How do you end a friendship when your guy friend turns out to be a total fuckboy?

'At first I was excited to have a new friend at work but then his texts and emails became constant, then came the mansplaining and, ultimately, then came the sexism'

How do you end a friendship when your guy friend turns out to be a total fuckboy?

by Anonymous |
Published on

No matter how many times I re-read his text, I couldn’t fathom why he’d sent it. ‘I think you’re a delight’, it read. Coming from a man I’d just been on a date with, I could maybe excuse the flowery language and take it as a compliment. I am, after all, a bloody delight. But coming from a new work friend I’d just been for a pint with? Not so much. I turned my phone off and shoved it to the bottom my backpack, wanting to put as much distance between myself and the message as possible.

Next came that familiar, creeping sense of (misplaced) guilt. Maybe I’d said something he’d misconstrued as flirty. Maybe he thought my friendly mocking of him was a classic playground indication of attraction? Maybe my openness was read as an invitation?

For the entire bus ride home, I played the evening’s events over and over in my head on a loop. I came to a conclusion that I deep down always knew I would: I’d been nothing but friendly. He had made inappropriate comments and sent a creepy message. It had made me feel uncomfortable. On examining our conversations more closely, with hindsight I realised he had let his faux male feminist mask slip all night. Actually…no, for weeks! And I had let it go unchallenged. Of course, though, I was blaming myself. That’s what we women do.

In retrospect, I should have seen it coming. At the time, however, I was just genuinely so chuffed to have made a new mate at work. Despite being on different teams at opposite ends of the office, Tom* and I first got chatting in one of the communal kitchens. We were both equally excited slash nervous for the release of a sequel to one our favourite 90s films. ‘Awesome’, I thought, ‘someone at work I can talk to about sci-fi’. It was a novelty. After that chat we followed each other on Twitter and Instagram. He liked my tweet linking to a personal essay about my relationship. I liked an Instagram photo he posted with his two best female friends.

A few weeks later, I was working on a feature about making friends as an adult and put a tweet out asking strangers to hang out with me. Tom replied via DM, asking if I’d found volunteers. When I told him I had, he called them ‘lucky strangers’ and said if I needed anyone else, he was up for being a social experiment. We swapped numbers and planned to have lunch.

In the lead up, he messaged a lot. ‘You should see this’, he’d say, linking to something vaguely related to my area of work. Part of me wondered why the hell this dude I’d just met was telling me how to do my job, while the rest of me conjured up justifications for his patronising messages. Like he’s just being friendly and he’s trying to help.

When we went for lunch, it was surprisingly awkward. Tom was fidgety, seemed nervous and avoided eye contact. For an hour, he painted himself as the harmless ‘good guys finish last’ type - dicked on by ex-girlfriends who’d cheated or taken him for granted. But the conversation was also peppered with chat about the fantasy novel series we both loved, and how we listened to the same records while writing. Because of this, I overlooked the warning signs. It felt good knowing there was someone at work I had loads in common with.

After that, his texts and emails were constant. Every day, Tom sent me recommendations for books I ‘should read’ and movies I ‘must watch’. None of which I asked for. None of which, I quickly noticed, were directed by or written by women. Nonetheless, when he asked me to go for a beer with him one night, I went.

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Fortunately, in the few hours we spent together, his male feminist masked slipped. Tom chomped on with story after story about his best friends. One, a prolific Tinderer, spoke about women he slept with like they were worthless. Tom didn’t call him out because it was just ‘harmless banter’. Y’know, ‘guy talk’. Another of his mates had recently got married. Tom was super happy about this because his ex was a ‘complete bitch’.

Despite me previously telling him I lived with my long-term boyfriend, he didn't ask about him once – not even his name. When I said I was working towards being a manager, he quickly became defensive, angrily mumbling he was, ‘just an ideas guy’ and wasn’t that good enough? I made an excuse to leave and Tom insisted on walking me to the bus stop, despite repeatedly asking him not to. Before my bus arrived he said, smug AF, ‘I hope I haven’t kept you out too late, or got you in trouble with your boyfriend’. Five minutes later I received the, ‘I think you’re a delight’ text.

I decided the only thing to do was stop replying to his now incessant messages and hope he got the hint. If I confronted him, he might say I was overreacting. That I was imagining it or that it was all in my head. I worried calling him out would bruise his clearly fragile ego so much, he’d make my working life unbearable in retaliation. While in a dating scenario ghosting is something I’d never do, I felt trapped in this inescapably awkward situation. Because, there’s no real protocol to follow with new friendships. How do you ‘dump’ a mate when after two hang outs, you realise they’re actually a bit of a dick? Especially when you work with them.

Confused about how to navigate a situation and feeling unsure of myself like this, I spoke to Dr Elle Boag, a social psychologist at Birmingham City University. ‘What he did is super shady to be fair’, she says, ‘it’s a difficult scenario. It’s possible the “friendship” meant something very different to him than it did to you. In which case, he may well claim it didn’t, and that you’ve imagined it. Which would make it almost like a spurned lover, without being a lover’.

Lorna Cordwell, a therapist at Chrysalis Courses agreed. ‘Always trust your own feelings. I don’t think there’s any difference between a man making inappropriate gestures on a date or as a friend. Both feel uncomfortable to you. By trusting your feelings on this you realise that the right way is your way, that is the protocol’.

In situations like this, Dr Boag says there’s only one thing to do: sit them down and have the talk. ‘It’s super awks, but you have to’, she explains. ‘Say, “this is very uncomfortable for me, but I feel I have to bring this to your attention. I have got a boyfriend, I am not interested in you in this way, I don’t think it’s appropriate that you’ve made these comments and I can’t be friends with you. I want a relationship with you from a professional perspective, but that’s as far as it goes”.’

Dr Boag explains that in situations like this, it’s all about power: ‘You have to stop letting him have all the control. It’s making you feel awkward, it’s not making him feel awkward. You have to take ownership of this again’.

But how can you do this in a safe way? ‘Plan what you’re going to say. Write it down if you have to, so you’ve got notes’, she says. ‘Take him somewhere quiet but where you can still be seen, and say, “Look, we need to have a really serious talk”. Refer to your notes and say, “This is our relationship and how I’ve experienced it, it went from this to this, some really shitty stuff happened in the meantime and now I’m in limbo. I can’t move forward from a personal perspective or a professional one until I tell you how I feel”.’

While I have no problem clapping back when I’m harassed in the street, there’s something about this situation that overwhelms me. Dr Boag says, ‘It’s always going to be scary to be put in this situation, but every time you’re not confronting how you feel with people like this, you’re giving them the power. Once you get into the habit of saying, “I don’t like that”, it gets easier.’

Worst of all though, I can’t help but feel guilty for not calling him out at the time. ‘You need to forgive yourself for a start’, Dr Boag says. ‘Stop calling yourself weak. He can only take ownership if you let him’.

While still figuring out if I could summon the courage to confront him IRL, Tom inadvertently gave me the perfect get out. As the Harvey Weinstein story was breaking, he messaged me complaining about all of the coverage the allegations were getting. He was so sick of reading about sexual harassment and abuse, he said. He wished it would be over and done with. The message disgusted me – the blatant disregard for what these women had been through, their courage in speaking out, and the impact this was going to have on Hollywood… I couldn’t give someone with such little empathy and understanding any more of my time.

With the help of a colleague, who physically shuddered when I told her what had been going on the past few weeks, I wrote a scathing, sarcastic reply. ‘SO sorry that this systematic abuse of power against women is causing you so much hassle’, we wrote. Childish, I know. Twelve hours later he sent a pass agg reply along the lines of, ‘You read that totally wrong, I would never say anything against victims of abuse, I stand WITH women’, blah blah blah. And that was it.

Sure, I didn’t deal with it in the best way. Not only because I didn’t challenge him on his shady faux male feminism, but because going into work is still very uncomfortable for me. I worry I’ll bump into him in the lift, so I always take the stairs. Seeing him while making tea fills me with so much dread that I’ve relocated to a kitchen I know he doesn’t use. My work pals, bless them, always give me a heads up when he walks by, so I can keep my head down and avoid any potential eye contact. Maybe if I’d found the courage to sit him down and have ‘the chat’, I wouldn’t be so on edge at work all the time.

Either way, I’ve realised that calling time on a problematic friendship isn’t really that different to dumping someone after a dodgy date – it might end with one or both of you feeling a bit shitty but, ultimately, it’s for the best.

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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