What Your Friends Want to Say to You About Your “Misunderstood” Partner
He’s not misunderstood. We understand him perfectly. He’s just an asshole.
We all have friends who don’t seem to realize that the person they’re dating is bad news.
It sounds judgmental, but it’s really not. It’s not that we don’t think every human is worthy of love. We just think that this human is bad for you, but we don’t always say it because we’re trying to walk the line between being a supportive friend and being an honest one.
In my experience, if we tell our friends that the person they’re dating is a bona fide asshole, they tend to take it personally.
It often harms the friendship because we see what they aren’t yet ready to know. After all, it’s easy for us; we’re on the outside of the relationship while they’re deep into attachment and feelings with this person who must have some redeeming qualities. They aren’t yet ready to leave and may never get out, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not concerned about it.
After all, we have many, many reasons for feeling the way we do about this person. Usually, the relationship is seriously one-sided or codependent. We watch you, our good friend, give up all of your interests for this person who gives up little to nothing for you. We watch you shift into a different kind of person, and not a better one. You’re walking on eggshells and trying to please a person who isn’t really bothered about how you feel about things. In fact, the main component of your relationship seems to be you twisting yourself up in knots for this partner who isn’t misunderstood at all. We just all understand he (or she) is an asshole.
“Misunderstood” is often just an excuse.
It’s easier to say that other people don’t see the good in our partners than to say that other people are seeing the bigger picture. We all have good in us, even serial killers. That doesn’t mean we should fuck, marry, or date the serial killer just because he has sparkling wit or she can be really nice behind closed doors.
Having a couple of good qualities does not cancel out toxic or abusive ones.
That sparkling wit shouldn’t mean more than the fact that he makes you feel bad about yourself. Those moments of kindness shouldn’t outweigh the fact that she’s crazy with jealousy and violates your privacy on a regular basis despite having no reason to distrust you. The good things don’t equate to a free pass for the bad stuff. That’s not a healthy relationship; that’s just denial.
I have a friend in a relationship like this. It’s painful to watch because she’s an absolute peach, and he’s quite possibly the most self-absorbed ass on the planet. I’m honest enough that I’ve said this, more than once, to her face. Yet, she keeps calling on their emotional connection as a reason to keep wasting her time with him. And it is her time, not mine, so as her friend, I have to support her decisions whether or not I agree with them.
When I say he’s bad news, I mean it. I’ve watched her brighten up just to see him while he looks entirely disinterested in her presence. I’ve seen her visibly deflate in his presence and then jump through hoops to please him. He’s the kind of guy who is rude to servers and thinks he’s right about everything. I’ve heard him give her a lecture series on her own area of expertise, taking mansplaining to a whole new level. He’s dismissive of her and manipulative in the extreme. If he can hurt her for his own benefit, he will. If you’re trying to figure out what she sees in him, so am I. Whatever his good points, he keeps them well-hidden in normal social situations.
Do I think she can do better? Yes, of course, I think she can. Do I level with her and tell her he’s bad news? Yes, with every chance I get. But I also have to be her friend, which means moving into a supportive role in this scenario. He’s not for her, and I wish she could see it, but I also know that she won’t until she’s ready. I’ll listen to her and support her decisions. But I will never tell her this is a good match when I’ve seen her cry countless times over his cruelty.
I’ve been there. Too many times. After my marriage, I asked my friends to please be more honest with me in the future. Like brutally honest. I’ve promised them that I will hold myself and my partners accountable, but I need their help and support. If the person I’m dating is actually an asshole and I’m not seeing it, by all means, they should tell me whether or not it will hurt my feelings. I might not choose to do anything about it, but it won’t be because it wasn’t pointed out.
If I’m having a hard time seeing the red flags, I want the support.
I’ve built the kind of relationships with my friends that I trust their judgment. If everyone around me is expressing reservations, there’s a damn good reason. I love them, I trust them, and I know they only want what’s best for me.
In fact, it’s really affirming that they’re all fully in support of my current relationship. It’s enthusiastic support when my last relationship only garnered lukewarm positivity and strong misgivings. They were honest with me before when they had their doubts, and they celebrate with me when I’m in a healthy relationship.
That’s what friends do. They don’t tell you that your guy is great when he’s actually an asshole, and they’re so happy for you when you find the right relationship.
The right relationship will never be one that engages in toxic behaviors. They aren’t manipulative. They aren’t dishonest. They don’t make you feel like a terrible person or make you feel like you aren’t worthy of love. They don’t make you feel ugly or inadequate.
If we surround ourselves with strong friendships with people who get us, we should trust their opinions.
We should trust that when they say the person we’re dating is bad for us they aren’t lying. After all, they want the best for us because they love us. They aren’t saying it to be mean or because they don’t want us happy. They might just see something we’re overlooking in our desire to see them as we want to see them- as the very best version of themselves.
It’s not easy to accept that people we have feelings for might not be good for us. It’s not easy to see that someone with so many redeeming qualities might actually be making poor choices in reality- choices that negatively impact our lives. But seeing and accepting these things is a part of maturing into humans capable of strong, positive relationships.
Self-sabotaging is easier in the short-term. We can stay with the partner that all our friends and family think is toxic. No one will stop us. But it will hurt our relationships, it will damage our self-esteem, and denying that the relationship is bad won’t make it any better.
But all your friends really want you to know that he’s not misunderstood. We get him. We really do. He’s just an asshole, and we’re here for you when you’re finally ready to see it.