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March 19, 2014

Help Me, Rhonda

Advice for Life's Persistent Questions

Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend

I just got engaged! Yay! I am thrilled to be marrying a wonderful man. My best friend, however, is not thrilled for me. When I told her, she was like “Yeah, I figured you guys got engaged this weekend” and couldn’t even muster an exclamation point in the email. WTF, right? 

We had drinks last night, and she basically had tears in her eyes the entire time—she said she can’t be happy for me right now, because she just isn’t there in her relationship with her boyfriend. We’re only 27, so it’s not like we are anywhere near spinsterhood. I don’t want to take away her best friend status, but seriously? It kind of feels warranted. 

Engaged

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Getting married is exciting, and you have my best wishes. But I have sympathy for your friend. I don’t blame her one bit for her reaction, and I don’t think you should, either. I know you’re hurt and disappointed that she didn’t respond the way you expected and wanted her to, but she’s living in her life, not yours, and your engagement is not the happy occasion for her that it is for you.

What’s happening for you right now is fantastic. What’s happening to your best friend right now is less fantastic. She’s wondering if she’s ever going to find the right person, and the friend who used to be her companion in searching is moving on. It’s easy to say the two of you are “nowhere near spinsterhood” when you’re wearing an engagement ring. 

There’s a cultural script (partly written by the wedding-industrial complex, but that’s a rant for another time) surrounding all things related to engagements and weddings. According to that script (picture a De Beers ad), the only feeling weddings elicit in anyone is unmarred joy. The truth, of course, is more complicated. All the people involved can feel happy, excited, jealous, hurt, moderately joyful, sad, nervous, etc. Your friend’s reaction falls outside the unrealistic cultural script but squarely within the normal range of human emotion. I think it’s important that you recognize that your best friend is having a difficult time right now and be sensitive to that. You will get a lot of well wishes, support, and congratulations from a lot of people, but she’s not getting that from anyone right now. Be happy for yourself and be compassionate with her.


Shy Guy?

I recently started hanging out with a guy who lives in my neighborhood. I've actually known him since elementary school (mutual insane schoolyard crushes) but hadn't spoken to him in more than a decade (we didn't hang out in middle or high school, and I left town to go to college). He is very shy but made me a really sweet Valentine and has invited me to do fun stuff like rock climbing.

The problem is that his shyness is almost painful. He has told me that he has pretty intense anxiety issues but doesn't want to take medication for them. This is something I understand but it is hard getting to know him past the basics. To make matters even more confusing we just recently became physically intimate for the first time (together, not in general) and he has been even more shy since then. He drinks and smokes pretty consistently, which I'm guessing is an anxiety thing (though he has been to rehab a few times). 

I'm not sure how to proceed. Do I tell him that he's fun and exciting when sober and talkative, or do I hang out and see what happens? When he's drinking or being painfully shy, or both, he is very hard to speak to and sometimes just won't answer questions or participate in a conversation. He recently invited me over to watch a movie only to say that he didn't realize that he didn't have any movies. We talked and made a bonfire instead—which was awesome, but how do you not know that you don't own any movies? Weird stuff like that keeps happening, and I feel like he might be testing me at times. I don't know his attitudes towards sex, but I like it and I don't think it's dirty. He seems distant since we had sex, but I don't know if that's because he is grossed out by it or because he is ultra shy since I saw him in the nude. Should I stop hanging out with him romantically, or should I stick around and see what happens?

Comically Confused

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You’re not seeing clearly, Confused. If you were, you’d have no confusion. Let me break it down for you. You’re “dating” a guy with whom you sometimes have fun, but he can’t/doesn’t really talk to you, smokes and drinks a lot, and has been less interested since you slept together. He can’t carry on a conversation and doesn’t respond to direct questions. He may have an anxiety problem, but he’s got a bigger substance abuse problem and you don’t want either of them to become your problem. This is not a relationship, he is neither interested in nor capable of building one, and if you are, you should get out now so you can find someone who wants the same thing. And who can think five minutes ahead and rent a DVD. 

You are forming a bad habit: inventing sympathetic reasons for another person’s bizarre behavior. I don’t think his failure to plan ahead or his distance since you slept together are a result of his shyness or hang-ups about sex. I think he’s not interested enough in the relationship to be communicative with you. And the real kicker is, it doesn’t matter why he acts this way, it just matters that he does. Whether it’s shyness or jerkiness, the result is the same. His shyness may lessen with time, but it’s not going to change drastically while you’re together. He may be a great guy deep down, but if he can’t show it, it doesn’t make a bit of difference to you. This guy doesn’t sound like he has much to offer you right now. I advise getting out.


Three’s Company?

 A few weeks ago I had a small dinner party at my house and invited a good girl friend from camp who had just moved to town and a good guy friend from high school with whom I’d just reconnected. They seemed to hit it off, but they didn’t exchange numbers. The three of us recently went out to a party, but when I realized I’d had too much to drink, I put myself to bed in the girl’s bed. I woke up the next morning to find them naked on the couch together! Now they are spending all their time together, and I’m feeling really left out. They are actually really great together, and I hope it works out for them, since they’re both really happy, but I’m really feeling like the third wheel here. How can I make sure I still get time with them individually, so I don’t lose both my friends?

Matchmaker

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Sorry, Matchmaker, no good deed goes unpunished. No, in all seriousness, you did a good thing in connecting your friends, but now you’re left out. You probably know that at the beginning of many new relationships, the excitement and newness crowd out old friends. You’re feeling that times two, because you are friends with both people in the relationship.

First, give it a little time. The newness will wear off, and they’ll make room for other people in their lives. You’re in a little bit of a danger zone here, because even when that happens they may still expect the three of you to spend time together, since you were friends with each of them. So proceed to steps two and three.

Second, try to invite them out and interact with them in a way that doesn’t lend itself to couples. You could ask her to have dinner when he’s going to be working or out of town. 

Third, if you’re going to spend time with them as a couple, try to make sure there are one or two other people along, so you’re hanging out with a group. If you have plans and you can’t make a group form, tell your friends you’re going to pass and tell them, kindly, that you feel a little bit like a third wheel. They will say things like, “You’re not the third wheel, we love having you around!” And I’m sure they do, but this is about your comfort, not theirs. Be kind but firm about this and, if they have any sensitivity at all, they will realize they need to maintain individual friendships with you. 

Need advice? Email Rhonda: advice@flagpole.com

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