One of life's unfortunate dilemmas arises when someone you love, your best friend even, is dating a complete and utter douche. How do you handle this? How do you protect your friend by helping her see the truth about her soul-sucking mate, without making her defensive and more entangled with the douche?
What is a douche, exactly? Well every douche, of course, is a douche in his or her special way, but there are many recognizable traits of this species. A douche loves his power over you, more than loving you. A douche will leave you stranded on your birthday, flirt with people in front of you, doesn't want to be in a relationship but doesn't want you to move on, puts you down in public, abandons you when you need him most, and feeds off your heart. He will exploit your weakness of loving him, and because you keep coming back for more, he never has to change.
Now, a douche is different than a jerk. In a relationship, everyone can be a jerk. No coupling is perfect. But a relationship with a douche is a scenario far more toxic than the expected drama of normal coupling. Like the act of douching, a douche is someone who creates more bacteria, irritation, inflammation, and infection than it's worth.
One big challenge in this situation is accepting that your friend is not an innocent in this equation. She is allowing herself to be undervalued, and here is where the paradox lies: she knows she is dating a douche, but something about that person is hard to let go of. In a healthy relationship, the power dynamic shifts back and forth between vulnerable and dominant. But when dating a douche, you often feel manipulated, which can render you weak and creates a self-destructive pattern. You have to face the fact: your friend is possessed by a fierce force: it's the inexplicable power of attraction... for better or for worse.
The tricky part of your friend's douche-dating is finding a strategy to encourage him or her to accept reality without being too pushy. If you come off as overly judgmental, you might lose her forever to the tentacles of her demon lover. Though this person is your best friend, he or she still has an ego to contend with, and no one wants to be seen as emotionally anemic. Despite being accustomed to sharing things so intimate it would make that fly on the wall blush, you can't just declare how you think her mate sucks. When you tell someone how to feel, they often feel criticized.
If your friend asks for your opinion, you have to be as gentle as a proctologist when revealing your views. Of course it is important to be honest, but you are not dealing with a rational person. It is wise to hold in any irrevocable bashing of her beloved like a fart in an elevator. You can't take it back once you let it out. The best tactic is to repeat the insanity she tells you with a sincere non-ironic tone. This way, she can hear the lunacy for herself without having to taste your disapproval.
Chances are, your friend is going to complain about the douche-bag nonstop, which of course gets tiresome. You have to remember, your friend is taking crazy pills, and you will have the same conversation over and over and over again, making you reflect on the definition of insanity while staring at the ceiling with your mouth open. They need you to listen to them, because eventually they will begin to bore themselves.
Although the toxicity of your friend's relationship may be as obvious to you as fake tits, it will take time for her to feel it out for herself. It is important to remain as her confidante even though you want to shake her like a British nanny would. You have to trust that she will return to her senses and realize that the relationship is depleting her life force. And if you find yourself about to implode from the chaotic craziness of it all, remember that you too were probably once seduced by a douche.
This post originally appeared on AlterNet. Toni Nagy is a freelance writer living in Vermont.