The best way to react is to do absolutely nothing, says Mariella Frostrup
The dilemma My girlfriend and I have been together for four years. A year ago we moved from London to a smaller city where we met a woman in a bar who seemed eager to become friends. As time went on it became apparent that she often lures men and women in relationships to have sex. It wasn’t long before she made advances towards me, which I rejected. Since then she has turned nasty and ignores me. She is also verbally toxic towards others. My girlfriend has suffered from mental illness and struggles with guilt and shame. This means she has issues saying no to people. The woman has her buying her dinner and sharing information about our relationship – mainly to do with sex. She puts pressure on her to catch up many times a week. I’m trying to be supportive, but my girlfriend defends her and is sceptical of her coming on to me, saying I miss the attention. It feels as if she’s been reeled in and can’t see her behaviour is causing an issue. I’m starting to feel like a ranting boyfriend, which is making it worse.
Mariella replies Understandable. The annoying thing about partners is that all too often they completely disregard our opinions about friends and family. You’d think that sharing someone’s bed and life would put you in pole position to dictate, or at least influence, their choices, but when push comes to shove, all they plough is their own flawed furrow. I can feel your pain, but unfortunately there’s little I can do to assuage it.
This woman sounds like the sort of person fiction is inspired by – writers like Iris Murdoch would have a field day with her untrammelled determination to take what she wants and leave broken hearts and abandoned suitors in her wake. She’s certainly managed to get you hot under the collar and it does raise the question, did she once have you too under her spell? As you describe her she certainly lacks any appealing qualities.
That said, controlling our lovers is not an option, so when they choose to take a different path our choices are limited, and often we can only stand by and wait to say: “I told you so.” I don’t know this woman so I can’t judge her simply on what you say, although I’ve met many who mirror the elements that you describe. No doubt she’s a consummate seducer and the more you battle against her influence, the harder she’ll try to compete with you.
In such circumstances, unless you have weapons of mass destruction at your disposal, or are prepared to invest the time to embark on all-out psychological warfare, the best way to react is to do absolutely nothing. Feigning lack of interest is your most powerful tool and will stop you squandering vast amounts of time on situations in which you are likely to have little impact. You’ve spent four years with this partner of yours so if she’s still inclined to disregard your misgivings, you have little choice but to leave her to it.
Sometimes it’s worth considering the worst case scenario because once we have that in our minds, there’s little power left to those who are causing us upset. In this instance either you imagine your girlfriend is going to be seduced, has already been seduced or may in some other way be influenced against you. Your girlfriend’s mental health issues may make her easy prey, but they also shouldn’t be used by you as ammunition against her ability to choose her friendships. The two matters are entirely separate.
If you consider your girlfriend to be so susceptible to the influence of others that it’s cause for worry, encouraging her to visit a therapist and resolve those vulnerabilities would be more supportive behaviour than railing against her feelings for a particular pal. Much of what this woman gets up to is entirely within the bounds of acceptable behaviour and pejorative terms like “reeling in” only serve to make you seem predisposed against her for enjoying a vibrant and varied sex life.
That doesn’t mean I’m not sympathetic to your feelings, but you’ve written to me because I’m also entirely emotionally removed from the situation, which naturally affects my view. I’d say this woman has struck you where you are most vulnerable and is managing to play on your insecurities by maintaining her close proximity to your girlfriend. The only way to change any relationship dynamic, whether friendship, romantic, business or family, is not to try to alter others but modify or attempt different behaviour yourself.
If I were in your shoes, I’d be looking for an active form of displacement activity, with friends whose company you enjoy that would not only keep you distracted but might actually entirely obscure this woman’s presence in your sphere. If you can’t change her, or your girlfriend’s commitment to her, you can certainly change your own response to that dynamic. Expending energy trying to exert control over situations that we have little chance of achieving success in is not a sensible or productive use of our short tenure in this world. Let go and you may be surprised how quickly she boomerangs back. If she doesn’t, perhaps you have less in common than you previously imagined.
If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1