Monday, October 21, 2019

Dismaying Story #151: Is Her Boyfriend Wrong for Her?

Dear Andrew,

My roommate and I are from the same small town and we’re both in our first year of college. The problem is her boyfriend, who’s also from our hometown. He doesn’t seem to have many other friends (if any), so the two of them are constantly camped out in the living room in our apartment. I mean, every day, every evening, whenever they’re not in class. I can never relax in my own place without him there. I feel trapped in my bedroom most of the time.

It’s awkward to be around him. Most times he doesn’t even say hello to me when he comes in. The only thing he seems keen to do is play video games, which means ignoring my roommate. He also helps himself to our food without ever offering to contribute.

But I’m not so much concerned about the impact on me as I’m worried about my roommate. She’s attractive and outgoing but this is only her second boyfriend. It feels like she’s willing to put up with a not-great situation so she can have a boyfriend, any boyfriend. I think she’s selling herself short. I worry she’s going to end up marrying him (or someone like him) because she doesn’t realize how much better a relationship can be.

How can I tell her without ruining our friendship?

Signed, Trapped In My Bedroom

Dear Trapped,

Your roommate is lucky to have a caring friend like you. You’re right, though, to think she might be upset if you share your thoughts with her. Think about some of the ways she could interpret your words:
  • “That guy you’re so close to? The one you think so highly of? Yeah ... I don’t like him.”
  • “I’m better at judging men and relationships than you are. I don’t have faith in your ability to choose a worthy boyfriend.”

On the other hand, you might be wondering if her long-term happiness is important enough that it’s worth risking a bit of conflict between the two of you.

Well, quite a number of assumptions are wrapped up in that question. First, you’re assuming this is a less-than-ideal situation for your friend. But what if she’s the type of person who thrives on plenty of quiet time alone with her partner? Can you really be certain that a guy like this wouldn’t make her happy and fulfilled in the long run? You’re worried that she’s settling, but it’s also possible she’s with him because she enjoys what he brings to her life. Her needs in this department could be quite different from yours.

You might also be misjudging him. She gets to see sides of him that you don’t, like when the two of them are alone. Maybe he has qualities you’re not aware of. And he’s young, so much of what you’re seeing might simply be immaturity. He could be a diamond in the rough.

(One caveat: It’s a bad idea to enter a life relationship with someone who has fundamental characteristics you can’t abide ... but you assume you can change them. People mature and evolve, but in my experience our basic nature tends to remain the same.)

Then there’s the fact that you and your roommate are just beginning the great exploration of being away from home for the first time. Much will change by the time the two of you graduate. Her current boyfriend could be a distant memory by then, especially if your instincts about their poor fit are correct. She’s likely to figure that out.

These are some of the reasons why it’s up to her who she chooses to date, not you or anyone else.

On the other hand, my spidey sense started tingling when you mentioned she arrived at college without much dating experience. Chances are she has spent a good deal of time wondering why that is. Her inner voice has likely spent years gleefully explaining all the reasons to her: “Boys don’t like you. You’re not the sort of person anyone wants to date. There must be something wrong with you. You’re not pretty enough. You’re from the wrong town.”

We all have our scared, insecure inner voice that loves to pounce on any hint of low self-esteem. And yes, some people do “settle” in their relationships because they don’t think they can do better, that they wouldn’t find anyone else, that they’re lucky to even have a boyfriend.

I have no way of knowing which of these factors apply to your roommate, but hopefully they provide you some food for thought. There certainly are circumstances where I would hope anyone would speak up and try to help their friend, such as when abuse or other serious dysfunctions are involved. Only you can decide if you believe this situation is dire enough so you should risk voicing your concerns.

If you do so, try opening the conversation with questions instead of statements. Rather than saying, “I’m worried your boyfriend isn’t right for you,” perhaps begin with, “How are things going with you and your boyfriend?” The more she opens up about her own thoughts, that can open the door to gently nudge the conversation into the direction of whether their in-the-apartment-all-the-time routine is really working for her. The more the discussion is driven by her opinions rather than yours, the less likely you’ll be to endanger your friendship.

Another option is to share some great news with her (rather than the bad news about your misgivings). If you think her lack of dating experience is a factor, try serving as a positive alternative to her inner voice. Find opportunities to let her know how great she is. If a guy in one of your classes tells you she’s cute, make sure you pass that on. When the two of you are talking about all the awesome dating choices available to another girl, tell your roommate how your boyfriends better be good because the two of you are both “catches” and you have plenty of options, too.

Our insecure inner voice tends to be a persistent, life-long companion, so it’s unlikely you can eliminate her self-doubts ... but I bet you can help. Everyone can use a supportive friend like you to help them feel better about themselves. And the more positive her self-image becomes, the more confidence she’ll have to look out for her own needs regardless of who she’s with.

All the best,

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