Friday, April 29, 2011

Concerned BFF

Dear ESB

In light of the recent posts about not knowing if your man is the one etc.. I was hoping you could give some advice on what to do when you know that your best friend's man isn't the one.

My bff has been with her man for a little under two years. She's always taking about marrying him, and he's always saying how if he can't have her, he won't have anyone. They got together when she was only eighteen (he's mid-late 20s). She's very mature (I mean, we're best friends and I'm in my mid 20s), so ostensibly the age gap isn't that big of a deal. But, she's also the sweetest, most innocent girl I know. (She's also a Christian, and as such values abstinence / purity / etc pretty highly.) Before him she'd never even kissed a guy. Their first date he rams his tongue down her throat, to the point that she cried herself to sleep because she felt so yuck about it. Then, a few days after they're officially together, he tells her that whilst they were dating he slept with someone (on some lad's trip to europe), and then proceeded to put it on my bff to be okay with it and to forgive him. No "sorry I know it hurts you" Or "I'm sorry that I knew how much you respect purity and still did something like that." Then, he proceeded to try and sleep with her at almost every opportunity, and he would always say something like he feels loved by physical touch, making her feel like she needed to be intimate with him or she didn't love him. Now, I don't necessarily agree with her views on things, but I sure as hell respect them, and respect her. And he absolutely doesn't.

Anyway, this has been going on for the entire duration of their relationship. There are many other ways in which he is controlling and manipulative (won't let her see her guy friends, won't come to her friends' social events, but makes her go to all of his (she missed my birthday for one of his friends'), things like that). She tries to talk to him, and he says sorry, but the next opportunity he has, he goes back to his 'old ways.' We talk about it, and she realises how controlling and disrespectful he is, and how crap he is, and how she can do better... but then she sees him, and he does *something* and all of a sudden she's telling me that he finally 'gets it' and they had a good time, and she loves him, and she doesn't want to give up, and he has potential and blah blah blah. This lasts anywhere from 24 hours to two weeks, and then he drops the act, and we repeat the whole cycle. I have been as blunt with her as I can. I have quite literally said (after 12 months of subtlety didn't work) "He isn't going to change. you need to leave him if you want to be happy." But then she still stays with him. He's been so awful to her, she quite literally seems to think this is the best she can do (even though she's the type of girl the boys line up to be with).

I just don't know what to do. He is hurting her so much, but she's just so manipulated by him that even when she sees it, he somehow makes her forget. And I feel like I can't push it any further without her shutting me out.

Please help, if you can.

- concernedbff

oh, and p.s. - she didn't tell me about all the crap at the beginning of their relationship for over a year because he said I would disapprove of them if I knew... that's the sort of 'wonderful' man he is.


She really needs to get out -- AWAY FROM HIM -- to be reminded that there are better, cooler, more fun guys in the world.

You say that he won't let her see her male friends, forces her to miss social events, etc. But if you can manage to drag her to a bar or a party or a football game* on occasion, the literal and/or metaphorical fresh air and sunlight will do her good.

Image: Dandi Maestre via Kylea Borges via Karyn Armour

*European football, obv. (Wait. Do women even go to football games in the UK? Are there, like, hipster leagues full of cute guys that play in the park, or is that just in Brooklyn? I'm actually not even sure if you live in the UK. I've got a lot riding on the British spelling of "realises." Which might in fact be a typo.)


  1. Nailed it. Please get her out of there. She could seriously end up regretting something he *forces* her to do. And that could ruin her. Be a good friend, as you seem to be just by showing this level of concern. Kidnap her for a weekend away. Take her out. Do SOMETHING. Without him.

  2. I read this in a British accent as well.

    And what a shitty situation - I've been on both ends of this, the BFF and the one dating the douche. The bad news is, you probably can't talk her out of it, but the good news is it sounds like she already knows he's crap, so she'll probably tire of it eventually. Getting her around fun hot guys who will flirt and flatter her all night is a fantastic idea.

  3. RE: Cute guys playing footballs in the park

    YES...there are plenty of these. Sunday mornings in the park, anyone?

    I only learned of these leagues AFTER i married my british husband...otherwise, you know

  4. If she is a Christian maybe she could confide in her Church leader? Or her mother? Someone she trusts and loves with a bit of authority who will give her some perspective. (If there's no-one like that, scrap that idea).

    He sounds like the kind of person who could turn out to be an abusive partner in more ways than one and this is a serious situation. I think someone recently left a comment on here with ways of diagnosing abusive domestic relationships (anyone?) and there's probably lots of info online, so enlighten her.

    Controlling who she can see is one huge warning symbol. As are all the others.

    From a personal perspective, I think 'first loves' can be insanely melodramatic. After my first love ended, I had lost a sense of myself and someone shook me out of it by saying:
    "You're not 'You+Boyfriend', you're You."

    Good luck!

  5. I agree with ActsofBeauty. My first comment was eaten (gaah!) but I think that encouraging her to talk to someone at church (or mother) could really reinforce what you've already discussed with her. Especially if this lady has a thriving marriage and can speak to your friend about the values that they share and how the boyfriend doesn't fit.

    Hugs for you and your friend! Thanks for sticking with her and keep being a voice of sanity to her. Somehow she needs to realize (accept) that this guy is feeding her lies and see him for what he is. She probably knows this but doesn't want it to be true.

    You might also encourage her to think about what her identity and value as a person are determined by. As a christian it should be in her identity as a follower of Christ rather than of whether she is "loved" and "accepted" by a boy.

  6. This is definitely an abusive situation, but it requires delicate treatment. I used to work in the domestic violence area and the first lesson we were taught in orientation was to NEVER tell someone in an abusive relationship what to do, even if you're telling them to leave the a-hole and you're 100% doing so for your friend's own good. These poor people have enough of someone telling them what to do from the abuser. Also, as you mention in your letter, there is a significant chance that pushing your friend too hard could get you shut out entirely.

    The best thing you can do to help your friend is, as ActsofBeauty said, to educate her -- about abusive relationships and the cycle of abuse and how it doesn't have to be physical to be abuse -- and to be there for her and listen to her. Let your friend know that if she were to leave the loser, she could stay with you. And, yes, it definitely couldn't hurt to take her out as often as possible and show her that good guys do exist out there. Just don't spend the whole time saying "See? These guys are so much better than your loser bf, he sucks, leave him immediately" because that will make her defensive of him and herself.

    You have to give her all the tools and hope she sees the light for herself, unfortunately, as frustrating as that can be.

    I also think it's a great idea to suggest she speak with her priest or someone similar, if that's a possibility. Maybe she sometimes thinks you or other friends just have it out for this guy, but she'd be more receptive to someone objective (who also, helpfully, is trained in counseling).

    Good luck to you, I've been in the situation myself and it's heartbreaking.

  7. Ugh, so many red flags, like ActsofBeauty said! This screams abusive to me, and seeing cute boys at a bar might only exacerbate his shittyness towards her.

    Have a heart to heart with her in which you ask lots of questions and use "I" statements...don't back her into a corner because that will likely making her defensive. And make sure she knows you are there fore her, without judging, because she'll likely need that.

    Hugs, to you and your friend.

  8. UGH. heart breaking. he sounds like a shit, but can you do besides supporting her, and lending an ear (and shoulder!) when she needs one? you can't force her to do anything, and putting her in situations with other men will likely make her uncomfortable. or worse, exacerbate to current unfortunate circumstances.

    i second the advice to set up a meeting with her and a church leader. remind her that it's just a conversation, and no one will MAKE her do anything.

  9. Here's what I HAVE done:

    I told my BFF that she can choose to have asshole in her life, but I don't. When she gasped at me, I repeated my statement. I told her i'm, not asking her to choose me, just that I choose to have nothing to do with him. That said, I don't want to see him or hear about him.

    She left him for good.

  10. try to take her on a "lass's" vacation....somewhere with lots of hot guys. for at least a week if not two.....let her get some perspective.

  11. Not sure if anyone else here is a Savage Love reader, but this reminds me of all those "DTMFA" (read: "dump the MF-er already") questions that Dan has to answer from time to time.
    That said, while it is clear to you and the rest of us that your friend needs to DTMFA, it has been my experience that there is a snowball's chance in hell of ever being able to get through to her with your reasonable advice. She's hearing you, she's probably also agreeing with you, but at the end of the day, she just doesn't have it in her to leave this guy. For a number of reasons, probably. Also in my experience, the more forcefully you push her to break up with him, and the more hatred you express towards him, the less she is going to tell you. If she's lucky, someday he'll dump her. Until then, all you can do is love her by being there for her.
    Then again, I kind of hope I'm wrong about this. If she finds the strength to DTMFA, let us know because there will be some hope for all us friends of people who have low self-esteem and insist on continually subjecting themselves to awful boyfriends. Best of luck to you and your friend.

  12. i was in a similar situation (mostly just with a cycle of terribleness that would be "perfect" and "better" and "finally full of happiness" only to slide back down to being awful, exhausting, soul-numbing and sad a few days later. i was 19, 20 at the time, and while i hope i'd act differently now (slash not put myself in that position in the first place), i'm sorry to say i didn't listen to a word my concerned, loving, amazing friends said. i just retreated into a corner in my head where i whimpered through the bad and waited for the good to come again. i was addicted.

    he ended it, slowly, and in retrospect of course, i'm glad he did.

    i think nudging her to sit down with a loving adult that is familiar with her situation might be a good place to start. try not to push her too hard.. i distanced myself from most of my friends who did.

    oh and ps. thank the effing lord that shit didn't work out.

  13. Okay, so as someone who has been in a long term, controlling, mentally and (at the end) physically abusive relationship, I have to chime in with the above comments:

    1.) You cannot tell her what to do. No matter how black and white it seems, she doesn't see leaving him as a choice. She's still with him because he has manipulative control over her. That control is incredibly powerful - she doesn't realize he has it, and if you alienate her by going against it, she's lost her best support and network.

    2.) The "other boys" plan seems like dangerous territory to me. If he catches wind, he's surely to be worse to her - and prohibit her from seeing you. That's not something you can afford to let happen. (I'm far more supportive of having her hang out with the most loving, equal, caring couples that you know. Show her by proxy what a boy can be like to a girl. Far less threatening and very effective.) That's also why I have to caution against Alison's comment; I'm not saying that she'll choose him over you - but you don't know how mentally trapped she is. You run a risk by forcing her to choose, and again, you can't leave her alone in this. I know it's hard to feel that you can't push her on the issue, but I promise you, from someone who's been there - it doesn't help.

    3.) The best thing you can do is support her. Tell her about how wonderful she is; when she complains about A**hole, listen, agree, tell her she deserves to be treated better, tell her he is being manipulative, etc - but stop short of making demands of her. NEVER offer positive feedback when she says things like "he gets it!" during his "good" (by comparison) spells. Be silent if you have to.

    And lastly - and I could be wrong, but - know that it might run deeper than she will even let on. The fact that she's been hiding his behaviour for a full on year tells me he could be so, so much worse than you know. Neither more friends nor my family knew I was enduring what I now see was literally a life-threatening situation. If he's worse to her than you know, a huge part of what's happening in her head is the "I deserve this" or "he's right I did f*** up" kind of attitude. She could be really, really low on herself - and not showing it. THAT's why it's so important to be supportive to her (in all things that aren't him).

    Best of luck - I think asking a church member to council her is a great idea.


  14. It can be heartbreaking to watch this happen to a close friend. I wish I'd had the benefit of Lizzie's insight when I was trying to help a friend see the abusiveness. But her abusive boyfriend correctly viewed me as a threat and managed to manipulate her into cutting me out of her life. At the time, he was just emotionally abusive. I'm pretty sure it got worse, but she wouldn't let me in and I didn't know enough about what was going on to be worried/supportive/available.

    She finally got herself out, years later. I wish I'd simply remained supportive and seemingly neutral so I could have been there for her when she needed help getting out. To make her stronger when her own resulve kicked in, and once she was finally ready to get out but didn't quite know how. You have to play it safe. She knows it's terrible but she is entirely controlled by him and doesn't see a way out/feels like it's her fault/feels like she deserves it. You need to be a positive influence/outlet without putting pressure on her - she's getting enough of that already and, even worse, it won't help you achieve what you really want - getting her out.

    Good luck, to you and her.

  15. I have been and am in the same situation with 2 of my very best friends. I totally get this. BUT getting her out isn't always the best friends job. After going through it so many times with Best friend A, when the time came that Best Friend B was going through it I told my husband we are going to support her and let her crash on our couch if she needs to get away. But I learned that whatever you say doesn't really make a difference. She knows he's an ass. That's why she didn't tell you about those things the first year. She knows that she can do better, but she doesn't know if she wants to. It sucks, but you have to be supportive of whatever. And if she is smart and can snap out of it, she will see that he is in fact an ass and she can do better and that not all guys are like that. It sucks and is harder than hell to do and just sit back, but she has to make the decision. Good luck. Don't give up on her, please. We have all been mislead by a guy.

  16. Show her this blog post. Show her that you cared enough to ask total strangers because you are out of options and desperate to save her. Take her to places where she can be around OLDER women who will tell her their stories of how they thought they'd found "the one." Friend-nap her and make her watch Fatal Attraction, or any moive where the guy is a sleazyball trying to get into the lead female's pants. She needs to see other perspectives.

  17. I agree with everything said before, but I have a particular concern with the virginity thing. In my (not that extensive) experience with christians, there is such a huge importance placed on this that I'm worried if he gets her to 'do it', she'll never leave. Surely there's something that can be done to get her out before that happens?

  18. the internet just swallowed my post, but in short...

    thanks for the advice. nat - i'm worried about that too, she already talks about how she doesn't want to leave him because she's done things with him physically that she only ever wanted to do when married.

    we have this friend who is in love with my bff, but is too good of a guy to make a move on a taken woman. There's this amazing guy right in front of her already, and she's still stuck on the douche.

    I asked her what this older lady she is close with would say, and she said "oh she'd be appalled, and tell me I need to leave.... but I love him, so.."

    A close friend of ours is marrying a wonderful man on saturday, they met on a hiking trail in the canadian wilderness, when neither of them were even from canada. My bff hears stories like this of 'the one' but just says that it isn't for her, she's not that lucky.

    She's just so blind. I know all I can do is be supportive, but it really is getting progressively harder to sit in silence biting my tongue when all I want to do is slap her with a wet fish and ask her what the hell she is thinking.

    But thankyou - it's good to know that I seem to being doing all I really can, and it also gives hope from those of you who've been there, that there is a way out and there is an end to it.

    p.s. not british, australian. But yes, we have UK football, and it's played by hot boys in parks (:

  19. I was in the same situation as your friend and I only left when I was ready to leave, and when one of my friends was finally very blunt and told me he didn't love me. You need to tell her like it is. I'm so thankful that I was able to get out of my toxic relationship, and now I'm married to the man of my dreams who treats me like I should be treated. You should show her this post and all the responses.

  20. Marigold, You really are a stellar friend for caring so much and I praise you for it. Stay strong! One more thing that I thought of is to have conversations with her about what would be her ideal husband. (good father, not jealous, what have you) Discuss this.. maybe she will see that her ideals are so far from what she would get with the guy she is currently dating.

    Also, I would encourage her to study the book of Proverbs. There is a lot in there about what makes a godly mate. Here is some helpful commentary on the subject.

    If you scroll down 3/4 of the way it lists qualities of a godly husband with references. This guy probably exhibits none of these. Maybe that would be a wake up call?
    I want to get out a wet fish and I don't even know the girl.

  21. thanks a lot julia - I'm going to show her that website (: