My boyfriend grew up around people whom he describes as ‘hateful and angry,’ who would call you [insert slur] if you pointed out their racism and misogyny. Later, he fell in with some really scary addicts. When I met him, the hard drugs and more violent people were gone, but he’s still friends with the non-violent ones.
My problem: Boyfriend’s BFF, ‘Jerkface.’ In no particular order:
1) He’s racist.
2) He’s fat-phobic.
3) He hates anyone who’s not an atheist.
4) He’s sexist. When I call him out for telling rape jokes, he says I’m overreacting.
5) He mansplains. A friend once told him “Don’t be so condescending,” and pushed him through a window. Bystanders shrugged and said, “To be fair, he is really condescending.”
6) He used to hit on me constantly, in front of Boyfriend. He’d angrily mention how he called dibs on me, tell obscene jokes about me, ask me out, and lie about hooking up with me.
7) He encourages Boyfriend to drink WAY too much.
Much of this happens when Boyfriend is drunk, and he (a) does nothing and (b) doesn’t remember anything afterwards. Many people avoid Jerkface whenever possible; one even asked, “How does he get invited places if no one likes him?” I’m afraid people will assume Boyfriend is also a horrible person and avoid us too.
I confronted Boyfriend, and he acknowledges that Jerkface is a bigot, but says he’s just a product of their environment. If they were to meet for the first time today, he wouldn’t become friends with Jerkface, but they’ve been friends for 15 years and he’s like family.
However, Boyfriend also said he wants to be an ally. He’s been very receptive to the reading material I’ve given him. I told him I don’t want to be around Jerkface, and if Boyfriend wants to be with me, he needs to go to counseling and learn to confront Jerkface and his ilk.
Consequently, I haven’t seen Jerkface in months, Boyfriend spends much less time with him, and drinks much less. However, Boyfriend has admitted that he still can’t find the words to confront Jerkface because he’s worried about derails, like “You didn’t mind before” or “Girlfriend is just like Yoko Ono.”
Our relationship depends on Boyfriend’s either African Violet-ing the asshole or learning how to tell him off. So,
1) Can you suggest a script my boyfriend can use to talk to Jerkface?
2) Jerkface is engaged, and Boyfriend will be their Best Man. I don’t know if I’ll go to the wedding. I don’t want to cause stress on their big day, or put Boyfriend in the middle. What do you think?
Thanks so much!
I believe you that Jerkface is completely awful, and I applaud your decision to never spend time with him. Don’t go to the wedding (and don’t apologize for not going). Ask that Jerkface never be invited to your house. If you go somewhere and Jerkface also shows up, ask for your boyfriend’s backup when you say “Let’s get out of here.” If your boyfriend won’t have your back, these are indeed dealbreakers.
But I think you’ve already won this one, right? Boyfriend was receptive to your suggestions, up to and including “reading material,” and you don’t have to deal with Jerkface anymore. So what’s this ultimatum that he has to “confront” Jerkface or stop being friends with him or lose your relationship? What’s this worry that “people” will think your boyfriend is like Jerkface and avoid you?
Because, honestly, “unspecified people might think _____ about you (if you don’t do what I want)” is not-so-secret code for “I almost definitely think _______ about you.”
While we’re decoding secret messages, it’s very possible that “I want to confront him like you want me to, but I just don’t know how/can’t find the words” means “I agree with you and you are right about everything, but despite that he’s still kind of important to me and I don’t feel right totally cutting him off so am stalling for time.”
Jerkface is objectively awful. But if he’s not really in your life anymore, this maybe isn’t about him anymore. This is maybe about you trying to scrub the last vestige of Eau de Jerkface off your boyfriend. This is maybe about his history of irresponsible alcohol use, and about him taking some steps to reassure you that he won’t fall into old ways. (Acting like a dick when drunk and then conveniently not remembering it afterward is a Your Boyfriend problem, not a Jerkface problem).
If your boyfriend confronts or de-friends Jerkface, it’s serving some kind of ritual purpose in proving that he’s transcended his upbringing and is ready to be a good partner for you. And it puts the blame safely on Jerkface, instead of on your anxieties about other things in this relationship, like, will his drinking get out of control again even if he’s not around Jerkface? Will he, in moments of stress, fall back on old habits and say terrible stuff (or watch as his friends say terrible stuff) and then not remember it?
I don’t know, maybe it’s okay to want that proof that your boyfriend really has left his old ways behind. But maybe, if your boyfriend is otherwise doing right by you and is respecting your wishes to never be around Jerkface, this is one where you can be graceful in victory and trust time to solve the rest.
My suggested action for your boyfriend is to RSVP that he’ll be coming to the wedding solo. No need to call attention to it or confront anyone; that’s what they make those little response cards for. I think Jerkface might be onto the fact that you don’t like him and can feel however he wants about the fact that you won’t be there. If Jerkface does make a thing about it, your boyfriend can just keep repeating the basic facts – “Whatever, man, she isn’t coming. But I’ll be there!” and if Jerkface calls you Yoko Ono (like that’s an insult?) your boyfriend can say “Whoa, let’s change the subject” and then change the subject.
The script for you is “He has been rude enough to me that I am sure I never want to be in the same room as him again. As long as you can respect that and not pressure me about it, you run your relationship with him how you want. I love you.”
Because weddings sometimes bring out the worst in everyone, I must ask: Have you socialized much with the bride? Does she know about your dislike of Jerkface? Do you think she’ll get into the middle of things if you refuse to go, or see it as a referendum on their beautiful love? Even if she is totally oblivious to/chill about your history with Jerkface, get ready for him or your boyfriend to try to use her as a trump card to pressure you to go to the wedding, like, “I know you hate Jerkface, but consider the BRIDE on her SPECIAL DAY that you are RUINING.”
Keep these scripts up your sleeve just in case:
- “Oh my god, I didn’t know I had the power to singlehandedly ruin someone’s wedding! That’s amazing. Do you think if I really focused my powers, I could convince her to marry someone cooler?”
- “You’ll probably have way more fun without having The Disapproving Feminist looking down her nose at y’all, and I’ll definitely have more fun at home, reading bel hooks and drinking wine in the bath.”
- “I think hating the groom’s guts pretty much obligates me to refuse the wedding invitation, actually.”
- If talking TO the bride, try for “I hope you will have a great wedding day and be very happy. Sorry, I just won’t be able to attend.” No need to explain why. It’s a party, not a compulsory work meeting.
That way Jerkface and the future Mrs. Jerkface (!?!) don’t have to pay for dinner for someone who hates them, you don’t have to hang out with Jerkface, and boyfriend doesn’t have to drop out of the wedding of his oldest friend.