Dear Wendy: “My Boyfriend’s Friends Act Like I Don’t Exist”

My boyfriend is awesome, supportive, and ultimately even more of a feminist than I am. The problem is that I can’t help but feel like I get treated differently (by others) for being the woman in the relationship. Most of the men we mutually know treat me as if I don’t exist when they’re around my boyfriend and me. For example, my boyfriend and I used to throw house shows for local bands, many of whom we are friends with. Frequently, I would plan these shows on my own, and personally direct correspondence with the bands. As soon as they arrived to our house, though, they would direct all of their questions to my boyfriend instead of me, even though they knew I was the one who planned it. Another instance is one of our male roommates, who will speak to me one-on-one, but as soon as the three of us are together, he will not address me, and I’m given a strange look and am immediately brushed off if I try to contribute anything. I don’t feel as if I’ve done anything to make these men see me as incompetent, and my boyfriend and I certainly don’t advertise him as “the boss” or something. It’s starting to kill my self-esteem and causing me to resent my relationship. Could I possibly be doing something wrong that causes men to treat me this way, or is this really just a hazard of being “the girlfriend”? Is there anything I can do to change things? — Hear Me Roar

Dear Wendy: “Do I Have to Tell My Family I Have Cancer?”

Having been “the girlfriend” to more than one guy in the past, I can say with utmost confidence that being treated like dog doo-doo by your boyfriend’s male friends is not a “hazard” that comes along with the role. In my experience, when the guy I’m dating is a respectful gentleman, the guys who he chooses as friends tend to be respectful gentlemen as well, which means they treat women as equals. Is it at all possible you have over-estimated your boyfriend and credited him as a “feminist” when, in fact, he’s as chauvinistic as his buddies? If that’s out of the question, you have a few options: you can stop spending time with the people who hurt your self-esteem and make you resent your relationship or, with those you really can’t easily side-step — like your roommate, for example — you can take the bull by the horns and assertively tell them you feel you aren’t being given the respect you deserve.

Without knowing you, I have no idea if you’re doing something to cause men to treat you the way they do. Maybe you phrase all your declarative statements as questions. Maybe you wear a lot of bows. Maybe you giggle a lot and twirl your hair. (I’m being a little facetious here, but it is possible that if you’re a girly-girl, guys who are already predisposed to be sexist will have a harder time taking you seriously.) But what really stuck out to me in your letter and provides the biggest clue to what’s happening here is that the guys in question treat you like dirt when you’re around your boyfriend. Your roommate, for example, talks to you like a normal person, but as soon as your boyfriend’s around it’s like you don’t exist. So, I’m wondering: does your behavior change when you’re round your boyfriend? Do you suddenly defer to him as soon as he steps into the room? If so, it could be that these guys are simply following your lead. Another possibility is that your boyfriend is a major alpha dog — the kind of man all the other guys look up to and envy — and when he’s around, everyone wants to jockey for his attention and you get in the way of that.

So, what can you do about all this? Make sure you’re acting like a strong, independent woman if you want to be treated like a strong, independent woman. Speak up when you feel you aren’t being treated respectfully. Stop hanging out with people — and throwing parties for people — who treat you like dog crap. Behave like your boyfriend’s equal and not like his little girl. Finally, be confident in yourself! If you radiate confidence in yourself and your relationship, it’s going to come through, but if you’re constantly questioning yourself and your role in your relationship, that’s going to be what people pick up on. So, carry yourself the way you want to be seen. And if you just aren’t feeling it, fake it til you make it, sister.

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