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Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

SocietyOctober 26, 2023

Help Me Hera: My friend’s boyfriend is my nemesis for no good reason

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

I find him so irritating, but I also think we’re oddly similar. What’s going on here?

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Dear Hera,

I’ve recently had an epiphany that I am Bizarro Beau. This probably means nothing to you, because I don’t think you know Beau. What’s important is that this is a disturbing discovery for me and my loved ones.

“Maybe you’re onto something, and I’m sorry about that” – my roommate

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore” – my girlfriend

For context, Beau is the boyfriend of a friend who I hold dearly in my heart, though we are not really that close. Beau is by no means a bad person, but is the culmination of things I despise as a frustrated queer woman. He has a quasi Australian British accent, which I don’t have, and I find this annoying. He writes better than me. At my birthday dinner he kept offering to help with the cooking and cleanup, which felt like an overstep? I have observed him being very observant of spaces. I think we might have the same eye-contact issue, but I wouldn’t know for certain because I don’t meet his eye. Purely based on my very subjective opinion, he doesn’t deserve his girlfriend, and (objectively) neither do I.

I have been very vocal about the fact that I think I could probably beat him up in a fist-to-fist fight. Maybe this speaks to some violent tendencies I have?

This isn’t even a joke for me: I have thought about this a lot and rather deeply, maybe too much so. We have bizarre similarities, but somehow he always ends up on top. What’s up with that???


Bizarro Beau

a line of dice with blue dots

Dear Bizarro Beau,

Despite your attempts to articulate the source of your antipathy towards this guy, I have read your letter several times, and the reasons remain opaque. I also find it funny that the things which seem to annoy you about him double as examples of the ways in which you are similar. But it’s hard to understand what’s grinding your gears. Your complaints, as follows, are:

  • His accent
  • His literary talent 
  • His desire to help with the dishes 
  • His loving relationship with your friend 
  • His inability to make eye contact 

I have to admit I have no idea what “being observant of spaces” means. Is he suffering from counterstrike syndrome, and has an eye on every exit? Does he have a performatively considerate manner that you find irritating? You say he’s everything you despise as a frustrated queer woman, but I have absolutely no idea which specific facets of his personality you’re referring to. Is it because he makes a song and dance about helping with the dishes, as a form of gender reparations? If that’s the worst you can say about him, it’s not that bad. I think you have to agree that any kind of nervous, social performativity that results in your birthday forks being clean is a million times better than the alternative. 

I imagine he’s trying so hard because he can sense your general dislike of him, and wants to win you over and impress his girlfriend. Or maybe he’s just a dinner party show off. But the more he tries to win you over, the more annoyed you become, sitting there in the corner thinking, “I bet you’d like to wash my dishes, you servile worm. Why don’t you blow out my candles while you’re at it, you worthless, cringing birthday interloper?”

I have to admit I love this letter. Your problem doesn’t make logical sense, but it does make emotional sense. Sometimes we know our dislike of someone is entirely unjustified, and has more to do with our own insecurities than any inherent fallings on our rival’s behalf. But that doesn’t make us hate them any less. Which is why your furious refusal to accept his mundane acts of generosity is so funny. The best complaints about other people are often totally incomprehensible to anyone but the complainer, and result in bland and innocuous-sounding accusations, like: “Look at ME, I’m lactose intolerant and enjoy the work of Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector.” Very funny. But also, unfortunately, insane.

Still, this is an infinitely preferable and much more enjoyable way to hate people than inventing moral reasons to be outraged by them, as a kind of ego defence. You sound like you know how irrational your dislike of this guy is, and have turned your horrible feelings into a Talented Mr Ripley parlour game, as a way of making the situation more palatable. (Your problem actually reminds me a lot of My Friend Rod, one of the funniest short stories by Eammon Mara.)

I can’t tell you exactly what’s going on here. Sometimes people annoy us because they remind us of the most irritating parts of ourselves or qualities we’re ashamed of. Sometimes we hate people because we envy what they have, ie literary talent. Often it’s the people we’re most similar to – physically, socially, professionally, psychologically – that we dislike the most. If you’re a ripped blonde kayaking instructor called Kyle who loves The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and you meet another ripped blonde kayaking instructor called Kyle who loves The Red Hot Chili Peppers, you’re either going to despise each other, or become lifelong friends. 

Do you feel like your territory or sense of individuality is being encroached on? Do you get the feeling that Beau dislikes you, and your hatred of him is a kind of self defence? You say he’s a better writer than you, so there’s obviously some envy going on there. But sometimes envy is just thwarted admiration.

Your letter is funny, because you complain about Beau, but I can’t help thinking you don’t actually dislike him. The premise of your letter is spiteful, but weirdly, contains no spite. It’s obsessive and curious and definitely has a weird psychic intensity to it. But you speak about Beau with what I would describe as a kind of enraged, self-deprecating fondness. 

I think if you truly disliked Beau, you wouldn’t continually compare yourself to him. You’ve basically named him as your spiritual doppelganger, which is a sign of respect, not contempt. It also sounds like you can’t stop airing this conspiracy theory. So much so, that your girlfriend is sick of hearing about it. When we truly hate someone, we only invoke comparison as a way of setting ourselves apart from them. Not by emphasising how eerily similar we are. 

I think you are kind of fascinated by this guy. And perhaps a little envious. And for some reason, the envy has made your feelings come out backwards, as hostility rather than camaraderie. But I think there’s something about the idea of you and Beau as mirrors, which delights and intrigues you. I can’t help thinking there is a part of you which not only wants to defeat Beau in hand to hand combat, but also wants to buy matching lifejackets, take him fishing, drink too many beers, tell him he’s your evil twin and you want to be best man at his wedding. Or maybe you just can’t stand the guy. I could be wrong. 

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