Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My friend—let’s call her Mia—and I have been best friends for 20 years, since we met in homeroom on the first day of high school. We’ve been there for each other through so much. She was my maid of honor, she was there for me every day when I struggled with infertility, she held my hand when my father died. Mia’s been my rock, and I’ve been hers. Through her painful breakup, a major job loss, and her difficulty finding a partner, I’ve been there for her. She’s used my guest bedroom as her own bedroom after a night of crying into our wine more times than I can count. I love her, and truly want her to be happy.
Late last year, she met a guy online and they’ve been dating pretty seriously ever since. I’ve seen and spoken to Mia only a few times since they got serious, but I know it’s because she’s in love, so it’s OK. What’s not OK, however, is the man she’s chosen to be with. Dana, he’s terrible. I’ve tried to get to know him, but it’s not working. He doesn’t seem very interested in getting to know me, he’s weird and quiet, and after I did some Googling I’ve found things about him online that I really don’t like. His political opinions are vocal and bordering on misogynistic. I just can’t understand what she sees in him! She has nothing but good things to say about him, and shows no signs of slowing down with him. I want her to find a guy, but not this guy.
I don’t want to encourage a relationship that seems doomed to fail, but I don’t want to alienate or betray my best friend. I’m afraid to tell her how I really feel: Is it just me? Will she listen? Will she shut me out completely? Will I push her closer to him? What should I do?
Dump the Chump
Dear Dump the Chump,
Brand new romantic relationships are always, always a problem. Not for the people involved in the actual romance—they’re busy feeling the best, most potent endorphins on a daily basis and don’t have the time or inclination to see how their new, love-drugged state could be affecting their friends. But the new lovers’ friends, those whose lives are affected by this shift and aren’t experiencing an endorphin kick, usually aren’t completely in support of the sudden change.
When I was in my 20s, my good friend/roommate started dating my other good friend. I was so happy I thought I would explode. Look at everyone so together and in love! We had been in the habit of hanging out together all of the time anyway. Before they got together I’d come home from work and we’d make dinner, talk about our days, maybe go out for a drink. We were all working on a sketch comedy show and our evenings were taken up with production meetings, rehearsals, and making each other laugh as hard as we could.
But then it was different.
When I came home, the apartment was empty. They were spending every moment together, cocooned in a love bubble located in her apartment on the other side of the city. I was suddenly, involuntarily, living alone. And I had never wanted to live alone—I was, honestly, at that time, terrified of living alone. I pushed chairs underneath the door knobs of the front and back door and slept terribly, fitfully. I also struggled to find ways to fight this newfound loneliness. What was I supposed to do with my free time? Who was I supposed to talk to about my day?
I thought about telling my newly enamored friends how I felt. I thought about asking them to hang out with me more. I thought about telling them how hurtful they were being. I was miserable and I wanted them to know it.
But then, on one evening when all three of us were together, my girlfriend told me that she was having a problem with another friend, on account of her new relationship. “He’s mad because I’m not around for him anymore, but I get to have a relationship, you know? I’m not indebted to him. I didn’t sign a contract agreeing to fill his days and keep him from being lonely. And we still see each other. But now I’m in love and I want to spend all of my time with my new boyfriend and I want him to be happy for me and also to leave me alone.” And I suddenly saw it from the other side. I was being unreasonable. They had disrupted my life, sure, but they weren’t wrong for doing it. I needed to accept the change and adjust my life.
When we first start dating in high school, new boyfriends and girlfriends barely affect our day-to-day lives. We have the same routine—school, home—and no one has their own apartment yet so it’s hard to completely disappear. But then we get older. We start dating with an eye toward a long-term, possibly life-long, relationship. We can, and do, disappear completely into the ecstasy and wonder of discovering a new love. And the people who had gotten used to seeing us on a regular basis, who had come to rely on our presence, are left alone and, possibly, upset.
Dump the Chump, you need to stand down. Your friend is not in trouble. She isn’t doing anything wrong and neither is her boyfriend. Of course you are hurt and upset and miss her and want this guy gone so you can have your friend back. Of course you feel that way. Of course you are wrong.
At a certain age that is up for debate—but in my mind is exactly 27—we stop telling our friends that we hate their boyfriends. We can keep on hating their boyfriends, sure, but now this boyfriend may become her husband, and/or the father of her children, and may be in her, and your, life for a long, long time. The act moves from being loving and protective to being selfish. I don’t want this change. I want you to stay the same so I can be more comfortable. I don’t want you to have this so I can have you.
There are situations where it’s totally OK to tell someone that you hate her boyfriend—if that boyfriend is abusing her physically or emotionally, or making her so, so sad on a regular basis. I was once dating a man who was making me so, so sad and a dear friend, in the middle of an hour-long session where I listed out all the ways he was making me sad and mentioned that maybe I might possibly break up with him, my friend, who had never before said a negative thing about this man, suddenly said, “You know, you can do better,” and I stopped her right there and said thank you so much for saying that and please don’t say anything else because I still might marry this guy and it’ll make for an awkward bridal party. I didn’t marry that guy and my friend’s honest opinion of him in that moment helped me, but it also helped that she waited. She may have felt that way for years, but she only offered up her opinion when it was both relevant and helpful.
In this case, the guy seems fine. Maybe his online political views are distasteful, but that really isn’t your business. This is an issue of you, personally, not liking him, so you need to 1) keep that information to your damn self and 2) work harder to like him.
It is not up to you who your friend dates or loves. You don’t have a vote in that election. I want you to think back to when you met your husband. What was Mia doing at that time? How did she act around your new beau? How did she get to know him? How much less did she see you? How long did it take for her to become comfortable with him? How many quiet moments of sadness did she hide from you as she adjusted to your life having a new focus?
Think about that, and realize it’s your turn to do her the same favor. Take your time, get to know this guy, give him numerous chances, and give your dear friend the same gift she gave you.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.