What To Do if Your Best Friend’s Dating a Brick
Watson, (is that your real name?)
I’m not the advice-column type, but I need some help, and Dan Savage is apparently busy. My best friend is dating the most annoying girl in the world. I know that makes me sound superficial, but I’m really not. I’d be totally capable of overlooking a nasal voice or ditzy mannerisms if I thought she made him happy. But this chick is downright anti-intellectual, and my friend is a borderline genius, and EVERYONE knows he can do better. We’ve been best friends for nearly 15 years now (since college), live nearby, etc., and he’s dated a lot of women whom I really liked, and a few that I at least didn’t mind, but he’s had a long dry spell and his last breakup was pretty shitty and between the two, he seems to have lost heart. I’ve asked him — in an open-minded way — what he sees in her several times now, and he always gives me these incredibly depressing replies, like “she doesn’t complain when I’m too busy to see her,” “she’s the right age for me,” “we share kitchen space pretty well,” or (he actually said this) “well she’s usually willing to have sex at least.” She has no real passions that I can discern, takes no interest in his work (he’s a writer), and is barely polite to his friends, even though I’ve made every effort to include her in conversations, ask how she is, etc. She doesn’t even seem to like him all that much. She is pretty, I guess… but not enough to explain why he’s with her when he used to have really high standards. (He’s no CK model but he’s definitely attractive enough to find someone better, and I think he knows it, because he’s done it in the past.)
Unfortunately, this girl is also in an I-want-to-get-married-and-have-kids-like-NOW phase and seems pretty bent on getting him to commit to her. He doesn’t seem to particularly want to, but he also doesn’t seem to have enough spirit left to resist the pressure she’s putting on him.
Do I have to accept that I’m going to have to deal with this sourpuss for the rest of my natural, or should I take a stand somehow? Can you even do that? I’ve talked to him about this as much as I could without being disrespectful, respecting the straight-dude-code (even though we usually ignore it), but the last time we talked he was pretty open about not being in love with her. He says he’s just tired of looking for something that might not exist and wants to get on with his life.
This attitude is so radically different from the goony romantic bookworm that I used to discuss heartaches with that I don’t even know how to connect with him about it. I’m totally at a loss. I don’t want to stop spending time with my best friend but I don’t know if I can stand to see him like this for good. Is there anything I can do?? I’ve tried asking friends and family for advice but they just don’t get it. (My sister even said I’m just jealous because he’s “growing up” without me.)
Thanks in advance,
You know what I have to tell you, right? They say there’s no accounting for taste, and it seems to be true, if the upcoming elections are any indication. Moreover, your best friend is an adult capable of making his own decisions and you should probably respect that, even if you don’t understand his choices. Growing apart from friends is something we all have to come to terms with as we get older; the sooner you start, the better.
Unless you love him, of course. Unless you love each other. Unless you have the kind of friendship where you don’t have those boundaries, where you’ve crafted your philosophies together over the years, where you can’t “let it slide” if his views don’t make sense to you or when he’s making bad decisions, the kind where anything that’s his business is your business and vice-versa.
I’m going to assume that you love him, because I suspect that you wouldn’t be asking me this question if you didn’t. And if that’s the case, I think you need to fight for him, no holds barred.
I know that sounds like dating advice more than friend advice, but fuck that — there are chill-and-hang-out friendships, and then there are real ones, and the real ones always blur that line, no matter what what the orientations of the people involved are. I’m not saying that there’s not a difference between platonic and romantic relationships, but I think we often mis-draw that distinction and assume that friendship doesn’t involve true commitment just because it isn’t sexual or exclusive.
But real friendship does involve commitment, because it involves real and reciprocal love, and with time, that leads to deep interdependence. We rely on our friends to hold us to the highest standards, and to be more disappointed than anyone if we fail; but we also rely on them to believe us capable of meeting those standards, even when we ourselves question that. Our friends are the people whose respect we think is most worth having, whose views we find compelling and beautiful; our friends, as much as our lovers, are who we write for, on whose behalf we think and strive; and our friends’ respect helps us to remember to respect ourselves, even when we’re least disposed to.
The commitments we make to our friends may appear less substantial because they’re not articulated and formalized the same way monogamous relationships are, and because they’re featured less often in soap operas and aren’t celebrated on February 14th. But I would venture to assert that that only makes them all the more sincere when they do occur. If true friendships are built on understanding and sharing each other’s aspirations, then they’re also implicitly based on the unspoken commitment to be your best for someone and to expect (and appreciate) their best of them in return.
From your letter, it seems like part of what you’re struggling with is that your friend has let you down by “giving up” on your shared ideology — giving up on him self — with this girl. He probably thinks he’s being a realist, coming off of his cloud, growing up. But you know better. You know the old “goon” is still in there, and you still love him — and he needs you.
So you need to take a stand. I don’t mean that you need to threaten him or walk away from him. If you’re right about his state of depression, that probably wouldn’t work, anyway. But you do need to find out if there’s something about their relationship that you’re missing (maybe they share a rare fetish?), or if what you’re seeing is really him giving up on love and happiness — and if it’s the latter, you need to remind him that the indefatigable intellect, the “borderline-genius” that you know him for is still his better side; that it’s better to spend your life looking for a love you may never find than to live with the knowledge that you gave up; that he deserves more, even if he doesn’t know it. Your friend is a little lost; it’s your job now to remind him what he believes, to remind him how much people can matter to you and how inspiring it is to live with higher hopes, however unrealistic.
If all else fails, yell. Brace yourself: for all your pains, you may discover that the friend you’ve cherished for so long really is irrecoverable. But don’t give up without a fight. People you can really love are too rare and precious to let them go just for the sake of tact.
Dear Watson is a weekly advice column. You can write to Watson anonymously at email@example.com.
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