I’ve been going out with my boyfriend for a year and a half, and I really need to stress that almost everything is great—we’re moving in together next semester, and he’s usually funny, smart, and kind. However, a few times when he’s been drinking he has said things to me that are insulting and that undermine my confidence. He has called me “boring,” “not spontaneous,” and “uptight,” and he implies that things I say are stupid in front of my friends. When I complain about it he says I’m being oversensitive, and I end up apologizing to him or feeling guilty for making him feel bad. I just don’t know how to bring this up without being confrontational and getting into an argument. How do I deal with all of this? —Anonymous
OK, this is a complicated situation, and let me say up front that I can’t tell you what it’s like to be in your relationship; you’re the best authority on your own life.
That said, let’s talk about sandwiches. I’m a fan of a well-made sandwich—most people are! And some parts of what you are saying sound like this: “I really love the place where I get my sandwiches. Almost every time I go to get a sandwich there, it’s amazing. In fact, it is only RARELY that I go to my sandwich shop, order a sandwich there, and find a dead cockroach in the sandwich! Only a small, recurring portion of the time have I been forced to bite into a dead cockroach when expecting a delicious sandwich. Things are swell!”
This isn’t to disrespect you, because frankly I’ve used the same line of logic more than once. But you have the right to hold certain expectations within any relationship. One of them is the right to hold certain expectations. Another is the right to live without fear of your partner. Right now, it sounds like you don’t have that. Right now, it sounds like you have a decent relationship at SOME times, but you’re always afraid the other guy is gonna show up—the one who insults you, degrades you, and treats you like crap. It can be tempting to just wait that guy out—to put up with him until his awesome twin brother, your boyfriend, comes back into the picture.
But you owe it to yourself to confront the problem. Because there are a whole lot of women in this world who have found themselves seriously committed to abusive men because at first the other guy showed up only when he was drunk or stressed out about work or [fill in the exceptional circumstance here]. Unfortunately, those women discovered, a seriously committed relationship often gives the mean guy room to spread out, expand, and take over, and the good guy comes out only to play cleanup.
So you need to talk about the problem. It’s possible that your boyfriend is just being clueless and putting his foot in his mouth and that he isn’t trying to dominate or control you—if that’s true, he’ll listen to you. Write him an email describing the incidents where he’s run you down and insulted you. (As painful as this is, it’s not wise to have a touchy conversation about being treated poorly in person—some people, when confronted, can blow up and become really scary.) Tell him that you need it to stop if you’re going to move forward with this relationship. Tell him that you need to see him do the lion’s share of the work on it: He’s the one who needs to deal with his drinking, book the therapist’s appointments, make the apologies, etc. It’s not your project. It’s his issue, and he needs to deal with it.
And then, if you want to—and ONLY if you want to, not because you feel guilty—stick around and see if the verbally crappy behavior goes away. If it doesn’t, or if it goes away for a time and comes back, it’s fine to leave. You’re thinking of moving in with this guy. That’s a big decision that will change your life, at least for a little while. You deserve to have a life where you’re always backed up and supported by your partner. A life where you hang around waiting for the mean guy to show up will eat away at you and gradually make you extremely unhappy.
This is, of course, your decision. But you didn’t sign up for one single instance of this. And you owe it to yourself to confront the problem now, rather than signing up for years. —Sady
Dear Ruby B.: I start high school this year in a new city, and I’m really scared. I don’t know how I’m going to make friends, especially ones who are also feminist and into the same things as me. How did you find your “clique”? —Caterra, Brooklyn
Hi, Caterra! Thanks for specifically addressing me, I feel flattered! :) As someone who has attended 10 different schools since kindergarten, I am all too familiar with being the new girl in a new place where everyone else already has friends. It’s possible to find a solid group in this situation, but it does take effort.
The door into my social life was a sign on a telephone pole featuring a hand-drawn picture of a bass guitar and a phone number. I called the number and auditioned for the band, and my bandmates are now some of my best friends. I’m guessing there will be signs on the walls of your new school announcing all kinds of clubs and projects and activities—some associated with the school and some not. It takes some courage if you’re shy like I am, but if anything looks interesting to you, respond to it, or show up to the next meeting or whatever. The best way to find people who are into the same things as you is to get involved in activities focused on those things. Attend a music theory class, join the GSA, the drama club, or whatever is really important to you. Brooklyn’s a pretty progressive place, so it’s very possible that your school will have a feminism club. If it doesn’t and you want to find feminist friends to talk about important things with, start one yourself!
During your first few days, weeks, or even months at a new school you’re a loner by default. But you will not be the only one. Look around—there will be other new kids, and kids who for whatever reason don’t have a lot of friends. Scan the lunchroom or study hall for someone sitting by themselves. Go up and introduce yourself. This sounds too simple to actually work, but it is seriously how I met most of the people I know now. A solo person is way less intimidating than a huge group, and in my experience there’s a higher chance that they’ll be interested in making a new friend.
Also, be openminded. If you’re an angsty try-hard nonconformist like myself, go against your Daria instincts by giving the preps and the cheerleaders a chance. Give everyone a chance. Being judgmental about everyone you see/meet (a common reaction to fear of rejection, not at all coincidentally) is not going to help you avoid the bad people—it’s going to prevent you from finding the good ones.
And this is cheesy and sounds stupid, but just ~be you~ (ew throw-up). Pretending to like stuff you don’t like in order to fit in and be accepted by a new group of people might “work,” but it is not gonna make you happy. Having friends who don’t actually know you sucks even worse than having no friends at all. Plus, it’s really exhausting and stupid to put on an act all the time—and the friends you’ll make this way aren’t worth the trouble. If you can’t be yourself around someone, move on.
Most important, be patient. It could take months to find people you love, if not longer. But I promise that it’s worth the wait and the effort. And if all else fails, remember that high school is stupid, so don’t worry too much about it. Good luck! —Ruby
How can I show a guy I’m not interested without getting crap or feeling like a bitch? —Elizabeth, Virginia
This is a tough one, Elizabeth, because no matter what you say or how you say it, rejection always stings, and neither the rejector nor the rejectee feel good about it. But you’re not a bitch for not wanting to go out with every guy in the universe! There’s nothing to feel guilty about, so long as you’re not cruel when you reject someone and you don’t play games with some guy’s feelings by giving him false hope.
The best thing is to keep a rejection as simple and straightforward as possible, while being totally unequivocal (a common mistake is to be “too nice” and tell half-truths, which might make you feel better in the short term but will lead to a lot more pain for everybody). If this guy is someone you see regularly, you should do it face to face. Pick a moment when you can be alone with him for a few minutes, then make a quick exit after you’ve said your piece. Say something along the lines of “Hey, I really like you and I really enjoy being friends, but I don’t want to take it any further. I hope you’re cool with that.” Give him time to respond, then leave. Next time you see him, be friendly and pleasant, but maintain a little emotional distance.
This is assuming he’s the right kind of guy: one who will hear you loud and clear and will appreciate your having smoothed things over and saved him from losing any face. The wrong kind of guy might start to argue with you or talk about being “friendzoned” or otherwise give you crap after you’ve politely declined his advances. In that case, you say something like “I’ve told you how I feel. I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” and get the hell away from him. You have no obligation to be nice to him after that, nor to care what he thinks. Just know that you did the right thing in an honest, straightforward, courteous manner. You don’t owe him any more than that. —Cindy
My best friend just told me that he has FEELINGS for me. I don’t feel the same way, and now I just feel awkward around him. But he is my BEST FRIEND, and I don’t want to lose this friendship! Is there any way to get back to how we used to be? —Chelsea, 18
I’m sorry to say that things won’t go back to the way they used to be, at least not for a while. You’re feeling awkward around him, and he probably feels it, plus he might be a little embarrassed about having fessed up and been rejected. “How you used to be” was a state where you weren’t aware of his feelings; now that you are, you can feign ignorance, but both of you will know better—leading to more awkwardness. Plus, if you keep pretending that you don’t know that he like-likes you—go on like nothing ever happened—he may grow to resent you.
But that doesn’t mean your friendship has to end. If it’s going to continue, though, it will take some work, and it may never feel exactly how it used to. Liking your best friend is a totally normal thing. Friendships require some intimacy and vulnerability, much like romantic partnerships do, and sometimes those lines get blurred. As a girl who’s always had at least one male best friend, I can tell you that if you spend a lot of time with someone, you can start to develop weird lovey-dovey feelings for them, but that it doesn’t always result in romantic compatibility. I tried dating my high school BFF once, because I mistook our friendly kind of intimacy for a romantic connection—and it was a total disaster! But it taught me the important distinction between liking someone and just feeling really comfortable around them.
I suggest you have a very frank discussion with your friend, starting with the fact that you don’t share his feelings, but you want to stay friends. Then let him call the next shot: Ask him if it would feel better for him if you spent less time together for a while. If he thinks he’ll have a hard time getting over it, distance will be the best thing for both of you. If you agree to take some time off from your friendship, commit to it. Don’t contact him—that will only prolong his feelings. Don’t stay up late with him eating ice cream and watching John Hughes movies, or you’ll run the risk of blurring those lines again. Make sure he knows that you’re doing this because you don’t want your friendship to fester into an enmity.
If you respect his feelings and give him space to take care of himself now, you’ll stand a much better shot of returning to a strong, healthy friendship down the line. (From experience I can tell you that this might not happen until he’s found a girlfriend or boyfriend and is less interested in making you into one.) Best of luck! —Suzy X. ♦
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