I find myself in a delicate situation regarding my best friend of 2 yrs Julie (23f) and her fiance, Jon (23m).
Julie met Jon and became engaged to him this past summer; they’d been seeing each other 4 monthes in a LDR. There had been many issues (Jon was unwilling to commit for awhile, struggles with alcohol, has bipolar and a dark past), so there side-eyeing and lost friendships over the course of everything. At this point, the dust has settled. Julie and I are still close, but there are few she’d call close friends.
Before she met Jon, we were at that comfortable “let’s hang out pretty much everyday in sweatpants or meet up between classes” type of friendship. I figured that we’d get much less time together once she started dating; I wasn’t expecting the engagement, but I tried to be as supportive as I could. She tells me often that she appreciates my support, though I have expressed concerns re: Jon’s past, issues, etc. I’ve read all your darth articles quite a few times.
However, it’s getting hard to do this because almost every time we have plans beyond coffee, Jon is suddenly suicidal or “worried he’s in a bad place” or “more down than usual”.
Julie is very sensitive to this, and will promptly cancel with many apologies. I’m fine rescheduling coffee or lunch. When it’s a day plan though (birthday party, sleepover,etc), that bothers me. Add that to the fact that she’ll be texting with him because he’ll feel ignored otherwise, and I don’t know how to approach this.
It feels cruel to suggest she not tend to her partner when they’re going through a hard time ,but it bugs me that his hard times always fall on days where we’re supposed to be having plans, It also makes me feel like I can’t express frustration or hurt, because how selfish is it to want to see your friend when their SO is in a bad place?
It’s gotten to the point that any time she bails, I can be sure Jon is the reason behind it. I want to support her, and be there if she needs me, but I also want to be able to schedule time without constantly being trumped by Jon’s emotional issues.
What should I do, and how can I talk about this without making her defensive?
I Miss My Friend
Dear I Miss My Friend,
What would happen, I wonder, if Julie didn’t cancel plans, or if she didn’t remain constantly available to him by text when you are together? Would he harm himself (in which case, this is waaaaaaay beyond Julie’s power to actually help and needs the intervention of professionals) or would he be sad/upset/all up in his feelings (in which case, he needs to learn some self-soothing behaviors and stop using his girlfriend like a pacifier, and Julie needs to figure out how to set and maintain boundaries with him) or would he become annoyed with her and verbally/physically abusive (in which case…RUN, JULIE). Sadly all of the cases are beyond your power to control.
This situation stinks and Julie is probably going to get defensive no matter what you do or say. Jon has her trained to respond to his “I am so sad today, and the only cure is your attention” stimulus. Excessively monitoring a significant other, isolating them from social connections, and expecting them to be constantly available to care for you are all red flags for emotional abuse. You can try saying indirect stuff like “Hey, howabout we both turn our phones off and just enjoy hanging out today?” but she’ll see through it. If it actually works and she turns off her phone, Jon’ll punish her for it by leaving 75 increasingly terrifying voice mails. So your choices are a) ride it out and hope it gets better or b) speak from the heart and hope it gets better.
One way to start a conversation is to ask questions. “Julie, have you noticed that Jon has a crisis every time we hang out? What do you think is going on with that?”
She will probably make excuses for him (he is grooming & training her to make excuses for him). But ask her the question and see what she says. Give her a chance to say in her own words what she thinks is happening.
Maybe one question you could ask is, “Does he do this at other times, like, can you focus at work/in class when you’re there or is he texting you all day and asking you to stay home with him then?”
Another way to frame things is to ask her, “In a perfect world, where you get everything you want, what would you like to happen? How do you want me to handle things when you have to cancel at the last minute?”
You could also say, “Julie, you’re my friend and I will be here for you, even if you cancel plans sometimes. I’m not mad at you, but I am concerned. This thing where we can’t hang out because you’re either tethered to your phone the whole time or where you cancel because Jon is upset is a pattern, and it really bothers me. If he’s so deeply in crisis that he can’t be away from you or out of contact with you for the 2 hours it takes for us to get dinner together, then it’s a sign to me that he needs some serious help. You can love him, but you can’t be his therapist!”
It might not help or change anything to say it. You might go back into the same holding pattern you’re in now. I’m sorry. The Siren Song is hard to thwart.
If you are reading this and thinking, “I’m the ‘Julie’, but my ‘Jon’ is genuinely ill, so how can I tell what is controlling behavior and what is not” try 1) calling the person’s bluff 2) in a way that actually helps. For example, if you’re feeling excessively monitored or need a break from texting, try leaving your phone at home before you go out or saying, “I need to turn off my phone and be unplugged today, I’ll check in with you at (time), though” and then follow through with what you said you’d do. That way the person knows what to expect and (theoretically) it frees up their day not to wait around for you to be available instead of increasing their anxiety as they try (& fail) to get through. With someone who doesn’t want to be left alone at all, maybe call a friend or family member to come hang out with them while you go out. It will give you both a break and give your person a chance to catch up with another loved one besides you. With someone who is feeling suicidal all of a sudden (to the point that they are telling you about it AND want you to drop everything and “help” them in some way, which to me is a sign of a *crisis* vs. a passing suicidal thought or impulse, which I know a lot of us have) = Yes, help them! At very least it’s time to call the doctor and get meds, etc. checked!
If your “Jon” is genuinely in crisis, reaching out to his/your support system, taking time to care for yourself and be nurtured by your friends, and getting him medical attention are GOOD & CARING things to do that will help the situation in the short and the long term, not evidence that you don’t love him or are ignoring him. If crises only appear every time you want to take some time for yourself or hang with a friend, but suddenly improve & disappear when a “Not You & not your emotional labor & constant attention”-solution is suggested, that’s pretty good sign that at least some manipulation is afoot.
Also, please remember that statements like:
“You’re the only one who understands!”
“You’re the only one I can trust/count on!”
“You’re the only one who gets me!”
“You’re the only one who can help!”
“It has to be you, you’re the only one who can do it!”
…are NOT compliments, especially from a significant other. They should make you wonder, “Where is everybody else in this person’s life?” or “Why is this person so dependent on me?”