DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have something that I need to get off of my chest: I dislike one of my girlfriend’s guy friends. Let’s call him Q to protect the names of the innocent and not so innocent, as you say.
Whenever someone mentions Q my girlfriend lights up and says how much she loves the guy, I usually have a brief moment where I think about fighting him. That kind of reaction is not healthy and I should stop, but given the history between Q and I stopping is difficult at times.
A while ago Q and I were acquaintances and we were messing around with each other play-fighting and then he got pissed off and punched me in the face. Since we were at university, I didn’t fight back because I knew we would both be expelled with no questions asked. After that I decided I’d rather not hang out with him. In a separate incident, Q took out his switchblade and publicly threatened to kill one of my friends because my friend had a bad break up with a girl Q liked. That threat really exacerbated my friend’s anxiety and he ended up leaving school and it worked out great for Q because he ended up sleeping with that girl. No one at the university took action over that threat (dozens of people saw it) and I feel guilty for not reporting it myself. My girlfriend doesn’t know about any of this as far as I know.
I really don’t like Q and I feel like I have good reasons not to, and yet my girlfriend likes him. Now don’t get me wrong; I think my girlfriend can choose whomever she wants to be her friend. Maybe she knows things about Q that would make me change my mind despite the way I know him. But I don’t know how to tell her I dislike Q without hurting the relationship I have with my girlfriend. I also don’t know how to act if I am in a room with Q and my girlfriend at the same time. That scenario hasn’t happened yet, but I have a feeling it could and I want to be ready. I’d also like some general advice about how to deal with people my girlfriend likes but I can’t stand.
Thanks for your reality slap,
-Off My Chest
DEAR OFF MY CHEST: You have a completely legitimate reason not to like Q, OMC. Dude punched you in the face and committed assault with a deadly weapon on a friend of yours! THESE ARE VERY GOOD REASONS NOT TO WANT TO HANG AROUND HIM.
Everybody is well within their rights to not want to hang out with their significant other’s friends. It’s good to try to at least be civil to them – after all, they’re important to someone you theoretically care about – but you don’t have to like them, just be polite and willing to spend time in their company on occasion.
There is an unfortunate Geek Social Fallacy that friendship is transitive. It’s not. Just because you both have something in common (your girlfriend, in this case) doesn’t automatically mean that you’re going to be BFFs. In fact, you may very well seriously dislike them. But unless they present a serious problem – and I mean beyond “I think they’re a goddamn idiot” – then the best thing you can do is grit your teeth and deal with them every once in a while.
Except in cases like this.
When someone presents a threat to you (mental or physical), you aren’t obligated to tolerate their presence just because your girlfriend or boyfriend thinks they’re the the bee’s knees and the badger’s nadgers.
But I’m not the one you need to talk to. You need to talk to your girlfriend about how you feel. Communication is important and if you can’t have a serious conversation about how you feel about something with your girlfriend without it potentially destroying the relationship then, frankly, that’s a relationship that needs to be destroyed.
Besides: I don’t know about your girlfriend, but if MY significant other knew that one of my friends was a violent hothead who was prone to threatening people’s lives, I’d want to f
king know about it.
I’d wait until you’re likely to be actually having to share space with Q; bringing it up too early and you may seem as though you’re threatened (metaphorically) by him and you’re trying to get your girlfriend to cut him out of her life.
Here’s what you say when the time comes: “Listen $GIRLFRIEND_NAME, I know that Q’s your friend, but I really don’t like him. I don’t think he’s a good guy. I don’t know if you know this, but I’ve actually seen him threaten to kill somebody. Do you remember $FRIEND_NAME? Remember when he broke up with his girlfriend? And how he dropped out of college afterwards? Q had a crush on $FRIEND_NAME’s girlfriend. When they broke up, I watched Q literally pull a knife on him and threaten his life. That’s why he dropped out.
Maybe he’s an awesome guy. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be friends with him. But I don’t want to be in the same room with him and I thought you should know the reason why.”
(I’d leave the “punching you in the face” part out unless it becomes relevant as part of a pattern of his behavior; if she’s the type to assume her friend can do nothing wrong, you could be accused that you’re only doing this because you’re upset that he sucker-punched you.)
If she asks, direct her to some of the other people – including your friend – who witnessed the event.
You want to keep as calm and neutral as possible. You don’t want to get angry or emotional. You don’t want to fling around accusations or make demands. You just want to state your feelings on the matter calmly and succinctly.
Your girlfriend should understand. Most people will be mature enough to. Some people aren’t. Some people will get angry when folks bad-mouth their friends. Your girlfriend may well be one of them. If she is, she may accuse you of being underhanded or even jealous. Don’t get defensive if she does; these are your feelings on the matter and they’re based on your history with Q.
You have every right to feel the way you do about him. Getting defensive and trying to justify yourself just tells her that she’s correct and you do have underhanded motives. You’re not telling her to not see him any more, you’re just saying that you want to have nothing to do with him. How she feels about the matter is up to her.
Like I said: she should be able to understand and respect that. If she can’t… well, better to cut things off now and find someone who you can communicate with.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Our story begins with two nerdy people who find each other on a dating site, meet, bond over nerdy references, and through about 20 months of dating (the date is approximate because neither bothered to remember when they became “official”), became the centers of each other’s worlds. Eventually, organically, the conversations turned to marriage, and both parties agreed that life with each other would be infinitely better than life without. Being slightly traditional, they kept this decision more or less to themselves and continues to label their relationship boyfriend/girlfriend, until very recently, when a ring was procured and a very geeky proposal happened. The large families of each are thrilled, and the many people who have been important throughout their lives are already asking for the date.
I’m telling you our story, so that you won’t immediately jump to “cold feet” as the answer to my question. Which is: as the female half of this story, the idea of “weddings” (especially mine) breaks me out in hives. My male half is your typical not-comfortable-in-large-groups-or-with-being-in-the-spotlight person and he already looks resigned. There have been not-quite-joking discussions of elopement.
The rub is that neither of us really want to do that. Our families would be devastated and our friends would be disappointed. I honestly do want to celebrate with the people I care about. I just don’t know if I can handle what that is going to entail. Elopement is really out of the question, quite frankly. One of my cousins did that, and everyone is still mad. And the idea of saying “Oh, we’ll get married early and just have the party with everyone else” misses the point. The ceremony itself is not really the cause of our anxiety. The real points of contention are the process leading up to the wedding, where I’m referred to as “Bride” and it feels like the world is trying very hard to revolve around me (at the same time telling me to not let it go to my head) and the party itself, where I’m afraid I’m going to have to get my fiancé a paper bag to make it through.
I’m possibly the least romantic person ever, and mushy crying makes me gag slightly. And I hate having to make lots of decisions, and your typical wedding planning process involves an inordinate amount of those (and about things that I realize are needed but are really none of my concern, like table linens). When people ask me about my dream wedding, the honest answer is one that someone else planned and prepped for me and I just showed up to. This is usually met with disbelief, but I was serious about the not being romantic. As if the fact that we had to make up an anniversary just to have one didn’t tip everyone I know off. With friends and acquaintances, I try to gently direct the conversation away from me, but eventually I’ll have to do things like dress-shopping or talking to vendors.
I’m not excited about the means or the end. Last night I looked at wedding dresses online and almost cried, not in a good way. I know that the “industry” has a serious vested interest in emotional manipulation, but reading about people enthusiastically jumping into this process and making their dreams come true kinda makes me want to crawl back into bed and pretend to be a blanket-burrito. I would much rather skip the whole thing and just be married to my wonderful fiancé. The only bright spot in all of this is that the most important element (him) provides nothing but a safe harbor of not-panic.
How do socially-adverse people deal with the largest social event of their lives? How do people who normally avoid the spotlight at all costs put up with being gushed over? I know this is later in the process than most of your readership might be, but I guess the fear of being in the spotlight is a pretty common one?
DEAR WEDDING JITTERS: Here’s the phrase you need to remember: “It’s our wedding.” This is what you need to say over and over again. Why? So you remember who you’re doing this for.
Yeah, your family and friends are thrilled. But it’s you and your groom-to-be who’re the ones getting married. Which means that, ultimately, the two of you can put your feet down together about what you do and do not want.
Which includes keeping it simple and small.
Not every wedding needs to be Disney-esque extravaganzas of opulence and pageantry. You don’t need to have 300 guests, two bands, a catered sit-down meal of squab under glass with the flowers just so and the linens the perfect shade of cerulean while you release dozens of doves as some chanteuse sings “I Will Always Love You”.
Strictly speaking, all you really need is you, your fiancee, an officiant and a couple of witnesses. Hell, you don’t even need a ceremony, just someone to sign the license.
Over the years, I’ve attended (and officiated) more weddings than I can reasonably count. Some of them have been grand galas, destination weddings in exotic locales with so much extravagance that they wouldn’t be out of place on the New York Times’ society pages… and were kind of meh. Some of them took place in the couple’s back yard with a dude’s iPod hooked up to a PA system, a keg of Shiner Bock, a rented chocolate fountain and lots of Hooter’s buffalo wings, and were amazing.
Size and spectacle doesn’t automatically make for a perfect wedding. The love of the people involved do, whether they’re being married in a cathedral with the Archbishop of New York officiating or in a public park dressed as pirates.
(Incidentally, I officiated that last one. I was the Dread Priest Roberts.)
Neither of you want to be gushed over? Keep it all to a level you’re comfortable with. Let the ceremony itself be small; immediate family and closest of close friends only. You’re not any less married if you have a backyard barbecue for the reception instead of trying to recreate the end of Sleeping Beauty.
If you don’t want to handle even that much, delegate some responsibility – put your mom in charge of decor, a sibling or cousin in charge of the food and drinks and a friend with the best musical taste to put a playlist together. Give them the general outlines of what you want, what sort of budget they’re each working with and then turn ‘em loose.
Just remember the key phrase: “It’s our wedding.” Not your aunts’, your uncles’, your cousins three times removed. It’s yours and your fiancee’s. You get to decide how you want to spend it, and everybody else gets to abide by your decisions.
Don’t let folks bully you into a wedding you don’t want. Put your foot down if you need to and tell them “It’s our wedding.”
They can do whatever they like with their party. This one’s yours and yours alone.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)