Beyond “staying friends” on October 28, 1998...
Dear Breakup Girl,
I am doing okay except that my friend has a problem. I have a friend who has been having trouble with his girlfriend. She is five years younger than he, and just moved to school about three weeks ago. Oh, did I forget to mention that he is my ex? Yes, we are doing the “friends” thing, and so far, after failing a few times at it, it is finally working out.
You see, part of his problems with her center around me; she does not like the fact that he hangs out with me, calls me, and even (by some sort of a fluke, out of our control) stayed in my room at school last weekend (he slept on the floor on an inflatible mattress — very innocent. He would never cheat on her, and I would not allow him to with me.). When we get together we spend a good chunk of our time discussing her and his problems with their situation.
We have a very honest relationship, and always have, and I have told him many times that I think this girl is dragging him down. I only hear the negative things about her, and I, quite frankly, did not treat him poorly while we were dating and haven’t since we have become friends. We are best friends, and I don’t think she realizes how important we are to each other. He doesn’t place limits on whom she can hang with at school, and he doesn’t think it is fair for her to do that to him.
This is where you come in, BG. It’s very hard for me, as his ex-girlfriend, to continually tell him that I don’t like what his girlfriend is doing to him (major guilt trips), but I don’t like to see him like this. In fact, he called me just 20 minutes ago sobbing because he was so frustrated with her and this situation. I have to be careful because what I may say to him may come across as the “jealous ex” but believe me — we are much better off as friends. There was a reason why we broke up, and it would be really, super bad if we got back together again (not to mention the fact that my entire family would kill me).
Please help me help my friend. I don’t want to see this relationship between my friend and his girlfriend end, but I personally think he would make a better bachelor than a boyfriend right now. Thank you, Breakup Girl! Any advice would help me greatly!
Au contraire: she realizes exactly how important you are to each other. No, she is not entitled to enforce limits on his choice of air mattress, but yes, she is entitled not to like it. It’s Article something-or-other in the Current Girl/Boyfriend’s Bill of Rights. Basic retro-jealousy in these situations is totally normal (as in “How dare you date her/him when you didn’t know I existed?” Or, more reasonably, “How tough an act am I following here? And how’m I doing so far?”). Even if (a) the present relationship is healthy, and (b) the exes involved currently loathe each other (see “Petty,” below). So imagine how you’d feel if you were having a rocky go of it with your [older] boyfriend, and the person who talks [hotels] him through it is his girlfriend, I mean ” best friend” — ? Now does she seem a little less whacked?
Now, I completely believe that your letter and your intentions are sincere. But there’s also sort of a fudge ripple of “I know better than anyone what’s best for him” going on here. And heck, perhaps you do. But the effect is that you sort of wind up pulling rank. And the effect on them is that the couple winds up haggling over the triangle — that is, the symptom — rather than whatever’s creating problems just between the two of them. Don’t get me wrong: your involvement is completely legal, on paper. But it’s just … weird. And it’s not actually making a difference, is it? Au contraire. So I think that your job, as a friend, is to give Mattress Man once more, for the record, your opinion about bachelor vs. boyfriend, her “dragging him down,” etc, etc. And then drop it. AND rule the topic off-limits between you two. If he doesn’t have other friends he can go to about this, well, that’s a problem too. AND if you two don’t have anything left to talk about, well, that’s also something to look at. Could be that you are / were, in some sense, running on fondess fumes. So if you are committed to staying friends, that’s delightful. Find new activities and sources of interaction (not sleepovers). I personally think you would make a better buddy than a therapist right now.