I have a very good friend -- swimming lessons together when we were 7, shared birthday parties, close enough to fight with each other's siblings, college roommates, etc. -- who married last August. Her husband, T., appeared to be the nicest guy in the world. He's outdoorsy and takes my friend (a nature child in her own right) camping, hiking, rock climbing, biking and backpacking all the time. He was friendly, sweet and sincere to her while they were dating and impressed me and our other roommates at the time as being one hell of a catch. We just couldn't figure out why someone so great was single after so many years.
Well ... nine months later, it's pretty apparent to all of us what was and is wrong. My friend, A., has hinted that life with T. isn't so great. He's insanely jealous of her time and accuses her of not loving him, talking about him behind his back and plotting to leave him -- all statements that are patently and ridiculously false. At a recent dinner with several other friends, A. and T. at my house, he pouted the entire evening and said nothing more than a few acerbic, sarcastic sentences while we tried desperately to engage him and make him comfortable. He rarely wants to hang out with A.'s friends, and seems to be trying to make her miserable when we're around. He torments her, saying things he knows will deliberately annoy her, and he frequently makes hurtful jokes at her expense.
This past weekend, they came camping with me, my husband, another college roommate and her boyfriend. The tension on the trip was intense and troubling to all of us. T. -- by far the oldest member of the group -- acted like a 7-year-old child. He needed constant coddling, reassurance and placating. We all had to do what he wanted all the time or he threw a fit. One night, when someone made an offhand remark about camping, he took it as a personal dig on his hobbies and spent a few hours alone in his truck listening to music while the rest of us sat around the fire chatting.
My friend is a mellow, nice woman who deserves better treatment. I think her husband needs medication, therapy or more time to grow up without damaging her. I don't want her to be unhappy, as she has told us she is now. However, I don't want to meddle in her marriage. T. poisons every interaction between us, but I don't want to cut off our friendship and leave her with a man I think could hurt her in many ways. How can I help?
Worried in the West
Dear Worried in the West,
How can you help? You can be a good friend. Sometimes a good friend will just be very honest and say, You know I love you like a sister, but that husband of yours is an exploding Pinto, an old bag of spoiled peaches. He's a frown magnet, a disappointing afternoon. He's a bad gasket, a supermarket go-back, a failed experiment, a wilted head of lettuce. He's yesterday's jacket and tomorrow's bad shoes rolled into one. He's a divorce lawyer's meal ticket and that's about it. You could tell her that.
But something tells me it might not work out so well.
You see, I was sitting among a handful of reasonably civil people, women included, just yesterday, and I posed the question why a woman can't tell another woman that her boyfriend or husband ought to be put in a childproof container and removed from the shelves. I posed it as a serious question. But I wasn't able to get an answer. I don't know if there is an answer. I suspect that it's nearly impossible for women to tell women certain things. Still, I say if you're a good friend, you provide her with the name of a divorce lawyer with a smooth head of hair and a way with judges.
Not all jerks are wife beaters. Even still, once you marry a guy who acted fine before the wedding and then turns out to be a sulking, angry, brooding, disconsolate piece of bad fish left in a hot car on a busy street, what do you do? You divorce him. That's what people do.
You could try to fix him up. Some jerks need medicine. Some need more exercise. Some just need to be out in the wilderness cooking trout in a pan -- they aren't happy except when squatting in front of a tiny little fire, blackening the bottom of a perfectly good piece of Calphalon. And if he needs to be out in the forest, you're doing him a favor by cutting him loose. Catch and release: That's a humane practice.
I'd do one or the other. But just tell her you think she's getting a raw deal. See what she says. If she asks you what she should do, tell her. Tell her to maybe set a deadline. He's got to shape up or he's out. No sense sticking with him and being miserable and then having kids and having them be miserable. And then the kids have kids and they raise their kids to be warped and the whole thing spirals out of control into the next millennium. What's the sense in that?
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