My friend is dating someone who really isn’t good for her and I don’t know how to tell her she can do better or should leave him without offending her. He treats her poorly but she thinks she won’t find anyone else if they break up. Any advice is appreciated.

Age: 24

Hi friend, thanks so much for your question.

This is unfortunately a tale as old as time. Whether in our generation, or even our parents’ generation, people stay with one another for a number of reasons: obligation, family, comfort, or fear of the unknown—many of which can’t ever be truly understood from outside of the relationship’s dynamic.

As a friend, you may have your friend’s best interest at heart when you see that she is objectively unhappy in her day to day relationship and is often looking to you for support or to vent about the aspects of her partnership that make her unhappy. You are likely who she turns to after every fight or disagreement or every instance of disrespect or dissatisfaction. 

It may feel logical to tell her to leave or to express your dismay at her choice of partner, but I regret to inform you that no matter how many times you tell her this, it will always be up to her to make the decision to stay or leave. 

Oftentimes this is a realization that either will take her a long time or simply won’t come at all, and as a friend I can see how this would be frustrating to witness and difficult to accept. My first advice to you is that there is a cost to trying to find the antidote to other people’s unhappiness no matter how much you love and care for them. 

You simply cannot take responsibility for her choices and actions, because this will always leave you feeling unhappy or upset, or contending with how you were unable to make a difference in your friend’s life. But if she is making no efforts to change her situation, you also can’t take it personally because you will exhaust yourself. We can’t change people, nor should we try.

While telling her to leave feels simple, there are likely dozens of things circling through your friend's mind if she considers that as an option, or this could even be a possibility she can’t even wrap her head around. 

I’d remind her that we often think things are unthinkable until we survive them, but the relationships that are meant to bring us joy shouldn’t feel like one of the things we need to endure. 

What you can do the next time she vents to you would be to try to give her a little bit of perspective. 

Whether it's a job, a person or a place, we don’t think we can walk away from things that have either given us comfort or sometimes give us joy, because we fear we may never get that good feeling again. There’s a deep sense of attachment to things—most often, people—because we may have gained something from them that may have previously been lacking. 

Maybe this was the first time she had felt wanted or desired, maybe this was the first time she fell in love, maybe this person felt like her momentary escape from her day to day life—it could be a number of things. 

She can’t imagine life without them because maybe she doesn’t know who she is on her own. This is no fault of her own, we don’t center or celebrate taking space or time to be alone in our culture as a whole. 

I’d argue though that time spent in solitude to truly ground into who you are and what you want will only make space for things that are wholeheartedly meant for you. Time spent alone is much more rewarding than having to prove your worth to someone who has repeatedly shown you they can’t love you as you want them to, even if there are some moments where they are able to make you happy.

Something being good “most of the time,” or “good enough,” isn’t the bar we should set for our happiness. You shouldn’t measure yourself or your relationship solely by how much you have had to overcome in order to fight for what you want or deserve.

While all relationships have challenges or difficulties, someone who loves you won’t make it feel so hard to love you. It won't feel like pulling teeth just to try to have a good day or a day free of arguments. You won’t need to try to prove your worth in order to receive the love you want. You won’t need to make excuses for your partner when they aren’t able to follow through on their promises.

When it’s right you will be seen and heard just for being heard. You don’t have to fight so hard for things that are meant for you.

I’ve seen this scenario many times over, and in most of them the reason people stay is fear. They haven’t pictured their life without their partner and they don’t want to try, because “what if they can’t find someone else?” 

But I’d challenge you to think deeper about that question. Why do you think you are only worthy of finding someone who makes you feel good “some” of the time? If this is the only thing keeping you from staying, you are deeply devaluing all of the amazing things you bring to the table, that do make you worthy of a love that doesn’t make you question it.

So while you can’t change your friend’s mind and there really is no guarantee that you can be the one to help her realize her worth, you can continue to be there for her as a friend and hope that over time she recognizes that there is a love for her out there in the world that she won’t have to doubt or question. 

But if she says she’s happy, you just have to be happy for her. It’s not a satisfying answer but it will at least absolve your headache. Stop trying to control other people’s lives and commit yourself to your own happiness, and hopefully modelling this for her will inspire her to do the same in her own life. 

And if not, you’ll be dancing at her wedding to her shitty boyfriend turned shitty husband and you kinda just gotta learn to smile and accept that unfortunately, it is what it is. 

If you too find yourself in need of advice, submit future questions and submissions anonymously for "Sh*t you can't ask your parents," here.

About the author

Rumneek Johal

Rumneek is a journalist, host and speaker. She is currently the BC Reporter at Press Progress where she focuses on systemic inequality, workers and communities, as well as racism and far-right extremism. Her previous work centers on asking tough questions within her community, starting conversation and chipping away at the status quo. Other focus areas for her work include the South Asian community, arts and culture, pop culture, and more. She is a proud Punjabi woman from Surrey, BC.

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