Speak Up or Shut Up?

Let’s start this Friday with a question: When you feel strongly that a friend is making a mistake in her relationship—be it getting married, taking back a bad guy, moving in too soon, whatever—how much do you tell?

I don’t have an answer to this. I never know the right course of action. Generally, I feel like girls are going to do what they’re going to do. Telling a friend it’s a mistake to get back together with someone probably isn’t going to stop her. But it might stop her from seeing any more of you.That said, if you truly believe that she’s making a mistake, isn’t it your duty as a friend to be honest?

I’m grateful that I can say I’ve never been to a wedding and thought “uh oh, this is going to end in divorce.” Given the divorce rate in this country it’s likely that a good handful of the marriages I’ve witnessed won’t make it, but I’ve never had the hunch. Still, I’m sure plenty of people—plenty of best friends—have. If I did, I’d probably smile and cheer during first dance anyway because, well, what else is there to do?

As I think about this more, perhaps I’d look for an opening. If my friend made clear she was questioning her relationship, I might offer my opinion to nudge her in the “right” (and I realize this is a subjective term) direction. But to offer my unsolicited opinion, even to my bestest of friends, I just can’t see myself going there. And I don’t know if I should feel good or guilty about that.

Tell me, readers, what would you do? Share your honest opinion? Or keep your feelings to yourself for fear of screwing up your friendship?

19 Comments

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19 responses to “Speak Up or Shut Up?

  1. jennygirl

    I actually did this with a friend of mine. About two weeks nefore her wedding, I went to her house with a bottle of vodka. We had shots and I told her what I thought. I had her mother’s support of broaching the subject as well. Well, she did get married two weeks later.
    I went to the reception but not the church. My husband stayed home out of protest. We didn’t speak as much for a few years after, but time heals all wounds. We are still friends, good friends actually, she has two kids, is still married, and may have a few regrets. What’s done is done, and you do what you must for your kids.

    It was not the easiest thing for me to do, I fretted for days about it. But I loved her and cared for her and felt like someone had to say something. Everyone else would say things behind her back, and they did for a good long while. I was the one who spoke up. It eased my conscience. Maybe that was selfish, but it needed to be said. We are still quite honest with one another, truth be told. We are older and wiser too :)

    • This brings up such a good question. When we decide to broach the issue, who are we really doing it for? Ourselves and our conscience, or our friends? Maybe that should be the guiding principle of whether or not we voice our concerns…

      • jennygirl

        True, but I would say I was doing it for the both of us. There were some serious reasons for me speaking up, but she had her reasons too. Say what you will, but when society keeps telling you by the time you are this age you should be married, and all of your friends are married…..well people do crazy things for carzy reasons. This was many many years ago, and times have changed. Society plays a big role in people getting married or not. Not everybody has a strong enough will to be on the edge.
        Sorry for the rambling :) This is a great post though!

        • So true! And so interesting. Even now, when it’s more acceptable to get married later, I think plenty of people push the timeline because they feel like they “should” be married. Thanks Jenny…

  2. I’ve been in a couple weddings with this feeling. It doesn’t make the cost of a dress you’ll never wear again any easier to bear, that’s for sure!

    But in both situations, I offered the, “Are you SURE this is what you want to do?” conversation, got the affirmative answer (as I expected,) then just put my trust in my friends’ judgement.

    If I’d persisted in saying I thought it wasn’t right, I feel like it might almost make my friends forge ahead even if they felt like it wasn’t right, just out of pride. And then if the day ever comes that she changes her mind, she might not call me because she doesn’t want to hear, “I told you so.”

    I’d rather be there to pick up the pieces than be in the right… but it’s gut-wrenching to watch people you love make these mistakes.

  3. This is a tough one. I’ve been to a wedding where it was clear that this was just a bad match. Some of the bride’s friends did talk to her about this well before they even got engaged, but the bride just didn’t see it. The friends felt like they said their peace and left it at that. At this point, all we can do is continue to be her friend in case she ever needs us.

    On the other side of it, I think I’d want my friends to express their concern if it were me. I did date a bad guy for a couple of years, and my friends all hated him but kept it to themselves. I couldn’t see what they saw right away, so I sort of wished they had come to me. I guess I think that, if you’re friends, you should be comfortable telling your friend that you’re worried about them.

  4. Kris

    I was in this situation once with my very best friend. She was the type of girl that always had a boyfriend and had never been alone. After breaking up with a boyfriend she started seeing another via a long distance relationship. I knew, in my heart of hearts, that he wasn’t right for her and when she called to tell me she was getting married I was shocked to say the least. The wedding would be taking place within a month and she wanted me to fly up. It was during that conversation that I did the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I told her she was making a mistake and that as her best friend I couldn’t stand by and support her for something that was so very wrong. I told her I loved her and I would always be there no matter what. I was the only person that said anything. Eight months later, the relationship (still long distance) was falling apart and they divorced shortly thereafter. I could have ruined our friendship, this I know. But I made a promise to myself to always be honest – no matter how hard. We’re still very close today, if not closer, and I do not regret what I said to her on that day so long ago.

  5. Lovette

    Since I Believe In The Value Of A True Friend I Would Gracefully Have A Heart To Heart Talk With My Friend. I Would Let Her Know Up Front That I’M Not Saying Anything To Hurt Her. At The Sametime She Knows Me Well Enough That I Cannot Hold Back My Feelings. Better For Her To Know Before There Is A Break Up, I Hate It When Peoples With Holds What They Thinks, Or How They Feels Until After The “FACT”. When It’s Too LATE You Might As Well Keep Your Inpionion Too Oneself.

  6. Laurie Lee

    It would have to be really bad for me to say something and even then I would tread very lightly. When I was in my 20s and more impulsive I told a friend what I thought of her boyfriend (whom she ended up marrying)and that was the end of our friendship. 20+ years later I was on ChicagoTribune.com and there he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute! I always regretted that my outspokenness ended the friendship but at least then I knew my instincts were right back in the day.

  7. Megan

    I’d be honest. Mostly because I couldn’t help it.

  8. Cy

    I (and everyone else with a brain) had this feeling about a friend’s wedding. In fact, her matron of honor and I, had a serious talk about it, in the bathroom, at the wedding–and we didn’t even know each other. As expected the marriage failed spectacularly, but not before they, of course, had a baby. I think my friend was just jumping in because everyone else was married. She went on to marry an old friend and guess what! That one’s been a mistake, too! And two more kids to boot!

  9. Ana

    This is a tough one. I don’t have an answer and thankfully do not have personal experience with the situation, either. My first instinct would be for honesty, but the other side is that if your friendship ends because of it, you will no longer be there to support her if everything does fall apart. If, however, I thought she was truly in danger (i.e. the guy seemed unhinged or had a history of abuse), I couldn’t forgive myself for not speaking up.
    This might be one of those case-by-case scenarios & depend a lot on the specific situation and the personalities of all involved.

  10. I think I would speak up if my friend seemed unhappy. If she seemed happy, fine, it doesn’t matter if I like the guy. I would express concerns to a close friend only, and I would couch it in terms of, I’m worried about you, and give concrete reasons for being worried. And emphasize that if she didn’t want to go through with (whatever it was) it wasn’t too late to change her mind.

  11. I can be be hard to watch someone you love make what you think is a bad choice. But it is their life and their journey. I think what is important is that we are there to offer support and if necessary help pick up the pieces.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post.

  12. Anonymous

    I was going to plan an intervention for a friend I loved dearly. She’s engaged to a man who can at best be described as a “loser”. She’s one of those “if you’re not married with kids by 30 you’re a failure”. Well, she decided to end her friendship with me by text message (a whole other story). I’m still hurt by her behaviour so she can marry her loser boyfriend and give birth to some seriously f****ed kids all she wants. Anyone who knows her well knows this marriage will be a disaster, but, hey, not my problem.

  13. You’ve got to leave the issue alone. You can ask objectively “Are you really really sure?” but that’s the extent of your role. Support the friend, be a shoulder to cry on, but don’t sacrifice your friendship. By expressing distaste for the marriage you’re not going to end it- all you’ll do is ruin your friendship and compromise the marriage itself.
    The outcome is more important than your arrogance and desire to express yourself.

    • Anonymous

      Zach, you’re right that expressing your distaste for a person’s fiance or concern over their marriage is unlikely to change that person’s mind. However, it is very, very difficult to stand by and watch that person make that mistake. It is very, very difficult to “pretend” to be happy for that person when they gush about their fiance and how wonderful their marriage will be, when you know their relationship is wrought with problems, problems your friend has openly told you about over the years.

      • I’d agree that it’s very, very difficult. The most difficult route in life is often the holiest and most fulfilling route. I suppose that for somebody in this situation reading this, ‘pretending to be’ happy ought to purposefully give way to ‘being’ happy. Upon hearing the word ‘engaged’, a mental lightbulb should flicker and one should focus primarily on the positive aspects of the spouse. It really becomes perspective- no couple is perfect, but you should have the confidence in your friend to believe that the friend will make it work.

  14. I actually had something like this happen with my little sister. She was rushing into a relationship with a guy I’d gone to high school with. My sister is a hopeless romantic looking for true love and this guy has major drinking/anger management/emotional attachment issues. Unfortunately, my family is all about girls being married and taken care of by a man (which is a totally different rant), so they were all supporting her as she started talking about marrying this guy after dating for 2 months in a long distance relationship (they saw each other one time). I just told her I felt like she was rushing and that since it was a long distance relationship (he was going to be deployed for 6 months) maybe she should really think about DATING longer. I encouraged her to move to the state he was stationed in after his deployment and really getting to know him on a daily basis.

    Needless to say, my sister and the guy saw each other physically 4 times before their wedding day. He then deployed for another (year long) deployment 3 months after the wedding. Their marriage is in a lot of trouble. There are no “I told you so!”s because I want her to be able to come to me when she needs someone to talk to, but being the matron of honor at that wedding was very hard.

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