Saturday, December 27, 2014

Tell Me About It: Friendship, or butting in?

She can´t help but crush on her friend´s boyfriend.
She can't help but crush on her friend's boyfriend.
Question: A good friend recently ended a years-long relationship because of her boyfriend's emotional limitations. After they broke up, I let her know I had always wondered whether he was right for her. She feels disappointed that I had not been more forthcoming about my doubts.

My negative opinions were about his personality and personal style, things my friend and I had discussed, but only insofar as she had mentioned problems with those things. There were never any concerns about safety or abuse.

I feel genuinely confused about whether her expectation that I weigh in (and that I could have helped her avoid wasting years on a bad relationship) is reasonable. My husband and I had a similar situation with another friend and his wife. They divorced, and he was later angry that we had not told him we didn't like her.

Am I a bad friend or are these dear friends placing too much responsibility on me?

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  • Answer: As with the broken relationships themselves, the assignment of blame isn't so tidy.

    Well, one part is: The notion that you extended the life of these time-wasting relationships by not speaking up is just buck-passing bunk. Someone reeling from a fresh breakup does get a pass for floating this idea. Once. But the people who start and stay in unhappy relationships are fully accountable for time wasted.

    Meanwhile, there's a fine line between withholding your objections and creating the impression that you have no objections. If my closest confidants put on a show of liking a partner of mine about whom they privately had concerns, I wouldn't blame the relationship on them, but I would feel lied to by people I trusted. Chronically so. So, it's worth asking yourself on which side of this line you've stood.

    There's also this: We can't expect our friends to have needs or expectations identical to ours, nor can we read minds. Sometimes, we guess their needs wrong. So we listen when they correct our mistakes, and vow to improve: "I'm sorry I let you down. I didn't know you felt this way - but I understand now, so I'll do better next time."

    Next, there's the matter of holding in all your doubts and concerns - until you let them seep (or tumble) out as soon as the breakup's official. There's a fine line there, too. On one side, there's useful debriefing; on the other, there's telling everyone who'll listen that you were right about this guy all along.

    And finally, when in doubt: "Do you want my opinion, or just an ear?" From now on, invite friends to state their preference while you have a chance to provide it - lightly, at first, to be sure. However, if they punish you for telling truths they punished you to extract, then you can safely assume you're not the main problem here.


    tellme@washpost.com

    Carolyn Hax
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