#1144: “My best friend is having ex-sex and I don’t know how to support her.”

Dear Captain Awkward,

A couple of months ago, one of my best friends (we’ll call her Beth) and her partner (we’ll call him Dylan) broke up. Beth and Dylan had been together for six years and living together for five. They seemed to have a pretty good relationship, although Dylan dominated the apartment with his belongings, said he couldn’t marry her until he was a “real adult” (at 34, while doing nothing to move toward his definition of “adulthood”), and was generally kind of moody. Beth did most of the adult work in the relationship, including keeping a job she didn’t love in order to support them financially and doing all the emotional labor because Dylan wouldn’t go to counseling, individual or couples’.

They broke up because Dylan deleted their anniversary on Facebook. When Beth asked him about it, he confessed that he had been secretly dating a coworker and no longer loved Beth. She was blindsided, not least because she was very good at checking in on the relationship and he had essentially gaslit her into believing that everything was fine for months. Dylan moved out of their apartment and Beth actually packed his boxes for him. I did everything I could to support her and tried very hard not to set Dylan’s things on fire and to discuss my deep contempt for him with mutual friends instead of with Beth. Eventually it came out that the coworker was married and she created a lot of drama and misery for Dylan, and I thought, Great! He’s getting his and I don’t have to do anything.

Unfortunately, now that his little fantasy didn’t work out, Dylan has decided that he DOES love Beth after all, and he is insinuating himself back into her life and her apartment. She told me yesterday that they were having sex, but that he “can’t make any promises right now” and he says, “We shouldn’t be doing this” (while still managing to fuck her), which is basically the sexiest thing someone can say. Beth, heartbroken and holding out hope that he’ll come back to her and they can make it work, isn’t doing anything that I haven’t done myself, but I am furious that Dylan is taking advantage of her feelings so he can have AND eat ALL THE CAKE. But of course when I tell Beth that, I become the Bad Guy. Captain Awkward, I don’t know how to support my friend while also making it clear that there’s no fucking way this guy is getting back in our good graces, especially not with this behavior.

Thank you for your time!

Hard-Hearted Harpy Wants Friend to Be Happy (she/her pronouns)

Hi there.

When friends are in sketchy & manipulative relationships we’re so scared of being honest and maybe pissing our friends off, because we know that the manipulative sketchy person will use that as a wedge to drive us apart and isolate their prey further. We don’t want to act like smug assholes who are smarter than our friends about their own relationships. We don’t want to give the manipulative partners ammunition to say  “Well your friends have never understood our perfect love,” so we stay gentle and ask questions and let them take the lead. This is generally a good quality and a good practice? But it has its limits, like when you feel like your own integrity will snap in half if you don’t say something. And part of being a friend is telling the truth.

You don’t have to pretend to be happy about The Return of Dylan. You really don’t. Next time Beth wants to talk about Dylan, you can say:

Beth, you’re the boss of you, and if having some ex sex makes you feel better right now….okay? You get to work out your feelings at your own pace and lots of people have had bad-idea-sex with their exes. I don’t judge. But I am NOT gonna pretend that I don’t think that dude is sketchy as hell and I am not going to be able to keep a straight face and say polite, non-committal things when you talk about getting back together with him. If you need to vent or figure this out while I roll my eyes and cross myself at every mention of his name until he’s out of your system for good, okay! I will will try!  I want to be supportive, but I just can’t form my lips to say anything nice about him.”

She might go all tight-lipped, she might get it, she might decide to talk to you less about Dylan-stuff, I don’t know.  When I was pining over a series of Darth Jackasses I sorely tried the patience of my dearest friends and it did help when they finally snapped and said “NO. STOP. AND IF YOU MENTION HIS TEXTS ONE MORE TIME, AM TAKING YOUR PHONE AWAY FOR THE REST OF TODAY. NO MORE.” and also a less shouty but no less true script, like “Listen, fuck who you want, you will anyway, but it is a beautiful day and you are not gonna ruin OUR PRECIOUS FRIEND TIME with talking about gross boys, knock it off.” Like, my sad longings and indecision and woe about people who had proven themselves unworthy in every possible way were not allowed to ruin every single brunch! That was good friending on their part. It helped me shake off the fog of manipulation.

So, maybe you say the thing once. You don’t have to harp on it, but you can stop biting your tongue. It’s gonna take her as long as it takes to be rid of him and that’s so very hard to watch, but you don’t have to pretend to be happy or even neutral about it.

You can also suggest Beth find a Dylan-neutral sounding board like a therapist (this neutrality is probably good for one session, then that therapist will also hate Dylan the way you & I hate Dylan, but they will also have training that you and I don’t in not rolling one’s eyes and screaming NO!).  But it’s okay if sometimes you are like “Listen, I am trying my best here, but COME ON, REALLY, THE MOODY USELESS ASSHOLE WHO CAN’T EVEN CHEAT ON YOU WITHOUT MAKING A COMPLETE RUIN OF HIS LIFE, THAT’S WHO I’M SUPPOSED TO ROOT FOR? COME ON. NO.”

If she goes back to him, it’s not because you were “unsupportive.” Sometimes our hearts are real jerks and they let us down and assholes crawl in an set up shop there. You’re not the boss of Beth but you’re also not responsible for what Dylan is doing here. You’re a person, too, and you’re not a bad friend if you can’t maintain eternal therapist-like distance when someone is hurting your friend.

P.S. Here are some great visual aids that came into my life today, at just the perfect time.

189 comments
  1. attica said:

    Even I hate Dylan, and I’m only just reading about him!

    • Leighthal said:

      Same here. I’m not loving Beth either.

      • Nicky said:

        I find it hard to dislike Beth – she’s been emotionally abused, and now the abuser is back and grooming her up for Round 2.

      • Kaos said:

        She’s been abused. She’s been gaslit. She’s a victim.

        • Feminist BI-tch said:

          Yup. And even if you take abuse out of the picture, basically every person I know struggled to get rid of a toxic presence in their life – partner, friend or other. I wouldn’t judge Beth for this

    • Swistle said:

      I too feel contempt for Dylan, and wish to set his things on fire.

      • JenniferP said:

        Just one thing. Just his copy of Fight Club. His Scarface poster. Just one tiny thing.

        • His carefully pencil-annotated copy of Atlas Shrugged

          • Cora said:

            I’m guessing crayon.

          • The Awe Ritual said:

            We will spare his limited-edition copy of The Big Lebowski if he owns one book or movie authored or directed by a woman, but that book or movie had to have been 1. bought with his own money and not by a woman doing his emotional labor; 2. not somehow associated with a woman he wants to bang; 3. from the Suicide Girls website or affiliates. Oh, look, the Dude abides in flames. Such tragedy. Really brought the room together.

          • The Awe Ritual said:

            Er, NOT from the Suicide Girls website.

        • Drew said:

          His trilby (because it’s NOT A FEDORA DAMMIT).

          • Jenny Islander said:

            Every time I see one of those things perched over a smug little smile and a beard that rejoices in its newfound ability to be grown, I want to carol, “You’re wearing a lady’s hat, you’re wearing a lady’s hat!”

            (Love how they lampshaded that in Ghostbusters.)

          • I just laughed and choked on my water.

        • His copy of “The Pick Up Artist”

          • The Awe Ritual said:

            Use his copy of Gravity’s Rainbow as a firestarter. Wrap it in his printed-outtweets about how women are trying to force gender issues into speculative fiction.

          • Bookish Miss said:

            Or “I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell “

          • jaynn said:

            I have a recurring fantasy about books like that where I use the pages to make a piñata so they get the shit beat out of them (only replace the shit with candy ‘cause why ruin a good party?)

        • Funnyletter Who Hates Jokes said:

          Just one tiny thing as long as that thing is shockingly representative of everything that is awful about him such as his term paper about the expression of masculinity in Dirty Harry.

        • Roxy said:

          Just his set of wanna-to-be-a-writer books containing foolproof instructions for scoring big with That One Blockbuster Screenplay.

          (I like this part of this thread. I wish to keep going.)

          Just his set of Tony Robbins success DVDs.
          Just his costumes from Burning Man.
          Just his book of emails to me that he printed out and had bound in order to keep forever.

          • Just the thumb drive where he keeps his spreadsheet of all the women he’s had sex with including a list of activities engaged in and an overall satisfaction rating.

          • Roxy said:

            @FOR THEMYSCIRA!! (@noveldevice) – Fuckin hell! Yes burn it with fire! Cleanse the world.

    • goddessoftransitory said:

      I would cheerfully set Dylan’s most precious possessions on fire in front of him.

  2. Lizards80 said:

    “Beth, I don’t know how to support you in this. When I hear he did or said X, it breaks my heart to know he’s treating you this way and it makes me furious too. I understand this is your life and you have to work this out. But this is not normal, and I don’t want to act like it is. I don’t want to abandon you while you’re in a relationship that’s hurting you, but I also can’t sit here and act like I’m ok with it. Let’s go do some things that nourish your soul, instead of things that cause pain.”

    Maybe you can help her by doing what CA advises after a breakup – go out and experiment with trying new things. Things that aren’t Dylan. Who is she, what does she enjoy doing by herself and with you and with others? Art classes, sports games, book clubs, interest groups of any kind?

    • 42tlh42 said:

      “Beth, I don’t know how to support you in this…” I love that entire paragraph, except “normal”. How about substituting “healthy”?

      • ET said:

        Is there any particular reason not to use “that’s not normal”? Not asking in a confrontational tone, I’m just not sure. Hearing someone say “that’s not normal” is actually the exact phrase that first got through to me that I was being abused.

        • Isben Takes Tea said:

          I know I’ve swapped it out in some contexts upon realizing that a particular unhealthy statistic IS normal, but I don’t think that’s the case here. Maybe 42tlh42 is concerned that using “not normal” may make Beth feel stigmatized or isolated? I’ve also had good experience with the use of “not normal” when discussing abusive behaviors with friends to try and highlight the severity of it–to me, “not healthy” is just as valid but has less oomph behind it.

          • Also the phrase healthy in my town is affiliated with a certain white privileged ladies group that use it in context like “eating cooking veggies is just so not healthy. I just had to remove all that toxicity in my life. That’s what my guru from Prague said’’. So I would definitely not want to use that phrase

        • The Awe Ritual said:

          I’m glad you’re out, but— I don’t know precisely what 42TLH42 has in mind, but for me, setting up “normal” as an antonym to “healthy” or “okay” can be problematic in terms of ablism and exclusion/ bullying/ behavior-policing. It can also get filed away as “advice that does not apply” if Beth does not care to embrace the idea of “normal” or feels it is a mythical, unattainable idea.

          LW, however, knows what will resonate with Beth.

          • Traffic_Spiral said:

            Yep. Lots of people in bad relationships tell themselves “we’re special! We’re different! Everyone else just Doesn’t Understand!” To that person, ‘not normal’ can be easily dismissed – “normal is a setting on a dryer,” “who wants to be normal,” and all that crap. Further, the problem isn’t that it’s abnormal. We’re not judging their habit of hosting Silly Hat Thursday, where everyone comes to a party on Wednesday wearing weird socks. The problem is that it’s fucked up.

          • JenniferP said:

            Re: using “normal” vs. other language & this subthread

            Take the lesson of the poop knife: Normal is subjective.

            But a conversation with a friend about a horrible partner, I’d use the language that I think would reach them. Especially if the person is trying out “but relationships take work” or “that’s just what relationships are like, right?” or wondering if it’s normal to feel x, y, z in conversation. What do I think they would respond to? A lot of shitty behaviors might have been normalized in a family or community. But sometimes “Hey, you think this is normal, but actually it’s not” might make the case to that person, and that’s okay. We don’t have to be perfect in these conversations.

          • MsMildew said:

            DYLAN IS THE POOP KNIFE

          • Marthooh said:

            @MsMildew, I think you’re giving him too much credit here. If Dylan were the poop knife, he’d cut that shit right out.

        • I think if you’re used to your relationships being ‘not normal’ in other ways (orientation, monogamy, whatever) then the idea of using normality as a yardstick seems very strange, which makes it less compelling as an argument, but ymmv.

        • 42tlh42 said:

          Because too many people equate “normal” with “healthy”, and they’re not always. For example, having a shared bedroom with your partner may be normal, but for me and my partner, it wouldn’t be healthy. So we have separate bedrooms that we’ve each decorated in our own way, and that’s healthy for us.
          Was this a useful answer?

          • ET said:

            OK, I understand. I just think that “not normal” can be more useful in some circumstances (and vice versa) and I don’t see much value in insisting on only using one way of saying something when it might be applicable to use the other. In my case “that’s not healthy” probably wouldn’t have helped me. I knew it wasn’t healthy, but I thought that I was the problem, and all of these unhealthy behaviors that were causing pain were just the normal reactions that anyone would have to my badness. Hearing “that’s not normal” was what finally got me to think that maybe their reactions weren’t actually appropriate.

            There are probably other situations where “that’s not healthy” would work better for someone else. I don’t think either one needs to be eliminated.

        • C baker said:

          Lots of us are “not normal” in some way that’s actually perfectly healthy and all right. On the flipside, many people consider things to be “normal” that are not healthy and all right at all.

        • Amy said:

          Sometimes it is normal. Sometimes they think it’s normal–maybe they grew up with parents with a similar dynamic, or have a number of acquaintances who do the same thing, or see it a lot on TV, or all their exes did it too–there are dozens of ways that people construct their ideas of ‘normal’. Sometimes they’ve accepted it already, and it’s become their ‘normal’ even if it isn’t for other people.

          It’s generally a lot of work to convince someone that their idea of ‘normal’ is wrong, and in cases like this, that’s often wasted effort because ‘normal’ isn’t the point. It doesn’t matter if asshole manbabies are the norm or not. It matters that this is an unhealthy and unhappy dynamic for her to be in. It would still be a bad situation for her even if every other person she knows was dating an asshole manbaby.

          Which isn’t to say that you should never use “that’s not normal”! If someone’s on the “Well, yeah, I know it’s not great, but this is the norm so I’m not going to get anything better” line of thought, pointing out that actually there are better options can be really effective. But if your main point is that it’s an unhealthy situation, it’s probably going to be more efficient to say that than to argue over normalcy.

      • Helbling said:

        I agree with ET that ‘normal’ is a very useful nomenclature here. The abusers I’ve seen have very much pushed the belief that what they’re doing is *normal*, that their behaviour is *understandable* and *expected* given the circumstances, and that if the victim has an issue with it, it’s because they’re the damaged ones, they’re the problem

        “This isn’t normal” is an extremely validating and freeing thing for some victims to hear – it was for me – and while in other circumstances I have a knee jerk reaction against that word (very little about me is on the traditionally straight and narrow) in this particular case, it was crucial.

        I mean, it’s not healthy either, that is true, but I’d had that line used on me before, and my response had been to sing the song of how it was just so haaaaard for the abuser, and they didn’t understaaaaaand and no one was perfect and they were tryyyyyyying, we just had to heeeeeeeeelp.

        You know, the standard stuff when you’re knee deep in FOG.

        “Normal” leaves them with fewer places to hide. I would absolutely endorse its use here.

        • twomoogles said:

          Yeah I think in this case it’s important to use the language that will resonate most with the person you’re saying it to, not what might be best on a macro/society level. Some people are going to respond more to “not normal” whereas for others it’ll have negative connotations mentioned above.

        • Kaos said:

          “This is not the way a normal, healthy relationship works.”

        • TO_On said:

          Depending on the person, it can allow them to make the argument that something is fine because a lot of people do it. They can pull up some statistics or anecdotes pushing the idea that a behaviour is common, and use it as a moral justification.

          This can become a big problem if you live in a culture where abuse or unhealthy behaviours are actually fairly common.

      • For what it’s worth, I have consistently responded to “healthy” as you do to “normal.”

        I would (and have) examined behaviors if someone says they might not be normal. I would (and have) bristled at a characterization of healthy (or not).

        I perceive “normal” as describing frequency and whether something is ordinary – but with no value attached. On the other hand I hear value judgements in discussions “health.”

        So I would be unlikely to tell someone I thought their relationship dynamics were not healthy unless I was certain that was the best approach for them.

        • TO_On said:

          True, I can see how it might be perceived as more neutral, and how some people might respond better to that.

        • IndoorCat said:

          Seconded, re “normal” over “healthy.” As someone with physical and mental health problems, I have a strong negative reaction to the idea that someone being unhealthy (or a relationship being unhealthy) is a good reason to leave a person (or relationship). To me, the stigma against mentally unhealthy / mentally ill people being destructive or morally bad puts all my defenses up. I’ve said, aloud, “Unhealthy is fine; unhealthy is okay. Nobody has to be perfect, stop trying to clear someone else’s bar” to defend my own self-esteem from negative self-talk, *and* to defend an abusive friendship.

          The thing is, normal, for whatever reason, has more a connotation in my mind as describing behavior. “That reaction isn’t normal” or “That isn’t a normal way to handle an argument.” Or even, “That isn’t a normal level of jealousy” (acknowledging that they realize that some degree of imperfection– like jealousy– is normal, and can be worth the price of admission, but this much crosses the line into abuse).

          So, right, for me “not normal’ has been better to highlight abusive behavior, and, honestly, from myself. I’ve never been an abuser, but I have crossed lines in my behaviors with, say, how I react in an argument. A *long* time ago, very pre-therapy, I did and said some things I’m not proud of, and rightly lost some friends. Pointing out that the way I handled conflict wasn’t normal, in therapy, made me realize that I not only wanted to change my mood and how I felt, but also how I treated people, and that my illness isn’t an excuse to treat people badly– nor, frankly, is it an excuse to let myself be treated badly by others.

    • Sabina said:

      Nice script. I’d probably replace “But this is not normal, and I don’t want to act like it is” with “This situation is fucked-up and I can’t pretend it isn’t”. Avoids any problematic associations with the word “normal” and allows a tiny, subtle F-bomb when my whole brain would be screaming “FUCK DYLAN, FUCK HIM TO DEATH!”

      • Lizards80 said:

        I was using ‘not normal’ as a counterpoint to the way the abuse is normalized within the relationship.

        The words I was responding to in my head are when people being abused say that certain things [arguments/needing to compromise/feeling bad] are ‘a normal part’ of any relationship. And I used ‘this is not normal’ as a way to reject these dynamics that have become normalized (common, routine) within the relationship.

        Disagreements are normal (common, to be expected, not an indicator of anything Wrong, and worthy of expending effort to address). Abusive disagreements are not normal (not okay, not within the bounds of what’s expected to happen in a relationship between/among folks joining their lives together in some capacity).

        I do understand that ‘normal’ can be used, intentionally or in ignorance, in a way that hurts or marginalized or erases others. I am sorry for the ways in which my word choice did that.

        However, “healthy” does not bring the same connotation to me. What words would be better that are not hurtful to marginalized folks?

        • temporaryobsessor said:

          Lizards80
          Not OK. Third paragraph second set of brackets. If somethings okay its either good or at least acceptable. If somethings not okay something is seriously wrong.

    • Marna Nightingale said:

      I MIGHT even go as far as “is this where I offer a reality check?”

      Depending, as always, on all the things that depends on.

      On the one hand I totally hear the thing with the detatching, and on the other, some 25 years later I am STILL grateful to the friend who looked at me one day and said “OK so, it’s none of my business and all that but … stop having casual sex, it makes you unhappy.”

      So, you know. Depending on your overall relationship and general feeling about that advice. If you read it and went OH HELL NO then it doesn’t apply.

    • Steven Tyler's PJs said:

      This is just absolutely the best script for a grieving friend and a useless asshole.

  3. ASJ said:

    I kinda went through this with a friend. She complained/talked so much about her boyfriend and more than once I gently suggested she should end things with him, but there was always a multitude of (crap) Reasons Why They Were Good Together and I Just Did Not Understand. Eventually my friend stopped talking about him to me, and now just mentions him very periodically. It stings a little that I can’t be that sounding board for her, but for the sake of my own sanity I’m glad. I can only hear variations on “my boyfriend picked a fight with me and then told me I was being unreasonable and moody and too emotional” so many times before I want to scream.

    • ElleEm said:

      Yeah, my best friend was with the alcoholic version of Dylan. Right down to the weird “can’t marry you til I’m an adult”, only as my friend helpfully explained, he “doesn’t believe in saying I Love You, because that’s what married people do.” (Who would marry a partner who has never said they love you??) They were together for 12 years, but already by year 3 or so I was pretty done with trying to point out his bad behavior and her looking the other way because he was stressed at work, etc. Eventually, we just avoided the subject altogether. We lost touch a bit because they moved a few hours away, and the last time I saw them it had devolved into full blown Scary Toxic Situation. They eventually broke up, luckily. I had realized years and years before that only she could make that decision, but I still feel some guilt for not saying more or at least saying it better.

      • Chase said:

        Having been the person in the shitty relationship, there are no magic words that would’ve made your friend give up on The Hope of it Working Out (aka “most of the time, they’re great! If I just do the right thing, it’ll be that way ALL THE TIME!”). Forgive yourself for not finding them.

        • Lissa said:

          Ditto. Looking back, I don’t know if there were words from anyone that could have made it better or helped me realize it sooner. I think Cap’s script is perfect – very much “I love you, I support you, but we’re not talking about him.” Emphasis on the first two, because when stuff hit the fan and he dumped me (which was the only way that relationship was ending, tbh), and I realized what I mess it had been. Falling into the arms of those who I knew who would still support me was invaluable.

        • kanel said:

          Actually I have to disagree. Sometimes there are magic words, or magic questions. This happened to me when I was in a shitty relationship that made me absolutely miserable. Two magic questions from a counselor broke the spell and kicked me out of the thinking pattern I was stuck in. I’m still very grateful.

          I’m not sure it ever happens between friends, but a trained professional might be able to deliver magic words or questions that make you stop and think in a new way.

          • carabiner said:

            Would you feel comfortable sharing what those magic questions were? I have a friend going through this right now and, while we are all more or less at the “Welp, we’ve said everything we can think of so at this point if you want to ruin your life with him it’s yours to ruin” stage (it’s been two years of support and reality checks), if there any possibility that something hasn’t been said I’d love to hear it!

          • MsMildew said:

            It does work with friends. It happened that way for me when I was living with an abusive & controlling BF at the age of 19. My best friend made one pointed observation and it was the catalyst that started me on my way to breaking up with him two or three months later. And once I was done, I was -DONE-

          • I can tell you what some magic words were for me: I was suffering badly from the effects of being very angry all the time, and was trying to get help for that. I said I had an anger problem. The magic words? Being told firmly that the problem wasn’t that I was getting too angry; the problem was that I wasn’t getting angry ENOUGH. I wasn’t getting angry enough to boot the assholes from my life. So I had a bad case of being Surrounded By Assholes, which will make any sane person clinically depressed with an anger chaser.

            Lo and behold, I started booting assholes (including my domestic abuser) and the “anger problem” and depression cleared right up.

          • kanel said:

            Carabiner, I would love to share the questions. The problem is my memory there is very hazy. One of them I don’t remember at all. The other one had to do with what made me the most sad about thinking it would end, or something like that. I remember that my answer was that I was most sad to let go of the dream of what I imagined could have been. It made me realize that most of it was in my head anyway. Sure I would miss the cuddles and other things, but what I would miss the most wasn’t even him or any part of the relationship, but the future I had dreamed of.

      • A friend of mine just had her second kid–so she’s really entangled now–with a husband with whom she is in love but whom she doesn’t actually like.

        I’ve stopped calling. She never has time to talk, anyway, even when she chooses the time she wants to talk, and when she does she mostly complains about him and how she thinks she should have the right to take the kids away if she thinks his parenting is stupid. I’m over it. I will miss our friendship but I’m pretty out of patience with her as a person.

        • Typhoid Mary said:

          @littleblackcar, just as a heads-up, Jen has asked us to refrain from talking about survivors in a critical way on this thread.

          • JenniferP said:

            Thank you. When we’re talking about people going back to abusive relationships, maybe mentally insert “My friend/family member might be trying not to DIE” in your narrative.

            I KNOW it’s so hard on bystanders/family/friends to watch and we are so limited sometimes in what we can do.

            But please be gentle with each other and ourselves about this.

    • I'll come up with a clever name later...maybe. said:

      I have a friend who I was once super close to who chose the wrong man. I hated him – still do. She used to cry on my shoulders every time something happened (which was at least 4 times a week). I wanted to be a good friend and help her, but my mental health was taking a beating over it. It was my husband who told me that I could say something to her about wanting to be her friend but not wanting to hear about her relationship. Her phone calls suddenly dropped off. She was still my friend, but she had less to talk to me about once I took her favorite subject away. Now we text every once in a while about benign stuff. He’s still in her life, she’s still unhappy (judging by the amount of vague social media updates), but I don’t have to hear about it. 🙂

    • like an angry apple tree said:

      I’ve done this semi-accidentally – I didn’t know how/whether to draw a line; the friend maybe realized I was Not Helping and stopped talking about it.

      The odd side effect was mysterious gaps in the friendship, so that every time Friend got vague about anything, I’d assume it was their Dylan-analogue. Which it probably wasn’t, not every time. “I can’t tell you for reasons of national security” is a note I’m not used to having in my life, you know? But it beat hearing about Dylan all the time.

  4. bad at screen names said:

    My best friend had a Dylan named Nate. Before she started seeing Nate I had been on & off with my own Dylan-esque guy i call Adam for the sake of this comment.

    One day she was complaining about Nate and wanted a sounding board, and I told her, “Whatever you thought of Adam and how he treated me is how I feel about you & Nate”.

    It didn’t make her tell Nate to go to hell quite yet, but it put it in her head that she was accepting treatment she had not wanted to see for me.

    • JenniferP said:

      Ah, excellent, esp. since the Letter Writer identifies that she has done the same thing in the past.

  5. Dear LW,

    I commiserate with you. Those of my friends who persisted in banging their exes eventually stopped when they had something better to do.

    I hope that Beth finds something (more productive than this jackass) soon.

    In terms of scripts, a brief version might be:

    Beth, I know you love him. I don’t. I’d rather talk about something else.

    Good luck.

    • That is short sweet and sharp. Great.

    • SaraFox said:

      Right, there’s some truth in “it helps to get under someone new to get over someone else”. Crass but it works.

      • Seeking Second Childhood said:

        I now have Duo Lipa’s “New Rules” playing inside my head… and maybe LW can find out if her friend knows it. Because it would all be helpful….
        “My love, he makes me feel like nobody else
        Nobody else
        But my love, he doesn’t love me
        So I tell myself, I tell myself
        One, don’t pick up the phone
        You know he’s only calling ’cause he’s drunk and alone
        Two, don’t let him in
        You’ll have to kick him out again
        Three, don’t be his friend
        You know you’re gonna wake up in his bed in the morning
        And if you’re under him
        You ain’t getting over him.”

      • Myrtle said:

        “it takes a nail to drive out a nail-?”

    • Perlndra said:

      “I commiserate with you. Those of my friends who persisted in banging their exes eventually stopped when they had something better to do.”
      Or someone better to do? 😉

  6. enplaned said:

    It’s sobering the number of people who live on crumbs, whether it’s Beth or others who allow themselves to be treated like ****. No, it’s almost always Not Your Fault. Yes, almost always You Deserve Better. It may hurt in the near term, but almost always You’re Gonna Be Better Without Him or Her, so for your own sake treat yourself with the self-respect you deserve.

    Yeah, it’s easier said than done. But the number of people who were brought up with less self-esteem than they should have is, again, sobering. In my wish list is a basic relationship class in elementary school, reinforced in middle school with a simply but powerful message — don’t ever let someone treat you badly in a relationship, and don’t you ever treat someone badly either. It won’t fix every issue, but it will provide kids with a baseline.

    • I think that’s a lot easier said than done, though. As someone who was brought up with many good lessons about self-esteem and not letting people treat you badly in a relationship, I still ended up in a subtly emotionally abusive relationship that took me a LONG time to recognize as such, because the abuse I was experiencing didn’t look like the abuse I was taught about. Add on top of that a heap of people are socialized to perform enormous amounts of emotional labor without expecting it in return and taught that this is normal and the way you show you care, complicated by the fact that emotional labor ISN’T an inherently bad thing and societal messaging that we shouldn’t treat relationships as “transactional”, which is of course true but shouldn’t be used as an excuse for people to create and stay in unequal partnerships – and it’s super easy to slip into relationships where you are tolerating behavior that’s actually not okay without realizing that’s what you’re doing.

      • Roxy said:

        “complicated by the fact that emotional labor ISN’T an inherently bad thing and societal messaging that we shouldn’t treat relationships as “transactional” ”

        Ahhh, this. So much this.

        I used to buy into this messaging that relationships should never be transactional. Or rather, I bought into it in order to survive an unequal, anxiety-inducing, borderline abusive relationship.

        When I finally got out, and one of our friends reached out to me, she and I were chatting about unconditional love. And how it’s supposedly important to give and receive unconditional love, even after a relationship ends. We should still have brotherly love for one another. Or something? Idk. Idgaf.

        But I finally had it and I told her, more or less, “No, you know what? That’s bullshit. My love is conditional. It’s conditional on treating me right. It’s conditional on being an adult partner for the other half of the relationship. It’s conditional on, hell, on keeping a job! My love is conditional and I don’t feel bad about that. I’m not any man’s mommy! He can go to his mommy if he wants unconditional love. An adult partner is not obligated!”

        She…she didn’t really know what to say. She was flummoxed and upset. But I knew she was trying to carry messages. She was attempting to do some misplaced codependent emotional labor of her own, between two dysfunctional people, one of whom finally said enough was enough and put a stop to things.

        I hope she carried that right back to him whispering, “She doesn’t believe in unconditional love (gasp, tear). I don’t think she’s right for you.” I really hope she did.

        Adult relationships are transactional people. They are. They don’t have to be *ugly* transactional. They should never be mercenary. But adult relationships, especially marriages, are a business enterprise.

        When you own property together, or are even contemplating the possibility of owning property together, you are in a business relationship. To think otherwise is willfully naive. Business relationships are transactional relationships that requires trust, maturity, showing up, and yes, compassion, and sometimes space. Business relationships are not unconditional.

        I have a son and I love him unconditionally. My partner? Nope, not so much. He determines how I feel about him by the quality of his treatment of me. I don’t owe him anything unconditionally. Not my time, not my heart, not my money, and not my bed.

        • Tyche said:

          Thank you, thank you for this comment!!!

        • viva said:

          THANK YOU. I have the same belief and most people think it’s a monstrous attitude.

        • Marthooh said:

          Children need to know they are loved while the adults they depend on teach them how to behave. Adults don’t have the same dependency.

          • Roxy said:

            Exactly. Children deserve unconditional love. Adults who try to require it from other adults have mommy or daddy issues or spiritual issues.

            We earn the love of other adults. Not in a one-up-one-down way. Not in a mercenary way. But we prove ourselves capable of trust, forgiveness, authenticity, being reliable, being present, and having someone’s back, based on our actions, our behaviors, and how we show up.

            I also believe love cannot be separated from respect. You cannot love someone if you do not respect them. And they cannot authentically love you if they do not, at base level, respect you.

            This for me cuts to the bone of a lot of questions about whether or not a relationship stands a chance at survival, even whether it may have veered into abuse.

            Does he/she respect you? I mean really, at base level, do they have a fundamental respect for you as a person? Give me your first, gut level response. Do they have a basic understanding of your values and comprehension of who you are? A positive regard? No?

            Okay, do they treat you with disrespect? They do? (Or you treat them with disrespect.) Well. Then. This is not love.

            This may be dependency. Co-dependency. Addiction. Habit. Depression. Mutual depression. Ennui. Economic reality. But it is not love.

            If you cannot and do not fundamentally respect them. Or they cannot and do not fundamentally respect you. You’re not dealing here with love. Call it something else. Get down to brass tacks about what it really is and go from there. Make your decisions in the full light of reality.
            Because love cannot exist where there is no respect.

            Maybe there are reasons for that loss of respect. Maybe you started off respecting them and it ebbed and disappeared over time based on their treatment of you. Maybe you had their respect, and lost it, for valid reasons. Can it be rebuilt? Love can only be rebuilt if respect can be rebuilt. If it can’t be rebuilt (and let’s not bullshit ourselves about how hard that is) then love cannot be rebuilt. And no one owes anyone else the opportunity to re-earn their respect.

            Love is not a feeling. It’s not a yearning. It’s not a craving. It’s not a spasm of guilt or fear or longing. Love is a foundation of trust and *respect* between two people. Earned by behavior and action. And not between one person who is trying too hard and another person who is holding that over their head. Only between two people who have chosen accurately in choosing each other and are worthy of each other.

            By this estimation, actual love really is a phenomenally rare thing. But I think that is true. And I think it’s still something to strive towards. And to work hard to be worthy of. When you find someone worthy of you.

          • I think the only “adult” person we owe unconditional love to is ourself.

          • MsMildew said:

            @Roxy Out of nesting – thank you for this insightful comment.

        • MsMildew said:

          Beautifully stated!

        • Not Australian said:

          @ Roxy – I learned this the hard way. My parents thought they deserved my unconditional love whilst making their own *highly* conditional, and in due course I ended up in an abusive marriage – which I thought was normal. (“My husband hits me. Well, why not; my father did.”) After twelve years I escaped (Parents: “You’re shaming us: we’ve never had a divorce in the family!) and eventually re-married. Nowadays the only people who get my unconditional love are my son, my grandkids and my pets; my parents gave up all right to my love and had to make do with my respectful duty instead. As for Husband Mk II – I can’t imagine what he could ever do for me *not* to love him, especially now that we’re (ahem) a little older, but I can at least concede the possibility.

        • Perlandra said:

          Yeah, people shouldn’t have to count up how much time they spend on domestic chores or emotional labor because both (or all, in the case of polyamorous relationships) people should be happy to share the load! If they are counting, that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with them, but there is something wrong with the relationship.

      • M Dubz said:

        The older I get ( and the fact that I get paid well to do LOTS of emotional labor) the more I want transactional relationships, sort of. You don’t have to go tit for tat with me on the kind of emotional labor, but you’d better be giving the same amount over time or this relationship isn’t going to work.

    • Jaybeetee said:

      Yeah, a *lot* of people wind up in crappy relationships at some point or another. Domestic violence studies put *that* at like 1/3 of the population (male and female), and apparently like half of marriages will struggle with infidelity at some point, which I only bring up to say, “Okay, so how many people have been in regular-bad relationships like the one mentioned here?” It’s a bit depressing how bad at this we still are. I feel like I live in a weird bubble where damn near everyone I know met their soulmates when they were in their late teens or early 20s, and are still happy (mostly happy) into their 30s, but given the numbers, a *lot* of people struggle with relationships.

    • johann7 said:

      In my case, it’s hasn’t been a lack of self esteem or not thinking that I ought to be able to have a partner who doesn’t treat me abusively, but that experience led me to believe that I couldn’t reasonably and necessarily EXPECT to have a decent partner, partly as a function of having very few opportunities for romantic partners at all. And every person who has ever tried to convince me that there are or will be opportunities for relationships with healthier dynamics wasn’t really in a good position to have me believe them becasue they weren’t in a position where dating me would even have been an option. It’s often for reasons that aren’t directly a function of whether IN GENERAL IN OUR SOCIETY I might be considered attractive or a good partner – the person is a family member, not into anyone of my gender, already exclusively partnered, etc. – but it’s still kind of hard to take someone seriously when ze’s insisting I’d be a great partner while ze personally has no interest in dating me (and in my more hopeless and misanthropic moods, I’d actively resent this, as it felt like an intentionally cruel lie). I’ve stayed in abusive relationships I recognized as abusive because what I was gaining emotionally and sexually were (or at least seemed to be) worth abuse that I could recognize and to some extent mitigate with various strategies, given that it’s been my experience that I go years between anyone expressing sexual/romantic interest in me and that nearly everyone I’ve ever asked on a date has been exclusively partnered, not into people of my gender, or not attracted to me, specifically. The social framing of this dynamic as “desperation” (and the implied disparagement of the person experiencing it) is also not especially kind or helpful; one thing we can do to not actively encourage people to stay with partners who are bad matches for them (all of this applies to people who stay in relationships that are simply bad matches without being abusive, too) is to try to recognize the sorts of casual social reinforcement in which we engage and stop doing that.

      Unless one is actually in a position to suggest alternative ways of meeting the needs/desires that the abusive relationship is currently addressing, one is not in an especially good position to be believed when insisting that such alternatives are available. The good part is that we can use this insight to increase the odds that the person will listen and actually start trying to get out. You, helpful, caring friend or family member, may only see the abusive partner as a thoroughly terrible person, but that partner is meeting some need(s)/desire(s) of your friend/family member – that’s why ze’s with that person in the first place. Counter-intuitively, it may be helpful to reflect on the GOOD parts of the relationship to identify what’s keeping the person attached and be able to suggest substitutes that don’t come with a heap of abuse. Is it material needs, like housing, a second income, help with domestic labor, childcare, etc.? If so, can you or other friends/family help provide a place to stay or material/labor support instead? Can you help the person navigate applying for public support for material needs, especially health insurance, which is often attached to marriage or domestic partnership (at least in the USA, despite the marginal improvements brought by the ACA)? If you’re family, has the family been making efforts to include the person in family events/gatherings? Do you have any social groups into which you might be able to integrate the person for non-family social connections? Do you have single friends whom you think could be compatible and with whom you might be able to set the person up on dates? Or are you willing/able to help the person set up online dating profiles or go out with zir to bars, clubs, or other meatspace places people go in search of romantic/sexual partners?

      We don’t need to be someone’s life coach or have a complete plan to get every one of zir needs met, but having a few suggestions to address just one or two things ze’s currently getting from the relationship could help a lot, even if it’s just to shut down the rationalizations the person will craft to justify staying. “I can’t leave becasue I’ll be homeless” – come stay with me. “I can’t leave becasue I won’t be able to care for my child” – mom’s retired and has been dying to help with caring for the kid, but Abuser wouldn’t let her. “I can’t leave becasue nobody else will ever be with me” – nonsense, I’ll take you out to Club the Friday after you split up and be your wingperson and prove other people will be interested in you. We’ve built a society where romantic partnerships are the assumed norm, so there are a lot of material and social needs that can only be met or are significantly easier to meet when one is romantically partnered. These constitute real, external barriers to leaving abusive relationships, and since abusers also tend to try to erect their own additional barriers with gaslighting, social isolation, etc., addressing the external barriers might be necessary to make the barriers we can’t address surmountable.

      This got rather long, but I was prompted by your observation of how common this dynamic is. I think you’re totally right, and I think a large part of it not even that people internalize an abuser’s manipulations or lack the self esteem or perspective to recognize the reality of their situations (though this also happens plenty), it’s that we have INTENTIONALLY, if not necessarily consciously (and also sometimes consciously), built a society that REQUIRES romantic partnership for various material, emotional, and social needs. The problem is pervasive because the causes are systemic.

      • Brassica said:

        “The good part is that we can use this insight to increase the odds that the person will listen and actually start trying to get out. You, helpful, caring friend or family member, may only see the abusive partner as a thoroughly terrible person, but that partner is meeting some need(s)/desire(s) of your friend/family member – that’s why ze’s with that person in the first place. Counter-intuitively, it may be helpful to reflect on the GOOD parts of the relationship to identify what’s keeping the person attached and be able to suggest substitutes that don’t come with a heap of abuse.”
        This is brilliant and potentially extremerly useful. Thank you!!!

      • the815 said:

        Being alone is FAR better than being in a terrible relationship, although maybe you need to be in a couple bad relationships for that to sink in (was true for me).

        I do agree that it’s better to try to tease out WHY your friend is so reluctant to leave a bad partner, rather than just being like, “DO IT DO IT DO IT DO IT” because they’ll feel attacked and like you’re not a safe person to turn to. However, I also agree with the Captain that if you just cannot be objective ‘cuz you hate their partner so much, you should excuse yourself from conversations in which that person is the star. “I’m here for you, and I love you, but I just can’t hear about him any more. I cannot be objective.” You can isolate yourself from that particular subject without isolating the person entirely. I might really, really care that your car died but if I don’t have the mechanical skills to fix it, then pointing you in the direction of a professional who can is the right thing to do (so it is with a therapist).

      • I’m glad you realized what you would grave helped you specifically, but you are demanding a lot of assumptions to be made by friends and family of victims. I see the people I care and love in pain and even the simple “hey I saw x y and z happen and that was not cool and I worry about you. How are you doing?” type of conversations are a battle. When the other person doesn’t want to acknowledge any unhappiness saying “break up already” seems impossible.

        I just can’t imagine going to someone I know jumping out the box with a sports whistle like Tony the tigger going “*tooot toot* GOoooooD morning. Today is the day you should break up with your shitty bf. I also filled the rest of the weekend with the things that I deemed appropriate for you *toot toot”. I don’t think you meant it but your comment comes across as blaming the victim’s safety net for not dictating the victim’s actions more. Just like their controlling abusers do.

        There’s no one set formula to convince everyone to leave their shitty relationships. So I think taking some portion of your advice will help to some people. But demanding that people become the life couches of those in need regardless if they asked for it or not is kinda a large leap. Maybe first check in how the person is feeling and if they respond by asking for help or even being open about the subject than start offering more concrete advice and assistance. There’s so many stories of family members dragging their loved ones away from the abusers only for them to go back to the abuser right away. That’s because the family were treating the victim just like the abuser, telling them what to do, demonstrating they think their opinions are more important, etc. You know what they say about horses and water and all that

        (Also it seems like you put a lot of your worth based on external means and what relationships signify as a status symbol. I hope you are doing better)

      • Jitz Girl said:

        “The problem is pervasive because the causes are systemic.” Yes. I just wanted to see that again.

        Sometimes friends are people we have fun with, and it doesn’t go any deeper than that. And that’s fine. If you have that kind of friendship with someone in a relationship with a Dylan, there’s nothing wrong with setting a boundary that you don’t want to hear about Dylan, because that is not fun.

        But some friendships are a much deeper bond than that. The comments on this very blog post are full of concern and love for the commenters’ friends, full of questions about “but how can I get my friend to see they’d be so much better off without Dylan and BREAK UP BREAK UP BREAK UP already?” Meanwhile, the friend is rationalizing away Dylan’s bad behavior as fast as they can. Usually it is because Dylan is meeting some kind of need for them. Could be material, emotional, or social, as you say. And the friend doesn’t know how else those needs would get met. “Oh, just break up. Easy for you to say. I’m on his health insurance–what else would I do about that? How would I get to work? The last time I was single, the loneliness nearly ate me alive, and I’m afraid it will again. I have a lot of friends in this neighborhood, but I can’t afford the rent on my own.” But if everyone can agree that Dylan is great, we don’t have to answer any of that other stuff! And out come the rationalizations.

        Obviously, if your friend truly believes Dylan is the bee’s knees, nothing you say will make a dent. Nor should it! It’s good that people don’t have that kind of power over one another! But *if* your friend does seem to know on some level that things aren’t right, and *if* you have the kind of bond where that troubles you, and *if* your friend is interested in your help, being open to the idea that Dylan is meeting some needs is likely to get you farther than preaching at them about how Dylan sucks and they need to break up.

        Sometimes just being willing to ask the question, for real, out loud, is enough for people to answer their own questions. “But how would I get to work? Hm, I suppose there are ride-shares…” Sometimes problems are a lot trickier to solve, of course. But you’ll get a lot farther attempting to solve them than with your friend pretending everything is fine, and you shaking your head at how dumb your friend is, and nobody even addressing, for instance, “who will watch friend’s kids when friend works nights? How does it get paid for? Be specific. Show your work.”

        • Twitchy said:

          It’s frustrating for me to watch people I love hurt themselves. It’s frustrating and painful because I /do/ care about them, not because I only see them as people to have fun with. And sometimes they’re determined to keep doing things that are bad for them, and they don’t appreciate me telling them not to. And if I try to solve their practical problems, they shoot down my solutions with reason after reason why it won’t work, because they don’t actually want to change the basic situation. They aren’t actively participating in the brainstorming session thinking of ways to get health insurance or childcare or human contact. They’re trying to persuade me that Dylan is, in fact, the only possible way to get these needs met because they don’t want to leave Dylan. They want to stay with him. It isn’t helpful for me to try to argue them out of their decision, and it also isn’t my job, no matter how much I love them.

          • the815 said:

            Yeah, I agree. If bad boyfriend excision surgery is not your area of expertise and you just don’t want to “go there,” then no, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad or superficial or “fun only” level friend (I guess it could mean that, but absolutely doesn’t have to). And if that IS your area of expertise, it means nothing if the person doesn’t actually WANT to leave. Even if it were literally your job to handle things like this, you still get to have your own personal boundaries and take days off.

          • MsMildew said:

            I’ve had friends still not want to leave their abusive relationships even when all the solutions have been handed to them on a silver platter, and the abuser wasn’t even giving them any of that in the first place anyway. When the ONLY reason they can think of to stay is a kind of bizarre combination of the Sunk Cost Fallacy and FOMO (Like, “if i break up he will totally change & become perfect & non abusive for the NEXT person, and they’ll be getting the good partner *I* deserve after putting in all the work, effort, & suffering to change them. SO I’ll just wait here being abused until they decide to change for ME….which they will, if I just wait long/suffer hard enough”) And just how the hell do you answer THAT as the caring friend who is doing their damndest to help?
            (That person eventually did leave…and couple of (less) abusive boyfriends later they decided having love was worth dating a white supremacist and that’s when I walked away for good. And it still makes me cry to think of just what they’ll tolerate for the sake of “having a man.”)

      • the815 said:

        It also seems like a really bad idea to “hit the club” to find some action for a person fresh out of an abusive relationship. True, I suppose for some people, realizing that they are in fact attractive to others might be just the thing to convince them to leave. But it could just as easily lead to the ex- following you to the club, your friend meeting someone who’s just as or more awful than the ex-, etc. This is someone emotionally vulnerable, you can’t just throw them into potentially stressful situations.

        I’m also guessing you’re a man based on your username, and so for you, leaving bad relationships did not involve (or was far less likely to involve) threats to your physical safety. If the relationship is truly that awful, then just leaving it should be enough, your friend shouldn’t have to promise you a perfect partner as soon as you leave. Even if a relationship wasn’t abusive, it generally takes a bit of healing time before you’re ready to move on and see others.


        • It also seems like a really bad idea to “hit the club” to find some action for a person fresh out of an abusive relationship

          I understand why people say this (and the related “Don’t jump into anything too fast. Take your time.), and I disagree.

          Some people need to overlay that ex, or the relationship with that ex, with something new.

          (Yes. I’m one of those people.)

          • the815 said:

            That’s fine. It’s a case by case thing. I just push back when people say, “I know what will fix you!” as a blanket statement without respecting that people are unique individuals and listening to what their friend actually says they want and need (and yeah, it’s frustrating when they say what they want and need is their Horrible Abusive Partner, argh…).

      • M Dubz said:

        This is all so true and helpful. Bravo!

    • Snickerdoodle said:

      CRUMBS, yo. I hear that. I was wangsting over a guy a decade ago when a friend asked me point blank why I took the crumbs he gave me. It hit me hard to realize that was exactly what I was doing; latching onto the smallest hint of attention from him and wondering What It All Meant. It meant nothing. *I* meant nothing to him. He was just sending an extremely grudgingly polite nod my way when I pestered him enough and therefore I learned that if I annoyed him enough, he’d engage. *facepalm* On the other hand, he also told me to my face that he didn’t care when I was upset and once grabbed me so hard he left bruises, so yeah. Fuck that guy. But it took an embarrassingly long time to reach the “Fuck that guy” stage; it always does.

      Another ex, oh man . . . He and I were together for two years, during which time (mostly just the last few months) we had many fights because I’d caught him in a lie or keeping something from me or otherwise not making room for me in his life, and many of those fights were exacerbated/caused by my abandonment issues and drinking too much. (I’ve long since been to therapy and quit drinking; yay!) When the guy and I broke up, I took it . . . Not Well. As Not Well as I’ve ever taken anything. I cried every day for weeks and talked endlessly about it for weeks, months even, to anyone who would listen. The responses I got were really telling about who my friends really were. My closest friend nodded along but did eventually tell me it was unhealthy to keep rehashing the breakup, which I realized was correct. I still thought about it, but I didn’t talk about it as much, and not having an audience helped. Another friend just demonized my ex in between not actually listening to anything I had to say, meaning he’d literally start talking about something else entirely while I was trying to cry on his shoulder, or he’d start making jokes when I was upset, and he never just said he didn’t want to talk about it. It was weird and immature, not to mention bashing the other person’s ex just makes them defensive, so I hope the letter writer doesn’t do that. Naturally, the friend who did this apologized to me some months later when he wound up getting heartbroken himself. I’d already decided I was done with that friendship by then and basically said “Yeah, that sucks” and didn’t talk to him anymore.

      My other friends were mostly good listeners about it; they just let me talk, some offered “Well maybe . . . ” tidbits that I wanted to hear and inflate into ways we could get back together, etc. Mostly my friends reminded me that it ended for a reason, and I had to hang onto that. Not contacting him, going to therapy, dating other guys, etc. was how I got some perspective. You can’t distance yourself from a relationship if you’re still in it on any level.

      Months later, the ex and I passed each other in public. He looked at me like I ate a baby and promptly started trash talking me online together with saying he missed me and wanted to talk and it sucked that I didn’t want to talk to him and that he was considering forcing contact somehow. Of course I didn’t respond to any of that beyond documenting it in case it escalated into stalking. The timing was perfect because I’d moved on and could see him for who he was and didn’t get sucked back in like I would have a few months prior. As they say, they always want you back exactly when you’ve finally moved on.

      Also during that breakup, I talked to one friend about quitting drinking, and he was the only person of all my friends who disagreed that I should stop. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he turned out to be an alcoholic. To this day, when I mention not drinking, he starts going on about how I only quit drinking because of my ex and that I’m letting him control me well after our breakup. No, dude. It doesn’t do any good for me to point out that I DID quit for me, because he won’t believe me and just hears what he wants to hear. Like me and my exes immediately post-breakup, he’s not distanced enough from alcohol to see it. In order to remain friends with him, I have to remember to avoid discussing alcohol. The letter writer, and everyone else who ever talks to a friend stuck on a bad relationship, has to figure out how to talk around that in order to remain friends with that person . . . or not. I may well end my friendship with the alcoholic guy if he can’t leave it alone; I don’t want to because every other conversation we ever have is great, but I can’t take hearing about unhealthy alcohol issues. It sucks to lose a friend to a bad relationship of any kind, but sometimes that’s what you have to do for your own good.

    • old biddy said:

      I’ve been thinking about the hypothetical life skills/relationships/adulting class I’d teach to middle school kids. One of these days I’m going to collect all my rantings and put it in my blog.

  7. Michele Ray said:

    All of you people are very kind and patient persons. I wish I had a magic wand – I would go over there and “expelliarmus” his abusive ass out of her life. (Obviously I used up my spoons for the day already)

  8. Fishmongers' Daughters said:

    I went through this with my sister for oh, 6 years? And I didn’t have a good script for it, and outdated older/younger sibling dynamics would have kept me from being able to use it if I did. And if I had came straight out and told her I was horrified by these stories, she’d shut right the hell down and we’d lose the burgeoning relationship we were developing.

    It was… hard. She’d describe things in that way that people do when they know what they’re saying is bad, but they’re trying out their positive spin on you so that they can convince themselves. That’s the part I think you should shut down. How many times have you tried to describe a feeling or belief and found that by articulating it, you firm up your own belief in it? Don’t let her do that.

    Example: My sister ‘laughing’ to me about how, when she finally broke down and asked him for help around the house (I once asked the dude where the trash bags were kept and he seriously had no idea) because it was getting so hard for her to come home from work, do all the chores and childcare stuff up almost until bedtime and then flop into bed exhausted day after day after day, he responded by… writing her out a schedule for how to do everything that needed to be done and still have 15 minutes at the end of the day “to herself.” and didn’t actually lift a finger to help around the house.

    She told me this laughingly, like “oh what a funny zany man I’ve got – he’s such a planner, such a manager, it was just like his first instinct to write out a schedule! Hahaha isn’t that funny?”

    I regret letting her tell me that, because I could FEEL her firming up the narrative that THIS THING MY LOVING HUSBAND JUST DID IS SO FUNNY AND ADORABLE!!!! I finally learned to stop doing that – stop responding to it.

    LW: Even if you don’t use the Captain’s script, don’t let your friend use you as a sounding board to firm up whatever positive spin she wants to put on his terrible behavior. Don’t let her convince herself as she tries to convince you. Shut that the hell down. There are all kinds of letters here where the Captain’s advice includes something like “Be boring. Be a broken record.” I’d like to add that on here. If you can’t bring yourself to tell her how you feel about the guy, make yourself an inappropriate sounding board for her. It’s one of the most compassionate things you can do for her.

    • servogirl said:

      oh, I have this friend. I HAVE THIS FRIEND. The “funny” or “that rapscallion of mine!” stories aren’t about him being abusive (thank God) but rather him being really, incredibly un-equipped for adulting and healthy relationship-ing. It’s sad to watch the gymnastics she goes through in a conversation to make things seem like regular relationship stuff instead of really unhealthy behaviors on his part. At this point, I try to go for an honest-but-reasonably-non-judgmental reaction (“wow, that would be tough” or “that would make me angry! how did that make you feel?”) but I’m not going to get into it with her about how deeply strange some of her stories are about their relationship.

      I’ve disliked enough friends’ partners at this point in my life to know that they’ll either figure it out or they won’t. Nothing I say unprompted will change the trajectory until they’re ready to really face what’s going on. I’ll tell the truth if directly asked but otherwise I am not getting into it unless someone’s in physical danger.

      • Spicy Onion said:

        I went through this. I had (yes, had. past tense) this amazing best friend who struggled though childhood and adulthood with a very verbally abusive mother (think: I only had you to make my mother mad type abusive). She ended up marrying this dude who was Master of the Creeps. He had such things as masturbation chairs covered in **ahem**. He voluntarily leave his wife who was disabled (Auto-immune disease) to go on long tours in Iraq (he had hardship leave). He used their Christmas present money for their children one year to throw a going away party for himself at a strip club. And he said very uncomfortable things. He would also sit up against you wearing ONLY a robe and carry on regular conversation like even the bare couch isn’t staring at him in awkwardness. He would talk about the sexual fantasies he had about you (in front of her). Constantly talked about other women he found attractive (she was Bi so of course it was OK). Like you can be swinging open (they were not swingers) as much as you want, but it is a matter of respect for others he just lacked totally. The thing is? I couldn’t handle it. I was just diagnosed from PTSD from something truly horrifying happening to me. And it wasn’t something, at this point, I felt like I could trust her enough with to confide in. She was so lost into this really unhealthy thing, that her comments about others were even getting skewed. Like “They guys my creepy husband works with are so uptight. They don’t invite him over anymore if anyone’s wives around”. Sigh. I could not handle it anymore. I ghosted the friendship almost entirely. I feel bad about it, but I couldn’t talk to her about WHY everyone was pushing her and her husband away anymore than I could confide in her that I had PTSD from being kidnapped. She still tries to reach out to me, and I did go see her a couple years ago. I stood and watched her staring at her husband out in the backyard hanging out with her guests at the party that was meant for her while he relegated her to the house with the children. And for a brief moment, I did see the resentment. And when she talked about him those times, it was almost like she was telling the story with a question behind it. That is how I know she knows. But she won’t leave, because she is afraid to be ‘like her mother’. But I still just cannot. Maybe one day I can. What kind of script is there for that conversation?

        Anyway, OP, looking back on my own situation, I should have pushed it more with her but gently. I should have set boundaries instead of ghosting. But at the end of the day, our friends aren’t dumb. We aren’t dumb when we ourselves are doing this crap. We know! Your friend knows, and I would just recommend maybe not making her feel embarrassed about along with setting the boundaries around that discussion as Captain has written.

        • Guava said:

          That…is so Not Okay. Spicy Onion, this guy was openly, actively, overtly sexually assaulting you. I know you feel guilty for “ghosting” this friend, but if being with her was exposing you to being sexually assaulted, that is too high of a price to pay!

          I think you need to forgive yourself for nope-ing out of there. That was your survival instinct kicking in. Think of it like you were running out of a burning building and didn’t have time to carry someone who probably would’ve struggled and screamed and slowed you down long enough for the smoke to fill your lungs.

          I’m so sorry he did that to you.

        • ElleEm said:

          It sounds like you’re right to remove yourself from being associated with this guy. I realized too late that I don’t need to sit and be polite in a situation where I feel fucking unsafe. I’ve essentially ghosted my friend because of her boyfriend. In my case, the abuse in my friend’s relationship starting finding its way over to me. The boyfriend’s drinking and argumentative side would get focused on me whenever I’d visit. I started seeing this as a way to drive me away from her, which was troubling. The last time I saw them, he got so (verbally) aggressive with me I worried I would have to call the police.

          But at the same time…she wasn’t all that nice to me, either. I get the feeling now that he was manipulating her about how her friends viewed her. My husband is pretty mild-mannered but, despite her own boyfriend getting a free pass to be boorish and insulting, she insisted that my husband hated her. I wracked my brain for years to try to understand it- did something happen once when I went to the bathroom? If we hadn’t seen each other in a while, she would accuse my husband of not letting me see her, or if I brought him along somewhere it was because he wouldn’t let me go by myself. I was always baffled by this because that was NOT the dynamic of my relationship. But I eventually figured out that that was how HER relationship worked and this was all projection. They have broken up now but his presence in her life made such an impact on our friendship and I have trouble untangling what was her behavior and what what him-through-her.

          But like you, I still wish I could have been more supportive or tactful in the way I addressed his behavior. I should have created better boundaries years ago before it exploded into A Scary Incident with me and her boyfriend.

    • ElleEm said:

      Oh wow, the “testing out the positive spin” thing. I, too, heard these things from my friend and could typically only muster up something like “Oh, that’s-…..hmm….” Example: My friend’s dude was very against accepting the status quo. If he overheard us pleasantly chatting about the sky being blue, he’d start his monologue to mock people who accepted that. It could be any subject matter- how ridiculous it was that my “easy” profession required a master’s degree- what I fool I was to get one! Or how an acquaintance “should have respect for herself” because the gallery that showed her work took a commission (like any gallery, which she understood and thus priced her work accordingly.) It was also totally ridiculous to him that anyone would actually PAY for her work that he could easily make himself, naturally.

      She would “helpfully” explain to me that because this dude was Just So Very Very Smart, he viewed conversation as a problem to be solved! He couldn’t be like us dumb-dumbs who were having a good time shooting the shit, he was too busy solving Very Important Issues (that didn’t need solving.) How do you even answer that, other than “Well, ok but he still seems like an asshole…”

      • H.Regalis said:

        Ugh, my ex was in a similar vein. Not anti-status quo, but certain that he knew the Right Way to do everything and no one else did. Except he wouldn’t pull that shit with his friends but he would with me. I pleaded with him for months to treat me like an equal (obviously things didn’t start out bad or I never would have dated him) but he could never do it, and I got sick of being stuck listening to a neverending monologue about how he always knew what was best for everyone. It makes me sad now to be happy that my new boyfriend doesn’t constantly correct me, although I’m still dealing with an internalized version of my ex’s voice that is constantly criticizing me. Bleh!

      • The Awe Ritual said:

        Viewed… conversation… as a problem… to be solved…

        WOW.

        • ElleEm said:

          Right?? And, surprise, it was never anything that he had any expertise in. Or really even cared about! He just liked to hear himself talk and feel like he knew better. Say you’re telling a story and in it, mention riding the subway. He’d highjack the story to say how public transit should be free, therefore anyone who paid to ride the subway was an idiot. I mean, sure, in a perfect world, it would be free. But that doesn’t change the fact that…if you want to ride the subway, you have to pay. And it wasn’t even the point of the story to begin with!

          He did this with little, stupid things AND with important things like people’s careers or families. I was talking about my nephew and he had to go on a diatribe about the stupid names people pick for their kids these days. My family has a tradition of taking family surnames and using it for a first name (think Anglo names like Morgan, Graham, Carter- nothing all that out of the ordinary) Add onto this that my SIL’s mother died before the baby was born- this kid’s name really means something to our family. But cool, dude- you got a one-up on a toddler!

          It was just so crazy-making that my friend gave this guy a pass to be rude to her friends because he was supposedly V V Smart. (Smart enough to think Tony Blair was still Prime Minister…in 2017. Have you not heard ANY of the news from the UK lately??)

          • The Awe Ritual said:

            Adherence to a linear timeline is for suckers and *so* bourgeoisie. How very like a woman, to think that politics matter! When do I get issued my hyperindulgent adoring girlfriend? Is she here yet?

    • Inahc said:

      Ick. Yeah. OTOH, people can do this in the other direction too – when my friend was staying on my couch, the stories started out as “oh man I fucked up and it’s all my fault”, but as we discussed them repeatedly and I pointed out bits that sounded odd, the story shifted, until a couple of days later both of us were like “holy shit, this is abuse”.

      Maybe it helped that I started out just as oblivious as her – I couldn’t see that it was bad, just that there were things that didn’t add up and assertions from Darth Ex that weren’t true. Like the kid innocently pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. 🙂

  9. Jaybeetee said:

    Yeah, it’s never easy to watch this kind of thing – she may end up taking him back, and you’ll be like, “No, no, why!” I think the general etiquette is that you get *one*. That is, mention once that you just don’t like this, then step back and let her make the decisions. As others have said above, if it turns into her constantly complaining and venting to you, and you just can’t hear it anymore, you’re allowed to set some boundaries on that too.

    Let’s all collectively hope that this experience, against all odds, *has* caused Dylan to finally “become an adult” and that if he and Beth get back together, it’ll go much better than before.

  10. Angela Zane said:

    Ugh. This makes me sad to read, as it reminds me of the unraveling of a very close friendship. A good friend of mine was dating somebody who was kind of generally a jerk, though not quite to the point described here. None of her friends really liked the guy, but most either decided to fake it to be supportive or else just straight up told her “I don’t like the guy and don’t really want to talk about him.” I tried a little of the latter strategy, but was getting the sense it was upsetting her, so I settled on just kind of not engaging on the subject of him. Eventually when she learned the full extent of my feelings she viewed my silence on the matter as “lying to her about how I felt” and she started to distrust me. I felt bad about that, but I also felt like she didn’t really permit me any option of acceptable reaction but act like I approved of the guy when I didn’t. They eventually broke up, because he was exactly the sort of jerk we thought he was, but the damage was done. I was sorry when things broke down, but it had become that all my motives were suspect to her and nothing I could do wasn’t searched for hidden animosity, and the stress of it was too much. Still sad that it happened, though.

  11. NERd said:

    Is it just me or is LW too invested in this relationship? Beth is allowed to make relationship mistakes and LW isn’t obligated to solve Beth’s relationship mistakes.

    The “discuss my deep contempt for him with mutual friends instead of with Beth” comment is a bit of a red flag that LW is letting this relationship take over their life too much. I think LW can tell Beth how she feels and then LW’s job as a friend is to drop the topic from their mind. LW will have said their peace and Beth will get to hear it. Beyond that, it’s Beth’s life.

    • Guesty said:

      I’ve been in the LW’s shoes and it’s extremely difficult to sit by and watch people you love being treated so poorly. The LW isn’t invested in her friend’s relationship, she’s invested in her friend’s happiness …which just so happens to be at odds with this relationship.

      I have a protective streak when it comes to my friends, and it took all of my willpower not to tell the jerk off. Even 5 years later, I’d probably make a scene if I saw him on the street. He was that bad.

      • NERd said:

        It’s an admirable quality, but I keep thinking if I were in Beth’s shoes.

        LW probably couldn’t say or do anything to change my mind about Dylan. LW’s attempts to do so would just make the relationship with the LW more difficult and I don’t think that’s what anyone wants.

        • bats are cute said:

          You are correct, but that’s exactly why this situation is so difficult for the LW. And that’s why CA’s advice is “don’t try to change her mind, just let her know you can’t be the person Beth vents to about Dylan anymore.” Creating that boundary might still push Beth away from LW, but it is also the the only feasible work-around to preserve their friendship.

          I’m also not sure how “I need somewhere to vent about how a horrible person is actively hurting someone I care about” is a “red flag”. From my own experience with being a bystander, venting to other bystanders about how horrible the abuser is not just a way for bystanders to cope with a messy situation, but also keeps the abuse from being normalized or forgotten.

          • NERd said:

            @bats are cute – CA’s advice is spot on.

            What I mean by red flag is that it doesn’t sound to me like Beth would describe her relationship before or after the infidelity as abusive or toxic. LW characterizing it that way and then discussing it with mutual friends in that way sounds like LW pushing a narrative on to Beth’s relationship. And potentially creating a toxic atmosphere in the friend group. Beth “holding out hope that he’ll come back to her and they can make it work” while LW is describing him in ways abusers are described doesn’t add up to me.

            If the relationship is abusive, Beth needs to come to that understanding on her own. No one can tell her that it is because she won’t be able to hear them. I hope, if that time comes, that LW is still a big part of Beth’s life and is willing and able to help in anyway they can.

          • bats are cute said:

            @NERd I’m still not getting it. Are you saying that unless Beth thinks the relationship is bad, no one else should think so? Or that it has to be a specific level of bad before LW has a right to have an opinion about it? Even if LW is dead wrong, the situation boils down to “I hate my friend’s SO, but I don’t want to lose my friend.” Is doesn’t matter *why* a person hates their friend’s SO… the feelings are what they are. What LW needs is advice on managing those feelings so she doesn’t lose her friend, not judgement about whether she’s accurately reading the situation in the first place.

            In any case, people seeing manipulation/abuse/toxic behavior before the person in the relationship sees/can admit Things Are Bad is exactly how bad relationships work, so I can’t agree that LW describing abusive behavior while Beth is hoping Dylan will come back and they’ll be happy “doesn’t add up.” It’s pretty textbook, tbh.

          • NERd said:

            I didn’t phrase my initial comment well. LW can feel however they feel about Beth and Dylan’s relationship. They’re allowed to dislike the guy and how he treats their friend. It’s awesome that LW is around and is concerned and seems to be willing to check in on Beth to make sure Beth is good.

            I may have read the note incorrectly, but there were some things that jumped out at me as potentially problematic that I think could have been addressed in similar ways CA responded to #1104. It felt like LW *might* *possibly* be trying to solve a problem that isn’t theirs to solve, and that might not be a problem according to Beth. LW is seemingly speaking for the friend group (“our good graces”) after venting to the friend group. That feels to me, like a boundary that LW maybe shouldn’t be crossing — or at least, make sure LW is treading very lightly on.

            This could be a textbook case of abuse as you say, but it could also be a relationship that LW isn’t a party to and doesn’t know everything about. Everyone commenting here and labeling it as abusive and Beth as a victim feels wrong to me.

            I know I’ve had friends in what appears to be a bad relationship and years later tell me they went through a rough patch and they felt hurt by how everyone around them was telling them to end it. On the other hand I’ve had friends who have been in what appears to be a bad relationship realize years later it was terrible and say “you were the only that checked in on me, thanks for that”.

            None of us know which is it and LW doesn’t know which it is either. Checking in on friends is awesome, and LW is awesome for being concerned.

            I just think there is a super grey boundary here that is hard to navigate.

    • bad at screen names said:

      The letter strongly implies the LW helped Beth pack up Dylan’s stuff when he left her. It sucks to help a friend get out a bad relationship (either because Beth asked for help or the LW offered & Beth accepted) only to to have your friend let the guy weasel his way back in.

      • NERd said:

        I didn’t read it that way. But you’re absolutely right, it’s hard watching friends make bad choices.

    • Emdashing said:

      @NERd — Respectfully, I need to push back on this. I think it is just you. The LW acknowledges multiple times that she cannot (and does not want to) control Beth. She even goes so far as to acknowledge she has made similar mistakes herself. She is only asking the Captain how best to support her friend in light of the toxic relationship her friend has. Talking to neutral parties about her own feelings of frustration regarding this jerk and her friend’s behavior is exactly the right thing to do. It is the opposite of a red flag.

      I am concerned at the censoring of care and human feelings happening here. If every friend of someone in Beth’s situation “dropped the topic from their mind” and stopped worrying about their friends’ wellbeing, it would be even harder for people to leave toxic relationships because that degree of compartmentalizing can, over time, build an emotional wall between people, thus isolating people with toxic partners. If the LW felt she needed to disengage for her own well-being, that would be a choice she could make, but it’s not the *only* acceptable choice and it’s definitely not what the LW wrote in about.

      It is possible to have personal feelings about a friend’s relationship and behavior without denying that friend agency or respect. These things are not mutually exclusive. The LW is bending over backwards to do right by Beth. Policing her private thoughts and frustrations (that she is careful not to share with Beth) is not helpful to either of them.

      To be completely frank, this comment really puts my shoulders up by my ears. I am not a fan of telling people what topics they can and cannot think about. Perhaps you only meant that LW could use some distance from this situation, which is likely true (it sounds frustrating!), but what she is asking for is how best to continue to support Beth despite the Dylan situation. LW is very explicit that this is not a scenario in which she is comfortable saying “not my circus, not my monkeys” and walking away.

      I am always wary of any argument with a whiff of the suggestion that caring about something (a lot) makes your opinion invalid/bad/wrong. LW cares about her friend and finds her mistreatment upsetting. She wrote to Captain because she wants help navigating being supportive and also honest without alienating her friend. Assuming she is “letting this relationship take over” because she speaks to neutral people about it seems like a large leap.

      • NERd said:

        I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to come off that heartless. I shouldn’t have said ‘put it out of your mind’. LW can and should feel however they feel about this. I mean to say that LW talking about Beths relationship with mutual friend makes me uncomfortable.

        What puts me on edge about the OP is that Beth isn’t asking for help and she didn’t sound unhappy in the relationship prior to the recent infidelity. Beth sounds like she wants to get back together with Dylan ” holding out hope that he’ll come back to her and they can make it work”. Beth doesn’t sound like she would have labelled her relationship with Dylan as toxic, so LW describing it as such makes me *very* uncomfortable. LW doesn’t like Dylan, and it sounds like LW has very good reason not to like him.

        LW can and should be there in every capacity they are able to be, if and when Beth needs that support. Until then, LW talking about Beth’s relationship with mutual friends and putting LW’s narrative into the friend group sounds like it has the potential to create a pretty toxic friend group gossiping about Beth’s relationship, which for better or worse may continue for years to come.

        Friends make bad relationship choices and it’s really hard to watch and I’m very sorry LW is going through that.

        • BigDogLittleCat said:

          You might have a point. Beth didn’t seem to share LW’s negative opinion of Dylan – LW doesn’t say Beth complained about him or expressed unhappiness in the relationship. In fact, she was blindsided by the revelation. On the other hand, “Dylan wouldn’t go to counseling, individual or couples’ ” indicates that there were problems in the relationship.
          LW disapproves of how Dylan treats Beth, and the Army wouldn’t put up with it, but if Beth was happy* and wants to make it work, Beth gets to decide what works for her.
          *happy happy, not putting-on-a-smile-and-telling-herself-she’s-happy happy.

          I think your initial post could have been worded better, but the point remains: who is it who is unhappy about Beth’s relationship with Dylan, LW or Beth?

        • moss said:

          I actually read it the same way as you, NERd. This line “there’s no fucking way this guy is getting back in our good graces” kind of snagged my attention. “our” good graces? LW’s friend is a free adult who can make her own choices about how she feels about someone. LW can choose to allow the boyfriend to be in LW’s good graces or not, she can’t make that choice for her friend.

  12. As women, we are often taught that if we don’t like someone, no matter the reason, it must be our fault.

    LW, please don’t refer to yourself as a “hard-hearted harpy” for not like #ThisFuckingGuy!

    *mails Dylan to my most toxic ex’s house*

  13. Clarry said:

    I don’t know what this says about me, but between delaying marriage on a flimsy excuse, being moody, infidelity, and having his crap all over the apartment she pays for, it’s the apartment thing that bothers me the most.

    • Traffic_Spiral said:

      Well honestly, if he’s going to be a crappy little manbaby, it’s really for the best that they don’t marry – so that’s probably the one thing going in his favor.

  14. One of my best friends married her Dylan-esque boyfriend (so many similarities, but mainly the admitted inability to “adult” in his mid-thirties and the can’t-keep-a-job thing). They only divorced last year, which meant a decade of me trying to be supportive without my own head exploding, and trying to express my dislike of him without driving her away. By the end, I was relying on “I hate to see you so unhappy”, “It hurts me that you’re being treated this way” scripts. I didn’t refer to him at all, but only echoed her own expressed feelings of pain and unhappiness. You can do this too, LW. Repeat to her the things she’s already saying out loud. (When my friend and her ex separated for the final time, I asked her “What would he need to do in order to come back and be a good partner to you?” She listed off some pretty hefty things, and I said “Do you think he can do all those things?” She said “No”, and later told me that that conversation was a turning point for her.)

    • atma said:

      This is a very useful comment!

    • Guava said:

      I really like “I hate to see you so unhappy” as a script here. I’ve used, “I want peace and safety and happiness for you,” with some success too.

    • Sharker said:

      “Repeat to her the things she’s already saying out loud.”

      this, this, this

      When my best friend was finally divorcing her abusive husband (who’d pulled the classic A+ trick of convincing her SHE was the abusive one), this was what I leaned on. It’s so hard not to hate the Darths, not to alienate their SOs, not to rail about their bullshit. But, in a very mild, careful, loving tone, this was what I did. Repeated her complaints back to her when they seemed relevant. Pointed out patterns when she was seeing individual incidents as discreet rather than pervasive. Agreed with her that there was so much good in their relationship…keeping to myself the fact that almost all of the good was what she’d brought to the table. Even agreed that “maybe after some time apart, he’d mature and be really ready for a love as epic and unique as theirs.” That was the story she had to tell herself to leave. It made my heart want to vomit, but I told that story with her, because that was what it took to get her out the door.

      We’re years later, and when I mentioned that in a late night conversation–that she’d had to believe they’d reconcile and be better than ever in order to leave–she flat out disbelieved me. Like, “ew, gross, why would I have ever wanted to get back with HIM?”

      I can’t tell you what a balm that “ew, gross” was.

      • Sharker said:

        Sorry, I meant, hard not to VERBALLY hate the Darths. Definitely hate the shit out of the people hurting your loved ones. Just, uh, for me at that time, it was better to pretend that I didn’t. Long after he’d isolated her from most of her other friends, I was allowed around, because I could (strategically) “see the best in him.”

        Man, I not miss my 20s.

        • Haha. “Man, I not miss my 20s”. I think that once a day. 😉

  15. Guesty said:

    Unfortunately, there’s no way to make people have higher standards than they do. It will take time for her to get out of the patterns that have likely been building up for years. Beth will eventually dump this guy, but it could take a long time and cost her a lot in her life.

    This type of thing is a prime example of why relationships can’t be based 100% on emotions. If your decisions are always based solely on how you feel, you’re always going to do what feels the best in the moment, even if it brings you low in the long run.

    You have to be willing to break your own heart. In order to get the relationship you need, you have to be willing to walk away from situations that fall short.

    • the815 said:

      **This type of thing is a prime example of why relationships can’t be based 100% on emotions.**

      Exactly! Relying 100% on emotions leads to the worst relationships. An emotional connection is important, of course, but you also have to ask what’s in it for you. Kinda sad that it took me so long to get that and to feel so selfish thinking that for the first time (“what’s in it for me? Actually, not so much. He just dumps all over me emotionally without reciprocating when I’m upset and in fact tells me to ‘just get over it’ while he gets demands being treated like glass,” etc.). Or if they aren’t abusive, exactly, can you imagine yourself living the kind of life you want with that person, or are their values way too different?

      Also, you can have lots of emotions without having an emotional *connection.*

    • Snickerdoodle said:

      Yep! This is true of many things and why dealbreakers exist. Never ignore your own dealbreakers, because otherwise you may as well not have any.

  16. Doovid said:

    I was in married in a bad relationship for 9 years. Manipulated and had no idea. Other people noticed it but never said anything. Maybe I wouldn’t have been receptive – hard to know – but I look back and wish someone would have said something; it might have helped me end it sooner and reduced my misery.

    • A lot of times when people see friends in that situation, they float little weather balloons, to see how comments are likely to be received. I know my family did this with my one sibling who was in a relationship with someone we really, really didn’t like (because she was AWFUL): “Hm, I just don’t know, we don’t really get along”. “I’m finding it hard to get to know her”. “Do you think her doing that was OK? It would upset me if someone did that to me.” etc.

      Sib’s reaction was to shut us down hard, or shut us out. That told us that we couldn’t discuss the relationship with them, and that essentially we’d have to wait it out and support as much as we could without allowing a bad relationship with Awful Person to isolate Sib. We made Perfectly Nice and Pleasant for fifteen years, because the alternative was leaving Sib without a support system, until Sib was finally in a place to end the relationship.

      Sib asked us why we never said anything — well, the answer was because even _barely negative_ or _absolutely neutral_ noises about Awful Person, at the beginning, were shot down, that’s why. Sib didn’t remember ANY of that, but for all of us it had been a deliberate decision: we’re obviously going to get cut off if we press this, so we’re not pressing it because we don’t want someone we love to end up isolated with a manipulative asshole partner.

      • Catherine Fournier said:

        I am going through this with my daughter. She was in a terrible, no-good, very bad, abusive relationship for 7 years, (like we could hear him coaching her on the phone on how to tell us she’d lost her wallet and needed money) between the ages of 17 and 24. The second time it happened we pushed back a bit and she (he?) ceased contact for 6 months. I started sending emails with the message in the subject line ‘cos I wasn’t sure she’d read the email. “Hope you’re okay” “thought about you today” “Call if you need anything”, things like that.

        I _knew_ knew_knew I was one poorly stated sentence away from losing contact with her all together so I walked a careful line; sending her gift cards to grocery stores instead of money, sending her gifts of clothes and pretties, maintaining regular email and phone contact where we talked about the weather, her job (when she had one – they were couch surfing) and desperately trying not to burn the bridge she’d need to come home on… and putting down first and last on a new apartment the first time he was charged with assault and not allowed to contact her for a year, driving for 6 hours to bring her to a family friend doctor (who she trusted) to document her injuries, and on and on.

        Holding my breath all the time for 7 years. (while in my job, was writing articles about partner abuse and programs for abusive partners and so on. I knew the pathology very well, I knew what was happening, I knew that if I didn’t handle it exactly right she’d die…)

        She finally got shed of him, spent 5 years alone learning to be herself (yay her!) met an awesome guy, got married, has a baby.

        We had an argument the other day, and she threw at me, “all the time I was with shitface, no one ever said anything! you just abandoned me with him! if someone had said something, I might have figured out what was going on and gotten clear of him sooner!”

        Even writing it out takes my breath away. That’s her narrative of those years, and it breaks my heart.

        • the815 said:

          Oh, how heartbreaking! Glad your story has a happy ending. It’s a great sign that now-her can see how awful past-her’s partner (and how awful he made her life) was, anyway.

        • Brooke said:

          Jedi hugs, if you want them. That sounds really tough.

        • I hope your daughter eventually realizes that her family was holding on to that tiniest connecting thread in order to assist her.

          Meanwhile, this internet stranger thanks you.

        • One Two Three said:

          Catherine, you did a great job. And not burning the bridge she’d need to come home is the hardest thing in the world. And that is her narrative *now*. She will understand more when her little one gets older exactly how much we can’t always do for our kids even if we desperately want to. When the littles are little, we can do so much. But when the littles are big, we are so powerless it hurts. Sending you all the hugs.

        • Esselyn said:

          Oh Catherine, I’m sorry. The story she has built for herself to survive hurts you – I know how that feels. A friend of mine tried to convince me that Mr. Right was a man with a child abuse conviction. Our friendship never really recovered from my enraged outburst when she told me that and I replied that I would always love her, but I couldn’t in good conscience stay in contact with her if she really thought getting involved with him was a safe choice.

          You can have all the Jedi Hugs you need.

        • Charliesmum said:

          You are astounding. I loved this: ‘desperately trying not to burn the bridge she’d need to come home on’. That’s beautifully put, and I’m sorry there’s still pain, despite the happy ending.

        • CDM said:

          You know, Catherine, the fact that she knew that she could say that to you without destroying your relationship in fact shows that she doesn’t actually believe that, deep down. It’s something more common with younger children, but they feel safe enough to lash out at the parent they trust utterly when they are emotionally overwhelmed – especially when the other parent isn’t one the child can trust, or the source of that emotion, a teacher, a friend, isn’t someone the child can express their emotions to without negative consequences.

          It’s not very different from the 8 year old, overwhelmed by a not great day at school, who throws a fit and announces “I HATE you! I”m running away from home and never coming back and you’ll be sorry!” to the parent who asked them to put laundry away and take out the trash before having ice cream.

          She’s been conditioned that expressing anger or blame at him will cost her dearly, and being human, she’s only able to blame herself to a certain extent without self-destructing. (humans rationalize their own behavior over time to themselves, because we’re human. We are all the unreliable narrators of our past)

          But you, you are safe. She knows that deep in her bones, no matter how hurtful she is, that you won’t abandon her.

          I’m sorry that her words hurt you so deeply, and kudos to you for a fiendishly difficult parenting challenge successfully navigated.

        • Lissa said:

          It’s so hard coming to terms how a screwed up relationship can also damage other relationships. My time with my ex was when I was in high school and was not nearly as long or as serious, but it was my first significant, real relationship, and he was emotionally controlling and abusive, and I changed. And even now, 10 years later, it still affects me and my relationship with men and dating, and I’m still struggling with my loving and sweet boyfriend and waiting for crap to hit the fan and him to be awful, and sometimes I push him away if we have a totally normal disagreement or if he says something that might a little critical, brain warps into overdrive and OMG HE REALLY MEANS AND IS THINKING THIS. It’s hard getting out of that mindset.

          And my mom is and always has been my best friend, and I know that time was rough for her. We can talk about pretty much anything and everything, but we still can’t talk about my Darth. The closest we came was when we were talking about my anxiety and how she felt a lot of that was on him, and brain rattled and told me it was my fault (my brain, not her words). And I think back and I wish, I WISH, she would have said something, like “hey, he’s an asshole who doesn’t treat you right.” But I also KNOW that would have driven me further into his arms and away from her. It’s more of a wish that I would have been stronger back then and not let him damage me.

        • MsMildew said:

          I have an ex (for a number of reasons) friend who has a similar narrative about me abandoning her to an abusive relationship…when she lived in another state, we were barely in contact for years, and I had NO idea what was going on until after they had broken up…

      • NERd said:

        My family did the same with me. I couldn’t hear anything bad about my relationship. Thankfully I eventually saw how bad it was. They were ecstatic that I ended it.

  17. enail said:

    I initially understood the headline as meaning “my best friend is having something that used to be sex but isn’t anymore…” 😀

  18. Feminist BI-tch said:

    I said a version of the captain script to a friend at some point, it was a version of “listen, you know I don’t like the way your girlfriend treats you, but I’m fine keeping my opinions to myself. So I will not tell you what I think of her unless you ask, but even if you ask – this is not a debate. I do not have to like her. I have no relationship with her at all, you do and that’s your prerogative.” I found that I was a lot more patient in hearing about what she did when I didn’t have to pretend I agreed NOR I had to argue for half an hour because No Really She’s Really Nice You Just Don’t Know Her. Of course, it also helped that there was a continent between me and said friend at the time and we didn’t speak so very often. Sending jedi hugs to you, LW, if you want them.

  19. The Awe Ritual said:

    A major clicking point for me was when my best friend said, “I supported you and Zombie Bloke because he made you happy. He’s not making you happy anymore, and I am here to support you taking a step back so you can figure this out.” (With the subtext of “but I am not here to help you two make each other miserable.”)

    Shrugs.

    • Kaos said:

      My sister: “None of you guys (the family) like “Bob.” ”
      Me: “Nope.”

      Couple years later…

      Sister shows up with her kid, uninvited, unannounced, after beign told not to and that I didn’t have room for them.

      Sister: “Help me get away, get a restraining order, get into a shelter, get housing, new cell phone (bought it full price as a BD gift for her) and plan, etc.”

      Me: —Did all those things, even giving up all of my vacation time to help/drive/ sit in meetings, court, etc. Including putting my own safety at risk because BIL is a violent douchebag (it’s a family thing, his one brother is in prison for murder).

      Six months later: Sister moves douchebag, waste of oxygen, I would step over him and keep going if I encountered him bleeding and dying in the streets BIL into her new apartment that I helped her get into.

      Me: So done.

      • JenniferP said:

        It IS very frustrating and sometimes you do have to disengage for your own safety & well-being or because you’ve done all you can, but I’m gonna ask that this not become a the complaints thread re: Abuse Victims I Have Known. It takes most women who leave violent men seven times before they get all the way away. Maybe moving in with the asshole was what she felt she needed to do to Not Die right now. You don’t have to stay engaged with her or get it or help the next time, and I know abuse ruins everything and takes a toll way beyond just the partner, but I also don’t want to read a flood of comments like these in this thread. Thank you.

  20. I usually don't comment because coming up with a name is intimidating said:

    I have a dear friend with her own Dylan problem. One of the ways I supported her when she was considering getting back together with him for the second time, was to really ask her what she would want to look different about their relationship this time around, and what he would need to do differently. And I entered that conversation in the spirit of “I’m 100% on your side and if your side is making a relationship with Dylan work, then I’m on that side too”, because she would not have engaged in meaningful conversation otherwise – I know because our other friends were just DTMFA and she just stopped talking to them. Anyway, we came up with some ground rules – he had to enter therapy and he had to stay in therapy being the biggest ones (there were more) that she agreed were basically deal breakers. Luckily her Dylan was not a complete asshole and he was willing to put in some work ON HIMSELF and they’ve been pretty strong for a couple years now. Given that this Dylan, and my friend’s Dylan are not actually abusive, this might be one option for truly supporting her if she wants to get back together with him. But she really needed someone who was willing to say, “what could make this relationship work” and mean it and support her in developing what the deal breakers were…

    • sayevet said:

      This is a great suggestion that prioritizes the friend over the relationship ❤

  21. Clever Name Pending said:

    My script for these sorts of situations is “You know your relationship/the situation better than I do, but from what *you* tell me (insert issue here)” I have had some friends brush it off with “Oh no I was just venting he also does (basic decency) thing too!” and I’ve had some go “Wait, shit” although usually it takes several of those conversations to get to the wait shit.

  22. EverybodyPantsNow said:

    Make her a Spotify playlist that’s just “New Rules” for 2 straight hours. (Note: I do not know how Spotify works because I am an Old, but “making a mix CD” just no longer sounds valid.) So, just whatever the youth equivalent is of that.

    And I think this rates a CA patented *make it really boring to talk about him* – “Hmm, that sounds hard, what do you think you’ll do about that/”I love you, I know you’ll figure this out/etc.”

    • parkerk said:

      YES YES YES New Rules was my first thought here too! Especially the music video – everyone needs a Team Them who will have a supportive sleepover to help them get over their Dylan, and then a pool party to celebrate their newfound freedom awesomeness.

    • honoriaw said:

      I still say mixtape because I am an Older

  23. QoB said:

    I’ve been the Beth in this situation, though I’d like to think the Dylan in the situation was not as bad as this asshole…

    God bless my friends who did listen to me discuss the endless minutiae of what he’d said-v-what he did-v-what he might think-v-what I’d accidentally heard he did… I do vividly remember one friend sighing, and saying “Look, I just don’t want you to go backwards” and that stuck with me. But it was my first relationship and I was convinced I would never feel anything this powerful again so it must work out, somehow, right?

    (Narrator: it did not work out).

    If you do have the spoons to keep listening, keep the focus on her: how she feels, what she deserves, needs, wants. Criticising him will make her defend him. It’s much harder to argue when your friends say “you deserve better than this”.

    • Khlovia said:

      I dunno; somebody once told me “You deserve better than this” and I immediately popped out with “No I don’t.” Meant it, too.

      • MsMildew said:

        **Jedi hugs**

  24. Angelique said:

    Dear Captain Awkward, you’re amazing. (I spent a happy few minutes at ‘work’ in between assignments just browsing old articles on your blog.) Please keep doing what you do

    Xx

  25. LW, a short story to help bolster the argument for you to speak up.

    When I was in grad school, one of my classes required students to meet in small groups to workshop one another’s papers. One week, the student who was supposed to present (“A”) arrived at our small group and said that she did not have a paper for us to workshop because two weeks earlier her boyfriend of six years had moved out, suddenly, without telling her where he was going or why. She was completely blindsided and devastated. Now, after all that, he wanted to try to work things out and maybe move back in, and she didn’t know what to do.
    So instead of workshopping her paper, we workshopped her crisis. B said to hang in there, she was sure that if they talked and listened to each other, they could work it out. C took a pass; she didn’t feel that she could weigh in (none of us knew each other well). D agreed with B: time and patience could salvage the relationship. When it was my turn, I asked her why on earth would she want to be in a relationship with a man who thinks it’s acceptable to pack up his stuff and leave her with the rent, the cat, no note and no answers–and then ask to come back two weeks later. I asked whether she could trust a partner who had the capacity to plan and execute what would have been a disappearance (along the lines of this infamous LW from Ask a Manager), only to reappear before the dust settled.
    A said to me, let’s have lunch. A and I celebrate the anniversary of our lunch date every year, and she is happily married to someone else.

    I realize this could have gone differently. She could have listened to B and D, and tried to fix her relationship. I still said what I said, and it still spoke to some part of her that knew it wasn’t right, so if that happened I hope she could have advocated for the change she needed.
    I also realize that, in other circumstances involving other partners, I would read that level of relationship-ghosting as a symptom of an abusive relationship and a red flag about my friend A. I still stand by what I said: in the unlikely event that A’s partner was fleeing abuse, and the things I said about him were untrue, they still needed to break up.

    You can’t fix this for your friend. But she’s going through some things that would warp anyone’s senses–betrayal, grief, gaslighting, breakup sex–and it’s not invalidating her feelings if you talk to her at least once about what this looks like to you.

  26. DameB said:

    LW — My college roommate was in an emotional abusive relationship with Thom. He wasn’t as bad as Dylan, I don’t think, but it was long ago and I was young and dumb. But I supported her while making it clear I didn’t like how Thom treated her. And she stayed with the jerk for two years. But eventually someone else came and said the same things I’d said. And she left. I think at least in part she was ready to hear the someone else’s comment because she’d heard mine. I like to to imagine that she only seemed to ignore mcomments but it made a sort of space and when her other friend said it she thought “You know, DameB said the same thing….”

    • Esme said:

      Yes. This is an important point in other relationships, too. I remember a bit of advice my dad gave me once, and even though I blew him off at the time in true teenage fashion, his words stuck with me and had an impact. Now I say my piece to my older kids and leave it and don’t try to force them to submit to me/acknowledge that I’m right which is really beside the point. In fact, the more right they think I am the harder it probably is to back down on it.

      • owenmontbrun said:

        I think it was Mark Twain who said something like: “When I was 18 my father was the dumbest man alive. When I was 21 I was amazed at how much he’d learned in three years.” Sometimes you can’t take something in until you’re at a certain point, whether in terms of personal growth or relationship stage.

  27. queenbeemimi said:

    I recently went with one of my dearest friends, S, and our mutual friend, L, on a lake weekend getaway. S had just broken up with a long-term Dylan, and it came out in conversation that she was still seeing him socially and having sex with him (he no longer lives in her house).

    L: (not even trying to hide her disapproval) Oh, S!
    Me: (in the carefullest, evenest tone I could muster) Well… if you… really want to… do that… I guess…
    S: If it makes you guys feel any better, my therapist agrees with both of you!

    And, it did make me feel better! Because she’s talking to her therapist and I love being right. But also no, because she’s my friend and I want her to make good and healthy decisions for herself because I love her.

  28. Jitz Girl said:

    I have a young-adult step-daughter, who has definitely dated a few of #ThatFuckingGuy. Obviously DH and I have a different relationship with her than a friend would. Among other things, we know that dad and step-mom pursing their lips in disapproval will *definitely* drive her and #ThatFuckingGuy closer for longer.

    Our strategy is to give them enough rope to hang themselves. Yes, bring #ThatFuckingGuy to our young son’s birthday party! Bring him to the block party! And Sunday dinner! And Six Flags! Our working theory is, either the guy really is bad news or he isn’t. If he’s a decent guy who is just not our cup of tea, there’s no use alienating her for nothing. If he really is bad news, one of the strategies of bad guys is to isolate their victims, so that they lose a frame of reference and don’t have anyone to ask for help. So we are definitely not going to help him with that.

    I think it’s a successful strategy. The lines of communication remain open, which I think is the main thing. I don’t think a friend has the same level of obligation to put up with #ThatFuckingGuy that family does, so I’m not saying that friends should do this.

    • Myrtle said:

      I think your strategy is a good one. With her close, you chances are better at having the conversation about keeping control of the birth control method.

  29. Allya said:

    Most of my exes have been really good people who just weren’t right for me, not Dylan-level manipulative scumbags, but I still had some friends say to me, while I was in the pining stage of the break up, “I get that you are still hurting, but I’ve reached my limit for hearing about this right now, can we talk about something else?” Or alternatively they would give me super sensible advice that I wasn’t ready to hear, making them very unsatisfying sounding boards. I wouldn’t say I was grateful for it, I found it super annoying (as annoying as my rambling soliloquies about The Love That Was No More were to them? Who can say!) But if I wanted to keep having a relationship with them, which I did, I had to find other topics of conversation. I didn’t necessarily WANT to talk about anything else, but having a space that wasn’t about my heartbreak and how sad I was and how I just wanted my ex back was actually really helpful to me in the long run. It helped me create a brain space that wasn’t wholly occupied by my ex.

    What I’m saying is that even if she isn’t glad to hear that you think Dylan is the worst, it might still be good for her to hear. If she’s disappointed and irritated and starts avoiding talking about him around you, that might be what a win looks like.

  30. Sarah said:

    LW, I went through a similar situation except they weren’t dating. My best friend used to be friends with this person and then over the course of half a year they split and it was bad (The friend of a friend would throw accusations around like confetti, bring up random stuff from ages ago, and push all of my friend’s trigger buttons on purpose). I could see it was a really bad relationship and I used a lot of scripts of the “Wow, that’s not cool” and “How did that make you feel?” type. I also sent the Sheelzebub principle*, which made them realize that what they had going with this person wasn’t a good friendship and that they really needed to end it. My friend was already thinking about splitting with her friend, though, which meant that she was more open to hearing things about how this person was getting toxic.

    After my friend split with her friend there were a lot of phone calls that devolved into a rant about things the other person did and I eventually I said “Friend, can we not talk about Person again? I want to talk about other things too, like your really cool academic research.” That script worked great.

    *the Sheelzebub principle is here: https://captainawkward.com/2014/05/23/573-574-575-and-576-applying-the-sheelzebub-principle/

  31. Molly said:

    Why include the “I don’t judge” line when the LW very clearly IS judging and you’re not encouraging her to hide that? To be clear, I wouldn’t encourage her to hide it either; I just don’t know what’s to be gained from being so obviously disingenuous about it.

    • Allya said:

      I would say that LW is judging Dylan hard, but is empathetic to her friend and the difficulty of letting go of a relationship even if it’s making you unhappy. So I think, “I don’t judge,” means, “I don’t judge /you/.”

      • gin_undermyskin said:

        Yeah, I’m reading it as “I’m not going to be a voice of condemnation TO YOU for having sex with a bad ex.”

  32. Myrtle said:

    I have a faraway friend in another state whom I’m terrified for and whose silence I’m taking to mean she’s gone back with her “boyfriend.” After the last tearful “The cops were here again and it’s not my fault!” call, I have told her this is way past my pay grade. She now has RAINN’s phone number (rainn.org 800-656-4673) and she’s told me she’d call them.
    What I’ve been struck by is how similar the dynamics of this relationship are to the horrors of her childhood- long-term incest by her brother, and then her family acting like nothing was wrong. Cops and courts throw up their hands when after their interventions one partner takes an abusive partner back. We members of the Awkward Army know that violence always escalates.
    To me it looks like my friend is trying to “win” over what overwhelmed her as a child; atone for her “sins” that she imagines caused her family to not rescue her- but now it’s with a new cast. Some of that tenacity and what looks like bone-headedness is also a sheer courage in turning back to face those old horrors.
    While re-enacting the old torture isn’t the way out for her, I’m wondering if there’s another path. Maybe if I acknowledged her bravery rather than trying to logic her out of the relationship? The latter is definitely not working.
    Maybe her telling me she’ll call RAINN will seep into her subconscious.

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      Wow, that’s a whole different dynamic, “I’m not going to let it get me this time, this time I’m going to beat it!”

      I’d say definitely acknowledge her courage, but if that’s what’s going on, it’s above your pay grade.
      I experienced what I think was similar thinking/emotions, but completely different situation. Hiking with a group that included a relatively new hiker, who has been somewhat fearful and extremely cautious on anything resembling a scramble. Trail transitioned suddenly from relatively wide and smooth, if at a good slope, to a use-your-hands scramble up to a continuous steep slope where you needed to pay attention to your footing and occasionally plan your steps. At the bottom, newer hiker was whoa, okay, I can do this, I will do this, and gamely started up with much encouragement and coaching.
      Leaving out the gory details, turns out that her “I’m afraid of falling” is actually a genuine article phobia, which apparently she thought she can? should? overcome by trying whatever is in front of her. Which is courageous, yes, but it resulted in our spending well over two hours on a 10 minute slope and 3 people getting compromised by the heat, on an aborted hike that took 5 hours for 3 miles.

      Acknowledge the courage, but point her towards professional help. You can encourage her and give her your advice, but you’re in no position to coach her through overcoming major trauma.

      • I have that same phobia. I am clumsy and have poor balance, so I have tripped over perfectly flat surfaces more than once. I chipped a tooth last week because I tripped over a crack in the sidewalk.

        There’s a reason I don’t hike, although I can walk long distances.

    • MsMildew said:

      I have had more than one friend live this same dynamic, and it is heartbreaking…and definitely way above the paygrade of a friend to help with. Even if you can help them get out of one bad relationship, the pattern just continues until/unless they can see it for themselves and choose to get outside help.
      Other than being supportive of your friend’s other great strengths and qualities, and encouraging her to see a therapist/counselor etc I don’t know if there’s much you *can* do.
      I wish I could say something more hopeful or helpful, but in my experience, I’ve had to walk away from all those friendships no matter how long, or close they once were, not only because I couldn’t stand to see it keep happening over and over but because those friendships all eventually became quite toxic.

  33. Huergh said:

    I appreciate LW making this effort with their friend. I was in an abusive relationship for nearly a decade that would not let off even after it officially ended, and no one said ANYTHING to me, either outright telling me to leave or any covert ‘that would make me angry how does it make you feel?’-type comments or reaching out to me after my communication with my friends dropped way off.

    It’s hard for me to reconcile the reality that trying to tell someone in an abusive relationship that they’re in an abusive relationship can lead to them pushing back and isolating themselves further–which is true, and many people have stated in this thread already–with my own reality that no one, friends or family, said a single word to me, even though they recognised that my ex was an ass and I was in a bad situation. As far as I can tell, they didn’t want to hurt my feelings or have an awkward conversation. It was only once I had cut off contact with my ex for a few months when they declared ‘oh yeah he’s an asshole’. And I understand why they did that, but it just made me feel like a complete idiot for dating ex for so long, and maybe if they said something a few years earlier I would have felt bad, but also possibly avoided wasting a few years and experiencing trauma that still affects me to this day?

    I guess my point is that if you are in this situation, saying something is far better than not saying anything. Captain’s advice is pretty spot-on. It stops LW’s head from exploding under pressure, and Beth can hear that what is happening to her is not okay or something she should have to put up with.

  34. Sophie said:

    My best friend L met #ThatFuckingGuy when we were 19. She was depressed and feeling really lost after flunking out of her first year of university. He was ten years older and he swept her off her feet, he convinced her to move to another city with him in a matter of weeks. None of her friendship group that was a great idea, but we were young and somewhat swept away by the romance of it all. We tried to get to know him for L’s sake, but he was one of those people who finds one thing about you that he doesn’t like and then relentlessly mocks you for it (all in good fun of course!). Bonus points for him if it was something you didn’t like about yourself. Two years later he proposed at her 21st birthday party and we knew we were stuck with him. I didn’t see him do anything abusive for a long time but I hated the way she deferred to him about everything. She started dressing the way he liked, left the career path she loved because he hated it, she wasn’t allowed male friends anymore. He was always foul to me and to the other person in our trio of best friendship. We started dreading having to invite her to things because she would bring him.

    A couple of years later I moved to the city L was living in and we started to see more of each other again. At first she pretended everything was great but gradually she started telling me about the things he did and how unhappy she was. I would listen and sympathise but I was hesitant to give her my opinion. A couple of times I got so angry at what she’d told me, I did slip and tell her what I thought. I then wouldn’t see her for months. One night I got a phone call saying she’d left him and that she had nowhere to go, I immediately said she could stay with me. She stayed for a couple of weeks and she told me everything, about how he had broken her wrist and her nose the previous year, that he was constantly accusing her of cheating on him, how she could never do anything right. We came up with a plan for her to get herself back on her feet. Eventually he found out where I lived (I never worked out how) and turned up on the doorstep. He convinced her that he’d changed, that he’d go to anger management counselling, that he couldn’t live without her. She held out for another week, until after they’d been to a couple’s therapy appointment and then she went home. Oh so surprisingly he decided he didn’t like their therapist then and swore he’d find another one, which of course didn’t happen. We went through that dance another couple of times over that year. She’s stay for a few weeks, she’d tell me everything and then she’d go back. By that point she’d been with him 8 years, and married for five. I started to think she was going back because she didn’t want to admit that she had made the wrong choice all those years ago.

    After the last time she went back, it got harder and harder to see her. He told her he didn’t like it, that I reminded her of their “bad times”. Eventually I just stopped hearing from her, and so did all of our mutual friends. She missed weddings, first babies, and other huge life events. The last time I heard from her, she had finally left for good. She’s moved back to the city we grew up in, instigated a divorce and forced him to put their jointly owned house up for sale. We were 33 the last time we met up, and it was awkward as hell. We had missed too much of each other’s lives, she was embarrassed by everything I knew about her abuse, I was still angry that she’d ghosted me for helping her. I am so happy that she’s finally free of him, but the friendship is gone and that makes me sad because we had been friends since we were 11. Basically LW what I’m trying to say is, of course you want to help Beth but be aware that she may choose Dylan and she may end your friendship over it if she knows just how much you hate him.

    • Allya said:

      I just wanted to say I’m really sorry this cost you your friendship, but it sounds like you made a huge difference in your friend’s life and helped her at a time she was hugely isolated. Even if you guys never get back in touch, I’m sure she’s grateful for that.

  35. I wish I had those magic words for a friend who’s been supporting an ex-girlfriend for years now (who promised she’d only need a month or two to get back on her feet after they broke up!) She was abusive when they were dating and he longed to get away from her – and I rejoiced when they DID break up, but that wasn’t the end. I only have minor contact with him now, but last time I asked him he was spending 5 days out of the week with his family, and only lived with the ex girlfriend on the weekends. And no, they aren’t fucking, he’s just supporting her financially and emotionally. :/

  36. quirkyopteryx said:

    Oh hey! I have been in the same situation as the LW! Although it was someone I was dating, and we are polyamorous, and so was the shitty ex.

    After a few months, I snapped and told my partner that I didn’t want to spend another single second talking about that fucking goddamn loser, and I didn’t want to hear his name anymore, and from then on he would only be referred to as “Fuckface”. And every time she mentioned him, that 20-years-older guy who should fucking know better than to keep coming back to someone he didn’t love and he wasn’t all that attracted to and dicking around with her, I got this look of contempt on my face like I’d smelled shit and sour milk together. And I asked why we were talking about trash. Let’s talk about something worthwhile instead.

    I did not start off hating that guy.

    Several months of her whining, and her own descriptions of this (useless, self-esteem-eroding, overly critical, mansplaining) guy made me LOATHE him. Her words about a man that she loved. Made me HATE him.

    He’s a nihilist buddhist living in London, last I heard. I’m no longer with that partner – other things happened years later – but I still hate that terrible guy. Although I *had* actually entirely forgotten about his worthless existence until now. Maybe he’s gained some emotional maturity since then, but I highly fucking doubt it. His kids must be teens by now. I doubt he taught them well. I hope they don’t repeat their father’s shitty mistakes, particularly the shit about a girlfriend being a pacifier.

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