#1045: Boyfriend is overly concerned about who I hang out with.

Hi Captain!

Thanks for your awesome blog. It helped me through a Darth Vader boyfriend break-up.

Now I’m dating a guy who is super lovely, like a beam of sunshine whose patronus is a golden retriever. The thing that sometimes overwhelms me is his enthusiasm, actually, maybe because he’s Australian and I’m an American whose been living in Britain for 10 years, who knows.

We’ve been dating for four months, and it’s been smooth and lovely sailing. We had our first point of conflict recently when a friend of mine came to visit.

My boyfriend didn’t go out with us because he didn’t like this friend from the get-go, and later he said he was baffled as to why I would spend time with this friend (who is a casual friend; I see him maybe once every 6 months or so, we go out for drinks with other friends). The friend, let’s call him Steve, is – to me – an over-the-top guy who is a bit of a mess, but we get on well and I don’t take him too seriously. He drinks too much and does drugs, and I don’t partake in the latter but am happy to go out for a pint with him and other friends.

It’s probably important to note that Steve and I had a very casual fling last summer and then it settled into a friendship by my choosing, a year before I started dating my boyfriend, and my boyfriend knows this and claims that it’s not a problem. (Steve is 28, my boyfriend is 29 and I’m 32.)

My boyfriend wasn’t concerned about me going out, and he bowed out because he didn’t like Steve, but later expressed a lot of concern about me having such a toxic and awful person in my life. I felt like it was an overreaction – I don’t really think much about Steve, he’s fun for a brief catch-up, tea or lunch, but I don’t feel he deserves that much energy, whereas my boyfriend went so far as to suggest that Steve – being a student-party-type – was really bad for me, and, quote ‘it was a red flag’, and he couldn’t understand why I would hang out with a potentially toxic person when I clearly was so otherwise good in my judgement of people.

We talked it out pretty well, but it left me feeling uneasy.

I admitted I didn’t want to NOT see Steve just because BF didn’t like it, and he acknowledged that it wasn’t intended to be a controlling thing, more that he (BF) was baffled because Steve is so unlike my other friends. (In general me and BF get on so well because we’re pretty straight-laced, non-party-types, and until Steve, we’ve each really loved and got on with one another’s friends.)

However, I wonder if BF is idolising me and thinking I can Do No Wrong and is a bit shocked that I do have friends who like to get drunk, or that I do occasionally stay up late drinking cocktails, and he hasn’t seen me do this much because we don’t like to do that and we don’t bring it out in one another. (One of the reasons I’m so enjoying BF is that he encourages the healthier preferences of my personality.)

BF is intensely into self-improvement and not having anyone Toxic in his life. We both came out of very difficult relationships where we were the ‘Carer’ for a really emotionally troubled partner, so I get the feeling he is anxious about me going off the rails, perhaps.

I felt able to assert that I needed to make my own decisions about my friends, and who I spend time with, but also that I respect his discomfort in this issue, so I think we reached a good conclusion, but I still feel a bit unsettled. Am I being silly – is he just plain jealous?

Thanks for your thoughts.

Enjoying chilling out and would like BF to be able to chill out as well.

Hi Person Who Enjoys Chilling,

I’m assuming Steve didn’t say anything really racist or otherwise horrifying in the few moments that he and your boyfriend interacted. In that case, my read is that your boyfriend is a bit jealous of Steve but also thinks that he is above such petty emotions as jealousy so he is transforming it into “concern” for you and using language like “toxic” and worry about drinking and its “influence” on you. Deep down he’d probably prefer it if you never saw or spoke to Steve again but he knows that would be a controlling request, so he’s using another reason to try to convince you that it’s what you should want. Being jealous doesn’t make him evil, it’s totally human to be like “Hrm this guy my brand new girlfriend used to bang is in town, I’m trying to be cool but totally failing.” I’m just not sure I like the way those feelings are translating into judgment of you and the idea that you have to fix yourself because of them.

A single red flag isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, it’s just an indication to pay attention to patterns. If “Hmmm, you don’t have to like Steve, but I enjoy having drinks with him every now and again when he’s in town, see you later!” settles the question from here, then, great! If you’re still low-key fighting about Steve a week or so from now, and you feel like your boyfriend’s “concern” for you is starting to encroach on you living your life the way you want to, remind yourself that a dude who has known you only a few months acting like an authority on who you can hang out with and what you do with your time is also a red flag.


226 thoughts on “#1045: Boyfriend is overly concerned about who I hang out with.

  1. It’s also okay to have a cookie sometimes? Like how Sesame Street now talks about how cookies are sometimes food, some friends are also sometimes friends? They aren’t the people you rely on emotionally or as part of your day to day life but they bring a certain pleasure and joy in living or nostalgia or whatever unique qualities they possess (raisins?) that make you enjoy them. And you can enjoy them at a level or frequency that works for you, without causing you problems.

    Not every choice you make in your life has to be the “healthiest” choice. That’s true when it comes to food and when it comes to lifestyle and when it comes to friends. You’re allowed to make an imperfect choice sometimes if the consequences for that choice are worth it to you.

    I personally really struggle with being put in boxes. There are choices I make, rules that I have because they work for me. (For instance, no sad movies.) But sometimes I’m allowed to break those rules because they are mine, and sometimes I want to watch Up because there is an adorable dog even if it means I will probably cry like 20 times in the next week. That is a choice I get to make! Not one someone else gets to make for me.

    Perhaps your boyfriend isn’t in a place yet where he can indulge in a friend or a situation that is maybe less than ideal and see value in it for himself. Perhaps he never will be. But it’s not fair for him to place that restriction on you.

    (Sorry if this is too… food/diety. I will not be mad if you delete it I just couldn’t think of a better metaphor. And now I want cookie cake.)

    1. Re: rules for myself – I have a “no pink clothing” rule, simply because I don’t like pink and look bad in it, but today I am wearing a pink shirt. Why? Because I liked this particular shade of pink and the print on it. The only person likely to notice I broke my “rule” will be my husband – and his reaction will probably be “huh, whatevs.” Because like you said, it’s my choice.

      I’ve had people in my life who could NOT handle me wearing a pink shirt. Especially in the early stages of the friendship, they had an image of me – the person they were drawn to initially – and when I started to morph into a real, multi-faceted human, they just weren’t in that place to handle it. This letter kind of reminds me of coming out of a honeymoon phase – you start seeing your friend or partner for who they really are, including all the things you didn’t realize, and sometimes it can be hard to handle.

      But like Captain said, just keep this in mind and look for patterns. The friends who freaked out about my pink shirt also freaked out about many other things, and became controlling and draining, and I eventually dropped contact with them. But for some people, it was a non-issue (like my husband). There was one friend who would freak out in the beginning, but then she apologized and we moved forward, and she grew into a wonderful person. All that to say – it can go either way, but you just have to keep a sharp eye and look out for yourself.

        1. Lately (in my 30s) I’ve come to notice that a lot of my friendships from college turned out like this. I’m not allowed to not like a certain drink that much anymore, or think my job has its good sides, or, in fact, wear different clothes than I used to, etc.– and when I go on to do these things just the same they’ll actually try to GUILT me on it. They seem to view any evidence of change as a betrayal of the -authenticity- of our college years. Because there’s no such thing as an evolving viewpoint, only selling out. It’s very stressful.

          1. Yes! That was what it was like with friends who would literally get upset over me wearing a certain color, or deciding I liked to listen to Kylie Minogue sometimes, or choosing to eat chicken instead of beef at dinner. Sometimes people just get these ideas in their heads of how you are *supposed* to be, and anything different is just too upsetting. After a while I decided it just wasn’t worth it to try to manage their emotions or be around that stress.

          2. A friend of mine recently told me he’s angry at all of our group of college friends because we keep changing, and that’s something we’re DOING to him. Dating a terrible person even after being told the person was terrible? Changing viewpoints on economics? Voting differently from how we used to? These are all OFFENSES AGAINST HIM.

            I was like, we’re not living our lives AT you, dude. And we never, ever owed it to you to live up to your mental image of us.

        2. Not just shirt colors. I once had a friend who freaked out over a couch I didn’t even own. I lived in a tiny apartment, wasn’t moving any time soon, certainly wasn’t shopping for furniture, so all window-shopping was along the lines of the way you look at things in a museum. No one was buying anything. We stopped to look in a store window when walking from the car to a restaurant. I said I liked the couch. She couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe she didn’t believe I liked the couch. She kept trying to get me to admit I didn’t really like the couch. It went around like this for a while with her becoming increasingly distressed that I was insisting I liked the couch when she knew, KNEW, that I couldn’t possibly like the couch. When I was finally able to unravel what the whole thing was about, it turned out that she’d decided that my taste ran to sleek lines and muted colors. The couch was considerably more ornate in brighter colors– and, I thought, very pretty. But she had created this idea of me that included certain high-minded tastes so liking something in a pink and green tropical pattern must show I was slumming it, putting her on by pretending I liked something I really thought was garish.

          I’m going to give Boyfriend in the letter a pass. I don’t believe he’s being too controlling. I think he’s only guilty of thinking out loud while he works out what’s important to him and getting a better handle on what’s important to Letter Writer. That’s normal in an early relationship.

          Most things are fine in small doses and toxic in larger ones. That goes for salt, food, alcohol, brightly colored furniture, the volume of the dance music, ex-boyfriends, hard partying, and associating with people who like hard partying. True poisons that are unsafe in any amount are rare. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to spend some time figuring out how loud is too loud for me, how loud is too loud for the other person, and coming to some compromises from there. It’s especially difficult when people’s past experiences make them super-sensitive.

          In other words, Boyfriend may indeed be over-reacting to Steve just like someone who grew up with alcoholics might have trouble adjusting to the idea that plenty of people really can have a drink now and then without having a problem with alcohol. I’d keep talking it out with Boyfriend possibly with the question “What would have to happen to make you easy with my going out for a pint with Steve now and then? Would it be one year of proof that nothing bad happens when I’m with him? Would it be your coming along and observing?” Then listen. Boyfriend might be more reasonable than any of us are giving him credit for if we give him a chance.

          1. The thought of brightly coloured furniture being toxic in large doses gave me a much-needed belly laugh, thank you 😀

          2. Amphelise– It’s just up to each of us to determine for ourselves how much brightly colored furniture is a toxic amount and how much is safe. The dose will differ for us each individually.

    2. I really like your analogy….and the Sesame Street reference! I normally don’t “eat cookies” or even spend any time thinking about them. But every now and then, I want a “cookie” so I have a “cookie”. Then I don’t think about “cookies” again for a long time.

    3. This is a really good comment and I like your analogy, but what I mostly want to say is omg what is cookie cake because I feel like that is something I really need in my life rn

    4. Thanks for this metaphor. I’m a person that people tend to keep to very small doses and don’t like communicating with, and this actually made me feel better about it for the first time. I may be a trash fire or a cookie or both, but hey, it’s *a* fun way to conceptualize it

  2. “BF is intensely into self-improvement and not having anyone Toxic in his life.”

    This is a little bit of an area of concern, in my experience – people who are heavily into self improvement often see others as fair game for improvement as well. Also, “toxic” is a very…subjective word, whose definition often shifts at the convenience of the user. I really like the Captain’s advice to see how much this thing, or this *kind* of thing comes up. If you find yourself having to justify more and more of your choices, or start hiding parts of your life that aren’t non-“toxic” enough, that’s when you’ll know.

    Or maybe he’s just having a judgey moment and it’ll blow over – that’s my hope for you, LW!

    1. The Not Being Around The Toxic/those who drink a lot or do drugs as an important personality thing to me too. He sounds like the type of straight edge person who doesn’t want to be close with people who spend much time with heavy drinkers as a Values Thing (which I personally think is BS, but lots of people have obnoxious values I think are BS). I suspect it’s likely that the BF would probably have a baseline of concerned that the LW having friends like Steve is an indicator that LW shares his values least than he thought, that’s being amplified by the probable jealousy at play due to LW’s previous relationship with Steve.

      But I think it might be worthwhile for LW to assume that at least part of this isn’t jealousy and is likely to recur with any other friends who aren’t former sex partners but who also drink a bunch and/or do drugs regularly. Does LW want to be with a partner for whom not associating with people who make those lifestyle choices is an important value, who wants LW to (mostly) share that value? I personally wouldn’t want to be with someone who had that value.

      1. But the boyfriend didn’t say that it’s important for him to avoid all drug users, he said he was concerned that the LW didn’t avoid Steve.

        Couching criticism of LW in terms of “concern” doesn’t take ownership of his feelings.

        1. “Couching criticism of LW in terms of “concern” doesn’t take ownership of his feelings.”

          Bang on! I think he has some jealousy around Steve and is framing it in a more personally-acceptable way so he doesn’t look controlling.

          LW, I’m glad you’ve resolved this particular issue, but I’d be on the lookout for similar “concern”.

      1. Some of the most valuable life-lessons I ever had I learned from hanging around “toxic,” or messed-up people. They made the mistakes, so I didn’t have to.

        If you had simply told me, “Don’t do X, because it is bad for you,” I’d probably shrug. But watching someone do X, and then seeing the consequences, up close and personal (but only second-hand, because it was Gilroy who did the X, and not me), *really* drove the lesson home, because I really understood the details, and the reality of it. It wasn’t just some story somebody told me to frighten me into being good. It was a real experience, and I had a front-row seat.

        Meanwhile, my “toxic,” messed-up friends benefited from hanging out with me, and watching me make my own mistakes, that they could learn from.

        There’s toxic-this-person-will-really-harm-you, and there’s “toxic”-imperfect-human-who-makes-some-mistakes-and-might-possibly-suck-you-in.

        If BF wants to be sure LW doesn’t get sucked into the drama vortex of the friend’s consequences, he should say that, rather than warning her off him, entirely. A simple “look, but don’t touch,” strategy should keep LW safe enough.

        1. There’s definitely a difference between being a friend to people who are making some less than ideal choices and enabling those people and getting sucked into their drama. The latter is definitely not inevitable and people who claim it is are making a slippery slope argument. It’s true that not everyone has the skill and judgment to walk that line, but that’s the individual’s choice to take on, and not how it sounds like the boyfriend expressed the idea at all.

    2. Yeah, in addition to the bf being sneakily jealous, I’d find this’ toxic people’ kick a red flag as well. (Maybe that’s partly because I’ve been rudely dumped by some of these people). My experience has definitely been that hyper-judgemental people always end up judgemental about you when the honeymoon is over. So I’m sorry LW, but watch your back here

  3. Men will always be territorial over their woman, it’s in their D.N.A. He feels threatened so jealousy is his worst enemy. You either have to find a medium that makes you happy or else it’s never going to work. Good luck .

    1. Meh on the gender essentialism. I’m married to a lovely man who is not “territorial” in the slightest about who I socialize with, and I’m sure he isn’t the only male human being who doesn’t experience jealousy.

        1. Hard no. Men are not by nature territorial. Nor are you doing something wrong to bring that bad side out. You might have had a string of men who used those excuses “I can’t help it, all men are jealous/territorial” but that is just not an excuse for bad behavior. And you saying that maybe your actions bring it on is further gender based nonsense “why do you make me have to treat you this way”. Men sometimes choose to be territorial. So do women. That has nothing to do with their gender or with DNA and more with their choices. They might think they are conforming to what society tells them to do, but it isn’t right and it doesn’t have to happen.

          And add me to the list as a cis-woman with a cis-man partner with zero jealousy or territorial issues.

          1. I’ve always been so confused by the man women who talk about “claiming” a man, and “you can’t date him! I saw him first! You know I like him!” without any consideration of the fact that the man can date anyone he darned well pleases, no matter who saw him first, or likes him.

            Yeah, the territorial thing is by no means limited to men.

          2. Me too. I’m a woman in an industry where 90% of my coworkers are men. I hang out regularly with male friends. I’ve traveled to professional conferences by myself. We have zero jealousy issues.

            That being said, I think it’s totally okay to feel jealousy or even simple dislike. We’re humans and we have feelings, sometimes outside of our control. The key is how we react to those feelings. OP, whatever your boyfriend is struggling with, it’s coming from his brain and as such is his problem to deal with. Dealing with it might involve therapy, talking it out with you, or even breaking up (if he just can’t learn to accept it). Unfortunately, it sounds like he’s trying to convince you to “fix” the problem for him, by not being friends with Steve. That’s not cool or healthy.

            The captain’s advice is good – what happens from here really depends on how boyfriend reacts.

        2. Or maybe I just do things to bring that bad side.

          Oh geez no, your husband’s bad behaviour is not in any way your fault! If he’s a jerk and blames it on his DNA somehow that’s bullshit, he’s choosing to behave badly. If he’s having trouble with that it’s his job to fix it with therapy, not your job to make yourself smaller and smaller so he doesn’t feel threatened ever.

      1. Seconding your meh. I have a number of men in my life and none of them are “territorial over their women”. (ARGHHH!) If they were, they wouldn’t be in my life.

        1. Nthing your meh. The category of “people who police other people’s relationships/friendships” does not sound fun to have in your life, period. (And my ex and current got along fine – though it didn’t hurt that ex was happily re-partnered by then!)

    2. Meh on the gender essentialism. I’m married to a lovely man who is not “territorial” in the slightest about who I socialize with, and I’m sure he isn’t the only male human being who doesn’t experience jealousy.

      1. I’m happy to hear. I’ve been married since seventeen and I have marriage problems so I guess I assume. Thanks for sharing.

        1. Having been married that long, and since that young, probably makes it easier for both you and your husband to think “all men are like this” (not just him), and to assume “so that’s okay” or “and that’s something women need to accept” rather than “and that’s something men need to guard against in themselves” or “and I need to find better ways to deal with my own jealousy, whether that’s physical labor or reminding myself that we have chosen each other.”

          Not all universals are good, and not all are culturally framed as positive. For example, many if not all toddlers go through a phase of having tantrums, but the “and therefore parents have to” is generally closer to “and therefore parents have to teach them to stop doing that” or “therefore parents should be prepared to sometimes take a tantruming child out of the supermarket or diner even if it means abandoning a cart of groceries” or “therefore parents should be alert to signs of stress and get the child out of the situation before it becomes too much for them.” It isn’t “and therefore tantrums are inevitable and appropriate” or “therefore we should give the person who is having a tantrum whatever they want.” (Jealousy isn’t the same as tantrums, of course, adult men aren’t toddlers, and women who are married to men aren’t responsible for their and their husbands’ moods and behaviors.

      2. My husband is far from perfect and has many faults but one of the things I have always loved about him was the fact that he has NEVER been even the slightest bit jealous of anyone I know or hang out with.

        And though it really doesn’t touch on this letter I’m going to write a bit about what it’s like from the other side.

        When I was young I was never experienced jealousy, but after a string of completely untrustworthy boyfriends, it became a learned behavior. And it was HARD at times. I didn’t want it to interfere with relationships, so when they got serious enough, I would talk to my BF and try to explain all this- that I used to be jealousy free, until I had had my trust broken by so many men, and I was working on it, and all I asked from them was to not engage in behavior that could be seen as sneaky or suspicious- that’s all! No controlling, no rules, no forbidden friends or places, just please be conscientious and considerate.

        Did they do it? NOPE, not a one. Was I jealous? YEP, for sure! Was my jealousy ever justified? Sadly, almost always…though sometimes the thing they were hiding was a secret drug addiction, or crime, not cheating. I always dumped them the moment I found out, but sometimes I didn’t until after I had broken up with them for other reasons. And I *always* knew when something was off in the relationship- ALWAYS! I got called “crazy” and “stupid” and so many other things because I could accurately and intuitively sense when a guy was sneaking around doing something shitty behind my back. They knew perfectly well I was right and still screamed at me that I was out of my mind for being suspicious.

        When did I stop being jealous? When I met my husband. I struggled with it, because he has a lot of female friends, but he never once did anything that was sneaky, or suspicious, or set off my radar. If I wanted to discuss something that was bothering me he didn’t call me names, he sat and talked to me like a rational human being and assuaged my fears by talking them out. I haven’t been jealous in years.

    3. DNA? Wow, nope! This is every bit as untrue and harmful as when people say things like “women are natural caregivers” or “women are naturally good at talking about feelings.”

      It’s unfortunate that you’ve apparently lived your whole life without meeting a to man disprove this theory of yours. But, with all due respect to you personally, I think you are wrong and what you have said is bad advice.

      1. Thanks. I met my husband when I was young and we’ve both made mistakes so I did assume all men are the same.

        1. I think that if a large portion of men are similar in any way, it is much more likely to be in the societal messaging they receive – the way they are conditioned toward and expected to be violent, the way anger is one of the only emotions they can freely express without ridicule, and the way some of the basest human impulses and ‘animalistic’ urges (such as a tendency to be territorial over partners as if they are property) are validated with the idea that it is simply genetic for them to be this way. So the offenders aren’t ever challenged or expected to change it; instead it is nurtured and we are told to excuse it. It gets reframed as ‘protectiveness’ and venerated as a masculine quality. And this shapes our expectations of them and their behavior as much as it shapes their expectations of themselves. We as women are expected to be protective of our children, our pets, and other recipients of our care-taking, but our protectiveness does not feature the element of jealousy – only men’s ‘protectiveness’ includes this – which is how you know a definition is being selectively stretched and a double standard is being applied. This influences what we will tolerate, and the standards to which we hold each other as people.

          Generally speaking, we tend to find more variation in extremes within a single gender than we do comparing genders to each other. So, when a behavior is wide-spread enough to be an observable pattern that prominently features within only one gender, we tend to examine and compare societies instead. And unsurprisingly, what we see within our own society is that jealousy exists to greater and lesser degrees in all genders, but women are shamed and called “crazy” for acting on these feelings, even when her partner is blatantly untrustworthy and/or deliberately trying to provoke those feelings within her, while we are told this is perfectly natural and normal behavior for men, that it is evidence of his caring, and that we should acquiesce to a degree of control by him to pacify this. And when jealousy condoned, it tends to be damaging to the target of the jealousy, rather than being damaging to the individual expressing it. Which is just one of many ways men are absolved from responsibility for their emotions, and women are made to be responsible for them instead. But this so-called ‘natural’ behavior did not spawn within a vacuum. It had been developed and nurtured in an environment where, until very recently, a man’s partner was his literal, legal ‘responsibility’ (read as: property), and we still live with many remnants of that fabric woven all throughout our culture and society.

          So, where we see feelings that women and men both have, but only men can freely express the related behaviors we expect to accompany those feelings, the most likely reason is not that women’s genetics somehow failed to develop this feature, but that women are expected by society to manage and contain those feelings (often for ourselves as well as for men too), and that men are often well protected from any self-inflicted damage which would otherwise be a catalyst for change. They’re not born different, so much that they are socially shaped and treated differently. And we can change that dynamic – starting with challenging the assumption within our own narrative of what is natural and therefore expected. So the push-back you’re seeing is not against you personally, but against the idea that men are not equally capable of self-regulation. They are.

        2. Yoly, if your husband thinks of you as territory instead of as a person, you might want to reconsider the relationship.

        3. I am sorry that you have this experience. It’s not true of all men – you can expect more.

          My (male) partner met a (gorgeous, very smart) ex, and his reaction was “And you chose me?!” That previous relationship didn’t work out due to circumstance and personality, but wow if that didn’t make me realise the depth of character of my current!

    4. Many people feel jealousy. It is a normal human emotion, even if it isn’t one of the more pleasant ones. The important thing is for the person feeling jealousy or “territoriality” to manage their own feelings rather than try to put restrictions on their partner merely so they don’t have to feel that emotion.

      1. The key is to be able to be honest with yourself and your partner. It’s okay to feel jealous. Everyone probably does, sometimes. I had a friend several years ago that Mr. Bells felt mildly jealous of; I got to hang out with this friend very regularly doing a mutual hobby. So Mr. Bells told me that he often felt jealous that I spent so much time with “Pat”.

        And that was it. He didn’t ask me to give up my hobby or change what I was doing or manage his feelings. He acknowledged the feeling, I acknowledged his feelings, and we went on.

      2. Well said. It’s not the feeling that’s the problem, it’s how it’s expressed and whether you’re making the other person carry your baggage so you don’t have to.

    5. “Men will always be territorial over their woman, it’s in their D.N.A.”

      Yikes: no. I’ve known plenty of women who are territorial over their partners, and plenty of men who are not territorial at all. This kind of gender essentialism is really harmful, to everyone. It doesn’t help women to be told that this is just a fact of dating dudes, and it doesn’t help men to tell them that they’re doomed to be jerks. We can all do better.

        1. Sounds like you have good reason to be angry. And I wouldn’t say what you said was “stupid,” just based on limited experience. The question is, now that you’re hearing this, are you content with that experience? (Note: “yes” is a valid answer!)

          You may want to find a counselor to talk to. If nothing else, they’ll be able to offer you focused advice that a website’s comment section can’t hope to match.

          I wish you all the luck and am sending you Internet hugs if you would like them.

        2. I’m so sorry your experience has sucked. If your husband is being an ass, it’s because he’s being an ass, not because it’s in his DNA. Life can get much better than it is right now for you–it doesn’t have to be how it is.

    6. This is… really extremely incorrect. A lot.

      Source: married seven years to a guy who is genuinely unjealous, and yes we have been in situations where jealousy would have been an expected response.

      1. I guess I might be wrong but I’m about to hit seventeen years. Maybe I just married the wrong person. Thanks

    7. I’m a polyam trans man in a relationship with a cis man. We both date other people and we have very little jealousy. So no, I don’t think it is in either of our DNA.

    8. Yoly, I’m glad you found Captain Awkward! (You seem like you might be a new reader?) I love this site and it’s helped me learn so much about relationships and boundaries. If you haven’t already, read through some of the archives! They’re amazing! Also, you can follow the links up at the top to the forums and find a great community of people if you ever feel like you want to talk about your relationship and how it might be working or not working for you.

        1. Yoly, I’m so sorry this has been your experience! I promise, it can be so much better, and there many dudes out there who don’t get “territorial” (ugh! no! ugh!) I’m seconding Megan M. – please check out the archives here or the forums, if you feel like it (the Captain and the community here helped me navigate a painful longterm breakup, but there’s all kinds of advice and support to be found)! Or, honestly, write in with your own question, and we’ll talk it out with you in the comments. I wish you all the best!

        1. You definitely don’t have to apologize to everybody here. People are gonna disagree, but it’s not your job to address their concerns. Just saying because I thought you might be feeling a little piled up on and like you had to appease people who are mad at you–you don’t. You’ve already apologized and said you were speaking from your own experiences. Now you can choose whether or not to keep engaging with every new person.

          1. I just wrote what came up to my mind, didn’t try to offend any men out there. I didn’t think twice to be politically correct…lol…I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, just saying based on my experience but I appreciate your kind words. I agree to disagree with everyone. I’m stubborn so I pick my battles.

          2. Assuming that nesting works the way I’m expecting it to (if not, this is a response to Yoly):

            This isn’t a matter of politically correct. This is a matter of correct, as in factually true, and it’s not factually true that jealousy (and more than that, acting on jealousy) is a universally true thing that you just have to accept. You don’t, and it’s more than reasonable to tell your husband to chill on this matter or to just bail on that relationship entirely. You deserve better.

        2. And remember that while it might feel like a pile-on, a lot of us who have seen your clarifying comments about your relationship and your husband are sharing our disagreements with you so that you can see how prevalent NON-possessive men are. We’re telling you about our marriages so you can see that you don’t have to just accept poor treatment because “that’s how men are.”

    9. Men have traditionally been given a pass on jealousy/territorialism in a way women are not. Women as property is a very ingrained concept.
      But it’s not inescapable, and certainly no longer universal. And it’s actually pretty important not to accept it as normal.

      1. Definitely. But I feel like all the answers going in the ‘not all men’ direction can obscure that, although of course it’s not genetic and not universal, *many* men *do* still feel legitimate in being jealous, because posessiveness and violence are a huge part of traditional masculinity. The kind of masculinity that the vast majority of cis men perform.

        Cis men are still killing women and LGBT people every day, all over the world.

        So no, it’s not in their DNA, but yes, many men are very jealous and act on it, and this is a serious problem. Yoly here talked out of her own experience and with good intention, there is no need to jump at her? This is a general comment, I’m not aiming it at anyone in particular. But i think feminism should be about caring for each other and guiding others, wherever they may be in their individual progression.

        Yoly sweetie, you deserve a husband who respects you, and your life is yours and no one else’s. I hope you find a safe space here at Captain Awkard. Take care of yourself Xxx

    10. Men will….not always be possessive over women, no, that is not a genetic trait of men any more than it is of humanity in general. Some individuals struggle with jealousy more than others, but that’s true of all kinds of humans, and in my experience, it’s not any more or less prevalent in men than in women or nonbinary people.

        1. Yoly, I bet you weren’t expecting all these responses! It’s really gracious of you to respond to everybody.

          I just wanted to say that I agree with commenters who say that it’s not a DNA thing and men don’t have to be that way… but I also wanted to say that I can see how you might come to believe that. I’ve known people who really did pretty much only know men who are possessive. So I can see how that would be a belief that you could end up with. In fact, if you continue to read Captain Awkward, you will probably see a lot of references to toxic masculinity and patriarchy in our culture; that’s the social/environmental description of the phenomenon you’re observing. Fortunately, the social explanation leaves room for men who AREN’T like that!

          I hope that these responses don’t dishearten you; rather, maybe they will serve as a reminder that you DO deserve to be treated well, and not like an object! I don’t know your life or your relationship, but I am 100% positive that you deserve to be treated as a full, complex person worthy of respect, whatever that means for you.

          I’m glad you found Captain Awkward, and I hope we see you around the comments/forum!

    11. Um…no. My husband is the least territorial person I know. He can be “protective” when he thinks someone he loves (male or female) is in danger but that usually involves supporting that person and asking what he can do to help.

    12. Men and women have the SAME DNA – sex chromosomes are such a tiny part of your genes seriously learn a thing.
      We are the same species.
      There’s no separate evolutionary path for the genders.
      Anything about “men evolved for this” or “DNA that” is 100% bullshit.

      And EVEN IF this bullshit was somehow true, that wouldn’t make it in any way ok to be territorial over another human. Women aren’t property.

      I hope you spend time on this website and learn many things, Yoly.

      1. I don’t appreciate your tone. Build a bridge and get over it. It’s my opinion and it was just a figure of speech to get my point across. Men and woman are not the same. Men have testosterone, woman don’t. Woman have babies and men don’t. Woman and men think differently for a woman. It’s so funny how everyone can have an opinion about my statement and it’s mostly woman. 🤔 Men have nothing to say about …hmmmm I wonder why? All women are crazy,,,,oh oh…Did I just make another statement you don’t agree with? I respect everyone’s opinion but when you insult me like that, I’m sorry but I don’t take it well. There is no book or reading material in this world that can teach you life. Life throws things at you sometimes and you just have to learn how to deal with it. I’ve gone through a lot of real life experiences that no one can ever understand. Good luck with your reading.

        1. [Moderator Hat On]
          Hi Yoly,

          You’ve only been here a day and managed to hijack a discussion, starting with a deeply incorrect statement about how all men behave and think based on their DNA.

          Please hang back, read the site policies (https://captainawkward.com/site-policies-and-faqs/), come back some other day, some other thread. To use your words, “build a bridge and get over it.”

          If you have a question about your marriage stuff that you mentioned, ask it through the inbox.

          Everyone else, stop responding to Yoly’s comment. The record has been set straight, no need to further antagonize. This subthread is closed.

        2. “There is no book or reading material in this world that can teach you life.”

          If this was 100% true, I very much doubt this site would exist. 🙂

          (Also, women do have testosterone–to my knowledge, all humans do–and men are capable of giving birth, and not all women do or can give birth. I’m very sorry for what sounds like the unpleasant and gross experiences that led you to make your initial generalization, but that certainly doesn’t excuse you throwing around insults as you did just for the fun of making a point. I hope things get better for you. Do feel free to have the last word.)

    13. Ugh, no. No no no. I am not “my husband’s woman.” I am not his property. He does not think of me in those terms, and I would not be married to him if he did. He’s a feminist ally who works hard to support my autonomy and individuality; he doesn’t claim ownership over me or jealously guard me from the eyes of other men. Men are not inherently territorial or possessive; they’re raised to behave that way, and they can choose to NOT behave that way. It has nothing to do with their DNA.

    14. IDK I’m a cis lady and I definitely experience jealousy. In my past relationships I was often conditioned to hide it, so maybe that’s partly why people don’t think women who are DFAB have it in their DNA.

      My husband and I have pretty healthy boundaries, and a lot of it came from me being up front about how I feel when other people try to move in on him. I want him to experience life to its fullest, and I never want him to limit himself to edge around my jealous feelings. BUT I also deeply enjoy when he and I can mutually acknowledge when someone was trying to make the moves on him, and how that was Never Going to Happen, and how I can complain about how she/he/they needs to Back Off.

    15. Well I’m a lady and my emotions tend to dwell more on the jealous side (though I handle it). I also know plenty of non jealous men. Indeed, poly men are a thing! DNA?! We all have that. Science talk probably isn’t your best bet here.

      I don’t think bf was actually jealous. An unhealthy jealous person wouldn’t have gone home and left the two of them alone. A healthy jealous person would own up to their jealousy. I think hes just genuinely baffled about her taste in friends because he personally doesnt do any small doses kinds of friendships.

      He’s not sulking, he’s not pressuring. He’s expressed an opinion. So what?

    16. I hope you’re not straight Yoli, because that’s a really harsh take on ‘men’ 😀. Inaccurate too, mercifully.

    17. Your answer is problematic in a couple of different ways. I think when you label millions of people with one broad stroke, you’re going to be wrong. Hell, you can’t even say “men will always have a penis,” so how can you possibly say that all men are always territorial over “their” woman? And who the hell transferred woman ownership to those theoretical men, anyway?

      There are a lot of “rules” out there about “how men act.” Those rules are just as damaging to men as archaic gender stereotype rules are for women. Women can be strong, men can be sensitive, women can be high-powered executives, men can be thrilled to be stay at home dads. The rules are finally changing for all people. Let’s be happy for people instead of doubling down and trying to enforce stereotypical ideas about What Men Do and What Women Do.

  4. I agree with the Captain’s take. BF is jealous of Steve. Probably for more than one reason. BF sounds very earnest, bordering on intense. Steve sounds like he’s good for a lot of tipsy laughs, as long as you don’t take on his messes. Maybe deep down BF feels that he doesn’t come off well in comparison. And I think LW’s instincts are onto something. IMO, BF is unsettled to see that LW, like any gem, has multiple facets and BF doesn’t make every single one of them sparkle. As is the case in many relationships, because humans.

    In addition, BF may have turned his back on being the caretaker in a relationship, but he sure hasn’t turned his back on micromanaging his partner. That’s an undercurrent in a lot of caretaking, IME. LW, BF’s need for control doesn’t have to be your problem.

    1. I actually don’t think you have to feel jealous to think “I don’t like this guy and I don’t think he’s a good person to be around.” I’ve felt that way about some of my friends’ relationships, too. I, too, have felt concern when I see a close friend maintain a friendship with someone who “does drugs” and is “a bit of a mess” – someone I believe isn’t a good person for them to know. Did I throw my weight around and insist that Messy had to go? No. But I felt concern. In one case, I didn’t say anything, but I kind of wish I had.

      Besides, who says it can’t be both? Life is complicated, people are complicated, and it’s quite possible for the BF to feel genuine and justifiable concern *and* jealousy, all at the same time.

  5. I agree with the Captain here. Also I’m a bit concerned by your bf’s use of “red flag” here. Was it him saying Steve has it? Was it him saying you have a red flag to him now because he knows you might hang out with Steves in this world? In theory the red flag is subjective and directional. I agree with you that he may have put you on a pedestal. I’m dating someone like that. For the first 6 months he kept calling me perfect and I would laugh and say no I’m not you just don’t know me yet. Then when I departed from his vision he was so shocked. That one time I threw away recycling? game-changer. He adjusted but I’ve found he is rather high-maintenance/high-strung to this day so keep that in mind.

    1. Yeah, that phrase struck me too — LW, it sounds like your bf might think the fact that you even have friends like Steve says something bad about you. At the very least, he may think (and think it’s a problem) that you don’t value the same things he does, and it could be a good idea to have a conversation on that topic that’s broader than the conversation about Steve specifically.

    2. Yeah, it worries me that he’s using that language too… it sounds manipulative, precisely because ‘toxic’ and ‘red flags’ are supposed to be personal perception things.

  6. I think the “no toxic people/self-improvement” might be a little alarming (but it also might be a simplified version of ‘I have let myself be taken advantage of a lot and want to fix that’), but I’m also a tad concerned about some of the issues about Steve – what exactly do “does drugs” and “a bit of a mess” mean? It’s one thing to have a little pot, maybe do a little ecstasy or something; it’s rather another to be into heroin, meth, etc. Similarly, is “a bit of a mess” mean he’s not working a decent job but managing to get by, he’s an airhead, etc., or does he regularly get into screaming matches with friends when drinking/on drugs, does he get into physical fights, does he get picked up by cops for public intoxication/etc.? Does he have stable housing, vs couch-surfing with whoever will take him on? In other words, does BF worry you’re one sob story away from getting really involved in Steve’s life due to some kind of self-inflicted screwup?

    1. It sounds like LW has good judgement and solid boundaries when it comes to Steve. Your nightmare scenario of Steve’s life sounds almost like a justification for BF’s borderline concerning behavior.

      1. Some of these things seem like they’d make the boyfriend’s behavior seem worse, not better. Some people can deal with sexual jealousy and some can’t, but I can imagine a person who’s basically decent who reacts too strongly to a partner’s friendship with an ex-fling who’s entirely unlike them.

        Someone whose thought process is that their partner’s friend lacks stable housing, which means that friend might eventually need to stay with the partner, which might cause them some second-hand stress and annoyance, and therefore is concerned about the friendship continuing…well, that just seems monstrously selfish.

        1. “Someone whose thought process is that their partner’s friend lacks stable housing, which means that friend might eventually need to stay with the partner, which might cause them some second-hand stress and annoyance, and therefore is concerned about the friendship continuing…well, that just seems monstrously selfish.”

          Again, it depends on the reasoning behind that.

          I can think of my cousin, who let a friend of hers stay in her home for a while because he need a place to be. But it wasn’t just that he “lacked stable housing.” The drugs and drinking and “something of a mess” were also an issue with this guy. (And ngl, I disliked him within about five minutes of meeting him, before I even knew that he had a problem with drugs, and to this day I’m not sure why Cousin is/was friends with him, because he seemed very…jovially unpleasant, if that makes sense.) It was a lot of stress that she didn’t need, and I can see being worried about that.

          Because it’s one thing if someone “lacks stable housing” and needs a place to stay. But when drugs come into play, it can get bad.

          I’m always a little nervous when folks just nebulously refer to “drugs” (because of personal experiences), because there’s a wealth of difference between “smokes pot recreationally” and “has a problem with heroine.”

          But we don’t actually know what is involved her. LW does. So…yeah.

          I can’t blame the boyfriend for being uncomfortable, but I can’t blame LW for being uncomfortable that her boyfriend is uncomfortable.


          For me this echoes a way that my roommate and I got burned very very badly by someone who’s judgement we trusted.

        2. Someone whose thought process is that their partner’s friend lacks stable housing, which means that friend might eventually need to stay with the partner, which might cause them some second-hand stress and annoyance, and therefore is concerned about the friendship continuing
          Yeah, that would be a concern. That’s digging a ditch to create a river to build a bridge over to cross before you get to it.

      2. I didn’t see this as a nightmarish scenario, so much as a request for clarification. A lot of information can be packed into simple statements like “a bit of a mess”– it’s kind of like a glittering generality that makes everyone feel like they understand, but it’s not really a shared understanding, because everyone is just filling in the meaning for themselves. Like RabbitRabbit, I would also like to know (in more precise terms) what it means when the LW says Steve is “a bit of a mess” and “does drugs,” because the scope of possibility is just too big to guess at.

        1. Agreed. I mean, one of the heaviest drug users I know is an ex-boyfriend who used to smoke pot daily and drop acid or take mushrooms from time to time – while working on his PhD in particle physics. It’s safe to say he was a bit of a mess, but he wasn’t about to ruin my life because of that.

      3. I’m concerned that this sounds like it could be a Broken Stair from the perspective of one of the friends he hasn’t messed with (yet).

    2. Eh…LW seems to have pretty good boundaries in place w/regard to Steve and his life choices. Your concern, and BF’s, if it exists, seems unnecessary.

      1. Maybe. It’s hard to tell from the letter, and may be hard for the BF to tell as well. It’s something to reframe the concern around, possibly.

    3. I can understand being concerned about a friendship with someone potentially abusive, but a couple of those things don’t seem like they’d be the boyfriend’s concern even if they were true. Let’s say Steve is a couch-surfer. So what? Let’s even say that at some point he surfs on the LW’s couch. Again so what? The boyfriend doesn’t live there, and it’s the LW’s prerogative to decide who shares her housing.

    4. Huh. I’m a bit iffy about making judgments on people based on those two things. I both know people who have done or still do hard drugs, or have very unstable living conditions. Usually it’s the result of coming from a really fucked up background, mental health issues and/or extreme poverty.

      I agree that this sort of situation can bring the worst out of people and that you might want to be careful and extra aware of boundaries if you’re easily drawn into taking care of others. I disagree with the fact that you should cut yourself entirely off “people like that” on principle, and never socialise with them even in a casual setting.

      I can understand doing so as a personal rule if it’s something you know is too much to deal with for you. I’m not so keen on the idea that respectable folks shouldn’t ever lower themselves to interact with those screwups.

      1. And I certainly didn’t say they shouldn’t ‘interact with screwups.’ I’ve been in bad places myself at times. But it’s hard to tell exactly what Steve’s like. Is it the more benign, keeping-it-mostly-together or at least not exploding other people’s lives type, or is he dragging friends into his problems and is running out of other people who will keep him in their lives?

        BF may indeed be irrationally jealous of Steve. He may also see something the OP isn’t mentioning.

        I have a relative who I would happily hang out with – at her place, not mine – back when she had a history of some arguing with her husband, minor stealing (can’t take anything I don’t let out of my sight), drinking a whole lot, etc. When she escalated to physical abuse of husband/boyfriend (including in public), public intoxication, abusing prescription meds and other drugs, I cut back to family gatherings and occasional phone calls. When she slipped into heavy drug use, physically attacking another relative for literally no reason, and alternating between whimpery “I love you” calls and calls where she’s screaming obscenities and threatening lawsuits over stuff completely made up, then forget it.

        1. Just because people sometimes fall down the slippery slope doesn’t mean you have to cut them off before they’ve got a toe on the downhill. His behavior is fine in the situations to which she confines their meetings, he has not crashed on the couch of BF or OP, and they catch up about twice a year.

          BF needs to trust OP’s judgment to spot when Steve actually gets toxic, not catastrophize that OP is going to somehow get sucked into the role of drug buddy and rent-free landlord.

    5. I wondered exactly the same things RabbitRabbit did. I admit that I’m something of a party pooper when it comes to drugs – heck, I own my party pooper-hood – but I would be concerned if anybody I cared for, be it romantic partner or good friend, was pals with someone who could be described as “does drugs” and “a bit of a mess.” Particularly the first one. Of course, as Rabbit said, it kind of depends on the drugs, but I’m guessing if the OP had meant “smoked pot,” she would have said so, so I have to assume it’s something a bit more serious than that, and yes, that would definitely concern me.

      Of course, there could be some jealousy mixed up in there, too – people often have a mixture of good motives and bad motives for their opinions, and the OP’s boyfriend could too.

      1. It’s fine if you yourself don’t want to associate with anyone who does drugs (although I find that pretty judgmental; I don’t even know much about any of my friends’ drug use or lack thereof, as it’s none of my business), but once you get into the territory of telling your partner they can’t associate with anyone who does drugs either, that’s a problem.

        I’m also more than “a bit of a mess” right now due to mental health and stress and poverty and lack of a job and a looming dissertation deadline, and I’m really glad that my friends and my husband haven’t decided to dump me and run away because they don’t want to associate with anybody who isn’t fully put together at all times.

        1. It sounds as though I offended you, and if so, I am sorry. “A bit of a mess” can mean a lot of things, and you are absolutely right that some of those things I ought not be judgy about. And in fact, there are “messy” things I am not judgy about. It’s not like I and my friends and family are perfect in every way, nor do we have everything together. We’ve all had stress and we’ve been poor and at least some of us (though not me) have experienced a “looming dissertation deadline.” Life is often messy, and those of us who are in it are sometimes messy too.

          But some things I do feel perfectly justified in feeling judgy about, and one of them is someone who regularly “does drugs.” I have good reasons for this, and I am not ashamed of those reasons. Would I threaten to cut off a friend who was friends with someone like that? No, of course not. (And in fact I have been in situation, and I am still friends with that person and have been friends for decades.) Would I think the friend might be making an error? Yes, I probably would (and did).

          In any case, the situation as described by the OP is completely different from yours, as far as I can tell. The big difference is that your friends and husband love you – of course they aren’t going to dump you or run away. But Steve is only a casual friend to the OP – he’s not an important part of her life, or at least not as presented in the letter. And of course he’s nothing to the OP’s boyfriend except this somewhat unpleasant person his GF is casual friends with. So the situations are simply not analogous to the one you raised.

          It’s possible Steve is basically OK – just a bit messy – and that the BF’s feelings are completely irrational. But it’s also possible that he’s bad news, and it’s additionally possible that the BF has picked up on this while the OP has not. The BF doesn’t have the right to dictate anything to the OP, of course, but if he genuinely thinks Steve is bad news, what’s he supposed to do?

          1. but if he genuinely thinks Steve is bad news, what’s he supposed to do?

            To be blunt, he should decide whether he wants to keep dating LW. It’s totally reasonable to voice your concerns, but if your partner doesn’t share them or doesn’t make the decision you want them to then you’re kind of stuck with deciding whether you want to keep dating them or not.

            The big caveat here is that I used to date a controlling and emotionally abusive dirtbag and I can’t tolerate a romantic partner telling me who I’m allowed to be friends with. My take on this whole thing is that boyfriend is the only one who gets to decide who he spends time with, and he is the only one who decides whether he wants to keep dating LW. What he is absolutely not allowed to decide is who LW gets to spend time with. If he doesn’t like how she lives her life, he is completely free to stop dating her.

  7. Im Australian (f) I’m pretty sure enthusiasm can, in another light, be intensity, and in that realm can be jealousy.
    I read your cultural angle as wanting a “misunderstanding” explanation for something that makes you uncomfortable.
    It’s actually not a question of culture here. Australian culture is young and hodge podge and relies a lot on iconography – Vegemite, Gallipoli, etc. It’s not deeply lived in the way of old cultures. It’s not a reason for plain old possessiveness being not suspect.

    The captain didn’t mention Australian ness. No need for you to bother with the mystery of it all in this case either, mate.

    1. Also, like, you don’t have to accept behavior that makes you uncomfortable just because it comes from another culture. Cultural differences give you good context from which to have discussions/set boundaries, but you don’t have to go “Welp, that person’s from X place and that’s how they do things there, so oh well!” if it’s something that really bothers you.

      1. Right. People learn patterns and values from their cultures, but an individual has a choice in whether they adopt those or not, plus the choice on how they are going to act on them. If a they choose to adopt their cultural’s patterns and values and act in a way that is negatively affecting you and your autonomy, you are not obliged to tolerate poor treatment because someone says “It’s my culture!”

  8. I think the Captain is right about your BF’s state of mind and that it’s a good idea to pay attention to what else BF gets worked up about, and to what extent.

    Self-improvement can be a wonderful impulse, when balanced by the acceptance that we’re all flawed humans who can be worthy of love and respect, imperfections and all. But if it turns into an obsession or a channel for other feelings, it can also become a gateway to excessive self-criticism and being judgemental and critical and controlling of others, especially loved ones.

    You haven’t known BF for that long, and so far this has been the only issue, so I don’t think it’s cause for alarm yet. Hopefully he’s in that first group of self-improvers. But keep an eye out and watch for patterns over time. If he gets disappointed by any decision you make that doesn’t meet his standards in a way that starts to make you feel bad, or if he’s spending a tonne of time telling you about his assessments of your friends and decisions that you didn’t ask for and don’t want to hear, you might want to take a step back and either address the issues with him or find an exit if he’s unwilling to listen.

    Good luck! I hope this is an isolated thing. It’s possible your BF has some past experiences with people who abuse substances that is causing him to be overly fixated on this. If that’s the case, it’s cool to be patient with him and help him work through it a bit, but keep in mind it’s ultimately on him to address his stuff. It’s not on you to modify your life and choices never to remind him of things he feels uncomfortable about.

  9. I have a friend who’s a hot mess. But because I am a generally well-balanced person with a strong sense of values, morals, and personal lifestyle rules for myself, her hot-messedness doesn’t influence me one bit. We get together, we have fun, than she goes back to her poor lifestyle choices and I go back to being my strict rule-following self. If anything, her being a hot mess serves as a living example of what not to do. i think we all need one friend like this.

    Keep on keeping on with this friendship, LW. It sounds like Steve’s poor habits haven’t rubbed off on you a bit. Watch for patterns and act accordingly.

  10. I had a Steve in my life for a long time… except Steve was a sexist misogynistic jerk and my partner never met him and never said anything to me directly about him, he only heard stories that I’d repeat. I made excuses for my Steve because originally he wasn’t a huge jerk when I met him… he only devolved into this type of person over time and like a frog sitting in a pot of water on the stove, I was blind to how horrible he had been treating me over time.

    Eventually though, I woke up to it and kicked Steve to the curb. I was done with the comments, the interruptions, the talking down to, the arguments about feminism/women, being belittled and anything else he’d subjected me to for 7 years, best friend or not.

    When I told my partner that I’d finally dumped Steve, his response was “I was wondering why it took you so long”. He’d made his judgement about Steve long ago but kept quiet, letting me finally come to the decision about what a royal fart-head he was. In one sense, I can appreciate that he kept his opinions to himself and let me decide what to do, as my friends were my choice… but on the other hand, maybe his opinion and insight might’ve helped kick my butt into getting rid of a toxic person that I *didn’t* need in my life. I value and trust my partner’s opinion and view on people a lot and I know he wouldn’t ever try to control who I hang out with… jealousy isn’t an issue in our relationship.

    I agree that this isn’t a red flag but it could also be a sign that maybe your boyfriend sees something you might not see and it might be worth taking into account. Or as commenter S says, it’s sometimes ok to have unhealthy people in your life, as long as they’re not totally terrible for you. I needed to kick my Steve to the curb and get him out of my life 100% and part of me wishes someone had given me more of a shake about it.

    1. This resonates with me. I am often that person in my friends’ lives that is the first to say, “Hey, this person, the one you introduced me to? They seem pretty toxic [in xyz ways]… like, to the point where I never want to be around them again, ever. Have you noticed that? What do you think about it?”

      In a lot of cases, they’re relieved that someone else noticed enough to point it out, having convinced themselves it wasn’t “that bad” or that they were making a mountain out of molehill. Often they ask for help in drawing boundaries or dumping the person altogether, and I end up being their cheerleader for that. In other cases, they say, “Yeah, Name has some problems. I keep them around as a low-doses friend but they’re definitely not everyone’s cup of tea and you don’t have to be around them if you don’t want to.” And then I accept that and make my own boundary: we don’t talk about them, and I get forewarning if they’re going to be at a group function so I can choose not to go.

      I was abused for so, so long and no one ever said anything, and it still haunts me that no one seemed to notice. For that reason, it’s really important to me that I keep calling out toxic, manipulative, and abusive people where I see them–even if no one else sees it. I’ve also experienced a lot of… let’s call it toxicity-by-assocation: friend has a toxic person in their life, and that person rubs off on them in some way. Either they start showing some of the same behaviors, or they get drawn into the toxic person’s group and suddenly all their friends are assholes who they want me to try to get along with, or they start excusing awful behavior in general because if they don’t then they would have to admit that their friend is kind of awful… etc. My guess is, that’s what the boyfriend is afraid of here. That doesn’t really change the advice any–LW can still hang out with whoever they please, and boyfriend needs to deal and set his own boundaries accordingly–but it’s a slightly more sympathetic take on what might be going on with him.

  11. I think it’s totally fine to be realistic about, I see how this could be a problem, but I do it once every six months and that works fine for me and I don’t see any need to fix it.

    I agree, the first thing that jumped out at me was boyfriend felt jealous but buried those feelings in more acceptable but less convincing reasons. The good news is, if he really is doing well at improving himself, he may be persuaded by that — it’s ok to be jealous of people sometimes, but I’m not interested in Steve like that and trying to pretend I am isn’t kind to me. He may Get It and work on managing the jealousy. Or it may blow over entirely without any more change.

    Hopefully it will NOT become a recurring thing of him trying to Improve you in ways you don’t need improving. If that keeps getting worse, that’s not acceptable 😦

    I’m betting on sexual jealousy, but it’s also possible that something specific about Steve trips your boyfriend’s red-flag-filter. Like, maybe someone flaky that way really screwed up Boyfriend in the past or similar. In which case, he *still* shouldn’t control who you see, but if you ask what specifically he’s worried about you might be able to give some more specific reassurance.

  12. I think I dated this dude once, but for the Aussie-ness! And it wasn’t a car crash or anything, but it was imperfect. The final nail in the coffin of our relationship was me spending a beautiful weekend with some close friends of mine who are stoners and remembering that while I’m *not* a stoner I do *like* stoners, and then coming back to BF’s disapproval and just thinking, nah.

    This bit, though, made me nervous: ‘…when I clearly was so otherwise good in my judgement of people.’

    The framework ‘you’re so good at X apart from when you’re doing This One X-related Thing I Don’t Like’ is designed to make you go, ‘yes, I *am* really good at X’ and do a little preen.

    And then it’s designed to make you go ‘…and I want to keep being good at X.’

    And then ‘…but uh-oh, I’m letting down my usual X-related high standards by doing This One Thing the person telling me this doesn’t like. And it’s not just them I’d be letting down, it’s me and my high standards too.’

    And then ‘…so I’d better stop’.

    Just because he tells you that you’re normally a better judge of people than this, with the implication that this judgement you’re making right now is not good enough and should therefore be reversed, that doesn’t make it so.

    If he uses this framework a lot, it’s a power play.

    1. The “when I clearly was so otherwise good in my judgement of people” jumped out at me too. I’ve had people say things like that, when what they really mean is “agree with me or I’m going to think less of you”, which, nope. That’s emotional blackmail of a sort. Maybe this is a blip in your relationship (I hope so!), but if it turns out to be a pattern, watch out.

    2. Potential retort: “Yes, I *am* generally a good judge of character…so my judgment of Steve is probably better than yours.”

      1. And even then, it seems like LW and BF have not-dissimilar judgements of Steve’s character? BF thinks “ew, Steve is a drug user and a mess” and LW has shrugged and said “eh, yeah, Steve’s a person who does drugs and is a bit of a mess.”

        It’s not about LW thinking Steve is amaaaaaaazing and farts rainbows and is just the best person who makes the best choices and should be emulated everrrr! It’s about LW’s personal choice of saying “I feel okay sometimes hanging out with this fun person who doesn’t have the best qualities.”

    3. Agreed, that seems really manipulative to me and it’s kind of creeping me out. It’s not impossible that he learned to be manipulative as a coping method in that previous very difficult relationship, but it’s really not a good sign that he (if I’m understanding the situation correctly) first tried to get LW to explain/justify wanting to spend time around Steve occasionally and then jumped to manipulation when he didn’t get the promise not to ever see Steve again that he seems to want.

      I don’t know that I’d immediately dump someone I otherwise really liked over one issue like this, but please keep an eye out for any more controlling or manipulative behaviour, LW. You’re definitely not just being silly. And if at any point you decide this is too much emotional labour for a 4 month old relationship, I sure wouldn’t blame you.

    4. Yes yes yes. The way you speak to someone who you actually respect on X is along the lines of “Hmm, I didn’t see that coming, but you’re good at X, so tell me what I’m missing.” His way is what you say when you believe you’re the better judge and you only respect the other person’s opinion to the point that it aligns with yours.

    5. In a way, Pickup Artists have contributed something very valuable to the discourse around healthy relationships: they’ve categorized and compiled sets of manipulative behaviors that can be as easily used as guides on how to spot manipulation and avoid the effects as guides on how to manipulate people.

      This is a classic backhanded compliment or “neg” in PUA parlance, and Anna Badger does a great job of breaking down how the manipulation operates. That BF did this once doesn’t necessarily mean he’s into PUA (people arrive at the same patterns of manipulation that work in a given social context independently all the time, because what works will in large part be determined by that social context) or won’t be able to start using healthier ways of managing his feelings around Steve (or other people like Steve), but I definitely second Anna Badger that one should pay attention to whether this is part of a pattern that indicates a deeper problem.

  13. To me, it sounds like OP’s boyfriend has had a lot of bad experiences with drunks and drug users, and is gun shy. It’s still early in the relationship. He’s still getting a read for what kind of person OP is. He needs time to weigh the evidence and accept that OP is basically straitlaced but with one or two small doses friends who party, rather than someone who has a secret alcohol or drug problem that they’ve waited a few months to spring on him. Unfortunately, the latter kind of partner is out there, and it sounds like that’s what he’s worried about.

    1. I think that’s fair. I also think that it would be wise of him to keep most of that assessment process to himself, though, rather than pointing out red flags to her as he sees them. A secret drug or alcohol problem isn’t something you can communicate your way out of, and talking about his assessment process is stressing the LW out. I think it’s fine for people to be gun shy, but he also needs to bear most of the emotional burden of that himself rather than outsourcing it to the person he’s unsure about.

      1. Exactly. I think it’s fine to say, hey I’m not a fan of Steve because reasons, and therefore would prefer not to hang. But that should be the end of it. The whole judging LW is what bugs me.

    2. Yes! This is exactly what I came here to say. I think the Captain is wrong to jump quickly to “your boyfriend is being controlling and jealous”; it sounds from the letter like he was more like, “You do you, but this is concerning to me.” Other important factors from the letter:

      – both the LW & boyfriend used to be “carers” in previous (not good?) relationships
      – they don’t know each other’s friend groups well yet
      – LW likes to party sometimes
      – boyfriend is trying to get toxic people out of his life

      It sounds like boyfriend is trying to evaluate LW’s judgment over something that should really be a low bar. If Steve isn’t a big part of LW’s life, as LW says, is there a reason why this is becoming a big deal? Is there a reason why LW didn’t just say, “You’re right that Steve’s a mess, and I know that getting away from toxicity is important to you, so I’ll think about how much he’s affecting my lifestyle and make decisions accordingly”?

      I think LW was right to write in — I don’t think this is about jealousy. I think jealousy is a convenient cover for not thinking about a deeper problem, which is that LW’s attitude toward toxic people is fundamentally different from boyfriend’s. That doesn’t necessarily make either of them the bad guy, but it also won’t go away easily. LW, I think this is worth examining in more detail and talking out in a conversation that has nothing to do with Steve, and instead has to do with what expectations you and your boyfriend have about how much partying/toxicity your communities will include.

      1. Agree. I think it could be the scenario here. Maybe LW should have a more direct approach with her boyfriend, especially if he reiterates this argument.

        When I distanced myself from a toxic friend, I had a very cautious approach with potential friendships because I was afraid to be burned again.

    3. Same (on the OP’s boyfriend may be gun shy because of bad experiences with drug users).

      There are also non-emotional/non-moral reasons to have to utterly avoid certain kinds of drug use and drug users. I have asthma that is made worse by both pot and cigarette smoke (especially pot – people smoking it in my neighborhood has led to my needing emergency medical care before) and to make things worse, certain smells, with pot being the #1 offender, are also major migraine triggers for me. I physically can’t be around weed, people who’ve smoked it, or places where it’s been smoked, and I also can’t be around people who have themselves been around those things because the tiniest trace of it on their clothes/hair can be a trigger.

      That’s an extreme case and I highly doubt OP’s boyfriend shares my experience of having to spend 4/20 in an emergency room, or the OP would have mentioned it, but there are indeed reasons other than jealousy to have to say “if you’re around people who use recreational drugs you can’t be around me.”

  14. another potential factor at play is projection, as in, he’s projecting what he would do in her situation onto her. sometimes when my partner (we’re poly) is interested in someone who alerts all of my DANGER signals, or reminds me of past abusive partners, i get in a spot where i have to balance out what’s real/what’s not and what’s my business/what’s not. my fearful lizard brain wants to make everything that reminds me of past abuse to stop immediately, ie for this new person to go away. in real life, though, i don’t want to control my partner or exist at the whims of my fears. so i mine them for insight (what’s real), take deep breaths and ride out my triggers (responding to past trauma and not a current, real situation), share my thoughts if appropriate and asked for (what’s my business), and let it play out because these aren’t my relationships and my partner is not me (it’s not my business, and i can set boundaries around what might affect me).

    i’m often able to talk through/process the complicated things that come up with my partner, and i’m not always proudest of myself in those moments, but i am able to recognize, ‘hey, this might be jealousy and i’m trying to be clear to myself about boundaries here but i don’t feel great around this person so i will probably step back from interacting with them, and if you want to hear more we can talk about it.’ and then, if partner is open to helping me sift through some things, i can name some of the red flags and some of the fears. if partner doesn’t have the spoons to hear “hey this cutie reminds me of past abusers,” it’s ok because i can self-soothe and also trust her and can just ride it out. inevitably either i’m very wrong and the person’s awesome (yay) or i was right and their interaction ends because my partner also doesn’t want to be in dysfunctional ish, just needed to find out in her own way.

    it took a minute (=years) for me to get here and i’d like to get beyond the initial possessive impulses/over-projection because it’s just not cute, but in early days of overcoming abusive relationships i definitely defined ‘toxic’ people very broadly and cut them out of my life very quickly and made black-and-white judgments on other people my sweeties were interested in, so i could recognize a past me in the boyfriend’s actions. it’s not entirely about having the feeling in the first place (jealousy/projection/hard boundaries around certain kinds of ppl) but about what kind of action that translates into (possessiveness/control or seeking to understand/letting it go?).

  15. You two have only been dating for a few months, so it’s still early enough to not really know-know a person. Perhaps there’s an undercurrent of, “This isn’t who I thought LW was! Is this who she is? Who is she?”

  16. Yeah, I’m not wild about the way this dude is expressing his concern, although I agree that it is not itself a dealbreaker–just something to watch out for, to see if it becomes part of a pattern or not.

    It’s possible to express your dislike of a partner’s friend without the word “concern” or the implied Call To Action. My current gentleman is not crazy about one of the exes I’m still friends with, and has even said something along the lines of “I don’t really see the appeal but you say he’s a good friend so okay,” but he’s goodnatured about it. He’s entitled to an opinion and it causes no friction since he doesn’t expect me to do or change anything about my friendship with this ex.

    On the other hand, I’ve had experiences–once with a friend, once with a partner–where I observed that hanging out with a specific person changed my friend/partner’s behavior in a way that I didn’t like (in both cases, they got weirdly small and self-effacing yet defensive and kind of mean, because those other people were indeed Toxic). So the issue wasn’t just that I didn’t like the person, but that I didn’t like who my friend/partner became around that person. I could see that being a possibility here–perhaps the hanging out with Steve causes the LW to act differently toward BF–but if that’s the case, then that’s what the BF needs to say.

    1. Yes, I had a similar thought! My comment is stuck in moderation right now, but that was my first reaction– that perhaps the boyfriend doesn’t really like who LW becomes when with that particular friend. I like your description of “small and self-effacing yet defensive and kind of mean.” That is exactly how my now-ex behaved when he was with his dysfunctional aunt and her boyfriend. After a while I wouldn’t hang out with them together, because they would not only drink themselves into a stupor, but would say the most intolerable things as though they were the height of wit.

    2. I’d be open to this thought as well. My husband once made a woman friend who I disliked from the get-go. This was after we’d been together twenty-ish years, so there was a history of me not being uncomfortable with him having close friendships with other women.

      But if we’d only been going out three months I still wouldn’t have liked her.

      Jealousy is definitely a possibility, but if the boyfriend is usually a beam-of-sunshine guy, it’s also worth considering that he’s seeing something that you’re missing. Or maybe not even seeing anything – I couldn’t have told you at the time why I’d such a strong reaction about this person – it was more an instinctive thing. (My dh stayed friends with the woman for 6 months to a year, and I made the choice your boyfriend did, and bowed out of socialising with her as much as was possible – and the way it played out, I think my instinctive reaction proved justified.)

        1. Steve doesn’t even have to be an Objectively Bad Person for Boyfriend not to like him, or to not like who LW is around him, too! I thought this letter was super interesting because we often see letters from the other perspective – someone who really dislikes a friend of their partner’s. I think there is a scenario where BF is “the problem”, scenarios where Steve is “the problem”, and scenarios where nobody is toxic or bad but are never going to on and perhaps should be kept apart!

          1. This! I definitely don’t want to solve the Boyfriend vs. Steve question. Occam’s razor indicated jealousy to me, not necessarily at a BREAK UP NOW level, more a “hrmmm, are we compatible around this, bears monitoring” level. All of the articulate “this would be my sensible, reasonable, clear boundary around drug use” are understandable but don’t track with what the boyfri nd said or did. I think he wanted his opting out of Steve time to automatically prompt the LW to opt out too, and when she hung out with Steve anyway he was upset. Only the LW can decide about what she’s okay with. “Bears watching” doesn’t = evil and my opinion isn’t the deciding one.

            Signs that it IS controlling on the boyfriend’s part include:

            1) Boyfriend won’t let it drop and keeps bringing him up for weeks/whenever they argue.

            2) LW decides it would just be easier to not tell BF if she hangs out with Steve.

            3) LW decides it would just be easier to not hang out with Steve b/c the friction with partner isn’t worth it.

            If any of that stuff happens in the future, be wary. Until then the jury is out.

  17. I am really uncomfortable about drug use for non-moralizing personal reasons I don’t go into (because people dont take them seriously, TBH, even though I think they are good reasons), and I would be uncomfortable with an SO who hung out with people who use drugs, even when they were not using. This is maybe not reasonable, but it IS a thing that I feel quite strongly, and it’s a thing I need to have respected in my life. I’m explicit about my feelings, and up front. I know I can’t control my partner and I wouldn’t want to, but this is also a thing I feel it is reasonable to have issues with. Maybe LW’s BF can work on this in therapy, but I don’t feel his feelings are unreasonable, even if it might be unreasonable for him to expect LW to avoid Steve and other drug users entirely.

    I think LW might do well to explore this with BF. It’s possible he, like me, is just veeeeery uncomfortable about drug use for personal reasons. And I personally think that’s okay. If this were the case with BF, the problem would not be his limits! Limits are okay! It would be with the communication or lack thereof, and the *unspoken/unrealized* expectation that BF expects his SO not to have to do with people who use drugs.

    Basically, I see a lot of people glossing over the deeper reasons why BF might have these feelings and I think it’s worth looking at in depth. He may have issues that need to be explored . . . compassionately. People dismiss my reasons, since nobody ever got hurt, but they are serious for me, and that is painful.

    Sorry for my bad/weird English!

    1. In the time it took me to type, at least 3 people have said something similar, so that’s good I guess.

      I’m sorry if what I said reads badly. I realized I am projecting a lot because this is a really sore spot with me personally. Please take my comment with some salt!

    2. Hi! I think it’s an useful perspective to think about, thanks for sharing 🙂
      The BF is obviously entitled to his boundaries and the reasons thereof are good and valid reasons in the same way yours are: if they’re important to you, they shouldn’t be dismissed by the people who care about you.

      Likewise, the LW is entitled to their friendships and to managing their time however they see fit. A conversation with their BF about why he has those boundaries may be important and illuminating, but I think the BF should frame it as “this is a me-issue, not an us-issue, and I get that it’s my job to manage it but if you could do X to make it easier for me that’d be awesome”. And then the LW gets to decide if X is doable.

    3. No, you’re not the only one who feels that way about drugs and being near people who take them. I mean, BF can’t tell LW who to hang out with or avoid. If he is leery of Steve because he (BF) doesn’t want to date people who hang out with others who take drugs, then LW and BF need to have a conversation about their future, for sure, because LW is still going to hang out with Steve.

      But yes, if BF has had past bad experiences with drug users or has other reasons for not wanting anything to do with them, even through mutual friends, then he doesn’t have to.

      I have never used drugs but have had very bad experiences with those who did (including “softer” drugs), and I’ve had additional bad experiences with people belittling my not wanting to be around drugs. Plus additional reasons for not liking drugs that, like you, I won’t explain. You have every right to not want anything to do with that scene.

    4. I don’t think anyone should be dismissing your reasons, Rab. They may not agree with your reasons, but they can be respectful about it.

      I also would not want an SO who regularly hangs out with people who recreationally use drugs. I respect people’s choices in choosing to use drugs for whatever purpose, but the recreational drug scene is not something I can relate to or want to hang around. There are lots of ordinary activities that fall into the same category. You might have different reasons and feelings about it than I do, Rab, but you are not alone in this being an important factor in your relationships. So others have replied, too!

      In the LW’s case, I would not have a problem with my SO going out once or twice a year with an old friend who did drugs. I know a Steve myself, and although he is not a close friend, he is fun to hang out and converse with for a while, on occasion, when he’s sober. That’s all I want. I can’t really make more room in my life for him, since we have such an incompatibility.

      But if my new SO had a sexual past with that drug-using friend… oh yeah, I’d be jealous and worried about drug-using friend trying to start things up again sexually. Or if they were really close and SO had a history of helping out – or bailing out – drug-using friend, I’d be worried that drug-using friend could pull SO and myself into a lot of drama and create problems for us. But I would also talk to SO about those worries, not use a passive-agressive statement of “you usually have good judgement about people…” ugh!

    5. Same. I am not ok with recreational drugs, no not even that one, or that one, or that one, regardless of legality. I’m not ok with any of them.
      The thing is, that’s a boundary I have for myself and not one I can impose on other people. 100% reasonable feelings aren’t an excuse to control other people’s lives.
      LW doesn’t have to share BF’s hard boundaries around drugs. That might mean they are incompatible as long term partners, and at the very least that they should probably talk about what this means for their social lives, individually and as a couple, but neither gets to unilaterally draw or erase a boundary for both.

      Maybe BF really needs a partner who is as straight edge as he is, and realizing that LW isn’t always in his range of the straight edge spectrum is in fact a red flag. For the relationship.

    6. I see your position as completely different from BF’s because you say flat out that you would be uncomfortable with an SO who hung out with people who use drugs because you are uncomfortable about drug use. You own that your concern is about you. That is honest and straightforward, and you are entitled to have and hold fast to that.*

      On the other hand, BF is expressing his discomfort with Steve as being concern about LW. Steve is “really bad” for LW, “potentially toxic”, and ” ‘it was a red flag’ “. BF is not owning that the discomfort is *his,* so we don’t know what his reasons are.
      If BF had said “I am uncomfortable about your seeing Steve because XYZ [about BF],” then we’d know and the Captain wouldn’t have had to say “I think BF is jealous.”

      Maybe BF has the same reasons you do, but until he admits and expresses them as his own, his making this about LW is disingenuous.

      * people don’t have to agree with your reasons, but anyone who tries to dismiss them and manipulate you into doing something you don’t want to is crap.
      Why are you apologizing for your English? It’s excellent.

  18. But, LW, you said yourself that he typically gets along really well with your friends. Surely some of those friends are dudes? Has he never met a dudepal or an ex of yours? I guess y’all have only been doing this a few months, so it’s entirely possible he hasn’t. In this case, I want to give your boyfriend the benefit of the doubt, because as a fellow non-partier, super drunk-druggies make me extremely uncomfortable to be around. I’m talking, overwhelmed with anxiety and unhappiness. Maybe he’s just trying to articulate his anxiety in a way that doesn’t sound like directionless whining, and a little anxious that he will have to see Steve again/hear you talk about how great/awful Steve is.

    Obviously, though, you can gauge the situation better than I, a stranger on the literal opposite side of the planet, can. I trust your judgment.

    In this case I think a, “You’ve given me some stuff to think about. I appreciate your input. Can you trust me to make my own decision on this going forward?” should do it. I say “should,” because if your boyfriend objects to that or initially agrees but doesn’t follow through on the boundary, that tells you something very important about him. Talkin’ about red flags.

    1. But, LW, you said yourself that he typically gets along really well with your friends. Surely some of those friends are dudes? Has he never met a dudepal or an ex of yours? I guess y’all have only been doing this a few months, so it’s entirely possible he hasn’t.

      I presumed that Steve was the first ex lover, still friend that boyfriend has met.

      And, my experience of men who get mad at women for occasionally hanging out with male exes is that the ex factor set them off.

      Yeah, yeah, the ostensible reason is Ex is toxic (because Ex likes guns, Ex hates guns, Ex did drugs, Ex is a teatotaler, Ex is a teacher, Ex is a musician, Ex hates opera, etc).

      But no, I don’t think that the boyfriend is reasonable.

  19. I’m seeing some jealousy here, but I think there’s also something to the strict avoidance of toxic people angle. If the boyfriend is highly focused on that, he might be expecting that everyone close to him also shuns all toxic people. I think that’s an expectation that’s likely to result in not finding many people to be close to, but I can see someone wanting a very high degree of self-protection and veering that direction.

    I’m assuming you’ve talked to your boyfriend a bit about Steve if he knows about his drug history and other issues despite having only met him for a short period of time. I would say that your boyfriend might not be a good person to talk to about Steve’s problems, or about any stresses you might have in dealing with them. I likewise think you might want to try shutting down the conversation if he wants to bring Steve up. Maybe an affirmation that Steve’s your friend and is going to stay your friend, and that it isn’t necessary for either of you to talk about what he does on his own time? I think you might also want to have a discussion about how you’re both healing from your past relationships, but that each of your healing processes aren’t going to look exactly alike and that you each are going to have some boundaries the other may not.

  20. This is a strange experience for me, because it is one of those very rare times where I disagree with the Captain’s reading. I don’t get the sense that your current boyfriend is jealous. I believe that he simply doesn’t like your friend, and–if I can hazard a guess–I suspect he doesn’t enjoy the side of you that this particular friend brings out. I’m honing in on this part of your letter:

    “However, I wonder if BF is idolising me and thinking I can Do No Wrong and is a bit shocked that I do have friends who like to get drunk, or that I do occasionally stay up late drinking cocktails, and he hasn’t seen me do this much because we don’t like to do that and we don’t bring it out in one another.”

    He doesn’t have to idolize you to be taken aback when you engage in behaviors that he is unfamiliar with. I have many friends whom I enjoy very much most of the time, but yet completely loathe when they are in certain company, or when they’ve had more than two drinks. Maybe this is a red flag about your boyfriend’s controlling impulses, or maybe its more of a red flag for your relationship that he won’t ever really be ok with (to revise your phrasing a bit) those less than healthy inclinations you indulge in with Steve.

    Or maybe it’s a red flag about Steve? To what extent is Steve a Missing Stair that you just don’t really notice any more, because you’re used to thinking he’s harmless? I ask this only because this blog has a long history of getting people to actually notice and then rethink toxic friendships. What are those things about Steve that, as you say, you’ve learned not to take too seriously? Asking from genuine care and interest.

    1. While Steve may possibly be a “missing stair”, he only comes to town about once every 6 months, so it’s not as if LW is spending every Friday night in his company.
      I have a former co-worker that I find very amusing in small doses. Wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time in his company, but I wouldn’t say no to a catchup drink once or twice a year. I get the impression that LW feels that way about Steve.

      1. True. But it’s never a bad thing to pause and try to focus on whether we have Missing Stairs in our lives, and whether we want to be a part of systems that sustain them and allow them to trip other unsuspecting people. Maybe Steve is, maybe he isn’t. I have no way of knowing.

    2. Yup, I totally agree here. This doesn’t have to be a red flag about the boyfriend — it might be a flag about something else.

  21. It sounds as though your boyfriend is confusing, or deliberately conflating, the idea of a “toxic” person in the sense of someone who mistreats or is otherwise bad for the people around them, with the idea of someone who is living an unhealthy lifestyle. Yes, someone can be both: but what we know here is that Steve drinks more than you or your boyfriend, and possibly more than is good for him. Yes. he Steve could be a bad influence on some people, but it doesn’t sound like you’re likely to be tempted into excess drinking or partying. A vague criticism like “a potentially toxic person” could be “someone I don’t know anything actually bad about, but I dislike anyway,” because who can you be completely sure isn’t even potentially toxic?

    Unless there’s something significant here that you haven’t mentioned, the Captain’s advice seems both good and probably sufficient, and if “I need you to trust me to make my own judgements here” doesn’t work, you might point out that since literally anyone could be described as “potentially toxic,” he has set up a test that it is impossible for Steve to pass.

  22. Personally I can’t get a good read on the BF without knowing more about Steve’s behavior. Was Steve just kind of drunk & loud? Then yeah, BF is a little jealous but you can probably work through it. Did Steve do drugs in the house and vomit all over the yard? Maybe LW sees Steve through rose-colored glasses & doesn’t realize how obnoxious the guy really is.

    Either way, it’s not the BF’s call to make. Luckily, it seems like he gets that. I may be warier than warranted because I’ve been told lots of friends were great people to know, really, you just had to understand that’s how they are, the drugs don’t come in the house, blah blah—and in my experience, most people who get that disclaimer really aren’t that great to know.

  23. My guess, based on almost no evidence, is that Steve reminds BF of someone else, and he’s reacting as if Steve really was that person. It’s also possible that BF didn’t realize that you sometimes drink, and don’t disapprove of drugs as much as he does. Either way, I think he’s just going to have to get used to the reality of things.

  24. I’m taken aback that Boyfriend not only felt okay about passing judgement on who the LW hangs out with, but doubled down by justifying it with terms like “toxic,” “red flag,” and “awful.” On a couple of minutes’ acquaintance! I assume Steve didn’t open up by insulting Boyfriend, Boyfriend’s family, and his hometown, but even so, LW gets to choose who LW hangs with.

    Saying “…he couldn’t understand why I would hang out with a potentially toxic person when I clearly was so otherwise good in my judgement of people” sounds insecure and manipulative to me. Praise LW’s good judgement while pointing out the sad error of hanging out with Steve.

    Boyfriend needs to back off. No matter why he decided to open his mouth and slag LW’s friend, what is he doing policing LW’s social life? Which existed before he met LW, and will continue to exist afterward.

    1. I am assuming that BF’s judgment is based on what LW told him about Steve. So maybe he is jealous and cannot admit it or maybe he is genuinely wondering why LW is still friends with someone they have described as the friend no one would want.

    2. Yeah, I’m much less lenient with BF than most commenters here. LW has been dating this guy for just 4 months and he’s starting to police her social life? Sure, he’s not directly controlling but let’s not forget that controlling people never start out as overtly controlling either. I smell a whiff of judgement on the part of the boyfriend that I find very unpleasant. If he just said “I don’t like Steve”, it would be just fine and dandy, but he’s basically saying he’s “toxic” (which is a pretty strong thing to say about someone he apparently only briefly met) and, what’s worse, he seems to imply this friendship reflects badly on LW’s character.
      Also, being put up on a pedestal is not a good thing, pedestals tend to be easy to fall from…
      I would say: watch that BF closely for other red flags…

    3. I completely agree with you. I dated a guy who’d whip out the “I’m concerned” card whenever I wanted to hang out with dear friends of mine from college who happened to be opposite-gender, and for me, it was a total deal-breaker. LW is the boss of her own life and gets to decide who her friends are. Boyfriend’s only been around a couple of months! This behavior seems really manipulative to me.

    4. Very much agreed. It’s the language around it that bothers me. It sounds very manipulative and condescending. My ex-husband was a member of a conservative religion, and when we first got together he used to say things of a similar sort – like, vaguely complimentary, but in a way that implied I needed guidance or that while this choice was good, I’d be judged if I made a bad one. He grew out of that as he grew out of the religion, but it had a lasting impact of the foundation of our relationship.

  25. Also note for future how many times he brings up Steve when you don’t. If you stop mentioning Steve but he keeps going I’d say THERE is your red flag. Not necessarily of something horrid but just keep an eye out for the jealousy bits. Also the judgement that’s coming across passive aggressive ‘I’m so baffled…’ Why is his being baffled your problem? we accept folks for who they are, or we don’t. But it’s not our job to make other people justify their friendships. This is straight up jealousy I feel. And dishonesty on top of it. He might not be a bad guy but your BF is not being cool.

  26. Hi, LW! I’ve been the boyfriend in this scenario and what was going through my head at that time was not jealousy but concern, which I misguidedly expressed in a controlling way similar to your boyfriend’s. I got rightfully told off, got to work sorting through my uncomfortable feelings, and chilled the fuck out. Problem solved, but it was on me to solve it.

    If your boyfriend has a history of being the carer in relationships, that aspect of his personality can manifest in a very paternalistic and disrespectful way if he’s not careful. I’d pay attention to that, see if he acknowledges that the problem is his and starts working on it without making you take on the emotional labour.

  27. I don’t think it’s concerning that Boyfriend doesn’t like Steve, or that he was surprised to see the side of you that comes out around Steve (which you even say hasn’t come out around him before).

    I do think that the strength of his feelings are surprising. We’re talking about someone you see maybe twice a year, and only associate with in very casual ways; that hardly qualifies as ‘having a toxic person in your life’.

    If Boyfriend had written in about this scenario, I’d tell him to spend some time examining where his reaction was coming from. Could there be threads of jealousy in there, maybe exacerbating the strength of his opposition to Steve even if it’s not the only source of those feelings? For the portion that is concern about Steve’s influence on you, is that 100% about the reality of this very casual relationship, or is it also rooted in Boyfriend’s own experiences that maybe aren’t relevant to this particular case? Has he been putting you on a pedestal in this relationship? Does he feel like he gets a say in who your friends are (and if he does, does he understand how controlling that impulse is)?

    Since you are not Boyfriend, you can’t really answer any of those questions. But it might be worth talking it out with him, if he’s the kind of person who’s good at self-reflection. Either way, I wouldn’t consider this a red flag…but I might see it as kind of a yellow flag, a sign that I should be watching out for other evidence of those kinds of issues. If nothing else comes up, it’s probably a one-off thing and everything’s fine.

  28. My own read is that BF has had some bad experiences around drugs and alcohol, and now finds them kind of aweful and frightening. And was taken aback to find that your views were not as matched to his as he had thought they were, since you could even enjoy being around someone drunk and even drink with them.

    Personally, that’s what I suspect frightened and upset him.

    I don’t think either of you is really ‘wrong’ but it might end up being important to figure out what you can both live with in each other.

    1. I think this is quite possibly what’s going on with BF. If he is frightened of drugs and drunkenness (which lots of people are! I am, sometimes), and if he’s previously thought of LW as ‘safe’ in that regard, then the realisation that she is cool with Steve’s substance use is probably freaking him out. Scary stuff is getting into places where he felt secure. Hence the sudden strong dislike.

      The attempt to justify it shows a lack of self-awareness, though. For someone who can talk the talk about ‘red flags’ and people being ‘toxic’, he doesn’t seem all that clued in to his own responses and his own toxic potential. He doesn’t get to control LW just because he’s afraid.

  29. so…. I’m gonna be honest I think you might be jumping the gun. and I think I see where BF is coming from. at least with all the details I have. You don’t make it sound like BF was being controlling and didn’t try to prevent you going out, just that Steve made him uncomfortable and he didn’t want to go out with him and that he was surprised you did.

    Steve sounds exactly like a person that some people may be put off by. I mean you say he’s a mess, he does drugs and he drinks a lot.

    You say you’re both coming out of bad relationships so I think you’re both overanalyzing.

    Then there’s the uncomfortableness that this guy is your ex and a younger man. you don’t make BF sound like the jealous type but it doesn’t help the situation.

    you say you only see Steve a couple times a year?

    I think you need to just let it cool for a couple days and then come back to it. Just talk it out with bf. I don’t think he’s being totally crazy with this but just explain “look he’s just a friend and I only see him maybe 2-3 times a year, it’s cool if you don’t like him but I just need you to be cool that I do, can you do that?”
    and then both of you try to let it go.

    this is your first conflict, and it’s not an unreasonable one. I wouldn’t even call it a red flag. I think it’s also growing pains. you’ve not even been together 6 months and suddenly here’s your younger ex that you still are friends with. I think honestly cut your bf a little slack and just talk to him.

  30. I have been the Steve and i have been in BF’s position.

    From my perspective BF is zealously trying to achieve some maximum purity and using it to prop up his identity. He isn’t as perfect as he wants to be yet.

    Context matters.

    I have been a young 20s ex-pat living in London.

    It is a subculture to itself.

    Almost its own city.

    The first thing you realize is everybody has a friend who will pass through town at one point.

    It is the main thing.


    So this aussie guy is off doing the Aussie abroad Thing (cliche not withstanding) and acting like he owns London (seems about how i remember them) while still being slightly in awe of the complex he is straddling.

    I lost count of how many dual-citizenships arose from Colonials coupling up with some other nationality during my time there. (FTR i am canadian and married an aussie)

    The more passports you have–the better! Right? They show off their second passports at parties even.

    The peer pressure is unique. Tyring to fit in when you are just passing through while creating community on a spinning plate.

    Please dont expect to retire there! Everybody has an “escape plan” once they have raised their skill set with ‘London Experience” and the status symbol most coveted is that “amazing sunny place far away that you can leave to” while your British colleagues look on in envy.

    So in this highly dynamic community of “international workers” –on top of professional development–is this lust for travel and shared experience.

    BF is in the wrong place.

    He wants you to himself in Byron Bay away from all interference.

    I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt based on the whirlwind atmosphere of the London Transcontinental Traveller scene, and how nerve wracking it might be knowing and seeing some of the other International World Class competition he imagines he is up against, and it sounds like he is trying to cope by using Steve’s mysterious but threatening qualities as a way to self-aggrandize.

    It is only 4 months in and he is not acting like a Fellow Traveller.

    Jealousy is part and parcel of travel. But the ‘aspiring’ kind of jealousy. Of course i am jealous you saw the Taj Mahal. But i am not going to try tell you to skip Khatmandu.

    I am tempted to say his sort of jealousy is ‘toxic’ which makes him a ‘gaslighter.’

    You have provided all the clarity he needs to dissolve his insecurities and his proper loving response should be “I trust and support you and i am here for you if it gets boring with Steve tonight and you want to come home early. I am going to spend this time doing my favourite hobby i did before i met you… have a wonderful meet up.”

    He is acting like some man who went to London to find himself ‘a good woman.’ And it turns out you are:

    A Woman of the World

    1. Wow.

      As someone who’s lived the expat life (not in London specifically though) I’d just like to point out that it is possible to be just going about your business in another country than the one you were born in, just working or studying, and NOT being part of this whirlwind expat scene.

      Yes, a lot of 20somethings abroad participate in the subculture you describe. I’ve seen it. It isn’t mandatory though.
      Some people go to major international cities because that’s really what makes the most sense for their career or study or other goal.
      Please stop projecting all over the place.

      *”Jealousy is part and parcel of travel”? Really? I’m sorry you had such shitty travel buddies.

    2. She doesn’t even say she’s living in London. There are a lot of other cities in the United Kingdom, even in England alone. I’m an American who lives and studies in Glasgow. My husband is Scottish. We live a pretty normal, slightly boring life: We work on our PhDs, we go out for drinks with friends a couple of times a month, we attend the ballet when we can afford it, we go on walks, we read a lot of books, and sometimes we save up money to take little holidays to the Highlands. We know a lot of other Americans and Canadians through our respective PhD programs, but it’s a far cry from the wild scene you described above.

      You’re assuming and projecting an awful lot based on zero information from the LW.

    3. Yeah, I lived in London for 5 years (I’m a kiwi), I flatted with Poms, then lived by myself, and regularly socialised with the grand total of three antipodeans and one American… and a whole lot of Brits/Europeans/all sorts.

      I also didn’t consider myself to be an “ex-pat” (I detest the heavy colonial stench about the word – London is a heavily international city, and somehow it’s *only* a certain type of white person who labels themselves an ex-pat). if I’d stayed, I’d have been an what I was, an Irish citizen born in NZ.

      While there were a few occasions where a bunch of us immigrants/temporary residents discussed visas and the usefulness of various passports, not once did we take them out and brandish them! Also, the UK is not Europe, and you are not required to carry personal documents at all times – the only time I carried my passport was when I was travelling.

      I’m not denying that there’s a certain kind of “ex-pat” culture abounding in the Outback Pubs where a bunch of desperately insecure people prop up their egos by wanking on about their “jet set lifestyle” (anachronistic term deliberate). And hey, I had terrible culture shock myself, and that Saffa and the kiwis in my friendship circle were lifesavers. As were a couple of the other non-Brits.

      But there’s no hint Aussie bf is like that, and while he might want to eventually shack up with her in Byron and have hippie babies, his behaviour and slightly-controlling tendencies are not culture-dependent in this instance. Although perhaps hard to spot if he’s a laid-back Aussie hippie type on the surface (but my experience is that laid-back hippie types are just as controlling as anyone about their areas of concern – often food and “substances”).

      I would ask that the LW think about her own behaviour as well – tossing back a few cocktails and rolling in late a bit tipsy maybe a bit “challenging” when you haven’t seen it before. Getting home at 3am, crashing through the house, puking noisily and getting into bed reeking and amorous is not too cool in general (not suggesting anything like this happened – an extreme example).

      The reason I (and others, it seems) wonder about that is the hint that the bf’s “clean” habits reinforce the behaviours the LW wants herself (and mostly has). However, I will say that if someone is entirely abstinent, this can turn out to be a real point of difference with the “occasionally lets their hair down” type – even if those occasions are only once a year. Relying on someone else to help you keep your boundaries in line is different to ceasing to hang around with people whose behaviours are excessive.

    4. That’s a mighty narrative you are projecting onto LW and her boyfriend, there. You could work this up into a nice travel piece, but I don’t think it has much to do with this letter right here.

  31. I rarely disagree with the Captain, but in this case… I guess it’s really hard to see without knowing more about Steve. I mean, I’ve been dating my girlfriend for four years (we just moved in together, yay!), and while I’d never try to dictate who she can hang out with, I can totally imagine bringing up a concern when I met a friend I got bad vibes from.

    I mean, she has plenty of friends I’m basically neutral about and one or two I genuinely dislike, but just for social/personality reasons. If someone came into her life that threw off serious unstable-alcoholic-addict-danger vibes, I’d absolutely speak up. I mean, I wouldn’t use the ‘toxic’ rhetoric, but that’s not just not generally how I talk.

    So I do think the wave of ‘BF is jealous/being inappropriate/being controlling’ in these comments is premature. If he doesn’t let it go when it becomes clear Steve is sticking around (or alternatively, clearly state that Steve is a deal-breaker — that’s OK too), that’d be bad. But so far, I don’t think saying ‘hey, this guy is throwing off super weird vibes, I’m a little concerned’ is out of line for people in a close relationship.

  32. I think when people say ‘Toxic’ it’s important to see if they mean “missing stair” or “hot mess.” Because “I don’t like this person because they’ve done/said some racist/sexist/predatory/mean things” is one thing. “This person makes some questionable life choices and doesn’t really have their shit together” is something else entirely. Even “this person is loud and obnoxious and gets on my nerves and I hate their hobbies” isn’t the same thing as “Toxic.”

    It seems your boyfriend is getting pretty judgy if he’s using ‘Toxic’ to mean ‘hot mess.’ I’d sit him down and be like “just because you don’t approve of someone doesn’t mean you get to call them ‘toxic.’

  33. Yeah, possible drug issues aside, I give the BF a side-eye for the following “my boyfriend went so far as to suggest that Steve […] was really bad for me”. That is a parent – teenage offspring dynamic, not a partner dynamic. Since LW is obviously not using drugs with Steve or even gets black-out drunk with him, and since they meet about twice a year, I’m curious as to how BF would justify saying this to his adult GF. What makes him so sure he knows, after only a few months, what’s good and what’s bad for LW better than LW does?
    In short, I fully agree with the Captain – BF is probably channeling his jealousy here, and while jealousy in and of itself is an acceptable emotion to have, the way BF chose to handle it is a true red flag, to watch out for in future interactions. BF doesn’t get to say a casual friend (again, they meet *twice* a year) is a bad influence on his 30 something GF, without a shred of proof to back his claim. The notion itself is ridiculous to me.

    1. Exactly. I would add that a person’s partner saying that someone is a “bad influence” on them really rubs me the wrong way, precisely for that reason. It takes away people’s agency and is incredibly paternalistic.

      1. I mean, *maybe* the “bad influence” talk would be understandable if LW had a history of drug and alcohol abuse and specifically asked BF to watch out for and speak up when he sees questionable behavior from her. But she hasn’t, so… And there was no “questionable behavior” from her other than hanging out with someone he doesn’t care for. Nothing wrong with the BF taking a pass on hanging out, but you don’t get to demand your partner not hang out with someone unless there is specific behavior you can point to that proves they’re bad news for your partner. Your Spidey senses don’t count.

  34. I’m actually pretty confused that the overwhelming majority of these comments are like, “Yeah girlfriend, fuck that guy! He’s controlling, get out now!” Like, yo, I don’t agree at all that this behavior is unreasonable.

    Like, LW, you say yourself that you and your boyfriend are straight-laced and non-party-types. And then suddenly you bring home your friend who is, by your account, a heavy drinker who’s into drugs. That would rattle me. It would make me question whether I have an accurate perception of you. I, too, would express “bafflement.” At four months in, I’m not sure I’d pick a fight about it, but I definitely understand the concern. It’s kind of a major departure from how you’ve described yourself in the letter. Maybe it’s different for people who aren’t consumed with dread and anxiety at the thought of being near people who are very drunk, what do I know.

    Is Steve the only ex of yours your boyfriend has met? Is Steve the only heavy drinker/drug user in your life that your boyfriend has met? Does he give advice like this to other people, or is it just you? Unless you have more data, I don’t know about jealousy, and the majority of your letter is effusive and humorous praise for him, so I don’t think you’re getting yuck-vibes. Am I mistaken? Maybe you’re feeling unsettled because this has revealed the condescending stick-in-the-mud side of your boyfriend to you. This is what he will be like whenever you do something he thinks is dangerous. He’s gonna be really upset if you try to slice mushrooms on the cutting board you just cut chicken on. Use your turn signal! He’s gonna be that guy.

  35. Can I just say LW, it sounds like you’ve done a boss-ass job of establishing Steve as a ‘small-doses friend’ so that you can still enjoy his company without your different habits causing friction.

    1. Apologies, it’s been removed, marked as spam, and the commenter has been banned. We can have bad language but NO NUDITY.

  36. My husband had a “Steve” friend back before we got married. The prior romantic stuff wasn’t there, but this “Steve” was into drugs and drinking (husband would later learn from mutual friends that this guy was basically an addict and my husband just didn’t want to see it at the time) and most definitely he was a bit of a mess – lots of personal drama, there was always some weird excuse for why he couldn’t register his car and had to be driven around all the time (I suspect a DUI) avoiding his kids, flaking out on things with my husband, etc.

    I certainly wasn’t jealous of this guy, but did strongly express my opinions about him to my husband, which made him really angry. I didn’t want this guy under our roof, did not want to spend time with him as I was seriously uncomfortable with his immaturity and crudeness, and I’m sure I referred to this person as toxic multiple times. And I didn’t like who my husband was around this guy. How he’d hear the misogynistic and crude comments and wouldn’t speak up, even though in other situations and around other people he always did. How he fell into line with enabling the guy’s issues by driving him around all the time and acting like it’s a given, to the point of wanting this guy to spend the night at our house on our wedding night because he planned everything around driving this guy around, which resulted in a huge fight and me being accused of trying to isolate him from his friends when I tried to point out how weird this all was and how I did not want him spending a night under our roof.

    It’s like the drug addiction or something made it so this guy never grew up past junior high or so, and it was super hard to be around him. The friendship finally ended when my husband confronted him about something the guy said to me that was really bad and made me really uncomfortable.

    So I’m a little reluctant to jump to jealousy as a reason. I certainly wasn’t jealous at all of my husband’s former best friend, I just didn’t want to be anywhere near him.

    I think maybe it might be worth a discussion about setting boundaries around the friendship with Steve – ie he doesn’t come to the BF’s home, BF gets to completely avoid him, and the LW discusses any Steve related dramas with other friends instead of the boyfriend. At least, if my husband had set those sort of boundaries or allowed me to set those boundaries around his friendship with the toxic person, I’d have been much more ok with everything.

    1. But the LW sees Steve twice a year for a drink or two. She’s not inviting him to sleep on her couch or driving him around or inviting him to her (nonexistent) wedding night. You’re describing a completely different scenario in which your husband turned into a major jerk to you when around this guy, and it became a legitimate burden in your relationship. Just because Steve does drugs and drinks doesn’t mean he’s the same as your husband’s friend, and even if he were, LW sees him twice a year at most for what sounds like 2-3 hours to have a laugh and then goes home. Entirely different scenario that makes her boyfriend’s (boyfriend of four months!) controlling response completely out of line.

    2. Your husband’s relationship with his Steve sounds entirely different from LW’s.
      Your husband’s Steve was an arse but your real problem was that your husband went along with the arseishness and acted like an arse in ways that affected you (spend the night at your house on your wedding night – what. the. actual. fuck.)
      LW hangs with her Steve a couple times a year, she comes home unchanged, and there is no drama except for BF’s objections to Steve.

  37. I think the Captain is on point with jealousy being at play here.

    That being said, I also think it’s really great that you’re in a relationship with someone who is willing to be upfront with you about what he thinks of your friend and the ramifications of spending time with someone with dangerous habits and/or addictions.

    ***This is great as long as he’s not putting restrictions on who you hang out with in a controlling way.***

    A large majority of your personality is based on the 5 people you hang around with the most. At four months in, I would be paying A LOT of attention to who my significant other hangs out with, because that tells me a lot about them.

    If you hang out with criminals long enough, you’ll end up either a criminal, a witness and/or a victim. If you hang out with racist people, you’ll probably start saying (or thinking!) racist things. If you hang out with depressing people, you’ll probably become depressed. If you hang out with rude people, you’ll probably be rude or tolerate people who are rude. If you hang out with people who read, you probably will read. If you hang out with ambitious, healthy and happy people, that will probably rub off in you.

  38. As someone whose husband has a Steve that pops up on very, very rare occasions, I don’t think BF is all that out of line. I can’t stand my husband’s Steve (it’s hard to put into words why–he’s not unsafe or a missing stair, he’s just deeply NOT someone I want to interact with in any way) and my husband knows it. We even joke about it sometimes, and he knows I would much rather he never see or talk to his Steve again. I’ve told him so. I can’t see any reason why my husband enjoys small doses of his Steve (except nostalgia?), but I’m also not going to stop him, because he’s a grown person who gets to decide who he spends time with, as long as he respects that I want zero future interactions with his Steve.

    BF’s not saying LW can’t hang out with Steve; he’s saying he wants nothing to do with Steve and doesn’t get why LW would. It sounds like BF is trying to wrap his head around the disconnect between the kind of people LW primarily enjoys and the fact that LW also enjoys Steve. Knowing both LW and BF have been in dicey relationships before makes it all the more understandable why BF is concerned/having trouble understanding the appeal of Steve. BF might be worried that LW won’t respect his desire to have zero future interaction with Steve. Or worried about some other way in which the boundaries BF has created for his own safety/sanity/etc. might be poked at by LW’s interactions with Steve (or whatever her tolerance of someone like Steve might indicate she’d look past), since they’re only been together for a short time.

    I think BF thought he’d found someone totally safe, or someone he didn’t have to worry about understanding his boundaries, and now he’s seeing that their boundaries are not as identical as he thought they were. Which is totally normal and fine, because we’re all individuals who get to make our own rules and break those rules when we decide. But hopefully if LW makes it clear to BF that he doesn’t have to be around Steve, and that Steve is a small doses or “reminds me why I don’t do some things”/shared history/just nostalgia friend, this will become a non-issue. It sounds like BF wants a hard, clear boundary that keeps him away from people like Steve, and BF has a right to that as much as LW has a right to make an exception to whatever boundaries she’s decided on. BF doesn’t have to like Steve, or even like that LW likes spending time with Steve, as long as BF isn’t keeping LW from doing what she wants to do. BF may never really understand why LW wants small doses of Steve, but that’s something BF will just have to sit with.

    1. He is trying to manipulate her into not seeing him anymore, though. He’s calling Steve “toxic” and using terms like “red flag”. He’s using manipulative tactics like, “I’m surprised you are friends with Steve; normally you have good judgment.” He’s told the LW that he thinks Steve is “a bad influence on her” (which is what you say to your teenager, not your partner).

      1. Yeah, well, “I’m surprised you are friends with someone who is a complete 180 of everyone else we are normally around, why is your judgment lacking in this case” is a perfectly legit question to ask/reaction to have, if only as a “I do not get this at all” reaction. I find my husband’s Steve toxic for various reasons that I’m not going into (he’s not dangerous, but there are a lot of ways to be toxic that don’t involve harming someone), and if I’d been four months into dating my husband when I met his Steve, I’d have wondered if he was a bad influence on him, too, because four months is not actually a lot of time. And the adult way to address that would have been to bring it up and talk it out(which I actually did w/ husband after I met his Steve).

        It’s okay for a partner to be “whoa, I think this person is toxic and might not be good to be around, why do you think otherwise, I thought this was something we agreed on?” That’s pretty straightforward communication and negotiation of boundaries, AS LONG AS the other person is able to say “yeah, I know Steve is not my usual kind of person, but we have history/niche joint interest/whatever, and I respect your decision not to be around Steve, but that doesn’t change the fact that I still will sometimes” in return.

        All I’m saying is that I don’t think it’s right to immediately judge BF for having initial reservations about Steve(and I do agree that there’s almost certainly also a bit of jealousy woven in) or not getting why LW wants to spend time with Steve, and communicating those to the LW. But ONLY as long as BF isn’t keeping LW from doing what she wants and doesn’t try to make it an ongoing problem. BF should be able to see with some time that Steve is this weird exception, and deal with it. If BF can’t handle that or starts questioning unrelated things–especially if he ties them in some loose way to Steve, then yeah, then it gets manipulative and LW should be done with BF. But just having a conversation with a partner about someone/thing that concerns you/them is not a red flag in and of itself.

  39. Yoly, if you’re still reading, it might seem like the Awkward Army is dog-piling on your comment that men are ‘just possessive’ but there is no bad intent here.
    Just giving you out own lived experience.
    If so many people have a different lived experience than you, you STILL get to make your own decisions about your own life. Just, maybe with a wider point of view.

  40. Maybe I’ve had too many Darth Vader relationships, but this feels like the bf is testing the waters to see if controlling behaviors will fly with the LW.

    1. Exactly! I think the people who say BF is not “really” controlling are missing the point that they’ve only been together for 4 months. Of course, he wouldn’t go straight into full-on controlling mode, that’s not how that works.

  41. I’ve known a lot of people over the course of my life who need to avoid socializing with known illegal drug users for professional reasons, and a fair share who don’t want to be around people who drink or use drugs for personal reasons. When they’re partnered, that means some details need to be worked out.

    I agree with others that this guy isn’t expressing what he wants in the best way, but I got the impression from the letter that the letter writer might not be taking his concerns seriously enough for him to be re-assured about boundaries on this matter. The best suggestion I have is to be really explicit with each other about what they each want and why, and then look it all over and see if there is room for compromise that can work for both.

    1. I like this– I think it gets at the heart of the matter. I think it also highlights why the responses are dividing into factions– some people who have had their legitimate concerns about their partners’ friends gaslit are finding themselves siding with the BF because the letter minimizes his concerns and avoids really describing Steve’s behavior in key ways. People who have had abusive partners cut them off from their social groups are reacting to the possibility that the BF is starting to flex his control over his significant other’s social life, because the descriptions seem to mild to warrant that kind of reaction.

      I really want to read a different version of this letter that fills in all of the details, and maybe gives some kind of narrative as to what unfolded when these three people met for the first time, together. Maybe the details don’t matter, and this really just comes down to your everyday incompatibility between two men who will never have to see one another again– I really hope that is the case.

  42. “Toxic” is as toxic does. Something is toxic only if it has a negative impact. What’s toxic to one person isn’t necessarily toxic to another. If LW can hang out with Steve with no ill effects, then Steve isn’t toxic to LW. Maybe BF can’t hang with party-hardy types because they’re toxic to him, but that doesn’t mean they’re damaging to anyone else.

  43. (Content Note: quotes involving gun/weapon violence and ableism)

    You are the boss of you. You might wind up not hanging out with Steve. You might wind up not staying with BF. Maybe both! Or neither! Your boundaries are yours; set them where you want them, see how that goes, lather, rinse, repeat. Other people’s boundaries will bump your boundaries sometimes. Then you each get to choose what to do next. Ah, the rich and glorious pageant of life.

    The Captain said: “I’m assuming Steve didn’t say anything really racist or otherwise horrifying in the few moments that he and your boyfriend interacted.” My read on Steve is different, LW, because of your words: “I don’t take him too seriously.” I’m reading your words through the filter of my experience, and I apologize if I’ve gotten it way wrong. Actually I’m hoping I’m way wrong. Here’s why.

    When someone says that around me, their Steve usually just said something racist or misogynist or prejudiced or just yucky as hell. Or he did something that, taken seriously, would be in major conflict with their values. I hear “I don’t take him too seriously” when it would be profoundly uncomfortable for the speaker to stop giving a pass to Steve for making horrible “jokes” or doing whatever it is he’s doing. Being a friendly audience who laughs along with Steve and excuses him to others, though, is a choice that also has costs.

    Your situation may be two people’s boundaries bumping. It happens. You can decide to have Steve in your life. Maybe you can afford to have him in your life, maybe you find him amusing in tiny doses, whatever. Similarly, BF can decide he doesn’t want to be even slightly Steve-adjacent. Maybe BF went through reminiscent circumstances painfully and is trying to not do whatever he did last time, maybe BF or someone he cares about is a target of whatever dubious witticisms Steve is making, whatever. Your choices may not be greeted with rejoicing by each other, but having boundaries is like that. The way things unfold as you all deal with this will most likely make everybody’s choices clearer. (BF does not get make your choices for you. Some of your choices might have consequences that affect how close BF is comfortable being, but that’s in BF’s set of boundaries and choices.)

    Back in the mists of time, a family member frequently said awful things in the car while driving. “Look at those idiots!” he would say, if someone was driving slower than he liked. “Machine-gun them all!” Then he would make machine gun noises and laugh. It happened Every. Single. Time. we drove together in any sort of traffic — and we drove together a lot. “Oh my God, these people! Get out the nukes! Ka-BOOM! Kill them all! Clear up the roadway!” he would say, pointing at whichever drivers he resented at the moment. Eventually, I figured out I could set a boundary for myself. Doing so was definitely uncomfortable in ways I longed to avoid. My relationship with that person changed. Other family members chose differently. (See also “rich and glorious pageant of life.”)

    Many people in several of my communities are currently deciding whether certain boundaries should have exceptions for smart, amusing, talented, well-connected people who have piled up long histories of doing bad things for which they are now facing major unpleasant consequences. The phrases “But I don’t take him seriously!” and “He doesn’t really mean that!” are being used a lot.

    I hope your Steve is not any of those flavors of mess, because whew. But the phrase is one I notice a lot now.

    LW, I wish you all the best, plus people that treat you well to share it with.

    1. That is a really good point. My husband’s “Steve” made a lot of remarks like that too, usually extremely misogynistic and vulgar. And I’m sure my husband said he didn’t take it too seriously, and that the guy was “just joking around” and likes to “kid”.

    2. Yikes. That aspect of “don’t take him seriously” didn’t occur to me.
      I heard it as meaning Steve’s friendship wasn’t that important to LW, that she’s happy to see him when she does, but if she never heard from Steve again, she wouldn’t feel a great loss.

      1. I think it’s the combination of calling him an “over-the-top guy” and then saying “but we get on well and I don’t take him too seriously” that reminded me of so many Missing Stairs conversations lately.

        There are a lot of different ways of being over-the-top. Most such descriptions are followed with “and while I’m not personally a believer in his whole invisible space wombat conspiracy thing, he’s great company and never boring!” rather than “but I don’t take him seriously.” It makes me wonder how taking him seriously would change the situation.

        Anyhow, like I said, I hope it’s a misread and that it’s invisible space wombat conspiracies or something else relatively unscary.

        1. That phrase leapt out at me, as well. “I don’t take him too seriously” sends up all of the red flags for me that there are many, many things that have to be minimized, disregarded, excused, or otherwise occluded to be with a person. What are those things? Like, “I don’t take him too seriously when he is occasionally short cash for a tip,” or “I don’t take him too seriously when he complains about neoliberalism” could be tolerated, but “I don’t take him too seriously when he makes rape jokes/ bigoted remarks about oppressed minorities/ something-something-alpha-males-red-pill” is something else altogether.

          This letter feels very absent of key information to me, and if it were one of my students’ papers I’d give it a “revise and resubmit,” demanding more specificity. It’s just so hard to assess, given what’s not said.

        2. Let us hope for LW’s sake that my take on “over-the-top guy” = “loud and rambunctious goofball who is fun to see now and then, but it’s not a meaningful friendship” is correct!

          But even if you are correct, BF is still going about this wrong. He needs to tell LW what his problem is, rather than hide behind “concern”:

          “Steve made three rape jokes and used [really bad word] 4 times in 10 minutes. How are you okay with that? I know you’re not racist, I know you’re not a misogynist, so it’s really disturbing to me to see you listen to that without saying anything, as if you are okay with it. It upsets me to see you act like “fun” is more important than really objectionable behavior.”

          1. Word. Even if Steve is truly toxic (which, at this point, is mostly speculation), BF’s attitude is still manipulative and a possible red flag.

          2. BTW, I really think the racist/sexist/etc angle is pure speculation because the letter focuses heavily on the drinking/drugs aspect:

            “However, I wonder if BF is idolising me and thinking I can Do No Wrong and is a bit shocked that I do have friends who like to get drunk, or that I do occasionally stay up late drinking cocktails, and he hasn’t seen me do this much because we don’t like to do that and we don’t bring it out in one another. (One of the reasons I’m so enjoying BF is that he encourages the healthier preferences of my personality.)”
            + self-description of LW and her BF as “straight-laced, non-partying types”

            Not saying it’s impossible that Steve is also those things, but based on the rest of the letter, it’s really a big jump to go straight from “over-the-top”/”not to be taken seriously” to “missing stair”/”toxic”.

          3. @Scarlett: I totally agree, which is why I read “OTT/not serious” as loud party, not toxic creep.

          4. Hmm. I agree. And I also want to clarify that I am not saying that I believe Steve is those things– so “if I’m correct” confuses me. My point is that the letter relies on us to fill in a LOT of gaps, and for me that includes a descriptions of what Steve has or hasn’t done, as well as what the Boyfriend did or didn’t say. We don’t actually know that the boyfriend DIDN’T go about it the way you think he ought to. He may have said something very similar to that, while working in words like “red flags” and “toxic” that have become so common to readers in our time.

            The allusions without specificity make me feel nervous and doubtful of what in the letter I can really latch on to as factual reality, and that’s what’s motivating my responses. I’m not really making assumptions, so much as asking for clarifications from the letter writer.

            We do know, with certainty, that the LW did not like how her boyfriend addressed things, and that they have some work to do to reestablish their commitment to the relationship, or to kindly and cleanly end things between them. That sounds about right for several months into a relationship, and I wish them luck.

    3. Yeah the phrase “I don’t take him too seriously.” jumped out at me too. LW has blinkers made out of affection/nostalgia and that works well for her in maintaning something with a small doses friend. BF is a stranger who would be less able to go ‘oh that’s just Steve, bless ‘im’. Particularly if his method for dealing with tough friendships is to clear the decks.

  44. One of the things I picked up on

    “However, I wonder if BF is idolising me and thinking I can Do No Wrong and is a bit shocked that I do have friends who like to get drunk, or that I do occasionally stay up late drinking cocktails, and he hasn’t seen me do this much because we don’t like to do that and we don’t bring it out in one another.”

    It sounds like part of the frustration and tension here is that, using movies for an example, you LW like action movies and comedy movies sometimes, and Boyfriend only likes action movies and hates comedies. So you have been having a great time watching action movies with him all this time because it’s what you both like. But all of a sudden you and your Big Comedy Fan friend got together and watched… a COMEDY! And now boyfriend is dumping on you how comedy as a genre is terrible and usually relies on offensive bigoted humor and he just doesn’t feel comfortable having you hanging around those…. comedians. It’s just an awful red flag when someone likes comedy.

    And you’re going what at the fact he’s getting bent out of shape about it, and maybe feeling judged (“Watching Spaceballs does not make me a bigoted person!” ) and also seeing hints that there might be more and more pressure to only watch action movies with him and not defile yourself by occasionally watching and enjoying The Daily Show.

    And he just doesn’t like comedy, for whatever reason, but is playing up the moral judgements of it and it’s not just that he doesn’t like a thing, that thing is BAD. And there’s just enough truth in there (that yes, some comedy is bigoted) that it distracts from the issue. All the people speculating on exactly what type of comedy Steve likes and if that makes him a Bad Person and justifies the boyfriend’s dislike is… kind of irrelevant. LW has made their decision that they are ok with occasionally watching a comedy that they enjoy with Steve and not watching any Steve-movies that they dislike.

    And it’s kind of up to boyfriend to decide if they’re able to accept that LW can be someone they love and an occasional comedy fan and draw appropriate couples-boundaries about the topic (“I won’t watch A Christmas Story with you and your friends, but I also won’t lecture you on how awful it is and people who watch it are bad people.” “Sounds good, you go have fun doing something else and I won’t quote it at you or sulk that you won’t participate.”) And it’s up to LW to decide how much they’re willing to only and forever watch action movies with boyfriend especially if the subtle hinting that liking comedy makes them bad doesn’t ever go away, maybe even stop watching comedies altogether if that’s what it takes.

  45. This looks a lot like two sets of bad experiences ramming into each other, both of which involving things that can get really ugly really fast – mostly because I’ve seen the comparative shallow ends of both up close and personal.

    On the one side, we have the LW. The letter reads like there’s some prior experience with controlling partners who think they get to decide who their partners friends are – maybe personally, maybe through family, maybe through a friend. Hell, the idea that you can demand that you are the only person of your gender that your partner interacts with still somehow has cultural cachet for hetero relationships, and even that normalized behavior was more than enough to make me wary (there’s a reason I largely avoid certain religious communities), and that’s without getting into some of the real shit shows. I suspect the LW has a bit of a hair trigger about this, and that there’s some real assholes involved in the development of said hair trigger.

    On the other side, we have the BF. I suspect he has some prior experience with drug abuse and the nastier side of party culture, with the same provisions that it might be indirect. On the drug side, speaking personally, I’ve seen what heroin and meth can do to people, and that’s a large part of the reason I’m a bit of a straight edge – and I’m lucky enough not to know anyone who’s been killed by these drugs. As for party culture, there’s that one fraternity in town which somehow hasn’t been shut down yet and is basically an unending pool of horror stories; I get having a hair trigger about that too.

    This theorizing may very well be wrong. If it isn’t though, it’s the sort of thing worth bringing out into the open.

    1. This was my interpretation as well.

      I had a similar friend when Spouse and I first got together. Spouse never said “don’t hang” but made his discomfort with friend 10000% clear and was what seemed to me at the time to be over the top nasty about it.

      Turned out Spouse was right, (now former) friend was inclined to do a lot of things that go firmly against our morals, and I’d probably already given this individual WAY too many chances. Sometimes from the perspective of LW’s boyfriend/my spouse/etc. it’s “I am trying so hard not to be That Controlling Jerk but OH MY GOD this person just raises up every possible DO NOT WANT signal and it’s frankly kind of terrifying me.”

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