Artwork by Iris Bowdler
Dear Aunty Annabel
All my friends’ boyfriends think I hate them. To be fair, I do hate quite a few of them because as we know a lot of men are not great people. I have always been fiercely protective of my friends and totally willing to let them know my thoughts. Often my intuition is right, and these men go on to cheat, lie and give STIs (not even kidding). However, I feel bad because my best friend recently got a boyfriend and he’s actually quite good for her – but I think he thinks I hate him, and I think she thinks I hate him too. I don’t really want to dial back the honesty because honesty is my policy and I have no brain to mouth filter, but I also don’t want her to feel like I’m against her relationship because it’s really great to see her happy. I am in complete agony Aunty Annabel, please tell me what to do.
To a fellow gooseberry
When I read your letter, my mind wandered to an extraordinarily beautiful poem by Sappho (31) in which she describes the agony of watching a female friend with a male lover:
He seems to me equal to gods that man whoever he is who opposite you sits and listens close to your sweet speaking and lovely laughing - oh it puts the heart in my chest on wings for when I look at you, even a moment, no speaking is left in me
Now I accept this poem isn’t relevant to you on two counts 1: you don’t think your pal’s men are equal to gods (you’re fairly clear on that point) 2. You’re not in love with your friend (although now you mention it…I’m kidding, I’m kidding). Nevertheless, I wonder if something in this ancient description of being a third wheel strikes a chord with you. While Sappho’s emotions are intensified by her own desire and thus covetousness, what you feel is a very muted version of this: you see your friend, who you love and care about, with her beaus and you feel defensive and maybe, just maybe, a soupcon left out and jealous. This is totally natural but try to recognise if this is influencing how you feel about her lovelife.
It sounds to me as if your friend has had some unfortunate romances and that you might have a knack for identifying the rotten apples of the bunch. While I would always encourage you to be a shoulder to cry on when it all ends in tears, and to be a sounding board for any anxieties she might have about someone she is seeing, I would caution against being too heavy handed in how you deal with her. If you have serious concerns about the health and wellbeing of a friend then a firm touch is wise, but be careful about being too vocal of your dislike or doing the old ‘I told you so’ trick. It’s like when your mum tells you to take a coat, you ignore her advice and come back drenched and freezing to the Guinness world record of smuggest smiles – yes I’m sure it’s great fun to lord your maturity over me, mother, but leave me to shiver to death in regretful peace.
I heartily support you being fiercely protective over your friends, but just watch that they don’t end up getting slightly burned by the fierceness of that flame. I know you say you have no brain to mouth filter, but I think what you really mean is that you don’t want one, and the thing is, I would highly recommend installing. Some things in life are great unfiltered, like photos of models (which make you feel even worse because they’re actually pretty damn hot unfiltered and you can no longer pretend to yourself that it’s just editing), while some things, like cigs and thoughts aren’t. This isn’t about dialing back on honesty, but about making that honesty slightly more palatable. When she introduces you to someone new, unless you have very good reason to think otherwise, try to approach them with an open mind and avoid being prejudiced by prior experiences.
The dating game is a minefield and making mistakes and getting hurt along the way is just part and parcel of it all – you can’t entirely protect her or yourself or anyone from that I’m afraid. Allow your friend to make mistakes along the way and learn and grow from them and, in the meantime, try to be amicable with her bois. It’s not too late to change your tack with the latest flavour of the month – be warm and friendly and former hostility will soon be forgotten. I’m sure your friend would really appreciate you simply telling her that you think the two of them seem well suited. Encourage your friend to be wary when it comes to dating – to guard her emotions (and against other things *cough* STIs *cough*, if you catch my drift). You can tentatively hint towards things you might not like the sound of but do so with a light touch. These men might not ‘seem equal to gods’ to you, but that’s probably because they’re human, just like you and I.
Yours in agony