Advice From the Trenches

Setting Boundaries: Is her friend trainable? Or is it time to run?

Dear C and Dr. B;

Jim and I became friends six years ago, when I was three weeks from a deadline and my partner on the project ended up in major surgery. With nowhere else to turn, I asked Jim for help and he bailed me out. We became BFFs after that because he really was a sweet person. The only problem I had was that although we were just friends and I’d made it clear that’s all I wanted, he \would notice and compliment my looks in a way that made me uncomfortable sometimes. I told him it bothered me, and explained about my past (I was an abused child) and asked him to stop, but he never entirely did. I wasn’t really emphatic about it because he has never had a real relationship and I marked it up to general stupidity about women.

But the other week, he made a remark that really crossed a line. We were on a walk and he looked at me and made a remark about my body, and I said, “Listen, you know I don’t go for that,” and he said, “I’d like to lick you all over like a popsicle.” At that point, I said very clearly, “I really don’t like it when you say things like that.” I thought that was the end of it. But the next time I was at his house, he made remarks again. It was too much. I left soon after, and I’ve been mad at him ever since. No, more like disgusted. It made me feel dirty.

I can’t see him as my BFF anymore, I see him as a slimeball who wants to DO things to me. What should I do? I sent him an email when I still felt upset a week later saying exactly how what happened affected me, and he wrote back that he’d never say anything again. But that doesn’t stop him from thinking it, does it? My feelings towards him have changed, and they just won’t change back. 

Am I blowing this out of proportion because of my past? Aside from this, he’s been a good friend.


Dr. B says: Judgement is something that isn’t really learned, its part of maturity. Some people have it and some don’t. Your friend has poor judgement, but, that being said, behavior modification can work. However, it would require you always having to set limits and boundaries, saying no firmly and loudly, not like a nice subservient culturally acceptable woman. Train him like you would a dog or small child. You don’t have to undertake this task – you could walk away, but from what you describe if you give him firm strong boundaries he most probably is trainable.    

Unfortunately our culture doesn’t demand maturity from men and poor judgement is too often rewarded, so the need for boundary setting falls mostly on women. If he accepts your limits and chooses to hang with you anyway, which he most probably will, it might be good practice for you.  I suggest that you read the blogs on  my website about nice versus kind, as they are relevant here. 

C says: Yes, your friend’s remarks were pretty clueless, but the part about perceiving him as “a slimeball who wants to DO things to me” might be more on you, Cinderella. Women and men who have been abused often have a fatal flaw in their perception – if a button is pushed, they forever tend to let the childhood abuse feelings color the reality in front of them. There’s no blame for it, but there it is. They visit a whole lot of baggage from the past onto people who don’t necessarily deserve it. Women who have been abused can sometimes flip out disproportionately over remarks that men may intend as harmless.

In your case, I suggest that you acknowledge your own possible over-reaction and give your BFF a chance. If he really is your BFF, and you show him this column, he’ll be mortified when he realizes how much this upset you, and he’ll apologize, and promise to never do it again. If he actually is a slimeball, he’ll get pissed off at you, stomp off muttering about how you can’t take a joke, and that will be the end of it. Either way, there will be no questions left unanswered.

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