Welcome to the Sidebar’s advice column, where the good, the bad, and the ugly alike sit down for a chat with our very own Muffle. Her advice might be bad, but hey, at least someone’s listening. Today we’re talking about whether it’s okay to hit on someone in a relationship.
I recently met a very cute woman (Stacy) with some common interests, and discovered we have a mutual friend (Rebecca). I asked Rebecca about Stacy, who told me that Stacy had asked about me too, and that Stacy wanted me to friend her on Facebook. Rebecca also informed me that Stacy had a boyfriend, but assured me he wasn’t a good fit for her, and that she hadn’t been shy about telling Stacy he was no good. In a perfect world she’d break up with him tomorrow for completely unrelated reasons, but I don’t think that would happen. What do I do?
Conflicted, I’m going to be honest with you: this question bothers me a bit, and I’m going to lay out why first, because otherwise it’s going to be simmering underneath my response for the rest of this column, trying to claw its way out of my fingers onto the page. There’s a certain disregard for Stacy’s autonomy here that sends up, if not a red flag, at least a pink one. A woman met and liked you enough to ask after you, and made a request to a mutual friend for assistance in furthering what she, on face value, intended to be a platonic friendship. You and Rebecca both seem to have decided that this could and should be an opening for some kind of romantic overture, despite the fact that Stacy is, presumably voluntarily, in a relationship with someone else. It doesn’t matter that Rebecca thinks Stacy’s partner is a jerk; Rebecca’s made that clear to Stacy in the past, and yet, Stacy clearly sees something in him worth staying with. That should be enough for both of you to back off.
So, okay; even throwing aside the underlying assumptions of who gets to decide whether a relationship is worthy of respect or not, now let’s look at this from a more neutral perspective.
Man, this has Bad Idea plastered all over it.
Let’s first paint the Best Possible Scenario, from your perspective: You friend Stacy. In your “perfect world,” she then spontaneously breaks up with Bad Boyfriend (BB) of her own volition. You’re in position to strike up a more intimate acquaintance, and it ultimately leads to you two settled down with 2.1 children, a dog and a white picket fence. Neat.
Let’s take a look at a slightly more likely scenario, though. You friend Stacy. She does not spontaneously break up with BB, and, because you clearly see this interaction as one with romantic potential, you eventually make some kind of romantic advance toward her. She immediately recognizes how vastly superior you are as a human being to BB, dumps him, and gets together with you. That sounds… not so neat, sure, but not bad, right? Well, now you’ve introduced all kinds of weirdness here: first, Stacy is relationship-hopping, and is trying to build something with you on the still-smoldering ashes of whatever she had with BB. BB is sad and confused, and will likely try to keep in contact with Stacy to try to fix whatever went wrong, further complicating your relationship. And you’re going to spend your time together remembering how easily you were able to steal Stacy away from BB, and you’ll either obsess about the possibility of outside threats, or you’ll actually have taught Stacy how seamless it can be to swap out a boyfriend for a newer model, and you’ll be the BB of tomorrow, Conflicted.
Plus, there’s a third option here: You friend Stacy, make a pass, and she gets royally pissed off at both you (for ignoring that she has a boyfriend) and Rebecca (for substituting her judgment for Stacy’s), and you’ve not only lost a potential friend but screwed up an existing friendship. That is, in the parlance of the youths, not cool, dude. (They still say that, right? The youths?)
I hope you don’t feel like I’m just crapping on you here, Conflicted; I have a lot of sympathy for you. When you’re looking for love, it can feel like all the good ones are already taken, and if you cross them off the list, all you’re left with are the other lonely losers like you. Well, first of all, no, don’t sell yourself (or those lonely losers) short — taking time to find the right partner is not a failure.
Second, even if BB really is awful, you don’t want to be the reason Stacy leaves him, just because she’s found someone new to provide her with whatever she thinks BB does for her. If he’s terrible, she needs to figure that out for herself, and recognize that she deserves to be treated with respect. In short, give the damsel a chance to save herself.
Snark and tipples,
Got a question for Muffle? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.