Can I tell my friend that I think her boyfriend is controlling? (very long)

So here is the deal. I’ve spent this summer doing an internship is rural Africa. It has honestly been a challenge. The project was not what we were sold, it is falling apart due to lack of local support, and our standard of living is low. Basically, we are stuck in a remote house with no transport out, working on a largely ficticious project. That said, there are some good points. We have a great host family, some really fascinating political stuff is playing out before our eyes, and there is plenty of time for self-improvement…I’m running daily 5ks and plowing through a French grammar book.

I am here with a student from my university, who is in my program. She is a foreign student from what I gather is a relatively modern Asian family. She has been raised to respect her traditions, but is not exceptionally conservative and has had lived the life of a modern 20 something. She is smart, opinionated and well educated, but has lived a fairly sheltered life. She hasn’t quite grown in to her own, and I think that makes her a bit lost and moody.

Last year she began to date a guy. He is from her country and has a “good” degree. He seems nice enough, but I’m not the only one to notice there is something that just doesn’t feel right when they are together.

He is six years older than here, and eager to settle down. Although it has only been six months, he has bascally picked out baby names. She is, as befits someoein their early 20s, not ready for that. But she does like him and doesn’t want to lose him. I think she is also drawn to the idea of her marriage being taken care of. She can see the path to a “correct” future right in front of her. She likes him enough, and it seems so easy and right. She wouldn’t get married for a few years, but she would like to stay with him on that track.

Two things stand out to me. One is that she has almost no enthusiasm for this future. She keeps talking about her upcoming birthday saying “it’s all downhill from here” and lamenting that her fun ad freedom are ending and that she can no longer do stuff like internships in Africa- this from someone who isn’t yet 25! When she talks about him, her eyes don’t light up. She talks about how the relationship is good and how she likes the relationship and how satisfactory he is, but i doesn’t really sem to be about him as a person. She likes him well enough, but rarely seems excited about the specifics. When she talks about marriage, she seems activey depressed by the idea, although she professes to want to believe in i.

She has a lot to her, but doesn’t really inhabit it. She defaults to mopey and passive. She has dreams, but they are not well defined. She has consistently taken the path less taken, but she seems to think that is just a childish indulgence. In other words, she has a bit of finding herself to do. There is some negotiating that needs t happen between social expectations, her own expectations, and whatever hidden thing sets her heart on fire. She is convinced it won’t end up with her living the life she wants but can’t articulate.

And her boyfriend…she is having a tough time here. She is sleeping until noon, barely working, moping, and staying up late chatting. He calls her literally hours a day, sometimes everal times. When he calls, she drops everything and disappears for hours. On safari, in a meeting, at the dinner table…if he calls, he is the priority. I’ve seen times when she tries to tell him she is busy or that she has to go, and he tries to keep her on the phone. It may just be language, but she never sounds happy on these calls. It affects her work, and I can’t help but feel it has affected her ability to enjoy life here. She is never really “here,” she has not been mentalally or physically present to make the relationships and learn the knowledge that could possibly make this rewarding. Cross cultural adaptation is tough, and it is a “what you put in to it is what you get out of it” thing. She has put little in to it, and is unsurprisingly pretty miserable.

I feel like he is being controlling. He is over 30, has been in America a while and plenty worldly. He knows perfectly well that she has some growing up to do. Despite the problems, this was a golden opportunity for her to expand her horizons and build her confidence, and she spent most of it in bed whispering in to the phone. His job as the older and much more experienced partner is to cultivate her, to encourage her to push her limits, and to really embrace this experience for all it is worth. He should be shooing her off the phone and encouraging her to live in her present. He’s 30. He has the bearing of a well-adjusted frat boy who just got an MBA. He doesn’t have emergencies he needs a 24 year old to solve for him. He isn’t lost and in need of her support. He can take care of himself and knows perfectly well that she isn’t as mature as him.

It just doesn’t seem like a situation where he truly cares about her, about what she needs, and about how he can help make her a better, happier, more in control person.

I worry that she i going to waste years on this guy before realizing that it isn’t serving her. She already lost a once-in-a-lifetime summer (did I mention she changed her tickets to leave two weeks early…she has money and could easily spend that time exploring a place she will probably never com back to, where she hasn’t done the tourist stuff…) She just doesn’t seem happy. I eally don’t think they should be thinking marriage. She really needs some time and space to grow up.

So, can I tell her this? I don’t want to hurt our friendship, and we are in tight quarters. My mother would say not everyone is as adventurous as me, and I shouldn’t look down on people who take the safe path. She has said already (when I said WTF to the idea that the good part of her life is over) that I don’t understand the cultural expectations she has and deals with.And then there is the fact that it is basically never a good idea to get involved in other people’s relationship…and who am I to give advice? I could just be jealous that only my mom calls me for a weekly check in.

But then, maybe some time down the lines she’ll look back and say “you know, this isn’t working and it is playing out how Sven predicted. Maybe I should pay attention to what is happening.” Reality checks take a bit to sink in, but it is useful to have a reference to reality when you are looking back and reassssing things- something that adds evidence to the the idea that whet you saw was real.

What you describe isn’t necessarily the BF being controlling. Just trying to have her stay on the phone isn’t controlling in the least – it could just mean he’s clueless or self-centered or just dopey in love.

All you can do, if you choose to do anything, is address her behavior. Not her motivations, not her vision of the future, not what she “should” do as what you perceive a modern non-traditional woman should do. Just address the symptoms of depression. “I notice that you sleep a lot …” She might actually BE depressed, it might not have anything to do with him or her plans for her life or anything.

You’re making an awful lot of assumptions – and judgements – about people and situations you don’t know much about.

In my experience, telling a friend their S.O. has negative qualities is a great way to lose a friend, if only temporarily.

If you do decide to say something, plan out exactly what you want to say, sit her down and say it, and then end the conversation without extended discussion. Keep the conversation focused on her unhappiness and lack of enthusiasm: it’s not him, it’s whether or not they are a good combination. Reassure her that you’ve got her back regardless. Never mention it again.

After that, all you can do is hope you’ve planted the germ of an idea in her head. It may not have any immediate impact at all, and by the time she remembers your words she’ll likely forget you said them, and think they were her own idea.

If you’re really concerned, I would focus on being her friend and supporting her as much as possible. If you want to say something, try asking questions or making non-threatening statements first. As mentioned earlier, she might be in the throes of infatuation or really homesick. Going in with negative commentary on the boyfriend probably won’t work. So maybe, you can say something like,

“Wow, you must really miss your boyfriend. When did you start going out?”

Then, “Is it hard being away from him for so long?”

Just open up a discussion, but don’t judge. If you can draw her out, do so. If you can’t, maybe just encourage her to get out and enjoy the sights with you.

Another point- when they go together, she did the “drop off the face of the earth” thing that most people do when they get their first serious SO. But it never hit an equilibrium. She stopped going to social events, and said that he expects her to be with him all weekend nights so she can’t go to school happy hours, dinners and the like. She doesn’t have another social group she is spending time with. We are talking sedate grad school dinner parties, not wild debaucheries… She comes off as kind of bummed about it.

We are close in that we have spent a lot of time together and talked about a lot, and I like her a lot, but we are not BFF. It wouldn’t kill me if it hurt our relationship. But I don’t want her to feel bad about herself.

He doesn’t come off as dopey in love. He comes off as a guy who just got a professional degree and is ready to start a family, and found a somewhat inexperienced girl who fits the role. He is older and seems good with the ladies. I doubt this is his first romance. He has done his traveling, had his epiphanies, had Itime to figure himself out. Shouldn’t he want her to have that?

If someone is depressed, keeping them on long distance phone calls all the time is at best codependent. He is keeping her from the things that she might enjoy.

Once we were heading out on safari (a much needed diversion from our near house arrest) at eight AM. He called at 7:45, so I sat bags packed in the car at the lodge for two hours while they talked. Of course, we arrived to late for the safari…but she did get to spend all night at the expensive safari lodge on the phone…she missed the safari the next morning, too, since she didn’t sleep. (I went, it was fun). This was a trip she planned, I wanted to save money and stay home but she wanted to get out, and was looking forward to…

If someone you really loved was about to do something they were looking forward to, wouldn’t you say “ooooh sounds fun! I’ll call you tonight and you can tell me what you see!” Wouldn’t you not want them to miss that? Why would this be the one day you have to call first thing in the morning? He was job hunting and had new from that, but it wasn’t a critical tough decision thing that needed to be done just then. He was telling her about an interview trip he went on.

Who’s there?
Control Freak. Now you say “Control Freak who?”

Too little detail to distinguish between dopey love and detached controlling user. Without being privy to their personal conversations, you have no idea if his countenance or attitude change along with the privacy. From what I get (and could be mistaken) they’re in a LDR that’s only six months old–not unreasonable at all to still be in the “you hang up! No, you hang up! No, YOU hang up” stage. Also, though she’s always disappearing when he calls, isn’t he also disappearing on his end? Lastly, I’ve missed a lot of otherwise cool things because I couldn’t tear myself away from Mrs. Devil. Not that I would keep someone waiting for two hours, but that’s overall social etiquette rather than implications of a major relationship imbalance.

What you have described is a lot of Chinese men and women, that I know. The males are domineering to their women, and the women are very passive towards their men. It’s how their culture defines their roles. It’s not surprising that 1st generation Chinese Americans behave the same way.

There’s nothing in the OP that says the girl is a first generation Chinese American.

I’d encourage her to talk about it, but I doubt that you saying anything is going to change the situation. I agree her boyfriend sounds like a douchebag (and eerily like a lot of Korean people I know, both male and female) but some people seem content to stay in those kinds of relationships.

Yeah, I agree if you think she is depressed address that but I pretty much don’t agree with anything else you say. The idea that I should have still been finding myself at 24 is absolutely laughable, I was a grown man by that time with grown man responsibilities. To my way of thinking I think it’s ludicrous for someone her age to even be thinking about “internships in Africa” or bullshit like that, it’s time to actually work on a real career and a real life. Why would someone essentially want to be a bum travelling around third world shit holes their entire life? At the age of 24 you are essentially in prime baby-making age, and that’s prime time to start a marriage and a family, you ideally would have already started a career by then.

Now, all that I just said above are my value judgments, they are very different than yours. I only stated them to make a point, that basically everyone has different opinions about what kind of life someone “should” be living. The one opinion I have that overrides all of that is we get one shot at life, and all of us are going to choose different things. It isn’t anyone’s place, not yours, not mine, to tell someone what they “should” be doing at this stage in their life. It seems like most of your problems with her relationship seem to be more along the lines of “it’s interfering with her chance to do all kinds of third world traveling and self exploration in the future, and interfering with her enjoyment of this present trip.”

Unless you have a window into her soul you don’t really know what she wants. Just because she says things like “it’s all down hill from here” that doesn’t mean anything, lots of people say stuff like that on their wedding night; the truth usually is that the people getting married are usually happy about it, but everyone makes jokes nonetheless.

While inconceivable to you, it is actually possible she’s just not into this trip as much as you think she “should” be based on your understanding of who she is. Maybe she’s already at a point in life where she doesn’t want to do this stuff anymore, and is talking to her boyfriend so much because that interests her a lot more than the stuff you’re doing in Africa. Inconceivable for you, but that could be her situation. No one knows, and really it isn’t appropriate for you to project your personal value judgments onto her. If you believe she is genuinely depressed then talk to her about that and give her a chance to perhaps talk about why she is feeling that way. It could actually be the exact opposite of what you think, maybe she is depressed because she’s living in third world squalor not having much fun and she misses her boyfriend.

Maybe everything you think is true and she is going against her inner desires, if that is the case, it’s still not your place to do anything about it. I’ve known lots of people who have made decisions against their true wishes, and I’ve never been able to successfully argue anyone out of those decisions ever in my life.

Okay, two last things before bed, and then I’ll let you all have your say…

She volunteered that she cut off contact with another closer and more ourspoken friend because she said he wasn’t right for her. She’s also mentioned other people she is close to don’t like him for what she says are spurious reasons.

But what gets me is that she never seems happy. When her family calls, she lights up. When he calls, she shuts down. She doesn’t smile when she talks about the relationship. She just talks about how grim her future is.

She isn’t by nature passive or meek. She has chosen an unheard of career, berated professors, started organizations and made a name for herslf academicaly. She has the stubborness and will of a well educated family in a middle income country. She just hasn’t found how to reconcile her life with all her strongly held beliefs.

I think you should stay out of their business.

Please ask yourself if you honestly don’t think in your heart of hearts that your friend is quite aware of knowing what she wants and what she has with her boyfriend.

Very often, people want to butt into a situation because they think they know better about very subjective things (her eyes don’t ‘light up’ when she talks about him).

If you contemplate the situation thoroughly, asking yourself if indeed, this friend is perfectly capable of knowing if she is in situation that she wants, and then you *still *decide that your friend needs your input…then and only then should you make your concerns known to her, fully aware that it can cause a shift in your friendship.

This advice is coming from the Queen of Mind Yer Freakin’ Business.

If I remember correctly, you talked before about regretting being involved in a very serious relationship when you were young. Maybe you can share with her your experience as a cautionary tale, and maybe you can try encouraging her to get out more.
If it had been me, I would not have waited for them to gab away when we were supposed to go to the safari. I would have been like, “Come on, you can talk later. Let’s get going”. No harm in giving her a little nudge to enjoy the experience a bit more.

Martin, it is a mid-career grad program in international development. A summer internship is part of the package, and is absolutely about doing professional level development work and contributing to our career. We are designing and training staff for a $50,000 project. Banging around third world countries is what it is about.

Her need for growth has nothing to do with this. She has said repeatedly that she doesn’t know what she wants, she doesn’t know if she wants to get married, she doesn’t know if she wants kids, she doesn’t know what career she wants’ she misses high school, she misses college, she is scared to grow up, she feels like a kid, she feels unprofessional, etc. This is totally normal for a slightly sheltered girl that age. Thn you have some life experiences and you start figuring stuff out. It certainly doesn’t have to be a trip to Adrica, but if you happen to be going on onw anywya, it seems like a good way to start.

I’ll admit that I am disappointed that instead of a partner, she has been professional dead weight, and that is part of what this is about. She rolled in to an important meeting today late, in sweats, and didn’t crack a facial expression. It is tough enough to keep going on a difficult project and a personally trying time without being tied to someone so completely checked out. We do have a job to do. It is letting people down that she is taking off early. I do have to pck up that slack, and honestly I’m not one ounce happier than she is.

And Martin, I wouldn’t say a word if she was excited to settle down and make babies, if she had one good thing to say about her bright future. I’m starting to want that myself. Adventuring isn’t the only thing in life or valid path and adventurers tend to have their own baslet of issues.

But she is adventuring. She did choose her major. She has worked in this field for a while. zshe must have liked it at one time, had some lan for doing this.


Sorry for the typos. Typing on a Kindle.

If her personal life is interfering with her work, then I think you have a right to say something to her about that. But upon re-reading your posts, you say you don’t really consider her a very close friend. I would leave her personal life alone, then. I don’t think it’s really any of your business.

Sounds like you can only speculate about her boyfriend being controlling, because you don’t really know the guy or have complete insight into their relationship. You’re just going off the signs she’s sending you, and that’s insufficent insight to be voicing any judgements about their relationship.

If you ask me, the real issue is not him but her. It’s perfectly within her power to change the situation if she wants to. No one is forcing her to run off to the phone everytime he calls. No one is forcing her to hide out in her room and miss out on life experience. Even if her decision to go through all this rigamarole is based on a sense of duty and not love–and you think it’ll likely backfire on her later–it’s still her decision to accept this for now. It’s quite likely that this passivity is her personality that you’re seeing; if she were the adventurous, self-empowered, independent type she wouldn’t be in this relationship. So I don’t think your two cents about her BF are going to do anything except make her defensive.

The most you can do, IMO, is to encourage open conversation about her relationship. When she says something that seems ripe for concern, ask her nonjudgemental questions to draw out more information, then maybe offer your opinion on things. Again, in a nonjudgemental fashion. If she’s unhappy with her relationship, she may just need to have those feelings validated, and you could be the person who does that.

But at the end of the day, it’s her life, not yours.

She’s a grownass woman and can take care of herself. If you say something you’ll likely lose a friend.

Not worth it.

This is not your burden to carry.