The challenge question:
I’m a 16-year-old girl who just started a serious relationship with great guy. The problem is I’ve always liked hanging out with guys more than girls, and this bothers my boyfriend. I am 100 percent loyal, and he’s trying to cope with my guy friends, two of which are his friends also. Recently one of our mutual friends asked me to do him a favor and specifically asked me not to tell my boyfriend about it. This made me really uncomfortable. What should I do? I value his friendship, but I feel like he’s put me in a bad position.
Wes: Again this year I had the chance to select a new Double Take co-author from a strong group of completed applications, one each from LHS, Free State and Bishop Seabury. In addition to their submission essays, each applicant had to write a second essay at my office on a topic not revealed until that afternoon. These extemporaneous essays were given the highest numerical weight, followed in descending order by the submission essays, interviews and letters of recommendation. My thanks to members of the Kansas City Writers Group, who agreed to judge both sets of essays and to the anonymous young people who helped generate the challenge questions.
Sarah Henry of Bishop Seabury High School was this year’s runner-up. If for any reason the winner cannot finish out the year, Sarah will receive the position and the scholarship. Her submission essay, along with that of third place candidate, Taylor Shuck appears below. Sarah’s submission essay was very competitive, receiving top ranking from two of five judges. Her interview was excellent.
However, this year’s winner is Ben Markley of Free State High School, making him the fourth Free State student, and second male, to hold the position since our first column in November 2004. He’ll serve as co-author through August 2011 and receive an $1,100 scholarship from Family Therapy Institute Midwest and Central National Bank. Ben’s first essay received top ranking from three judges, as did his second, which will be published in the fall after he starts his term.
In response to the challenge question, Ben wrote:
First, let’s flip things around.
Imagine you just heard from one of your friends that what’s-her-name had your boyfriend do a favor for her. Not only that, but she told him not to tell you. The inevitable question pops into your head: Why? Regardless of whether you think the specific favor is a big deal or not, you’re probably going to be mulling over the fact that what’s-her-name (who, bear in mind, is a friend of yours) didn’t want you to know. Is she after a favor or your boyfriend? Why didn’t this occur to him? Can you actually trust him to be honest with you? Drama’s already starting to cast its shadow over your friendship and your relationship.
Back to reality. I would tell your friend that he needs to get someone else to do his favor. Even if the favor’s no big deal and motives are totally clean, it’s nothing you’d like to explain to your boyfriend. Stick to your decision, but be gracious. Remember, you’re preventing it from becoming a big deal, not making it into one.
Now about your boyfriend’s issue with other guys. I know that boyfriends can seem paranoid about loyalty when it comes to other males in your life. Girls I’ve talked to about this always feel as though the distinction between their relationships with other guy friends and their boyfriend are clear. Clear to them, maybe, but it’s not so vivid from the boyfriend’s angle.
Imagine how Ringo Starr would have felt if he had to watch someone else play drums for The Beatles every other concert. Now imagine what it’s like for your boyfriend to watch some other guy make you laugh or give you advice. He wants to be your go-to guy, and he probably feels weird when he sees other guys doing his job. Granted, he doesn’t want to totally cut you off from all other guys (if he does, get out now); he just needs to know that you’re not still considering other applicants, or else he starts wondering if he’s doing his job right.
My advice? Find something that sets him apart from other guys, something that only you two talk about or do together. It can be as small as watching a show together, sharing a bag of Skittles weekly, or playing on the swings. The thought is what counts. Guys love a little job security.
Wes: Ben’s essay recognizes the problem the writer is facing. He suggests she have some empathy for her boyfriend’s position, while cautioning her as to her friend’s intentions and their potential outcome. He moved quickly toward a solution designed to de-escalate conflict, always a welcome concept in this column and ends with very specific, sound advice. Throughout he did a good job of giving insight into how guys think, which is always interesting to girls.
Next week: Should I tell my daughter’s girlfriend’s parents that she’s gay?
Here are the contest essay responses from the two Double Take runner-up candidates:
Sarah Henry, Bishop Seabury
Based on your description of the situation, I agree that this mutual friend has put you in a very difficult situation. Asking you specifically to not tell your boyfriend adds an air of shadiness to even the most innocent favor.
Think about the favor you’ve been asked for — would your boyfriend be bothered by it, and if so, why? If there is reasonable cause for your boyfriend to be concerned by this favor, perhaps reconsider following through. If you think he would be uncomfortable with the favor but without due cause, consider sitting down with him and talking through it to make him feel less worried, which will in turn take some pressure off you. Supposing, however, that your boyfriend would not be uncomfortable with the favor, what is the point of keeping it a secret? In that case, doing so will only create distrust if he finds out you’ve lied to him, which could spell the end for you two.
Another thing that caught my eye in your question is the level to which your boyfriend seems to be bothered by your friendship with other males. You say that you are “100 percent loyal”, but have you blatantly said this to your boyfriend? Assuming you and he knew each other before you began dating, he must have known about your male friends and should realize that they are just that: friends.
At the same time, if he was one of these male friends before, and is now your boyfriend, he may worry that you have the same romantic potential with all of your guy friends as you did with him!
Reminding him why he is your boyfriend and not just a friend will increase his trust for you and his confidence in your relationship. Hopefully this will take away from his dislike of the fact that you have mainly male friends, but it will not go away overnight, so be patient. In that vein, it is important not to lie to him or hide things from him that may hurt him to find out later, even to do friends favors. When lies or secrets of yours come back around to him, they will only rationalize all of his insecurities in the relationship, and eventually erode trust between the two of you.
Taylor Shuck, Lawrence High School
First off, your boyfriend has to be able to trust you. Whether it is a friendship or a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, you have to be able to trust one another. So you and your boyfriend need to sit down and lay it all out on the line. He needs to know that you are completely loyal to him and all of your guy friends are just that, friends. He probably just needs a little help remembering that he is the one that you like. At this point in time, he might feel a little jealous of all the time you are spending with these other guys and he’s uncertain of your feelings toward him.
You have to realize where he is coming from though. Sometimes it’s hard to let your significant other hang out with people of the opposite sex, but you have to know and trust them enough to let it happen. And if he is going to force you into ending the friendships, end the relationship first. Because if there is anything that I have learned in the last two years of my life it’s this: Boyfriends come and go but friends last a life time.
But as for this so-called friend of yours, you are absolutely right. If he valued your friendship as much as you obviously value his, he would not have put you in such a sticky situation. And if this favor is something that is drastic enough that it would jeopardize you and your boyfriend’s relationship, it is most certainly not worth it.
There have been times in my life where keeping a secret was probably something that I should have done and other times the right thing to do was to tell someone. But in this situation, the only person you should say anything to about this is the friend of yours. You need to walk straight up to him and tell him that this situation is threatening to ruin your relationship with your boyfriend and you engaging in this favor would be something that you are not comfortable doing and if this is something that your friend really wants you to do, he has to be willing to let you tell your boyfriend. And if he still insists on secrecy, well sayonara to him.
— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Samantha Schwartz is a senior at Lawrence High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.