Welcome to the latest installment of Ms. Opinionated, in which readers have questions about the pesky day-to-day choices we all face, and I give advice about how to make ones that (hopefully) best reflect our shared commitment to feminist values—as well as advice on what to do when they don’t.
Dear Ms. Opinionated,
My close friend is getting married to a man who is, for lack of a better word, a jerk. When he has disagreements with her, he resorts to meanness and personal attacks almost instantly. He also does the same thing to me – albeit only on the internet. If I post something on my Twitter or Facebook that he disagrees with, he’ll never disagree politely. Instead, he flies off the handle and starts posting mean-spirited comments and sending me mean messages.
I obviously have issues with him being mean to her, which she knows, and she is choosing to go ahead with the marriage anyway. I don’t feel that I can change that, unfortunately. Recently, her fiancé and I had an argument where he was, once again, unnecessarily mean to me. (I realize this sounds one-sided, and it is – I’m not saying I’m without blame, but I am saying that I do my best to stay civil during arguments, because I’m not, you know, a child.) She defends him (“he doesn’t know how he sounds”) and sees it as us “having a disagreement” and asked me to please “work it out, for [her] sake.” I tried doing this via email, but he was once again too mean and unreasonable to talk to. I don’t know what to tell her, and I’m also getting sick of having to deal with him. I know I’m supposed to put in effort because, if nothing else, I have to be in the wedding with him. But I don’t know why it’s on me to “work out” the fact that he can’t be nice to people. I want to be a good friend to her, but I also don’t think it’s right that I should have to deal with his meanness.
Well, first of, it is not on you to “deal with his meanness.” If he can’t respond to you on Twitter or Facebook civilly, there’s zero reason for you to continue to engage with him. You can de-friend him on Facebook, or simply set your posts to where he can’t see (but why dance around his feelings?). Block him on Twitter or, if you use a Twitter client and don’t want to block him (though, again, why?), simply mute his replies. He can rage all he wants at you, but if he’s yelling about stuff and you don’t see or hear it, it’s impossible to care (or respond).
I mean, yes, he shouldn’t be a jerk to you (or to her), but you already know that he is not going to change. So rather than arguing with someone on social media – which, in my opinion, is only slightly less messy than throwing Donny’s ashes into a stiff breeze – who is literally only doing it in order to argue, give yourself permission to just ignore him like you would any other child throwing a tantrum in a public place (i.e., resolutely but with sympathy for the child’s caretaker).
As for what else you should do, if you didn’t cc her on your working-it-out email, I recommend forwarding it to her now. It’s not likely to do any good in terms of actually working it out with him (see also: child having a temper tantrum), but at least she can see that one of you made the effort. And then, all you can do is leave it alone. I am sure she’d love to have a situation in which you bend over backwards and contort yourself to make him happy – after all, it’s probably what she does all the time! – but you are by no means obligated by friendship or her own less-than-smart relationship decisions to do so.
But, to correct one of the basic assertions of your questions, it’s likely that her fiancé is more than just a garden-variety social media jerk. By your own accounting, he is mean to her at the slightest disagreement, he personally attacks her and, by attacking you, he is also pretty effectively isolating her from her support systems. Those are some pretty big warning signs of domestic violence, and you have every right to be concerned.
(This is not, obviously, to say that he is abusing her physically now or that he automatically ultimately will, but your description screams “warning signs,” and I didn’t want to let that go without addressing it.)
That said, you are also right that there’s not very much you can do to separate her from a relationship she continues to choose to be in. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has some good advice for what to do if you are concerned that your friend is being abused, but it boils down to being there for her as much as you can. “Being there for her” does not mean that you have to bow to her jerk fiancé’s every mood or emotional need, and it doesn’t mean you taking abuse from him, verbal or otherwise. But it does mean telling her that you love her and that, no matter what happens with the fiancé, that you are and will be there for her, even if she thinks you might not be. And it does mean trying to strike the balance between your own comfort level (less arguing with the jerk on social media) and safety and with making sure she still knows she is your friend and that you want to spend time with her.
In the end, though, you may need to draw the same boundaries with her that you do with him: You love her and she’s marrying him, so you’re henceforth be as civil (maybe you could say “nice” instead, but what you mean is “civil”) as possible, but you’re not longer going to listen to or read abusive statements or language from him. And if she can’t respect your decision to not act toward him as she does – with deference to his supposed inability to recognize how he comes across to others – and demands more of you than mere civility in the face of his baiting of you, just keep repeating that you love her and value your friendship, but there’s nothing in that which requires you to argue all day on Facebook with someone who isn’t interested in listening.
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Photo credit: Kate Black, kateblack.com