Dear Captain Awkward,
A few months ago I moved to another country to attend graduate school. To make the moving process easier, I chose to apply for university accommodation instead of looking for private accommodation. The building is basically a fancy dorm, but it’s clean, in a good location, and I like most of the people that are on my floor.
Here’s my problem. When I first moved here I got to know three of my immediate neighbors, “Anna,” “Beth,” and “John.” These three are in their early twenties while I am in my late twenties, because I waited several years after undergrad to attend graduate school. We had a group chat and while we weren’t each other only friends, we hung out together quite a bit. As I got to know everyone better I learned that John is a big partier, and also likes doing hard drugs. I didn’t have a problem with this, even though I don’t party (or even drink) cause I’ve been working in enough places for long enough to meet a lot of people who do that sort of thing.
During all this time, Beth has been going on lots of dates. A few weeks ago, John got very drunk, and started complaining that he couldn’t understand why Beth was getting so much action and he wasn’t, and straight up said that he didn’t think Beth was pretty enough to warrant all this attention. At this point he had definitely been drinking a lot, but wasn’t blacked out. I called him out and said that he just sounded jealous, and he blew me off. He left immediately after this to go party some more. Right after this I ran into Anna and told her what John had said, and she was rightly pissed at him.
In the middle of the night, after I went to sleep, I was woken up by John yelling in the hallway. Beth had brought her date home, and John was at this point blackout drunk. He was yelling, referencing sex acts that she and the guy should do, and flicked her in the face. I told him to shut up, she told him to go to bed, and I wish I had done more in the moment but my brain wasn’t working properly cause I was still half asleep.
The next morning, I told him what had happened (he allegedly has no memory), told him he needed to apologise to Beth, and he immediately apologised. The thing is I have no desire to hang out with him anymore, and neither do Beth or Anna. He has continued to drink and party like before, and since I’ve seen how that can affect his behavior, I don’t think I would want to even if he stopped drinking. His room is right next to mine, so I can’t really avoid him. I am polite when he talks to me, but I don’t make plans. At 27 I feel no desire to hang out with people who act like that. Part of me is wondering if I am making too much out of this since it wasn’t me he acted this way to. I can tell John misses us, and that does make me feel guilty. Should I be working more to forgive him, since Beth says she has?
Let us pause for a few words from Nandor The Relentless:
I so appreciate the solidarity you, Anna, and Beth have demonstrated, and I love how you phrased the last sentence of the letter: “Should you be working more” to forgive John?
Even if I agreed that you should do “more work” (to be clear, I don’t), I’m curious: What would “more work” even mean? Ignoring John’s sexual harassment of Beth? Ignoring the part where he “flicked her in the face” because he was angry at her for dating someone else? [Is anyone else extremely glad that Beth wasn’t by herself in the hallway that night?] Are you all supposed to invite him to hang out and pretend that nothing like this will happen again, even knowing that he’s changed nothing about his drinking habits? Or, perhaps, something else that rhymes with “If John has to face predictable social consequences for his bad behavior, does that technically make me The Rude One?”
This holiday season, may I offer you the gift of Forgiving Without Forgetting? You can accept an apology in a way that forgoes the need for further apologies, explanations, or redress.You can resolve to be civil and polite as long as the other person remains civil and polite, and negotiate a “I won’t bring it up if you don’t,” truce.You can forgive someone for the sake of your own peace of mind, because you just want it to be done and over with, as it sounds like Beth has. Most importantly, you can forgive someone without taking on their redemption as your project and without granting them infinite opportunities to disappoint, harm, and upset you. Also incredibly important: You can forgive someone a different amount than somebody else does. Beth was the chief target of John’s behavior, and it should probably be her call whether to escalate stuff like reporting him to the dorm management, but you don’t ever have to accept him back into the group even if she eventually does. “I’m glad you’re okay! But after seeing how he acted, I don’t think he’s my people.”
You’ve only known John for a few months. Friendships form fast in close quarters, but they inevitably change as everybody learns who they are most compatible with, i.e. even if John hadn’t done something objectively awful, it would be completely fair for you to reevaluate how much you want to hang out now that you know him better. It’s always a little sad when a budding friendship doesn’t really take off like you expected, it’s also sad when someone acts like a complete shitbeast and makes it really hard for you to be friends with them. It’s possible for something to feel sad and still be the right decision. “We used to be friends but it didn’t work out.”
Thing is, John knows exactly why he’s unwelcome now, and he has many choices about How Not To Ruin Future Friendships With Alcohol And Misogyny. I hope he makes good ones, starting with leaving all of you the hell alone, but that is not my concern.
My project is making sure that you, Anna, and Beth know that your instinct to avoid someone who followed up his mean, sexist comments by cornering your friend after a date and putting his hands on her in a drunken rage is valid, reasonable, and good. The “He doesn’t really meeeeeeeeean it, he’s just insulting and assaulting you because he liiiiiiiiiikes you” message was trash when you were five, don’t let the grown-up versions (“How can it be his fault if he doesn’t even remember it?” “How will he learn if you don’t personally help him through…a bad thing…he did to you?” ) lure all of you into the flaming dumpster now.
In conclusion, it is perfectly fine to wish John well, maintain perfunctory politeness for the sake of hallway harmony, lock your doors, and keep right on keeping your distance from #ThisFuckingGuy.