Dear Carolyn: I am in a very happy relationship with a great guy. We have been together a few years now, but there is one issue: My boyfriend has a very close female friend whose presence is a thorn in my side. When we first started dating and were asking the standard “closest friend who knows you best” type of questions, she was the answer. He has since casually mentioned that years ago she confessed her love to him (he did not reciprocate). He also says she tells him everything.
While I understand that they have been close for a long time, I cannot help being irked at their friendship. She seems to reach out to him on a somewhat regular basis to meet up for drinks; other times, they go to movies and do other activities. He seems to think that this is no big deal and doesn’t understand why I am bothered by an innocent friendship.
I can be OK with their friendship for months at a time, but every once in a while, I just totally lose my cool over it and all my worries and insecurities bubble to the surface. They do have a natural chemistry and more similar backgrounds/personalities than my boyfriend and I.
It seems to me that she still may have feelings for him, and I don’t understand why this woman hasn’t taken a step back. I wouldn’t mind if they hung out in groups and caught up every now and then, but I selfishly want to be the most important girl in my boyfriend’s life and I feel threatened by this lingering close friendship. I wish I could have the self-confidence to not worry about it, but nothing I do seems to work.
My boyfriend and I have had conversations about this, but after a couple of months, I’m back in the same place. Any advice? – L.
A: Make up your mind, and stop looking for the situation to make up your mind for you. Look at the ways you surrender control:
• “A very close female friend whose presence is a thorn in my side.” You see this as something being done to you, when, in fact, you keep seeing him when he told you about her upfront.
• “I cannot help being irked.” Yes, you can. You can embrace the friend and friendship, or you can break up with this boyfriend. It might help you do the former, by the way, if you hang out with them sometimes, like couples and their respective besties tend to do.
• “I don’t understand why this woman hasn’t taken a step back.” You’ve waited years for her to do this, to fix the problem for you. That’s a lot of life to put in another person’s hands.
• “I wish I could have the self-confidence to not worry about it.” OK, I wish my favorite pants still fit. All that means is chronic discontentment until I either exercise more or buy bigger clothes. So what’s it going to be for you – hard work to change your outlook or the hard decision to give up on a relationship that’s never going to fit?
I know you think you’ve done the hard work, but I suspect “nothing … seems to work” because, deep down, you’re certain that you’re right and that she’s the one who needs to leave.
That never works. What does work is taking control only of what’s yours. Namely: “I selfishly want to be the most important girl in my boyfriend’s life.” That’s yours. That’s what you want, and it’s right because you get to decide what’s important to you. (Yes, just as this friend can choose to stay close to a guy who rejected her romantically, and just as your boyfriend can choose to stay close to his female best friend despite your discomfort with her.)
And since that’s what you want, own it. Sure, do another round of thinking and trying to accept the status quo, and see what you can do about bringing the friend into your life, too. Best friendships belong in the fabric of a couple’s shared life, not skulking off to the side. But if you ultimately decide you can’t see her as anything but a threat, then that’s what you say: “I can’t stay in a relationship where I’m constantly looking over my shoulder.” In other words, you can’t make anyone let go but you.