing evar. Thank you for sharing!
        If anyone is curious, Girl Friend pulled a Huge Dramatic Gesture and now he’s generally keeping clear and letting himself really engage with me. All thanks to you guys.

        • JenniferP said:

          I am curious! What was the gesture?

          • karinacinerina said:

            I didn’t want to bore everyone. Boyfriend is moving next weekend; this past weekend was big packing frenzy, well known to all. Friday night was dinner with friends and then start packing. She calls 2x during dinner and leaves no message, so of course he takes the 3rd call (all within 15 minutes) worried it’s an emergency. “Are you at work?” “No,” he said, falling into her trap. “Oh, you’re at home, I’ll come over.” “No, I am actually out getting a bite to eat before I start packing.” (Pouting noises escalate into crying) Details of the remainder were not forthcoming but basically she was disappointed he wasn’t available to her immediately. She called later and he did not pick up.
            Next day, she texts “can I come over while you are packing” (not to help, mind you). Before an hour has passed, before he even responds, there is a knock at the door. She comes in, all distressed face, and watches me and him swirl around, boxing and stacking and whatnot. I retreat to do the closet so they can talk; he tries to get her to talk while he works. Does she help? No. Was she unannounced? Of course. Did she then take the time and talk to him? Not at all. She sits there all dramatic expecting him to stop, which he does not, but he’s working in there in a way he can talk and work at the same time. Finally she pops up and leaves. “Can I give you a hug?” he offers, but she flees, not saying goodbye to me of course either. Later she texts or calls and says “call me when your friends come over” so she can come over too. 1. Friends are coming to help pack. 2. Friends hate her. So that doesn’t happen.
            Next day: He texts “are you OK?” and no response. “I don’t know what she wants from me!” She wants you to chase her, I tell him. No word from her all day. A nice, relaxing day where we have actual closeness because he is not distracted by her pity party. Monday she sends out a Facebook invitation to us both for an event that takes place 1.5 hours after move time. We both gleefully decline. He is able to joke about it more (“Let’s post a Facebook event called Pity Party and invite all her friends”) and not feel so guilty about creating boundaries. Healthy movements! I am assiduous about not badmouthing her and encouraged him to go on another one of her events Friday, but he’s thinking he won’t want to since it’s right before move time and he’d rather do what I was planning to do.

            See? Captain Awkward REALLY WORKS.

  10. Re: dramatic gesture

    Called it!
    /smug

    karinacinerina, I am very glad to see that your boyfriend is not like the boyfriend of my story above – which is to say, he doesn’t need the female friend to need him, and isn’t as invested in prolonging the unhealthy relationship as she is. Accolades to you both for setting your boundaries and protecting them. And good luck on the rest of the move.

    • karinacinerina said:

      I can’t even believe I forgot to mention that the day he decided not to go to her game night, she sent out an email trying to book a long-ago conceived trip with her, him, and a couple they know – at Christmas – to Brazil – for 19 days.
      Yes. Trying to book a sexy exotic three week vacation at Christmas with just them and another couple, on a day she’s pissed off at him for bailing on her. His response: “I would never ever ever cheat on you with her, I don’t feel that way about her, it’s not a sexy vacation.” My response: “It doesn’t matter how pure your intent is, it’s HER intent that is the issue while you’re in a hotel room alone with her on Christmas morning.” Him: “Ohhhhhhhh yeah ok I see what you mean.” /facepalm. All in the past, now, but I can’t believe I didn’t share that particularly insane move on her part.
      I swear he’s not dumb. He’s just…pure of heart and has trouble ascribing crazy or impure to others.
      Enjoy your /smug, tanglethis! : )
      And thanks everyone yet again. It was really great just to get to talk about it here without feeling like Crazy Jealous Petty Chick.

      Coda: I am fixing her up with a guy I went out with once from OKCupid who is…a little needy but will give her ALL the attention she can STAND, and more. GIGGLE.

  11. karinacinerina said:

    Two months later: Ever since the Grand Dramatic Gesture, Girl Friend has totally gone around the bend. Like, coworkers-having-meetings-about-her-being-a-danger-to-herself and others-style around the bend. She has decided to take the victim tactic in all her interpersonal relationships and as a result she is alienating her entire social circle right and left. I like to think of myself as having arrived in time to get BF onto a lifeboat before her Titanic sucked all the flotsam down with her. And we’re doing great. Thank you everyone!
    Last weekend at a friend’s game night she would have left when she saw we were there but was convinced by the host to stay. She then lurked, literally trembling, on the stairway in the semi darkness, watching watching while the rest of us sang, danced, ate, and laughed. She looked like that SOON meme. She scared all of us. Everyone is worried, but her traps have lost some of their spring.

    Kids, if you have a problem, Captain Awkward knows the solution!

    • JenniferP said:

      Time for some capital-H help for her, methinks. (You still don’t have to like her)

      • karinacinerina said:

        I capital-H heart you and your advice! And now I REALLY don’t like her.

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