For the past couple of months I’ve watched a close friend of mine lose more and more of her self confidence because the man she likes doesn’t like her back. You can take this in many ways, it’s shallow, it’s ridiculous, and in today’s climate this is the opposite of feminism and self worth. To begin this story it’s best to start at the beginning.
My friend has always struggled with self esteem issues. I’ve always tried to be there for her but her self esteem issues stem from forces that I cannot control. Largely, she gets shit upon by her parents and her chosen partners. I can tell her I think she’s beautiful, smart, or any number of things that I think are true but then she’ll go home and be told she’s lazy or dumb by her family. She’ll tell me these things and even if I tell her otherwise the words from your family always cut the deepest.
With her partners she’s always chosen to pursue or give attention to those who don’t deserve it. The bottom line is these men are shittier than her but she doesn’t think she deserves better. It doesn’t matter that she excels in the area these men lack (being emotionally open, aspirations, empathy) at the end of the day she thinks that’s all she deserves. Now I understand you don’t choose who you like. And as an outsider I can only see what I think my friend is worth and from that judgement I am judging these men that I don’t know.
Do I stand by that? Yes. And the reason for that is regardless of whether or not these men turn out to be amazing or not a relationship should be built on the foundation of letting their s/o’s feel better. If you aren’t on the same playing field you should work to make sure your partner is at the same field. None of her partners have ever even attempted to do so. I remember the worst was a man who would often talk about how superior he was and how people like her (without name dropping, because, charming) needed to get on his level. For me it was a red flag, for her it was a reason she was inadequate.
Her most recent romantic endeavors involved a coworker with whom she swore she didn’t like (they got into fight often) but she wanted to date. She’d come to me day after day talking about how much of an ass he was (in general or to her) and how they’d get into fights. At one point she was upset because she’d been accused of something that he was responsible for and he has stayed mum, and yet she was still talking about how she wanted to date him by the end of our conversation. I couldn’t understand it.
At first I tried to encourage her not to pursue it. It didn’t make any sense to me. This was a guy who continuously shot her down and acted like she didn’t know what she was doing. She’d asked him if he’d wanted to hang out one time and he told her he was busy waiting to see if he’d have plans for the weekend. He just didn’t want to hang out with her.
She would excuse his behaviour to me. She said it was social anxiety. I told her social anxiety doesn’t excuse him treating her like dirt all the other times. They had nothing in common. Their music choices were different, she listened to pop and he listened to the same five classic rock songs that would piss my friend off every day. Their temperaments were different — he’d get upset if things didn’t go his way and she’d always be trying to figure out solutions. They didn’t like the same movies or media. They didn’t even like the same food — she once asked if he ate raw food and he said he liked smoked salmon.
The more I got to hear about the guy the more I hated him. He was all the things that would cause my friend to spiral. Every conversation they had would send her on an emotional wreck. One time he told her she wasn’t working fast enough even though she hadn’t even finished her three month probation and he’d been there for two years so no shit she wasn’t that fast she called me having a panic attack — he told her to stop being a baby.
I tried levelling with her, tough love they say. I told her this guy is bad news, maybe not in general, but certainly bad news for her. We spent the day together and eventually went to dinner with a couple of our mutual friends. One of our friends asked her about her love life and she started talking about the guy from work. She was telling all the stories I knew but in a self deprecating tone that I absolutely hated. I interjected where I could to try and make her see she was wrong about the way she saw herself but to my astonishment no one else saw my point of view. Her friends instead encouraged her trying to pursue a relationship with him because she liked him.
I tried to state that liking someone isn’t enough to hold a relationship and that if we’re being honest there are other things that affect how a relationship goes. I was trying not to be pushy because I knew I was coming on strong but I had to say what I had to say. We didn’t fight but the end of the day accumulated to her reinvesting her interests in this relationship.
In the most recent news of how things are going, they aren’t dating. He turned her down, swift and harshly. He told her he wasn’t interested and couldn’t see why she’d think they could be. She came to me and I honestly didn’t know what to say. I told her I was there, I treated her to a me day as best as I could. But the underlining issue I didn’t know and still don’t know how to solve is how to make her see this isn’t a her issue it’s just something that happened. I don’t know how to tell her you can’t control what other people do or say and even if that guy was perfect for her he still had the agency to say no, to decide that he didn’t think they were good together. Instead I watched my friend crumble and take this rejection with self loathing — another example of how she was the problem.
I can’t say I’m upset at our friends who pushed her to pursue a relationship. I don’t know where their opinions come from and I can’t fault them for asking her to jump. They weren’t trying to be malicious. But I also hated that she was put in this situation. I don’t know the guy personally I only knew that the guy was bad for her. Nothing she’d ever told me about him whether it be a recollection of how she thought he was great or of her complaining about him had ever indicated they’d be a good match at all.
I hate being in the space of being right. I didn’t want her to pursue her feelings because I couldn’t see it ending well and it didn’t. I’m trying to sort and help her through her feelings but it’s hard. Her emotional baggage is taxiing and I know that it weighs heavily on her. On my end I don’t know how to help. There’s no easy fix but I wish there was. The underlying issues aren’t issues I can fix. The best I can do is say I’m here. I don’t have a happy ending to this story, as much as I’ve said we can’t control anyone’s feelings, and that is the case here. I just want her to know there’s someone there for her. I’m not omniscient but I want to be able to look out for her. I wish I had answers to her problems but I don’t. As a friend, you do the best you can and hope what you bring can be enough.