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#750: “Mutual friends I think are ill-suited to one another have started dating each other.”

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?

Signed,
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.

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28 comments
  1. Preludes said:

    Great advice as ever and you’ve got your head screwed on well LW. Just remember they’re not having a relationship AT you and all will work out naturally, for better or worse

  2. MadGastronomer said:

    I love “remember that you are a human being and not the metaphorical idea of Switzerland”.

    • It just reminded me of this weekend I spent with two friends. They had broken up but were still living together and it was just CONSTANT BICKERING. I mean, I adore them both but they’d look at me and at one point I just started replying “Switzerland.”

      • Amphelise said:

        I once joined two couples for a weekend at the end of a week-long ski trip they’d shared. By that time, each of them was barely speaking to the other three. After a few hours of furtive “I’m so sick of…” chats, I snapped and told all of them to stop whinging to me about the others.

        Then they were all mad with me instead, but at least the whinging stopped!

  3. dr_silverware said:

    Let’s assume he’s not abusive and is just a jerk romantically. Well–whether he’s a jerk or not, there’s the possibility that the relationship will end with someone’s hurt. That’s even if they were an incredible match and 1000% suited to each other. Though I don’t know if that’s comforting. You have previous experience and your gut to go on, and they’re telling you valuable stuff; they might also be telling you outdated stuff, or stuff you already know.

    I think that, as the Captain has said, you should pay attention to what you know and feel about Raoul but also wait until the relationship’s true colors have shown through. You’re close with Christine; you could tell her, “yeah, I’m happy for you, but I have some misgivings because Raoul has gotten pretty obsessive and stalkery in the past. I am totally happy for your newfound love, though, and if anything gets weird I won’t do I told you so.”

    But remember, it’s normal for people to sometimes get hurt. And it’s also normal for your wary feelings to be amplified by your wary feelings about your friendships changing. Take care o yourself.

    • Anothermous said:

      I agree with all the above. LW, your instincts are telling you something, and you’re not wrong to listen to your instincts. But as the Captain says, ultimately, your friends have control over their own actions, and they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. Be extra nice to yourself as you figure out how to feel about it all.

    • Copcher said:

      In addition to it being normal for people to sometimes get hurt, I think it’s also worth mentioning that people rarely end relationships just because someone told them they should. It takes away from the feeling of being in control of your own life. Your worries about Raoul could come true, but if Christine doesn’t see it (or until she does), she won’t have her own reasons for ending the relationship.

      If you do give her a warning, I strongly recommend saying it once, and then dropping it. You can be there for Christine if things turn sour and she needs support (and, as always, you get to control what your boundaries are), but if you say it more than once, you might make her feel like she needs to stay with him even if she’s unhappy to show you that she wasn’t wrong for starting this relationship.

      It goes along with the “if anything gets weird I won’t do I told you so” that dr_silverware mentioned. Don’t act like a person who would tell her that you told her so by telling her so over and over. No one ever looks forward to hearing that someone told them so.

  4. Dear LW

    Likely enough you’ll say something along the lines of you love them both and hope they’ll be happy together. Then Christine will say something like “hmmm you don’t sound convinced”

    That’s when you can say, “he hasn’t always been a great boyfriend in the past and that leaves me worried, probably unnecessarily”

    And then you drop the whole thing and concentrate on enjoying your time with them.

  5. LW, you sound like you’ve got a pretty good handle on things. If your reaction on reading this next bit is “no, that doesn’t sound like a good plan”, then please listen to that, not to me.

    In your shoes I might say to Raoul “okay, so, I know you’ve done a lot of work on yourself. I respect that. I feel like part of that work on treating people better is, you should be upfront with Christine about what’s happened in the past before things get super serious, and I have to say, if you don’t tell her, I am going to.”

    That done, let them sort the rest out, but I do agree with your uneasy feeling that that’s not interference or gossiping, that’s holding your friend to a standard of decent behaviour towards others, especially others who are women and who he is dating.

    It’s a tricky line, but we do not live in a post-feminist world, we live in a world where men are permitted to do sketchy and abusive things and hide under the cloak of “it’s their personal business/relationship dynamic/just how he is”. If Raoul has changed, he should be willing to take that cloak off and put his hand up to his past actions and give Christine the tools she needs to make good choices and hold him accountable.

    • meek-bookworm said:

      Telling Raoul effectively “tell her or I will” doesn’t seem like a good plan logistically to me. For one thing what exactly is he supposed to tell her? LW’s description was “somewhat stalkerish” and “unhealthy” both of which are terms that likely seem different (and are remembered differently) to the person preforming them, so if Raoul were to tell Christine what happened in the past she might get something very different from what LW intended her to hear (whether an “I had a tough time getting over my last girlfriend”, or a self-flagellating drama, or even “I was a wimp and didn’t ask for my video games back”).

      Assuming that Raoul does mention the “somewhat stalkerish” behavior, my personal reaction to someone bringing up bad behavior from the past is to assume that they think it won’t stay in the past. A guy telling me about “somewhat stalkerish” behavior unprompted would make me think that he wouldn’t worry about stalking me in turn (regardless of what they said about having changed) which might go a lot farther towards breaking them up than LW intended. If on the other hand, he told Christine “LW wanted me to tell you…” (it’s not unprompted) then LW is right smack in the middle of their relationship.

      My best case situation for how the tell Christine talk would go is “LW is worried that I could hurt you because in the past I […]. [Possible personal reasoning][Explanation of how past and present Raoul are different]” and hopefully Christine would be OK with the LW going to Raoul first with her concerns. It seems a lot simpler to me to cut out the middleman and tell Christine why you’re worried directly and that you’ll support her regardless. Raoul might be upset but since he was the one that behaved badly and he has an opportunity to tell his side, I think his feelings are less important here.

      Regardless LW, freshman year of college my soon to be roommate and the guy that was a major part of my class project and weekend fun group (our major had a rather strict set of classes and a large amount of group projects) broke up rather acrimoniously. I remained quiet during venting periods (and even years later one will occasionally warn me about the other), but it is possible to remain friends with two people that like to pretend the other doesn’t exist. I hope to continue my friendship with them both separately for a very long time to come.

  6. slimlove said:

    When I was in college, one of my best friends started dating my roommate. When I found out, I was horrified, because I knew it was a very, very bad idea. My roommate had been through some heavy stuff in the months leading up to this and was in a fragile place. And while I loved my friend dearly, I also knew him quite well and I knew he was going to be a combination of too intense and too flaky for her at the time.

    And I was right. Man, was I right. When they flamed out, they did it SPECTACULARLY. It was really ugly, and I saw the worst in both of them, and I was stuck in the middle of it. And it ultimately led to a major falling out between my friend and I.

    All that said, there’s nothing I could have done to stop it. I could have been better about enforcing my boundaries about what I would and would not talk with them about, but even then…they still would have gone forward with it. I could have had multiple Very Serious conversations with them about it, instead of expressing some mild concern at the beginning, but then they probably would have been even more determined to stay together.

    So as someone who has weathered a very similar situation, the best I can offer you is to second the captain’s advice. Express some concern when it seems appropriate, establish (and defend!) some boundaries, and otherwise try to stay out of it as much as possible. It may go bad – it may go spectacularly bad – but you can’t control that. You can only try to protect yourself.

  7. Sarah said:

    Oh, LW, I have been there! When I was in college a lovely friend of mine dated a seemingly-lovely-but-also-accused-of-rape friend of mine. I was in the process of sorting out how I felt about this friend and the allegations against him when all of a sudden my wonderful, lovely, sweet friend announced they’d been on a few dates.

    Oof.

    I sat with it for a few days and finally decided I needed to say *something*. I could not sit back and watch a friend date somebody knowing there was a risk that were things to go wrong, they could go horribly, horribly wrong and know that I hadn’t at least tried to make her aware. So I screwed up my courage and, while we were catching up one day, I said, “Friend, I don’t know if you know this, but a month or two ago, when that kerfuffle with REDACTED went down, somebody accused your beau of rape and I believe may have filed a police report. I am not sure what the details are, I’ve never asked, but I want you to be able to make an informed decision about him.” She listened, talked to him about it, and was satisfied with his answer. We all continued to hang out, and I continued to process my feelings about him, and life continued to go on.

    If you are really concerned for your friend, I think a quick mention that, “I have seen x behaviour in the past, so it might be something to be aware of, but I’m happy if you’re happy,” won’t go wrong. But after that, you have to be willing to drop it. She might not hear you, or she might hear you, talk to him, and be satisfied with his answer – either of those will look exactly the same to you. She might listen and decide not to get further involved. (She probably won’t listen, if we’re being honest with ourselves.) But the Captain is right – not your circus, not your monkeys.

  8. Wayne Harder said:

    If I was Christine, I would be *very* appreciative of learning about my new bf’s past. Actually if I was in her position and a friend withheld info about a bf’s skeevy past I would not be able to trust that friend any longer. But that’s me, I’m not Christine.

    Remember, you can’t make the decision what to do with their relationship. It’s impossible, short of murder, to MAKE people break up, so there’s no need to worry about what Christine SHOULD do. She will take care of that. You’d just be giving her more information to base her decisions on.

    Hope he stays Raoul and doesn’t turn into the Phantom ;]

    • Manattee said:

      Yup, me too.

  9. lasers said:

    Let me just say that in friendships, I am 100% cool with picking sides. If you are too, I would consider saying something like, “Christine, you are one of my closest friends, and I am Team You no matter what. I don’t really want to know details of your relationship while you’re in it, but if for some reason it crashes and burns in a bad way, just know that I am ride or die for you.”

    • Alex said:

      This is so great. I feel like we should tell our good friends this more often, regardless of their relationship status.

  10. RP said:

    In recent years most of my small circle of friends have moved away…

    That probably isn’t helping your anxiety either.

    I don’t have any good advice (my most relevant/similar experience to this was in middle school) but it’s not weird to feel some kind of way about something that could threaten two friendships when most of your friends have gone.

    • Gloria said:

      I have been in a similar situation, LW, where my best friend started a relationship, and I abruptly found myself several notches down on the friendship meter. It felt awful; I was sad, and angry, and frightened that I would lose them completely. I can see why this is pinging your anxiety, particularly when you have a small small social circle. What helped me was reaching out and getting closer to my other friends, and expanding my social circle. The Captain has some very good advice on how to meet new people, and make friends, and if you haven’t read it already, I would strongly recommend it.

      I’ve made my peace with the new status quo, though I have some misgivings, too, about how good they are for each other. While it is not the same as having a friend in an abusive relationship, I find that it is helpful to approach these sorts of troubling relationships with the same ethos: that you care about your friend; that while you have concerns about the relationship, you respect their ability to make decisions for themself, and that you will support them if things get difficult or dangerous (but not promising more help than you are comfortable providing).

      Please take care of yourself and your boundaries, LW. You it is understandable that you feel this way, and I hope that however this turns out for Christine and Raoul, you are able to find peace, and comfort and security with a greater number of friends.

  11. erica said:

    I think the Captain has a point about not being too pushy with the unsolicited advice for now. But I would suggest that one thing you could do to support them both is — if you feel able and willing — to make yourself available as a listening ear and a nonjudgemental sounding board. Ask them separately how things are going, and not in a way that assumes anything’s wrong: ask them what they like about each other, ask them how it all started. You don’t have to hide your reservations, but you can show your friends that you know that they are smart people and the experts on their situation, and that you respect and support their choices. If they see now that you’re supportive and open to hearing about how things are going, that will make it way more likely that they might talk to you about it later on if their relationship does start hitting some bumps.

    If you really feel you have to voice your concerns now, and you think that one or both of them might be willing to hear you out, I would keep it brief and to the point and hold off on pressing the issue further unless they seem actively interested. If and when one or both of them come to you later on about trouble in paradise, that’s when the time is ripe for offering your perspective and insights in greater detail.

  12. Ducky said:

    I had a friend I started drifting away from after college. This was expedited by her getting involved with a guy whom she did not love but (in my eyes) continued to live with and take advantage of. It’s her life and everything’s consensual, but it just rubbed me the wrong way. When I did meet him later on, I concluded they were *both* co-dependently clinging to something unhealthy founded on convenience and loneliness in a small town.

    Even with that understanding, I just couldn’t approve of the situation and now we’re not so much friends anymore (for that among other reasons). It’s not a good reflection on me that I was too judgmental to keep the friendship going and couldn’t separate how I felt about her relationship from her, but it was also a big feeling of relief when I finally gave up caring about it even if that was by way of caring less about her.

  13. Candid Subtlety said:

    If I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t breathe *a word* of my misgivings to either of them, now or later. I’d keep it to myself, to anonymous internet places, and to my diary. I wouldn’t tell anyone in person – other friends, acquaintances, family members – anyone who knows Christine and/or Raoul, or might run into them, may let it slip or set out to tell them. I’ve lost too many friends this way. I suppose it’s the LoveGlow that Captain talks about; whatever it is, it’s quite painful to lose the friend because I told them my misgivings about their partner – and more painful to watch them hang on to the partner year after year, despite the stupidity of such a move, just to spite the naysayers, despite clearly being unhappy. But obviously that’s all about me, and hopefully Christine is far more sensible.

    It *does* sound like developing some more friendships would be beneficial to you. If you’re at university, are there some groups/extracurriculars you could join in to work on making more friends? If you can be a bit less invested in these two friendships, then even if everything *does* go tits up, maybe it won’t be *such* a blow for you, possibly. And the act of doing it will perhaps keep you occupied to keep your mind off the budding relationship while its true colors start to develop.

    And ABSOLUTELY this, what Captain said: “Feelings are what feelings are, so don’t try to make yourself stop having them or judge yourself for having them.” Remember that. Have them, feel them, look at them, realize you’re done with them, and then you can move on. Look into mindfulness training – there are a zillion books out there on it.

    • Penelope Widdowson-Bonefat said:

      Ditto this. The only exception would be: if you have a therapist, counselor, etc., vomiting all your yucky feelings on them can be SUPER-HELPFUL.

  14. Captain, you were being very polite. But isn’t the short answer to this query, “Mind your own business.”

    • kemmi said:

      I dunno. If I thought a friend was heading into an unhealthy situation, especially one where they didn’t have information that probably that should have going in, I think I’d be wrong not to say something. By not saying anything, I’d be sending a message that I didn’t see any warning signs– and that therefore there weren’t any warning signs to see.

      Signing on to ignoring the broken stair when someone has just moved into the top floor is tacit agreement to gaslighting them about its existence. No, there is nothing wrong here!

      I think saying “he was a dick to some of his exes in the past, and not especially healthy in his relationships, but I think/hope he’s grown up a lot since then” is the least you can do.

      And yes, people falling in love can be all kinds of stupid– but starting a relationship is a testing ground, and getting your friend’s view on someone can be pretty important for figuring out whether someone is worth the risk.

      • The LW explicitly said that Raoul has changed since his past behavior, and there was nothing at all in the letter to suggest that the LW has any reason to think that Raoul is behaving poorly now or is likely to do so. So the letter sounded like the opposite of “warning signs”.

  15. tryingnottodoxxmyself said:

    Oh, this sounds familiar! Though in my case it’s technically “my brother in law who literally /just/ got divorced after a long and messy separation” and “friend who just moved to this area and hey marriage is a way to not live with overprotective family!” They also *already* got married.

    >.>

    I have had to cut brother-in-law off as sounding board for familial disapproval of how quickly they are taking things. Otherwise, we talk of fun things, and I try to plan my time with a built-in-out. (“Oh, I’d love to stay longer, but I have to feed the dog/go to my hair appointment/[be literally anywhere else than watching the slow motion trainwreck that is taking place in front of me].”)

    I was very very excited when friend finally moved to area! And now I’m having to budget emotional time to be around them because I know that just voicing disapproval drives them closer together like Romeo-and-Juliet-laced pheromones. (Plus they’re getting tons of sensible talk from other places and still ignoring it.)

    Meanwhile I vent my WHAT IS THAT EVEN in small dollops among husband, therapist, sympathetic friends who don’t know them, and my journal.

    Trust me, I sympathize. I really really do. This is an unwinnable situation if all of the winning scenarios involve your friendships with these two individuals.

    I know this is way easier to talk about than to do, but maybe work on building an improved Team You or at least checking out a new bookgroup (online or in person, or whatever your interest) would be helpful.

  16. Gallantqueer said:

    That proverb is way to perfect. Are you sure there’s not time travel not wish fulfillment involved?

  17. allya said:

    One thing that’s worth keeping in mind is that if you do decide to talk to Christine, your goal shouldn’t be to get her to break up with him right now (you don’t even know if that’s necessary) but just to provide her with information that she can use to assess his behavior in the future. She probably won’t break up with him right away but that doesn’t mean the conversation was useless – if you approach this the right way, it could make it easier for her to see red flags sooner or validate her feeling that something Isn’t Right (assuming something is indeed Not Right).

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