#1221: “My husband’s friend Hulked out on him/us, accused us of bullying him, and isn’t taking our calls. Is it because he has a crush on me, and do I need to do anything about that?”

Dear Captain Awkward,

Yesterday night, seemingly out of nowhere, my husband “Andy” (he/him) got a message from a friend of ours, “Marc” (he/him). In this very long message, Marc wrote that he felt hurt and attacked by Andy during his recent (2-3 days ago) visit to our house. Marc used words like “venomous” and “vitriol” to describe Andy’s “ceaseless attacks” on him from the moment he came home that reminded him of how he (Marc) was bullied and abused as a child. Marc ended the message by saying he has always valued Andy’s friendship and hopes Andy would tell him if he’d done something to upset him. Andy called Marc twice last night and once this morning, in addition to sending him a message but got no
response. I also called Marc but he didn’t pick up my call either.

Some background. We are all in our late thirties/early forties. We met Marc through a mutual friend about 5 or 6 years ago, and both Andy and I have been friendly with Marc, especially for the last 18 months that we have lived in the same city. Marc comes over to our house once a week, and usually hangs out for most of the day. Marc is independently
wealthy and would like to do more travel, outings, etc. but Andy and I both work and are trying to save money to start a family, buy a house, etc and usually aren’t up for it. We’ve always enjoyed hanging out with Marc. He was at our wedding! I think both Andy and I would describe him as one of our closest friends in the city.

The message really hit Andy hard. Andy is one of the kindest, most considerate people I have ever met who will bend over backwards to help people. This is not just wifely bias, but lots of people, even acquaintances/colleagues will say that about him. It’s possible that Andy maybe made a joke or comment that hurt Marc’s feelings but nothing rising the level of the constant, vitriolic attacks that Marc describes. Andy wanted to get in touch with Marc to get some examples of what he said wrong so he can apologise and not hurt him like that again. Despite saying he values the friendship, Marc is refusing to
engage with us.

So here’s the tricky part. For the past couple of months, I’ve gotten a feeling that Marc may have a crush on me. It’s little things that are easy enough to ignore, complimenting the way I look or the food I make, suggesting a time to hang out when he knows my husband will be working. Nothing substantial but you know how women sometimes just
have a sixth sense for when men are flirting. Like you just know? I never said anything to Andy because a) Marc was never inappropriate with me, b) I enjoyed Marc’s company and so did Andy, c) people have crushes and I figured it would fade and things would go back to normal. Now I’m wondering if Marc is purposely burning the bridge or got upset with Andy because of feelings for me? Ahhh, even writing that makes me feel so stuck up. I promise I don’t think everyone is in love with me.

Two questions: What should Andy and I do, if anything to try to address this with Marc?Should I be honest with Andy about my theory on Marc’s behavior?

*I read your rules and I swear I’m not simply doing emotional labour
for my husband, but I feel like this is my problem too.

(She/Her)

Hi there,

I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. I’m going to suggest, bluntly:

Let Andy & Marc work it out (or not). Do not attempt to mediate, explain, intervene, or search your soul for reasons a man is behaving badly and how you might have caused it or somehow affect the outcome. Question of the century: What if we collectively stopped pretending that volatile and hostile men are everyone else’s problem to fix?

I think you’ve probably pegged the crush vibe correctly, if this is a reaction to that, then Marc’s behavior and projection toward Andy are kind of terrifying, to be honest? You’re the best judge of what’s stopped you from speaking up about it before now, what Andy’s likely reaction will be, and whether telling him will make you feel more safe or less so. You can certainly say “Look, I never mentioned this because I trusted Marc to just deal with it like an adult and he never did anything overt or inappropriate, but I’ve been picking up a definite vibe, do you think that’s part of what set him off, and if so, maybe we’re better off without him around?” To be clear, crush or no crush, it’s still on Marc to speak up and clarify what set him off and repair the relationship with Andy and you if that’s what he wants to do, and you’re allowed to decide if that’s good enough/safe enough for you when and if he does it. We don’t have to manage our friends’ unexpressed crushes and take the blame or do all the work when they implode, if he is punishing Andy for his inappropriate feelings about you, that’s pretty shitty and definitely not your fault.

As for what to do from here on out: Andy has tried to get in touch without a reply from Marc, it’s time to stop contacting Marc. The ball is in Marc’s court, and both of you should leave him alone until he gets in touch, hopefully with a sheepish apology for exploding and an explanation of what set him off, hopefully something that gives Andy a chance to apologize (if he did accidentally say something to apologize for) and move the friendship forward on more solid ground, you can decide what you want to do about it then. Without Marc’s active participation, you can’t fix a situation you didn’t make, you definitely can’t fix it when the person isn’t talking to you, either he wants you to chase him (yikes, no) or he wants to be left alone (wish granted!).

Possibility: If it’s bad enough that Andy is seriously concerned about Marc’s well-being (like this feels violent/scary/there is an indication or threat of self-harm), it’s possible to reach out to a mutual friend and say, “Hey, Marc and I had a huge argument the other day where he lashed out at me in a way I’ve never seen before, and now he’s not returning calls. Hopefully he and I will work whatever it is out eventually, I don’t need you to get in the middle or mediate between him and me, but he was upset enough about it and his behavior was out of character enough that I’d feel better if someone else who cares about him at least puts eyes on him. He can be mad at me forever as long as he’s ok!” Would/will Marc be furious if Andy did this? Probably, but how is that worse than it is now?

Possibility: If Marc tries to go around Andy and contact you, respond once: “Hey bro, I’m glad you’re all right, but you should really talk to Andy about whatever this is, I’m not comfortable discussing this without him [and/or hanging out until whatever this is is resolved].” Don’t let him triangulate or cry on your shoulder about your spouse, don’t assume the role of the mediator here. There’s nothing good in it for you. If he keeps trying to contact you after you’ve said “Nope, please talk to Andy,” start treating it as a safety issue, don’t respond to any messages from him and limit his access to monitor and communicate with you.

Say for a moment that Marc does have an inappropriate crush on a close friend’s wife, and/or a sore spot that was accidentally pinged by a passing remark in a way that spiraled out of control. Here are twenty-six seven things an approximately 40-year-old man can do to manage his upset feelings that aren’t exploding all over a good friend and then disappearing without explanation:

  1. Tell it to a therapist.
  2. Tell it to a pastor or spiritual advisor.
  3. Consult a fortune teller.
  4. Write it in his LiveJournal/Dreamwidth/paper diary.
  5. Confide in a mutual friend who is not either of you.
  6. Call a hotline.
  7. Download one of the many free or inexpensive chat-therapy/support resources and confide in someone via text.
  8. Adopt a series of deep-breathing and self-soothing techniques and strategies for when he feels upset and on the verge of a blow-up.
  9. Acquire conflict resolution skills.
  10. Find an online message board or support group or forum to post the situation and receive advice and outside perspectives.
  11. Lay the situation on the other people waiting in the line for brunch at a crowded spot knowing that soon there will be pancakes and coffee to wash it all down.
  12. Inform the bartender at his local pub. “It’s been a rough one, better make it a double.” Is booze the greatest coping mechanism ever invented? No. But it is a coping mechanism that isn’t verbally abusing friends and it is a choice he has open to him.
  13. If he’s an addict who shouldn’t be drinking, this is what sponsors/addiction counselors/support groups are for.
  14. He can write his feelings on a piece of paper and send it to Post Secret or put it in a bottle and put the bottle in the ocean (which is pollution and I don’t advise it, but he certainly *can.*)
  15. He can write a song about it.
  16. He can creep your Instagram and use photos of you to paint portrait after portrait of your beautiful face.
  17. He can take up figure-skating or write a poem or refinish an antique cabinet by hand or start a band or go to the movies.
  18. I’m sure the local open mic for standup comics will not be surprised by a tale of doomed love and rejection
  19. He can undertake a serious fitness routine and channel his feelings into a cinematic training montage
  20. He can get a dog or a rock or a plant or a replica of “Wilson” in Castaway and tell his story to that.
  21. He can get a very unwise haircut that outwardly signals his anguish and warns onlookers to keep their distance.
  22. He could needlepoint his feelings onto a series of tableaux featuring calligraphy and cute woodland creatures and sell that shit on Etsy.
  23. He’s rich, so, he could hire a skywriter. Tell it to the clouds, buddy!
  24. If he’s really rich, he could orchestrate a balletic art heist of your favorite painting a la The Thomas Crown Affair.
  25. If he’s really really really rich he could become…The Goddamn Batman.
  26. He could do the horrible Love, Actually move of showing up at your door with motherfucking cue cards and watch your horrified facial expression in real time, you could say, “No, buddy,” and he could go lick his wounds and move on from it like an adult.
  27. Say, out loud with words, to you, his friends, “Hey, I’m having an off-night and I’m feeling kind of upset, can you stop making x joke though, it’s really not funny and it hurts my feelings a lot.” 

It’s incredibly painful and concerning when a friend acts this way, and I’m not making fun when I make lists like this: I think it’s good practice when a man explodes and/or shuts down in anger to stop automatically taking the blame, stop looking for reasons to diagnose what’s happening, and stop spending tons of energy figuring out how it might be our job to fix their feelings and bad behaviors. Building a list of reasonable options out to the point of absurdity is a deliberate practice I use to break a habit I’ve been socialized to adopt from childhood to center the feelings of bullies and continually search myself for how I can fix or could/”should” have prevented situations where someone crosses my boundaries, and also to remind my adult self that the people in our lives have choices about how they treat us. If they treat us badly, what if it’s their responsibility to make amends and repair relationships, explain what they meant, and de-escalate the situation? If we hurt someone’s feelings and have done our best to apologize and make amends and not do whatever it is anymore, the other person can ultimately decide it’s not good enough, but we don’t have to chase them forever to try to make it right. Phones, email, messaging apps, roads, planes, trains, etc. work both ways.

If Marc survived child abuse, that’s a horrible thing that he shouldn’t have had to go through, but that’s not y’all’s fault, and he still has choices as an adult about what he does with his negative feelings that aren’t hurling a bunch of odd accusations at friends and then disappearing off the face of the earth. If he has a crush he’d rather not have, same deal: Marc feeling jealous and upset doesn’t mean Andy “attacked” him. If you and Andy disengage from Marc and the friendship never recovers (a very possible outcome), I feel pretty comfortable saying: It probably wasn’t you.

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