The other day, a girlfriend and I were talking about her old college friend and soon-to-be bridesmaid who is four months into dating, objectively, a very lame guy. “When they first started going out,” she told me, “I assumed it would last a few weeks, tops. But they’re still together, which means a) he’s coming to my wedding, in addition to being around all the time, and b) they’re probably in love. Ugh.” Ugh, indeed.
Who hasn’t been there, though? Who hasn’t had a friend who, despite being a smart, funny, beautiful woman (because I’m being heteronormative here), chooses to date a guy who is just an utter bummer? Women – because of how consistently devalued they are, in pretty much every regard outside their physical beauty – often settle for things that are objectively not something they should have to put up with. We’ve all seen the stunning, Lilly-clad woman clinging to the beer-bellied, red-nosed angry bro in the polo shirt. These are real dynamics, even if we don’t want to admit them. (And you only have to turn on the TV once to see the dynamic of “smart, put-together wife rolling her eyes at nearly-non-functional husband.) But what does one do when put in this position?
As someone who has the luxury of being surrounded by ladies (and guys) who have, for the most part, chosen great dudes, I admit that this isn’t a big question in my life these days. But it’s happened to me before – and it can happen to anyone, in any combination of genders — and I dealt with it accordingly. I ensured that our friendship would not suffer, but that I would also not have to suffer too much of the guy while he was in her life. For me, there is a perfect six-step strategy to dealing with this, and this is exactly what you have to do.
We first have to separate “guy that you really don’t like, and wouldn’t date yourself” with “guy who is objectively destructive to her life in some way, eroding her self-esteem, abusive, or holding her back from prospering.” This difference is essential, because while it’s great when we love our friends’ SOs, it’s not the end of the world if we don’t. We can all be polite when we need to, and make the best of group hangouts, and at the end of the day, only the people dating have to really love each other. A friend marrying a guy who is “meh” in your eyes is part of your life. The rest of these steps only apply to guys who are capital-B Bad.
Identify the specifics of the lameness.
I’ll use an example – I know a girl whose guy will constantly crap on her while she’s making a point, interrupting her and correcting her and generally looking at her like he’s embarrassed of what’s coming out of her mouth. Basically, he treats her like an idiot, and as a result her own self-esteem has markedly suffered. The more time she spends around him, the worse she gets, and often by the end of an evening with him she’ll stop talking entirely so as not to get embarrassed in front of her friends anymore. This is just one possible manifestation of lameness, and the guy you know might be totally different (my friend’s story included an anecdote about the guy messaging her 20 times in one night to make sure she wasn’t out dancing with other guys), but the point is that you can clearly identify the fucked-up nonsense he’s doing.
Don’t pretend to like him.
There is a difference between being civil out of respect for your friend, and pretending to like someone who is clearly bad news. You don’t have to go out of your way to pretend to like this guy, or behave in a way with him that makes you feel a little icky from how false it is. You can be up-front about not wanting to spend tons of time with him, and you don’t have to do things like add him on social media or communicate with him outside of your friends. A lot of people – myself formally included – feel like it’s an asshole move to not immediately embrace the people your friends choose, but ultimately, if they are a super negative influence on things and someone you would otherwise not associate with, you can be civil without being fake.
If asked, explain why you’re not a fan of him.
If your friend says something like “Do you not like [insert name here, but let’s call him Brad]?” you owe it to them as a friend and someone who respects them to tell them the truth. You can say, “I don’t like the way he treats you sometimes,” and give specific examples so they will have the benefit of understanding. Maybe it won’t lead them to reconsider the relationship, but they will at least have a clear understanding of why you feel the way you do, and they won’t be paranoid every time you seem a little chillier around him than you do around your other friends. If you genuinely take issue with this person, you owe it to your friend to explain why, instead of just being that passive-aggressive person who talks endless shit behind his back but doesn’t do anything to make the situation better.
Point out specific instances when they happen.
My girlfriend was dating this guy who would call her names when he was angry at her to degrade/embarrass her in front of her friends, but then would always play it off like he was joking. He wasn’t joking. And it really devastated her, and we all knew this, but when I mentioned it to her once in private she did what most people do when they’re in love with a Brad – she denied it. She said she didn’t know what I was talking about, that she’d never seen this before, and that I was paranoid (or didn’t like him for personal reasons). So a few weeks later when we were all out at a bar and he “jokingly” called her fat when she went for another buffalo wing – in front of her friends – I pointed it out in the bathroom to her. Tears started welling up and she said “I know, I hate when he says stuff like that.” It didn’t end the relationship there, but they broke up a few months later, in part because she was acknowledging the truth of what he was doing to her. I’m happy to say that now, a few years later, she’s with an absolutely great guy who treats her like gold.
If nothing is stopping, remove yourself from the situation.
If you feel that the behavior is getting unacceptable, and none of the above methods have led to a solution, you can say “Hey, I can’t be around this person anymore,” and just don’t. You have the right to do that, and you don’t owe anyone your time or respect if they’re not earning it. Your friend might be upset, but if the guy is a true loser who is really damaging her life/self-esteem, it’s honestly enabling more than anything to continue to pretend to like the guy. You can say, simply, “I love you and want to be in your life, but I don’t want to be around this person.” And that is a fair thing to say, once you’ve already clearly and specifically explained the unacceptable/abusive behavior. It’s up to you to decide where your lines in the sand are, but it’s also not expected that we can watch our friends get hurt indefinitely and not say anything about it.
Use your judgment, but don’t give your tacit endorsement to a Brad. He doesn’t deserve it.