Asking for a Friend: Getting Over Not Getting Along

Dear Olive,

I don’t like my best friend’s boyfriend. He’s not evil, but we just don’t click. I find his humor annoying, and he just doesn’t seem like the right guy for her. They’ve been together for a while and are getting more serious, and I know it makes her sad that the two of us haven’t connected. She’s important to me. What should I do?

-Un-Smitten

 

Dear Un-Smitten,

If you’ve tried to join this guy’s fan club for your best friend’s sake, genuinely tried, and it hasn’t taken, chances are good that you two are among the many millions of people who are just not meant for each other, and it’s likely that there’s little you can do to like this guy better.

That’s a big if, though.

This person came into your life suddenly, most likely, not by your choice or doing. He intruded, inevitably, into your friendship — first perhaps as a subject of perpetual distraction, then in annotated text messages, and finally in the flesh. The intimacy you have with your best friend may not have gone anywhere, but its edges have had to shift to accommodate the role this guy now gets in the story of her life. Relationships weather harder things. But this ordinary, temporary transition can still sting, especially when you feel like you’re making room for somebody who’s not quite worth it.

Is it possible that that feeling, more than facts, has dictated how you think of this person?

Maybe not. Maybe you’ve been generous and openhearted, willing to give the newcomer a chance, genuinely interested in finding common ground. If you have — once you have — then fair is fair. Not everybody is cut out to fit each other’s empty spaces.

But if you’ve been letting your resentment close the door before your better nature can find its way out to greet him, you’re going to have to try harder before deciding you’re done.

Consider how you can be allies with this person, if friendship sounds like too far to aim. Can you ask your friend, genuinely, what she loves about him, and try to see it too? Maybe he’s the most generous person she knows. Maybe he makes her laugh more than anyone. Maybe she feels like she recognizes him and that’s what she’s been waiting for this whole time.

It might not be enough to make you love him. But if you love her, it might be enough to make you appreciate that he does too — and that might be enough to put you on the same team as the guy, even if you never laugh at any of his awkward humor.

That’s not to say that the friction between you will never cause a problem. Assuming all three of you enjoy a long and happy lifetime, it’s entirely possible that the tensions between you might be challenging, painful, even insurmountable in some moments. What if she asks you to be maid of honor at their enormous wedding and you have to hide your grimace behind a too-small bouquet in front of 200 weeping relatives? What if they raise a kid with exactly his dad’s sense of humor and want you to be the cool aunt? What if you can never decide on what pizza toppings to order, and your neighborhood place refuses to split a pie into thirds?

There are bound to be dozens of ways your three personalities will bump up against each other and come away bruised. For people who get along instantly, seamlessly, this is still true — but for them it’s often surprising when it happens, and all the more painful because of it.

You mention that your friend is sad that you and her boyfriend haven’t clicked. That’s valid; ask any child of divorce about how fun it is to navigate between two people who communicate mostly in strained silences.

But that doesn’t mean you should steamroll your own feelings just to make your friend feel better. Sooner or later, hidden resentment always emerges. Letting a little sunlight in now means dealing with it before it’s twisted like a pale tentacled root deep into the soil.

Consider how to have a friendship in which your friend’s boyfriend isn’t the key focus. In the first six months of someone else’s romance, this is challenging. That slow dive into love is distracting, and if she drifts toward all that dopamine, blame biology and give her a break. But once excitement has mellowed into the everyday, make room for the two of you to get your duet. Drink enormous lattes at the place you’ve always gone to. Swap favorite books with your notes in the margins. Go to the pizza place by yourselves sometimes.

Most of the narratives that inundate us from screens and billboards value romance above everything, so it’s easy to forget how many different kinds of relationships connect to build a rich and resilient social network. The bond you and your friend have doesn’t have to compete with anyone else’s; it just has to stretch and bend like all relationships to accommodate the many others in each of your lives. Maybe you’ve been guarding the door against whatever might challenge your friendship, lest something break it. That’s understandable. If you let the door swing open, you might not like everybody who wants to walk through it. You might not be ready yet to deal with whatever you see on the other side of safe.

But if you keep it shut, guarding against any intrusion into the cozy, familiar friendship you want to protect, you keep that friendship confined to the boundaries you know already, too. There’s little to threaten it, but nothing to grow it, either.

Fling the door open. Try to celebrate the person who adds joy to the days of someone you love. And if friendly banter with the boyfriend just isn’t in the cards when his jokes make you want to poke your eyeballs out, wave goodbye on your way past each other and know that you really did try your damnedest.

 

Love,
Olive

For a little unprofessional advice in these uncertain times, send your questions to our anonymous portal. We want it all, from the epistemological to the inane. We’ll dig deep to find some answers in the next installment of BLARB’s advice column, Asking for a Friend.

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