Consider that a withdrawn friend might be in need

Posted: May 10, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Question: My girlfriend and I have been together five years. Shortly after we met, I met her best friend, Dan, who had just started a relationship with Rachel.

Rachel became very moody as the relationship progressed, and seems very temperamental and controlling. At the same time, Dan seems more withdrawn from our group of friends.

Because of Dan’s withdrawal from social activities, my girlfriend proclaims to our friends that she does not consider him a friend anymore.

I am confused as to what I should do. I do not usually say anything when my girlfriend starts saying things about Dan, but I just wonder why she would feel the need to announce the status of her friendship with Dan to other people. She says it is because Dan said he would make more of an effort to socialize and keep in touch, but has not done so. Should I be concerned about my girlfriend’s behavior, or is it within the range of normal that she would announce the status of her friendship when it has not come up in conversation?

Answer: I think you have two reasons to be concerned. On the more superficial level, even if Dan were a jerk to her, why does she feel the need to shame him publicly?

On the deeper level, why isn’t she worried about Dan? It sounds as if Dan’s snubs aren’t about your girlfriend at all, and point instead to the possibility Rachel is controlling. Dan appears to be in trouble, and needs his friends to show some compassion and courage.

So, why don’t you say to your girlfriend, “You keep throwing Dan under the bus, but it looks more to me like he’s in trouble: He’s got a controlling girlfriend, right?” Remind her that controlling people isolate their partners from friends and family. Suggest that Dan might need her (and the rest of you) to make a steady effort to stay in touch.

I think it’ll be an interesting test of her maturity to see whether she can stop acting me-centric and consider another side.

Question: Why is she so obsessed with Dan? I’d wonder whether she doesn’t harbor some unhealthy feelings for Dan herself. At best, she’s hurt to the point where it has affected her social judgment, and at worst she is taking it waaaaay too personally that he’s focused on his own girlfriend and not her.

Answer: Could be unhealthy feelings for Dan specifically, or unhealthy feelings in general for being anything less than a top priority. These relationships are five years in, suggesting the latter. Either way, though, some concern is called for about Dan’s well-being — independent of her own.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her online at noon E Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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