When Good Friends Go Bad
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I’m single and have been friends (with benefits…) with a college buddy for about a year. I just discovered that he’s been spending intimate time with another friend of mine who I introduced him to a few months ago. Neither of them said anything to me about their relationship, and now I feel betrayed by them both. I really wish I didn’t feel this way, but I do.
Dr. Hurd replies:
Thank you for the opportunity to air my thoughts on the whole friends with benefits thing! (For those of you who might have just landed, “friends with benefits” refers to a friendship with sex included.)
I would argue that the concept is a contradiction, and your letter proves it. A thing cannot simultaneously be what it is and what it isn’t. When one tries to make it so, several things happen. You develop expectations and courtesies that are appropriate to a committed relationship but are not appropriate to a friendship. For example, when you’re friends with somebody, you don’t object to his pursuing a romantic interest with another person. But when you’re friends with someone and also having sex with him, you naturally and logically develop feelings of jealousy and resentment when he pursues someone else sexually. Especially if that “someone else” is a mutual friend! The conflict and pain you feel is a result of that contradiction.
You’re right that your friends should not have lied to you, and in that sense, your feelings of betrayal are valid. They are not valid, however, if you’re feeling that way because they’re having sex. A physical relationship is personal and nobody’s obliged to tell anyone. So, in a way, they didn’t “lie” to you. See the contradiction? You can’t have it both ways.
I’m not implying that friends with benefits or even casual sex is morally wrong. I don’t subscribe to dogma or arbitrary rules of that kind. To me, the only absolute is to not fool yourself by denying reality or attempting to act on a contradiction. If there’s any “sin” here, that’s it.
I don’t assume you willfully did anything wrong or acted with malice. Your only real error (one for which you are now paying an emotional price) was letting your emotions deny the fact that your friendship was just that, and that you couldn’t expect anything other than what you would from an ordinary, platonic friendship.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My partner and I are good friends with another couple. Recently, one of the women in that relationship started paying (what I believe to be) inappropriate attention to my girlfriend; sending personal text messages, email, voicemail, etc. My girlfriend and I are secure in our relationship, but I strongly believe in boundaries, and it’s getting on my nerves.
Dr. Hurd replies:
First, you say your girlfriend didn’t initiate any of this, so you shouldn’t be annoyed with her. Second, just how good a friend is this other woman? You’ve seen those bumper stickers that say, “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” You need one that says, “Friends don’t hit on their friends’ girlfriends by sending inappropriate and personal text messages, voicemails and emails” (the challenge is fitting all that on a bumper sticker).
I believe in not letting things like this build up. Go ahead and tell the other woman that you’ve noticed this, and that you don’t like it. Keep it simple. Don’t feel like you have to justify and explain, because you don’t. People often use bad judgment, but most people are not stupid. They know what they’re doing, and the more you try to hyperanalyze it the more it will enable her to rationalize, deny, and do all the other irritating things human beings do to kid themselves.
Communication is so easy today. A text is like a tap on the shoulder. It can be that convenient—or that intrusive. Your girlfriend should be annoyed by the intrusion. She’s in a committed relationship and doesn’t need improper invitations from a “friend” who’s also in a committed relationship. She shouldn’t reply to the messages. If you think that’s rude, then how rude is it to come on to your friend’s girlfriend?
Before you say anything, you should run it by her—simply because she’s involved. Hopefully she’ll agree, or at least not be bothered by your decision to tell your mutual friend that you’ve noticed. If your girlfriend doesn’t agree, or is reluctant, then ask her for an alternative idea for making it clear that you’re not comfortable with all this.
It’s not only about your relationship. It’s also about the friendship, and, like that (huge) bumper sticker suggests, friends don’t do things like that. Furthermore, they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it without some sort of comment. So go ahead and comment. The world becomes a toxic and dysfunctional place when reasonable people walk on eggshells.
Dr. Michael J. Hurd is a psychotherapist, life coach and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email your questions or comments to DrHurd@DrHurd.com.