Auntie SparkNotes: My BFF Wants All My Attention
I'm currently a senior in high school, and I just returned from a four-day long school trip with my friends. And, boy, did things take a turn for the worse.
My boyfriend, let's label him B, and I have been together since eighth grade. We've always been a strong couple, and we had a phenomenal time together over the school trip, with the time we were able to spend together. Things were almost perfect.
Enter F, my best friend since sophomore year. F is a sensitive guy, to say the least. He gets hurt easily; I could give him one irritated look and it would ruin his day. If we fight, he just falls apart, crying and scratching his arms until he starts to bleed. The worst fight we had ended with F taking a knife and slicing his forearm, scaring me into silence about whatever we were bickering about.My relationship with F does really infuriate me at times because he is so demanding and touches me constantly, but I put up with him because I do genuinely appreciate him on his good days.
During the trip, F wanted to spend a lot of time with me, and he didn't get as much as he would have liked. When I arrived home, B and I were discussing the events of our trip over text. We landed on the subject of F's bad mood, and B opened up to me about how he felt.
He told me how jealous of the amount of attention F receives over him, and how he hated that F stole me away at times over the weekend to help deal with his problems, how he was so upset that he interrupted romantic moments, and how a lot of the time it feels way more that F is my boyfriend rather than B.
And he's not wrong. F constantly makes me feel guilty for paying more attention to B and is admittedly way more affectionate towards me than he is towards his own girlfriend.
I've been ignoring this for two years, and I feel like I've just allowed F to continue with his terrible behavior instead of encouraging him to fix it.
I need to fix this, I know that much. I've known B for way longer, and I care for him too much to have him suffer in silence. B tells me that he can handle it, that F needs me more. But now that I know how B feels about my relationship with F, I can't ignore it.
I can't just plainly tell F how he's been making B feel, or what he's doing to my relationship, because of his tendency to self-harm whenever we get into a fight, which is B's biggest argument for why nothing can be changed.
Auntie, how can I tell F what he's doing to B without him falling into a pit of self-loathing and hate? I can't just allow B to suffer through watching F hog all of my attention any longer. I care about both of these young men so much, and I don't want either one to get hurt.
And boy, is that ever your biggest problem, kiddo. Despite everything, you're still trying to play both sides here, pretending like this is a conflict in which both parties are equally in the right and equally deserving of consideration. That's not right, and it's not fair—not when F wields his pain like a weapon that he can use to make other people bend to his will.
Despite what may have been your best intentions, you have enabled F’s manipulation.You and your friend are locked into a long-established pattern of codependency, where your reactions only encourage his toxic behavior. And while it's clear from your letter that you consider yourself a supportive friend, and while F's demands on your attention may make you feel needed and important, unfortunately, the solution to your problem requires that you sacrifice your status as a martyr to this relationship.
It's clear from your letter that F's demands on your attention make you feel important and needed—and even now, you seem to be looking for a way to put your foot down while still getting to play the martyr, and without having to give up the ego boost of being fought over by two guys. The reason to call out F's behavior isn't that it's hurting your boyfriend; it's that it's objectively inappropriate and unhealthy, full stop. A guy who cuts himself whenever you bicker is a capital-M mess, and rewarding that behavior with your attention and friendship just gives him a giant incentive to keep doing it. He needs the kind of help that you can't give him.
The good news is, you can push him in the direction of getting it—but you can't do that without pushing him away at the same time. The right thing to do in this case is also the difficult thing; for F to get the help he needs, you're going to have to give up the fulfillment you get from being needed by him.
In practice, that's going to make your relationship look and feel very different from the way it does currently. Your friend, who has spent two years reaping the benefits of your inability to set boundaries, is not going to appreciate being kept at a healthy distance—and he's not going to be quiet about that, either, since he has every reason to believe that he can get you next to him by making a lot of noise about how much pain he's in (or by making a show of hurting himself.) There's no getting around that, okay? He's going to make this ugly, and you're going to have to let him. Be kind, but be firm. Call his parents or tell another trusted adult if he threatens self-harm. Urge him to seek help from someone qualified. And practice the phrase, "I'm sorry you feel that way," because you're going to need it when he starts hurling accusations in the hopes that you'll fall back into the same old patterns.
Finally, you'll notice that there's no mention of your boyfriend here, and that's because he has nothing to do with any of this. He may have been the one to shine a light on the unhealthy dynamic between you and F, but he's not actually a part of it—and he deserves better than to be dragged into this situation just because it's easier to say "You're upsetting my boyfriend" than "Our relationship is unhealthy and needs to change." Let the BF support you in doing the right thing, but leave him out of the mess.
If you or a friend need to speak to a trained counselor, you can text the Crisis Line on741741. You’ll be connected to a trained Crisis Counselor who will actively listen to you to help you determine your next steps to stay safe. They won’t offer direct advice, but they can guide you to coping skills.
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