The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Friend is back on with abusive off-and-on boyfriend, acting as if that’s okay

(Nick Galifianakis/for The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My very good friend is dating a man who is … horrible. She has described him as emotionally abusive, manipulative, a liar, and untrustworthy. When she finally broke up with him, I rejoiced!

When she got back with him two weeks later, I despaired.

I told her once or twice how I felt about this guy, but backed off when it was clear they were sticking it out.

Now though, she wants me and my boyfriend to have brunch with the two of them. I cannot do it. I've never met this man, but I do know he treats my friend like garbage and the idea of sitting across from him eating eggs is giving me heartburn.

I know I need to decline this invitation, but I have no idea how to do it. I understand saying no will hurt my friend, I’m prepared for that outcome, but I don’t know how to turn her down without going through all the reasons her boyfriend disgusts me. I need help!

— Disgusted

Disgusted: This is … strange.

Her boyfriend doesn’t disgust you, because you have never met her boyfriend. You are disgusted by what your friend has told you about her boyfriend. (Unless he’s famous/notorious?)

So, weird as that is, it's actually helpful to you in your position now. In response to her invitation, you are able to say this:

“Obviously, I have never met your boyfriend, so I can’t have any opinion of him — and this is not about him at all.

“I am instead really struggling with the fact that you’re still with, and asking me to meet, someone you described to me as ‘emotionally abusive, manipulative, a liar, and untrustworthy.’ It’s a really awkward position for me, and I don’t know how to respond. May I ask what you would do if you were in my position?”

This takes it all off you and your opinion of the guy, and asks her to explain where she is and what she's feeling.

You want her thinking for herself here. Asking her to see through your eyes is a gentle on-ramp.

In magical happy justice land, this will suffice to remind her that his mistreating her is not okay, and she will break up with him forthwith and forever.

In where we are, she will presumably argue for his merits and her fine judgment.

That, at least, will give you something to either support or not support, with your counsel or your belief in her or your presence at brunch. Regardless, unless her descriptions have led you to believe doing so would put you in peril, it does seem as if one brunch is not too much to ask.

Dear Carolyn: Someone I considered a best friend ghosted me after I got a scary diagnosis. I want to ask her what’s up with her behavior. How to approach it? I know I risk the friendship by asking her, but the friendship is already at risk because she’s virtually disappeared at a time I need a friend.

— Ghosted

Ghosted: I am sorry about your scary diagnosis and AWOL friend.

You sound forgiving in your willingness to ask her vs. just writing her off. That could disarm her.

Granted, it’s emotional labor for you when you’ve got too much already, but: Try saying you miss her and understand people sometimes have a hard time dealing with serious illness. Prop the door for her, and see if she steps through.