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#642: My boyfriend’s toxic friend.

Dear Captain Awkward:

My boyfriend, before we started dating, moved in with a friend and his wife. When I came into the picture, the wife excluded me from things and invited only my boyfriend. If my boyfriend tried to invite me, she’d throw a fit and my boyfriend would have to call me to say sorry, you can’t go. If she did invite me, she told me that I had to pay my own way, even though she bought tickets or whatever for my boyfriend. And she openly flirted with him, even when I was there in front of her. When I told my boyfriend about it, he would get mad, tell me that I was jealous for no reason, and that I was making stuff up.

Well, her and her husband began getting worse, and my boyfriend would frequently get kicked out of the house because she “wanted to kill anyone who came through the door” (what my boyfriend told me she said to him over text). Eventually he moved out, but it still bothered me because she would call him and text him, asking my boyfriend if they could hang out. We’ve had a lot of fights over her because she keeps butting herself into our lives, and she’s a toxic friend, but it’s like he can’t see that. I’m not jealous about her because I know he doesn’t like her like that, but it hurts that he doesn’t understand how I feel about this situation. I’ve told him that I’m going to unfriend her on FB and he got mad at me, saying it’d cause a lot of drama between her and him, but when I asked why it mattered since he always says she’s not his friend anyway, he wouldn’t answer.

I don’t know what to do about this. My boyfriend and I are in a long distance relationship (we’ve been dating for a little over a year and a half), but when he’s home, she’s constantly trying to see him and get together with him. I’m at a loss about what to do, especially because talking to my boyfriend about it results in fights. Any advice would be great.

Hi there,

This old answer is relevant, because you don’t have a toxic friend-of-a-friend problem, you have a boyfriend problem. HE has a toxic friend problem, but your problem is how much of this he allows to impact your life.

  • Your boyfriend disinvites you from events to please this person.
  • Your boyfriend tells you to disbelieve the evidence of your own eyes when this person flirts with him in front of you and calls you a liar.
  • Your boyfriend tells you to override your own boundaries and remain friends with her on Facebook against your wishes.

I don’t know how you and he will work all this out over the long term, but I have some concrete suggestions for you that are about things you can control right now:

1) Disengage from her. Block the “friend” on all social media. Not unfriend/unfollow. Block. You will become invisible to her, she will become invisible to you, your long-distance life will become immediately better. You don’t need your boyfriend’s permission to do this. Avoiding interactions someone you don’t like who doesn’t like you isn’t “causing drama,” and whatever reaction she has will not be your fault or on you at all to manage.

If he brings it up with you, you can say “I thought about what you said, but I think my life will be better without her in it, so I took the steps I needed to make that happen. You handle your friendship with her however you want to.” See also: “Tell her whatever you want to.” 

2) Disengage from her…as a topic that you and your boyfriend discuss in your relationship.“You handle your friendship with her however you want to” is your new mantra whenever this person comes up in conversation. See also: “Wow.” “I don’t know.” & “Huh.” See also: Changing the subject.

Boyfriend: “Listen to this ridiculous text that Toxic sent me, blah blah blah.”

You: “Wow.”

Him: “I mean, what is she thinking? She blah blah blah blah blah.”

You: “Huh. So, how did class go today?”

Him: “But what do you think I should do about her threats and demands blah blah blah blah.”

You: “I don’t know. We still on for the movie on Sunday?”

Him: “I know you don’t like Toxic, are you trying to tell me you don’t have an opinion?”

You: “I have opinions about her (those opinions are: I don’t like her/that was really inappropriate/I don’t like how she treats you, etc.), but you run your friendship with her however you want to. So, about Sunday…”

Keep an even, chill tone of voice in these discussions, if you can. Disengage, as much as you can, from having a strong reaction to anything he says about her. Change the pattern where he tells you all about her and then you get riled up and now it’s an argument between the two of you over what he’s tolerating from her (basically her dream scenario).

3) Choose your battles. I think she does not treat him well (to say the least), and that he would probably be happier cutting her out of his life, but that’s his decision to make and no one can tell him what to do. It might be that he puts up with her to maintain his friendship with her husband. It may be that the way she behaves is manageable…for him. Whether they stay friends is not within your control, and it’s not really worth investing your energy in convincing him of this. Focus your energy on your relationship with him, and if there is conflict, focus that on the expectations you have about how you need to be treated. For instance:

  • When you visit him, you don’t want to hang out with her, and you’d appreciate it if he didn’t make plans with her while you’re in town, especially since you get to see each other so seldom.
  • If you do end up running into her, he should act as a buffer. When she says weird mean things, he should be the one to be like “nice seeing you, we gotta go” and not make you the bad guy.
  • The accusations that you are making things up have got to stop. Does he really think you are lying about her behaviors? That’s him being pretty disrespectful to you.

He may not react well to some of this boundary-setting, especially in the short term, especially under increased pressure from her as she senses that you’ve stopped paying attention to her. Maybe with some time, you modeling healthy behavior will rub off on him, and he’ll be grateful for a refuge from her drama. But whatever happens, be firm and do not get sucked in. “You want to be friends with her, cool, but I only have 15 minutes to Skype today and I don’t want my time with you to be another analysis of this person’s emotional state.” She’s gonna do whatever she’s gonna do. The question is, how does your boyfriend treat you when you stand up for yourself and set boundaries around how much this person is allowed to intrude on your life?

 

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172 comments
  1. I feel like my feelings, and the feelings of probably the majority of future commenters on this post, will be summarized with a smashing didgeridoo (or possibly saxophone?) solo interspersed with rhythmic shouts of “BEES.”

    “SHE’S GOT BEES, BABE”
    (two minutes of sustained, plangent honking)
    “SO MANY BEES”
    (people in background start spontaneously dancing)
    “I CALLED UP PFC MARIE ON MY SAXOPHONE
    SHE PICKED IT UP AND SHE AGREED
    (plangent honking intensifies)
    IT WAS A CASE OF TOO MANY
    TOO MANY, TOO MANY
    JUST A CASE OF TOO MANY BEES”

    So I got that out of my system and hopefully it’s released some of the pressure.

    • embertine said:

      I laughed solidly for over two minutes at this comment, and the cat is now looking at me as though I am insane. Worth it.

      • thepaintedlady said:

        Do cats really need a reason to do that?

        • embertine said:

          Good point, but there was ugly snorting and possibly some snot came out of my tear ducts, so, you know, not entirely unjustified.

      • muse142 said:

        I also cackled for like, a minute straight. Amazing.

    • wordiest said:

      I actually didn’t feel she necessarily has bees. She may well have bees, and there are definitely bees all over this situation, but I’m not convinced the wife is the one who has them. I’m not convinced she isn’t, mind you; I just feel it’s inconclusive. I also feel the Captain’s advice works regardless of where the bees are.

      Here’s a story about three people that is very similar to the letter writer’s situation in some ways. We’ll call them Alice, Bob, and Carol. Alice and Carol both had interest in Bob, who also had interest in both Alice and Carol. Alice and Carol didn’t really know each other, but interacted with each other now and then when with Bob. Bob didn’t really like confrontation, and it turned out that while not being especially explicitly dishonest, he was feeding both Alice and Carol a lot of partial truths aimed much more at what they each wanted to hear. These partial truths were about his interest in each of them, his interest in the other person, and what he had told each of them about the other. This led to each of them acting a bit odd from the point of view of the other – kind of presumptuous of Bob’s time and a bit disrespectful toward the other person. My story has a happy ending, in that Alice and Carol each ended up staying friends with Bob, but with a little more distance. Alice and Carol ended up becoming friends with each other, and interact much better when getting info directly from each other rather than with Bob in-between creating distortions. And Bob learned a valuable lesson, admitted he messed up, and decided to try very hard to never do it again.

      The Bob in my story did not, however, diminish anyone’s feelings or tell them they were making things up, which really worries me. However, I like the Captain’s advice, because if the letter writer’s boyfriend has good potential, then he should be willing to consider her viewpoint and desires in the relationship and agree to give her time when she is in town and to not bring up the wife. And if he balks at these things, then that gives the letter writer very valuable information that her boyfriend isn’t willing to accept her needs and interests when they conflict with his or that spending time with her is not a priority to him. So, either it significantly helps to fix the relationship or it helps to highlight exactly where the problems are, and both are really valuable things. I’m just not going to judge the wife, when I don’t know what the situation looks like from her perspective. Maybe she outright told the letter writer’s boyfriend she doesn’t want to spend time with the letter writer, and he keeps pushing her boundary so that he can spend time with both of them in a way he enjoys and neither of them do? That might make her guilty of being bad at defending her own boundaries, but that’s a pretty understandable thing, since it’s a hard thing to do.

        • Mercutia said:

          *SNORT*

      • I assumed that the bees in question were the boyfriend, not the wife.

      • (aggressive solo of honking leading up to the chorus)
        WHOSE BEES ARE THESE
        (honk-honk-ba-donk)
        WE GOT THESE BEES

        WON’T SOMEBODY, SOMEBODY, SOMEBODY PLEASE
        IDENTIFY THESE BEES
        (blaaaaaaaaaaaat)
        THESE UNDESIGNATED BEES
        THESE COMPLICATED BEES

        I KNOW THERE ARE BEES
        (chorus agrees, consistently and with passion, that there are bees here, and that they are alarming, and we should probably leave)
        *WE* KNOW THERE ARE BEES

        JUST TELL ME PLEASE
        IN THIS INTERNET-ESE
        WHOSE BEES
        ARE THESE

        • wordiest said:

          *laughs* Okay, take an internet or two; you’ve earned it.

        • stellanor said:

          And the thing is *I don’t even think it matters whose bees they are here*.

          Either Boyfriend is siding with someone who has bees over his girlfriend, giving him some kind of Bees By Association, or Boyfriend is lying about the friend’s behavior to exclude his girlfriend, in which case he is in fact full of bees. Either way the only reason LW is dealing with bees is because her boyfriend is being crappy.

          • Anisoptera said:

            Indeed. And there’s also a chance that both boyfriend and Toxic Friend are bringing the bees. Regardless, this situation is bee-adjacent and no fun at all and the person with a responsibility to the LW is the boyfriend.

          • Light said:

            Good point. Here Be Bees, and the specific possessor matters less than the fact that the situation is humming very, very angrily.

    • roramich said:

      this, this right here, is the greatest thing ever.

    • Mercutia said:

      I am going to find a way to insert the phrase “plangent honking” into my next conversation if it kills me.

      • j_bird said:

        “Plangent honking” currently has a mere 10 google results. Seize the moment!

        • embertine said:

          “sustained, plangent honking” will now be my typed response to anything where I don’t know what to do say. BRB, testing it.

    • Courtney said:

      Wow. And now your comment in intertwined in my head with the saxophone scene in Dead Poet’s Society.

    • marithlizard said:

      Sniggering helplessly here and trying to think of somewhere else to use “plangent honking”. Band name? Killer move in Mornington Crescent? Perhaps a ballet movement that evokes the migration of geese?

    • Suzy said:

      Oh elodie! I look forward to your next performance on the didgeridoo! Brava!

    • Puck said:

      That was me the entire time I was reading this. Thank you, Elodie.

  2. arcticchar said:

    It’s unfortunate that your boyfriend seems to be prioritizing his relationship with her over yours, while invalidating your feelings. Feelings that, to me, seem very valid given how obvious she has been about being into your dude as more-than-friends and how she treats you. I know that sometimes men (and women!) like getting this kind of non-threatening positive attention, but gaslighting you in order to maintain a status quo that only works for him is extremely uncool. I would question whether I even wanted to be in a relationship like this, especially a long-distance one, but it isn’t my place to tell you what to do. I do think the Captain’s advice is spot-on, and whatever he decides to do, it isn’t on you to make it ok or appease her or try to keep the drama level down when the two of them are raising it. If they aren’t considering your feelings, you don’t need to consider theirs. Maybe this is too harsh?

    • Jarred H said:

      I don’t think you’re being too harsh. To be honest, I’m a bit hung up on the LW’s boyfriend calling her to say, “Sorry honey, but friend threw a fit and you’re not allowed to come along.” That gets a huge “WTF?” from me, especially given the fact that LW and her boyfriend are in a LDR relationship and time together is fairly limited.

      • winter said:

        It wasn’t clear to me, how the additional inviting happened. E.g. when I tell a friend I want to meet, I don’t mean her and her boyfriend or I would say so. So I’m not sure if boyfriend went the conflict-avoidant route and just went ahead with inviting LW. In that case, I would be pissed as the wife in question too. Sure, if LW and boyfriend only have a limited amount of time to meet in person, it would be cooler if boyfriend would prioritize meeting LW over the wife, but the Captain/commenteres already covered that.

      • aebhel said:

        This. Even if it was a misunderstanding (seems unlikely), how very shitty.

    • JenniferP said:

      Not too harsh. He might be prioritizing Toxic’s stuff because he’s inconsiderate, he might be because Toxic has conditioned him to avoid horrible tantrums (but he knows the LW will not throw tantrums) and he thinks he’s being a mediator, whatever. The LW does have a lot of power to put a stop to some of this immediately. What shakes out will be very telling about the boyfriend and his character.

    • paddlepickle said:

      Honestly, it’s harsher and definitely branching out a bit, but my first question was ‘Are you SURE he doesn’t see her like that?’ Because lashing out and accusing the person of making stuff up when they point out flirting is the first reaction of someone who is cheating.

      • Does it matter? He’s devaluing his partner’s feelings and asking her (I’m assuming gender here) to suffer so he and this crappy person can be more comfortable. If it’s because he’s cheating or would like to then that sucks, but it sucks enough on its own to demand resolution. And if he doesn’t resolve it then it doesn’t matter why – it just indicates he’ll ask his partner to be unhappy rather than confronting this issue.

        I guess maybe you could say that it matters because he might toss away this side piece and pick up a new one again later, but I don’t know that that is likely enough to spend time worrying about, personally. Seems like sweating the bruise on a poisoned apple.

        • JenniferP said:

          “Seems like sweating the bruise on a poisoned apple.”

          :bows before your turn of phrase:

          • Anothermous said:

            Was about to comment with just that! What an amazing line.

          • JenniferP said:

            Whiteside: KILLING IT

          • Well shoot, that’s my quota of one good quip for the quarter. Now I’m just all grunts and shrugs till Jan 1. At least I stretched it out till November. (and thanks)

        • paddlepickle said:

          Yeah, you’re right, I was kinda thinking as I typed it ‘this is gossipy pointless speculation’, but then I typed it anyways. The only way it’s relevant is that this boyfriend is greatly arousing my spidey-sense.

          • Oh sure; everything about this smells a little off. But my pre-old-married recall was that I spent way too much time in things that were not right trying to understand Why. I was much happier when I realized that in many relationship things understanding is way less important than acceptance.

            Doesn’t matter why they don’t want to be with me, I just need to accept it. Doesn’t matter why they don’t treat me well, want to spend more time with me, won’t let me have more space, etc, whatever. Accept it on its face, credit them with being adults who can control their own behavior, and make my decisions accordingly.

            Understanding is nice, but when I look back on my life I spent a lot of time on Why as a prelude to trying to change that why and get what I wanted. I don’t recall that every working.

          • Anisoptera said:

            Yes a thousand times to this! Why is really an academic question – what they are doing and what you think of that are so much more important. And obsessing over how to fix a thing seems to lead to not actually acknowledging that the thing is really happening and isn’t going away…

            I wish I could beam this info about twenty years into the past to teenage me…

        • Zillah said:

          I don’t know – I think it actually does matter. It doesn’t make his behavior okay if he’s being honest about his lack of interest in Toxic, because he’s still being really inconsiderate of the OP, but for me, if he is interested in this woman and lying about it while flirting with her, that makes the situation a lot worse, IMO. It’s the difference between thoughtlessness and maliciousness. Both are problem, but can the latter even be remedied?

          • I guess we differ because I think his behavior is worse than thoughtlessness; it seems pretty willfully devaluing to me, given that he’s not just failing to notice some cruddyness – he’s making an outright request that his partner put up with acknowledged cruddyness.

          • newlife said:

            I’m with Don on this.
            “But my pre-old-married recall was that I spent way too much time in things that were not right trying to understand Why. I was much happier when I realized that in many relationship things understanding is way less important than acceptance.”

            I spent years (_so_ many_ years!_) trying to figure out if my spouses’ behavior was thoughtless or malicious. I finally realized that that didn’t matter because it was entirely the wrong question. The right question was ‘Do I want to be treated this way?’

          • Guava said:

            The way I see it, whether he’s sexually interested in Toxic, or just finds it more comfortable to take Toxic’s side when LW is upset by her behavior…it’s still a betrayal. Maybe it’s an emotional betrayal instead of a sexual one, but it’s still a betrayal.

  3. I feel like my comment didn’t show up. Too long to re-type, but I’ll just say – while I know that people like to receive positive attention like this (and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing), it isn’t ok for him to gaslight you and invalidate your feelings about something that she is making incredibly obvious in order to maintain a status quo that only works for him. It isn’t on you to keep the drama level down when they are raising it. It isn’t on you to be considerate of their feelings when they aren’t considering yours. It isn’t on you to try to figure out a way to fit yourself into this situation, when YOU are the one in a relationship with him, not her. It isn’t my place to tell you to dump the guy, but I think the Captain’s advice is spot on, particularly re: blocking her on social media.

    • Ah damn, they both posted. My bad, guys. It’s my first time emerging from lurk-status.

      • JenniferP said:

        They keep getting sent to spam, actually (not sure why!) but I happen to be here de-spamming them in a more timely fashion than usual.

  4. I think the Captain is being super generous here in leaving out a #4: Take time to consider what this means about your relationship with your boyfriend and how he prioritizes you in his life. I feel like that’s not out of line as a response to “I don’t know what to do about this.”

    We don’t have to like all our partner’s friends; Grodd knows my wife has friends I don’t think much of and some of my friends she can take or leave. But this is about someone who demonstrates a clear hostility toward you and interferes with your relationship. He’s allowing it.

    So when you implement the Captain’s advice, keep in mind that how he handles that means something about how he values you. If you very reasonably say you’re not going to spend time around someone who is crappy to you, does he back that play? Does he then see you a lot less, choose to do less enjoyable activities with you than her, keep pressuring you to compromise your comfort to benefit his and/or hers?

    Generosity of spirit is a valuable and necessary part of a relationship but that doesn’t mean you should allow for you to be the only one offering it up.

    • Marna Nightingale said:

      Also and relatedly, I dunno, there may be some specific reason why BF behaves this particular way around this particular person, but dear LW, there may not, and you may need to consider the possibility that he cultivates Evil Beekeepers as a hobby, in which case I applaud the setting of clear boundaries and the defending of same, but ultimately if this woman is one of a series of similar friends there may be NO set of boundaries which encompasses both “let us have a romantic relationship rich and deep with texture and profound intimacy” and “please refrain from sticking me with the consequences of your friendships with evil bee-fancying drama llamas.”

      Whatever you end up doing, I hope it brings you great happiness.

  5. Anothermous said:

    Everything about Boyfriend’s behavior in this case is, like, red flag city. The Captain’s covered what you have under your immediate control, LW, and in addition I think it’s worth thinking really hard about what Boyfriend’s behavior says about how much he respects you as a person. You don’t want to engage with someone who is mean to you; he throws a fit. You have reasonable concerns over the Friend’s Wife’s bizarre and threatening behavior; he dismisses them. If, like others have said, your boyfriend reacts badly to your setting boundaries around this situation, I would recommend thinking very, very hard about whether or not this person is in fact a boyfriend worth keeping. I know that probably feels extreme, but someone who refuses to consider your feelings is not someone whose feelings you should go out of your way to consider, either, imo.

    • Anothermous said:

      Oh, something else I thought of that might help put some of this in perspective: for various reasons, over the last couple of years, I’ve wanted to put some distance between my self and my husband’s best friend. We’re talking BEST friend; they’ve known each other since elementary school and are now in their thirties. I unfriended him on facebook years ago, and will not be attending his wedding in February. My setting this boundary has caused ZERO friction in my marriage. None whatsoever. My husband 100% respects my right to moderate my life in that manner. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s how it *should* be. Your boyfriend’s attempts to control you in this respect are not okay.

      • boutet said:

        Yup. I’m on the other side of it, my husband can’t stand one of my close friends. To the extent that I and our 3 month old baby went to friend’s out of town wedding without husband, and it was a complete non-issue on all fronts. Non-issue that he didn’t go with me, non-issue that I went without him. Non-issue with friend that he didn’t show.

      • Yep. My toxic ex-boyfriend’s toxic best friend was a creepy asshole who found me on OkCupid and used to send me screencaps of vitriolic responses he’d gotten from women on the site when he was trolling them. He hectored the group’s female members about their appearance, to the point of making one cry at my boyfriend’s birthday party (I comforted her and later told my boyfriend, who said that he was too high to see or deal with it). He also made constantly negative and strange comments about his exes as well as women he was currently going on dates with etc. One day he turned up at boyfriend’s flat when I was there alone and we stood in the living room having an awkward-as-fuck conversation while he said he would wait for my boyfriend to get back (could have been hours). He then went through my boyfriend’s bedroom to his ensuite (there was another, more public bathroom in the flat) and started to piss whilst leaving the door open and still talking to me about the date with the ‘crappy woman’ he had just been on. I wanted to throw him out of the flat but was scared that he would get violent. When we talked about it later, my boyfriend agreed that his friend might not have taken it that well and said that he knew the guy did have really bad attitudes towards women and saw where I was coming from when I said that I was concerned that he might be unsafe towards them. Then later my boyfriend back-flipped and said that he’d asked the rest of the group their opinions and now thought his friend was harmless and that he’d never do anything to hurt anyone else. I ended up having FAR more of a boyfriend-problem than a problem with his best friend, in that I felt betrayed and hurt, like he did not have my back at all and was unsupportive about my not wanting to deal with someone who made me feel unsafe and was going to go with the easy option that caused him no awkwardness no matter how uncomfortable or scared I was. It also called my ex-boyfriend’s so-called “feminism” into account for me.

        By contrast, I also feel uncomfortable with my current, lovely boyfriend’s best friend. Best friend and I had an awkward moment at a party 100,000 years ago where we were flirting pretty hard despite him having a girlfriend, and I shut that shit down. Anyway, in present-day I’m still uncomfortable around him and a bit uncomfortable around his girlfriend (who has commented pointedly on our “chemistry”), and I’d prefer not to be around them one-on-one or be alone with the guy etc i.e. I would rather get a bus than accept a lift from him on my own. My boyfriend mostly gets it, does respect it, and doesn’t push anything at all. He lets me know in advance if his friend will be at a party so I can decide if I am up for seeing him.

        tl;dr if a boyfriend has a problem with you having an issue with his friend(s) and setting boundaries as such, it is a boyfriend problem at least as much – if not more – than a friend problem. Yis. I know thiz.

        • winter said:

          You ex sounds like a total ass. Glad you upgraded 😉

  6. Alexis said:

    I have been the Wife in this situation — so much so that until I read about the flirting and long-distance parts, I was truly worried this letter was about me.

    I know, at least, in my case… it’s because the “LW”, in my situation, has been insufferably rude to me and my husband, is immature and seemingly incapable of handing Adulting, and is an unsupportive partner to our friend. We cut her out of our lives because she is no friend to us, while at the same time knowing that we couldn’t demand the same of our friend. So, what were were supposed to do? We’re under no obligation to invite “LW” to hang out with us, which I’m sure they talk about, as we try to see our friend often (he did live with us, after all), and I try not to think about how, to her, we must just be the biggest meanies who were ever mean.

    I don’t know the real LW here. I don’t know there is the same bad blood between her and The Wife. And I don’t want to assume my situation is the same, because my advice to LW would sound a bit like ‘have you considered the problem is a basic personality difference?’ and that is NOT. HELPFUL. Or even, necessarily, correct.

    But what I do know is that I have empathy for The Wife in this situation, so as I read this letter I do not immediately make the connection between her behavior and being a ‘toxic’ friend to The Boyfriend. I see a situation where two people do not get along, and when that happens, sometimes it seems like everything the other person is doing, they are doing it just to spite you. It might not be as toxic and evil as it feels to LW.

    For example, in my case, I ended up buying tickets and presents for our “The Boyfriend” because in the time he lived with us, he had become family, and we had more disposable income than he did, so often we’d pay for things ‘as a group’ and then ‘forget’ to charge him. This courtesy did not extend to our “LW”. She might have found this mean, but it’s not toxic — not being included in a group of friends does not a toxic situation make, though it might feel like it.

    This has turned into a thought exercise on my own situation, so I’ll stop there because making further connections to my own life isn’t helpful to LW. But I do wonder, how much of the behavior described is toxic, and how much is just an unpleasant situation with complicated emotions, told through one side?

    • JenniferP said:

      We only ever get one side in letters, and that’s ok.

      The good news is, the advice is for the LW to mostly ignore the person they don’t like, disengage on social media, to not pretend they are friends, to not schedule group hangouts, and to minimize the amount that this one friend is discussed within the relationship, which works for a toxic friend or for a personality difference. If it is just a personality difference, the Wife person should be relieved to be able to stop pretending. If it isn’t, and something sketchy is going on, it will be pretty easy to tell, since the Wife will escalate the behavior to get attention and to remain central in the conflict. If the boyfriend is being cool, he’ll respect the LW’s decisions. If something is not cool, he will pressure the LW to fake being friends with someone they hate for….reasons?

      • ZeldasCrown said:

        I agree completely. I see 4 possible outcomes of blocking the wife

        1-Nothing really (negative) happens. Nobody creates “drama”, and it turns out it was all really a difference in personality. Well, Wife should be relieved to not have to feel forced to interact with LW (the feeling will be mutual), and all that will remain is for Wife and LW to enforce their boundaries with Boyfriend (i.e. “you can go hang out with Wife/LW, but I’m not going, and I’m not going to constantly talk about her with you”). If Boyfriend refuses to enforce either of their boundaries, well, it could be that both Wife and LW end up dropping Boyfriend.

        2-Wife makes a big stink, in which case it’s pretty clear that she’s a toxic person, and, again, LW has to enforce her boundaries with Boyfriend (this is assuming the Boyfriend doesn’t also create drama). If he refuses to do so, then LW has to take a long hard look at her relationship.

        3-Boyfriend creates the drama (but not Wife). There were a lot of red flags here for me in terms of Boyfriend’s behavior. Could be that it’s Boyfriend who’s the toxic one, and not Wife. In that case, it’s Boyfriend who needs to go. And then LW can continue not being friends with Wife.

        4-Both Boyfriend and Wife create drama. Totally possible that they’re both toxic, and both people who LW needs to stop interacting with.

        In any case, I think that the reaction to LW blocking Wife will give her a lot of information as to where things actually stand, and where to go from there.

    • I think, even if the LW is not a good partner (which doesn’t seem to be the case to me, but I guess I can’t know), that doesn’t make what her boyfriend is doing ok. Even your story validates this – your dislike and treatment of your friend’s gf is real. If she brought this up with your friend, she wouldn’t be imagining things or overreacting.

    • paddlepickle said:

      In my experience of reading advice columns (I’m kind of obsessed with them so that’s a lot), when the LW is actually the problem their tends to be some signs or red flags in the letter. Wherein in this one, there’s decent evidence that the friend is really toxic– kicking the boyfriend out of the house because because she wanted to kill anyone who came through the door?? Unless the LW totally made that up, that’s totally nuts. My guess is you have handled this situation with way more grace than The Wife in this situation has, based on the thoughtful way you write about it.

      • Anothermous said:

        Right? I’m a little puzzled about the people who have jumped to the Wife’s defense here, considering she was apparently “frequently” kicking Boyfriend out of the house and texting “I want to kill anyone who walks through the door.” I mean it’s possible that Boyfriend is making that stuff up, because he doesn’t exactly seem like a super upstanding person himself, but… somehow I doubt it. The toxic aspect of this woman’s personality isn’t refusing to pay for LWs tickets to events; it’s her threatening and unstable behavior.

        • Myrin said:

          Yeah, I actually imagined her to be quite the frightening person.

        • I just assumed the bf was lying

      • Helen Damnation said:

        That she had periods of being angry and upset and wanting to be alone during the breakdown of her marriage? “Wanting to kill anyone who comes through the door” is clearly hyperbole. Kicking him out… is not great, and I sure hope he had somewhere to go, but. She was going through a rough time, people are not always 100% reasonable.

        And you can’t know whether or not an LW without obvious red flags is “actually the problem”. The sum total of our information about this situation is in this letter. I’m not saying I think she is, not at all; just that it’s a bit off to make an assertion like that when you’re never going to know what really happened. Sometimes there are obvious red flags that contradict an LW’s story, and there weren’t any here, but absence of proof is not proof of absence.

        Again, nothing against the LW in the slightest. Just an observation.

        • Zillah said:

          Yeah – I’m absolutely not saying the LW is misreading the situation bc she’s there and we’re not, but I know plenty of non-toxic people who tend to be dramatic and might use that kind of hyperbole. And IME, it’s not unusual or out of line to ask roommates for alone time in your living quarters sometimes.

          That’s not how the boyfriend presented it, but his presentation may be a bit off – he doesn’t seem super trustworthy to me.

    • Ethyl said:

      This comment has been bugging me all day. Alexis, I would urge you to reconsider your behavior. I’ve been on both sides of this — my friends and family members have made some just appallingly bad decisions about romantic relationships, and my parents and select family members disapproved of my partner for many years. The thing I’ve learned that I really want you to take to heart is *they will never choose you.* Never. “They” could be your parent, sister, best friend since you were babies, and the only thing that you’ll get if you belittle, badmouth, and exclude their partner is more distance from them. You’re causing lasting damage to your relationship with your dear friend. Yes, she may be absolutely horrible, and you absolutely have the right to not be around people you don’t like. But on some level, you are saying to your friend “I hate this person you love and therefore you must also be bad and unlikable in some way. Change to fit what I want for you.” I know I know, you want what’s best for them! But just give it some thought. I wish I had before I fucked up some relationships, and I sure wish my parents had because our relationship will never recover.

      Read this: https://captainawkward.com/2013/12/20/533-can-i-bar-my-sons-unlikeable-girlfriend-from-family-events/

      • meekbookworm said:

        Umm, I don’t really think you need to (or should) be giving Alexis advice here. She shared her experience to add another dimension to the letter. The captain pointed out that the original advice was applicable even if the letter was read as “boyfriend’s friend and I don’t get along” instead of “boyfriend’s friend is toxic and trying to undermine my relationship”. Alexis didn’t ask for advice or commentary on her past.

        Reading the letter initially did put my hackles up because it seemed like most of the wife’s behavior either was filtered through the boyfriend or consisted of things like not paying for or inviting LW and wanting to spend time with LW’s boyfriend–which don’t seem like objectively terrible things. Ultimately though I guess it really doesn’t matter, the Wife’s behavior just needs to stop being LW’s problem.

  7. Dear LW
    I’d like to second, third, nth the point that your (solvable) problems are boyfriend related.

    Ignore his horrid friend.

    Don’t be surprised when he’s not pleased with your pushback. He’s had the fun of an admirer (her) and a girlfriend to whom he can complain about the admirer. You will be taking away his sounding board – and his deniability.

    You see, on some level he knows what she’s up to and he encourages her.

    • annejumps said:

      That’s what I was thinking.

  8. jen said:

    My immediate thought after reading the letter is this: there is more going on between BF and Toxic than LW knows. It may have been before LW’s time, even. But there’s something there. It’s not LW’s responsibility to find out, unless LW has the feeling it’s current (letter indicates no) and the Captain’s advice is spot on. But Toxic and BF’s reaction to Toxic’s behavior toward LW is not standard Friendship Only.

    • thebewilderness said:

      A boyfriend problem for sure. He is calling LW a liar and in my experience that usually means he is lying to LW. Funny how that works.

    • Ms. Pris said:

      Yes, I suspect that the boyfriend is and has been involved sexually with “Toxic”, who probably isn’t very toxic at all. It would be par for the course for the boyfriend to be feeding each woman horror stories about the other, in order that they dislike one another, and thus never put their heads together and figure out what’s going on.

      So, this is what I suspect is happening. It doesn’t matter if that’s what is really happening, because either way the boyfriend is bad news and I think LW should walk.

  9. Marie said:

    Who knows what the boyfriend gets out of this toxic friend, but I have a sneaky suspicion he likes the attention even if he’s nnot that attracted to her. My advice is run run run away. He’s already shown that he doesn’t care enough about LW.

  10. duck-billed placelot said:

    Ok, I’m not trying to defend the toxic lady here, who is clearly a problem, BUT:

    the wife excluded me from things and invited only my boyfriend. If my boyfriend tried to invite me, she’d throw a fit and my boyfriend would have to call me to say sorry, you can’t go. If she did invite me, she told me that I had to pay my own way, even though she bought tickets or whatever for my boyfriend.

    The way those two pieces of info followed on each other made me wonder if your boyfriend (hopefully inadvertently) caused some of that friction? Like, she invited him to a thing, and he invited you without asking? Like, she offered to treat him to a play or dinner or something, and he invited you without asking, and she felt the need to tell you, listen, I’m not buying you a ticket, even if your boyfriend invited you along without giving me a heads up first. Which, fair enough even if indelicately handled, right? In either of those scenarios, she doesn’t HAVE to invite her friend’s girlfriend, and she doesn’t HAVE to pay her friend’s girlfriend’s way, and really in both cases, you boyfriend could have a) asked the person inviting him somewhere first or b) stood by you and either chosen not to go if you were dis-invited or paid your way without making a big fuss about it.

    So yeah, your boyfriend needs to step up. It seems possible that he’s been inconsiderate to you AND the toxic lady regarding invitations and social stuff, and it seems probable to me that he expects the women in his life to make choices based mostly on what is most convenient for him.

    • Muddie Mae said:

      Indeed, overall the boyfriend seems quite passive-aggressive here. It just occurred to me, too, that “throwing a fit” may just be this woman firmly asserting a boundary. IME passive-aggressive people often perceive directness as rudeness, yelling, etc because they are so unused to it.

      This doesn’t change what the LW should do, but it might be helpful to remember to try and avoid bitch-eating-crackers mode with this woman. Don’t hold grudges about things that you weren’t there to experience.

      • Courtney said:

        Yeah…that disinvite thing? If it happens, should only happen ONCE. I was with a partner who once mistakenly extended an invitation to me to something I wasn’t actually invited to. When I found out that the hosts actually didn’t want me there, I was upset–but it was upset about the rejection not about the event itself. My partner still wanted to go and was conflicted. I told him I didn’t mind if he went without me, but that I would mind if this ever happened again. I told him that I needed him to KNOW, not assume whether I was welcome to something before extending the invitation to me.

      • XtinaS said:

        “IME passive-aggressive people often perceive directness as rudeness, yelling, etc because they are so unused to it.”

        Speaking as one who’s been passive-aggressive for a good chunk of my life (I’m getting betta!), I agree with this entirely.

        • sophiaphilia said:

          That’s so helpful for me to see both of your comments, I’ve had a difficult relationship with a friend of mine, with whom if I’m upset or even somewhat dissatisfied about something, there is no way to be gentle or “I-statements”-y enough for her to not see it as me flipping out or being angry at her. But hinting never worked either.

          • It’s truly bizarre when simply stating a fact in a calm manner freaks people out.

            However, I’ve come to see it, (whether I’m the giver or the givee,) as a clear clue something is being worked on in an emotional, and not a rational, manner. Then I adjust accordingly.

    • monologue said:

      I thought this way too. Maybe the invites were actually just supposed to be for the boyfriend, which isn’t a big issue in itself, couples don’t need to do everything together. In that case this might be more under the umbrella of boyfriend problem than toxic friend problem. But either way the LW wants and should work on less/no contact and discussions about the friend as suggested by the captain.

    • Wow. You perfectly expressed what I was thinking about the invitations.

      Mostly because my spidey-senses tell me that BF isn’t an entirely nice fella

  11. annstarrr said:

    All my red flags are up re: Boyfriend. It’s a veritable Six (Red) Flags Over Annstarrr over here. There’s very little possibility that Boyfriend doesn’t know this lady is giving him flirty attention, and very much possibility that Boyfriend is overly denying this* and gaslighting LW because Boyfriend is getting BJs from Toxic. Lots of side-eye to Boyfriend.

    But… devil’s advocate. MAYBE Toxic just wants to hang out with Boyfriend, her buddy and ex-roommate, while her marriage falls apart and her life is sad, without having to deal with some LW girlfriend she doesn’t even know. Maybe Boyfriend is just insensitively inviting LW along to private events or whatever and Toxic is like, “Can’t I just tell you about my personal problems in private? Is your girlfriend glued to you or what? Bring her to a party or whatever, she’s cool, but I kind of want to vent about my upcoming divorce and get your perspective, buddy, and you’re never in town. Let’s have friend time.” And Boyfriend is communicating this extremely poorly to LW, and sometimes just bringing LW anyway, and Toxic is like, “Ugh, damn it, now someone I don’t know is here,” and everyone is terrible to everyone else.

    Poor communication could totally be the case! But I still vote that it’s Toxic-Boyfriend BJs.

    *The only time my ex ever got really mad at me was when I was like, “Why is a girl I’ve never heard of giving you homemade cookies for Christmas? That makes me feel weird.” He got so defensive and denial-ey because they were, in fact, boning behind my back. They are now married.

    • Totally this. There was a good friend of mine (bridesmaid at our wedding) who I started to get the vibes was saying nasty things behind my back and asked my husband not to invite her to our home and shared I was a bit uncomfortable with her. Turns out they were having an affair.

      Which is not to say that this is definitely happening, but partners should be making an effort to prioritise your feelings. A partner who ignores your unhappiness and dismisses it has other loyalties happening – is that a relationship that’s ok for you, LW?

    • No Longer In Academia said:

      There’s very little possibility that Boyfriend doesn’t know this lady is giving him flirty attention, and very much possibility that Boyfriend is overly denying this* and gaslighting LW because Boyfriend is getting BJs from Toxic.

      Yeah, that was pretty much my first thought, too. Particularly when he seems to be the first person to being Toxic’s bad behaviour to the LW’s attention, to the extent of showing her the content of texts, but suddenly when it’s a question of flirting then it’s nooooooooooo, all in your head, nothing inappropriate to see here, move right along.

      LW, I hope that the Captain’s advice works out well for you. I also hope that you’ll be willing to consider that when your boyfriend tells you that he doesn’t like Toxic like that, it might not be the 100% unvarnished truth.

    • Courtney said:

      “There’s very little possibility that Boyfriend doesn’t know this lady is giving him flirty attention…”

      Never underestimate the powers of denial and cluelessness.

      An ex of mine told me this story about when he was in college wherein a gal in his major department jumped into his arms from a 2nd story balcony at a party. She called his name, and when he turned, she yelled, “Catch!” and jumped. (Yeah, I know. Lucky they weren’t both seriously injured or killed.) After telling the story, he said that he had always thought she was cute and fun to talk to but “she never gave him any sign that she was interested in him, so he never asked her out.”

      Jaw. Floor. I said, “Hon, she THREW HERSELF at you. She literally, physically, threw her body at yours. Unless that building was on fire or collapsing, or she was trying to get away from a dangerous person, she probably did that because she liked you.”

      The thought had never occurred to him. (Which is probably for the best, since that way of signalling interest isn’t exactly indicative of the capacity for a healthy relationship.)

      • Mary said:

        I dunno that denial and cluelessness is an excuse. Beyond a certain age, admit that you know what you know and make decisions accordingly or you’re no good to anyone.

        • Zillah said:

          I think that this is a little harsh. Some people are just naturally always going to be a little clueless – that’s not a terrible thing, and it certainly doesn’t make you “no good to anyone.” (Or am I just misunderstanding you?)

        • Sheelzebub said:

          I’m pretty clueless about this stuff. I have no idea if someone’s hitting on me or is into me. You actually have to be pretty blunt to me. I have found out long after the fact that someone was into me and was shocked that I didn’t know. How was I supposed to know? The things they did or said were things that friends of mine did or said. I am not a fucking mind reader. I just started to get what this interpersonal shit meant when I hit my 30’s. I take what people say to me at face value (so–as I recently learned, “I’m not looking for a relationship” and “Oh, I don’t mean anything by this, I’m not hitting on you” actually meant the complete opposite and I was somehow supposed to know this because of all sorts of small signals the guy gave that I did not pick up).

          The thing is, I’m side-eyeing the BF in this letter because he’s putting up with shitty behavior and gaslighting his girlfriend. If someone was rude to my BF, excluded him, paid for tickets for me but told him he had to pay his way, I’d be pissed. Unless my BF saw every guy interacting with me as flirting with me, I’d take his concerns about ONE friend seriously. I’d distance myself from that person and tell them to cut the shit when they were shitty to my BF. I wouldn’t need to “know” if the person was into me or not in order to do that because the net affect would be the same–that person is being shitty to my BF and that is not okay.

          Really, what difference does it make if she’s really into him and he gets it or he doesn’t? She’s being rude to the woman he’s dating, and he’s gaslighting his girlfriend and expecting her to put up with shit. That’s what is at issue here.

      • TO_Ont said:

        I’m a girl, and I can almost never figure out if a guy is flirting with me or just being friendly or even just trying to be polite. And I do tend to err on the side of assuming he’s just being friendly or trying to be nice. (That’s if it even occurs to me that it _could_ theoretically be flirting, which often doesn’t even occur to me until well after the fact, if at all). Loads of people (and NOT just guys) have a hard time with flirting.

        Anyway, isn’t the problem if HE’S flirting, not if someone else is flirting with him? Sometimes just ignoring someone’s flirtlng and continuing to interact with them normally and pretending you didn’t notice it can be an effective way of dealing with unwanted flirting, depending on the person.

        Is it that she believes that he’s deliberately encouraging this flirting? Basically flirting back in his own way?

      • thegirlfrommarz said:

        A real-life Louisa Musgrove!

    • peregrinations said:

      Yeah, same here. My experience is not the LWs experience, obvs. But I’m seeing a veritable field full of red flags here in the bf’s behavior. My last ex would swear up and down that, no, he didn’t notice woman A (or B, C, D,…) flirting with him, and no he wasn’t flirting back, and no he hadn’t heard his bestie say the horrible things to me that she said right in front of him, or his bestie #2 say the other BS things she said to me right in front of him. Turns out he was boning (or trying to bone) at least a couple of those women behind my back, and bestie #1 and #2 knew all about and supported it. He’s now married to one of those women, and meanwhile still trying to bone other women (including one of my besties)…

      • Anisoptera said:

        Yeah in my experience the totally clueless dude thing is an act designed to explain away various flavours of bad behaviour, and to lower expectations. I used to find it lovable. Now it’s an instant no.

        • Eh, in my experience dudes can be totally clueless. I’ve dealt with a string of those moments with my now-husband. The woman, early in our relationship, who always tried to get him to show up to parties she’d be at and he just thought she was being friendly because he was new in town and wasn’t she sweet. (She actually was a very nice person. She also wanted to date him.) Then he and I hit the point where he definitely always referred to me as his girlfriend, not a random someone he was seeing, and her attitude to him shifted and he was a little bewildered. Or several years into our relationship when we were long-distance and he was going to the big annual dance party at his grad school and I said it was a terrible time for me to visit him, and the main reason to do it was to avoid any of the classmates I thought were interested in him getting ideas about me being absent and unsupportive, and he was like “no no no, I’m the person who arrived at school with ‘I love my girlfriend’ stamped on my forehead, no one could POSSIBLY have ideas.” And then after the dance, he said to me “so, yeah, you were right…”

          He really is that oblivious! Like, he knows that they’re being super friendly and he’d admit to enjoying the attention, but it takes a lot for him to realize that the attention is sexual in nature. And my best friend’s husband is similar. Of course, a key part of this is, if either my best friend or I tell our husbands one of his female friends seems hostile to me, he doesn’t dismiss it.

          So I agree with everyone else about the bees, and that it’s not just the toxic friend with bees, it’s the boyfriend with bees. But I have to disagree that cluelessness is always an act.

          • Preludes said:

            Having dated a guy for over a month without knowing it, and having been asked out by several male friends over my time, believe me that people can be clueless about flirting – either to or from them.
            Plus there’s a whole cultural narrative about jealous girlfriend that is pretty easy to be irritated by. I Have little patience for any sort of jealously from partners so maybe it was less deliberate gas lighting. Still not ok as he should get down to the route of the problem and either adjust his behaviour or split up from LW

  12. Myrin said:

    Apart from the general red-flagginess of the boyfriends everything, this part especially stood out to me: “I’ve told him that I’m going to unfriend her on FB and he got mad at me, saying it’d cause a lot of drama between her and him” → there already IS drama, but that drama is between YOU and him (and, to a different degree, between you and her). It’s really interesting that he’s willing to endure heavy “drama” (not too fond of that word; conflict, maybe?) in his romantic relationship but not in this friendships. Shows a lot about his priorities, in my opinion.

    • Polychrome said:

      Yah, maybe the real problem is that it would reveal the dynamic he’s been creating between these two women to the friend? I was just thinking the line about “I want to kill anyone who walks through the door” could be used as, like, “see how BANANAS this woman is?” behind her back to the gf while to her face it could be all “ha ha, I totally have had days like that”. That kind of statement could mean the woman is scary and violent but I can totally imagine some of my friends texting that to me as like a topper to a jokey “you can’t believe the day I’ve had” kind of exchange.

      anyway, so it’s possible that it’s all fun and mind games for the bf but then if the gf unfriends the friend the friend will be like, wait, what? What’s that about? And he’d have some ‘splaining to do. It’s even possible that the disinvitation “fit” story isn’t true — maybe the bf did the excluding and blamed it on the friend.

      LW — you probably have an inkling in your gut if this is way off, I mean, this is wild speculation on my part. But as others have said it seems like Captain’s advice works for all possible scenarios!

      • wordiest said:

        In my household of all introverts, “I want to kill everyone in the world right now” is the usual shorthand version for, I am in a terrible mood and need some serious alone time right now. None of us view it as at all threatening, because we all know each other. I wouldn’t be as likely to use it with someone who didn’t know me as well, because I wouldn’t want them to misunderstand. But the wife used it with her long-time friend and he didn’t mention it being a problem, so it didn’t actually raise any red flags for me. Kicking people out of the house depends on what agreements you’ve all made for whether or not it’s a red flag. They may have agreed to trying to take some time to be elsewhere when someone needs alone time. I am coming at this from a perspective of a large family of almost entirely introverts and then having lived mainly with introverts in adulthood. So, I’m used to alone time being a pretty big and important thing (and nobody wanting to answer the telephone or doorbell). Anyhow, in general, I feel people should be very, very cautious of all relayed info. Quotes out of context can be easily misunderstood.

        • Helen Damnation said:

          Yes, this.

  13. Wait, so unfriending her on social media is causing drama, but her demanding he disinvite you from events you were originally invited to is not to be reacted to?

    • MellifluousDissent said:

      Allow me to dust off my English-to-Crappy-Boyfriend translation dictionary for this one. Ah, yes, here it is:

      “Don’t cause drama” = “Do not bring attention to or react to something that’s clearly offensive *to you* because the status quo is working really, really well *for me* and I like the version of the world where I can just leave all of the weight of the negative consequences of everything on you while I continue on my merry way.”

      • Xenophile said:

        My edition of English-to-Crappy Boyfriend says “Don’t cause drama” means “Don’t cause drama FOR ME–but I don’t care if someone else is causing drama for you.” Funnily enough, he used that one whenever I objected to him flirting with his exes in front of me. And wouldn’t you know it, turns out he had affairs with two of them.

      • twiggles said:

        +1

  14. MellifluousDissent said:

    LW, everything the Captain is advising is SPOT. ON.

    I had my own version of the “toxic friend” problem once in a LDR, and setting the boundaries the Captain describes were the only thing that worked. Trying to be friends with toxic lady myself didn’t work (because toxic lady didn’t want to be my friend, because she wanted the emotional/intellectual support and attention my husband gave her as her “friend” while dating a more stereotypically physically attractive dude with a much lower EQ at the same time, and I was interfering with her set-up), and trying to convince my then-b/f that toxic lady was so incredibly toxic that she needed to be buried somewhere out in the Nevada desert didn’t work because my then-b/f was getting a lot of validation out of being “the only one who ‘really’ understood” this lady, and it was fulfilling some weird, warped thing in him that didn’t feel like validation/love/friendship was “real” unless it was hard-won through the placating of many, many irrational tantrums (and once I met his mother, this part made a lot of sense), and anything I said was just me being “mean” because I was “so strong” that I “just didn’t understand how hard it was” to be toxic lady, and how much she “needed” him. And I wanted to be the “cool chick,” the girl who was fine with opposite-sex friendships and wasn’t all weird and catty about other women spending time with my boyfriend, so I put up with her. And I put up with conversations about her. And I put up with being accused of “irrationally” hating her whenever I didn’t respond to her/stories about her/her demands on my b/f’s time in the exact appropriate way (for the record, my hatred was totally rational). And it sucked, a lot.

    And then one day I stopped. I changed the subject every time she came up. I refused to go to events/places where she would be. I told b/f to do whatever he wanted re: toxic lady, but to leave me out of it. And yes, there were times he saw her instead of me, at first (because she *needed* him because she was in *crisis* because of course she was). But over time, it got better. It got better because his options were no longer “have my cake and eat it too.” It got better because he went from doing whatever he wanted with toxic lady and still getting to see and spend time with me (even if it meant inflicting an emotional terrorist on me), to having to choose between “spend time with my girlfriend who is fun and pretty and also we bang” and “spend time with my *friend* who is an emotional black hole of neediness and who spews all of her drama into my ears and then goes home to bang her douche-y football player boyfriend.”

    It sucks to draw the boundary, because you don’t actually know what your b/f is going to do. You don’t know that he’s going to stand by you and stand up for you and make time for you. You don’t know that he’s not going to prioritize toxic lady over you. And if he does prioritize her over you, that’s going to hurt like hell, and you’re probably afraid of that (I know I was). But you do know that what you’re doing now is untenable. So do what you need to do to protect yourself from this lady’s badness toward you, and let your b/f make his own choices about how to allocate his time between the two of you. Whatever he chooses and however he handles it, it’s important information for you to have as you move forward (or don’t move forward) with the b/f.

  15. Commander Banana said:

    Some people legit enjoy being the swirly center of a drama sundae. It’s entirely possible Boyfriend is totally ok with this bizarre dynamic.

    My last boyfriend’s best friend decided he didn’t like me – or anything that competed for Boyfriend’s attention – and was always very frosty towards me, even when they lived together. We handled it by behaving like cats who don’t really like each other, but were never overtly hostile, and Boyfriend never had to pick between the two of us because I accepted that sometimes people Just Don’t Like You, and since Friend was civil if cold, I never felt like I needed to ask Boyfriend to stick up for me (we dated for nearly nine years and outlasted two of Friend’s marriages, so Friend spent NINE YEARS mostly ignoring me, which hey, at least shows persistence, I guess?)

    I think is a good time to do the six months? A year? Five years? Ten years? test that gets brought up every so often here. Boyfriend’s been pretty clear that this dynamic is Here To Stay and that your attempts to get across how it makes you feel are just going to result in a fight and nothing changes. The Captain’s advice gives you some concrete things that YOU can do, right now, but ultimately it looks like Toxic is, for whatever baffling reason, part of the Boyfriend Package.

    If you’re eventually planning to live in the same city, or live together, or get married, or start a family, or otherwise enmesh your life more thoroughly with Boyfriend, are you willing to do that knowing that Toxic is likely going to be part of the package?

    • Guava said:

      I’m going to raise my hand and say that I’ve been doing this dance with my husband for the past twenty years. The first person playing the role of Toxic Friend was his jealous ex-girlfriend, who had married one of his best friends, so I was pressured to see them often. The second person was his nasty aunt. Now it’s the mother of our kid’s friend at school.

      Let me just say: it’s exhausting. And it becomes that much harder to draw those boundaries when you have kids, because then your partner can argue that a relationship is good for the kids – and it might be on some level – but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s toxic for YOU. So I am pressured to Stop Being Petty and Suck It Up For The Kids and What About Their Relationships with My Family and You Can’t Interfere With Their Friendships and You’re Exaggerating when all the while, I’ve drawn a boundary and he keeps letting the devil in through the back door because he is getting his jollies out of being the good cop.

      I’m still trying to figure out how to fix this dynamic twenty years later, or at least not let it bother me anymore. I haven’t succeeded.

      • My Fathers mother was an absolute evil witch to my mother.
        Eventually they came to an agreement that my brother and I would go and visit Nanna, with Dad. Mum would stay in the car.
        I dont know how they went through nutting that out, but my earliest memories of Nanna were with mum outside in the car, even if that caused conflict between them I didn’t see if.
        The way dad is treated by his two siblings still bothers my mother too. And I think as he gets older, it bothers him more too.
        Family dynamics suck.
        Thankfully Husband feels a similar way to me about one of his siblings who just seems to NGAF about us – we dont really GAF about them either. We wont put in any special effort for them since they refuse to for us. If we go to their city and they cant make the family dinner / afternoon tea / whatever that we have 3 or 4 days to deal to, too bad for them.

        • Guava said:

          It’s comforting for me to know that, as kids, you were aware of the dynamics, and have learned the lesson to have your partner’s back as adults. It’s making me think hard about what I teach to my kids.

      • Arrrrgggh I feel for you here! My dad had the same sort of opinions as your husband does regarding ‘The relationship is good for the kids!’ When I was younger I was sort of friends with a bunch of brothers who were sins of one my dad’s friends. This was all very well until these bros started excluding me and my sister from stuff they were doing while we had been invited to their place. My sister and I were never the most feminine or compliant of girls and I’m pretty sure that’s why they stopped hanging out with us. My sister stopped going around, and then I did, and my dad would then nag us to hang out. This I realised was more for his toxic friendship with their mum and dad than us. My mum was always ignored until the last few years by these two until two years ago (after my sister and I both went ‘fuck no we are not spending Christmas with these guys’) and she decided to stop giving a fuck.

        The kids probably know!

        • Guava said:

          It’s so tough, because the one child in that family who’s friends with my kid is actually really nice. He’s so nice that I feel sorry for him, and all the drama that goes on between him and my kid is the drama created by his parents. And wow, do they go there. I African Violeted the mom two years ago, and she is still harassing me. She constantly asks for playdates, and as soon as she gets my kid alone in the car, she’ll start grilling about what lessons are you in? what teams are you on? where do they practice? what days of the week are you free? And then she’ll enroll her kid in all of the same activities, so I can’t get away from her. It’s pretty much stalking behavior.

          For this reason, I cut down the playdates to 2x a year at a neutral location, and now her son glares at me, and everyone thinks I’m the mean lady that ruined the kids’ friendship. She has literally sent her children after me at school events to demand to know why they aren’t invited to my house anymore. This is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s awful.

          • Myrin said:

            Guava, sadly I don’t have any tips for you but be assured that you are absolutely not the only one who’d think of such behaviour as stalking. How absolutely horrible!

  16. So i will try to delurk for the first time and sneak in with a related question. I feel somewhat inconsiderate to the LW for it, and I wanted to take it to friendsofcaptainawkward.com (so many awesome poeple there! I strongly recommend to every LW for whose letter the Captain didnt have time to go there!), but there really are some striking similarities and the Captain and others wrote loads of great advice for the LW, so please be gentle.

    The situation concerns my friend, A. She has a bf whom I will call D, I knew him before and met her trough him. He always came across to me as something of a sexist pig who has women as accessories, but then later he seemed to become more considerate, consent-educated etc. When he introduced A to me, I liked her immediately, he was very nice and considerate and I was happy for them. I became good friends with A. She even dragged me to the gym (a huge deal!!!). She always says she is head over heels with him and is happy, only there is a problem with his female friends, apparently he has quite a few of them and he takes them places where he doesnt take her, buys them expensive presents etc. (!) The one A especially hates is T(oxic). I know this girl, she was trying to be friends with me once but I had to emply the slow fade out, I just couldnt stand her self-obsession, negativity (especially since I ahve mental health issues), hatred to everyone and everything, vulgar vocabulary, incosiderateness and at the same time constant bothering etc. T definitely has some kind of obsession with D, this because apparent to me already at the times of our “friendship”. A told D several times very clearly that his frequent meetings with T are a problem, but he diminished her concerns and said that “it was normal”. Recently, A found out that while D told her he was having a business meeting, he was actually with T. Even after confrontation about his lying, he would not acknowledge that his behavior was bad in any way. But when A told him about a guy who was hitting on her in a bar, he threw a jealous tantrum.

    I feel really enraged now and if it was me, I would gladly DTMFA. But I definitely have no intention to intervene in any way since this is not my business and I even promised her not to tell anyone. I just need to know what advice I could give her, considering that she is certainly not going to DTMFA or give him some kind of ultimatum? I really care about her and I am quite sad that my first impression of him was, in all probability, right. I was about to start playing a RPG with D and his friends, but now I am starting to reconsider…

    LW, once again I apologize for this derail and please listen to the Captain and to everyone that says your boyfriend is at least part of the problem!

    • Yarnspider said:

      I’d say the best thing you can do is be there when A finally breaks up with D. If she asks for advice, give her something along the lines of “I don’t like D, but I trust your judgement.” And then change the subject. Continue doing general friend-things, and making it clear that you can help her pick up the pieces when it does, inevitably, go to shit. In the meantime, I’d say minimize contact with D as much as possible. Certainly don’t join into an RPG with him. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve found that playing D&D with people you don’t like only makes it harder to get along with them.

      • k8899 said:

        Cosign all of this, with the addition of: if everything goes horrifically pear-shaped, and he turns out to be darth, then be extra-vocal of your support to her, to counteract 1) the common assumption that friends will be on the side of the person they knew first and 2) the way our sort of circles try to treat all break-ups as if they’re amicable (real life story: I had to explain to my fi-then-bf that no, it wasn’t just being neutral and polite his public hanging-out-with and being-nice-to the ex of his friend who physically abused her and cheated on her while she was at a funeral).

        • Connie-Lynne said:

          I once had a friend who was awesome in many other ways, but was not good at ending relationships well. In fact, he was not good at relationships.

          He started dating an awesome girl and bringing her around and so forth, and at one point I pulled her aside and said, “look. I want you to know that I like you no matter who you’re fucking. I like being friends with you, not you-as-friend’s-girlfriend. If you ever want to hang out, we don’t have to bring the boys along.”

          Awkward? A little. But hey, they broke up, and we’re still friends.

      • Cactus said:

        Certainly don’t join into an RPG with him. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve found that playing D&D with people you don’t like only makes it harder to get along with them.

        Co-signing all of this. Never role-play with people you dislike.

        • Minter said:

          Triple-signing this — a DnD game turned terrible turned out to be the death knell for (an admittedly toxic) friendship. All for the best in the end, but goodness, I couldn’t look at a paladin without cringing for years. I’ve realized that RPGs will bring out the best and worst in people, so heed them carefully.

          Protect your good feelings towards that RPG, don’t join that group!

          • Kate said:

            Also signing on, and I want to add that this can easily extend to online gaming, particularly when there’s a close group and teamspeak!

        • Kacienna said:

          Especially if they’re the DM!

    • wordiest said:

      Yeah, I think this is the general category of when a friend dates a darth. There’s not much you can do, except try to be supportive and try to be the opposite of a darth yourself. Respect your friend. Show trust in her ability to make her own decisions. And you can let her know you’re somebody she can call if she ever needs help, so if a day does come when she needs to flee quickly, she’ll potentially have a place to go (only do that if that makes logistical sense and is something you can offer, of course). And have positive experiences with her. Ideally, it’ll help to keep her from getting too isolated and help her keep knowing that there are people who like and value her.

    • Courtney said:

      Yeah, when things like this happen, you can gently bring up questions like “are you happy?” and with regards to things like the jealous tantrum, “Are you safe?” But those questions have to be few and far between, delivered gently and with reassurances that you are going to be her friend and back her play even if she chooses to stay with Darth at 123 Bee House Lane. If you push too hard when she’s not ready to leave, she may back away from you…which gives her fewer resources she knows she can count on when she IS ready to go. (Even if you would happily help her at any time after she pushes you away/cuts you off, SHE won’t know that. Her jerkbrain will likely count you as lost forever and another reason why she has no resources for getting out.)

    • I want to thank to everyone for their advice. You are all right, of course, and deep down I knew it all along, it just helps a lot to have it spelled out, and to have people outside of this situation confirm that the one who is a problem is definitely D(arth), not his ladyfriends. I will of course do my best to continue being a good friend to A, especially since she doesnt really have many friends, and pass the possibility to play that RPG. (Back when I didnt know about the real situation between D and A, I was really looking forward because reasons – messy end of a previous RPG, a new and unusual Star-Wars themed game… But you are of course right that the knowledge, maybe even coupled with some flirting attempts from his side since A would not be present, could even make me dislike the SW univrse and that, just, no fucking way.)

      So, looking forward to the next gym session followed by a glass of wine or two, and thanks to all of you once again!

  17. Emdashing said:

    Hi LW–I think the Captain’s advice is spot on, as always, but I wanted to also mention another potential wrinkle which is the possibility that your BF enjoys this drama/attention. First, story time, and then I will expand on that: When my college boyfriend (whom I’ll call Adam) and I met each other, we were both still dating the people we’d dated in high school. Fast forward a few months and we weren’t, and so then we started dating. No cheating occurred–both those relationships were going to end regardless–but we weren’t single for very long. My high school boyfriend pined for me dramatically (constant calls, threats to hurt himself, stories to mutual friends). Adam’s ex was, purportedly, also still trying to talk to him. At first, I thought his ex was much like mine and she was just having trouble letting go. I didn’t think a lot about it. Eventually my ex stopped contacting me, so my drama died down. But Adam’s ex was, he said, still sending him emails all the time. The nature of the emails he described weren’t that upsetting–mostly friendly requests to hang out the next time he was back in his home town. I was 18 and perhaps naive. I didn’t really care that his ex was trying to contact him in polite emails. This seemed way less annoying than what my ex had been doing and I was confident that Adam liked me, so I didn’t feel threatened. Fast forward a few months, and Adam kept bringing this problem up. It seemed to really be bothering him. So I suggested he ask her to stop contacting him, if it’s really a problem. Adam showed me the email he’d sent and then I forgot about the entire situation. Fast forward another three years. Adam and I have been broken up for over six months and out of all contact for three. He has a new girlfriend (also named Emdashing, whom he later married) and I am having a much needed summer fling. Summer Fling and I are on a trip to Maine together when we stop in a public library to check our email for the first time in a week or so. There is an email from Adam in which he says “I don’t think we should be in contact any more. We both need to move forward” in about five different ways. I am blindsided by this email–I had thought we would eventually be friends after a cooling off period–but I am also pissed. I haven’t been pining for him or trying to contact him and just hours before I was doing fun things with Summer Fling. WTF? So I reply with two words: “good idea.” And I have never spoken to Adam again. It wasn’t until later, when I was telling this bizarre story to a friend, that she reminded me of Adam’s Ex, the one who–ostensibly–wouldn’t stop emailing and how he’d sent her a similar cease and desist email. Suddenly, it all made sense.

    So…that was a lot of words. That situation isn’t an exact mirror for the one described in the letter, but I instantly thought of Adam while I was reading it. LW has to interact with Wife in person, so it’s more complicated, but I also think it’s important to talk about the possibility that BF enjoys the appearance of competition for him. He is hot stuff. Such hot stuff that a married lady openly flirts with him and is rude to his GF. (Speaking of–does the husband seem bothered by this flirting? One wonders). His displeasure when you try to cut yourself out of the drama equation may come in part from a desire to have this other lady keep illustrating that he is sought after.

    All of the Captain’s advice will still work–make this his problem to deal with, not yours–but if he’s getting a self esteem boost from this lady, he may not be sincerely interested in making her stop. All the complaining about her various misdeeds may be a cover so he can bring her up with you all the time. I see above that people are talking about the possibility that they ARE involved, but if that’s the case he’s doing a poor job of covering it up. To me the point is that, either way, he wants you to know he’s got other options. Really think about why he wants you to know that so badly and what he’s getting out of it. You’ve seen the Wife in action, so you know BF isn’t making all of this up (as I now suspect Adam probably was), but that just makes it more unfair to you. Take care of yourself, LW.

    • Polychrome said:

      ah h aha hah ah ha ha. It might have been a bit aggravating at the time, but that is a really funny story (“if you’re not careful you might lose me, Wayne”). One of my friends had an ex — who did dump her — contact her *years* later and she responded in a friendly fashion and he came back with “you must hate me”. We actually laugh over this one on the regular. Like clearly he had been carrying a torch for the idea of her eternal broken-heartedness in a big way. When in fact of course she was a grown-up who had long since moved on from that college break-up.

      sort of a derail, but yeah, some people think of everyone with whom they come into contact as supporting cast.

      • Polychrome said:

        wait more is coming back to me. He mentioned having a girlfriend and added parenthetically (“it’s not Lulu”) — “Lulu” being the woman with whom he had cheated on my friend all those years ago. Like my friend would be clutching her chest with worry that it was her! nemesis! LULU (da da da dum, background music) if he didn’t hasten to reassure her.

    • embertine said:

      Agreed. Evil Ex™ told me that his ex was stalking him and begging him to get back together with her. She contacted him a few times when we were in the same room so his story was credible. It only became clear after a few months together that she was not actually his ex because he had never got round to breaking up with her.

      After I dumped his sorry ass, he made up the same lies about me and even told mutual friends that I had sent threatening letters to his family. As I had been the one to decide I didn’t want to stay in contact, I was blindsided by this. Sad thing is, I truly think he told those lies because he wanted people to think that he was desirable.

      • winter said:

        Several MONTHs. Wow.

  18. Clementine Danger said:

    LW, I think you really do have a boyfriend problem.

    The bit about him not having your back when she made it clear you weren’t welcome really made me raise an eyebrow. Him then telling you that the reality you see right in front of you isn’t real made me worry. And the fact that you even bringing this up in any way leads to arguments and fights made deafening alarms blare.

    This is just me speaking from my personal experience, but I can’t tell you what a relief it was to find a partner who had my back. I’ve had partners do the things you describe in similar situations, and it made me feel like crap. It made me feel unsafe, it made me feel like I was walking on egg shells and it made me feel self-conscious and guilty when thing inevitably escalated because of my own stress regarding the blatant boundary-pushing. I knew for a fact that I was in a safe relationship when I told my current partner that however he handled his relationship with his own Toxic was his business, and I’d absolutely have his back if he needed to me to help establish boundaries, but I wanted to be 100% out of it and not carry one ounce of responsibility for that relationship. And he told me okay. Just… yup, sounds fair. Again, this is me, and myt life, which is different from yours, but the feeling of security and the peace of mind that gave me are very precious to me, and if I had to venture a guess I’d say that the knowledge that your partner has your back is something that everyone in a loving relationship deserves.

    I really hope I’m wrong and this is just a tricky situation that puts a lot of stress on the both of you, and he’s not being his best self under those conditions. That’s absolutely possible. But she’s not your problem, she’s not going to be in your life, because the captain’s advice here is spot on. But he’s going to be around, and boundary-setting situations are going to keep coming up no matter what happens with Toxic. And if he consistently makes his problems your problems and expects you to roll over every time someone pushes your boundaries just because that’s his way of dealing with it (or rather not dealing with it,) then I don’t think that’s reasonable and I don’t think that will make you happy. It might smooth things over, it might outwardly preserve some fragile status quo, but it won’t make you happy.

  19. RodeoBob said:

    LW – what would happen if you laid out an ultimatum? What would happen if you said to your boyfriend “I am uncomfortable with how this person interacts with you. Every time I bring it up, we fight and I feel unhappy. I don’t want to feel unhappy anymore, so I’m asking you to break off all contact with this person. If you can’t do that, then we are no longer dating.”

    What do you imagine your boyfriend’s response would be?

    What would you want your boyfriend’s response to be?

    If those two questions don’t have the same answer, then the issue here might not be your boyfriend’s toxic friend as much as it might be your relationship with your boyfriend. I am not saying your boyfriend is a bad person or that he’s doing anything malicious or wrong, but when there’s a gulf between how you would like to be treated and how you are treated, that’s a symptom of things in a relationship not being as great as we might want them to be.

    There is a long and honorable tradition of girlfriends asking their boyfriends to cut off ties with female friends, for reasons real or imagined. I have known folks on all sides of these equations, and among adults who respect and like each other, the response is a variation of sad acceptance. (“I’m sorry I can’t be friends with you” or “I’m sorry we have to break up over this”)

    • MellifluousDissent said:

      Isn’t the toxic ladyfriend just a symptom of the actual problem though? Seems like your solution needlessly makes this into something that’s about the other lady, when it isn’t at all. The problem isn’t really the toxic lady, it’s that the boyfriend is pressuring LW to interact socially with someone with whom LW shares a mutual dislike, and isn’t available to spend time with LW when he visits because he’s prioritizing time with toxic lady over time with LW, and is just generally putting someone else’s needs above LW’s and allowing that other person to exclude LW from parts of his life in which LW would prefer to be included. THOSE are the problems, and (1) they can likely be solved without b/f forever ceasing all contact with the toxic lady, if he’s willing to examine and adjust his priorities to make more room for LW in his life; and (2) ceasing all contact with this particular lady won’t actually solve anything over the long haul if the underlying problem is that b/f doesn’t want to prioritize LW in his life the way she wants to be prioritized, because there will just be some other person or thing that will eventually come along and take priority again.

      It’s the difference between going to the doctor with a broken leg and having the doctor cut it off vs. having the doctor treat it – either way, the pain stops, but only one approach actually fixes the broken bone.

    • I… find myself extremely cautious about any variation of “I want you to end your relationship with this other person completely instead of just not discussing it with me, not at all for your sake but because it makes me unhappy”, and I would not call any gender-based tradition of doing such honourable in the slightest.

      • piny1 said:

        Well, but it’s not, “because this relationship makes me unhappy,” or even, “because this person dislikes me,” it’s, “because this person has a policy of treating me like shit.” I think I would be offended if my partner’s friend insulted me and snubbed me and talked shit about me for months on end and my partner did not at least disengage from the behavior. I would in turn enforce that boundary with my friends for my partner’s sake. You can’t make people like each other – and you shouldn’t force them to spend time with each other – but you can expect your friends to not make you complicit in this kind of nastiness. Boyfriend is obligated to make better choices, but Toxic needs to quit forcing them on him in the first place.

        And although you don’t have to always invite a plus-one…if my friend were in an LDR, and LDR-partner were visiting them, I would feel obligated to include LDR-partner somewhat for politeness’ sake, and if I really couldn’t stand them or knew they’d rather not, I’d feel obligated to give them their limited time together. I’d maybe take a week off from events where I knew they wouldn’t be (or feel) welcome. And if I insisted that they never be included in anything, never be treated to anything, never be acknowledged as my friend’s partner…I would expect both friend and partner to be, at minimum, alienated.

        You don’t have to treat couples like conjoined twins, but you owe the relationship a certain amount of respect – and you do have to accept that your friends’ partners are their partners, and a given.

        • Sheelzebub said:

          This. I have friends who are dating or married to people I cannot fucking stand, and I don’t assume that they can or always will cut their partners out. Yes, we do make plans to hang out without their partners, and that’s great. But when I see their partners I strive to be cordial and polite (if distant–I’m not pretend friends with them). I don’t give my friends an earful about their partners, and I’m not passive-aggressive (like with the ticket thing).

          And *especially* if the relationship was a LDR, I’d figure that any plans should include the partner during the times they were in town. If I truly could not stomach being around them, I’d wait for a time the partner wasn’t around, but I’d also have to face the fact that they may be a permanent or at least a long-term fixture in my friend’s life, and I’d better learn to deal.

      • RodeoBob said:

        You are correct in calling me out on gender-bias; there is nothing inherently gendered in this situation.

        The rest, though, I can’t disagree with enough.

        “I want you to end your relationship with this other person completely instead of just not discussing it with me…

        Wow. Seriously? I mean, seriously? Did we read the same letter?

        LW: “Whenever I try to talk to you about how hurt I am by your friend taking your time and attention away from me, we have a huge fight and I wind up even more hurt.”

        BF: “OK. We won’t talk about that anymore! That solves the problem, right?”

        The problem is not what anyone is saying, it is what people are doing. The “toxic friend” is making efforts to take the boyfriend’s time & attention away from his relationship. The boyfriend is taking actions which enable those efforts. These behaviors are hurting the LW.

        Keep score by what people do more than by what they say.

        “…, not at all for your sake but because it makes me unhappy.”

        “What you’re doing is making me unhappy. Please stop, or we will no longer date.” What’s bad about that again?

        Remember, the third option (“can we talk about this?”) has already been exercised, repeatedly, and the problem remains. Here is where honor lies, in not lying to one’s self nor to one’s partner about either the behavior or it’s impact, and in defending one’s standards and boundaries.

        • MellifluousDissent said:

          Bob, I don’t think “control my significant other’s relationships with other people” is ever a viable option. You don’t get to say “cut off Person X or lose me.” You get to say “prioritize me over Person X in the following ways or lose me” (and hey, b/f may then decide of his own accord to change the nature of the relationship with Person X to accommodate your request), but if you’re not feeling sufficiently prioritized? The next step is not “okay, you’ve failed to properly prioritize me, so you’re not allowed to talk to Person X anymore,” the solution is “hey, so, we’re breaking up, thanks.”

          “Defending one’s standards and boundaries” is saying “nope, won’t tolerate this behavior anymore” and then ending the relationship with the person who is upsetting you, NOT forcing the person who’s upsetting you to allow you to control the way they interact with other people. That’s crossing a boundary, not maintaining one.

          • piny1 said:

            I don’t agree. I don’t think you can draw these lines based on simple personality conflicts, but I think it is perfectly fine to say, “You’re not allowed to hang out with a drug addict and date me,” or, “You’re not allowed to hang out with a virulent racist and date me,” or, “You’re not allowed to hang out with a man who has been accused of raping someone else in our calling circle and date me,” or, “You’re not allowed to be friends with someone who refers to women, including myself, as, ‘bitches,’ and, ‘whores,’ and date me.” At some point, this isn’t about having your own friends – it’s about making moral judgments about the person you’re in a relationship with, based on the company they keep. You have to be aware that they may decide to dump you, but I think you can voice expectations like this one.

          • Zillah said:

            I agree with piny1. It’s a tricky line to walk, because it generally is indicative of a larger problem that needs to be addressed, but I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with starting that conversation by saying, “I’m not comfortable being in a relationship with you if you spend time with X.” That can’t be motivated by personality conflict or broad insecurity, and the relationship may well end over it, but if that’s a line that you’re not comfortable with, it needs to be stated.

          • piny1 said:

            Also…I agree with what other commenters have said about the sexism inherent in the idea that women have the right (and the tendency) to cordon their relationships off from homewreckers. But abusers make a habit of doing this for reasons that go beyond simple control. It’s usually an attempt to isolate their victim from sympathy, and even from people the abuser can’t manipulate. If your partner doesn’t seem to believe that you get to have friendships, consistently makes your friendships about them, or acts bizarrely suspicious of your friends, that’s a problem.

        • No, the third option is being avoided. Which is its own huge problem.

          What bothers me about your suggestion is that it seems LW hadn’t tried to enforce boundaries with their boyfriend before; they’d said that talking to their boyfriend about it resulted in fights so they don’t try to even discuss it, and they were framing it as a problem with Toxic, not a problem with BF.

          Going from “I don’t talk about this with you because it’s ended in fights before, currently this is a not-discussed thing” to “you keep talking about this other relationship, let’s skip the part where you don’t tell me about it and go straight to you ending it to make me happy!” seems really off to me.

          Not because LW shouldn’t want to be happy; they should! They should get to be happy, they should not have to settle for less!

          But the long silence broken by a sudden ultimatum seems to me the kind of thing designed to elicit a panicked “no, wait, don’t leave” reaction, not a considered “hmh, okay, my decision is…” reaction, and that is worrying.

          (Adding the bit about “honourable female tradition”, which contains implications that this is a thing that only women do (it’s not) and that it’s naturally perfectly fine for women to do it (it’s not) was just extra souring.)

      • Jenna said:

        I cut off an online friendship for my then husband. The friendship was just that, and absolutely no threat to my marriage….but, my husband’s jealous reaction became a problem later. It was a light shining on the cracks developing in our relationship.

      • Julia said:

        Very much this.

        Horrible is more accurate than honorable to describe that tradition.

        I should not complain too hard about it, since I owe my current relationship to the similarly-expressed insecurity of his previous girlfriend, which left him single, but ugh, so manipulatative.

        • Preludes said:

          Absolutely. Those kind of ultimatums are manipulative. LW should control her own involvement with toxic and demand respect with boyfriend and his support, but try to control a bfs relationships and pretty soon you’re looking at a Darth in the mirror, at least in principal

          • Zillah said:

            I don’t really agree with that. Just because this is a thing that is super common in abusive relationships doesn’t mean that it’s terrible in every instance and situation. There are a lot of Darth-y things that are unacceptable because of their presentation and/or frequency, but not in principle.

            With this, for example –

            Yes, it is a little manipulative, but I think that serious, deal-breaker boundaries are inherently a little manipulative. If it’s very, very rare that you tell your SO that you’re not comfortable dating them if they spend time with X and you have a reason that goes far beyond “I’m insecure” or “I want you with me 24/7” or whatever, I don’t think it’s awful and abusive by nature.

          • Zillah said:

            For the record, though, I do not think that doing that is appropriate in the LW’s case. There’s a lot of history between her boyfriend and his friend, and ultimately, the boyfriend seems to be the bigger problem, not the friend.

    • Anonymous said:

      Exactly. It sounds like this guy enjoys the attention, good or bad. Kick him to the curb, seriously. There are other better guys out there, don’t settle for poor treatment.

    • When She Was Good said:

      Yeah, I think it would be better to leave out the ultimatum part. If she said everything up to that part, she could see what he does with that, and that would tell her where she stands. She can see what he chooses to do of his own free will, and what priority he gives to their relationship. Whereas with an ultimatum, he might do it just to keep her from leaving, when he wouldn’t do it just to make her happy. And that’s info she needs to know because she can’t threaten to leave every time she wants him to do something out of consideration for her feelings.

      I’m not recommending that she go so far as to demand he cut off contact yet, but if I were recommending it, I’d say to leave out the ultimatum part of it.

    • annstarrr said:

      Hmmm. I don’t know that girlfriends asking their boyfriends to cut off ties with female friends is reasonable. Ever. If it’s an inappropriate friendship, asking for much-needed boundaries is fine. If the boyfriend can’t be trusted around other women, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the relationship and maybe make it an open one or just DTMFA. But otherwise, There Be Bees.

      (Somewhat related: I remember an ex who de-friended me on Facebook without notice or comment, when he started dating someone new. We didn’t talk or otherwise communicate – genuinely, our only connection was that we had dated years before (only for a few months, this was not a serious thing) and were Facebook “friends” who did not interact on Facebook or otherwise. I have no idea why this woman would have been threatened by me or even knew that we had once dated. I lived in another state and I did not interact with this ex *at all.* Anyway, after their breakup, he popped back up to be “friends” again and suddenly wanted to start chatting. I told him to fuck off. Getting a boyfriend/ girlfriend should not affect your friendships in the least, and I don’t want “friends” that think it should.)

      • uuuuuuuuuuuh said:

        Yes, in general trying to control your SO’s friendships is a big red flag. Not sharing all the same friendships is normal and not wanting to hang out with them, yes (I have some friends who get along very well, others not so much) and some number of more peripheral friendships taking a back seat to the relationship, yes(or taking a backseat during the initial ‘must spend all waking hours together’ phase of some relationships), but actually controlling them is a direct red flag.

      • Rowan said:

        I had a Uni friend – who had only EVER been a friend, nothing else – suddenly drop contact with me. It was because his then-GF had decided he “wasn’t allowed” to have female friends. Um, riiiiight…

        • I tend to assume in these situations that the friend might not be 100% telling the truth. I had a friend who stopped talking to me once he started dating someone because his girlfriend “didn’t like me.” What I did not realise was that the friend had told his girlfriend he was in love with me – slightly relevant detail! There are some people who just revel in the attention, I guess, even if it’s unhealthy or jealous.

  20. Gneiss_and_a_little_Wacke said:

    I would (cautiously and with the full understanding that the world can always provide counterexamples) say that presenting people in your lives with ultimatums is never a good idea.

    If you have hard lines and boundaries and have ultimatums in your own head, i.e. If someone ever did this to me that is a deal breaker and I am gone from their lives. That can be a healthy thing.

    But in my opinion using an ultimatum to change someone else’s behaviour (whether it is hurting you, you think it is hurting them, whatever reason) is a kind of really shitty way of dealing with a problem. It’s pretty much designed to cause the most amount of defensiveness, the most amount of “which one of us is winning”, the most amount of unnecessary drama and angst. It is almost always better to walk away if you reach ultimatum point. And if you are not willing to do that maybe examine why you wanted to treat it like an ultimatum situation (especially because that is EXACTLY and EXPLICITLY what you are threatening to do anyway).

    I’m not sure I’m explaining well how it is different, but bringing up problems, making boundaries and enforcing boundaries is significantly different than presenting an ultimatum and even if all the other words in the sentence are the same the actual effect is really different. For example just think about the difference in how you would feel hearing the two sentences below:

    “Hey, this whole thing is causing me a lot of hurt/anxiety/stress and I really can’t. Please do not do this.”

    vs.

    “Hey, this whole thing is causing me a lot of hurt/anxiety/stress and I really can’t. Please do not do this or I will leave you.”

    In the first case you are bringing a grievance asking for their consideration and if they continue to behave that way you can reply with some variation of “Hey I spoke with you about this,” or other methods (other people on this site continue to amaze me when it comes to eloquence in how to phrase and approach these things). But essentially all boil to some style of stop it when it happens, keeping it a short interaction etc. If that doesn’t reduce and then stop the behaviour (or at the least lead to mutually agreed and satisfying compromises) then you probably have to reach the point of the internal “ultimatum” of “hey this person is not respecting my boundaries or listening to my concerns seriously… probably healthier if I make a clean break now”… or whatever variation suits your life and situation.

    But the second case is very guilt-trippy to me. It is a threat. It feels like someone trying to manipulate things into the response they want without regard to the other person’s feelings and autonomy. It doesn’t acknowledge the ability to make mistakes while trying to fix a behaviour. And most of all it doesn’t actually give the person a chance to honestly change how they are treating you/the situation that is causing the problem or whatever. Because in this case the ultimatum giver will always in some way think that the change made was because of fear of them leaving EVEN if the other person would actually have been willing to help without the threat. And honestly if the person refuses to properly engage in a conversation about the problem and to make effort to take your feelings into account then the best option is always to take yourself out of the situation NOT to escalate to an ultimatum. (This includes the very real case where they think, justifiable or not, that your behaviour is actually the problem and that you are being unfair to them in asking this. Even if you are BOTH right in your own way or BOTH wrong in your own way the solution where you don’t find a way to move forward is generally hey, we’re probably being bad for eachother).

    I hope this response makes more sense than I think it does (it feels very rambly)… but yeah the only time in my life (and never in a romantic sense) where I have been presented with an ultimatum it was immediately a case of… “oh hey, well, that made the choice and path forward really easy for me. If I’m causing this much strife you’re probably better off without me around and I really don’t want to stick around with people who use their presence in my life as a go to negotiation tactic when they don’t like something.”

    (P.S. I am having weird problems with WordPress logging in… I sincerely apologise if my word soup got posted more than once….)

    • Mary said:

      I think the difference between ultimatums and enforcing boundaries is that when you’re enforcing boundaries, you are genuinely prepared for the other person to reject your preferred option. If you say “X or I’ll break up with you”, you’ve got to genuinely respect the other person’s agency and be ready to accept the answer, “then we’re breaking up”, even if you’re sad about it.

      • Gneiss_and_a_little_Wacke said:

        Yes… although I still feel like the ultimatum situation itself is a setup to fail in terms of actually respecting (or the other person feeling like you are respecting) the other person’s agency. It feels like a hostage situation to me. And again there are probably examples where this is an option where you actually are respecting the other person’s agency and I just lack the experience of those situations to see this clearly.

        But if you haven’t brought it up before, discussed it etc, it feels, to me, like blackmail and unhealthy manipulation… and if you have and have tried to fix things and it isn’t working… the ultimatum really feels like a desperate delay on a decision that is kind of already made… and is probably a recipe for breeding resentment that will make everything messier than it already is by the point of needing an ultimatum… I guess all I’m saying that if you have reached the point of ultimatum it is probably healthier to take the hurt of leaving right now rather than trying to defer it to your future self (or shed the responsibility for what is ultimately your decision to the other person). I can see the appeal of the ultimatum I just would say that it seems like a bad option that might feel easier in the moment, but won’t help when what you want is long-term solutions.

      • While I basically agree that it’s wrong to control other people’s social lives, there are people who want that from their SO.

        Case in point, my then SO and I were friendly with a guy. When he married he withdrew almost completely from the entire social scene of which we were part. He became part of his wife’s social scene.

        He was quite happy with that. They’ve been happily married over 20 years.

        • Benndragon said:

          Isn’t it possible that he simply prefers hanging out with the folks he met through his wife, rather than it being about her controlling his social life? He’s an adult, he gets to choose who he hangs out with even if you don’t like the decision he makes.

          This whole thread feels really off to me. It’s totes OK and not controlling to issue ultimatums, wherein you demand someone change their behavior or you’ll do something that person doesn’t want you to do, but deciding to change social scenes on you is a sign that someone wants to be controlled? Ehh. . .

          • You’ve misunderstood. What I was saying is desiring that their wives run the social life is what a lot of straight men do.
            It isn’t equivalent to a desire to be controlled

          • Benndragon said:

            Two things:

            1) You haven’t demonstrated that he wants his wife to run his social life. You haven’t even demonstrated that she does so. You’ve only demonstrated that he changed social scenes when he met the love of his life. He’s totally allowed to choose which set of people create an environment he prefers to be in, that’s how autonomy and agency work. He was probably brought along to some parties by his wife at first, and/or introduced to people by her, but that caused him to be established as part of the scene in his own rights. That’s one way making new friends works as an adult, people who know you introduce you to other people and/or bring you to social gatherings with people you don’t know. And given how long ago it was, it was probably during a time in your lives when people change social scenes frequently and regularly, or move among several and then whittle them down as their lives change (careers, kids, aging parents, etc.). It seems really presumptuous that you went from “he changed social scenes” to “she’s running his social life”, in a gendered-stereotype-reinforcing way.

            2) If it isn’t about a desire to be controlled, I have no idea what your comment even means. What is the “that” you’re talking about in your first sentence, and what point in the comment you’re responding to are you trying to correct/dispute?

          • JenniferP said:

            And, we’ve officially reached the end of this thread!

            You’ve all probably noticed threads closing sooner than usual. That’s going to keep happening. When discussions get like this, with no new info for the LW, just people back-and-forthing at each other, I check out of wanting to read them.

      • >thinks<

        I think possibly the difference is that when you set a boundary, you are prepared to listen to the other person's suggestions for how that boundary is met. If you are setting an ultimatum, you're telling them how to meet it.

        It’s (to speak of a lighter issue) like the difference between telling the light of my life to vaccuum this weekend, and telling him to vaccuum, and be sure to use the pointy brush on the stair corners, and don’t forget to flip up the edges of the carpets, and he should check to make sure the bag-changing light isn’t on, and…

    • olives said:

      Thanks for this. Despite knowing intutively how bad and awful and manipulative it is to present someone with an ultimatum, even after I’d had that knowledge I’ve still been tempted on occasion to put things I wanted this way. I’ve so far managed not to succumb (mainly because my gut would never forgive me for behaving that way), and instead gone with the much more measured approach of NOT threatening my loved ones’ sense of security, but it very much helps to have it presented like this: as an issue of trust, and especially the part about things done under threat not even giving you the sense of security you’re searching for in the first place. Trusting your partner to do right by you as best as possible always wins.

      Sigh. Habits learned in quasi-toxic families die hard. =(

    • newlife said:

      Also, if one is, unknowingly, dealing with a manipulative, abusive partner there is another way for an ultimatum to backfire. The abuser may pretend to drop the friendship and lie to you about it. It would seem that the problem is solved either way. But as you settle into the honeymoon phase of not having to deal with Toxic Friend, the abuser may passive aggressively cause problems with another, seemingly unrelated issue. Or zie may gradually start easing Toxic Friend back into your life, in small, subtle, hard to pin down ways. I feel making a request for kinder, more respectful treatment shouldn’t be linked to an ultimatum. If someone won’t respect my wishes without some dire consequences attached, I want to know that. I don’t want them to cave under pressure about the possible end of relationship. I want to be able to evaluate how they treat me when they don’t think it’s an all or nothing situation.

    • You make sense, but in my world the ultimatum is informational.

      That is, on the very few occasions I’ve issued ultimata
      – I’ve decided that I’m ok with the “or else”
      – the “or else” is just telling the other person the consequences.

      • Zillah said:

        Yep, ditto. I never give an ultimatum I haven’t given a lot of thought to and am completely ready to stand by.

      • Gneiss_and_a_little_Wacke said:

        I’m going to quote Amy Poehler here and go with “Good for you, but not for me”. I have a sense that the way you and I think about ultimatums are different and that you probably have a really healthy way that you work with them.

        I know that in my life every time I’ve felt the temptation of issuing an ultimatum when I actually examined what I was feeling and thinking that either a) the ultimatum was my way of deferring my difficult decision that I had already pretty much made to the other person so I didn’t have to take responsibility and thus it was better to just act on my decision, and/or b) that even if the other person responded to the ultimatum that the fact that I had issued it ultimatum style would have still bred resentment in myself because I would feel the only reason for the response was the threat when I actually wanted it to be the respect. That being the case, they are definitely not healthy/ constructive things for me to use.

        Also, I know how I would feel being issued an ultimatum and I know it is not a good way to approach me with a problem even if the problem itself if perfectly reasonable because it both leads straight into my anxieties about conflict and social interaction and makes me feel like the other person isn’t respecting my ability to make reasonable changes without threats. And the fact that this would be my response makes me not want to use them either.

        But again, every social interaction is a ymmv case. Because I’m sure that in other people’s cases and lives ultimatums can and have been used healthily and constructively…. just not for me.

        • That is a really interesting take on ultimata. I hadn’t thought about the resentment the person issuing it might feel after the fact.

          You’re right in saying we perceive and process them differently.

          I guess if someone issued one to me, I would perceive it as informational.

          Huh. I am really impressed by your understanding.

          Thanks for explaining

        • Myrin said:

          You’ve just explained fantastically why I couldn’t really find my take an ultimata in either side of this subthread. I’m not 100% like you when it comes to them but close enough (that is, both thinking about issuing an ultimatum and receiving one would mean an immediate end to a relationship, that’s just how I work – not well with them, apparently, although I’ve now learned that others can apparently do that).

  21. Rowan said:

    Your BF’s behaviour rings Bells Of Doom with me, cos it reminds me so much of a guy I dated a (long) while ago. He had this allegedly Crazy Damaged Ex who became a factor in the breakdown of our relationship. She seemed to have a radar for when I was with him – she’d call having some sort of crisis or another and he’d spend literally hours on the phone in the hallway (this was pre everyone having a cellphone) while I sat awkwardly in his room, twiddling my thumbs. He’d cancel things because CDE ‘needed him’. He told me repeatedly that she drove him up the wall, that he’d much rather spend time wtih me, that she was a nutcase… BUT poor thing, she had so many problems and he somehow felt responsible for looking after her. Once, he asked me to drive him to CDE’s flat – about an hour round-trip – but to drop him round the corner and leave quickly so as not to upset her. If I dared to complain about any of this, I got the guilt trip “you should understand what it’s like to go through depression, how can you suggest I just abandon her?” until I felt like a total scumbag.

    Now… Yes, if she was suffering from depression I do sympathise and feel sorry for her.
    However… this was NOT my responsibility to deal with. I was NOT being unreasonable to want to spend time with my boyfriend without the constant shadow of CDE.

    You are not being unreasonable for wanting to have a relationship that doesn’t include this woman. I’m dubious about whether she is actually hostile towards you or whether your BF just wants to keep you and her in separate boxes – did you see her ‘hissy fits’ or was it just what he told you? I say this because I only ever had my ex’s word that CDE was upset about me. I think that he liked thinking of himself as her lifeline – it made him feel strong and important. In the same way, your boyfriend enjoys the drama around this woman. He may not like her in That Way but he likes the idea that two women are fighting over him and his attitude towards you is very patronising “now now, ladies, calm down”. He says you unfriending her on FB would cause drama for him but would it REALLY? Any more drama than is already occurring? Maybe part of him likes you being aware of her behaviour to ‘keep your on your toes’ or some such bullshit. His behaviour is manipulative and unfair.

    TL; DR… regardless of HER behaviour, he’s not treating you with respect. Yes, he’s allowed female friends but that doesn’t excuse him being an arsehole.

  22. Michelle said:

    Captain has good advice, but if/when you try what the Captain says, be sure to really listen to what boyfriend is saying and how he reacts. Does he respect those boundaries and do his best to not bring up Toxic’s problems around you? Or does he push back against your boundaries and refuse to respect them? His reaction when you set those boundaries is likely going to be what he will continue to do during this relationship, and you need to decide of that is something you want to deal with. Like Captain has said so many times, if things go sour over boundary-setting, could you see yourself staying with things how they are right now for the next year? Two years? Five?

    the bottom line is, if he wants to have a friend who is not on good terms with his girlfriend, then HE has to be the one to make it work. If he wants the benefits of the two relationships without putting forth the effort to make it work (or, even worse, pushing the effort onto you and Toxic), then that is not really someone who is worth staying with.

  23. Anyanka said:

    LW, I can’t help but think you don’t have so much a toxic-friend-of-boyf problem as a boyfriend problem. In my experience, when your boyfriend has friends that are toxic, flirt with him, hate you/act possessive or jealous of him, and the boyfriend refuses to acknowledge it or respect your feelings and boundaries about this person, that generally is a strong red flag that the boyfriend thinks that you’re not important.

    My advice is to look closely at how he reacts to you setting a boundary around this person (“don’t try to take me to places where she’ll be, don’t talk about her with me, don’t try to rope me into her drama/your friendship”). If he can’t keep to it, tries to get around or guilt you out of it, or just plain ignores it, I would seriously advise looking at what this means about how he treats you and possibly finding someone who respects you more.

  24. Suzy said:

    What I want to know is why is the boyfriend okay with the friend being horrible to the LW but sees her deciding not to put up with that as causing drama??? Drama for who?

  25. Dr. Hooray said:

    Delurking to comment for the first time because gosh, does the LW’s letter speak to me! (Also tried to post this earlier, but I think the comment got eaten — apologies if it posts multiple times!)

    “And she openly flirted with him, even when I was there in front of her. When I told my boyfriend about it, he would get mad, tell me that I was jealous for no reason, and that I was making stuff up.” and “I’m at a loss about what to do, especially because talking to my boyfriend about it results in fights.”

    Oh, LW, I feel for you. I have been there before with more than one ex-partner, and it’s just miserable. When this has happened to me, I’ve tried Raising Gentle Flags about Toxic/Flirty Friend’s behavior; raising Giant Red Flags and waving them frantically in discussions with partners; crying; pleading; begging; and flat-out fighting. And I the tough thing is, if a partner has made up their mind to dig in their heels about a Toxic/Flirty friendship, none of these things change their minds. They *did* (for me) result in partners deciding the following things:

    – I was an Unreasonable, Mean Partner Who Didn’t Understand That Toxic/Flirty Is Such A Good Friend Who Would *Never* Come Between Us
    – I was Overreacting and Jealous, therefore partner had license to ignore my concerns and proceed with the friendship
    – Partner decided that it was easy and fun to just play into Toxic/Flirty Friend’s behavior and feign innocence

    When my partners decided these things and repeatedly invoked them, it really hurt. It sounds like your boyfriend is doing something similar. I want to echo other commenter’s concerns around how your boyfriend prioritizes you. If he continues to insist that you are “making stuff up,” how do you feel about that? Also, if this woman is really going to be a permanent friend-fixture in your boyfriend’s life, but you don’t have to talk about/see her, will you be okay with that on a deep-down, gut level? Is there a timescale on which you hope she’ll gradually fade out of his life? How will you feel if, 10 years down the road, they are still friends?

    I had to ask myself these things back in the day, and in the end, I realized that I needed a partner who was more receptive and responsive to my Gentle Flag Raising. (I had also gotten to Bitch Eating Crackers phase Toxic/Flirty friends, where the merest mention of them would bring out rage + lots of pain and insecurity in me.) It took a long time, but eventually I moved out of those relationships, and I’m in a much happier, healthier place now! I encourage you to think deeply about all this, and find the answers that will be best for you. 🙂

    In the meantime, I heartily second the Captain’s advice about disengaging from her on social media and as a topic of conversation. I also want to offer a tool I got from my wonderful therapist that *still* helps me when I feel jealous of/angry at milder versions of Toxic/Flirty Friends: get a large jar, and when you find yourself feeling angry or jealous, put money in the jar. The amount of money you put in is proportional how intensely you’re feeling those emotions — small change if you’re just mildly annoyed, bigger bills if you surfing a huge rage-wave. (I also write affirmations — “I am worthy of love!” “My feelings are valid!” etc. and put them in at the same time.) Then, when the jar is pretty full, you use the money on self-care or an “us time” date with your partner. I find that it’s somehow soothing for me to have the money be a sort of physical representation of my feelings — like I’m really honoring my own judgement every time I put money in that jar. And I always look forward to planning self-care time!

    Good luck, LW!

  26. Helen Huntingdon said:

    I can’t help wondering if I’m following the sequence correctly. It reads like maybe they all lived in the same area until recently and now the boyfriend is the one who is long distance and returning occasionally. And that when he does visit, he’s claiming he and the TF are not friends, but spending a lot of time/energy with her / fussing about her anyway. LW, if that’s the case, none of this has anything to do with her. The problem is your boyfriend.

    The captain’s suggestions are great, and I would add that if the two of you can’t work out enough time together, the relationship isn’t working. In such a situation, it never works to examine your partner’s life for what you think they should give up to spend more time with you. All that does is get you into an endless series of loops/arguments on the relative merits of the thing you’ve decided they should give up. It works better to stick firmly to wanting more time together and asking your partner to make that happen. If they don’t, you’ve got your answer.

    (If what you want is more time *alone* with him, you need to specify that too. Otherwise you might be getting what it sounds like you already are — “YAY, LET’S ALL SPEND TIME TOGETHER EVEN THOUGH I’M THE ONLY ONE WHO WILL HAVE FUN.” Again, if you ask for more time alone together and don’t get it, you have your answer.)

    I agree with so many hear that based on the short amount you could give us, the boyfriend doesn’t pass the sniff test — why would he object to you unfriending his TF on Facebook? That makes absolutely no sense, unless there is some false narrative — that he knows is false — that he is trying to preserve. Which makes it reasonable to look at how much you know about the situation from what you’ve actually witnessed versus what is based on his narratives. His narratives might be misrepresenting things. Others here have hit on quite a few ways how matters might be misrepresented.

    I can’t help suspecting what quite a few others have said: That he’s manufacturing an “I’m soooo desirable!” narrative. Some people do that — try to create a narrative around themselves of how multiple people desire them. Popular culture/media does a lot to convince us that being desperately wanted by multiple potential partners to the point of being central to their lives is greatly to be desired, so I fell for this too. When I was about 14 years old, that is. Once it actually happens to you, if you have any care for the feelings of the others involved at all, it actually feels terrible, not Hollywood-awesome-I’m-so-desirable.

    Thinking having multiple people in a dither about you makes you great is age-appropriate for someone in their early teens, but as I said, even a little empathy lets you figure out it’s really not great, so anyone older than that should be able to get a grip. Some people just don’t, though, and decide they would love to have this narrative about themselves so much that other people hurting is just fine and wonderful.

    And they often take the next step of trying to manufacture such a situation, usually by misrepresenting what other people are actually doing. I had one ex who really got into this. I wasn’t bothered by it for the longest time, because it just seemed silly and harmless. He would try to convince me that various other women were into him, and I would just pay no attention — what did I care if they were? He was plainly nuts about me.

    He eventually got more and more invested in a toxic group of male friends with one guy who was into manipulatively controlling the whole group. Part of the dynamic was trying to make sure no guy in the group could sustain a romantic relationship, thus making him more dependent on the friend group. With my ex, this guy had the perfect hook — feed into his “I’m so desirable!” narrative. So he got all the other guys to play up to my ex about how since he was so handsome, he should really play the field a bit, or at least enjoy the admiration of other women. Since my ex was handsome but had never felt like he was, this hooked him. What followed was absolutely comical.

    These guys would push women at him and get them to pay him some attention, then go on at length endlessly to the ex afterwards about how each woman was clearly nuts about him and he was such an overpowering draw. He would eat this up. Lather, rinse, repeat. But they would only do this with women who weren’t ever interested in the ex enough to want to form a real relationship with him. They hit the jackpot with a woman in another friend group who was constantly building her own “I’m so desirable” narrative and wanted my ex as part of her own circle of narcissistic supply. The guys would endlessly try to push them together and play them up to each other and go on at length about how sometimes there’s just this overwhelming attraction, what can you do…

    Funnily enough, there was another woman they often hung around with who was both beautiful and honestly nuts about my ex for years, but his buddies always downplayed that and did their best to keep him apart. She actually really wanted him, and they couldn’t have that — she might turn into a girlfriend!

    Where this went is not surprising. I wasn’t interested in this demented toxic stew and we broke up, but tried to “stay friends”, which meant I was around to witness the aftermath. The toxic manipulative guy was worried about this shaking the ex up enough to knock some sense into him. He couldn’t have that, because the ex might try to get me back and stop being so controllable too, so he pushed hard on how the ex and this other woman shouldn’t resist what was clearly some overpowering fate. He was perpetually fomenting gossip and buzz about it to try to make sure it was the focus of their little social scene. The ex and the woman in question both absolutely loved this, since both of them were desperate for that “I’m-so-desirable” narrative.

    My ex actually fell for it. He thought he and this woman were in some kind of epic fated romance. In the meantime, she was going right on building her own “I’m so desirable!” narrative, which in part consisted of convincing multiple guys that she was in love with them. I didn’t actually believe it until a group trip where I saw her in action nonstop. It was fascinating to watch — I was convinced she was in a serious long-term relationship with one guy based on how she acted towards him. But then a couple of days later, she had me just as convinced she was in a serious long-term relationship with another guy. I asked about it, and she went into her, “Oh they’re just friends, but I’m so desirable they all fall in love me me!” routine.

    We get back, and I find out my ex actually thinks he and this woman are in an exclusive epic romance. I tell him several other guys believe the same thing. He insists that no, with him it’s different. I remark that this is what those other guys think too. So he confronts her and finds out that his is, in fact, just one more in her “I can’t help it if all the men fall in love with me” list and they’re suddenly no longer even speaking. And he lost the relationship with me over what was nothing but a bunch of BS. So he wants to spend all his time with his male friend group being heartbroken, exactly as their toxic leader wanted…

    It gets even better. That same group of guys continued to dangle that same narrative in front of him for years, and for all I know they still are, but always with women who aren’t really interested in the ex. That one woman who was in love with him for years they made sure to keep away.

    TL;DR:

    1. When you’re dealing with someone who manufactures an “I’m so desirable” narrative about themselves, they will continue to do so, as evidenced by the commenter who said her husband has been doing this for decades. You might succeed in getting an end to one particular situation, but the person who does this will just find a way to cook up another manufactured drama for themselves to be the center of. The key difference is whether it’s manufactured — if the person is misrepresenting things people did or said to feed into this narrative, that’s completely different from just an accident of emotions and bad timing.

    Even if they go about it in very small ways, so that it seems subtle or harmless, you will never reach the end of it. Ever. They’ll just keep making up new ways to tell this story about themselves. And sooner or later they will escalate it into something that is not harmless.

    2. Such people are easily manipulated by anyone who feeds their narrative. So you not only have to deal with the person themselves cooking up senseless drama, they will be a magnet for toxic people.

    It’s not worth it. Better to just walk away and hold out for an actual grownup.

    • Myrin said:

      Helen, I read this little story about your ex in absolute and utter fascination. It would be comical if it weren’t so sad.

      • Helen Huntingdon said:

        It’s a daisy, isn’t it? I was in a bit of denial about it for a while before and after we broke up, because I had a hard time grasping that my ex would choose to be so shallow as to prefer a manufactured narrative over real relationships. He just seemed more solid than that. I actually asked him that a few times, “Are you really that shallow?”

        The thing is, the people you least expect sometimes will prioritize a fantasy narrative about themselves over pretty much everything in their lives, and give up an amazing amount to try to preserve that narrative or hang onto having that narrative fed. It’s baffling, but it happens quite a lot.

        In this case, various people were getting what they really wanted most:

        -Toxic male friend got his miserable group of minions who had nothing but each other, revolving around him
        -The miserable group of minions got to bond with each other and try to convince each other this was the best they could do, and feel that they at least weren’t alone in their misery
        -The women they would dangle in front of my ex would get the brief fun of having a bunch of guys flatter them with how desirable they were and how much my ex was pining for them (this is how they would get women to pay attention to my ex)
        -My ex would get a fed a steady stream of stories about how the latest woman was nuts about him

        My ex seemed pretty aware that this was a rotten deal in many ways and that he’d been screwed, but in the end he really wanted the approval of the toxic male friend group + their feeding his narrative more than he wanted a social life that had actual warmth and support in it. He does get to make that choice.

        • Postosuchus said:

          Holy carp! What was Toxic Dude’s name, Machiavelli? Funny that our society associates manipulative mind games like that with FEMALE behavior though.

  27. I’d like to raise my hand and speak to the class about the defriending and/or/blocking on social media.

    I once had a friend and we got into a rather vicious disagreement. We agreed to blackout our contact for a few weeks to settle down and see where we were at a later time. I unfriended her because we both use facebook an awful lot and I thought it would be unwise to be able to peek in at each other while we were mad. This prompted a giant FEELINGSbarf rant message from her boyfriend about how I was the worst, most disgusting person ever and my boyfriend sucks and I’m a misogynist and etc etc.

    I haven’t heard from or spoken to either of them since. That was two years ago. I found the reaction so overwhelmingly hurtful and crazy that I’ve wanted nothing to do with those people. It took me months to not be sad anymore and even longer to not be angry.

    LW, if you unfriend someone for your own peace of mind, you might get a completely unreasonable reaction. It may be very unpleasant but at least you’ll know that you’ve done the right thing for yourself.

  28. I think this boyfriend has already shown his stripes and should be dumped.

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