friendship / Relationships / women

What if Your Best Friends Don’t Know Everything?

I picked up Marie Claire’s July issue to read Lori Gottlieb’s article: What if Your Best Friends Are Your Worst Enemies? where she argues that, “instead of a frenzied pack of enablers nurturing our self-delusion, what we need is someone brave enough to give us the truth.” Gottlieb makes some convincing points in her article and hits a nerve. We ladies learn about enabling behavior early. Indeed, I recall how I once agreed to keep watch for my BFF while she had sex with her boyfriend during lunch hour. We were in sixth grade. A better friend may have persuaded her that it was not the best idea to give it up at age thirteen, or better yet to a lose her virginity to a boy who was pressuring her, which I knew. However, I didn’t dare disagree with my supposed confidant at the time. I had seen her wrath enacted on others and I didn’t want to be cut out of the loop. Instead, I sat on a floral patterned sofa dutifully watching out for a blue sedan.

I like to think that I’ve grown out of conflict-avoiding, groupthink tactics with friends but I know it’s not entirely true. Over the years, I have undoubtedly encouraged an irresponsible fashion purchase, the wrong guy, and the extra glass of wine (or four). We gals stick together, sometimes to a fault—touché. But I would add to Gottlieb’s advice to women that part of the problem with groupthink is not just that we need to be straight with our girlfriends but that we need to recognize the limits of advice. All the bluntness in the world cannot solve the problem that, as friends, we don’t always know why that guy didn’t call you back or why you were passed over for a job. And in that case, does it matter if he just wasn’t that into you or if he’s gay? On the sidelines, it’s not always easy to discern the right moment for some delusional cheerleading (and I still believe there is one) or the moment for tough love. A wise friend once said to me: “You never know what transpires between two people in a relationship.” Ain’t that also the ugly truth.

Now I must confess that I’m doing a bit of self-assuaging here, because as I mentioned in my last blog I have spent the last few days counseling my friend through heartbreak with a much older gentleman. I was one of her few friends who encouraged her to take the risk and at the moment it looks as though all does not end well. Should I have guided my friend differently when she asked my opinion? Maybe. Certainly there was evidence working against their union and we spent many an hour weighing pros and cons. But my friend was in love. And even after reading all of the preemptive advice in Marry Him: Settling for Mr. Good Enough I’m still a romantic. Perhaps, it wasn’t a case of me not telling her the truth but that there were many truths. What would Lori say, I wonder? Alas, all I can do now is be here, flawed advice and all, to pick up the pieces and/or drive headlong off a cliff.

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90 thoughts on “What if Your Best Friends Don’t Know Everything?

  1. I do agree that a good friend should tell you the truth no matter what. I would rather have somene tell me the truth, rather than try and sugarcoat everything just to make me feel better. I know that as a friend I try to be as blunt as possible. However, there is a fine line between being blunt and being rude. Overall, our job as friends is to simply be there sometimes.

    http://www.wutevs.wordpress.com

    • NOBODY holds the Truth: I would rather have someone telling me with HONESTY what they really feel and think on the matter, even if they blatantly disagree with me or my feelings. I’ll appreciate them voicing it out.

  2. I think you hit the target when you said that we need to recognize the limits of advice.

    How many times do we seek the counsel of our friends and confidants when we either KNOW the answer we seek, but it goes against general consensus or we are afraid we’ll make the wrong choice and “look bad?”

    Just last night, I asked for my husband’s opinion of a new product I am creating. We’ve had that conversation enough times for him to know to ask if I was looking for stroking or a real opinion. His question caused me to stop and think.

    I replied “Honestly, I’m looking for an ‘Atta girl!’…”

    Awareness is a wonderful thing. 🙂

  3. You should be able to tell your best friend the truth no matter how bad it is. However sometime being blunt and telling them the harsh truth, will not make one bit of difference. It all depends on whether the best friend in question is willing to listen to the advice you give.

  4. It’s a slippery slope to be sure. There’s truth and there’s bluntness. Sometimes friends don’t want the truth and just want support. If you don’t agree with what they’re doing, it’s fine to say so you feel uncomfortable with the circumstances. Naturally, your friend would want to know as such. However, unless someone comes up to me and says, “okay, now be honest…” or “can i get your opinion on something”, then what they decide to do with their life is none of my business. That’s what differentiates a friend from a parent. I care for their well-being and want what will make them happy, but that’s for them to decide, not me.

  5. I think you made the right choice in telling your friend to go for it. It might have ended badly, but was it all bad? I might be sound a bit Carrie Bradshaw here, but isn’t the chance of love always worth it? What if you had advised her away from that relationship and she had gone for it anyway? Would you then be able to be there for her in the end of would you be the person she is afraid will say “I told you so”?

    Great post!

  6. A good friend should be able to listen, avoid judging, and always tell the truth. It’s important to be that friend through the good, bad, and the ugly. Sometimes people don’t always welcome the truth, they may hate you for it in the present, but in the future they will thank you for being direct and honest.

  7. We often make the mistake of dishing out advice when what people need and want is to have their feelings acknowledged. Before you give advice, ask if it wanted.

  8. Great post. I have some great friends who are always tactfully honest…even when I don’t want them to be. Eventually though I do appreciate the “arrow to my heart” advice much more than I would the ego-stroking or bad advice.

  9. A good friend tells you the truth, but also understands when it is time to listen. Giving advice is not the part of friendships. I would like to think that I am good friend because I love to see my friends genuinely happy – even if it is while they are doing something I don’t like.

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  11. When a best friend tells the truth, it doesn’t hurt. In fact, a huge factor influencing my choice of friends is people who DO tell me the truth. If the truth hurts, it’s the situation, not the friend’s fault. Even if my truth isn’t the perfect one, I just focus on being honest!

    Good post! 🙂

    http://www.njaiswal.wordpress.com

  12. I love this, it really makes me think about the people I consider friends…
    Three of the people whom I consider to be “best friends” of mine {though I really don’t use that term}, are the people who are the MOST honest with me. I hate sugar coating, it’s so fake…
    With my closest friends:
    1) The first one is like a mother to me, and knows me better than anyone on this Earth. She will ALWAYS tell me what I need to hear, rather than what I want to hear. If I listen to her advice, good. If I don’t listen to her advice, she never says a word of it. Even if I go against her advice, and something bad happens to me, she NEVER says “I told you so”. Instead, she offers a kind ear and a warm hug to make my own bad decision not seem so bad. She must have been sent to me from heaven from my own mum.
    2) The second one, I have known since highschool. She is blunt, and a b!tch to those that she doesn’t like. She can read a person like a quick 1 page book. She makes a lot of mistakes in her own life, and won’t really “give advice”, but will always give an honest, and sometimes TOO truthful, opinion. This is why I love her, because we are both VERY blunt.
    3) The third one is one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life. She will never say anything mean of another person {execpt for one situation with a horrible person we both encountered, lol}, and she always gives honest and truthful opinions and advice in the nicest way that anyone ever could. She’s one of those people where she could tell you that you’re stupid, dying and have a really ugly face—and you’d still give her a hug and be friends with her. She has a way of saying anything in a nice way, and that’s awesome!

  13. This is a tricky one. I have a friend in a more then questionable relationship. At first, I didn’t say much hoping she would leave him alone. Then when she finally said it was over I let her know I thought he was bad for her. So she gets back with the bum and stops talking to me. We’ve been friends for 10 years so I am not afraid of never speaking to her again, but at the same time it hurts me to see my friend hurt.

    On the flip side, I have another close friend who is for lack of a better word “crazy” LOL. Seriously, she isn’t at all passive and rather confrontational. So when I was having trouble with a stalking and break into my e-mail ex, I was going to ignore it, but she would have no such thing. If it were up to her he would be arrested by now. She’s a little over protective, but one of the kindest and most giving people I know. Kinda like a Mama Bear/Lion who will maul you if you hurt her cubs.

    Best friends are those who let you make your own choices and respect those choices. They don’t judge or lecture. They love you no matter what. Now they may or may not call you on your BS when they see you are hurting yourself, but the way they do it is not hurtful at all.

  14. Friendship is a tricky thing. I value honesty. I want to know what people think, but others don’t like the truth. I one, maybe two people in my life that we can play the true honesty card with each other when necessary. The rest it’s a gamble as to whether we can tell as much of the truth without hurting the other person. Not everyone likes the truth, and sometimes I find it’s easier to keep it to myself.

  15. Freinds are someone who you can rely on. But remember. Sometimes they can make you really unhappy…….

  16. At the end of the day — with advice, people do what they want, right?
    BFF’s counsel me til the cows come home. And I leave their house/bar/phoneconversation fully intending to follow their advice.

    Then, left alone for 5 minutes with my old pal LIFE. And I am going to make any fucking decision I want to ….. but I know, no matter the outcome. I am lucky enough to have BFF’s to pick up the pieces of my sharred dreams and keep going.

    So truth or fibs. People can only let in what their minds want to let in …

  17. I don’t know about anybody else, but whatever advice I get, in the end I’ll sill be doing what my guts have been telling me.

    I liked your blog…very “Sex in the city” like. 😀

  18. I’ve always thought that we have different friends for different reasons. Sometimes, we need the tough love, sometimes the soft place to land when we’re losing it. Sometimes we need the wisdom and the light and goodness and sometimes someone that will stand up for you and get in that jerk’s face.

    However, I find that when my tough love girls are being sweet or my hugs and kisses friends are reprimanding me, that perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at the situation.

  19. great post.
    i have two best-friends.
    one is like the complete opposite of me. however i describe our relationships like magnets. No matter how hard we try to pull apart something pulls us together and sometimes we but heads.
    my other best friend is the one who will tell me what i need to hear not what i want to hear.

  20. I would prefer to have an honest and blunt friend who would tell me the truth. But the only one I have like that is my mother. Thank God I can always count on my mother to tell it like it is.

    I tried being honest with a “best” friend. We are no longer friends.

  21. yep. everyone has at more points in our lives been part of these kinds of situations. it’s just really difficult as you said to discern when to push or pull. but i maintain (although I am not claiming i know anything, in fact, my opinion may be considered dumb and uncaring by others) neutrality when friends ask me about decisions in their lives. i try as much as possible to present the pros and cons without pushing to them my opinion. but i don’t know. really, who knows? this is just one of life’s mysteries…

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  23. Congrats on making the front page of WP’s Freshly Pressed! 🙂

    I understand what you are saying as I’ve witnessed the conflict-avoiding behavior many times with my girlfriends. However, I feel I am the exception. The bitter truth medicine that I often spoon out to my friends and family is difficult for them swallow. Thankfully, they still love me….I think.

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  24. How did you know that this relationship was going to be a failure in the end? Based on what you knew of this gentleman and his tastes, you thought that the relationship would be good for your friend. It didn’t sound like you gave her bad advise when you told her to proceed with whole her heart. And is she blaming you for her decision to get into this relationship??
    True, girlfriend enable each other. When one has had a bad day, bad breakup, bad makeover we do things like indulge in retail therapy, a drinking binge, or watching way too many romantic comedies while dreaming that Mr. Right would sweep us off our feet like the hunk in the movie. However, when it comes to the big things I think we tend to be more truthful. Taking the keys away from a friend when she has had too much to drink or telling her that the man she loves will not leave his wife for her and an affair is always a bad idea.
    I’m a big believer in the fact that we cannot tell others how to live their lives and advise is not always wanted. People have to learn life lessons on their own. However, when a girlfriend (or a gay male friend) comes to me for advice, I take into consideration all the information they give me and I don’t hold back the advise I give!

  25. The Bible says we’re supposed to speak the truth to one another, but with love. (Ephesians 4:15)

    It can be touchy, but “[honest] wounds from friend are better than many[deceitful] kisses from an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:6)

    Good topic! Congrats being freshly pressed! Gloris

  26. A best friend will ask us the right questions to lead us, on our own, to the right answers. Or to the wrong answers. It’s our choice to make, weighing all kinds of opinions and thoughts before WE DECIDE. If it’s a good choice, it’s ours. If it’s a bad choice, ownership doesn’t change.

    It took me a long time to learn that I can’t change someone else and they can’t change me. That means I’m not responsible for someone else’s choices, nor they for mine. I can ask questions or (very, very seldom) offer advice, but the decision is never mine.

    This realization is very liberating and very simple, because it’s simply true.

    Michael Rosenbaum
    Author
    Your Name Here: Guide to Life
    Dadblogger
    5minutesforparenting

  27. Thank you for writing that! I feel so much what your saying! On both ends of the spectrum. Being the friend that has to be honest, and being the friend some one needs to be honest with!

  28. Great post! I know how difficult it is to find out that you have aided in someone’s heartbreak. But if you gave her your honest opinion, that is all that could be asked–no matter the outcome.
    I loved reading this!

  29. I’m a big believer in the absolute unadulterated truth in most cases. I’ve spent a life time choking down the truth, just to make people feel better and if nothing else it often only ends up hurting us both.

  30. What a great post!
    There have been many times I wished my friends would have given me a little less advice, kept “the truth” to themselves and supported me while I made my own mistakes 🙂 I’ve also been on the opposite end of the argument; wanting to share “the truth” with a friend who I deemed in need of a wake-up call.
    Friendship- particularly between women- is such a complicated animal. There’s never a “right” answer. We just have to muddle through and do our best to support each other, especially when we’re in the middle of one of life’s big mistakes. Sounds like you did exactly the right thing with your friend, and I’m sure she’s grateful to have you.

  31. I don’t think you made the wrong call in sixth grade, or now – you did/told what you thought was best, in your opinion, which is all that I expect from my friends. Not the end-all be-all absolute truth that will lead them to the perfect path.

    But I also think that Lori Gottlieb is often wrong.

  32. Gottlieb spouting utter tutter. Shocking.
    My best friend is my boyfriend. Cheesy but true. And he knows when to tell me the truth and when to keep it to himself. It’s about knowing how to READ people. Not bluntness, honesty, enabling, etc. Nobody really wants any ones tips on how to live their life. They only ask because they want to evaluate how the tips measure up to what they already have decided in their own minds. It’s the reason addicts have to be READY to quit.

  33. A best friend knows when to talk and when to keep her mouth shut. We don’t always have to give advice because let’s face it, half the time it’s an opinion and just because you offer doesn’t mean it will be taken into consideration. Sometimes just being there can make the difference.

  34. I think you have to pick your battles here. We all know the times when a little white lie is in order. But when it comes to the heavy stuff- the truth, always.

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  36. When in doubt, I prefer to ask my friends, “Do you want my advice or my support?” I like to let them make the choice between letting my opinion cloud their judgment and having my unconditional love and support. I know I’m not always right- and so do they.

  37. This is very insightful. I am so glad I surround myself with people who tell me what’s what, without the sugar coating. Not only does this ensure yourself some piece of mind, but also provides the basis of real friendship, which from experience tends to last longer than the boring normality of insecurity.

  38. I read this post earlier today and its been on my mind since. Its a very interesting and insightful piece.

    The fact is you gave your friend advice based on what you thought was best and obviously had her best interests at heart. As a friend, you can’t really do much more.

    It may seem to have gone sour, but things could have turned out even worse if she hadn’t taken that risk. You know what they say, “its better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Maybe she would have wondered forever if she had lost her chance for happiness, at least now she knows that she tried.

    Great blog, congrats on getting featured!

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  40. Sometimes the (harsh) truth can save your friend lots of embarrassments, heartbreaks, and humiliation. One of my bff is coming out a horrible, deceptive relationship and she is on the path of self-destruction. I finally had to lay it down to her, and just let her know she can’t keep putting in the same input and expect a different output. I

  41. I live and work with my best friend. That is saying something, I’d say. And, truth be told, she isn’t the sweetest thing. She can be stern and harsh and force you into an awakening that never wanted to be seen. I heard the lyrics, “I’ve been saved by a woman… I’ve been saved by a woman. She won’t let me go.” by Ray LoMontagne and I weeped.

    For she has saved me in so many ways. I can’t begin to explain the lowest level I’ve been, well beyond down and out, and it was her that I fled too. And, she scooped me up, brushed me off, bandaged me, sent me back on my way.

    As it is said… we meet people for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Time always unveils which one you find.

  42. While I think best friends should be as honest as possible with each other (and I try to follow this), I don’t think the focus should be on honesty, but on motives. Best friends may want to give the right advice, but sometimes they’re deterred by the situation. Like you said, sometimes we’re afraid to tell our friends the truth because we’re afraid of their reactions. Also, we might not want to share because we know how they will react. Best friends can also be very biased about situations.

  43. I have had moments where myself and that particular friends weren’t 100% honest with each other, it has always blown up in my face.

    On the other hand I have a friend now, who is very dear to me for the simple fact that she tells it exactly how it is. Even if she has me standing on the balcony feeling like I’m five years old getting a lecture from mum, at least I know her love is unconditional.

    That’s the thing that a lot of people miss in friendship, they get so caught up in the drama of it all without stopping to remember that love in any form is only love when it is unconditional.

    Be honest with your friends and you are showing them love and respect. That’s what I think.

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  45. It’s almost a no win situation. If you say “don’t go out with that guy” for example, your friend might be mad at you for trying to control them. However, if you say “go out with that guy” and it turns into a disaster, it’s somehow your fault.

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  47. You sound like you know your way around friendships and how to keep your esteem and boundaries intact from reading your posts.
    I would love to have you as a friend to give me advice on a letter that I’ve been holding and trying to decide whether to send to my best friend from college.
    Do you think there are times when you have to leave a friendship? If you get a chance, I truly would love your thoughts on it. I have it on my blog (it’s the second most recent one).
    I blog anonymously mostly so that I can share parts of my life without my ex coming after me, but also because at heart I am a people pleaser, a hopeless enabler who’s never felt allowed to have a voice, so I am starting this way to learn to say what I really think and tell my stories as they are.
    I digressed… I tend to do that. But, I am most sincere about wanting your advice on whether to send that letter.

    • Hi there,

      Thanks for your comments. I’m new to replying so I hope this gets to you. I’d be happy to read the letter, and please let me know if it’s okay to respond to it in a post.

      Best,
      Emily

  48. Recently, I made a decision to distant myself from my 15-year BFF ever. Obviously, being there for her, listening to her, giving her advice, throwing facts in her face aren’t what she wants from me. It has come to a point that I do not know what I should do with her. I constantly ask myself what I have done wrong that makes her think I “do not treat her as a best friend” after 15 years.
    And it suddenly became clear to me that, my BFF doesn’t know everything about me. All she wants is to make herself a constant victim to everything and demands sympathy from all of her friends.
    I finally let go of a 15-year-old friendship, and I never been happier before. 🙂

  49. Great post. It’s been my experience that people, including a lot of so-called friends, won’t listen unless you tell them what they want to hear. Too often, they’re not looking for advice, and they don’t care what you really think. They’re just looking for someone to tell them how wonderful they are.

  50. The truth will set you free. I do not give advice. I do not sugarcoat. She talks, I listen. We talk about the pros and cons. In the end, she decides on whatever her conscience dictates her. I think this is the reason I keep many close friends for years.

  51. My best friend is incredibly truthful, and I’m truthful with her. It doesn’t make us non-supportive (though maybe a little brutal at times), and we’re always there for each other. I’m lucky to have her in my life, and I hope, in all my brutality, she feels the same about me.

  52. For me, having a best friend doesn’t mean that we have to tell everything. The one who should know well everything about you is you. I believe everybody wants to keep (at least) one thing for him/herself. However, being honest no matter how hard it is..is the best. If your best friend cannot take your advice wisely, it’s part of the risk you have to take.

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  54. Good for you for giving your friend the best advice you could at the time despite what the concensus was… Having dated a much older man in my past I know what it’s like having pretty much everyone say you’re crazy, insulting things, you’re there for the money, he’s a cradle robber, etc. I’ve heard it all and it hurts.

    I’m all about the truth. The truth may hurt, but nothing burns like a lie….

  55. Often it’s a case of the blind leading the blind. That’s why, if it’s a really important decision, I trust my gut and don’t ask any of my mates for advice. Other people bring their own baggage to a decision and it doesn’t neccessarily help.

  56. as much as it would be helpful for the truth to be the key to a friendship and for telling the truth to be the brilliant factor, i recently told my friends the truth about a boy i loved and how id been “seeing” him for 3 weeks years ago.

    telling the truth resulted in all of them deciding they would never talk to me again. they dont want to know me or be friends.

    so much for friends been accepting of everything…

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  57. ultimately, everyone’s decisions should always be their own – yes, you can get advice from others, but it’s up to the individual concerned how they react to it.

    if all else fails, flip a coin – depending on whether you’re relieved or annoyed at which side comes up, you probably have your answer…

  58. ultimately, everyone’s decisions should always be their own – yes, you can get advice from others, but it’s up to the individual concerned how they react to it.

    if all else fails, flip a coin – depending on whether you’re relieved or annoyed at which side comes up, you probably have your answer…

    http://thankedgnat.wordpress.com

  59. …perhaps we need to practice thinking more for ourselves. Girlfriends, no matter how close, cannot solve our problems. We aren’t here to give advice, necessarily. Listening is a great skill–and in enables the talker to perhaps come to their own best conclusion.

    I have girlfriends who repeatedly make the same mistake in relationships, for example. I don’t believe it is my job to ‘teach her’ how to be. Instead, I tell her the truth (when asked.) We have frank discussions about her relationship patterns (and mine, too.) But in the end, she will make her own decisions, and I will be there for her if/when she is heartbroken.

    I don’t believe in black and white issues. We have more choices then “fix her problems” and “co-dependently go along.” How about intelligent discussions, and then back off and let your friend live their life?

    I believe in supporting my friends, loving them for who they are, and of course giving advice. BUT if my advice isn’t taken, so be it. I’m still her friend and will support her choices.

  60. I’m hearing everyone here talk a lot about the “truth” like there is some empirical answer to every question each of us has. I think that’s just too black and white. I mean, I’m all for letting my friends know my opinion and I hope they feel free to give me theirs, but all too often I see people give advise based on what they need and not what the person they’re trying to help needs. Great post! Very thought provoking!

  61. I feel like it’s such a double bind, though. How do you tell your friend the truth without coming off as a bad friend and losing his or her friendship? We are all socialized into being politically correct and we lose some of our authenticity.

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