I don’t like my friend’s boyfriend. He’s been quite rude and makes no effort. From his behaviour, it seems he favours an “alpha male” position and doesn’t like to be contradicted, even in a very trivial way. Is it awful if I can’t stand my best and oldest friend’s partner? I’m sure he adores her but I fear she deserves better. Can I express something along these lines or do I risk putting her in a difficult situation? Is it imperative we try to get along with our friends’ partners?
I, like you, have heard dozens of versions of the story that begins with “she chose the wrong man” and ends in tears. If we’re honest with ourselves we might even have been the protagonist in a few. It puts the truth to Sartre’s old remark that hell is other people. Hell is also, and especially, the people we put up with because they love the people we love.
There are two questions here. One is whether you should say something by some kind of moral principle, and the other is whether you can pragmatically get any foothold in her mind by saying it.
The problem is that in more or less all the stories you and I already know about the girl who chooses the wrong person, it’s very seldom the intervention of other people that gets her to see it. Sometimes it is. But very rarely. More often she has to go through a whole lot of heartbreak and self-discovery and betrayal before she sees what everyone else sees.
The psychoanalyst Alfred Adler suggested that people often find complicated ways to cause themselves suffering, because there’s an underlying need that that suffering answers. Maybe we find ourselves with manipulative people because we don’t want to make our own decisions; maybe we find ourselves with cruel people because we believe we deserve suffering.
I don’t know whether something like that is going on for your friend, and she might not either, but ask yourself deeply and truthfully, do you think there’s any chance she really doesn’t realise he’s a jerk? Or is it that right now, for her reasons, his specific brand of jerk is just what she needs?
If that’s what’s going on then there’s another question for you: what kind of friend do you want to be? Are you the one who points out what underlying pain she might be outsourcing to this guy? Or are you the one who lets her unravel in her own way, confident you’ll be there to help her pick up her unspooled self at the other end? Only you can answer that.
Then there’s the moral question. There’s an old principle due to Immanuel Kant: “Ought implies can.” The question of whether you ought to try to get her to see this guy’s bad character depends on whether you really think you can – and even if you can, whether you want to, or whether you prefer to let her see it in her own way. Friendship asks all kinds of peculiar, unconditional things of us. Perhaps now you’re in a position to offer her the kind of genuine, patient love that this guy doesn’t seem to.
Ask us a question
Do you have a conflict, crossroads or dilemma you need help with? Eleanor Gordon-Smith will help you think through life’s questions and puzzles, big and small. Questions can be anonymous.