Ask a Professor: Advice From Eric Ronis


Professor Eric Ronis

There’s someone I know who’s dating a guy that I think is terrible for her. He seems to be emotionally manipulative and is only using her because he doesn’t know how to not be in a relationship. We’ve talked and she says she knows they’re not good together but stays anyway. I don’t know what else to do to convince her to leave. Help?

– Lovesick of Love

From a Professor’s Perspective: “Do you feel your friend is in any danger? If so, then yes, you need to intervene. And perhaps do it through a group intervention, bringing in other friends and family members. However, if you think your friend is simply in a bad relationship but is ‘safe’ then I don’t really think this is any more of your business. My advice to you: breathe, sit on your hands, hold your tongue, and if by some miracle this relationship with this bad guy works out for your friend, then you will not have burned a bridge.

Here’s a personal example: back in the 1990s I started dating a guy and a few of my friends opined that he was selfish and not good for me and that it would be in my best interest to dump him quickly. I wound up spending fourteen years of my life with him and raising a child with him. Was it a perfect relationship? No. We broke up, but for those fourteen years we were together, it was frequently very awkward for my friends, who were outspoken critics of my partner, to be around us as a couple.

“So let’s say that Lovesick’s friend is in actual danger—then what should be done?” I asked.

If the friend is in physical danger then call campus security or the police. If you fear for the physical safety of your friend then please call the authorities. But in the case of someone who is emotionally manipulative, I’m sorry but haven’t we all been with someone who is emotionally manipulative? When we come of age, it becomes our own responsibility to grapple with the complexities and potential dysfunctions of our own romantic relationships.

In my own case, I am often appreciative of friends being concerned for me if they think I’m with a guy who they think is not good for me, but I also expect them to respect me enough to make my own decisions.

From a Student’s Perspective: The only advice I can give you is just don’t meddle. Like Eric said, unless your friend is in serious danger then I think you should just let this pan out how it will. Maybe she’ll break it off with him for real or maybe they’ll end up getting married, who knows. I think the best thing you can do for your friend is to let her know you’re there for her if she needs to talk. But otherwise, you’re under no obligation to worry about someone else when you’ve probably got other stuff to do as a college student. Don’t stress the stuff you don’t have to.

I’m horribly and constantly scared that I intrude on people’s time or space. I rarely talk to anyone new unless conversation has been initiated by the other person. Honestly, I think it’s getting in the way of potential relationships, too. Have any advice on going out and meeting people?

– Internal Screamer

From a Professor’s Perspective: “I have a lot of thoughts on this. Thank you so much for sharing this. The problem you are noting is one that so many of us have. Communication anxiety is an extremely common issue. And so, please realize you are not alone, you are not ‘crazy,’ and good for you for recognizing that this is limiting aspects of your life.

What can you do? As a communication professor, I teach my students that there are a few ways to work through communication anxiety. The first is to realize it is a VERY common problem (see opening paragraph) and somehow knowing that you are in an actually common situation sometimes alleviates some of the pressure we put on ourselves. In your case, many of the people you don’t want to ‘intrude’ upon are also screaming inside and feeling exactly as you do. And so, one of you has to make the move or else the meeting will never happen.

Second, it’s important to practice those communication skills we are weak in. I realize that’s easier said than done (I keep telling myself to diet but I don’t), but you can force yourself to practice meeting people in situations you feel have lower stakes. For instance, rather than mustering up the courage to speak to the object of your affection, practice going up to someone you don’t really care about at all. Maybe someone on the bus or someone in the dining hall line. Practicing this skill of initiating a conversation is like working a muscle, it will get stronger over time.

Third, and this might sound like a cheesy after-school special, but preparing for an anxiety-producing communication scenario is actually very useful. So let’s say you want to muster up the courage to speak to that object of your affection. Prepare. Enlist the help of your roommate, a family member, even your cat, to play the role of the guy/girl/non-binary (sorry if that’s not the preferred term) that you have a crush on. Actually practice this scenario a few times. Either get feedback or critique yourself until you get to the point where you feel like, ‘Okay, that could work.’ Realize when the real situation happens, you will still be terrified, but you can rely on ‘muscle memory’ to some degree to help you through the situation.

I know this is tough, I recently started dating again and it has been scary as hell to put myself out there. But I am so happy that I have. You might not even get the friend or the date, but you should be proud of yourself for having had the courage to make yourself vulnerable.

From a Student’s Perspective: I’m going to be honest, I actually have no advice for you. This is something I’ve personally struggled with myself. The best way I’ve ever initiated conversations was if someone was wearing something fandom-related so I could compliment them on it. But I think Eric has given you some solid advice that I will probably be following too. So here’s to hoping we overcome our anxious moments and make some new friends.

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