Previous installments of The Toast’s advice column from two disparate and imperfect persons can be found here. Last time: Advice on Yappy Coworkers and Being Poorer Than You Want.
I’m currently in the middle of a complicated, messed-up situation in which everyone has hurt at least one other person very badly. As a result, there’s been a lot of talk of “rebuilding trust.” But what does that mean, and how do you do it? Is it just a matter of letting time pass and not screwing up again? Is there anything one can actually do to rebuild trust, or does trust just have to heal on its own, like a wound?
Nicole: Trust! Fascinating. Also, man, this sounds juicy, I wish I had all the gory details. Trust, in my opinion, can be restored, but it’s kind of a bitch. You need to look at the people involved, and decide if it’s worth it. Are you three best friends who’ve secretly murdered a dude and need to keep a united front in front of the police? Then you need to rebuild that trust (via, yeah, letting time pass and not screwing up again, along with–ideally–a conversation involving lots of “when you did X I felt Y” phrases.)
If, however, this is like “a group trip went awry and people did not pay people back and then someone fucked someone else’s girlfriend” scenario, it may just be easier not to be friends any more. Life is short, don’t spend it with people you’re going to be quietly side-eying for the next three years until having kids at different times causes you to invariably drift apart anyway. Which, I guess, means that I support option three: “do not bother trying,” but of “is there anything one can actually do to rebuild trust” and “does trust just have to heal on its own, like a wound,” I’m Team Wound. Like a wound, of course, it doesn’t heal well if it’s still got bits of gravel and broken glass in it, so air the grievances, see if the other parties seem genuine in their wish to resume the relationship, and go from there. Please email me back and tell me what happened. I won’t tell anyone. (Trust me.)
Mallory: Is this a poly thing? It sounds like a poly thing. I wish you had included like, a detail in this question, because it is very hard to answer a question like “how do we make trust together” without knowing what happened! I am tempted to tell you to craft ELABORATELY MANIPULATIVE EMOTIONAL SITUATIONS to test these people without their knowledge and punishing them in a thousand small ways when they inevitably fail to live up to your secret expectations, in retaliation for being so vague.
Sometimes, I think, people use phrases like “rebuilding trust” when what they mean are “let’s feel close again” or “let’s rush back into intimacy without changing any of our behavior.” Not always! But sometimes.
Let’s pretend the problem is that someone ate all of your best food in the common area. I do that. A lot. Let’s say I live with you and I’ve been eating your food, even if you put your name on it, and I don’t give a shit about how it makes you feel, and I lie about it all the time because my heart is made of trash. And you find out, and you call a roommate meeting, and everyone just starts airing a bunch of grudges you didn’t realize they’d been bearing for years, apparently, but they do. Anyhow. Did I apologize? Did I take full responsibility for my actions, or did I say things like “I’m sorry if I made you feel X,” as if my behavior and your feelings had no relation to one another? Because if I just mumbled “sorry” and like, offered to buy you more white bean hummus the next time I went to Trader Joe’s but then I didn’t, you shouldn’t keep trusting me.
Honestly, it’s kind of bullshit you’re making such a big deal out of this. You were out of town for like four days and you didn’t even say anything so I probably kept it from going to waste. (do you see why you shouldn’t trust me)
The key components need to be, I think, an honest conversation about what happened, a sincere and full apology from whoever’s involved, a genuine attempt to reform/amend the hummus-stealing (or whatever), and making restitution. Have, you know, clear and definable goals that come with a time frame of some…scope, I guess. Locate your goals in space and time. That way, if they’re not met at some point, you’ll know, instead of just having to gauge how trust-y you feel at some vague future point. Putting goals on the space-time continuum, that’s the answer to most problems.
IS IT A POLY THING? YOU CAN TELL US, WE’RE VERY BROAD-MINDED.
Background: I have a best friend, Greg, who is more like a life partner/platonic husband/whatever you want to call it. We currently live in different cities but I am planning to move to his city in about a year, and we plan to co-parent our kids one day (his boyfriend is down with this idea, I’m currently single.)
The problem: Currently, Greg and his boyfriend Jim* live together with a mutual friend of ours, Franny*. Franny and Greg have been friends for a long time, like since elementary school, and I’ve been friends with both of them since high school. While I love Franny dearly, there are a number of reasons that I prefer her as a small-doses friend, not a live-in friend–these range from a tendency towards chronic lying to being weirdly competitive with me about my friendship with Greg. Greg and Jim would rather not be living with her currently (she’s also a pretty messy and disrespectful roommate), and would much prefer to live with just me when I move to their city.
But the thing is, I can’t figure out a way to make this work without being terribly mean. Franny is very insecure, and very attached to her friends–she had a rough home life and a mom who takes more care than she gives, so I am very sympathetic to her problems and can understand why she acts the way she does, even if I don’t want to live with her because of it. She is very attached to Greg, considers him her best friend and since the very beginning of our friendship has been insecure about me being closer to him. If Greg and Jim and I tell her that she needs to move out because I’m moving in, we’ll basically be saying “Everything you’ve ever suspected about how your friends don’t care about you is true, also now you’re homeless.” Especially considering that I’d literally be moving into her room (I guess we could get a new place, but their place is great and that seems. . .unnecessarily symbolic.) But getting a new three-bedroom with someone we don’t want to live with just to avoid the awkwardness also seems like a bad idea.
I’ve suggested that Greg and Jim ask her to move out now for the messiness and disrespect reasons so that it doesn’t appear to be directly related to me moving there, but they understandably aren’t enthusiastic about filling the room with some craiglist rando when I have yet to commit to exactly when I’m going to show up. The most honest thing we can say to her, “We love you but just don’t want to live together” is going to be interpreted miserably no matter how we phrase it. Have you got a better idea that I’m missing?
Mallory: Oh, my God, make your entire life THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF THIS SITUATION. DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE. DON’T READ THE PAGE OUT OF THAT SKIN BOOK, BOY FROM HOCUS POCUS WHOSE NAME I CAN’T REMEMBER. DON’T DO WHATEVER MADE THE MUMMY WAKE UP AT THE BEGINNING OF THE MUMMY, RACHEL WEISZ.
I’m afraid for you, beloved one! What does “down with this idea” mean, in Greg boyfriend terms? Sometimes people will say things to me like “don’t you think it’d be cool to go to Seattle in September” and I say “yeah” because I like to keep conversations light and snappy and then September comes and they say “so what time should we meet at the airport on the 17th” and I’m like “WAIT THAT WAS REAL?” Because somewhere between “we should co-parent our kids someday” and “uuugh I’d like you to live with us but there’s already someone in that room??? but we don’t like her that much…ahhh” is like…at least seven steps.
Okay but let’s say you DON’T decide to totally chuck your life plans because some ladyblogger thinks it’s a structurally unsound foundation, here is my best real-world advice:
I think first do have an exact plan on when you are going to show up! This will make a lot of things much easier. Have a chat with Greg about it! “I would like to move in with you [LOCATION ON THE SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM]. I think it would be easiest to have Franny move out at least a month before said date. Does that work for you?” If Greg spins out a bunch of reasons about how Franny’s really fragile right now and it’s just not a good time, he might not be as committed to the idea of moving in together as you might like, and you can act accordingly (by looking for a place of your own in the area, or not moving there at all, or POETIC IMAGE THIRTY-SEVEN NOT FOUND).
If Greg’s excited to have you move in and willing to ask Franny to move out, he gets to handle that situation, as Franny’s roommate. You don’t have to do any heavy lifting. Make yourself a malted.
Nicole: I do not have a better idea! Other than: this is Greg’s problem, make HIM deal with it. Does he want to continue to be friends with Franny? Then he needs to sack up and manage this situation. If, as I suspect, the experience of living with Franny has sapped his will to remain super-close to her, this may just be one of those “we’re growing upppp we’re getting olderrrr [lyrics to “Landslide”] let’s move on separately with our lives” moments. I also, personally, think that if you have a bad roommate situation, and you have the opportunity to get a new, better roommate (you), you just take it. There are few things less important in this life than the roommates you have had in the past, and few things more horrible in the moment than living with a bad one. Cut ‘er loose. But, again, make Greg handle this shit.
Oh, and, no matter what happens, do NOT get a new three-bedroom with Franny, that sounds like a fucking nightmare.