This question contains abuse and stalker behaviors.
So, my story is a little complicated i guess but ill try and be as concise as possible.
For about 2 months now i’ve been seriously dating a girl i really like and was talking to her everyday for a little while before then. We are officially girlfriends.
Despite not having been together for too long she moved into my house about a month ago. This isn’t just your stereotypical lesbian u-hauling situation though; when we met she was still living with her ex, who, was abusive physically, verbally and mentally. So, even before we started dating I told her she can stay on my sofa because she had nowhere else to stay and needed to get out of there. I’ve been in an abusive relationship myself and i would do the same for any stranger. This isn’t supposed to be permanent, and she is looking for somewhere else.
Im mentioning this just in case your advice is ‘break up’ because although that’s entered my mind, it would be more difficult since we live together.
Anyway; her best friend, who she’s been friends with for several years, we’ll call him Jim, has been causing some problems.
He is obsessed with her. He knows that she’s gay, and has a girlfriend, and yet he’s in love with her. And he has told her, multiple times that he’s “madly in love” with her. She has told me numerous, horrifying stories about his behaviour regarding this. For one example, a few years ago she mentioned in passing that she had a date. Later that night a friend called and told her that Jim had been arrested for smashing up a shop because he was so jealous an angry about her going on a date. As someone who’s had numerous run in’s with angry and dangerous men everything about this guy is a red flag, and all the friends i’ve spoken about this with agree. A couple of my friends are genuinely concerned for my safety because he knows where i live.
My biggest problem though is the way my girlfriend deals with this problem.
We have had multiple arguments and discussions about this issue and she recently told me that she thinks the best way to deal with it is to ignore it, which i think is insane.
She’s also said a couple of times though that she wants to try and cut the friendship off and has threatened to end their friendship more than once, but she always goes back on it. She will look like she’s about to put a stop to it, but then doesnt. For example, she found out that he has been telling his friends and all the people he knows that she is his girlfriend. She said she’s going to tell his friend that she is not his girlfriend. I asked her the next day if she had and she said that he got upset and told her to give him two days to tell them himself, because if she tells them he’ll lose respect. She rarely see’s his friends though so she cant confirm if he actually told them. She also said she managed to get the friends number so she will call to check, i asked if she had and she said no.
She also tiptoes around his ridiculous behaviour. Not long ago he was over at my house (He’s been here twice, i refuse to let him in my house anymore) and my GF texted me ‘you look really pretty today, i really want to kiss you but Jim will get jealous’. Most recently my GF invited me out for a BBQ with him. I initially didn’t want to go because he would be there but i decided to go to show him that she is with me, and I wasn’t going to let him scare me off. It was initially going ok, my GF and I cuddled a little which surprised me given the initial ‘no touching for Jim’s sake’ rule. I then hinted that i wanted a small kiss. She hinted at Jim and that we shouldn’t because he is there. I got upset and left, this led to an argument. I’ve told her multiple times that her not touching her GF because it will make her friend whose obsessed with her jealous is insane.
There are too many bizarre and frustrating examples to go into. I just don’t know how to deal with this. His behaviour is dangerous and she doesn’t see it and I don’t know how to show her. She says he’s never laid a hand on her but one of the most recent time’s she’s discussed the problem with him he tried to kiss her! And he isn’t any less dangerous just because he hasn’t hit her or something.
I’ve told her that I’m scared this might end us, either because she cant put up with me bringing it up anymore, or because I can’t deal with it anymore. The stress his behaviour (he is also an alcoholic who has had trouble with the law), puts her under has ended one of her relationships before.
Do you have any advice at all, any and all will be greatly appreciated,
“I’m gay, why are angry men still a part of my life?”
I feel like these angry, possessive, entitled, violent controlling dudes are fucking everywhere right now, so, I feel you on that sentiment.
As for thoughts and advice, all of these things can be true at the same time:
A) Jim’s behavior is gross and terrifying.
B) Your girlfriend has been groomed by abusive people to accept horrible behavior and not have healthy boundaries. She’s not setting out to bring Jim and his bullshit into your life, but it’s a factor in what’s happening. “Men who can’t let go choose women who can’t say no” – Gavin de Becker
C) Regardless of fault, the situation is fucking with your ability to maintain healthy boundaries and to feel safe and happy in the relationship. There is no safe exposure level for Jimness, and things will suck as long as he’s around.
You asked how you can make the case that Jim is scary. Two resources that might help are Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Abusive And Controlling Men and Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear.
Bancroft worked with programs designed to rehabilitate abusive men. In the process of meeting so many abusive men, he found a set of predictable attitudes and patterns of behavior that they had in common, the two most prominent being entitlement and misogyny. He also was able to debunk the idea that abusive people are victims of abuse who can’t help their actions. Someone who smashes a shop window because a (lesbian!!!!) “friend” (who doesn’t like him that way!) goes on a date with someone else can strangely keep his shit together at work or when there is a male authority figure or someone he wants to impress around. These guys make the choice to be abusive. They lose their shit deliberately, selectively, to terrify and control other people.
Real Talk: The Gift of Fear comes with some big caveats around the Domestic Violence chapter, in that de Becker was raised by a mom who had a series of relationships with abusive men, and his language in that chapter crosses over into victim blaming. He both acknowledges the uselessness of restraining orders and the relative powerlessness of law enforcement in intimate partner violence situations, while also over-estimating the victim’s ability to choose to end the relationship safely or on a timeline that looks reasonable to him or to anyone outside the relationship. I know some people hate the book for this reason, but I find the rest of the book very useful because it’s one of the only resources out there that tells you what to DO about de-escalating situations with people who can’t let go. The workplace chapter, for example, is gold, as is the work on how to spot manipulation and boundary-testing (the search for people who are less likely to say no) and how to deal when you meet someone who gets fixated on you.
All advice, including mine, is caveat emptor, so if you can’t hang with ol’ GdeB I understand, but I also credit the book with how I learned to handle scary situations and I share things I learned from him here often (He’s the author of “No is a complete sentence” quote that people attribute to me because I’ve repeated it so much). Because of the DV chapter caveat, this probably isn’t a good book for her to read right now, but it might be a good book for you to skim through for your own safety and peace of mind.
For example, if your girlfriend wanted to end her connection with Jim, de Becker might recommend:
- A clear, unambiguous statement from her – “Jim, this friendship isn’t working for me anymore and it’s time to end it. Please don’t contact me anymore.“
- Don’t try for “closure” or let the person down “easy.” When you say “It’s just that I’m not in a good place for a relationship right now” a clinger hears “But someday, the second I am ready for a relationship, it will be with you!” so they try to solve the problem of timing and ignore the problem of “She doesn’t want you, bro.”
- Enforce no contact. Don’t respond to any communications from him. Also, don’t escalate the situation by threatening him – No “If you keep calling here I’ll have to involve the police,” no deputizing friends or family to talk to him, just silence, forever.
- Document the incidents and reaching out to law enforcement if her instincts tell her that’s the right way to handle it. If her instincts say that would make it worse, she should listen to those.
What I would add is, before making any steps or decisions about Jim, your girlfriend should talk to a trained Domestic Violence resource like The Hotline (or whatever local resources she can turn up where you are) and make a safety plan for how to handle this conversation and the aftermath. You can also call these folks and talk through your concerns and get a ton of good advice and resources. While the focus is Intimate Partner Violence, neither of you have to be in a relationship with Jim for them to help you.
A safety plan might mean removing herself from the immediate area for a while and staying with friends or family in another city or state, changing up her usual routines and haunts, locking down her social media and communication channels, filtering email messages from him so they bypass her main box but are preserved for documentation purposes, getting a new phone number she gives out selectively but keeping the old one active so Jim thinks his messages are getting through for now, informing her workplace in case he shows up there, telling any mutual people who know them what’s happening and asking them not to pass on any info to Jim and also not to do anything to escalate the situation. I’m listing possible examples – a good safety plan is going to look different for everyone, and your girlfriend will be the boss of what hers looks like.
Okay. He’s scary and I hope she gets free. Now let’s talk about you.
Once abuse and stalking enter a picture, there stops being a wonderful, perfect, logical, optimal way to handle things, where scripts and an honest conversation can work things out. “What will make us both happy” gets replaced with “will this course of action make us less safe or more safe?” for a while.
Your girlfriend is the only one who can make the decision to cut off contact and how to handle Jim. She is very likely to have multiple go-rounds of Go Away/Come Back with him. Can you accept that as the ongoing situation, indefinitely, or are you at “I hate to issue an ultimatum, but it’s me or Jim, I can’t date you until you resolve that situation” levels? It’s okay if you are in that place, by the way, as long as you can be honest with yourself. Back to things that can be true at the same time:
A) Being stalked and abused in this way is incredibly unfair and isolating for victims. It’s good for Jim if other people are scared or overwhelmed by the drama of the situation, and it sucks to feel like your options are “let him win” or “defend this principle, possibly to the death?”
B) Abusive people who are terrible at boundaries push their victims into situations where they can’t easily or readily have or enforce boundaries. I’m sure “yay, let me flee my old abusive home into yours, my brand new girlfriend!” is not how your girlfriend wanted to live this part of her life and now how she’d roll in a perfect world. We’re not in that world. She’s more dependent on you than either of you would like her to be right now, and that creates friction and risk.
C) You get to decide your own investment in the relationship and your own risk tolerance. Your safety matters. Your feelings matter. The situation is asking you to make a giant commitment before you might be ready to make it. It’s okay to acknowledge that in your head and your heart and still take actions (like letting her stay until she can find another safe place to go) that err on the side of “more safe.”
At minimum, I think you get to set a boundary that says “You’re the boss of how you handle your friendship with Jim, but I will never be in the same place at the same time he is, ever.”
Furthermore, I think you get to say “This thing where Jim is in love with you and you set me up to not be able to act like your girlfriend when we’re around him is fucked up, and I won’t participate in it anymore.”
You get to say “I’m not afraid that you don’t love me or like me, I’m afraid that one or both of us is going to die if this situation goes on unchecked.”
Also, “I’m not a good audience for Jim-talk. Let’s hook you up with a counselor who can help you process the messed up and scary things he does, and help you make a good plan for how to deal with him. I can’t be your sounding board about this – I’m not trained, I’m not impartial. It feels like he’s taking over our lives together, and my shoulders immediately go up around my ears when I hear his name. All I’m ever going to say is ‘I don’t get why you are friends with him, maybe you could stop that?’ but I think it’s a good idea for you to be able to talk this stuff through with somebody, so let’s help find that so you can be supported.” Remove some of his power by removing some of how much he dominates y’alls conversations and interactions.
I think there might also be benefit in making it boring to talk about Jim a lot when you’re together. Your script for hair-raising Jim Talk now and forever could be some version of “Wow, that’s scary/inappropriate/not cool. What do you think you’ll do?”
In addition, I think she maybe needs to live somewhere that isn’t your house ASAP. You did a good thing by providing her a temporary safe space, but there are a lot of indications that the timing is too soon for your relationship. You went from “hey let’s date each other I like you” to MAXIMUM INTENSITY RESCUE DANGER OH BY THE WAY THIS DUDE THINKS I’M HIS GIRLFRIEND AND WHEN WE’RE AROUND HIM YOU HAVE TO NOT ACT LIKE YOU ARE MY GIRLFRIEND OR HE MIGHT BREAK A RETAIL OUTLET, IS THAT COOL?
You both need breathing room, and safety, and perspective as a foundation underneath this fledgling love story. The fact that you’re already like “I’m thinking about breaking up but we live together so we can’t” is such a red flag here. What would it take to get her into her own safe living space, whether it’s a roommate situation or family? I know “Babe, move out” feels like an impossible backward step, but I think your happiness and safety and ability to make a grounded decision about what you want from a relationship may depend on it. At minimum, some talking about “Are we setting up a household for the long term or is this a temporary situation or a little bit of both? It happened so fast I’m not sure sometimes, what do you think? In a perfect world how would we handle this whole moving in together timing? Is there a way we can work it more like that once you’re on your feet a little bit?”
Finally, when a situation is this fraught and dramatic, it can be isolating for you. The new relationship cocoon + cohabitation + Jim possibly means that you and your girlfriend are spending close to all your free time together. My dear Letter Writer, don’t forget to make sure that your family relationships and your other friendships are solid. Get out of your house and do stuff without your girlfriend sometimes, nurture your social networks, feed your soul and your hobbies and pleasures, make sure your career or educational aspirations are all on track, put some money aside if you can in an emergency fund. If you need to talk to a counselor to process your own fears and worries, put that in place for yourself.
Ugh, I’m sorry, this is so terrible and scary. Be good to yourself.