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Advice – My friend keeps on dating problematic people.

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/u/throwmeaway1869 on /r/relationships writes…

“My [31F] best friend [32F] frequently talks about the kind of guy she’d love to meet–extroverted, funny, affectionate, and has hobbies he’s passionate about. Looks are not that important to her. I totally understand why she’s into this type since her family is like that and it’s extremely important that her future partner get along with them.

But she always dates the opposite type of guy and ends up getting hurt by or bored with them. I think part of it is she’s such a sweetheart and loves to help people so she keeps finding brooding or troubled guys and becomes kind of a “manic pixie dream girl” that tries to improve their lives, but meanwhile her own life becomes dark and dreary because of their negative attitudes.

During her relationships she says she’s so happy and I try to support her but it always turns out the same way. All the joy gets sucked out of her life, they break up, she gets better, then finds another man to work on. I don’t know if I should step in and say something to her.

Should I point this pattern out to her? Should I tell her she can find a guy who meets her standards although it may take more time? The thing is, she’s so eager to fall in love and get married, I think she’s given up on what she wants and is settling for what’s available. Am I naive thinking she can find her match? I just want her to be happy.”

Dear Throw Me Away 1869,

We accept the love we think we deserve.

Stephen Chbosky, Perks of Being a Wallflower

This above quote has always stuck with me when I have personally fallen in to the habit of settling for relationships, especially ones I did not deserve to settle for. It wasn’t until I recognized similar patterns in my past failed relationships that I could break the cycle to be in happy and rewarding relationships I honestly deserved.

And I want to talk about that word “settle.” There is this concept in popular media of the conflict between the “reacher” and the “settler.” That for some reason one half of the couple must always be a reacher who snagged someone above their league, while the other half needs to be comfortable in being with people who would never leave or betray them. This kind of dynamic is very common in popular TV shows and movies. The reason why such trope exists is pretty simple actually. Relationships are a risky business and being vulnerable is difficult. So the self-identified “reachers” might feel happy in knowing this is the best they could do, while the self-identified “settlers” might feel security in that their partner might never leave them. It speaks deep into our social subconscious that we all try to address each of our insecurities and vulnerabilities by fitting into neat little archetypes someone else has determined for us.

Your friend might date these problematic men for the same reason, in that she feels comfort in dating these basket cases who she needs to “work on” and “improve” like they are but her projects. And once she realizes that actually improving another human being takes more effort than just her efforts, she gets drained and moves onto the next project. It is a habitual pattern that I am personally VERY familiar with as I went through the same phases myself. But it is the kind of love that your friend thinks she deserves.

Photo by Kam Pratt on

And maybe the word “problematic” is an unfair assessment of her previous partners. Everyone has flaws. No one travels for free without any baggage, especially in their twenties and thirties. We all become fixer-uppers at some point in our lives. We all just get progressively better at dealing with our past and develop more efficient procedures to do our labor. And sometimes, you need to keep making the same mistakes before you realize that they are indeed mistakes. But it is also kind to offer a floatie tube to those who keep getting washed ashore by offering a birds-eye-view of what you have personally seen in your history with your friend.

You are a great friend. If you do decide to come clean about what you’ve been noticing, you should consider approaching this situation with caution. Ask first if she would be comfortable receiving an unsolicited advice about her relationships. If she consents, then consider leading with “Have you ever realized that you keep dating the same kind of men?” And go from there.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

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