Dear Captain Awkward,
Lately I’ve run into a stupid issue that I just can’t seem to get over. I have two friends (let’s call them Raoul and Christine, for convenience’s sake) that I have known for a very long time and recently, they told me that they were in a relationship.
I’ve known Christine for about close to ten years and I consider her to be my best friend and we both look out for each other as much as we can through an almost-purely online friendship. Raoul, I’ve known for almost as long, but we live in the same city and hang out occasionally. They both knew each other through me but they previously hadn’t been much more than casual acquaintances.
Christine and I had a falling out some time ago and only recently reconnected. Despite this, she remains one of my nearest and dearest. On the other hand, even though Raoul is a close friend of mine, I have gotten to see a lot of his bad side (please take the following with a grain of salt, since I don’t trust myself to not be biased), including his (seeming) unwillingness to be affectionate even in a relationship he initiates. It doesn’t help that I also witnessed Raoul indulge in some somewhat stalkerish and quite frankly unhealthy obsession with a girl in one of his previous relationships. However, this was quite some time ago and Raoul has since changed.
It’s not really that I have a problem with their relationship (though it really sounds like I do, doesn’t it?). I know that whether or not they choose to be together has nothing to do with me; I really, truly believe that. But I just can’t help but feel that this whole thing is really weird (for me) even though I know it’s none of my business.
Part of me wonders if I’m being too clingy about this? It’s their lives and I have no say in it, which I understand in theory but is a struggle for me to get it in practice. Another part wonders if I’m being unfair to Raoul? Maybe I’m less worried for them and more worried for myself? In recent years most of my small circle of friends have moved away so getting some support from someone else isn’t really possible.
I’ve thought this over for a few weeks now I’m not as bothered as I was initially. University keeps my mind off things for the most part but when it doesn’t… ugh. I still can’t fully come to terms with it and it makes me really disappointed in myself because I thought I was better than that and I don’t understand why I can’t just live and let live?
What do you think, Captain? I don’t want to risk damaging my relationship with both my friends over something as petty as this but I just can’t get over it, no matter what I do?
Overly Anxious For No Good Reason
Dear Overly Anxious:
I don’t think it’s strange that you feel anxious after finding out “my very good friend who I just mended fences with after a big falling out” and “my friend who I have reason to know is not the world’s best boyfriend” just started dating. You’re worried about being in the middle if things go wrong, or about one of them really hurting the other one. Actually, let’s be really honest: You’re worried about Raoul (someone with past stalkerish tendencies who also withholds affection = SOUNDS FUN!) treating Christine the way you’ve seen him treat other women, and then you’re worried about a situation where you and Christine have another falling out because of stuff with Raoul. You’re worried that you’ll have to choose between them, or potentially lose both of them. I don’t think that’s unfair, I think that’s you reading a situation well.
Feelings are what feelings are, so don’t try to make yourself stop having them or judge yourself for having them. Rather, realize that you have very little control over what your friends do with their love lives. People in the process of falling in love with each other are a) pretty immune to doomsaying and b) tend not to reward the messenger. You could say to Christine, “Raoul is my friend but he’s kind of the worst boyfriend I know. I hope things are different with you, I really do, but forgive me if I’m not immediately psyched. I promise I will be happy if you are happy!” or “Raoul, do you promise not to be a shitweed to my dearest friend?“…just…realize that they might not be able to hear you out when they are all covered in Love Glow(tm). What they hear might be “Overly Anxious Friend is unsupportive and mean and maybe jealous and doesn’t believe in our love.” Some friends can handle the blunt talk and you know them best. If you think they can’t, for right now you might be better off saying a positive-ish thing that you can say honestly, like, “I honestly never pictured the two of you together (you didn’t), but I care about both of you very much (you do) and I hope it all works out! (where ‘working out’ might mean ‘she dumps him quickly and painlessly’)” and repeat versions of it as necessary.
One other (controllable) thing you can do is to set boundaries around being one friend’s sounding board about the other friend, if they ever try to put you in that position. As in, “Whoa, friend glad you are happy, but that ‘interesting’ thing about your sex life is too many details!” Or “Friend, it sucks that you are dealing with that, but I don’t feel comfortable being a sounding board about my friend in this way. Have you told them what you told me?/What do you think you’ll do about that/Is that sort of thing okay with you?”
You also don’t have to be the third wheel on their dates (although it’s likely that you will spend social time with them as a couple at least sometimes) or be the person who gets constant status updates on their love. If you want to maintain friendships with these people, feed the friendships regularly with the things you have in common besides knowing some of the same people, maintain bilateral relations with each party, and hope for the best. If things go poorly, remember that you are a human being and not the metaphorical idea of Switzerland, so you don’t have to maintain neutrality at all times or pretend that shitty behavior is okay. Feel free to say “Wow, you do not deserve to be treated that way!” or “I can’t help you figure out what’s in his mind, but that is consistent with patterns I’ve seen in other relationships” if that’s what needs to be said.
Focus on your studies, and reach out to other friends or acquaintances when you want company. Give Raoul & Christine’s relationship some time to show its true colors. You can’t fix anything or control anything that happens between them, so say it with me: “Not my circus, not my monkeys.“