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Help! My Friend’s “Perfect” New Boyfriend Just Made a Disturbing Argument About Women.

Slate logo Slate 3/1/2022 Jenée Desmond-Harris
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Shea Rouda on Unsplash and phaustov/iStock/Getty Images Plus. © Provided by Slate Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Shea Rouda on Unsplash and phaustov/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Jenée Desmond-Harris is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.

Q. Cassandra: My best friend “Sara” has fallen head over heels for this guy, “Richard.” On paper, Richard seems like a great guy. He’s witty, a great conversationalist, has a good career, and he’s pretty good looking. But he’s got some serious red flags that Sara can’t seem to see.

The biggest and most obvious one is that he’s a self-declared misogynist. And while he won’t go the usual incel route or thinks that women belong in the kitchen, he basically turns intersectionality upside down and talks about how women are a privileged gender. While he thankfully has enough sense not to bring it up, it hasn’t been hard to get him talking (ranting) about how women get favored for custody, or women abusing their children gets overlooked in favor of men abusing theirs, or how CPS takes complaints about abused girl children more seriously than those of abused boy children.

And I mean, I get it, it sucks that he was abused as a child, but to take it out on an entire gender and talk about how they’re protected on the basis of it is wrong. And Sara is unfortunately exactly the sort of person who will lap up that broken bird persona and feel like she needs to apologize on behalf of all women to him. But I’ve seen this kind of behavior before; misogynists don’t get to justify themselves, and one day he’s going to start abusing her. I have to get her out before that happens, but she won’t listen to me when I tell him that he’s trouble. What can I do to get her attention?

A: It’s really, really hard to convince someone that the person they love is terrible, even when it’s as clear as it is here. You’ve shared your thoughts already, so the next step should be to choose to either distance yourself from Sara because this is too hard to watch, or simply decide that you want to be there for her as a good friend and a person she can turn to when and if Richard does become abusive. The latter plan will require holding your feedback unless she asks for advice, being someone she can open up to, and being nonjudgmental and helpful when she wants to end the relationship and needs someone who won’t criticize her.

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Q. Who’s the real jerk? My best friend “Bailey” and I met 12 years ago, life ended up taking us to different towns but we always made time and effort to stay in touch for about 10 years. About a year ago Bailey and her family moved 10 minutes away from me, and I was elated! We rekindled our friendship and spent every minute we could together. During that 10-year span of separation, Bailey had three children, bringing her family number to six. I, on the other hand, struggled with infertility for years. I eventually did IVF, but unfortunately after all my struggles to get pregnant, I suffered a miscarriage.

During the summer, Bailey and her family came camping with us, and she was partaking in an smokable substance that is legal in our state, but she was not paying much attention to her children, who were fighting with another family’s children who were camping with us about toys that didn’t even belong to them. So, my partner intervened and told all the kids “share, or no one gets to play with them.”

Fast forward a few months later, Bailey sent me a message about how she doesn’t want to be around my partner because of that altercation, how every time we’ve taken them boating she wants to push my partner overboard (mind you, we took them on our boat, and they contributed nothing to the cost of fuel or the purchase of floating tube so we could tow the kids behind the boat). Bailey then said she has such a distaste for my partner that she was glad I lost my baby, but that if I wanted to leave my partner we could remain friends. I responded to her initial message with confusion, and never responded to her follow-up because it basically repeated her first message.

Is my partner the jerk, or is Bailey? It’s been six months and I’m still hurt. I want an apology, but also never want to speak to her again because of the comment about losing my child. I wouldn’t wish my struggles on my worst enemy, let alone someone I called my friend!

A: It probably wasn’t the best idea for your partner to scold other people’s children. But on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being “perfectly okay” and 10 being “deeply disturbing,” what he did was a 2 and Bailey publicly fantasizing about throwing him overboard and pressuring you to leave him was an 8. UNLESS something huge is missing from this story (and part of me thinks it might be, because otherwise you wouldn’t be wondering whether he’s a jerk), you should consider your friendship with Bailey to be over.

Q. Not vibing: I (23M) inherited from my mother something I refer to as a “vibe;” she calls hers a “blessing.” In short, there’s something about us that makes people tell us things. From loose acquaintances to complete strangers, people confide in us. Usually this isn’t just run-of-the-mill conversation—it’s very personal, and frequently very sad or heavy topics. I’m glad that people feel they can trust me and I try my best to be a kind and empathetic listener, offering advice when I can but usually simply lending an ear.

The problem is, I have trouble with compartmentalizing. I find myself worrying about the financial struggles, family issues, drug/alcohol problems, and other topics that people tell me, and I find it a difficult burden to bear. How do I cope with such serious information, knowing I can’t do anything to help (and usually won’t ever see these people again or know if they’re doing okay)?

A: Maybe you can’t control your “vibe” and/or “blessing,” (I believe this is a real thing, by the way—my own mom has it!), but you can learn to identify when someone is launching into one of these conversations and cut it off with kindness:

Stranger on the street: “I love your dog. My late husband had a Pomeranian. He was abusive…”

You: “I am so sorry to hear that! I can’t stop to talk right now but I wish you all the best.”

Acquaintance at wedding reception: “The olive in your martini reminds me of the time I choked on one and was unconscious for five days … technically I died …”

You: “That’s horrible! I am so sorry. I’m going to go get us cake, and be right back.”

If you truly can’t avoid these exchanges, you may indeed have to work on compartmentalizing. Maybe you could create a mantra that helps you feel less stressed about these people’s lives, like “I hope things get better for her. I helped in my own way by listening. There is nothing else I can do.” Additionally, as a practical outlet for the compassion you have for others, you might think about spending some time each week or month volunteering for a cause that lets you help people and see a tangible positive effect on their lives.

Q. Sad dad: I am a mid-thirties dad with a six-year-old son. Two years ago, I ended my relationship with his mother due to emotional abuse, which included telling our son that I am not his father as a means of “punishing” me when she was angry. The divorce, which is ongoing, has been hell. My ex has concocted allegations of abuse in a bid for sole custody. She is also pulling out all the stops to prevent me from seeing my son. She discourages him from coming with me when I go to pick him up, and tells him things like “Daddy doesn’t love you.”

Until recently, I was able to focus on trying to show my son how much I love him and pushing the court process forward. But I am starting to crack. Each time he chooses not to see me, I feel like my heart is being ripped out of my chest. I know that it is not his fault and that for all my self-pity, he is the actual victim here. But I can feel resentment toward him every time he rejects me. I don’t know what to do. Please help.

A: This is devastating. Continue to take advantage of every possible legal tool available to you. Keep showing up for your son and being present and kind, and try your best not to pull back when he seems to have absorbed what his mom says about you. I’m not going to lie: It might be a really rough few years, your relationship might suffer some damage, and you might not immediately receive the love and trust that you deserve. So focus on what you can control: Providing evidence to counter the messages your ex is sending. That means showing up whenever you can and consistently treating him with love and kindness. Your goal should be that, at the end of his childhood, when he looks back on the time he spent with you and how you treated him, he feels sure that nothing his mom said was true. I hope you also share what you’re going through with a therapist or at least a friend who can reaffirm that you are not the person your ex is making you out to be.

Q. I sound better when you’re drunk: Here’s what I’m hoping will be the lowest stakes question of your week. I love (LOVE) karaoke—the good, the bad, and everything in between (the SNL karaoke sketch comes to mind). I haven’t gone in the last couple of years because of the global pandemic thing, but am looking forward to when I can occasionally get back to the mic.

However, in the past, many of my “go-to” song choices are big, belting songs by incredible Black artists, and I am very, very white. Like many, I’ve been trying to be more observant of racism, microaggressions, appropriation, where/how I contribute to systems of oppression, etc. Can I continue to sing my favorites, or should I choose some different songs?

A: Go ahead and sing your favorites. Just choose versions without the n-word, but have at it.

Q. Re: Who’s the real jerk? Prudie, you’re so wrong. The parents weren’t doing anything about their kids’ fighting and bad behavior, so the partner was right to make sure it didn’t escalate. On your scale, what he did was a 1. Everything that followed after that confirms that Bailey is not a nice or good person and her number, etc., should be blocked.

A: I could see your point if one of the kids had been in danger, but I don’t think a disagreement over toys calls for a stranger to intervene. As I often say: Mind your own business. But I agree that Bailey is not looking good in this scenario.

Q. Re: Not vibing: You are giving a gift to people by compassionately witnessing their recounting of their difficulties. I hope you can find solace in believing that this gift is sufficient. It’s a gift that the person might not be getting from other folks who will want to give advice or fix it. Thank you for doing this work. It is important and sufficient.

A: This is a really great way of looking at it! I love this.

Q. Re: Not vibing: Something for the letter writer to consider: Maybe talk to someone about anxiety (if that’s possible). I have this issue too (strangers tell me everything), and when my anxiety is ramping up, I start to dwell on random problems that may not even be my own.

A: This is a really good point and worth looking into.

Jenée Desmond-Harris: We’re going to end it here. Thanks, as always, for participating.

If you missed Part 1 of this week’s chat—My Girlfriend Demanded I Throw Out My Dead Wife’s Furniture—click here to read it.

Discuss this column on our Facebook page!

We have a very smart, creative 13-year-old daughter. She is on the honor roll and participates in dance, marching and concert band, and other extracurricular activities. I recently read the texts between her and her first boyfriend—something she knows I do—and was surprised.

She tells him that her life is screwed up and that she feels unworthy and unloved. She says we don’t care about her, and we only pay attention to our son. I was annoyed at first. Her life is far from screwed up—she has pretty much anything she could want and we support her in everything she does. I run my butt off to get her and her brother to their various activities. Then I started to wonder if there is something deeper going on, or this is really how she feels.

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