I recently wrote a couple of columns that, while they could apply to women, were addressed primarily to men. So now I’m going to reverse it and discuss something that primarily applies to women.
Ladies, it’s about how we talk to our friends.
Specifically, it’s about how we talk to our friends when they’re in love. Or more specifically, in love that seems to be unrequited. Or in love with jerks. Or in love with someone who isn’t treating them well. Or in the early stages of love when it’s too soon to tell if he’s a jerk or if it’s unrequited or if it’s really going to work out.
Years ago, I witnessed a conversation between a group of female friends. One of them was clearly obsessed with a man who was clearly involved with someone else but giving mixed signals to this obsessed friend.
I was seeing big red flags flying all over the place and all I could think about was to tell her to run, and run fast, in the opposite direction. And yet her “friends” were giving her all kinds of gentle, encouraging advice. “I think he really likes you.” “You’re so much better than she is.” “Maybe he just doesn’t have the heart to break it to her.”
I’ve seen women do this over and over. A woman is hooked on a man who is, as any unbiased observer could see, at best a nice guy who is just not that into her, or at worst a jerk or a sociopath. And instead of gently pointing that out to their friend and helping her move on, her “friends” tell her all about how she’s so great and he’s probably just scared or stressed or reliving a deep childhood trauma and he’ll obviously see the light soon because she is really, really sooooo great.
Why am I directing this at women?
Because, in my experience, men are much less likely to coddle their friends and much more likely to say, “What are you thinking, man? She’s a (delete the expletive of your choice.) Move on.” Perhaps not always charitable but direct and to the point, nonetheless.
I get it, of course. I’m a woman. I know how we think. They’re suffering, and we want them to relieve them. They’re feeling badly about themselves, and we want to help them feel better. Most of all, they’re hopeful, and we don’t want to squash their hope.
But we aren’t doing them any favors. Affirming someone’s hope in the midst of a less-than-hopeful situation is just prolonging their pain.
We women are rarely objective when we’re smitten. How could we be? Our self-image, our dreams of the future, our desire for a partner and children – they all get tied up in the object of our affection and in the future plans we can’t help making.
When he starts pulling away (or when he was never near enough to need to pull away), our instinct is to hang on, to protect our dreams and our self-image. We often aren’t thinking objectively about him and what his behavior says about his prospects as a lifetime partner.
That’s where friends come in.
We have an objectivity that the smitten one lacks, and we need to use it to gently point out the truth as we’re seeing it. The operative word, of course, being “gently.”
We don’t berate her or call her names. We just consistently point out unacceptable behavior, tell her she deserves better, and then support her as she processes the information.
It’s easy to want to coddle our friends, but we need to do more. We need to be honest with them as well, and to help them to salute the big red flags that may be flying in their unhealthy relationships.
Because that’s how we really love our friends.