Please advise regarding my friend whom I think is making a mess of her life with a rebound relationship.
My ex left 3 years ago for an OW, and his best friend followed suit 6 months later for his OW, leaving my friend with 3 small kids. A whole 3 months later she announced she was healed, ready to move on and started on-line dating. After several months dating many men, she found herself a creepy man-child who wooed her with soppy poetry and sob stories about how his wife cheated on him and left with his young son. Fast-forward to this year — he has moved across the country to move in with my friend, quit work, is paying minimal child support to his ex-wife, is pursuing a dream to study at university (with no foreseeable career prospects) while Chump-friend works full-time and fusses around to give him quiet study time and even helps with his assignments and Powerpoint presentations.
He is increasingly undermining of her parenting, mean to her kids, unbearably arrogant about topics he knows nothing about, and is clearly enjoying the biggest free ride of his life. Chump friend must have smelled a rat as she checked his phone and found he’s been checking out numerous online dating sites and also found out he had actually left his wife, and told various other lies about his former life and qualifications. After being lied to and cheated on by her ex, I assumed it would be “pack your bags and out by the weekend” and told her exactly what I thought of him — big mistake.
She thanked me for my “perspective” and after calling about 25 friends, found a few men who told her to give the cheater another chance. I told her she is grasping at straws, putting her kids’ welfare and finances at risk, and asked her to contemplate why she is so terrified of being alone. I suspect the fact that her ex is now engaged and expecting a baby is a big factor.
If it wasn’t for her kids I wouldn’t feel so worried by her appalling choice, but they have another odious man in their lives who is at best a parasite, looking for a new adventure at the expense of their emotionally vulnerable but financially secure and professionally well-connected mother. At worst… who knows what his motives might be.
Should I have said nothing or been more subtle? I have the urge to keep pointing out his numerous scary red flags until she either boots him out (unlikely ) or severs the friendship (which has already been strained due to my honesty). Maybe I need to stop trying to rescuing her, accept that people make crap choices to avoid being alone and back off?
You’re a good friend. And you’ve got a big mouth. I like that in a person.
I know I should point out that you and your friend have codependency in common — she thinks she can change the idiot, you think you can change the idiot — but I still admire your spunk. Most people THINK these things, “Stop! You’re ruining your life!” You say them.
I mean, what else are friends for? It would be one thing if you were criticizing the drape of her new pantsuit. It’s quite another to express alarm about the man she inflicts on her children. It’s not a little thing. It’s a great big toxic elephant in the room.
That said, some people just love their toxic elephants. You can point it out, and they’re all like, “Dumbo and I have a bond. You wouldn’t understand.”
So… what to do. You can go two ways here. Path 1 is stay in her life. Tone down the bitchslaps and when she complains about the latest dating profile discovery, don’t shriek. Say, “Chumpy, this relationship doesn’t seem to be bringing out your best self. Does this feel acceptable to you?” Point out her choices and her agency.
She didn’t leave a cheater — she got left. I imagine she’s feeling quite powerless and rejected, and Dumbo’s kibbles feel very significant. Or his soppy poetry is that good. As her friend, you could point out her value outside of Dumbo — her mightiness raising three kids, how great she is at her job, her value to you as a friend. Give her validation that’s not Dumbo-centric.
Keep the lines of communication open. Do NOT apologize for telling her the truth. If it comes up, you simply say “We’ll have to agree to disagree.” And every single time she wants to bitch about him, or tell you her sad sausage tale, you STOP her and point out that agency. “Is this relationship ACCEPTABLE TO YOU?” We only control ourselves. Then change the subject to growing peonies, or pine cone elves, or whatever else it is you have in common.
Path 2 is detach. It is really, really painful to watch someone drive their life over a cliff. It’s even worse if you’ve yelled out “HEY! CLIFF AHEAD!” and they do it anyway. It may be that your friend just needs a few more kicks in the teeth to get it. She clearly hasn’t suffered through enough PowerPoint yet. Maybe you should go invest your time in friends who aren’t being such colossal fuck ups.
Ooh, was that harsh? Consider our Dr. Simon axiom, “It’s not that they don’t see, it’s that they disagree.” It applies to chumps too. It’s not that your friend doesn’t SEE that Dumbo is a dumpster fire of dysfunction. It’s that she DISAGREES she should save herself. She values the appearance of togetherness and “winning” a partner over her own and her children’s well-being. That’s who she is.
Many of us have been her. And we got past it — painfully. I hope your friend will too. For now, I vote for Path 1. She hasn’t done anything horrible to you for calling her out (except staying with the bastard). See if you can keep channels open. If she persists in being tied to Dumbo, detach. You can’t save everyone.
This column ran previously. Hopefully Friend came to her senses.