DEAR SUGAR, The Rumpus Advice Column #28:


Dear Sugar,

I’m a freshman in high school, and everyone knows how high school is–drama, drama, drama. And my best friend (let’s just say her name is Jill) is at the center of it.

See, Jill’s dating this guy (let’s call him Jack) who has a girlfriend who goes to another school. As Jill’s best friend, I already don’t like Jack. He doesn’t want to break up with the girlfriend for Jill (he and his girlfriend have been together over a year, and his girlfriend is his younger sister’s best friend, so their families are close), but, in my opinion, this situation is unacceptable. Jack seems like a nice guy, but there’s that underlying scumbag quality that I just can’t get past. It’s obvious that Jack really likes Jill, but he just won’t drop the girlfriend–or Jill.

I don’t know which way I want it to go. On the one hand, I want Jill to be happy, so I want Jack to break up with the girlfriend. On the other hand, I want to punch Jack in the face and I think he would do the exact same thing to Jill that he’s doing to his girlfriend. I’ve been thinking about having a “talk” with Jack, but I’m not sure if that would help the situation.

In short, Sugar: how the hell do I make at least one of them see the light and realize that what they’re doing is wrong?

Worried Friend


Dear Worried Friend,

Jiminy Cricket, as my grandmother would say. Drama, drama, drama indeed! Oh, but this one’s easy, sweet pea. And hard. But best to learn it now, since, as a freshman in high school, you’re only at the very beginning of these sorts of hijinks. Jean-Paul Sartre famously said that “hell is other people,” which is true enough, but truer still is hell is other people’s boyfriends (or girlfriends, as the case may be).

I’ve been witness to those I care about cheating and being cheated on, lying and being lied to, emotionally abusing and being emotionally abused by their lovers. I’ve consoled and counseled. I’ve listened to long and tedious tales of spectacularly disastrous romantic woe that I predicted from the start because that same friend chose the same wrong person yet a-fucking-gain. But the sad news is that this is the way of the world, darling, and there isn’t a ding dang damn thing you can do about it.

Have you read Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” yet or are they saving that for your junior year? People die because they want who they want. They do all kinds of crazy, stupid, sweet, tender, amazing, self-destructive things. You aren’t going to make anyone “see the light and realize that what they’re doing is wrong.” You just aren’t.

And you shouldn’t even try. What’s happening between Jack and Jill is between Jack and Jill. Jill knows that Jack is involved with someone else. She chooses to be in a romantic relationship with him anyway. Jack chooses to deceive a young woman he presumably cares for and string along another. These are not pretty things, but they are true things.

Don’t get me wrong: I sympathize. I know I sound calm and collected, but the truth is I rather regularly come at least internally unglued over some buffoon or scoundrel that one or the other of my idiotic intimates have deemed to “love” (see: hell is other people’s boyfriends). It’s dreadful to watch a friend make choices that you fear will cause her pain. But this is where boundaries come in, my dear Worried Friend.

Do you know what boundaries are?

The best, coolest, sanest people on the planet do, and since I have no doubt that you will become one of those sorts of people, you might as well learn about them sooner rather than later. This little pickle with Jack and Jill and the young woman at the other school has given you just that opportunity. It’s clear to me that the emotions that have arisen in your concern for Jill and your subsequent dislike of Jack have blurred your ability to understand appropriate boundaries. Your impulse to swoop in and set these lovebirds straight tells me that you’re over-estimating your power and influence and you’re also disrespecting Jill’s right to romantic self-determination—which she absolutely has, no matter how maddening her decisions may be to you.

This isn’t to say you should remain silent. Another thing that the best, sanest, coolest people on the planet do is they have the guts to tell the truth. You should tell Jill what you told me—that you want her to be happy, but because Jack is a two-timing tomcat you fear he will someday treat her the way he is treating his other, “real” girlfriend. Listen to what she says with an open heart and a critical mind. Love her even if she doesn’t do what you hope she does once you point out the fact that her paramour is a scumbag. Wish her the best without getting yourself emotionally tangled up in a situation that has nothing to do with you. (Remember those boundaries? Her life is not yours. Yours is not hers. Etcetera. Yes!)

And then, Worried Friend, just let whatever happens between Jack and Jill happen. Laugh if they end up proving you wrong. Be there for Jill if you got it right. And in the meanwhile, cultivate an understanding of a bunch of the other things that the best, sanest, coolest people on the planet know: that life is long, that people both change and remain the same, that every last one of us will need to fuck up and be forgiven, that we’re all just walking and walking and walking and trying to find our way, that all roads lead eventually to the mountaintop.