Getting involved on March 30, 1998…
Dear Breakup Girl,
Here’s my situation. One of my friends is seeing this guy who I think is a really big jerk. In fact, I think he is extremely manipulative and emotionally abusive. Here’s a little sampling of his behavior: He constantly accuses her of having affairs with other people, even when he must know it isn’t true. He is always grilling her about her activities, trying to insinuate that she is doing something wrong — meanwhile, he can do anything he wants, including seeing his ex-girlfriend for a few drinks if he wants to. He insults her about her appearance, calls her in the middle of the night to check on her, tells her all of her friends are stupid and unworthy of hanging out with him, etc., etc. He has also had temper tantrums where he has thrown things at her, ripped up her photographs … you get the idea. I know that this is classic abusive behavior, and that the next step could be physical violence. I don’t know if it is going to go that far.
The sad thing is, my friend realizes that he has all of these problems, but she just doesn’t take any action. She rationalizes it by saying that when he acts like a jerk she “calls him on it” and he apologizes. But he continues. I also know that she is watering down the things that she tells me sometimes because she knows that I think he is a loser and that she needs to get away from him. I have tried to be a listener when she comes to me to vent about his most recent tantrum, but it is getting hard for me to take it anymore. Even when we go as far as listing the pros and cons of the relationship (I’m trying hard to be neutral, but I am not very convincing) she admits that the cons far outweigh the pros, and again, does nothing.
Here’s the clincher: she is 28 and she lost her virginity to this guy. I know she is reluctant to let go of him because this has been her first serious boyfriend and because of the loss of the big V. I know these are big factors, but I have never confronted her with them, because I don’t want to be hurtful.
At the beginning of the relationship (about five months ago) I just told her to dump him. Then I didn’t bother to say anything because I thought it was redundant and it was just hurting our friendship. I was convinced she would soon come to her senses. Now I try to gently convince her that he is harming her emotionally, but nothing seems to work. (Some of her other friends and I joke around about having an “intervention” but we are all worried.) So far he hasn’t hurt her physically, but he is obviously hurting her in a lot of other ways. What’s a friend to do?
— A Friend in Need
Dear In Need,
You are a friend, indeed. Sometimes “My friend’s boyfriend is a jerk!” is just the first part of a sentence that silently continues: “…because he asked her out instead of me!” But when the Friend Committee as a whole is mentioning an “intervention” — and a representative bothers to write to Breakup Girl about it — I’d say there’s genuine cause for concern. You’re absolutely right: this gentleman is clearly following all of the basic guidelines in “Emotional Abuse for Dummies” (which, though indeed a known precursor to physical abuse, is lousy and serious enough on its own) — and your friend does have an acute case of “I Know, But.”
Still, he is not a monster; she is not a loser. Yo: judge not, lest we be judged. Their impulses and actions are just extreme — and, yes, more dangerous — versions of feelings we’ve all felt, deeds we’ve all contemplated. Hey, everybody: look me in the eye and tell me you’ve never been so afraid of losing someone — anyone — that you’ve tried to inflate the good and ignore the bad. Look me in the eye and tell me you’ve never been so afraid of losing someone — anyone — that you’ve wished you could know, maybe even remote-control, what they’re doing every moment.
So this situation requires compassion (which you clearly have), along with some laissez-faire urgency. I say “laissez-faire” because as maddening as this is, you can’t tell her what to do. Why? Because he is already doing that. Any steps she takes away from him will come when she starts to think to herself, “Hold the phone! I am fierce. And my friends rock.”
And that, gentle writer (and readers!) is where you do come in. Quick anecdote: once, while wearing her “PRESS” hat, Breakup Girl interviewed a young woman in California who’d finally shored up the chutzpah to dump a guy who jerked her around, figuratively and literally. What made her wake up and get out?The fact that her friends stuck by her, included her in their plans, and constantly reminded her — even without saying it outright — that she mattered.
So tell her why you’re concerned, tell her that it’s the last time you’re going to lecture her about why you’re concerned, tell her that you will be there for her no matter what, and tell her that she better get her shoes on because you’re going to see Grease.
Okay. All of this said, Breakup Girl is just a superhero, not a trained psychologist. For more information and support (everyone get out your pencils/bookmarks; you know who you are…and see? you are not weird — you have no idea how many letters Breakup Girl gets that sound like this one), call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE.
You know, “friend” can get to be a dirty word around here at BG HQ. But in this case, it’s next to goddess-liness. Everyone should thank you for writing.