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Auntie SparkNotes: Do I Have to Support My BFF’s Abusive Relationship?

Auntie Sparknotes,
I’ve had the same best friend for over ten years now; we can call her Emma. She’s been there for me through everything from finding out I have clinical depression to discovering my sexuality as a queer woman and coming out. I had a little crush on her for a while but since we went to college I’ve met a lot of new girls who I click better with romantically anyway.

Emma always insisted that she was straight, and even though I knew that probably wasn’t true, I never pushed it. She finally came out to me last year and I was excited for her, but then came the real news; she already had a girlfriend, Ashley, who had been pursuing her for months. I thought it was a little fast, but I was excited to meet her, and I did the very next day. We talked a little, but she made me really uncomfortable. You know those people who you feel are psychoanalyzing you every second you spend with them? She was like that. I tried to play it off as nerves. It’s not every day your new girlfriend has a queer best friend who is incredibly close to her and has been hanging around for a decade.

However, Ashley got weirder and weirder as their relationship progressed. She started sending me text messages asking if I still secretly have feelings for Emma and demanding that I support their relationship. She asked me to call out of my job to get coffee with her and then took things I said out of context to Emma and tried to make me look bad. She’s gotten angry because we went on a road trip that we planned before they were even dating. She went to Emma and told her that she needed me to be more supportive of their relationship and got angry with her for not getting angry with me about it. I asked Emma what I was supposed to do to be more supportive, and she told me to text Ashley more often and try to be friends with her.

I feel like I already tried to be friends with her and it didn’t work out. I think Ashley is being abusive and trying to cut me out of Emma’s life, but Emma is angry with me for not texting her like she asked. I told her it made me uncomfortable, and she basically said that if I was a good best friend I’d do it. I feel manipulated and deeply concerned about her relationship with Ashley. If I feel like my friend is being abused, do I have an obligation to stay? Or do I back out while I still have some semblance of mental health? Is it as weird as I think it is that two adult women are asking me to “vocally support” their relationship, or am I really being a lazy best friend because I don’t want to text Emma’s girlfriend?

Well, let’s put it this way, Sparkler: If my best friend told me that I needed to start putting on this kind of performance of support for her relationship, in the form of sending regular text messages to her husband? I would sit her down, take her hands, look deeply into her eyes, and gently ask her exactly what kind of drugs she was on. And I like her husband.

So when you ask if this is all as weird as you think it is, Auntie SparkNotes would like to personally assure you that it is, indeed, hella weird — albeit also logical in a profoundly twisted, icky way. It’s a fair guess that Ashley had decided that if she can’t keep you away from Emma, then she’s gonna keep you right up close, the better to keep an eye on you (and the threat she apparently thinks you present to her relationship.)

The thing is, the screaming peculiarity of this whole scenario is none of my business… and to a certain extent, it’s also none of yours. This is your friend’s relationship, and if she wants to sign on to Ashley’s particular brand of control-freaky codependency, that’s her prerogative, no matter how upsetting it is to watch or how objectively unhealthy it might be. The part that’s really over the line isn’t your friend’s decision to involve herself with a possessive, demanding person; it’s the part where she’s trying to guilt-trip you into drinking the same toxic kool-aid as she is. And no, you are not obligated to stick around under these circumstances — but before you peace out completely, you might want to try some real talk.

“You will always have my support for the things that make you happy—and if Ashley makes you happy, I will of course treat her with the kindness and respect that I would anyone you care about. But I care about you, and the way you’re pressuring me about this is making me concerned. It’s not like you to push me to have a relationship with someone when I’ve told you I’m uncomfortable with it. What’s going on? Is everything okay?”

In your own words, of course. The important thing—and a general rule when it comes to having a come-to-Jesus with someone in a potentially-abusive relationship—is that you keep the focus on your friend and your friendship. “You don’t seem like yourself,” or “You seem unhappy” are good conversation starters (whereas “Your girlfriend is a cat turd on the carpet of humanity,” satisfying as it may be to say, tends to shut things down.) If Emma feels she’s being mistreated, this will be her chance to say as much and be validated. But if she doesn’t, then you will at least have done your duty as her friend—and you’ll have laid the groundwork for breezily but firmly declining to involve yourself in her relationship. (“I love you, but I have better things to do than ‘prove’ I support your relationship by texting your girlfriend a dozen times per day. Please just take my word for it that I’m happy for you.”)

With that said, I’d also suggest that you don’t need to “back off” your friendship. You can do that, of course, but it’s not a foregone conclusion; theoretically, there’s no reason why declining to text Ashley should change your relationship with Emma, when it would simply mean continuing to not-do a thing you’ve been not-doing for all ten years you’ve known each other. (That is, assuming Emma is willing to continue your friendship on the same terms — but if not, that would be on her.) So if you can hold that line without compromising your overall relationship, then consider trying that before you cut ties completely. Because while you certainly don’t want to be entangled in her relationship with Ashley at the cost of your mental health and happiness, ideally, you might still like to be within shouting distance whenever it comes to an end.

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