My husband has a formerly good friend “Paul,” who has a history of domestic violence. The last three of his relationships have ended after violent physical attacks. We learned about the first two accusations second hand over the course of a few years. The most recent incident feels a bit different because it was relayed to me personally by Paul’s ex-girlfriend “Jenny,” with whom I’ve become friendly.
My husband and I are appalled, and have actively distanced ourselves from Paul. It is inevitable though that our paths will continue to cross because we have many mutual friends. Some of these friends have heard the same rumors we did about past abuse, but we have not shared what Jenny told me. Do we have an obligation to make this information known, or to confront Paul about this pattern? I have no desire to ostracize Paul, but if he starts dating someone new, I’ll want to warn her. I have not a clue how, or what I might say. Talk about awkward!
Thanks and please keep me anonymous.
Your anonymity is no problem.
“I have no desire to ostracize Paul.”
How many women would he have to beat up before you & your husband would want to ostracize him?
“It’s not that simple” is the instinctive response. There’s history there. For so long, you didn’t know, or, you didn’t have all the information, or, you didn’t have it from the horse’s mouth.
What if it were that simple, though?
I’m going to yell now.
DECIDE THAT YOU WON’T HANG OUT WITH HIM OR GO ANYWHERE THAT HE WILL BE ANYMORE
OSTRACIZE THE FUCK OUT OF HIM
BLOCK THE SHIT OUT OF HIS FACEBOOK
UNFRIEND HIM…IN REAL LIFE
BELIEVE THE STORIES WOMEN TELL YOU ABOUT HIM
Need some scripts?
- “That’s Paul. He’s an old friend of my husband’s. I don’t have anything to do with him anymore, because [I’ve been told that] he beats women.”
- “We used to be friends but we’re not anymore. He mistreats women, and we can’t have him in our lives now that we know.“
- “We don’t invite Paul anywhere we will be, or go anywhere we know that he will be. His pattern of mistreating women is too much, and we can’t have him in our lives anymore.Your friendship is very important to us, and we very much want to keep spending time with you, but we have to be clear and absolute about this. If you want us to come to something, please don’t invite him, and vice versa.“
If Jenny has sworn you to secrecy, or if you’re worried that he might punish her in some way for disclosure, it’s important to protect her. So, you don’t have to name names or give details. “He has a history of violence against women.” “He treats women very poorly and I just can’t with him.”
You don’t have to nail The Crimes of Paul to the post in your town square. Start one-on-one, with the mutual friends you trust, and see how it goes.
A) You don’t have to be “fair” when you choose your friends. Your opinion, your preferences, your subjective wants and needs are enough to say “I’d like to be friends with that person” or “I’m not interested in being friends with that person.”
B) Your opinion and your decisions about who to associate with don’t have the same burden of proof as a court of law. If people try to argue with you or challenge you to prove it (and nothing brings out the armchair experts on “fairness” and “burden of proof” and “we don’t know all the facts” apologists like a man accused of abusing a woman, so, be ready), remember this: You don’t have to prove your case, you only have to make your choice and stand by it. “I’m not a prosecutor and I don’t have to be. It’s come up enough that I believe it’s true, and I can decide not to be friends with someone anymore.”
You don’t have to confront Paul. You can’t fix Paul. But you can 100% kick him out of your social group and you can be honest about why.
If Paul tries to argue his case, or find out exactly what you know (“Who told you?” = “I’m looking for an excuse to punish Jenny”), a) Let your husband do the heavy lifting and b) His script could be, “Dude, please go get some counseling and figure this out before you hurt yourself or someone else.”
If you successfully disengage from Paul, it’s likely that when he starts dating someone new, you won’t know about it. But say you did know, and you did somehow meet or know his new girlfriend. He will have told her some story about how unfair the world has been to him and how “Those bitches were all crazy, not like you, Babe!” If she’s newly in love with him it will be like she’s under a spell and she won’t want to hear anything bad about him. What can you do, in that case? Maybe nothing. Or, maybe you can say, “Hey, you don’t know me, and you don’t want to hear this, but please hear me out for one minute. I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t say something. My husband and I were friends with Paul for a long time, and his relationships with women tend to end violently. I hope that doesn’t happen with you, but if it ever does, please know that what’s happening is not your fault. Know also that we will believe you, no questions asked.”
Letter Writer, I know I am being hard on you. Sorry for yelling, when I know you want to do the right thing here and have already started to do the right thing by believing Jenny and distancing yourself from this dude socially. If this were easy or if we had a tried-and-true cultural script for how to do this you would have done it already. Abusive people poison everything around them. They prey on the social contract and on the instincts of good people to be reasonable and nice and fair and give their friends the benefit of the doubt. They use that benefit of the doubt to create a zone of plausible deniability and confusion in which to operate. They groom the people around them to accept their behavior, and they create a lot of friction and awkwardness for people who rebel against the manipulation. Paul is scary! Of course you’d think twice about courting his ill-will! But…what if…
…what if losing all your friends is a reasonable, predictable consequence of beating up your romantic partners?
What if we could make it so? What if we could support good people like you who are ready to draw a line in the sand and stop the way our culture coddles and supports misogynists? I want you to make it that easy for yourself, inside your heart and inside your brunching circle: Paul hurts women = You are done with Paul. It can be that simple.
- We can stop inviting the creepy guy to play Dungeons & Dragons with us.
- We can block that dude whose feed is one long “that’s what she said” joke, without preamble or explanation.
- We can say “whoa, not cool” when our friends make “ironic” rape jokes and sexist comments.
- We can decide to stop being friends with misogynists, rapists, and abusers.
- We can stop inviting them to our parties and stop pretending that inviting them is a neutral thing to do.
- We can stop letting “Well, he’s always been very nice to me!” be an acceptable reason to silence victims.
- We can tell each other the true stories of what abusive people did and do.
- We can support and believe each other as we go.
We can do these things. I think we have to do these things.
❤ and Awkwardness.