Real Relationships: Uncomfortable with my Boyfriend’s Relationship with his Female Friend

I’m 36, and I’ve been dating a 29 year old man for a year and a half now.  There are a lot of nuances that I don’t have time to recount, but my basic problem is this.  My boyfriend has a female best friend (25 years old) who I feel interferes with our relationship, to the point that sometimes I am tempted to break up with him over it, but when push comes to shove I don’t want to react that way, and I’m not sure how to handle the situation.

He is a beautiful, kind, even tempered person, we’re very attracted to each other, very much in love, and we’ve never had an overt fight.  Part of the reason why we don’t fight is that he’s just a gentle, sweet guy, he never crosses the line enough to make me really feel betrayed, he is kind and doesn’t intentionally hurt me really ever. And part of the reason we don’t fight is that I’ve been through a truly horrible traumatic breakup in a previous relationship, so I’m extra careful in this one to not hurt him unnecessarily even if I’m mad.  So when we get our feelings hurt we discuss it but really try to be kind about it (or sometimes avoid discussing it but eventually get around to it), but we never get to the point where we either yell or call each other names.

Ok, so back to the best friend. This is a woman who has been his friend for a couple of years before we met, they work together, they get up at 6:00 just to go meet for coffee before work every day, they have lunch together every day, they run a side business out of her home, and they do several extracurricular projects together (gardening, sailing).  Basically whenever he’s not with me he’s with her, or emailing her, or texting her.  He thinks she’s an “amazing person,” has never said anything negative about her to me, and most of their coworkers used to assume they were dating before he started dating me, but his explanation for why they weren’t was that “it’s just not like that” between them.

My boyfriend definitely seems to be the man in her life, though. Whenever they start forming a sort of “threesome” with friends from work, where another person starts to join them a lot, she tends to start alienating the third wheel until that person is more or less out of the picture and they’re back to spending most of the time as a duo. There have been a couple of examples of that where the third party got their feelings hurt and basically went away. She doesn’t like me, she basically ignores me and doesn’t look at me or say hello when we’re together in a group, and she seems annoyed when I’m at her house.

Once I stopped by her place when he was there working on something, to pick up some keys from him, and he offered me a bowl of soup he’d just made for her, and she looked annoyed that he did that, for instance. Even when they’ve spent most of the week together on any given week, she excitedly invites him over to her place or to do things with her on the weekend, which is the only time he and I have to spend much time together, and she seems to just kind of have no awareness or respect for the fact that I’d like some of his time to myself.  He’s sort of a “go with the flow” kind of guy, so unless I set clear boundaries, he tends to just go along with whoever invites him to do something first, which a lot of the time is her.  And a lot of the time when he’s with her he forgets about me, e.g. any texts I send him tend to go unread, or barely read such that he can’t remember anything I said in them later on.  Most of the time I try not to text or email him if I know he’s with her, but sometimes I don’t know that that’s what he’s doing, and wonder why I haven’t heard from him all day, and it  turns out that he was just hanging out with her for most of the day.

When that happens I sort of shut down, he knows I’m not happy, I’m sure he suspects why, but we don’t discuss it each and every time it happens.  I’ve told him how I feel, and he reassured me that I don’t and shouldn’t have to feel threatened by her, and that I’m his priority.  He doesn’t lie to me about anything that I’m aware of, in terms of when he’s spending time with her.  Lately, since I said something about it, he’s been better about answering my texts even when he’s with her. Also, since I pointed it out a couple of times, he has noticed how she ignores me when we’re in the same place (he hadn’t noticed before I pointed it out, he says he’s “not sure what that’s about”). He’s sensitive enough to the fact that this makes me uncomfortable that he doesn’t mention her unless he has to, a lot of the time.  And if I make it clear that we need to spend more time together, he’s into it and goes along with it and we have a great time.

So what’s the problem?  It’s that even though this has been going on the whole time we’ve been dating, she never really backs off, and he never really changes anything fundamental about what’s going on.  I think he’s enough of a “man in her life” that she’s not really motivated to find her own boyfriend, and she’s really possessive of him and hopes I’ll go away eventually.  They spend time together daily, much more time than he spends with me, and she still is icy towards me when I see her, and she’s exactly as clingy as ever, and I still have to make an effort to keep him from forgetting to make quality time for me.

I think that my boyfriend feels that as long as he’s being a good partner to me when we are together, which he is, then it doesn’t matter that he has a girl best friend. I think somehow in his mind it’s sexist to think he shouldn’t be able to have a female best friend. And he cares about her so much that he’s not willing to change their friendship if it’s not “wrong.”

I love him enough that when push comes to shove, on the whole I always decide that I’d rather stay with him.  I think he and I could potentially have a family before too long, and I’m pretty sure he’s contemplating the same thing.  But my hand has been inches over the relationship self-destruct button several times now over this issue with his friend.

Sometimes I feel that it’s ridiculous and I just don’t want to be in the situation anymore.  But when I actually see him I feel like his heart is really in the right place and he’s wonderful in so many ways, and i can’t do that. When I ask for something specific he gives it to me, and he doesn’t lie, and we love each other and we’re kind to each other.  That’s all amazingly good.  But it strikes me as a problem that one minute I want to marry him so badly and the next minute I really want to break up with him.

What do i want to know?  Well, what do you think is going on here?  Is there a better way I can handle this?

Lisa’s thoughts…

Regarding your boyfriend’s friend: I’m a big fan of the saying, “trust your instincts.”  I do believe men and women can be friends, however it is curious that she wants to spend so much time with him when, 1) she could use that time to look around for a partner for herself and 2) he’s in a relationship with you.

It sounds like he’s addressed your concerns (being more mindful of returning texts to you, etc) and is even noticing her behavior around you himself.  But if you’re getting a bad vibe from her, there’s a reason.  She may wish he was more than friends with her and hopes that at some point that can be the case.  I also wonder about his potential blinders and kind of missing something pretty important about how the totality of this would make you feel.

Seeing as you’ve taken a good first step with him in dealing with a few of the problems associated with their friendship, maybe you can take it a step further and ask him to set firmer boundaries with her.

You may be his priority – but he may be hers.  This is a dangerous dance where it looks as though someone could get hurt.  You have a right to feel emotionally safe in your relationship and healthy boundaries don’t seem to be in place.  Break it down to him in that way.  If he doesn’t make any adjustments and you still feel uncomfortable, ask yourself what’s keeping you there.

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