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Bad Advice: It's Okay If Your Friends Date Losers

Submit your questions to [email protected] or leave a question in the comments section, and I’ll answer it in Bad Advice!

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Dear Bad Advice,

This is more of a general question than a specific one. I seem to have a bunch of female friends who only date losers. They’re nice, normal, non-dramatic girls themselves who deserve a lot better, but they seem to get into these relationships, over and over, with guys who are just lazy, inconsiderate, commitment-phobic, or lacking social skill. They’re not abusive guys; they’re just not as good as I know my friends could get, or deserve. I don’t know why my female friends keep going out with them, and keep putting up with those guys long after it should be obvious they’re losers. I’ve tried telling them they should do better for themselves, but they get angry or dismissive or they just ignore my advice. It doesn’t do anything to dispel the idea that “good guys always finish last.” How do I get them to realize they could do so much better?

– Protective Friend

This is going to sound like bad advice, but just let your friends date losers.

Before we even get started, it’s important to make it clear that this advice does not apply to abusive relationships. That’s an entirely different situation that calls for entirely different forms of intervention. Today’s advice is not for friends of people who date alcoholics, violent abusers, narcissistic manipulators, or sociopaths. Today we’re just talking garden-variety schmucks: the guy who says he doesn’t believe in labels. The guy who stands her up regularly. The guy who makes really uncomfortable jokes at parties. The guy who doesn’t seem to have his life quite figured out even though she knows what her goals are and has a plan.

My advice for friends of women who date garden-variety schmucks: stop caring so much and just let them date who they want.

If your female friends are constantly complaining about their loser boyfriends, go ahead and take my advice on dealing with whiners. But in that case, your real problem is that you’re sick of listening to your friends complain, not that you’re sick of them dating losers.

But you don’t mention that they complain a lot; you just mention that you don’t approve of their choices. Fine. You don’t have to approve of their choices — they’re their choices. If they value and respect your friendship, they might value and respect your good opinion, but it’s not a requirement in choosing a mate. So go ahead and keep disapproving, but don’t bring it up to your friends as if your opinion is supposed to be a deciding factor for them. Respect the fact that they have a greater say in who they date than you do.

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If a friend asks for your advice or your opinion, or opens up and complains about her situation, that would be a good opening to suggest she should think hard about the men she chooses to date. But if you simply dislike the boyfriends when they’re around, and you don’t approve of the things you hear about the relationship, I’d keep that to yourself unless your friend openly seeks your opinion.

You don’t say your friends even seem very unhappy in their situations; just that they’re dating guys beneath them, in your opinion. Let them decide who’s beneath them or not. You can’t see into their hearts, or the hearts of the men they date. Maybe some of your female friends have made a conscious decision on the things they’re willing to compromise on when choosing a man. Maybe they aren’t actually looking for a stable, long-term partner, and they’re okay dating a flaky guy just for a bit of fun now and then. Maybe they don’t actually realize they deserve better, but letting this relationship run its course will help them learn that. Or maybe there’s a whole lot more to the guy and the relationship than you can see from the outside.

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You can show your friends how they deserve to be treated by treating them well as a friend. You can teach your friends about their worth by being warm and supportive and respectful. Telling a friend she “deserves better” than the guy she’s with is a little like talking down to her — telling her you know better than her what she wants or needs, and what she’s willing to put up with. It’s kind of odd to talk down to someone when you’re trying to encourage her to respect herself more. Think about it: “You’re so dumb for stooping to a guy like that! You deserve someone as smart as you!”

Listen, I know very well the frustration of watching friends wallow in dead-end relationships with loser guys. But I also believe that no relationship is a waste of time (as long as it’s non-abusive). I’ve known girls who have thought that the time spent in a relationship is a waste if they don’t wind up marrying the guy. That’s not true. Every relationship you go through makes you into the person you will be when you eventually meet the person you want to spend your life with (if that’s your goal). All those “duds” teach you about what your real priorities are, what you want out of a relationship in practice, and how you deserve to be treated. Having a cheer squad of friends assuring you of your worth as a person helps, but can’t be a replacement for plain experience.

It’s a path full of pain. Sometimes you will sell yourself short. Sometimes you will look back and feel embarrassed. Sometimes you will get your heart broken by someone who never deserved to have it in the first place. But you can’t save your friends from these experiences by telling them to break up with every oddball they date. Maybe one of those people who seems like an oddball to you winds up being just the right oddball for her. And it doesn’t matter if you disapprove of his career choices or think his opinions are pretentious or don’t like that he’s late to everything. You’re not the one going out with him.

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Submit your questions to [email protected] or leave a question in the comments section, and I’ll answer it in Bad Advice!