Dear Carolyn: My friend "Kathy" is like a sister to me and would do anything for me. Her only problem is that she is really impulsive and has a bad temper.
Last weekend, my boyfriend of seven months, "Dan," went to dinner with a friend from law school who just so happens to be a woman. I didn't go because I knew they'd have more fun just the two of them, and his friend only had the one night before she had to fly out.
Kathy was in the same restaurant on a date and she saw Dan laughing and talking with a strange woman. Unfortunately, she didn't bother talking to him, just called him a cheating scumbag and dumped his water on his food. When she got home she texted me a picture of them together, and I immediately explained the situation to her and called Dan.
He wouldn't let me come over. He said the incident shook up his friend and ruined their night.
Dan now doesn't want anything to do with Kathy, but said he knows how close we are so he won't ask me to cut her off. He said he needs some time to think things over.
I haven't seen him since the incident. I'm devastated. I'm in love with Dan, which is why I think Kathy went off like she did. She texted him an apology. He won't accept it, but he also keeps telling me I have nothing to apologize for. How can I fix this so he doesn't break up with me?
— My Problem Now
My Problem Now: You don’t “fix this” to protect yourself from a breakup — that’s just looking out for your own interests.
You fix this because someone behaved wretchedly on your behalf at others’ expense, and those people need to be made whole.
Technically Dan is right that you have nothing to apologize for, and right to stay out of your relationship with Kathy. Not his business. (Whom he associates with is his business, though, so he’s entitled to opt out of all things Kathy.) And, of course, there’s no way you can give Dan and his friend their evening back.
However, none of this means you’re out of options — or off the hook.
As Kathy’s friend, you have standing to say, “Enough.”
The impulsive behavior, the temper, the lack of boundaries, none of these is just an annoying quirk for her friends to brush off — and the “texted him an apology”? That’s inexcusably weak.
Yet with your focus on what to say to Dan, you’ve essentially excused Kathy with a tacit “that’s just how she is.”
Your friend needs help. Embarrassing herself, putting innocent people through an ugly scene and jeopardizing a relationship that’s precious to one of her closest friends? That’s the kind of screw-up trifecta that can wake a person up to this fact. Apparently it wasn’t for Kathy.
So please recognize this as your responsibility in “fixing” this, your way to try to make Dan and his friend whole. He’ll get over this or he won’t, but either way you can square up and not give Kathy a pass. Not anymore. “What you did is not okay; it’s time to get help for your temper.”
Assuming she lets you, you can be at her side as she does.