Hey everyone! YBC® ‘s Love and Relationship Writer, Katie, is back with a cautionary tale in supporting your friends as they navigate dating. This one’s a good read if you’ve got a friend struggling in the dating world. Ask her questions in the comments! xo Candace
So I finally managed to finish that post I’ve put on the back burner for the last two months and have it ready for you today. It took a long time (I’ve wanted to write about this for months!), but I think it’s worth the wait. Bear with me - it’s not advice for your dating life. It’s advice for your FRIENDSHIPS as it pertains to dating... because we all have that one friend.
You know, that one friend that keeps dating the same type of garbage human OVER and OVER again.
That one friend that’s dating the guy that treats her like she’s disposable. Or the one friend that’s dating the girl that strings him along and refuses to commit. Or the one that’s dating the guy who’s cruel to her when he feels hurt. Or the one that’s dating the girl that cheats. Or the one that’s dating the guy that refuses to spend time with her friends and family. Or the one dating the girl that’s super controlling. Or the one dating the guy that doesn’t pull his weight around the house. The list goes ON and ON and ON…
We see it time and time again. We want to scream in their face, YOU CAN DO BETTER. JUST FUCKING DO BETTER. I get it, trust me, I do. But I don’t think that’s the best way to talk to your friend about their dating life, and I’ll get to that later on in the post. In the meantime, I’m simply going to ask you to go gentle on your friend.
Because I’ve been that friend. I’ve been that friend that can’t seem to break the cycle of dating people that cannot POSSIBLY give me what I need, no matter how much I’ve wanted to make it work. In fact, I’ve been that friend for many years - and by many years I mean from birth up until the ripe old age of 32 ½. I want to thank all the wonderful people in my life who have been gentle with me while I dated the wrong dudes in perpetuity. I want to thank all the wonderful people that stayed quietly by my side, ready to pick up the pieces when things went south. And to be clear, they did go south. Every. Time.
But since last year, as you know from my February post, I’ve been trying something new. I haven’t been dating the dudes that deep down I knew would set me up for disappointment. In fact, I’ve been dating someone that deep down I know is setting me up for, well, something pretty wonderful it seems! First of all, let me be clear that this is VERY good news. Very good news indeed. But to be completely honest, the transition to dating a quality man whose relationship goals and philosophies were more aligned with mine hasn’t been simple. In fact, much to my surprise, it’s been a hard transition for me in many ways. There were many moments of doubt because what I was experiencing didn’t feel like the version of love I had learned - and sometimes, it was really hard to hang in there even though I knew I was FINALLY making a good, healthy decision for myself. So, I excitedly texted a friend to tell her I’d found someone pretty great. When I got the following text message in response, I was fucking PISSED:
And of course by pissed I mean HURT. There were a lot of assumptions in her message - the most difficult one being that I was not making an effort to break the cycle of dating the same garbage humans over and over again. In fact, I desperately wanted to find someone that was a good fit for me. I was reaching out to tell her about what I felt was a very important (and difficult) change I’d made, and she didn’t even remotely acknowledge it. Listen - I’ve already recognized that I was stuck dating the wrong kind of guy, which is actually pretty hard to admit even to myself. I’ve also recognized that it’s painful for all of us to watch someone we care about continue to date the people we know will not ultimately bring them peace and happiness. But when I got her response, it dawned on me there’s a way to talk to your friends if you’re worried about who they’re dating…. And there’s not. So before you hit the launch button on giving your friend a piece of your mind about their shit dating choices, here’s some food for thought:
Maybe the version of love your friend learned isn’t so great
This one feels really important. If you’re new to the blog and not sure what I’m referring to, go back and read that post I mentioned from a couple of months ago. It explains so much about why we make the dating choices we do. Some people get the shit end of the love-learning stick. Accordingly, it’s important to remember that it’s not their fault that we each learn a unique and different type of love as we grow up, and that their learned love happens to leave something to be desired.
You don’t know what *work* your friend is doing
I mean, Screenshot Friend was just that - my FRIEND. She was someone I’d confided in, supported, and cared about. Retrospectively, she was not a particularly good friend, but still. I had shared a lot with her, though perhaps what I didn’t articulate explicitly (and shouldn’t have to) was how hard I’ve been working in therapy for YEARS to make better decisions about love. The way she responded left me feeling a lack of appreciation and empathy for my experiences and hardships.
Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones
Gotta admit, it was a struggle not to quote 50 Cent’s “Patiently Waiting” directly, but I digress… Listen, many of us have been on the other side of the equation. It felt especially hard to hear this from Screenshot Friend given what I knew about her dating history, which included a fair share of toxic relationships with men. Empathy goes a long way, especially when you yourself have also struggled with finding a good partner, as many of us have.
So, how DO you express your concerns about who your friend is dating? I’m guessing this is the question of most interest to you... but you’re not gonna like what I have to say:
Yup. Don’t do it. Don’t say shit.
Because to be honest, the risk:reward ratio is not that promising. I mean, let’s be real here - has anyone ever changed their mind about who they’re dating because of feedback from a worried friend? I’d be willing to bet it’s extremely rare that someone leaves a problematic partner because a friend has voiced their concerns. Instead, it’s more likely that you’ll push them away, or they’ll stop confiding in you, or it will make them upset and angry... AND they’ll stay with their crappy partner. Now THAT is perhaps the worst trade deal ever made.
There are of course exceptions to this rule of staying quiet. For example, if you’re concerned about your friend’s safety, or they explicitly ask you what your thoughts are, etc. But aside from extenuating circumstances, I’m going to challenge you to keep your trap shut and prepare yourself for the more than likely mess of a break up down the road. While you’re waiting, here are some alternatives to letting your friend know how you feel about their trash partner… or partners, for that matter ;)
In addition to being the girl that dated trash men all the time, I’ve also been the friend that has tried relentlessly to show my friends that they deserve better than whatever fuckboy (or girl!) they happened to be dating. Seeing them consistently hurt and unhappy felt SO stressful for me, so I’d try to remind them of all the ways in which they were being mistreated. But for some reason, my campaigns to help my friends *see the light* never felt quite right. And after a while, I realized that I was trying to help them escape because it would make ME feel better, but was not aligned with where they were in the context of their dating journey. So, I stopped (because #codependency). I'd encourage you to consider if your friend’s choice of a partner is stressful/worrisome/painful for you, and whether you're trying to lessen those negative feelings by attempting to lead you friend towards a "better way." If that feels accurate, then I encourage you think about how you can turn inward and reroute the energy you spent worrying/trying to control their choices back to yourself. If this sounds like you, focus your work on how you can calm your worries around your friend’s dating life without involving them.
Validate and empower your friend
In the absence of telling your pal that their partner needs to fuck right off, consider holding them, hearing them and encouraging them. When they tell you about their most recent dating bullshit, don’t fuel the fire, but be clear on the fact that you hear them by using phrases like “I understand why you feel this way” and “I’m so sorry this is happening” and “that sounds really hard” and “I’m here for you”. In between the crises, give your friend frequent and unsolicited reminders of their worth and how much you appreciate them - “I’m so grateful to call you my friend” and “spending time with you gives me LIFE” and “you are a BOSS bitch and I’m so proud of you!” and “thank you for inspiring me!” - the list goes on.
Hold people accountable
This one requires some courage. And no, I’m not talking about holding your friend accountable for dating garbage - they’re already dealing with enough, and it’s not their fault they are being mistreated by their partner. How about instead of criticizing our friends for their shitty track record with dating partners we turn our attention to the garbage dating partners of the world themselves? Encourage people to be better to one another. When you catch wind of someone treating the person you’re dating like crap, consider how you can (safely) call them out, and then DOOOOOOO IT.
If you take ANYTHING from this post, just remember the 3 tips above (and I’d argue, especially #1). It just goes to show that at the end of the day, there’s actually a lot you can do if you’re worried about the people your friend dates without telling THEM about it. But sometimes, despite your best efforts, it can feel overwhelming to hear about what your friend is going through - maybe you’re really stressed and don’t have the emotional bandwidth, maybe it feels painfully close to something you’ve gone through - there are a million reasons you might not be in a position to be there for your friend as much as you’d like to. I think Screenshot Friend was in this position, which is totally valid. But instead of telling me, something else happened. We went from spending an awesome week at the beach and planning for holidays together to… effectively being strangers. She largely disappeared from my life, and what little contact I did have with her was short and cold. Don’t do what Screenshot Friend did. There’s a better option.
I know this because I too have found myself in this position, but instead of dropping off the face of the Earth I chose to do something that may or may not be more difficult: BOUNDARY.
Nearly 3 years ago, a very good friend of mine was going through an extremely difficult time in her marriage, and she was leaning on me a lot for support (as I hope all my friends do, DUH). Unfortunately, at the same time I too was struggling with something so harrowing that it frankly gives me the fight or flight poops to think about, even now. In addition to the quality of my life tanking in a major way, my problem totally robbed me of the emotional bandwidth to do really anything beyond putting one foot in front of the other for myself - which was a huge challenge. At the end of the day, my friend’s confiding in me was only adding to my stress, and I really couldn’t be there to support her as much as I wanted to. I was nervous, but I knew I needed to boundary for the sake of my own mental health and for our friendship. So, I girded my loins (wow, okay yes I just said that) and gently told her that I loved her but I needed some space from hearing about her pain because it was more than I could handle at that time. And guess what - she was TOTALLY cool with it! While the idea of setting a boundary with a friend may seem nerve wracking, it’s important, and empowering to do so. Maybe some friends will get upset when you boundary with them - and that’s okay. If nothing else, it’s important information about that friend of yours and what they’re capable of (and what they’re not). *wink wink nudge nudge*
So remember - be gentle with your friends that are struggling with breaking the cycle of dating shit partners. They’re doing the best they can, and it’s unlikely that opening your mouth will get them any closer to the love they deserve. You don’t want to be THAT friend, do you?
Until next time, YBCers!
PS: HEY! I’d love it if you’d tell me about your experiences with your friends - either receiving or giving feedback! Have questions? Want to know what to say (or not say! to a struggling friend? Want to hear the fate of Screenshot Friend? Want to know why I managed to end up on a repulsive smelly mattress inside an abandoned RV? You know where to find me… but just to be safe, catch me directly here.