Here's the Thing: We Are NOT Tolerating Abusers Here

A SWEETHEART:

I have a very longwinded story to tell you about an unstable friend turned creepy stalker and I hope that you can help me navigate my feelings on the subject. 

About three years ago, my boyfriend (We'll call him Carl) and I started hanging out with this new friend whom we're going to call James. James and Carl play the same sport and have many mutual friends. James is slowly introduced to our friend group and gets along well enough with everyone. 

During this time it becomes obvious James has a lot going on. He often quits/loses his jobs, moved away for a few months to Georgia and came back, often drinks in excess and is known to start fights and not be the best person. However, we give James the benefit of the doubt because he has never acted this way towards us and friendship is normal.

In July of last year we invited James on our annual friends camping trip. This is when things spiral out of control. 

James (who is always a touchy person) starts excessively touching and hugging me. At one point I tried to escape a touch and he grabbed my shirt and pulled me back to him, sounds romantic but I wasn't. So I stick up for myself, tell James I'm not cool with it. He seems to accept for a bit and then the behavior continues.

I discuss with Carl and we decide that Carl will confront James directly. A sort of "Why are you hitting on my girlfriend? She's uncomfortable" scenario. After the confrontation, James LOSES it. He screams for the better part of 3 hours about how we all think he's a creep. He's crying, demanding I talk to him about it. Both Carl and I and the other friends on the trip are trying to calm him down and brush off the whole ordeal but he won't let it go.

The remainder of the trip is super awkward and full of outbursts about how I am a bitch and everyone hates him. At one point he also threatened to smash another friends head in with a rock. It was messy and bad.

After the trip, we cut James out of my life. Which coincidentally wasn't that hard because he never specifically reached out to me. In the months after the trip he would repeatedly reach out to Carl and another friend on the trip complaining that I was a bitch and being unreasonable. For the most part, the boys ignored him.

In January of 2019, he sent me a very long text message in which he half apologized. But also included some choice phrases like "You acted like a wet blanket that weekend" and "You claiming I groped you or whatever was pathetic". I responded with a "Hey I'm not interested in rekindling our friendship. Thanks." or something of that sort. 

Fast forward to this month and I get a "Hey go fuck yourself" text before he proceeds to call Carl every day for a few weeks trying to talk to him. He sent me a barrage of angry texts and then screen shot the tirade and sent to Carl. James went so far as to get my number (which yes, he already has) from another friend and then call me and leave me a voicemail saying "I'm ready to apologize or whatever, I'm sure you feel as bad about the way our friendship ended as I do".

So my question for you is, am I being insensitive by not at least talking to this human? Clearly, he is not well based on his behavior. Should I be more sympathetic to someone who is struggling with mental illness? Or do I hold my ground because I need to take care of myself and this person does not respect me/it isn't my job to help him? 

One half of me feels very strongly that I never want to talk to him again. I genuinely thought we were nearing an assault situation a year ago and since then he has shown me he doesn't respect or care about me. His text messages and calling makes me fear for my safety a bit. When I hear a knock at the door I wonder if it's him showing up to hash it out. 

But the other half of me feels bad. This person was my friend and they are not okay. Do I at least forgive him/talk to him about his behavior? My concern is that it won't make any difference.

Any and all thoughts on the subject would be appreciated as I haven't made a ton of progress on dealing with the situation.

These people are Friends; that man is NOT your friend. Just a helpful guide.

SOPHIA:

WHAT THE FUCK ON EARTH. While I 100% get how harassment doesn’t seem as bad to the person it’s happening to sometimes, I find it astonishing that you wrote all of that information out and then still are worried about being friends with this person, or even on nice terms.

This person is NOT a friend. Not to you. Not to your boyfriend. Not to anyone involved in this situation. This person is abusive and cruel, and potentially dangerous.

The fact that you feel afraid that every knock on your door is him should make it extremely clear just how much his actions have affected you emotionally, even if your “rational” brain keeps thinking, “I ought to be nice to him.”

Frankly, I’m mystified by Carl’s actions in all of this. I don’t know if you guys tried to soften the blow because you thought it was more tactical or would come across “better,” but the issue is not and was never, “You’re hitting on my girlfriend.” The issue is HIM ASSAULTING YOU. Maybe Carl knows this, maybe you know this—it’s hard to tell from your letter.

It does not AT ALL sound romantic to be grabbed or trapped by a guy. That does not sound romantic. Who is telling you that that sounds romantic? What voice is in your head that doubts that what he did was assault? Whoever that voice is, we need to shut them down. I don’t know if it’s you imagining what your mom would say or if it’s what your boyfriend is actually saying or if you think your friends won’t “get it.” I have no clue where that voice is coming from but being touched repeatedly by someone against your will is not romantic. And it’s not someone “hitting on you.” I hope like a motherfucker that your boyfriend gets that and didn’t feel possessive over you. You were not being romanced, you were being threatened.

That’s the thing about assault that often gets muddied: it’s not about desire, it’s about power. James, in all of his cruelty, enjoys having power over you. (And possibly, tangentially, over Carl; I don’t know). He likes that you are afraid. He does not want to be your friend, full stop. Let me say that again in case you forget: JAMES DOES NOT WANT TO BE YOUR FRIEND HE WANTS TO ABUSE YOU.

You know how I know that? BECAUSE JAMES IS ABUSING YOU.

In no way, shape or form has James ever been a friend to you or to Carl. The only similarity between James and A Friend is that he has spent some time around you and has your phone number, but keep in mind that that is also true of your dentist.

Back to Carl. Again, it’s hard from your letter to know exactly what went down but a “friend” of his called you a bitch and he “mostly ignored” him????? WHAT? When someone does that you cut that person out of your life. Easy!!! No one in that friend group should have ever talked to James again. Period. Now, perhaps there are some details left out of your letter, and perhaps people appeased James because they’re scared of retaliation from him, or because he knows where they live. I don’t know. But the way you wrote this makes it seem like everyone thinks what he did was kind of bad but not that bad so everyone is just quietly tolerating him being shitty, while trying to hang out with him less.

AND WE’RE DONE WITH THAT. If someone WHO HAD ASSAULTED ME texted my partner and said I was a bitch and my partner or any of their friends talked to them again other than to say “Fuck off you diarrhea milkshake; I’m blocking you now,” I would lose my ever-loving mind.

You do not need to be nice to someone who harmed you. Not for the sake of civility or friendship or group harmony. Ever. Being a dick (which you are NOT doing, but it may feel like you’re doing) to someone who assaulted you IS GREAT!!!! GO FOR IT!!

Block James on every channel you can think of. Have your boyfriend do the same. Get your boyfriend on board or lose the boyfriend. (If you feel ok with the police) you can file a police report about the incident on the camping trip, and tell the police you’re concerned about what he will do next. Obviously, dealing with the police is usually a fucked situation, especially for people of color and folks with mental health issues, so that may not be the best route. But you do need to be safe and you need to enlist others in making sure that you are. This guy should never be a part of your life or the life of anyone who cares about you and loves you. Get as far away from him as you can, and be safe about it. Do not be alone if there is a chance he will show up somewhere. I know I sound like I’m being extreme, but abuse escalates, and you have no idea what he wants to do to you.

I’m sorry. No one should get to make you afraid like that. That never should have happened. I’m so sorry.

ASK A QUESTION!


Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter, she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tries to write about Fleetwood Mac for GQ, avoids writing by tweeting at @1followernodad, works full-time as a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. She’s also working on a book and at least five TV pilots at any given moment. (But for real, there will be a book soon). You can reach her or yell at her at 1followernodad@substack.com.