I am in a relationship (going on two years with someone I'll call Mark), and I have something of a problem. That problem is Mark's best friend (we'll call him John). I started out OK with John, in general, but over the course of the last two years, I have gotten to know him better, and what started out as friendly feelings toward him have morphed from civil, to lukewarm, to slightly put-off, to mildly disgusted, to full-blown (and very strong) dislike. This isn't always a huge issue, as we live more than 300 miles away from him (having recently moved to D.C. from our mutual hometown). But in the coming months he is very likely to visit, and I frankly don't want him staying in our home.
Why this drastic change in my feelings toward John? First it was little things -- like when I told him about some co-habitation issues with Mark and he told me that Mark is just inconsiderate and I'd have to deal with it. Then, when Mark was having some issues with anxiety and depression in adjusting to his a new city and new job, John flippantly told me (more than a little snidely) that Mark should have expected to have problems in his move, and he then all but encouraged Mark to quit the job and come home (even though John knew Mark had tried to get this position for many years, that it was a lifelong dream, and that due to his age he'd never have another chance at this type of job). Then, when John would ask me how Mark was doing, if my responses ever suggested that Mark was doing well in D.C. --making friends, not as homesick -- John would act disappointed.
He also told me that I was the first girlfriend of Mark's that he'd "bothered to learn the name of," and he let drop that whenever he went to a new city, he made it a habit to visit a strip club (which led to him insisting that he and Mark drive around until they found a place where he could be touched by a stripper in a lap dance, since apparently a lap dance without touching wasn't enough). Throughout all of this, I was definitely feeling put off by him and was becoming a bit disgusted.
But then it got worse. John and his girlfriend visited us at the holidays, and things got very uncomfortable. First, John openly puts his girlfriend down in front of other people. He disrespects her in such an obvious manner that when we were out at a restaurant, the waitresses would become visibly uncomfortable. To be honest, I don't care for John's girlfriend at all. But even not liking her myself, it bothered me that John was so dismissive of her. I found out that they have been together for seven years and that he started dating her when she was 18 (and he was 24 or 25), and he jokes that over the years he has "broken" her of caring about when he disrespects her. He later commented to me that he would eventually marry her because she wanted to, but that he figured he could string her along for a while since she wasn't likely to throw in the towel on him after so many years. He also has, on numerous occasions, complained about her in public, even when she wasn't there, and about her family. To be frank, I had a very hard time respecting him after that -- the idea that he stayed with someone for seven years that he clearly doesn't respect, and that he would marry her but openly admit to me that he was purposely manipulating her to keep her around until he was willing to give in.
Then I found out that, as a kind of "joke," since Thanksgiving 2011, whenever John sleeps with her or is intimate with his girlfriend, he texts Mark afterward and says he "smashed" her (as a euphemism for sex) or that he "smashed her in the mouth" (as a euphemism for oral sex). I was speechless. I am not a prude, but this bothered me a lot. If Mark did something similar to me, it would make me seriously considering leaving him (and we have two years of stronger history and no track record of him disrespecting me). It bothers me that Mark seems somewhat amused by these texts and that he hasn't said anything to John about not wanting to hear about his sex life. That said, some friends say I'd be overreacting to get too mad at Mark for this. Maybe, maybe not ... To be honest, if it weren't for a host of intelligent, well-adjusted friends that Mark has -- many in stable, loving relationships -- the attitude of his best friend and his constant overlooking of John's behavior would make me a lot more nervous and make me question how Mark views power dynamics in relationships.
Nonetheless, I am at the point that the thought of having John in my home and having to play good host is untenable. Am I overreacting? If not, how and when do I broach with Mark that, while I like 95 percent of his friends, his closest friend is someone I can't abide and whom I won't have in my home?
Tell Mark you can't have his friend in the house because his friend is a disgusting, loathsome pig.
Work this out with Mark. It doesn't have to be a deal breaker.
Now, some good folks of a more energetically theoretical bent would try to persuade Mark of the social and historical reasons his friend is a loathsome carrier of a social plague who must be extinguished in the interest of not further spreading his contagion, and hats off to them. For me, I am too disgusted and appalled to rise from my chair to raise even a faint objection. Surely at some point your personal choices must come congruent with your political values, and I will follow right along with the most radical of feminist theory on such issues, for I do not think there is an end to roots of the depth and depravity exhibited here. That our polite society can contain such people as John and does not spit them out like bad fruit is itself a sign that it might be time to panic. But also I am weary of arguing. I say just do not let the guy in the house.
Our society is full of institutions that are degrading to women. Our media routinely depict violence toward women, and young men can therefore grow up and behave like John around their friends and not be immediately shunned. One can go as far as one likes with a feminist critique of our society, and I'm right there with it. One can go as far as to say that our wars and our guns and our violence and our strip clubs and our language are all part of this pattern, and that it is political and economic and cultural and psychological, and that our agonizingly slow progress in accepting gays and lesbians as full citizens is part of our overall racism and homophobia and hatred of women, and that all this is part of our fundamental and intractable failure to rise above our primitive nature as people, and that history will judge us harshly for not taking the opportunity, having won a measure of material comfort, to create a truly enlightened society.
No critique of our society, from feminists, Marxists, Christians, Jews, Muslims or atheists is too harsh for me. There is no way to overstate the deplorableness of it all. I can barely walk down the street. I stay huddled in my little cubby half the time, unable to even peer out the window. We are a disgusting lot, we Americans. We rightly ought to despise ourselves as others despise us.
And yet here we are. And yet here I am, watching "Morning Joe." And yet here we go blithely making bicycle lanes and calling that progress. And yet here you are, moving to D.C. with your boyfriend, to participate more fully in the heroic adventure of capitalist democracy and the governing of a falling empire. And here is this other fellow, this uncultured lout, whose depravity is cloaked in a clownish absurdity that softens it for some but does not alter the essential fact that he is a deplorable, loathsome creature.
To which accusation he would be within his rights to reply, "So what?" For there are no laws against being a jerk. We are a country founded on the proposition that each man may be a jerk to the greatest of his jerkiness and that until he offends another's property (this property that no longer, in our enlightenment, includes women), he may walk the streets and hold his head high like any other free man, including men and women recently freed from slavery. And I, as part moralist and part nihilist, am inclined to join him in his "So what?"
I do not hold out much hope for us, or much admiration. I am in fact so bereft of "progressive" hope and belief in man that I almost admire him, for he at least has embodied wholly his loutish nature. Like a man with no illusions, he has truly given up; he has embraced the idiocracy fully. His seems a truly radical act of self-acceptance, while we fritter and fret on the edges of the shitty maelstrom like etiquette critics.
Maybe this makes sense to you and maybe not. This goes way beyond politeness. One thing that could be said is that a little brute force might be in order. There are times when ideology is just wasted breath. In some places jerks get thrown into the street. Here in lush and lazy America we argue and equivocate but nobody throws a punch.
Me, personally, I do prefer the lush equivocating. It's much easier on a writer than bar fights. I'm living in California and enjoying the decline, and global warming seems to be improving the freezing Outer Sunset. But I recognize what a privilege it is to sit back and sneer. Brutal passions run in the blood, and hatred of women is not only for the louts but for the hoarse righteous whispers of our Christian drawing rooms and the faux erudition of steam-heated Ivy League boardrooms. And so is hatred of men. And so is the infuriatingly light lash of elite policy that is deaf to the cries of pain from below.
So it's a harsh, messed up place, this American society, and he's a representative part of it. To my view, etiquette and ethics don't matter in this case as much as your personal power of choice: If you don't want him in your house, don't let him in. Just don't let the bastard in the house.